THE LONELY CROWD (FICTION!)

…The Pensive Lines of a Gay Man.

If there is one word that I can use to summarize my life as I see it, it is the word ‘GRACE’. Grace brings up for me the sense of gratitude or gift—gratitude for who I am, all I have been and all I am called to be. I am still ‘on the way’ in the sense of trying to be truly grateful for my life—my here and now, and I know I am not alone. My God is with me on this journey. There have been three major deepening experiences in my life—experiences that have revolutionized my life. The first was when as a little child I was baptized and joined the family of God’s people in the Roman Catholic Church. The second was in 1988, when at the age of thirteen (13), I had a deep ‘born-again experience’ in secondary school that drew me closer to Christ and led me to join the Charismatic movement (firstly, outside the Catholic Church and later within the Catholic Church). The third very important experience of my life occurred in 2002, when after a long period of struggle, self-doubt, deliverance sessions, self-hatred and very depressive moments; I finally came to accept myself as a gay man. My ‘gayness’ became and is still a very strong part of my identity—‘my giftedness’. For me to have moved from seeing my homosexual orientation as a source of shame/guilt to being a gift has not been an easy journey. I am still on the journey.
My story just as stories of other gay men and lesbian women is filled with moments of self-doubt, hatred, experience of homophobia both within and without and also a breaking-through of the love of God to dispel the darkness and claim me for who I really am. Yet, each story is also unique because our situations tend to differ. Being Gay/Lesbian in the western countries is certainly different from being gay/lesbian in Africa where homosexuality is denied, seen as ‘demonic’ or as one of the ‘agendas’ of the West that wants to infiltrate Africa. In a very strong paternalistic culture where men are superior over women, heterosexual marriage is the norm, and children are often a sign of wealth, homosexuality is seen as an ‘aberration’ or a curse which often leads to banishment or at worse death. Ours is a culture where Marriage is being rescued gradually from being seen solely as a ‘Child bearing institution’ and Love is beginning to make a bit of sense. One of my friends recently in trying to counter the ‘gay agenda’ asked me, ‘do you have any word in your language for gays/homosexuals/bisexuals?’ And I asked him in return, ‘do you have any word in your language for straights/heterosexuals? He was speechless. The words ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transgender’ might be relatively new but the experience which they describe are as old as the sun.
I remember the first time as an eleven year old boy in a secondary school (boarding) in Nigeria, I heard the word homosexual. It immediately sounded evil to me—something I should never become or associate with. I was lying on the same bed with another male friend. We were just talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s presence very ‘innocently’, when a Senior student passed us and asked us ‘are you homosexuals’? He laughed and passed on. I remember asking my friend: ‘What is a homosexual’? He said to me: ‘two men who have sex with each other’. Immediately, I became confused and afraid and I left him. Till today, I don’t know why I was terrified, but looking back now (and with a bit of humour), I think it was because I had often fantasized making love to some boys around me, only that the thought often seemed so evil and bad to me that I never shared (or dreamt of sharing) it with anyone. I eventually did have an erotic encounter/play with this friend of mine. It was my first time—a sort of exploration but afterwards, we never talked about it. Even though it was a discovery experience for me, I never really talked much with the boy for the next 5 years we were to be together in school.

