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A major driving force for all oppression is financial dependence and the absence of independence. A person who has no alternatives for survival will endure unfavourable conditions to their detriment.
For many girls/women and members of the LGBTQ+ community living with family, these familial connections are the bane of their existence. The emotional turmoil that arises because those who are supposed to love and nurture you are the origin of your pain is indescribable. Many people have to grow up in environments that are unwilling to accommodate their growth. After the arduous task of unlearning the harmful biases instilled in us as children, we have to constantly fight for the right to be who we are in our total, authentic entirety. Worse still, if you are financially dependent because money is a powerful tool of manipulation.
Temi, an 18-year-old non-binary person is still reliant on their parents for obvious reasons. Being a student and considering Nigeria’s financial clime, emancipation is not easy.
“I don’t think they know me at all. We don’t talk. They don’t make the effort to know anything about me, what I’m doing or the things I’m interested in.”
As if the strained relationship is not enough, they take it upon themselves to reaffirm their bigoted beliefs at every given opportunity.
“They always find a way to be homophobic and transphobic. Every time they say something like that, it hurts because I’m reminded that my family will never accept me. And the religion thing too. They know I’m atheist but they force me to pray and make snide comments about me being satan or an evil spirit.”
Many parents do not see their children as fully actualised, autonomous human beings. They expect us to be replicas of themselves, to inherit their biases and to regurgitate their dogma.
It is very hard to separate from family when they’re abusive or bad for you even when finances are not a problem. It is hard to secede from a unit you have been a part of for most of your life. Should one muster the emotional strength to leave, countless other obstacles remain, primarily financial support.
“To leave I need a place to live, a stable job that can cover rent, living expenses plus my school fees. I can’t afford any of that by myself. If I had all of that, I’d leave immediately.”
There’s also society as a whole to deal with. Children are seen as properties of their parents and so, your choice to emancipate yourself will be viewed as rebellion and well, it’s hard to get support that way.
In the face of adversity, young people are redefining what family means to them. “My chosen family is amazing. They’re always there to provide me with a safe space where I can be myself and have people love me completely and I don’t have to hide things from.” Most times these chosen families are made up of many people in similar positions; ostracised by family and society, who band together to provide each other with familial support.
Many young Nigerians like Temi are forced to live with parents that invalidate their humanity. Some parents and guardians go as far as physical abuse to maintain their control. The perception that children are extensions of their parents continues to harm and stunt the growth of many young people. My 12-year-old cousin once told me authoritatively that people from Calabar eat human flesh. I heard that too when I was younger and I was stunned to see that such a nonsensical belief had pervaded his generation too. He probably heard it from another child who heard it from an adult or an adult directly. When we do not check our unfounded beliefs we continue the cycle of bigotry we grew up in and now loathe.
It is not sufficient to oppose the oppressive systems that bind us without considering all oppressive systems as, more often than not, these systems intertwine. We may not be able to transform our parents and make them evolve but we owe it to ourselves and future generations to actively try to be better.