“The minority of the minority”: Dating while queer…and with a disability
Three queer people in Nigeria share their stories.
When Taiwo* was five-years-old, he was struck down with chronic malaria. For treatment, he was taken to an “Aunty Nurse”, a medical attendant who worked at a pharmacy and was a trusted member of his parents’ church. She injected Taiwo with drugs, but in doing so, damaged his sciatic nerve. The young boy recovered from malaria, but his left leg was permanently paralysed.
Sitting across from me at a fast food joint in Ibadan, Taiwo, now 31, tells me how he has to endure dehumanising comments about his disability, and even more about being gay.
“Living as a disabled person in Nigeria is hard, and it is harder being disabled and queer,” he says.
Some of this discrimination, Taiwo explains, comes from within these different groups.
“Aside from growing up with slurs from my classmates, which is like the larger society perspective to the disabled, I get another dose of it from the [queer] community,” he adds.
Taiwo says he was once talking to someone on Grindr, and sharing good chemistry. They exchanged pictures of their faces, and then full length photos, after which the other man asked “why are you standing like that?” and then blocked him.
“Most people I meet are just for casual hookups with no expectation of nothing serious,” says Taiwo. “They may like my fine face and ‘my third leg’ but only a handful of them are interested in what I could offer because what they see first is a disability.”
When I compliment Taiwo on his looks, he doesn’t respond for a while, but then tries to hide a smirk.
“I hear that often about being handsome, but then I sometimes think it is out of sympathy to avoid discussion about my disability,” he says.
Taiwo has had a meaningful relationship full of “pure love and friendship” with someone he met on Facebook, but that person moved to the US. So Taiwo is single again and facing the same challenges again.
“I wish the community could do better,” he says. “Society loathes us and we as community members shouldn’t make the minority amongst us feel less human too.”
Yomi’s troubles also began when he was treated for malaria, through which he lost his hearing. Now 28, he is always keen to teach willing participants sign language and in our conversation over video, he decides to test me.
“How are you?” he signs, spreading his fingers in a double-U and then pointing his index finger at me. He rests his chin on his fist as he waits to see if I can recall the basic American Sign Language he has taught me.
I clench a fist with a raised little finger to my chest, raise my thumb to my lips, and hit my thumb on my chest. “I am fine.”
He giggles, cupping his hand over his mouth before raising a thumbs-up. For Yomi, having a disability means he deals with a lot of condescension, including when dating.
One person he was chatting to openly wondered how he could be deaf and yet handsome. Another, who agreed to meet up, asked Yomi if he’d be able to find his way to the right place given his deafness.
“He made it sound as if I would get lost on my way,” he says. “I live in Lagos and have been going on journeys on my own. Why haven’t I gotten lost?… Because of these experiences, I sometimes don’t bother asking anyone if we’ll be able to see each other unless they push it.”
As we end the call, I ask him how he’d tell someone he loves them if he were to meet such a person. He places his palm on his chest, crosses both arms around his chest, and points his index finger at me. He smiles and asks me to repeat it.
Living with albinism is a daily challenge, James, 28, tells me. The doctorate student in Enugu has to protect his skin from the sun and wear four different kinds of lenses to aid his poor sight.
“Not everyone living with albinism has four pairs, but I have four pairs,” he explains.
Dating and sex provide a additional set of difficulties. James says that most potential sexual partners assume he should be passive during sex because he is light-skinned and that his darker-skinned partner ought to be dominant. He’s been asked if he can see what he’s doing during sex because of his glasses. Despite these challenges, James has been in a relationship with someone he met on Facebook since 2019. Yet he still feels insecure because of his albinism.
“I get shocked if I am not discriminated against because for persons living with albinism, it is a daily thing,” he says. “This makes me sometimes doubt if my boyfriend’s profession of love for me is genuine…I doubt whether he is not into me because of what he might gain, and not the love per se, based on some derogatory comments from the most people I have met.”
When James goes to queer gatherings, he says he often feels isolated. “People say that it is a preference [to not want to date a person with albinism] but check those preferences. You will see prejudices there,” he says
“We are like the minority of the minority.
* Names changed throughout