In my Form three (3) in Secondary school, at the age of thirteen (13), I had a ‘born-again experience’. It was a special time for me because for the first time, I really had a spiritual awakening moment. I started to read the Bible very seriously and I would pray for hours. Later on, we started a Christian fellowship in school called the Scripture Union. From my Form 3 until my Form 6, I was the prayer-coordinator and later vice-president of the fellowship. We were very charismatic and I started experiencing deep spiritual gifts at a young age—praying/speaking in tongues, prayer, prophecy, deliverance/healing and a strong preaching/teaching ministry. By the age of sixteen (16) in Form 6, I was already leading Revival meetings and preaching at crusades. I was also very gifted intellectually and had distinction in all my nine subjects after my Secondary school certificate examinations. Looking back at this very important time in my life, I would say it was a time of blessing for me because that was the foundation of the vocation I have today. My love for the ‘spiritual’ (which has transformed through the years), started then. The negative aspect of this period was that after my born-again experience, I had a radical cut-off from everything ‘human’. I was very puritanical and had a strong apprehension for anything human, material or worldly. My sexuality was kind of dead. Lust/immorality was the number one sin against God, who was more like a Judge for me then than a loving Mother/Father. Mine was not a spirituality of GRACE then, but more of a spirituality of ‘struggle’ and ‘muscle’ where everything depended on me and I tried desperately to please God and gain eternal life. So, at my age, when boys started exploring sexuality and dating e.t.c, I did none of that. In Secondary school, there were stories of boys who did ‘funny things’ with fellow boys at night and even one boy was expelled for having sex with another boy who was a junior student. These stories made me scared and it tightened my spiritual/non-worldly muscle. I determined I wanted to go to heaven and nothing, not even my sexuality would be an obstacle.

After Secondary school, when our fellowship members dispersed and went to their different homes, I felt really alone. I fell out of my Catholic Faith which seemed dead to me and I tried looking for other Churches to belong. I tried several churches but I wasn’t really satisfied. During this period, I discovered pornography and it became an outlet for my repressed sexuality. After watching pornography and at times masturbating, I would feel guilty. I would then decide to fast to appease God and cry for his mercy. After some time again, I would go back to pornography and the guilt/repentance cycle will continue again. I wasn’t a very social person (partly due to my spirituality then) and so I wasn’t really close to those living around me. I was more of a lone-ranger. I remember one day, going to a nearby stream/well with some of my neighbours to wash clothes. I was Seventeen (17) and the boys (there was about eight of us), were around my age or a bit older than me. After washing, some of the boys removed their clothes to bath. I remember feeling very aroused as I watched them bathing. I tried to look away. Still, I did not pay attention to my sexuality. I started having a crush on one of the boys who lived around me but never made it known to him. Finally, I discovered the Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church and it became like a second family to me. I got very involved and committed and gradually rediscovered my Catholic Faith. I became very enthusiastic with Church again and even started thinking of becoming a priest. I was so serious with my aspiration for the Catholic Priesthood and told my Dad. He said I must first attend the University. Eventually, I got admission to do a degree in Economics at one of the Federal Universities. I was Eighteen (18) and very excited going to University. Little did I know what awaited me in Campus.

University was a whole new world to me. Once again, I immersed myself in the world of study and the spiritual. Almost immediately, my spiritual vibrancy and intellectual giftedness were noticed. I became the best student in my department and was elected my class representative. In the Church, I was in the leadership team of the Catholic Charismatic Fellowship and in the Catholic Chaplaincy as a whole. It was during this time, that I attended for the first time a workshop on Human sexuality. The speaker told us that Sexuality is good and that sexual feelings were normal. It was the first time I heard this and it was indeed ‘good news’ for me. Of course, I still thought in my head I was heterosexual and made a lot of girlfriends. I was close to many girls. They really felt at home with me and could share many things with me, yet I wasn’t in anyway sexually attracted to any of them. By this time, I had given up pornography and masturbation was very rarely. In my third year of campus life, I was appointed the Leader/President of my School Fellowship and it was a position I took very seriously. I was a spiritual Leader and a Shepherd. The first major change I started to observe within me was that I started developing true compassion as a major part of my ministry. I started learning how to be more relaxed as a human being and my relationship life improved. People really loved me and I loved them. I was a very good Leader in the eyes of many. In my class too, it was obvious I was heading towards a First-Class. I did not share with anyone the restlessness I was experiencing within my heart. There were two (2) major ones. Firstly, as my time in school was gradually coming to an end, I was really thinking about going for the Catholic Priesthood. I felt a deep call to serve God more. Secondly, I was having once-in-a-while attractions towards some young men especially those in my fellowship even though I never acted on these feelings. We could innocently sleep together after a Church programme but little did they know how I often ‘struggled’ with my very erotic feelings. At times, I would spend a whole night awake trying to read my Bible, or study my academic courses or pray. Sometimes the ‘torment’ became so much for me that I would leave school and go to a nearby Chapel to pray. I could spend very, very, long hours in prayer sometimes crying and asking God to remove this thorn of homosexual feelings from my flesh. How could I …I as a spiritual guide be plagued by these feelings? Outwardly people loved me but inwardly I felt guilty and hypocritical even though I had never acted out my sexual feelings.

