WHY CAN'T HE JUST BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE? An Open Letter to Chimmanda N. Adichie by Ademule David .O.
Considering the enormous reverence I have for you and your writings, writing you an open letter, especially one that may end up striking a deadly, ear-splitting intellectual blow to your recently published article - Why can't he just be like everyone else? - Certainly brings me no joy. However, I have learnt over the years that in the field of writing, as well as in politics, there is no permanent friend and permanent enemy; what we have is changing interest. Consequently, therefore, Aunty Chimamanda, we may have had, at least relying on the compelling themes in your popular novels (Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus), strong shared similar interest in the past; but presently, we vary in our views on the same-sex prohibition laws recently enacted by the Nigerian legislature.
Before I express my views on your short essay, let me swiftly, at least as I have understood it, summarize the main points in your Eurocentric article. The main points are seven, which are:
That Sochukwuma, whom you depicted as, perhaps, the first homemade African gay you have met, was a natural gay and should be allowed to live, rather than to die or go to prison.
That the new legislation that criminalizes homosexuality, quoting your words, "shows a failure of our democracy."
That homosexuality is a victimless crime and does not, in anyway whatsoever, deserve to be criminalized because it does not harm the society.
That the Bible can be a basis for how we decide to live our personal lives, but assuredly cannot be a basis for the laws we pass.
That homosexuals are merely considered abnormal because they constitute a minority group, to which the majority - heterosexuals - do not belong, and consequently consider as abnormal.
That homosexuality is not unafrican.
And finally that homosexuality is not a threat to the continuity of the human race.
Having pointed out the seven main points you raised in your article, let me now, in a chronological sequence, express my differences. To start with, I very much disagree with your position that Sochukwuma, whom you cited as your elementary schoolmate, was born a gay because, according to you, he had feminine features, features which unarguably certify him as a homemade gay. Aunty Chimamanda, your towering figure have, while praising you publicly in the past, made me to beat my chest like a drum to vouch for your status as the most excellent writer of fiction in contemporary Africa. But it is a big surprise to me that your invention of the Sochukwuma character, unlike your creation of the character of Kambili, Jaja, Papa and Aunty Ifeoma in your famous Purple Hibiscus, turned out to be very disbelieving. How?
I presume you and other readers will want to ask eagerly. Well, I have opined that it is disbelieving because gays are never, at least in most cases, males who have feminine looks and characters. Your Sochukwuma, sociologically speaking, may be different because he had feminine looks and behaves strangely; however, it is not sufficient to argue that he was a born gay. Your Sochukwuma fiction also became insignificantly compelling because you didn't tell us how he ended up.
And since you didn't I will tell you how one Sochukwuma I know ended up. Adebari was the Sochukwuma of my own childhood; he had several similar characteristics with your Sochukwuma, except that his hips did not only swayed when he walked, they seemed too curvy for a male.
Nevertheless, today, Adebari, like 2face the Nigerian popstar, has impregnated over four ladies. Can we now say that Adebari was a natural gay because he had curvy and swinging hips? If your answer is NO, then I fear that the same thing goes for your beloved Sochukwuma.
Before I move on though, presently, there is a great controversy as to whether or not homosexuality is inborn or learned, I feel compelled to state that as far as Africa is concerned, homosexuality is purely a mania that has come with Western influence.
Permit me to state clearly that I strongly disagree with your prejudiced view that the recent law against homosexuality in Nigeria shows a failure of our democracy because, in your parochial view, "the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority - otherwise mob justice would be considered democratic." I put it to you that banning homosexuality can't be a failure of our democracy because the process of arriving at the legislation was, to say the least, very democratic. Public opinion was sampled, consultations were widely made, and members of the lower and upper house unanimously agreed to it. How then can a decision that was democratically arrived at represent a failure of our democracy?
Democracy itself, as I expect you to know, is an imperfect system of government. Your disappointment - the inability to protect minority interest - may just be one of the many flaws of democracy, generally.
And sadly it is not new all over the world for the hopes of minorities to be dashed. In America where you reside and have become famous, what happens on the night following every election? The majority have their way, and sleep in bed merrily; but the minority gnash their teeth in the fierce darkness of their rooms. Have you ever come out to say America's democracy has failed? If you haven't, then it is morally wrong for you to say or imply that our democracy has failed because we criminalized a minority group - homosexuality. I understand your outbursts, but that's democracy for you Aunty; it's crazy and frustrating, yet sadly neither you, I presume, nor I have a better system of government.
The next view I would like to argue against is the view that homosexuality is a victimless crime and does not, in anyway whatsoever, deserve to be criminalized because it does not harm the society. Aunty Chimmanda I would have, perhaps, taken your article seriously if you had not raised this particular argument. I have strong reasons to presume that you don't know that in America, where you visit as often as you visit the toilet, polygyny - a marriage between a man and two or more women - has been outlawed and criminalized by the Modern Penal code (section 230.1). Now let us consider the facts. America, for reasons which seem good to them, abolished polygyny because it was considered contrary to the progress of the American society. Polygamy itself is a victimless crime, but America criminalized it without considering those (minorities) who naturally have the drive to have multiple sexual partners. If America can ban and criminalize polygamy without question, then Nigeria, too, has the unreserved right to ban and criminalize homosexuality. Aunty Amanda, again, l would have taken you seriously if you had simultaneously advocated polygamy alongside homosexuality. Pornography is another victimless crime which some societies for reasons best known to them have criminalized. Who does pornography hurts? Please tell me.
