Quick note: Not too long ago, at the end of Pride Month, an annual three-day fasting was held by the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values in Ghana. It was a marathon of prayer and fasting against homosexuality along with a show of support for a bill entitled, "Comprehensive Solution Based Legislative Framework for Dealing with the Lesbianism Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Phenomenon," which would categorize LGBT people and then, based on the determination made by a--physician? Pastor? Imam? Judge? Sorting hat?--the person would receive an "appropriate" treatment or punishment. In the time since, the coalition's spokesperson, Mr. Foh Amoaning has been invited to speak on a number of popular radio programs, using the platform provided to air his theories on the Gay Agenda, which would be more entertaining if they weren't so dangerous. Mr. Amoaning and various religious leaders are consistently given largely undisturbed space to target and vilify the LGBT community in their goal of criminalizing homosexuality, which is sort-of-kind-of already illegal. (It's defined in the constitution as "unnatural carnal knowledge.") And it's definitely broadly, socially unacceptable in the country, with violence against the accused not uncommon.
But the queer community, as I've come to know it, is certainly capable of rising above the hateful rhetoric of institutions and even state-sanctioned indifference. (It was President Akufo-Addo, former head of Ghana's human rights commission, who in an interview with Al Jazeera last year stated that the rights of the LGBT community were not a concern for Ghanaians and he'd take up the issue if he were to see a groundswell of support for it. Instead, he's set his sights and political fortunes on the construction of a national cathedral.)
People are consistently surprised by how "out" I am here. But it's a product of my privilege as an "obroni." At first, I wasn't. I thought I'd be kicked out of the shared living space where I stayed, I was concerned about professional relationships and access to sources. But then I found a community, and I was reminded that representation matters after reading a piece in Hazlitt by Bryan Washington. I might not be Ghanaian but I can be a bit of an example of someone living in an unapolagetic fashion, with pride and purpose. And if that helps even one person then I'll feel it was worth it.
So in the vein of representation, here are two stories, one from a Ghanaian woman who has chosen to remain anonymous, and one from a well-respected feminist and LGBTQIA+ advocate. The third, is from me. Enjoy.
I never knew I’d get there but this was how it started:
you have been prayed for so you don’t turn out queer
thanks to the person who caught you kissing
a female in the church bathroom.
It was and is considered a sin by the liars,
fornicators and adulterers.
After all the prayers said on top of your head,
well you turned straight.
Fast forward to 2009 when you have been told
female footballers are lesbians so stay away from
them. Far and away.
It was an airy-sunny day as I lay on a mat,
outside, after training at sports camp.
I felt some steam on my face.
I opened my eyes and a face was so close our lips
brushed. I felt queasy. I got up.
She has been ogling at me for days on
In the bathroom she stared so much it was
She lived few doors away and as much as I tried to
escape her stares, they followed everywhere.
This night with hopes of escaping her,
I went to a solitary place, a borehole site with
few grown pines rendering it a minor bush and
gnats gathering, to bath.
I was bathing when she came there.
“Shit!” I let out. That blatant stare. I wanted to vanish. I guzzled the discomfort that grew in my throat because I couldn’t speak. I begged her with my eyes to stop but she would not. When she realized with her, I had no mercy she smiled and I felt a warm substance trickle down my thigh. I closed my eyes for a second and opened them. I saw fulfillment in her eyes. Fuck! I wanted her.
It was match day. They lost.
I was in my room when I heard a clamour outside.
I ignored it.
“She is partly to blame. She is” said a familiar voice.
This time I could not ignore it because it was close.
Damn! Eyes! Not hers, her best friend’s, and there
where sullen. I sat up, looked at her, looking for
answers in them.
“She didn’t put her foot in like always and it’s
because of you. You didn’t want her.
She needed you. She was slow with everything.”
Best friend said. My eyes shot a blatant stare at her.
“Yes. I know her, I can confidently say it is you”
she replied and walked out.