In my final year in 2002, when I was Twenty-two (22), I was re-elected again as leader of my fellowship. I encountered this young man (who was also in the leadership team). We became very close and one night while we were sleeping together, I made advances at him. He woke up crying and I started crying too. I avoided him for days and even cancelled a talk I was supposed to give at the Fellowship because of the incidence. I ran to the chapel, sat before the Blessed Sacrament for hours and wept. I asked the Lord a lot of questions—‘What was happening to me?’, ‘Why was I sick and not normal like others?’, Why couldn’t I fall in love with girls and talk about them as many of my friends did, even though I am surrounded by myriads of ladies—young and very pretty; yet it wasn’t the girls, but the guys, the handsome young tender men who always caught my eyes and my affections?’ I remember asking God, ‘Who am I?’ and I remember hearing the words, ‘I am who I am, you are who you are and you are not sick’. The first Catholic Priest I met and told about my sexual feelings told me I was among those cursed people who go about abusing young boys. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. This made me resent myself more and resent this God who gave me this curse.

Later on, I met two of my close friends in confidence. They were also leaders like me in my fellowship. I told them of this my thorn. We agreed that they would carry out a deliverance session for me. We had 3 long nights of me kneeling down and two (2) of them laying hands on me and commanding the demon of homosexuality to leave me. After the prayers, I believed all was well, but then, I met again, the young man whom I had fallen in love with before and my feelings intensified even more than before. This time however, we met and talked. We acknowledged our deep love for each other but resolved not to express it genitally. Even though there was nothing genital about our intimacy, yet, for the first time, I truly celebrated being in love. We could hold hands, laugh together and talk for a very, very, long time together. Eventually, I finished school with a First-Class Honours and decided to enter the Seminary and train for the Catholic Priesthood. I thought that if I entered the seminary, my sexual feelings would die a natural death (even though it wasn’t really the main reason I had entered the Seminary; I felt really called)—little did I know I was wrong. Little did I know that God still had much in store for me.
I entered the seminary in 2003, age 23 and was told my studies would be shortened because I already had a University degree. In the seminary, I one day, confided to my Spiritual Director about my psycho-sexual journey so far. I told him how confused I was at my sexual feelings and sexuality as a whole. He smiled and told me, ‘You must be homosexual, you’re gay’. I was very shocked. It was the first time I had been told directly in the face about my sexuality. He then gave me a journal on human sexuality to study. As I studied it, I came across several words and what they meant for the first time—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender e.t.c. I decided to settle for bisexual because I felt it was a good compromise. Identifying myself as gay was just too scary for me yet. I mean, how I could be in the same category with those perverted dogs. ‘No, I must be bisexual’, I thought to myself. I felt my task was to start working on the heterosexual part of my bisexuality and perhaps if I worked hard enough I could become a full heterosexual. I tried to be more friendly with my female friends. The results were still frustrating for me. They would fall seriously in love with me but I wouldn’t really feel sexually attracted to them. I mean, I loved them (in an emotional way sort off). Rather, I found myself more sexually attracted to my fellow seminarians (one of them in particular), though I kept this knowledge/feeling to myself. As usual, I allowed myself to be soaked up with books and more books and still more books (and prayer of course). There was still this tension within me known partially only by my Spiritual Director (who was European).

