The Gay African

As told to Amma Bonsu

I am called Adwoa. In my local Ghanaian culture it means Monday’s child… The name was bestowed upon me to honor Ghana’s tradition of naming a child after the day they were born. Ironically, this is a story of how my identity defied core elements of my tradition. You see, I am a lesbian.

Before you pick up your stones and promise to accelerate my descent to hell. I want to address the various things that Africans, especially, like to blame homosexuality on. You chose to be gay. No, I did not choose to be gay. It is not a lifestyle that I decided to opt into as part of a youthful experiment in rebellion. I was born gay. Homosexuality is a demonic spirit you brought from the spiritual realm. Actually, I believe, like you, I was created in the perfect image of God. Then you must have been molested as a child. I am not gay because I endured abuse, or any form of physical trauma. On the contrary, I was raised in a middle class Ghanaian family, surrounded by love, resources and the expectations to follow the three African commandments:

Thou shall get an education.

Thou shall get a job, and above all else,

Thou shall find a husband and multiply.

A generally obedient child, I followed the path that was laid for me and lived to make my mother proud. At my elite private school, I was taught about the bravery of Napoleon and Mandela. At home, I was fed the Old Testament and the teachings of Christ. From the outside, my life was going according to plan, but at the thick of puberty, I began to unravel.

Although I did not have a word to describe that warm stirring budding within me, I knew that I was unlike the other girls who wanted to stuff their bras and wear mini skirts to get boys attention - I preferred to scale trees and dunk basketballs. My family loved to say I was a tomboy, but I knew that something greater was bubbling inside of me. The moment of truth arrived at the age of sixteen, when during a school trip to Europe, I heard the word homosexual for the first time. I immediately connected with the description. I was gay! At first I was flooded with relief because I realized that I was not alone. At the same time, a palpable sense of fear gripped me. This was not a discovery I could share with my friends or my family because I knew they would not approve. So I masked the truth of my sexual identity behind a wall of ambition. I even tried to have a boyfriend but I just could not feign attraction to the opposite sex.

As I morphed into a young lady, with curves and desires, I desperately wanted to know what it meant to be a lesbian, but I was petrified. What if someone found out? Surely they would laugh at me, they will call me ‘spoilt’ and they will walk away from me. Fortunately, the opportunity to explore my sexuality came when I had to leave Ghana to attend college in the States. Away from the scrutiny and judgment of my close-knit community, I found the freedom to date girls. It was exciting, but I was always haunted by the fear that if anyone from my family or my community found out, I would be ostracized. I had been raised to believe that same-sex attraction was an abomination that inspired the ire of God. And because I did not want to feel the wrath of God or my community, I decided to suppress, that which came so naturally to me. I joined a religious cult where I was indoctrinated with religious dogma on how to live a righteous life that was pleasing to God. However, no amount of bible thumping could change me. My university years became a torturous period of self-loathing. The only way I could escape the pain was to create an alter ego. I called her Sam. Every Friday, at the end of class, I would change clothes and drive three hours to another town to attend gay clubs. For several hours, I was Sam. I would dance and allow my passion to flow naturally through me, like it is supposed to. But before daybreak, I would change clothes and return to my university town as Adwoa.

I managed this charade successfully for two years, but in quiet moments when I reflected on my life, I knew that something had to change. I had made friends in the gay community and gradually, I became a confident, young woman who happened to be gay. By the time I graduated from university, I had settled in my own skin but I was still in the closet. In 2005, I decided to come out to my family. My mother was the first person I had to speak to. We enjoyed and extremely close relationship but I hid my sexuality from her because I was afraid of her reaction, but importantly I was scared that I would be cut out from the family. Finally, three months after graduation, I mustered the courage. I bought a phone card and called her. Out of nervousness, I jokingly started off with the worse possible scenarios to gauge her emotional capacity to handle the news. She seemed fine when I pretended I was pregnant. Even when I feigned that I was a drug addict, she sounded calm, so I sucked in air and allowed the truth to roll out.

