The Young Black Queer Struggle With The Idea Of Going 'Home'

How do you connect to culture when 'home' is homophobic and it's not safe to be who you are?
Maskot via Getty Images

Identity and belonging for a Black Brit are complicated things. Whether first or second generation Black British, many of us struggle with knowing where our “home” really is. If you were born here in the UK, it’s easy to see yourself as British, but equally common not to feel truly accepted by wider society.

And when you go back “home”, it’s not smooth sailing either. Often, you can be labelled as British or “foreign”, especially when it’s noticeable you weren’t born or raised in that country. This only gets more complex when you’re queer.

For most Black Brits, going back home is a time to meet extended family, practise your mother tongue and learn more about your culture. But how can you do that when home is homophobic? What happens when you want to explore your roots while knowing it could be dangerous to be you.

In Nigeria, for example, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill not only allows lengthy prison sentences for anyone entering into, witnessing or enabling a same-sex marriage, but also for anyone operating of gay clubs and societies, and public displays of same-sex affection.

I spoke to three LGBTQ+ British Nigerians about their relationship with home.

Bolu*, 20, is originally from Nigeria and her father passed away in December. She was expected to be travelling back this summer for his memorial. But she has decided against going due to her family’s intense Islamic conservatism.

Although she identifies as queer, Bolu is not currently out to her family as she believes that it would lead her to being disowned.

“I have a relatively good relationship with my mum but that’s because I conceal most of my life from her,” she says. “I don’t live at home so this has been easy. However, it’s getting to the point where it’s pretty laborious having to lie constantly to my mum.”

“When I think about going back to Nigeria, I feel a lot of pain and sadness.”

- Bolu, 20

Her family are from the north of Nigeria where full Sharia law has operated for two decades. “This means that if anything regarding my sexuality came out while I was in Nigeria, I wouldn’t be safe from my family and no laws would protect me,” she says.

“Even if I hide my sexuality incredibly well, which I have done in the past, I still have to deal with my family imposing patriarchal expectations on me as a woman.”

Bolu usually does spend two months in Nigeria every year, meaning she has built a life and connection there – but, increasingly, she feels like it’s fake.

“When I think about going back to Nigeria, I feel a lot of pain and sadness,” she says. “My family don’t know me and they can’t. My true self feels severed from my ancestry and heritage.”

The approaching trip home that she will be missing is very significant to her immediate family, Bolu says.

“In many ways it’s a homecoming – my dad was the eldest of his family and my family want to see his legacy, his children.

“Seeing the places my dad grew up in and experiencing Nigeria through my grief is something I really wish I could experience, but I just don’t think I can mentally hack it. It is just incredibly painful.”

JJ, 21, who identifies as bisexual and transmasculine, and has a disability, most recently visited Lagos in 2021. They’re planning on returning this year, but thinks it’s going to be their last trip back for the foreseeable.

“Going back [last year] just made me realise how I could never again fit in, both into my family and Nigerian society as a whole,” they tell HuffPost UK. “I can’t commit to hiding my queerness forever and I’m too disabled to get a real job so I couldn’t live there without relying on my family. I could never tolerate them putting mouth into my life and decisions when I don’t do the same to them, and when they won’t listen to my explanations for why I am the way I am.”

vm via Getty Images

They aren’t out to their family and don’t think they’ll ever come out. “I’m still closeted because I have no idea how they’ll react, only that it’ll be negative,” JJ says. “As someone who can’t live independently at present, I can’t risk getting kicked out, or shipped.

“I am out to my friends though, they were cool with this. I’ll just get more and more visibly queer over time and if they don’t figure it out, that’s on them.”

For Henry*, a 24-year old entrepreneur from North London, immigration issues have been the major reason he hasn’t been back to Nigeria lately, but his sexuality is also a contributing factor.

“I’m out to my family but it too me six years,” Henry says. “I knew I was queer when I was 17, but I was still living at home and didn’t want to risk getting kicked out. When I was 23 I felt like I was capable of coming out to my family as I’d moved out by myself and had a stable job. I just couldn’t get the concept of ‘coming out’ out of my head and eventually just came out to them.”

As a result, he currently isn’t speaking to one of his parents and says his wider family were not accepting of his identity. Asked if he wants to go home, he says: “What home? There is no nation I call home. I don’t believe in nations and borders, so I don’t understand that concept of home.”

He adds: “The socially conservative Christian ways of Nigerian (specifically Yoruba people) have ruined the idea of going for home for me. Realistically, I feel like a westerner – I do want to go back and visit where I’m from, but I would be doing that as a tourist not as someone who’s actually from there.”