Words by Ali

I was 12 when I found out what the word ‘faggot’ was. It was directed at me. I had no idea what I had done to provoke such a reaction because as far as I was concerned I behaved like one of the lads. However, it quickly became apparent from the whispers in the changing room that this simply was not the thing to be and I was ostracised. 

It was a brutal initiation into the hostile homophobic attitudes of ‘sexually conservative’ West Africa. It is an environment that ensures you understand shame before your sexuality and there is no greater shame than being gay. “A grave sin”, I once overhead my father say.

The realisation that I actually was gay made me want to disappear. I went into hiding and detached myself from any potential friendship groups at school. This self-imposed exile continued for the next five years until I was shipped off to an English boarding school where it was definitely OK to be homosexual, but so deep was my desire to be straight that I didn’t even allow myself a fantasy. I clung to the hope that if I remained ‘good’, I would be rewarded with straightness and prove my former tormentors wrong. That was to be my revenge. I failed.

Welcome to the gay scene

I finally caved at the age of 24, in my postgraduate year at Bath University. So great was my ignorance about life within the LGBT community that I was really not sure what to expect. 

I did, however, have the impression that it would be more accepting. Dating apps such as Grindr were already established forms of contact which I appreciated because they promised an easy way to reach out for someone who was not ready to be out on the scene. In those early days, I was really looking for a place to belong and find acceptance in ways that were not necessarily sexual.

Instead, I was confronted with a barrage of dick pics, starfish poses, objectification and racism on a scale that I thought belonged to the days of the empire. Here are some instances:

 I have history books that state otherwise, sir.

Other charming messages included: “I don’t want no African bush baby coming over to steal my things anyway”, “I left my wife for you black dudes” and “You’re really sweet but you’re the wrong colour.” 

These are examples in a long list of microaggressions that black men and other minorities have to endure on a near daily basis. My inexperience with the situation meant that I took it personally and sought validation by jumping into bed with guys who paid me compliments, setting me on a path of unfulfilling sexual and dating encounters. By the summer of 2015, I was frustrated and confused yet still craved validation and now a stable relationship. I honestly thought if I was ‘good’ and sought a monogamous relationship I would finally get the happy ending I deserved. 

Love has no colour?

‘No blacks, Asians’ and all the other racially charged comments (jokes, they call them) found on apps, though hurtful, can be endured and even laughed at like the one above. 

But what about when it’s coming from someone you care about and from someone you believed cared about you? 

Now this was funnier than most ‘jokes’.

The recent glamorisation of interracial relationships has failed to highlight the vile racist bile that people of colour can face in their own homes behind closed doors with their partners. I had to learn that dating interracially doesn’t equate to being less racist than those who put ‘no blacks’ on their profile. The pain takes on a new dimension when in a relationship and is difficult to confront because you find yourself wondering how your non-black partner could be racist. After all, ‘love is love’ and ‘love has no colour’ right? This can result in confusion and mental torture that can spiral into something unpleasant if not dealt with.

Summer 2015 saw me blindly fall for someone and get sucked into a relationship where seemingly minor racial insensitivities escalated into emotional and verbal abuse. Hearing him casually make comments such as 

“Chinese people are uncivilised until they come to England” were irksome to me and attempts to correct him would be met with retorts like “why do all you black people have this ingrained aggression”. He would then proceed to use the fact that he was dating me as a shield against accusations of racism which often resulted in the conclusion that I was overreacting. Out of desperation to prove that I was not one of those humourless, overly sensitive blacks I let the comments slide.

This relationship disintegrated into a highly dysfunctional, psychologically destructive situation that was characterised by constant ‘casual racism’, mental abuse and multiple counts of infidelity on his part. A messy separation that saw me being told to “go back to Africa, where you belong” followed. My self-esteem had sunk so low that I attempted suicide a week after the break-up. 

Relationships can be racist

A year on from that ordeal I was holidaying in London, my beloved second home (pre-Brexit, that is). Having made a full mental and physical recovery, I was looking good and ready to tease the boys. I was contacted by this tall, charming and seemingly witty man who seemed interested in me and my ethnic background. He even gave me the whole ‘my closest friends are black Africans and therefore I am an open minded and good person’ speech which, with hindsight, should’ve been the biggest red flag but attraction clouded my judgement. 

Racism is a big part of any minority’s life in the West and I was stupid to believe that this was someone who would ‘get it’. I let my guard down and feelings started to develop. Disaster.

He turn out to be the cliché example of someone who says they’re not racist and don’t appear to be, but is uncomfortable when I point out the racist things that he said. There were instances where my ethno-cultural observations with him were denigrated as me ‘reading too much into things’. He would then proceed to display a level of prickdom that I didn’t think him capable of. 

This was in reference to my body hair.

In fact he turned out to be particularly condescending and smug and would use his people of colour friends as an excuse to be more outspoken about his ‘casual’ racism as he put it, often citing that his other black friends had no problems with it and that I was overly sensitive.

Gaslighting. Classic.

These posts highlight an incident where his inappropriate remarks lead to some tension. After that previous experience, I was simply not willing to let these comments slide and attempted to get him to see how inappropriate his words were. His mantra was being ‘open minded’, after all. Unfortunately this backfired and the situation descended into an intense fight that lasted a whole day. 

With this, I was then forced to confront the very real possibility that whatever racism people harbour in this country will likely always be simmering beneath the surface and it really cannot be changed. I mean, this was a person who told me that his parents “sometimes enjoy making nigger jokes but that doesn’t make them racist at all”. I had to cut him out before he hurt me further.

Translation: ‘I like saying racist things’.

The illusion 

The illusion of inclusion is how I would describe the LGBT community in Britain. The gay community loves to pay lip service to being accepting of everyone. 

For all their equality branding, the LGBT community has been an absolute disappointment in tackling any form of intolerance and it was completely naïve of me to think that the LGBT community would be exempt. The enticing messages of endless love and equality are deceptive and especially harmful to people of colour, like myself, who are particularly vulnerable when looking for ‘safe places’.  

It was jarring to be confronted with the exact same feelings of intolerance and rejection that I faced in my home country.  

 Dating within the LGBT community did strip the veil about racism not being a problem any more and has brought about tremendous internal growth. Through all the confusion, tears, depression I have emerged with much thicker skin. I am well equipped to deal with racism in the wider world but I will be damned if I let it happen in my intimate life ever again.