Fuck! Now everyone think I do girls.
This is Ghana 9 years before now.
I lay back down and cowered.
I drew my knees into my chest.
I replayed the event in my head, many times
and imaged the eyes that stripped me with shame.
I blacked out.
I felt a soft rub on my forehead. It was my friend,
the tennis player. She smiled. “Let’s go to mines.
I already packed”
Looking into my eyes for assurance. I nodded.
I got up. I tried to avoid the stare from the other athletes.
My eyes where focused on the floor.
I made steady steps trying to look confident
with all the outcry in the silence.
“Why don’t you want her?”
“I like her. Just not in the same way she does”
I said to one of athletes with a clear voice
but a wry smile. I didn’t turn.
“I do, but she chose you and warned us to stay
off her because she loves you. and you don’t
even love her.” Now I stopped. Turned.
I saw agreement in their eyes: one of the athletes
and the other athletes. I laughed. I said sorry
and laughed again. My friend, the tennis player
laughed too. It was weak at first but it became
strong, then shrill. And by now they understood
why I laughed.
In the tennis players room I threw myself on her bed and had a stupid grin. I couldn’t believe I thought the athletes judged me. I mean this is Ghana with all its senseless homophobia.
Two days for camp to end,
I was still at the tennis players room. She came.
Sat at the edge of my bed. I did not budge.
Stared at me as if I were a coveted oeuvre.
This time I stared back. She looked like she was
at a murky place.
She tried to avoid me albeit I had locked eyes
on her. We remained like that for a while.
“I understand you don’t love me”
“You never told me you did”
I said with a smile. I don’t know why I smiled.
I wasn’t being callous.
I guess I felt giddy that we spoke for the first time.
I wanted to know her. Her voice.
What she felt like. Her insides.
I wanted to know all of her. I wanted her.
She knew I liked her. That night at the borehole,
she saw beyond the shyness. She saw warmth
in my eyes. She knew it.
She smiled back, now I let out a sound in my throat
accompanied by a short laugh. She touched my feet.
Caressed it. I sat up and leaned in for a hug.
I stayed in her arms with my eyes closed.
I pulled back after a while.
“I really like you. I do”
Last day at camp, I left with my friend
the tennis player. Her phone rang, she looked at
the caller ID and passed it to me.
“why is your phone off?” She said when I answered.
I hanged up
“I love you. I know you do too.
Can we stop this and be together?”
My boyfriend woke me up. “Are you a lesbian?”
“No. Why?” I said with sleep in my eyes.
“I love you. I know you do too.
Can we stop this and be together”
he read the message out loud.
My face birthed a grin. My bearing made him toggle
ideas in his mind. He touched me. I felt him clammy.
“It’s this girl I met at camp.
Don’t beat yourself up about it please.
It’s still dawn and I need sleep.
Don’t forget I am travelling” I responded
and flashed a smirk. It wasn’t for him, it was for her.
“I love you. I know you do too.
Can we stop this and be together?”
My mind played the message countless times.
At some point I mouthed the words and at
every instance, I remember everything that
happened while on the bus home.
I kept grinning like a fool. I was cocksure
my boyfriend and I were done. He knew that too.
I didn’t become her girlfriend but
I knew in my heart, she was my Grace.
Me’shell Ndegeocello-Grace was playing when
I finished this piece. You should listen to it.
By Fatima Derby
The moon was empty when I died. It was quick and sharp, cutting through the darkness like newly forged blade. One minute you were there, sitting a step above me on the wooden staircase of an old warehouse in the silence of the night. We looked up at the sky and you tried to find and name your favourite constellations, but you couldn’t remember anything. You were curious a lot about astronomy in your childhood and in the next moment, all memory of that fascination was washed with the rain. Like I was. One minute I was there with you, the next I wasn’t.
I was dead to you.
