Unapologetically Me: Ikeme’s Struggle and Triumph in Expressing His Sexuality and Identity

por Guillermo Seis

Ikeme carries many stories within him, stories that shine with the beauty and pain of his life. He has known love and fear, belonging and alienation. In this interview, he speaks his truth with courage and grace, not hiding his struggles, nor his triumphs. He braids the threads of his identity, his sexuality, his religion, into a sweetgrass of meaning and joy.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Ikeme. I’m 22 years old and learning physics at the University of Vienna while working part time at a grocery store. I’m Nigerian but was born to a single mother in Vienna. I grew up here with my older brother. I now live in a small apartment in the 6th district. When I’m not at work or at Uni, I volunteer at a soup kitchen. We make food then drive around and give it to the homeless throughout the city. I love it, it’s a good way to serve the community. It’s very rewarding! I do it most Sundays but life gets busy a lot so I can’t do it every week. When I’m not doing that I like to read and be with friends and sleep (a lot).
What does sexuality mean to you, and how has your understanding of it evolved over time?
I was born into a family that followed the Christian faith with strict devotion. They taught me to love God and to fear sin, and they made it clear that being gay was a grave offense. But I never felt any shame or guilt for who I was. I knew in my heart that I loved men, and I was happy with myself. But I also knew that I could not reveal my true self to anyone around me, so I learned to wear a mask. I always tried to balance and justify my identity; I told myself that I was not only gay, I was gay AND a faithful Christian; gay AND a dutiful son. I lived with this contradiction for a long time, until I met Ahmed, my first friend who was also queer. Being with him was like breathing fresh air, you know? He showed me that I was not alone, that there were others like me who celebrated their queerness. Through him and my many other queer friends, I discovered a new way of being, a way that embraced diversity, creativity, and joy. I can’t really describe it, I just experience it every day and I’m thankful for that.
How do you express your sexual desires and preferences, and what factors influence them (e.g., gender, attraction, kink, trauma, etc.)?
My sexual desires reflect a part of me that most people never witness. Through sex, my longing for control and power emerges. It’s curious because I’m the opposite in my everyday life. I'm more feminine and easygoing but when it comes to the sex, something in my mind shifts. It’s a different way of being, I suddenly sense all the strong and dominant qualities of me that I usually keep hidden.
How do you navigate the intersectionality of your sexual identity with other aspects of your identity, such as race, class, ability, or religion?
I have learned to embrace who I am, without apology. I don’t make apologies for my identity anymore, nor do I try to compromise or explain my being. I wasted so much time and energy growing up, just being angry that people couldn’t see ALL of me. I could never comprehend why God would make me who I am then place me in a world where every single facet of my identity was despised by most people. It never made sense to me and that’s why I turned away from religion. But when I revealed my true self to my mother, all that anger vanished. There was no one to fault anymore, no one to vent my anger at anymore. I left behind my God and healed my relationship with my mother (no offense, mom) so there was nothing left to do but move forward.
What challenges have you faced in expressing your sexual desires and needs, and how have you overcome them?
I never had any love or romance in my young years, like it was for many of us. So when I became 18 and made my first tinder account it was like seeing a whole new world. I had a hard time though. One big thing for me was learning how to say no. I used to stay silent and not stand up for myself when I felt uneasy. I have been exploited in many different ways, though I’m grateful to never have suffered anything truly awful. But as I grew older the fears of being scorned, mocked, shamed just kind of faded away. There’s power to “aging”, I know I’m only 22 yet I feel like I’ve lived the life of a 70 year old. With each year I reach a deeper part within me and embrace more of my strength.
How do you ensure that your sexual relationships are healthy, consensual, and respectful, and what are your boundaries and communication strategies?
My greatest gift has always been being able to fully and attentively listen to another person. Sex can be beautiful but it can also be hurtful and destructive. I don’t demand anything of my sexual partner. Everyone is different from how they show themselves online, it’s easier to hide when you’re separated by a screen. I try to be mindful of that, no one should feel pressure to perform. It’s sex! It should be pleasurable for both of us! I don’t usually use safe words, I find “no” to be a very potent word in itself. But I also carefully listen to the body language of my partner, because not everyone knows how to say no but the body doesn’t lie.
How do you envision a more inclusive and fulfilling sexual culture that embraces diverse sexual identities and expressions, and how can we work towards it?
We need to have truthful and sincere conversations with ourselves and each other. Creating a more inclusive sexual culture requires open communication, education, and challenging stereotypes. Embracing diverse identities means honoring everyone’s journey and fostering understanding. Supporting LGBTQ+ organizations in Vienna, advocating for comprehensive sex education, and creating an environment where people feel welcomed are essential. And also read queer literature! “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg; “Guapa” by Saleem Haddad; “Don’t call us dead” by Danez Smith. These are some examples for queer literature I enjoyed recently.

Pascal Schrattenecker