Gay pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but the right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight parade movement, be thankful you don’t need one!Pride Quote
Disclaimer: This is a real story happening right now to a real person. To ensure anonymity and maintain confidentiality, the name has been changed and the African country in question will not be identified. Everything else is real.
In celebration of pride month, TiH features a 2-part story of Ashley. A 23-year-old AfroBrit man with learning difficulties and paranoid schizophrenia, who is also gay. Generally, learning difficulties means problems in a specific form of learning but does not affect overall intelligence, while learning disability is a condition that affects learning and general intelligence in all areas of life. Paranoid schizophrenia is a condition characterised by delusions and hallucinations which blur the line between what’s real and what isn’t.
Ashley is conflicted and confused about his sexual orientation and his mental health condition makes it more difficult to explore or understand; it is worth noting that his confusion and/or conflict about his sexual orientation has nothing to do with him, (he is intelligent enough to be self-aware), but everything to do with his family’s beliefs and values. His family is unsupportive and judgemental and takes advantage of his challenges to manipulate and gaslight him. He told his story to raise awareness of the challenges faced by people like him, from communities like his, whose idea of homosexuality is unacceptable, mental illness is a taboo and gaslighting is an acceptable form of parenting.
Gaslighting is emotional abuse where people are manipulated and forced to question their reality, thoughts, or memories about events in their lives.
Having a mental health illness coupled with learning difficulties while experiencing conflicting and confusing sexual feelings must be the highest form of mental torture.
Here’s Ashley’s story
A few months ago, my mother told me that I was headed straight to hell if I didn’t change my ways. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t believe in hell, or heaven for that matter. She was crying so hard because as a ticket holder to heaven, she could never enjoy eternal feasts knowing I was in purgatory with eternal fires and brimstone. She then instructed me to spend the night on my knees reading the bible and praying. I spent the night reading the verses her pastor had recommended; they were pretty grim but ultimately uninspiring. In the morning I still had feelings for boys and a sore head. When mother asked how I was feeling, she was disappointed I hadn’t changed overnight.
“I am working on it, mum!” I said painfully.
“Well, if I don’t see a change in three months, my son, I have no choice but to do what the pastor recommended.” She said uncompassionately, in a decibel higher than necessary.
“What did he recommend?”
“Just keep working,” she said dismissively.
I couldn’t sleep for days. I read the bible every day. I pray every day. And every day I wake up feeling worse about myself. I know there are people out to get me. I know what will happen to me if I don’t change. I am scared all the time.
(Interview) What do you think would happen?
“Of course, they’d send me to Africa to be straightened up!! I have read horrendous stories of what they do to gay men in my mother’s country!”
So, I want to change, but at the same time I feel I’m ok with who I am, why should I change? But I am scared. I am fearful.
I live with my mother and sister. When I turned 18, they said I couldn’t go to university. My sister said I wouldn’t make it, my mother said the university would just fuel my ungodly desires. My sister went on to further her studies while I took up work as a cleaner for a leading supermarket. I was lucky to have that job as mother said often, “if you were in Africa, nobody would employ a mad idiot who likes sex with men!” I was an embarrassment to my family and to make them happy, I asked my employer to pay my wages into mother’s account. They refused. It didn’t matter, I emptied my earnings into mother’s account every month. She loved that about me. I didn’t know this was financial abuse until I met my boyfriend.
My boyfriend and I wanted to go to the seaside to celebrate my birthday.
“I don’t think I can go,” I told him.
“I doubt my mother would allow it or give me money.”
My boyfriend was perplexed. Here I was, a 20-year-old man with a good job and yet needs permission from his mother to spend his money: she also received money from the government because she was essentially my carer or something. My boyfriend understands I have learning difficulties, and while my family says LD makes me an idiot, my boyfriend says it makes me intuitive because all my other functional senses are heightened. He reckons I should stand up to mother, but I think baby steps first.
(Interview) Did you ever go to the beach?
“We didn’t because when I asked mother for the money, she wanted a detailed explanation as to why I needed more than my usual allowance. I didn’t pursue the matter because my paranoia intensified and explaining things to my mother is usually one of my major triggers. My employer is inclusive and supportive of people like me, but one of the conditions of my employment is that I have to be admitted to a mental health ward if I relapsed, and conversations with my mother are mainly overwhelming and a cause for relapse, so I avoid where I can. I can’t possibly lose this job; my place of work is a happy place for me. My colleagues are more than my biological family. I treasure their understanding and companionship.
I am not only a homosexual man living in a bible bashing community, but I have mental health problems which many of these bible bashers have labelled as ‘punishment from God’ for my ungodly ways. They accused me of some of our family’s problems too.
One sunny day not so long ago, a particularly nice day because mother was kind and compassionate. We sat in the garden having tea and biscuits. She was smiling and for once the conversation was balanced and she was curious about my life. In all my life, all of our conversations were one sided because they were not conversations or counsel from the older and wiser, but admonishment for the many failures of my life as a man and a human.
“Hey Ash, what are your plans for the future?” she asked with a genuine smile on her face.
“Ah ok, um… I am doing really well at work and they are training me to be a supervisor,” I beamed.
“Oh, my son, I am so proud of you, well done.” She exclaimed in an enthusiastic and passionate tone that was usually reserved to praise my sister and make me feel inferior and a failure. It was the first time, as far back as I could remember, that mother genuinely congratulated me on anything. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. I was happy and slightly confused: in the past, some hugs had been accompanied by a mighty slap on the cheek.
“Thank you, mum,” I was inspired and happy and thought I could have a normal conversation with my mother. “My medication is now well balanced, and I feel positive about the future…..,”
“Oh yeah? Wow Ash, that’s super wonderful!” Was my mother having a mental breakdown or was she wilfully happy for me? “Are there grandchildren for me in that future?” As she said this, she looked at me with such loving eyes I melted and answered yes before I really thought about it.
“Oh, my boy, today you make me the happiest woman on earth! Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus! Give me a hug my son”
I was about to say how pleased I was that she was happy and hopeful for me when she crashed my soul, “so when do I get to meet this girl who will bear my grandchildren…”
To be continued.
Photo credit: Joshua Mcknight – pexels.com