I’m Yoruba, a member of one of Nigeria’s three main ethnic groups. My rich and diverse culture incorporates symbolic dances, beautiful music and elaborate clothing into its private and public ceremonies. Like in all societies, there are certain unspoken rules that all Yoruba people follow. You must kneel to greet elders, use your right hand to give objects to those older than you, and never look an adult in the eye. These can be slightly irritating to obey but they don’t compare to another rule, one that portrays a darker side of Yoruba culture: mask any perceived flaws.

Within the Yoruba community, things considered taboo are shared only with immediate family members or not at all. These include, but are not limited to: being LGBT, being a victim of abuse, and having a disease or disability. The stigmatization of these subjects in my culture continually demonizes people and prevents them from receiving care and getting help. I can attest to this as a disabled, pansexual and trans person who is also a survivor of child abuse.

Growing up, I constantly heard the aforementioned communities shamed and slandered by family members. One memory I will never forget is being six and receiving no sympathy or reaction when I told my mother about being sexually abused. A few weeks later, the migraines and psychotic symptoms began. Because of these events, I spent most of my childhood afraid. Afraid of my own shadow, of getting disowned by my family and of never being loved. A home is supposed to be a place where you can relax and feel safe, but my house is the one place I am terrified to be myself.

It took me a long time to get rid of my internalized hate because I loved and respected my family so much. I tried to convince myself that I was sinful and broken, that they were right, and even tried praying it all away. Despite their bigotry and verbal violence, I cared deeply for my family and felt incredibly guilty about my identity. I had heard all my life that children have to love their parents unconditionally, a rhetoric that sadly did not account for parents who hated their children. It took me almost two years to transform my self hatred into the beginning stages of self love, and realize that my health, safety and happiness has to take priority. Around my sixteenth birthday, a year ago, I decided that I would sever ties with my family when I left for college.

I’m going off to college this year and I’ll moving far away from where I live. I need to distance myself from my family members. College will also provide me with the resources to be emotionally, physically and financially independent. Though I am still too afraid to get a psychiatrist, or reach out to LGBT and survivor resources, I know that time and distance will heal me.

Some people will view me as foolish and histrionic, while to others I appear brave and pitiful. I am none of those things; I am a sixteen year old child. I have been through a lot, but I am neither weak nor heroic. I am terrified of moving thousands of miles to an unfamiliar place and taking off the mask that I’ve kept on for a decade. However, I am even more tired of being in pain, of hiding, and of shrinking myself to fit my family’s vision of what I should be. My will to live, to thrive, is more powerful than any of the negative sentiments I hold concerning my future. I have started this journey, and though it will not be a quick or easy one, I will not stop. For how can I, after tasting true joy?

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