How I learnt to take pride in my sexuality
Modupe grew up a country where homosexuality is criminalised. Here she blogs about how it affected her mental health.
Modupe, a 22-year-old English Lit graduate from Royal Holloway University, is a writer, spoken-word performer, singer, dancer, actress and campaigner.
I may not go to church as much, as I did when I was forced to growing up, and I may no longer subscribe to any form of institutionalized religion, but this is one of my favourite biblical passages:
“[…] and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing […] And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:2-13)
Now that I’ve grown into adulthood, my understanding of this passage remains the same as when I was a little girl: at the very core of existence is love. Having had this understanding from when I was younger, it always saddened me to know that this same passage of love has come from the same Bible, which has often been quoted at me to invalidate and, more often, condemn my sexuality. As a little girl from Nigeria, where homosexuality is still criminalised and the majority of the nation is staunchly religious, the threats of “judgment day” and “hell fire” were what kept my voice silent and my sexuality repressed.
"As a little girl from Nigeria, where homosexuality is still criminalised and the majority of the nation is staunchly religious, the threats of “judgment day” and “hell fire” were what kept my voice silent and my sexuality repressed."
Repressing something so central to my identity was definitely not good; and truly, a Freudian manifestation of paranoia, anxiety and OCD began to set in when I was seven or eight. I would wake up in cold sweats, screaming from vivid nightmares. I couldn’t go about my day without performing at least five rituals to ‘prevent’ my anxious thoughts from consuming me or ‘coming true’. I would count my grains of rice on my plate in even numbers as I ate them, because I thought that if I didn’t my mum would find out about my ‘secret’. I would climb the steps in odd numbers because I was convinced that if I did not judgment day would come and I, a sinner, would be condemned to the ‘hell fire’ the adults always spoke of, especially in Sunday School.
Growing up, I knew I was different in more ways than one, but what stuck out to me the most was my inability to gush over boys like my female friends did. My reactions to the guys who had crushes on me in primary school were often very detached and uninterested. Of course, I fantasised about Trey Songz, Nick Jonas and Chace Crawford, but they were celebrities. Listening to and belting out Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl gave me more joy than being handed flowers by boys. I had indeed kissed a girl, it was my first kiss, and I really liked it. Watching Naomi and Sonia’s relationship on EastEnders made me feel like I wasn’t weird for enjoying kissing girls. I had felt excitement, but it was very short-lived as it was quickly followed by guilt and shame.
My mum would occasionally watch EastEnders with us and make me cover my eyes when Naomi and Sonia kissed. Other times watching movies with a gay character she would scoff in disgust and she would often make comments on how the world is ‘in trouble’. Though I was young, I knew she did all this because that’s how she was raised and that was years of tradition and culture speaking; but even with all the empathy in the world, I had begun to feel guilty for being who I was. At the age of seven, I was molested by a male worker in our family home. I didn’t know who I could tell or trust, and for a long time afterwards I could not trust men, not even my loving Papa. When I was younger, I often wondered if the sexual assault was punishment for my sexuality.
It wasn’t until secondary school that I realised I was attracted to boys too. This set in more confusion, because I had only just begun to accept that I was potentially a lesbian and I might have to live my life pretending that I wasn’t. I would think, ‘Did I really need to be punished if I did actually like boys?’, I was lost and confused with no one to trust or turn to. ‘Can I like both boys and girls?’, I typed into AskJeeves. The answers opened my eyes to what I came to understand was bisexuality. My sexuality and the assault were both secrets… but they were secrets that were eating away at my mental health.
Ironically, my nickname was Smiley, but by the age of eight I had become suicidal and attempted to take my life multiple times over the course of my pre-adolescent years.
"Ironically, my nickname was Smiley, but by the age of eight I had become suicidal and attempted to take my life multiple times over the course of my pre-adolescent years."
I didn’t know what was wrong with me or that I needed help till, aged 14, a close friend of mine at school reported her concern for me and my mental health to my school’s health centre. Till this day, I don’t think she realises that she catalysed the chain of events that lead to me getting the help and support I very much needed. I had grown up using The Arts (writing, singing, dancing, acting) to ‘cope’ but I needed the extra help to actually heal.
Her loving support changed my life for the better. I was able to open up about the assault and my battle with mental health issues, I started therapy and till this day I still receive support. I may not have been able to receive my diagnosis for Bipolar Disorder if I had not started seeing a mental health professional as early on as I did. My friend’s actions made me realise that it is important to seek help for a friend or someone you care about, especially if they are in danger and aren’t aware that there is help out there.
"My friend’s actions made me realise that it is important to seek help for a friend or someone you care about, especially if they are in danger and aren’t aware that there is help out there."
Whilst I started off identifying as bisexual, as the years have gone on, I have realised that I really don’t care what gender anyone I am attracted to is. Love is all I care about, and as long as the person in question is unequivocally going to show it to me in its most beautiful forms, then I am happy. To my very confused and lonely eight-year-old self and anyone who feels like they are constantly being judged by others, especially the ones they love, for their sexuality, remember that ‘the greatest of these is LOVE’ and you deserve all of it!
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