I held your hands in mine that night. They were soft, and they smelled very nice. Boys’ hands shouldn’t feel so soft or smell so good, we were told. I could feel my own rough and calloused hands against the tenderness of yours and I slowly and carefully withdrew them. I didn’t want to cause you any discomfort. When you ripped my heart out from my chest, you weren’t slow and careful.
That was why I died.
We were exhausted. We had gone to an art exhibition, stopped by a diner to grab supper and in a crazy flash of inspiration, decided to walk the forty-minute bus ride distance to your house. We talked and walked till your feet started to hurt so we took a break on the steps of that old warehouse. We bared our souls to each other. You told me how much you hated high school. The boys bullied you a lot. They laughed at your softness, your cleanliness and your non-aggressive mannerisms, they hid your stuff, poured water on your bed after classes so you were unable to sleep during siesta and they constantly made fun of you for moisturizing your elbows each night before bed. Sometimes they were agonizingly mean. They mistakenly whispered “batty boy” out loud on purpose when you walked by. They threatened your friends to stay away from you and you ended up going for days without speaking to anyone or being spoken to because your friends were scared too. The other day you went to class and someone had scrawled on the board, “ALL HOMOS WILL PERISH IN HELL”. That morning during the class devotion, your class chaplain talked about the sin of gayism and how it was better for the homos to kill themselves rather than let the demon of gayism possess their bodies. Forty-nine pairs of eyes turned to stare at you and you bowed your head in shame.
The only sounds of the night were the crickets playing hide and seek with one another as the moon smiled lovingly down at them. And then there were the quiet sobs as your shoulders shook violently from the grief and trauma from a time in your life when you were only just coming into yourself. Boy crushes were confusing, but even louder than the pounding in your chest when your cute best friend smiled at you was the label they had slapped on you that said you were different and for that, abominable.
I manage to navigate life without being seen. I’m a stereotype. With my massive hairy arms, broad chest and deep voice, I’m able to get by on the outside. I was a mess on the inside. Born to devout pastors, I grew up in the church and all I knew about myself was that I was a boy condemned to death and fire for all eternity. Until the day I walked into church, knelt before the altar, said “Dear God, I am a boy who likes other boys. Forgive me” and walked out never to return again.
I held your hands in mine as we comforted each other. We were home.
The following day I woke up to a blunt text from you. You had said too much. Revealed too much. Something about vulnerability and fear. I called your phone, but I had been disconnected. I sent you messages, emails, letters by post. No response. You were a ghost.
But I was the one who died.
For the next eight months, I saw you everywhere. I saw your eyes looking back at me through the pedicurist’s glass window. I saw your hands hand me change at the bakery. I cried so hard the neighbour asked me if I’d lost someone. I told them I lost myself and they shook their head sadly at my madness. The pain heavier than a million bricks started to drag me down, I sunk to rock bottom and there I discovered a treasure. Words. I started writing. I wrote love songs about you. I cursed your name in my poetry. I could not stop writing.
The moon was full last night when I received a message from you;
“Hi, I miss you. Can we talk sometime?”.
My heart missed a beat.
I will live.
By Jessica Opatich
I don’t know how it ends but here’s how it starts: Early on, you’re raised by your mom and her best friend and when you’re all together checking out groceries you loudly ask, “When will dad be home?” because you don’t want the cashier, or the raggedy-haired woman next in line to think these women are lesbians. And you’re not sure when or why this started to concern you but it does. It starts with internalized homophobia and that shit doesn’t leave for a long time; it settles comfortably like dust behind something heavy that you never bother to move.
Many days later, enough days to become years, you find yourself in the snow, wind sailing between the academic buildings and slapping you square on the cheeks. You read in a campus-wide email that someone was stabbed, or robbed, or robbed and stabbed while crossing the footbridge and you tell her that because of this she shouldn’t walk back to her dorm room alone. So you throw on some boots and take that walk with her. You used to be cold when the temperature dipped below 70, like Frank said, but now you can wear basketball shorts in a blizzard and not feel a thing. But this night, this night it’s truly brick.
