Growing up, some of us had things we kept in locked boxes. Things we pushed far away into the darkest parts of our minds. Hoping they’d never see the light. Some of us never healed from them. We still have trust issues. Some of us never talked about them.
I never left that spot of pain and shame. I didn’t forgive the guys, I couldn’t. Not when they’d moved on with their lives and I was still caught in the whirlwind of their atrocity.
The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, violations, heartbreaks, murder, extortion however always refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny them their right to exist in our daily routine is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of us, the victims.
The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. People who have survived these hurts often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner that undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognised, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.
The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. This is most apparent in the way traumatized people alternate between feeling numb and reliving the event. The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness, which could be called “doublethink,” and which mental health professionals, searching for calm, precise language, call “dissociation.” It results in protean, dramatic, and often bizarre symptoms of hysteria which Freud recognised a century ago as disguised communications about sexual abuse in childhood and even adulthood.
Violators cannot live with the truth: survivors cannot live without it. There are those who still, once again, are poised to invalidate and deny us. If we don’t assert our truth, it may again be relegated to fantasy. But the truth won’t go away. It will keep surfacing until it is recognised. Truth will outlast any campaigns mounted against it, no matter how mighty, clever, or long. It is invincible. It’s only a matter of which generation is willing to face it and, in so doing, protect future generations from ritual abuse.
My rape incident, to me, was bigger than everything else. It lived in front of me, behind me, next to me, inside me every single day. My schedule is dictated by it, my habits by it, my music by it.
Alongside other issues, I had a terrible time trusting people, I couldn’t stay in a room with any person, male or female who didn’t even look remotely dangerous without me silently praying that I shouldn’t be jumped, beaten and raped: I saw horns on the heads of everyone that mattered to me. No one knew about this. I had this cheerful mask on my face and every word that played on my lips was laced with sarcasm almost every time.
When I met my Fidus Achates, Mae — a straight lady, who is an embodiment of sarcasm and shade, our parallel lines became one. We understand every look, glance, smirk and nod of the head we gave each other without any explanation.
I came out to her first before coming out to one of my parents.
She didn’t preach or judge. But a bond I still can’t describe was conceived and I began to trust people gradually.
One of the hardest parts to deal with when it comes to rape is the feeling of not being believed or supported, especially by people who you thought were reasonable and mature. And you know what they say about healing and problems; it gets solved when you talk about it, to someone who will listen.
Before now, I said to someone I’d held in high esteem and who I thought could help me, you know, by listening.
I said, “I was raped.”
He looked at me disbelievingly and scoffed. He scoffed! He didn’t ask what I meant by my revelation, he simply dismissed me with a scoff. Intimidated, old traumas triggered, and fearing for my safety, I did what I felt I needed to do. I decided to find my healing by myself. However I could, whichever way I could — one of them was scrubbing my body almost every day in the shower both day and night.
When you have been through so much pain and hurt and have to live with the scars every day, you get angry, knowing that others think it is all made up or they brush it off because they think it’s not possible for queer guys to be raped. That it only happens in our heads or just between the male and female gender.
I was five when I was first sexually abused by my cousin, and a majority of my relatives, especially his parents took to the perpetrator’s side. I have cried many times about everything and how my aunt shunned my claims as just some childish story.
She’d said, “Oh, he’s young…” and “That is what kids do.” Your son fondled me and asked me to hold his dick between my laps while he shoved his tongue in my mouth and he groaned and moaned. And all you had to say was, “It is not like we didn’t do such when we were growing up too”?
It is a sick way of thinking. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse. It brings tears to my eyes the way my relatives reacted to this and couldn’t accept the truth. Denial was where they would rather stay.
Then that same year, Yemi, Toyosi and Niyi started theirs. And I decided to keep it to myself. If my mother could choose her sister’s explanation over her son’s claims, why should I tell her about what these boys were doing to me?
And that went on for five years.
God, I was strong. I look back on those years and I realise I was fucking strong!
I became what I am today at the age of five. And on a frigid overcast day in the Harmattan of 2013. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a concrete wall, peeking into the street near the main gate of an estate in Maryland, that I was raped by three guys, and when I resisted, slaps and head knocks came to party. One of them, I’d been friends with for over six months and had gone on dates with more than three times. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted street for the last twenty-something years of my life.
So how did I finally step out of the shadows to face my fears headlong? It happened in the weirdest of ways. I was still an undergraduate then. I was half-asleep one afternoon when Mae came into my room to pick something. I could see her through my half open lashes. She got what she was looking for and was about to leave my room when she looked at me. Like really looked at me. Then she walked up to my bed and kissed me softly on the lips and then she left.
My mind reeled. My heart played hopscotch in my chest.
And through the turmoil going on inside me, I realised I trusted her enough to let her kiss me. I didn’t recoil as her lips grazed mine. I laid there on my bed, in my room and watched her approach and kiss me. I realised that my rape was not my fault, that I should feel no shame, that — simple as it may sound — I hadn’t caused it. No one causes rape but rapists. It had not been obvious to me before and it took that kiss to help me know and believe it. In that moment, I realised I could not be defined by the other things, the things that happened to me, the things I didn’t choose.
Although I’m still wary and mostly in the cocoon I’ve created for myself, I have began to trust people, let people in, and just because I was scoffed at by someone I respected, it didn’t mean that I’d always be scoffed at for what I’ve been through.
So I forgave myself first and then others. Then I started talking about it.
To help others and let them know that not everyone in the world is like those perpetrators that hurt us.
I started with my mother.
And then in 890 — A series I wrote many months ago.
I’m not perfect and I have regrets. I’ve wronged people, people that called me friend. But for me to move on, I learnt I had to let go of what I’ve been holding on to and forgive myself and use these experiences to propel myself forward and be better, to do better, to enjoy life better and live better.
It took a kiss but I took baby steps and with these steps, I left where I’d been standing — that deserted street — to be among the living again.