“Mum I am gay.”

First, there was silence. Then, she let out a cry like her womb had been ripped apart with a rusted nail. She began to sob, uncontrollably so. Each cry, shredding my fragile heart into pieces. I held onto the phone, helpless and guilt ridden as I listened, to her pour out her grief, her shock, her disappoint…

When she gathered herself, her parting words were, “Our people don’t do that”. Her stinging rebuke, doused in disgust, shot from the handset and decimated my sense of self worth. I was shattered. But at the moment, I did not matter; my mother was distraught so I did what every child whose self-esteem is rooted in pleasing others does. “Mum, don’t cry I am just kidding,” I consoled. The wailing stopped. I had taken the words back to make her feel better, but it was like trying to stuff an omelet in a cracked eggshell.

Our relationship changed. We went from best friends to aggrieved strangers. The fear that had been gathering in the pit of my stomach ever since I stumbled on the word homosexual now engulfed every fiber of my being. I felt like an outcast. We talked less and when we did, the conversation was uncomfortable. At the end of each call, mum would ask, “So how is that ‘problem’ you are dealing with.” I would defiantly retort that I did not see it as a problem. However, that was not completely true. Sadness was brewing in me. Without the love of a partner or the support of family, I believed that being gay meant I was destined to be alone. I wanted to call my mum to hear her wisdom during this incredibly lonely time, but what was the sense in calling to hear the sadness you had inflicted on another person?

There was a long period of disconnect where our relationship was so strained that my mother called as if to fulfill her parental duty. I wanted my mum back. I wanted a relationship even better than what we had before because even though we were close, I had withheld from her a vital part of who I was. I sought to repair our relationship by calling regularly. I re-invited her into my life by sharing details of my success at work. Slowly, the gaps in our conversations narrowed. We were not like before, but we were healing.

Contrary to my fear that I would be alone forever, in 2008, I found love. Her name is Ellen. We met a few days after Barack Obama became president and the change she brought into my life was as exhilarating as the mood in America. She is amazing. She is super smart, very loving and comes from an extremely supportive family. On our first date, we went out for dinner at the Cheese Cake Factory. Like any new couple, I wondered if I had spinach in my teeth or if she thought my laughter was too loud. But by the time we walked from the restaurant to the movie theater, hand clasped in hand, I knew I wanted to build a future with Ellen. Naturally, we have our ups and downs like any other couple: She is neat; I am messy. She loves to dress in frills and bows and I am happy in Birkenstocks and sweatpants. However, we love each other to bits. In 2010, we visited Ghana together and mum met Ellen for the first time. When I look back, I appreciate the fact that even though she was still coming to terms with the idea that I was a lesbian, mum welcomed Ellen and treated her with respect.

Buoyed by the success of the trip, I called other family members and one by one, I told them that I was gay. Their reactions run from polite to embracing. I felt like a load had been lifted of my chest. Once I became comfortable with in my own skin, our relationship blossomed and we talked about starting a family. Earlier this year, we welcomed Araba into this world.

My mother was overjoyed to be a grandmother for the first time. She sent a mass email to announce to her friends that “Adwoa had a baby!” She included a picture of Araba, but she omitted to mention Ellen. I was hurt, but I know need she needs time. Our community thrives on gossip and I don’t want her to be subjected to the vitriol that often accompanies such an announcement. Words cannot describe how much I value and appreciate that fact that she has accepted me. I particularly love the fact that she has a wonderful relationship with Ellen. That notwithstanding, I know that if God were to grant her one wish, she would say “make my daughter straight”. Nevertheless, I know my mother loves me and I love her too.

It has been a long and difficult journey coming out as a gay African. However, the birth of Araba, has motivated me to live a purpose driven life. Monday’s child is full of woe, they say, but by coming out of the closet, mine are finally behind me.