On your view that the Bible can be a basis for how we decide to live our personal lives, but assuredly cannot be a basis for the laws we pass, I absolutely agree with you. However, I have one or two comments to make on the issue. Africans of course didn't write the Bible; it was written by the Europeans, and forced, long before you and I were born, on our forefathers. And let me add that I personally do not agree with everything written in the Bible, but that will not change the fact that the Bible, like several religious books, contains practical lessons, lessons that are drawn from natural laws, laws that may immensely benefit mankind if followed. If Europeans brought Christianity and we (Africans) embraced it submissively, don't you think it is ungentlemanly for Europeans to re-introduce us to other ways of life that is very different from what their sacred Bible has once told us? Are we floating leaves that should be tossed hither and thither by the bizarre wind and waves of European and American civilizations? Can't we for once stand our ground as a people and let our voice and views be known to the whole world? Aunty Chimamanda if you're truly the 21st century daughter of Achebe, your article shouldn't have stabbed this badly Things Fall Apart - the legacies of your literary father and mentor, Achebe.
You were also absolutely right when you argued that homosexuals are usually considered abnormal simply because they live in a heterosexual dominated world. However, from a strict philosophical and sociological standpoint, nothing is normal and nothing is abnormal. Normality and abnormality are culturally and socially determined. As a matter of fact, what is normal in Alaba may be abnormal in Alabama and vice versa. However, according to scholars such as Emile Durkheim, society will plunge into crisis if a thin, yet clear line is not drawn between abnormality and normality on the basis of generally shared values and customs. For society to progress we must have what we consider as normal and abnormal; but on what basis? Of course, on the basis of what majority considers to be right or wrong, and afterward forcing the minorities to comply with the will of the majority. Quite unfortunately, Aunty Chimamanda, this is what you have considered as unjust. To get more understanding on this topic, please pick up good Sociology textbooks and voraciously devour the contents. I know there are a lot of them in America.
I have few things to say on your view that homosexuality is not unafrican. It is quite unarguable that homosexuality is African. With due respect, Aunty, homosexuality is not African. It is in fact, in all ramifications, alien to the culture of Africa. It is very true that the doctrines of tolerance and the live let live principle were manifested in ancient African societies; it is however very wrong to insinuate that our ancestors tolerated everything and anything. Our ancestors did not tolerate victimless crimes such as fornication, pre-marital sex, disrespect for elders, divorce, suicide etc. And surely homosexuality, if it ever existed in ancient African societies, would not and could not have been tolerated. Having a handful Africans indulge in homosexuality is very insufficient to attach an African origin to it.
Lastly, I partly agree with your view that homosexuality isn't a threat to the survival of the human race. I partly agree with you because presently the percentage of homosexuals in the world today is less than 2%. You would have perhaps not made that submission if you had peered into the future from the lens of the social influence theory. The social influence theory is simple - behaviours influence behaviours, and actions influence actions, resulting in new behaviours and new actions. If homosexuality is legalized in Africa and everywhere else in the world, gradually, through social interaction and social learning, more population of the world will embrace homosexuality. The percentage may someday grow to become 50% or more, and who knows if heterosexuality will eventually turn out to be the ideal sexual behaviour. If this or something close happens, you don't need me to tell you that the survival of the human race will be threatened; or can the anus process sperm to become fertile eggs? My secondary school Biology teacher didn't tell me that.
There is a popular saying that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. It is therefore not surprising that you are playing the tune of your payers. Most of the awards you have won and the crisp dollar notes you have received as grant throughout your literary career did not come from Nigeria but from America and Europe; so I am not surprised that you have damned Africanism and embraced your own ideology, which I regrettably do not have a name for. Before I put my weary pen to rest, I wish to leave you with a Yoraba proverb which says "when a person sells his own household for a penny, he or she can't repurchase that household for a million." You have stripped yourself off the garment of Africanism and have replaced it with a brand new foreign-made garment, which I hope will serve you very well.
Do not panic, I am still your admirer in some ways because I like your unique style of writing. In which of the bookshops in Lagos can I get an original copy of your latest novel - Americanah? I'm asking you this question because I have seen pirated copies being sold by some Igbo boys in terrible gridlock (maybe that's why you don't like
Nigeria) in Lagos. Anyway, I look forward to meeting you in person in one of the writing workshops you organize in Lagos. But when I meet you, I doubt if I will ever introduce myself to you - just like you avoided Chinua Achebe when you had the opportunities of meeting him.
Ademule David .O. a social critic writes from Lagos State.