As time went on, we did more workshops on Sexuality. I started trying to tell myself the truth. In one of the workshops I attended, the facilitator (a nun) spoke of homosexuality as a gift. I challenged her statement but she said gently that if Sexuality is a gift, then homosexuality one of its variations must be a gift too which must be accepted and integrated into one’s concept of self-ness. I later met her to talk more and she said immediately she saw me, she knew I was gay. She said to me, ‘God will use you greatly someday, but first you must be free’. The next big thing that happened to me was when I read an article in a magazine by a Priest who was also gay and celibate. He was sharing his story. His story and struggles seemed so close to mine. I read and re-read it a couple of times. He suggested some books on gay spirituality. I knew then that I was not alone. ‘So’, I thought to myself, ‘there were really others like me’. THE SENSE OF NOT BEING ALONE IN MY JOURNEY/STRUGGLES WAS FOR ME THE FIRST REAL PATH TO TRUE FREEDOM AND ACCEPTANCE OF MY SEXUALITY.

In 2006, I was sent to South Africa for further studies and I started reading books on Spirituality for gay people. It seemed like a dream for me. I was overjoyed at what I was reading—‘So one could be happy as a homosexual’, I thought to myself. In May, I attended a workshop on Human Sexuality organized for all the Students from the Catholic institution where I was studying in South Africa. There were more than sixty (60) of us . The topic on homosexuality was very hotly debated. I heard a lot of ‘hate statements’ against homosexuals and I was really scared. I hadn’t come out yet to anyone. During the break period, when the students would be sharing and making jokes at fags, I would just occasionally smile and then withdraw to my world. It was there I felt safe. On the last day of the workshop, I talked with one of my facilitators again and asked him, ‘Who am I?’ He asked me to begin from that day and write down very sincerely in my journal all that was happening or that had happened within me especially my psycho-sexual journey. I started by writing a prayer to God, explaining my confusion but most especially my fear. Eventually, a priest friend sent me a book written by a Priest called James Alison, who was expelled because of his ministry to gay people and the fact that he was also gay himself (though Celibate). After reading the book (FAITH BEYOND RESENTMENT: Fragment Catholics and gay), I wrote to him. He replied me and later called me on phone. We spoke for more than 30 minutes. That night, after the call, I opened my journal to write my experiences and I knew deep down within me I was gay. ‘What the hell’, I said to myself, I am homosexual. I laughed and cried at the same time. They were tears of relief—tears of someone who had been born anew. It was as if a cloud had been lifted and at last I had come home. One thing James wrote to me was, ‘do not be ashamed of your love, and no one will look down on you’. His last words which later became my slogan for ministering to gay people and people in difficult situations were: ‘Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE’.

I embarked on a new journey. James sent lots of books to me. I devoured them and my eyes started to open. I began to see the controversy the debate on homosexuality had caused (and is still causing) in different Churches including my own and the society at large. I also discovered different psychological/social theories about gay people. Being a very intellectual person, these discoveries were very important for me. Above all however, I began to discover deep down a Love and acceptance from my God. I told God I was gay and felt him say, ‘I love you’. One of my close girlfriends once came to me and said she had been praying for me and heard specifically these words for me ‘Do not despair; Can a Leopard change its skin?’ She said she didn’t know what these words meant (as I hadn’t then come out to her). I laughed calmly and told her, ‘don’t worry, I know what they mean’. I started to meet other gay people in my environment, at first rather fearfully then later a bit more confidently. I met a Priest friend who was a lecturer in my institution and shared with him about my new found love. He told me he was also gay. He became my first ‘mentor’ guiding me and leading me. He really mediated God’s love to me. At first, I was afraid. I had heard/read that gay people were very promiscuous, Unchristian and bad! I now know that IT IS ALL A LIE!!! I related with this Priest for a full year. We would go together to movies or for a meal. Yet, never once did he even make a slight advance towards me. He was the most intelligent, devoted, compassionate, hard-working, Spiritual man I had ever met. He was even voted best lecturer of the year by the students in the Institution.

