What does it feel like to be gay here? Well it’s a struggle to fit in, always act “straight”, be what the society expects you to be. Most guys are married by age thirty and rumours start swirling if you pass this mark without a ring on your finger or having a significant other. By the time you hit forty…the less said the better. In the scene, you have to strike this balance between being visible enough to meet other gay people and not being too visible in which case there is a risk of people not wanting to hang out or be seen in public with you. Someone who seems to be your friend today may decide to drop you tomorrow because you’re “too out”.
Like any other country, Ghana has its issues, but like people say “yes there are problems but what you consider problems are not the real problems at all” (read this NY Times article about Lagos, Nigeria to shed more light since these are issues that are common to both countries). It is a beautiful country, people are nice and welcoming (mostly) and the economy is growing even though the effects of the financial meltdown as well as decades of corruption are still being felt. Currently 27% of the population lives on less than $1.25/day and youth unemployment is up. With all things you have to take the good with the bad and try to change the things that you can actually change. I know I have it easy as compared to a lot of people and all it inspires me to do is to help other people and see how I can really make a lasting difference.
Do I enjoy living in Ghana? Most definitely! The weather is mostly beautiful though dog days are plentiful. The humidity necessitates wearing under shirts to work so that your skills at manscaping are not exposed to your colleagues at work. It’s generally peaceful and life has a cool, relaxed pace. People tend to be very friendly and you can virtually start a conversation with a complete stranger of either sex with minimal fuss. The men are beautiful (although some types are seriously lacking) and being in Accra sometimes feels like a working holiday. The job market is definitely saturated (youth unemployment rate is around 25%) but a lot of young people are going into all sorts of businesses and some are really taking off. Crime sadly seems to be on the increase although it’s still very safe compared to other areas in West Africa.
From birth, you’re bathed, dressed in and fed religious doctrine. I knew I was gay early on. There are a couple of things that happened in my childhood that made me think that maybe I “ended up” (as opposed to being born) this way but I got over that. Even then I didn’t know what I was feeling, I had crushes on girls and spent a long time pushing down any attractions for guys especially as puberty started. Secondary school is hard anywhere and I always wonder if anyone (even the popular kids) ever really enjoys it. Effeminate guys have it tough since they are bullied by fellow students and teachers and many become “straight-acting”, at least until they leave for university, which is where a lot of guys come into themselves. Thankfully teen suicides are uncommon probably because it was drummed into our heads (along with Old MacDonald and other nursery rhymes) that Judas Iscariot is burning in hell because he committed suicide. The major religions are Christianity and Islam and it’s quite common to find a family that’s really mixed in terms of religion. It’s unusual to hear of disagreements or serious differences arising from religion. By the way, seeing straight boys dress up as girls (like in the picture) during school festivals is very common.
Even though homosexuality is illegal, it has never really stopped anyone from doing anything. In a way, it adds to the excitement, kind of like making out in a public place: you know there is a strong chance you could get caught and arrested, but the thrill drives you on. You can hook a guy virtually everywhere – any decent bar, club, party. Guys (gay and straight alike) are very friendly and touchy-feely and it’s not unusual to see two straight guy friends holding each other at their waists, walking arm-in-arm, dancing together at a club with no one seeing it as unusual however the moment you make a pass at someone and he’s not, you could get into serious trouble. Being subtle can never be overstated in this instance: you should never be direct when you meet someone. Sometimes it feels like being in a secret club, with key words and signs that only people in the know will interpret. Initially it was fun (like how all new things are) but now it feels stifling.
Online hookups are no longer as popular as they used to be since it’s not so difficult to meet people in some areas like the capital coupled to the fact that a few of these sites have been the subject of newspaper articles. The other reason why many shy away from going sex-shopping on the net is probably the biggest: “scammers”. This is a term for guys who are there to swindle you and get you into more trouble than you ever bargained for. They go after locals and foreigners alike but mostly young local guys are the target. Typical scenario: You see a profile with pictures of a very hot muscular guy with horrible grammar on a site and you chat him up. After a few hours or days, you guys decide to meet up, usually his place since he assures you that he lives alone in a secluded area (and all the other things closeted gays like to hear). You get to his house, clothes come off, suddenly the door opens and three men barge into the room, start making a whole lot of noise and proceed to beat you up for being a homosexual. Before you know it, the entire neighbourhood is involved, some are begging for them to let you go, others are saying they should beat you up some more. All this time you’re standing still, silently screaming “this cannot be happening to me” in your birthday suit. Your hookup at this point has conveniently disappeared as the party crashers are usually his friends and he is in on the scam. Finally they release you (minus your phone, wallet, cards, shoes and/or clothes depending on how well you dressed to impress – apparently these guys are quite picky). You’re left on the side of the road trying to get a ride home in your underwear and no money. It is a testament to the goodness of the average Ghanaian that you will always help no matter the time and a couple of guys I know who ended up in this state were both taken to their doorsteps by complete strangers. Virtually everyone I know has been through a similar scenario or has had it happen to a friend. Most guys that get caught in this net these days are either foreigners or new to the scene. I keep warning people to be careful on those sites and not to go after the very hot guys with pictures everywhere but sometimes trying to caution young gays who just found out that sex is only five mins away is like pouring water on a stone, hoping some of the water soaks through the stone.
Recently, homosexuality has been in the news especially after New York legalised gay marriage with people saying all sorts of things on air about how gay men need psychological help and what not. The truth is that although homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness a long time ago, most people and still consider it a disease and will take you to the minister for prayers/counselling and when that doesn’t work, to a mental facility to “medicate the gay away”. The sad thing is that many mental health experts still think being gay is a form of mental illness and go all over radio and TV spewing this nonsense.
Relationships are very hard. The chances that the guy you’re dating will get married to a woman is close to 100% (that’s if he isn’t already). I remember the first time I met a friend’s boyfriend and saw his wedding band, I was visibly shocked. After telling me off for being “childish”, my friend informed me that “everyone has to do what they have to do to fit in, they have to get married to satisfy society but since we really are attracted to men, we get married to satisfy the family then carry on with the men.” I try to be honourable and treat people with how I would like to be treated in return so I find it difficult to tell someone that I’m in love with her and marry her, live with her when I don’t really want her at all. It’s one thing to want light soup when only mushroom soup is available but it’s a totally different thing to pretend to be a vegan when all you really want is top sirloin steak grilled so rare it’s almost grazing (and we’re not talking organic anything either). A married guy I know personally was in a relationship with another married guy for 9 years.How they made it work, I don’t know.
There used to be a couple of gay bars in the past but after they were the subject of a newspaper article and featured in some sites, they went into oblivion. These days, gay people are not as tentatively open as before due to this growing anti-gay sentiment and after the incidents at Jamestown, many closet doors are closing fast.
Why do gay people stay? Family I guess. Responsibilities. Many gay guys I know are actively involved in supporting their families and helping the community and take part in society-building activities that I rarely see straight boys get involved in. Even though I think most do it out of a sense of wanting to make a change, I also think many do it so that if their sexuality ever becomes an issue people will see that they contributed to society in so many ways and that their sexuality is unimportant. I don’t see myself as a campaigner and really all I want is the freedom to live my life how I see fit. But everyday it seems that I will have to really get involved in activism of some kind to see the changes I want. Gay people keep hoping for change but I don’t think I still subscribe to the idea that hope is a tangible entity. I’d rather try to change things than wait for something to happen. If anything, going through challenges always makes you stronger.