A survivor warns that many have to endure abusive practices to try to alter their sexuality or gender identity.
My parents took me to a traditional healer when I was nine. He made three cuts to the tops of my feet, my ankles, my knees, my forehead, and the back of my neck using a razor blade.
The healer rubbed a concoction of herbs into the incisions as the blood started to flow and gave me a potion to drink. He picked up some alligator pepper and rubbed it on various parts of my body. There was a rooster inside me, into which he threw the “demon” Slaughtered and tossed into the water, the rooster allegedly took my sexuality with it. I met a boy at boarding school that I would call my first love. We thought about it all and loved to go for long walks.
Yet he was struggling.
I have seen him struggle to acknowledge his sexuality. He sensed that there was something wrong with him, but I didn’t know how to support him. It has been different for me.
It wasn’t just about sexuality; it was about gender as well.
I was a man born, but I never felt like a man at all. I met a transgender woman when I was 22 years old at university.
She was also more open-minded, cosmopolitan, and spoke about what she wanted more frankly.
Never before had I met someone like her. Pleasant, elegant, pure, we had a sisterhood.
It was as if scales were falling out of my eyes.
My family didn’t feel satisfied with our friendship. They said that I’d bring the family shame. I was taken to a Catholic priest in order to cast out the stubborn spirit that had made me different. The priest told me that God had prepared a wonderful way for me, but I was distracted by a certain negative power. He made me believe I’d be able to adjust. I fasted for a year, went to Mass and had Communion.
As if my life depended upon it, I recited all the prayers.
And it looked that way, the way I was treated by everyone. But I was okay.
I’ve always been. Conversion therapy’s biggest concern is that victims don’t talk about it.
It tends to make something that is so wrong look right. The worst part is when they are able to convince you that change is possible, that there is actually something wrong with you, that you are a mistake of nature, an anomaly.
This is what messes you up. The encounter with the healer was many years ago, but the memory of it is still jarring. What part of me has been lost in the effort to mold myself into a heteronormative, socially acceptable shape? I’m 43 now.
Still gay, still a trans woman.
Still looking over my shoulder, afraid that someone is going to hurt me.
I’m a lot more scared than the average person.
And I’m not the only one. Attempting to change gender identities can have severe negative effects on mental health. There are thousands of young people in Nigeria who are subjected to these dangerous practices to “cure” them.
In Nigeria, there are no structures to deal with these psychological scars. This is why we need our community. We need to have conversations about safety and security, especially in terms of family relationships and dating. We need to talk openly about the devastating effects of conversion therapy.
I have contemplated suicide several times.
I tried it once; I was relieved that it didn’t work.
I have found that people become less aggressive when they have a personal experience – they find out their partner or friend or child is LGBTQ+.
I think my mother always knew, even when she tried to convert me.
At some point, she realized it wasn’t something she could fight against.
My father never accepted my reality, not even until he died. He didn’t know how to deal with it. People need to understand that the world is not black and white, but in color.
Many people, like my friend at university, have gone to other countries where they thought they could live freely.
But nowhere is safe.
Brazil, Ecuador, Taiwan, Malta and Germany are the only countries in the world that have banned conversion therapy. Nigeria is a hostile place. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act makes our livelihoods illegal.
I could not have surgery here because there is no access to medical care to support transition.
I know I will be fine if I take care of myself.
I worry about the young