Later on, I started to grow on my own. Using my God-given intellectual gift and combining my passion/creativity for music and drama, I started to write articles and enter into healthy dialogues about issues of Human Sexuality. As I started to internalize God’s love for me, I became much freer and relaxed with people and with myself. I started to learn how to laugh more. Many of my friends noticed I had become lighter with people. Even in my Pastoral work, I could easily be compassionate towards people in difficult situations. I possessed a kind of empathy I couldn’t explain. I started to come out—firstly to my spiritual director and then to my close friends. One of my close friends in particular (who is heterosexual) has been one of the greatest sources of strength for me, affirming my goodness in those days I would struggle with despair. He was never ‘afraid’ of me. He was truly God with me. I am planning on coming-out soon to members of my family. Coming out has not been easy. As I met love and acceptance, I also met a lot of hate—people who are not comfortable with their own sexuality. From experience, I know what fear does. I know what it has done in my life. Today, when I meet people who are afraid of LGBT people, I understand part of where that fear is coming from. Even when I came out to some ‘gay haters’, they find it hard to believe I’m gay because they’ve concluded from what they’ve seen/heard in the media or from friends that gays are abnormal people. But, I let them know that there is no ‘they’, there is only ‘us’—gay/straight, black/white, we belong to one family. Yes, there are definitely aspects of the so-called ‘gay culture’ that I have a bit of reservations about but also part of the ‘heterosexual culture’ raises questions for me too.
It has not been a straight-line journey. I fell in love with a close friend who after an intimate sexual experience with, said he had been ‘converted to heterosexuality’. I almost went back to my closet of depression, fear, confusion and denial. I was just like a baby still learning to walk with its legs. Thanks to my friend James, who was there to lead me gently and radiate God’s love for me, I came back on track. The Lord too has been very gentle/patient with me. There was a time my sexuality/spirituality seemed to be at disparity. I even stopped praying and became a ‘temporary atheist’ for about three (3) months. I told God to leave me alone. After the three months, I was in a Chapel. I wasn’t praying as such—I was just there—confused, angry and then I felt the Lord hug me and say to me, ‘Its Ok, Its Ok’. I just wept there in God’s embrace and promised from then on, I will never doubt God’s love for me as this gay man.

I know the crosses/hardships that comes from trying to be in a society that even pretends you don’t exist and ‘demonises’ you but I also know the joy of coming home and of being truthful and real with yourself, others and God about who you are. It gives me a sense of integrity and peace. That is the gift no one will take away from me—I am a gay man who loves the Lord desperately and am trying to be in his service. For some Gay/Lesbian people I have met, religion has been their stumbling block to true acceptance and I can understand that very well. For me however, it has been a channel of coming home to myself and it is what sustains me. When I look at hate statements all around me, I know God is not involved in all the violence and hate. It is just our fears. Jesus came to dispel fear and replace it with faith. I am twenty-eight (28) now and still a Student for the Priesthood. Whether I will achieve my dreams or not, I don’t know but I have found peace within me. My spirituality and my sexuality come very naturally to me. I have moved on with my life. I love my work with people and God has used/is using my giftedness/brokenness to touch those around me. Also, I am beginning to see anew the gift of Human Sexuality, Marriage, Gay Partnership and of course Celibacy. As Bill Heusbech wrote in his poetic/prose reflection, which is what I will end with:

Gay men and Lesbians will tell you plainly
that their way of loving
comes ‘naturally’ to them
as straight men and women
understand their attractions.

Lesbians and gay men will tell you
that the truth is this:
sexuality is a gift from God
and homosexuality is one expression
of that gift.

That’s the truth
that has set so many
lesbians and gay men free at last.
That’s the truth that has brought them
out of the closet of hiding,
out of the tombs.

And in this coming out,
gay men and lesbians often say that,
for the first time,
it is now clear
how God touches us with eternal truth.

I am happy now because GRACE has brought me home and GRACE will continue to lead me. WE’RE THE LONELY CROWD…BUT I KNOW HOWEVER THAT THIS LONELY CROWD WOULD SOME DAY MUDDLE UP WITH THE CROWDNESS OF CROWDEST WORLD THAT DETEST IT….
BY: HENRY OMEJE