Written by Joshua Kaye
Illustrated by Laura Buckell
This article has been many months in the making, with several drafts and rewrites gone into it. There are times when I have felt highly motivated to write about this, and other times when I abandoned it, discouraging myself from ever going public about my story.
This is a highly complex situation, with many moving parts. Everything is nuanced. I doubt that even I, at this point, fully understand the depth of this situation. Though this is a very shortened discussion of events, the message is clear: I am the victim of a very sophisticated and complex system of homophobic manipulation, instilled in me by my family.
There are many places to start. Perhaps the moment when I realised I was gay at age ten, or the various times I would run away from home in my early teens, in frustration of being forced by my family to repress my sexuality (and not being able to discuss my feelings in a healthy environment – to anyone), but instead I’ll refer to a situation that happened in the summer of 2015 that my mum still refers to.
This was the moment when I first expressed strong disapproval towards the ways in which self hatred was instilled in me from early on. I was twenty and about to start university. I was in London and I refused to go home one evening. I had felt angry and become increasingly aware of my parents’ homophobia towards me.
My mum would always refer to HIV as if it was only gay people who had it, but I sent her a lengthy text stating that it’s not only gay people who have it, but straight people can get it too. Over the years, she has used that moment of my vocal disapproval against me, in person.
She uses her belittling, dismissive tone which she has come to adopt over the years as a method to make me feel stupid, as a way to make me question my own logic. To make me feel that, perhaps, I cannot and do not understand my own thoughts, my own feelings. That I cannot be of sound mind as I have apparently decided to follow this so called ‘gay lifestyle’. This is the way in which my parents’ system of homophobic manipulation takes form.
To save time, I won’t talk at length about the many different anecdotes involving self-fear and self-hatred involving my parents, so instead, a quick list about the severe ways they attempt to police my sexuality:
- If I have a run of bad luck, my mum would blame it on my sexuality. According to her, everything bad that happens to me is the result of me being gay. Apparently, bad luck is God’s way of telling me to pray the gay away.
- I must be gay because I don’t love myself, says mum. It is apparently a form of self-torture. As if being heterosexual would solve all self-esteem issues. Encouraging me to hate myself in order to try and change who I am through telling me that I hate myself. Pure manipulation.
- I didn’t get many friends at school because of my sexuality. True, but using this as justification to become straight? Incorrect.
- My younger sisters can tell whether I’ve had gay sex recently. They will cry if I come home after intercourse. Hasn’t happened yet.
- My mum has too much interest in whether I can sh*t well or not. While I was growing up, she would scare me into becoming straight by saying how gay guys have loose rectums and how their sh*t just flies out of their ass because anal sex apparently does that to you.
Even though I refer to my mum a lot, my dad doesn’t get a free pass either. As I got older, he started working abroad more often (and eventually my parents divorced while in my teens). Regardless, he stands by my mum and has the same opinions as her. He has several times been visibly upset by the prospect of a gay son.
As for the rest of my family, uncles and aunts included, they are all of the same thought that queerness is wrong, abnormal, unnatural – for several reasons all stemming from religious dogma.
Of course, my parents’ opinions are flawed. They aren’t important to me, especially when it leads to self-hatred. Their attempts to emotionally manipulate me into trying to become straight is a clear sign that they’re doing the wrong thing. No one should be manipulated to do anything like that. But they do it in the name of love and that is what brings a whole other level of meaning.
The projection of hate in the form of love is a system of manipulation that has long been in place in society. Think of Hitler’s rise to power, the extermination of Jews, the disabled, gypsies and homosexuals, under the guise of protection of the Fatherland. The pursuit of the British Empire as a means to civilise the uncivilised. Some would argue that the rise of Trump as a man who protects national interests through the subjugation of Mexicans, LGBTQ+ people and countless others would fall under this category.
Their indoctrination has had an irreversible impact on my social and mental capabilities. My parents do not understand this and choose not to understand this. In order to get to my present state of self-love, I had to go through (and still go through) periods of self-imposed social exclusion – telling myself that I wasn’t worthy of friends; that my thoughts and opinions weren’t worth anything; complete denial of my self-worth. That I am not worthy of a voice of my own. Isolation of the highest order.
Although I have a few friends now, I cannot really speak to them about my issues as they have issues of their own. Opening up is something I would like to work on but at the moment I feel I’d be burdening them.
The truth of the matter is, that manipulation is part and parcel of human nature. I wish I could end this article on a positive note, but I cannot, for my situation has not ended at all, either positively or negatively. Instead, food for thought: my parents’ ideologies were the result of a rigorous and unapologetically religious African fundamentalism fashioned in their lives from young. The trauma of their upbringing has been inherited by me but the motivation behind this inheritance is reversed.
As we observe Black History Month, it is important to recognise how far black people have come in the past few hundred years. But in the shadows, away from the achievements that we have accomplished, there lies a great deal of inherited trauma. That is, the trauma instigated by colonialism and religious dogma that still lives on to this very day. It is this trauma that divides the black community and prevents us from truly moving forward in love, acceptance and tolerance of all, for all.
It is time to break the chains of inherited trauma, lest we completely destroy our integrity, and truly transcend the conditions of our circumstances. It should be the endeavour of the world to castigate hate to the dark corners of the globe. Unfortunately, this endeavour is still in progress, to the misfortune of billions dead and alive. Time has made me understand the reasons behind my parents’ manipulation. If I must end this article on a vaguely positive note, then it would be to say that I have learnt from evil, as well as good. Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous
Currently, Joshua is a first year PhD student in English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. To support this, he is working in insurance. In his spare time he creates avant-garde music and loves to cook and travel.