“Are you sure?” she asks.
“There’s some hash-slinging slasher on the loose and you want to go back at this time, alone?”
She laughs and calls you a “derp.”
The walk is quiet. The boys and girls have found each other for the night. And you derp along, where the snow is light and new, next to a pretty girl.
The first time you met her, the first snow hadn’t fallen yet and that heavy something still sat firm and unmoved. It was a house party off-campus and you danced up against the rainbow-strobe-splattered wall with the goalie on the boys soccer team. He was alright. But this was how it always went: you go, you drink, you dance on some boys, you dance with some girls, you wake up somewhere else. But that night, a girl walks across the room to you, turns you around, and kisses you. Just like that--like it’s nothing. The record scratches. Everyone turns. The boys hoot and holler. (It’s the American way.) And you wonder what the hell is going on. What’s this girl’s name again? Isn’t she the one with the boyfriend of like three years? Is this for show or...? Wow. We’re still going, huh? I should stop watching everyone watch me and just close my eyes. I look like a noob. Yeah, eyes closed is the way to go. Natural. Smooth. Oh shit--and then it’s over. You’re pulled into the kitchen.
You don’t see her again. The semester, ends, you travel home for holidays and travel back after the new year for new classes. In one, you know a guy from the baseball team but that’s it. He’s alright, decent actually. And just as the professor clears his throat, she walks in. And of course, of-fuckin-course, the only spot left is right next to you.
Relax your eyebrows, relax your eyebrows. Blink.
“Hi!” No. Shit. Way too much enthusiasm. Kill me.
A few weeks later, an email. “Hey, I gave the Logic textbook to a friend and now she’s not answering, and I still haven’t done the assignment. Can I borrow yours?”
You bring it to her dorm room. You study for the quiz. You study for the next exam. Somewhere along the way you end up walking her home in the dead of winter in upstate New York. The heaters are on full blast in the stairwell and so you unzip your coat and let the warmth bounce off you until you feel it break through and thaw out your bones.
“Thanks for the escort.”
“Sure. Yeah. No big deal . . .uhh . . . Goodnight.”
She walks up the steps and you sit on the edge of heater, looking into the night and dreading the walk back. She stops at the first landing, turns around, and starts walking back down the steps. You stay seated, wondering how you can be both melting and completely frozen. She gets closer and closer and finally she grabs your face, kisses you, and this time there are no frat boys high-fiving and no alcohol in your systems, but you’re more scared than you ever were before. You think you hear a crackling outside and you jerk your head back and push her shoulders back the other way. She says it’s nothing, just the snow. And so you return to the moment but now you think someone might come down the steps, or through the hall, and you can’t.
Weeks go by, months go by, you sneak away at parties with her, text her when she’s not around, keep kissing boys that are alright. Some are not alright. You sit down with her in a boy’s room during a party and ask her why she’s doing this to you. You’re not like that. She holds back a broad smile and shows you a smirk instead.
“Okay. If you say so,” she says as she lies down, wrapping her legs around your waist, causing that concupiscent electricity to race up and down your body.
You leave and she texts you an excerpt from Rilke:
“Have patience with everything that remains unresolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
A year later, you transfer, start somewhere new, introduce yourself as someone who is that way. No one cares, in the best way. You walk into the Cubbyhole, a lesbian bar in the West Village, for the first time during Pride. You go to the gay bar and see beautiful men dancing, singing, bravely and boldly and it looks like freedom more than “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” You watch Paris is Burning, you watch The L Word (spoiler alert: even after Dana dies and spoiler alert: even after Shane leaves Carmen at the altar), you take the train into the city and sit quietly with strangers in Angelika theatre and watch Blue is the Warmest Color, you watch Angels in America, Frieda, But I’m a Cheerleader, Imagine Me and You. You watch other people live the questions and then you try to live them on your own.
You fall in love.