I did not join the gang of boys

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Why is it that virtually everything I do or say is misinterpreted, and even termed weird? Why do I have to go to bed every day asking why I'm repeatedly misunderstood? Why do I have to go through the stress of finding specific words, sentences to explain myself and my natural demeanour to people who apparently didn't understand what I said or why I did what I did, or even what I didn't do?

Rear shoulder view of man with dark brown skin (Original by Hero Images/Getty)These, among hundreds, were the questions that popped in my teens and ushered me into adulthood. They left me bewildered. These questions disrupted my sleep, my mental calm and even aspirations. As I reflect on various stages of my childhood, teen years, and now navigating the world as a 27-year-old, I can safely say that, even though I wish to retain my childlikeness, my teenage innocence, both childhood and adulthood are overrated — and vice versa. I remember writing in an old notebook that, 'I wish I hadn't been born.'

As a child I was fascinated with disappearance. I fantasised having some supernatural power to disappear into space, disappear to another country, and even teleport to places I had read about. But no matter how often I daydreamed, I only disappeared into books, disappeared into playgrounds, into bushes. I didn't want to exist in constant misunderstanding. I don't want to exist. So aloneness mattered to me more than many things. Aloneness still matters to me.

Once a guy walked to me and threatened to deal with me if I don't stay out of his way. This happened right in my neighbourhood, a few yards from our house. He ordered me to stay out of his way and never try his patience. Beside the fact that his tall and broad figure gave him the look of someone whose day and night had been spent on enlarging their ego, his words were frightening.

Streets, geographies, people have their unique lingos. The words he uttered confused me. They weren't new or unpronounceable words, they weren't from a language I didn't understand; they were rather strange phrases in my cognitive map and overall way of life. I was about 12 or 13, and no one had ever walked to me in my neighbourhood to tell me what not to do or risk my life. His words came with such forcefulness. I felt attacked, because to deal with someone in our kind of slum is to cause a remarkable degree of hurt or even cause something worse to happen. Words, phrases can become violent even if they don't originally mean anything negative.

I would end up spending nights awake trying to figure out what in my entire life had gone wrong: who did I wrong? what have I said? when? where? I would dodge his eyes or gaze since he frequented our street. I told a few friends of mine and they laughed over it and joked that perhaps he had sighted me with one of his girlfriends. I couldn't put my thumb on any record of being with any girl — I have been a shy boy all my life.

Information I got out about him scared me the more: that he walks in gangs of smokers, that he was one who should be feared and held in the highest regard. I would fear him.

 

"As a little child I didn't think I was a boy or a girl, except that I grew up into the language given to my body and its many parts."

 

At a certain period in my late teens I harboured thought of joining a gang of boys in the neighbourhood who met every morning and evening to lift weights they had made by themselves. I thought I could join them and, through weightlifting, build up my body into something that will not be intimidated or easily threatened by any physical confrontation. I could save myself with huge biceps, broad shoulders.

It's been over 15 years, and I'm still slender since the event of the guy who threatened to deal with me. It's been over 15 years, and I've yet to find the exact reason why a stranger asked me stay out of his lane even though I was in front of my house. It's been over 15 years, and I am now aware of factors behind things and the way they turn, of factors why people act in certain ways, and even motivations behind certain actions of mine. I ended up not joining the gang. I ended up not lifting weights. I ended up myself.

'David, you're too effeminate,' people tease. They ask: David, do you think you might be gay, or you probably love boys the way you like girls? These days when people ask about my sexuality, either trying to proposition or trying to help explain the shape of my being to me (as some make it look), I simply smile.

I grew up in a house that rarely mentioned love. Love came up only in talks about God, about the love of Christ for his church and about loving your neighbour as yourself. However, to me, there was a kind of love that manifested in my house that needed no naming. It transcended adjectives or nouns or adverbs. We were so playful to the extent we tried our mother's dresses, skirts, blouses, scarves. We were so playful to the extent we tried our sister's. And in days when I felt the fullness of my mischievousness, I dressed like my mother or sister and ran out of the house to make people laugh. There was no fuss about it.

As a little child I didn't think I was a boy or a girl, except that I grew up into the language given to my body and its many parts. 

It was the American poet and scholar, Lyn Hejinian, who said that: 'Language makes tracks.' I do not reject my male form, but I reject the burden put on me to be slim or fat. I reject the expectation to behave a certain way as a male. If I be limited, let it be because of my natural biology and not because of another person's definition or expectation. I choose to live on a currency of love, compassion, and respect for people's orientation and beliefs.

 

 

David Ishaya OsuDavid Ishaya Osu is a Nigerian poet. His poems have appeared in: Atlas Poetica: A Journal of World Tanka, Birmingham Arts Journal, Tipton Poetry Journal, Watershed Review, The Missing Slate and elsewhere.

Main image: Original by Hero Images/Getty

Topic tags: David Ishaya Osu, Nigeria, LGBTQI, masculinity

 

 

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Existing comments

David... I read every word, and I love your descriptions and your turn of phrase, your thoughts and your conclusion. Would you be different today if the big guy hadn't threatened you. Wonder what happened to that bully! Warmest regards... Pauline x
Pauline | 06 September 2019


Hi David - what a beautifully written piece! I envy your ability to write so clearly. My ballroom dance partner was gay. He would be standing waiting for a bus and a group of guys would drive by, lean out of the car and yell obscenities at him. As he said "I just want to be myself - why do they feel they need to do that?" There is too much hate and viciousness in the world - your powerful and evocative writing is a wonderful way to take a stand. Warm regards Helen
Helen Cameron | 06 September 2019


As an older person of colour, David, I spent half my life dodging as well as confronting the tensions and contradictions that looking different imposes on Black persons growing up in White society. It's a blessing that this crisis of identity seems to have passed you by. In the end its who we are as persons that defines each one of us, which seems to be what you're saying. Keep writing more in this postmodern mode, in which the interstices of our identity are so mangled as to privilege our humanity.
Michael Furtado | 08 September 2019


Thank you David - your last paragraph - perfectly expressed.
Cathy O'D | 08 September 2019


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