HOW COMPLIMENTING WOMEN MADE ME A LESBIAN

I saw a gorgeous woman last week. I think she was the most conventionally beautiful Caucasian I’ve seen outside of TV and magazine pages. It wasn’t just that she was pretty or she had endless legs. She wore these flared jeans that seemed to go on forever as it skimmed the heels of her boots. She had a burgundy jacket on with gold bottoms. Paramilitary style. No fringes. She also had on a beret. Her hair was a long bob framing her soft features. She took bold intentional strides as she walked towards me on the less crowded street. It was the beginning of a weekday night, she didn’t look like she has had a drink. Her joy was coming from somewhere untouchable.

I acknowledged how divine she looked, but I kept it inside me. And for a split second, it would have died there. But it didn’t. She walked past, I turned back and called out to her “You look amazing”. 

She turned back ever so slightly. With a small tug at the side of her lip. She didn’t need to smile fully, her face was already a smile.

“Thank you”. She said. It was almost a whisper. She knew she looked amazing. She owned it, gracefully. She made me smile.

I started thinking, I don’t compliment women enough. I used to. I had a friend in high school. She was a sickle cell carrier. Like my late brother. They were born the same year too. Her visage was a delicate one, her round face could not fathom what a frown felt like. Her eyes were slightly tinged yellow, lifting the weight of her permanent bags. I was drawn to her because she reminded me of something I had lost. But she was still here with me, and that felt good. She filled a part of the hole grief had left in me. She liked me. I liked her too. We would exchange music lyric books and sing worldly songs together during class breaks, laughing breathlessly as the music filled our hearts with lightness. She was my bright space. I would tell her how she’s the most beautiful person I had ever seen. She would tell me I was beautiful too. She had dark spots on her lower leg, I was familiar with them. I thought they adorned her as a sign of life battles she was clearly winning. They were my best features of her. I would often compliment her legs before anything else. She blushed often. I liked making her blush. It’s so nice to have the power to make someone smile deeply, truly, to the bottom of their heart. I liked that feeling.

She was different from everyone else in the hillbilly town we lived. To me she was divine, and because my heart is one for unwavering devotion, I threw all of myself into her.

We were labelled lesbians. It took just one school semester and several other rumours about me, to bring everything crashing down. She started getting pulled away from me, and I could no longer tell her she was beautiful. In fact, I could no longer tell any girl in my class that they were beautiful. It was a taboo. I was already being bullied. I was seen as the spawn of Satan; quirky, disobedient, contemporary, always wearing fancy jewellery even as a kid, always singing the latest Usher and Alicia Keys songs, and I was supposed to be saintly, the preacher’s kid. The last branding I needed to stick was “Lesbian”. It felt like the worst of all the branding, it was year 2002 in a small town called Ijebu-Igbo.

A year before that, I just went through a deliverance episode in church to cast out the demon of stubbornness that possessed me and made me not listen to my elders. For some reason definitely related to thirst from all the crying I did that day, I coughed a lot, proving to everyone I had coughed out that evil spirit. There was jubilation in the house of the Lord. So the last battle I wanted to fight, was the lesbian fight. I could be burnt at the stake for this one. I was already infamous, I couldn’t give them new reasons. You see Ijebu-Igbo was acclaimed to be the worst of all the Ijebu tribes. “Igbo” here meant forest. It was often used to signify backwardness. It wasn’t very far from the truth. Fourteen years after leaving “home”, it still looks the same. The same people, the same culture, the same blackness I spend too much time trying to escape.

The second time I felt bold enough to start complimenting girls again, I was in the University, in a new town, reinventing myself. I ended up almost kissing a girl. And I thought it was because I overplayed my love for masculine clothing and this same uncontrollable need to tell girls they were beautiful. I think I liked to say it because I never got to hear it from girls like me. It’s not true that you can’t give what you don’t have, I liked to give girls like me beautiful feelings even when I could not find it within myself. Boys and men weaponise that sentiment, it’s unfair.

Everywhere was dark that night; the power had been cut suddenly. We were standing outside the teeming reading classrooms, just to the side. She reached out, her face almost touching mine. I froze for too long. And just before her lips touched mine, I shook myself away, and I walked off without a word. Power was restored 45 seconds after, and I just kept walking away. She never talked to me after that night, she had a boyfriend, she wasn’t out at the time. It was 2009. No one in the South West of Nigeria dared to be openly gay. There was some rumour going round that I was lesbian, I wasn’t one to pay attention to rumours so I couldn’t be bothered to address it. I knew it was a retributive rumour, and I didn’t mind. I would have never outed her, I wished now I didn’t avoid her. And even now, I have no memory of her name, or her face. I remember her smile still. She was beautiful.

By the end of my degree, I had changed my looks entirely and completely to kill the impression I kept giving off. It didn’t help that I was accused of emasculating my first boyfriend by several people. They said I wore the literal and figurative pants in my relationship… I went uber feminine mode, I learnt how to do make-up and wear high heels. I went from thuggish to girly… because I was afraid of labels. 

When I started getting confident in my adult years; you know, the confidence you have knowing you can do whatever the heck you want, without the crippling fear of being alienated and bullied? I started to wonder what about me triggered people so bad that they wanted to put me in a box and lock me in there? I wonder who I could have been if I didn’t grow up in such a stifling space? If I had parents who constantly told me it was okay to be who I wanted to be, and not the perfect child and daughter? If I was allowed to express myself without being told to shush and hide and change my clothing…

Would my fashion style and smoothness of tongue have transformed me into some social media celebrity, with millions of followers? Would I have become a great poet, writing lyrically about every single experience I have, with my tendency to feel deeply and blow everything out of its naturally boring proportions? Would my masculine trait have translated into physical skills, like stronger muscles and the ability to punch the men who casually slap my ass to demean my femininity?

Who would I be if I wasn’t tied to the confines of who and what a woman should be and do and wear and say? I try to be that person now, today, every day. I was robbed of her puberty phase. But she was so damn cool even at age ten. She was a cool kid! She lives in me now as one of my personalities, and I daresay she’s one of my favourites.

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re a cool kid, only cool kids read my reveries. So please continue to be unequivocally you. Let your inner child come out to play, now that you’re in control. It pays off. I promise. 

Xx.

2 responses to “HOW COMPLIMENTING WOMEN MADE ME A LESBIAN”

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