The first real crush I had was on a girl named Joy. Before that, I’d had “strong feelings of attachment” towards my nanny without knowing what those feelings were. All I remember is that I liked spending time with her and I thought it was a shame that she was getting married. I must have been six at the time.

Joy and I attended the same secondary school for a year. We were both in the 7th grade, but we were in different classrooms, so we never really spoke. I noticed her because she was taller than most of the other 7th graders. The fact that she was really pretty might have also been a factor.

I changed schools at the end of the year for no particular reason. I stayed at my next school until I was done with the 9th grade, and then I changed schools again at the start of grade 10 because everyone else was doing it. This time, I went to a boarding school that my two older sisters had previously attended.

A 12th grader–who was friends with my sisters–helped me carry my bags up three flights of stairs. She walked me into the room that was meant for the girls in grade 10. Before she left, she handed me off to a girl that she had selected at random.

“Hey you! Help her get settled in.”

That girl looked awfully familiar. I hadn’t seen or thought about her in over two years, but it didn’t take long for me to realize who she was. Joy pointed me in the direction of an empty bunk bed, and then we caught up on each other’s lives as she helped me unpack.

A week later, all the girls in my grade were being punished because some of us hadn’t done our chores. A senior student called us down to the dining room to “serve our punishment.” When it was your turn, you would put both hands on the wall and let the senior use the flat side of a broken hanger to flog you… on your ass.

Most of the girls took their punishment in stride. Some of them cried, but they were at least able to get the whole thing over with relatively quickly. Not me. I couldn’t stand still. I’d try, but then she’d raise the hanger to hit me and I’d panic and move away. I was a sweaty, terrified mess. And then out of nowhere, Joy said “I’ll take it for her.” She said it in the coolest way too. If I wasn’t crushing on her before, I definitely was then.

I could go on to write about the things that Joy and I experienced together in the three years that followed, about the time when we locked the guidance counselor in her room because she was annoying, or the time when we hid underneath a bed because the vice principal was looking for us, or how we argued over the silliest things, but this story isn’t really about Joy. The last time I saw her, it was someone’s birthday, and we were outside a movie theater saying goodbye. We had finished secondary school, and I was leaving Nigeria for good a few days later.  We hugged for a long time. I left for the United States. I haven’t seen her in six years.

When I was sixteen, I got on a bus from New York City to Toronto so I could visit my best friend Daniel. He was openly gay. I went to pride for the first time. I hung out with a lot of gay and bisexual people, but if anyone asked, “I was there to support my friend.” The following summer, when I was again in Canada, and we were playing truth or dare on the beach, Daniel’s friend grilled me about my sexual orientation. She wanted to know if I was gay, straight, or bisexual. At the time, I was only comfortable admitting that I liked girls. I wasn’t quite ready to take on any labels yet. That wasn’t a good enough answer for her, so she badgered me with questions for about an hour. My answer remained the same. The night ended rather dramatically. Everyone involved–the woman who kept asking me questions, her girlfriend, Daniel, and myself–ended up getting upset in some way.

A few months later, when I was back at school, I wrote a “Coming Out” poem. I remember it having the lines: “This is me finally saying it out loud. This is me finally coming out.” I shared it with Daniel and his friend even though I was sure they already knew. I came out to my roommates and my college friends casually. It was never a big deal.

The hardest part was coming out to my mother. I didn’t have the heart to do so in person. I didn’t want to get into a huge fight. I lived with her for three months after I graduated college. I cut my hair off in that time. She didn’t like it. On one occasion, she hinted that people might think that I’m gay because of it. I quickly changed the subject.

I wrote her a letter in February 2015 when I was thousands of miles away in California. It’s funny, she called me on the day that I put the letter in the mailbox… one week before she was set to receive it. My aunt had seen me post something lesbian-related on my Facebook page, and she had called my mother to warn her. Apparently two other unnamed people had also told her about their “suspicions.” My mother wanted confirmation that I wasn’t… she couldn’t even bring herself to say the words. I knew what she wanted to hear, I knew that everything would be a lot easier for her and a lot less awkward for me if I could just say “No mum, I’m not a lesbian.” But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t keep pretending, so I said “Yes, I am.”

She yelled at me.

“Don’t you know where you’re from? You’re being influenced. It’s this country…”

I hung up. We didn’t speak for weeks. In that time, I came out to everyone who mattered. I told my dad via text. He thought I was joking at first, and then he thought I was just saying that to piss him off. I didn’t really care what he thought. I told one of my sisters but she already knew. She sent me a supportive text. It was short and straightforward, but it made me cry like a baby. I was grateful for it.

I’ve been completely out as a lesbian for a year now, and I don’t regret it in the slightest. I feel as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. My parents and I get along now. We talk about everything except the fact that I’m a lesbian, but they call to say that they love me, and that is enough.

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