It was one of those conversations you feel is expanding in its depth but the edge of whose breadth you feel right before you settle into the healthy nuance you know it has the potential to have. We are at a party, standing in a semi-circle with loud music thumping in the background, we are all nicely sloshed and deeply engrossed in the deliciousness of the moment and our own intellectual dexterity as we talked about classism in the queer community. “We can’t get anywhere in the fight for queer liberation if we continue to be a deeply classist minority community,” my friend Toby fired with finality, we all agreed smugly.
I went back home to the safety of my gated estate in Lagos suburb pondering the absurdity of a group of well-educated ambitious Nigerians – who are in the thick of climbing the career ladder to the assured security they aspire to as well-off middle-class Nigerians, discussing ending classism.
I was also pondering my own multiple brushes with classism on my clawing journey up the same ladder prior to finding some balance and settling into this group I have since embraced as my community in this dizzyingly fast-paced city.
Until November 2018, the idea of leaving my hometown to go to an elsewhere in search of community was only a distant and dying dream. Then riding on a prayer and a heavy dose of faith in human kindness I moved to Lagos and stepped foot into a circle I knew even then was a little higher up the class ladder from where I came from. I came across a kind of people I will like to call ‘defenders of the delineations of classism’ whose self-assigned responsibility is to chip away at your dignity or try to. If they succeed you are pushed back into your ‘place’ and if they fail you have proven your mettle and can roll with the big gang, but never forget your place.
I was taunted for my accent, jokingly of course, because maintaining appearances is very essential here. I was taunted for my ethnic origins, “surely you have cows. I thought every Fulani is born inheriting cows from the family herd?”
I was taunted for my parents’ assumed financial worth.
It didn’t occur to me what was going on for a while, but a past encounter came back to me to save my sanity.
I had years ago found myself listening in on the conversation of my mother with a friend who had come over to see her. They were discussing a colleague who was recently transferred to their school and having a good laugh over how she is trying so hard to fit in and is being financially reckless in a bid to achieve a feat that will still, “not make her our mate,” my mother said.
“All these fast fast social climbers who won’t respect their place end up broke before the end of the month, you will see, she will come begging for money by the 14th,” my Mum’s friend responded.
They were not taunting me, I realized, because I had achieved nothing nor because they thought I never would, they were taunting me to rattle me enough to retreat back into my social class. They were taunting me to banish me in order to safeguard their classist heaven from intruders who want to force themselves in and upset their perfect order.
We do the same thing to overly effeminate guys who aren’t rolling in money, and overly masculine women who aren’t well-off. We do it generally to people of lower social class, be it by wealth, education, income, occupation or social network.
We don’t lead our activism with the plight of Trans people because it is too much complication that will upset our respectable elite spaces and ruin the delicacy of our classist heaven.
We tell effeminate guys to tuck it in and quit gesticulating with their hands or cat-walking down the road in their too beautiful dainty steps.
Engrossed in this ruinous task of boxing away the things we can’t abide in carefully curated classes of the haves and the wish-we-haves, we fail to see that we are extending the shackles around our gay ankles that a heteropatriarchal society has put on us to further shackle our community.
Humans have however needed community since we first waddled on our newly acquired legs and tiny waists to become bipeds. We have needed each other so much we came into concord to dedicate whole lives to rituals exalting beings we created in mass hysteria that we can never see but collectively believe in – we call this religion. It was easy to agree upon rules that bind us even when they hurt some of us individually. It was the dawn of heteropatriarchy which exalts the cis-hetero-masc-man as the archetype of safety and continued prosperity.
That unity is the prototype by which minority communities came together to safeguard one another, but the contradiction of disparate micro-groups in a collaboration to safeguard their autonomous existence clashing with the respectability-worshipping formula of heteropatriarchy always trips us.
In our minority community, in the beginning there was the word, and the word was ‘disruption.’
The LGBT+ community loses all its power the moment we begin to exclude one another from a seat at the table because we are trying to maintain classist heavens.
The word remains disruption, and to truly disrupt will have to break the table if it is too small to contain all of us sitting around it.
We are not poor or rich, we are not effeminate or masculine, and we are not local gays or city gays. When homophobic people and institutions see us what they see are a bunch of deviants whose very existence disrupts the perfect outer image of their heteropatriarchal heaven. They set out to kill all of us with enduring laws and daily vitriol not caring if you are a masculine-presenting gay man who can ‘pass’ as a cisheterosexual man, if you are better employed or have better social connections.
Until we embrace disruption even in our special spaces, especially in them. Until we become disruption itself by turning everything over on its head and demanding that all forms of oppression be challenged. Whether it is financial, ableist, class, or gender and sexuality oppression. Until we do these things, the dream of queer liberation will remain a dream.
We don’t have the luxury of classism. We can’t afford to be derailed by an unhelpful obsession with tea etiquettes and social decorum. Our fight isn’t pretty. It is a Marsha P. Johnson with tears washing her mascara from teargas, a brick in one hand and gritting her teeth in an ugly grimace, sweaty and retired to the grime kind of fight. Let us act like it.
(Image by Google)