I look over at the woman I intend to marry as she is driving. The conversation I’ve been avoiding having is happening and I am every bit as uneasy as I imagined I would be. I don’t have answers and it makes it harder to speak freely. This conversation is not as big as the one about where to live when we make a decision to move in together but it is just as difficult to have.
Today after visiting with my cousin and speaking to her mother, I know that coming out as my full self and introducing the love of my life might not be a present I get to unwrap this Christmas. My great aunt says I look lovely and she is going to find me a husband when I come home. Neither I nor my cousin can bring ourselves to burst her bubble of delight buoyed by the fact that I have finally gained weight and look like a “proper” woman. I love her and I love all my family very much and therein lies the struggle. I don’t want to write my family off, yet I don’t want to go to Ghana agreeing to go on dates or making up stories about why I won’t go on those dates. I want to show off my love and have people be happy for me. I don’t want to introduce my partner as my friend.
When Bae asks me again how I envision this trip to Ghana going I can’t give a forward answer because the reality is, I don’t know. I want to assure her that we will be safe. That we can be out even if we can’t be affectionate in public. That people will respect our love. I choke on my words because as has become increasingly apparent, Ghana, my birth country, is very religious and very homophobic. Recent events have had me worried about our impending trip to Ghana in December.
I love the land of my birth and I trust I will always do, but the intense religiosity that fuels the homophobia is no match for me simply showing up and proclaiming that I wish to live as my full self. I have a small enclave of feminist friends who I know will welcome us, but I know the coming out to my family is not something they can help me with. I am not sure which would be worse: coming out to family and being ignored and told it is a phase and America has ruined me or being shunned and whispered about and banned from family events.
I know that the situation in much of Ghana mirrors the struggle here which culminated in the Stonewall uprising in 1969. Fifty years later queer people in the U.S. are still being denied certain rights, and with each sitting president we seem to need to assert our humanity again. I know that there are still a good number of areas in the U.S. where I can’t live openly or be safe, never mind the skin color issue. They succeed in keeping me out of these spaces because they threaten and execute violence. Why would I not steer clear of Ghana as well? Why would I spend my dollars on its economy when the populace is debating the humanity of queer people?
If only we would slink off to the corners of society and not front our queerness and not ask for things like rights, they would ignore us. At least some people say that. I am often baffled by the rhetoric because I want to know why they are so invested in me loving a woman. Why do they feel they are responsible for my so called “sin” hence their argument about my soul? My living out loud should not be an affront to their own living out loud. Both can exist. But this is the rational me appealing to politics and religiosity and colonial laws.
I left Ghana 8 years ago May 13, and until a year ago had never looked back. Ghana had broken my heart in failing to save a great love of mine and we parted ways angrily and I swore I’d never go back but I miss her and want to go back and be immersed in everything that is her. And I want to take my love with me and show her what makes me the woman I am today. And I would love to have a traditional Ghanaian marriage but I digress :). My heart is breaking again with the news coming out of Ghana about queer people and I am deeply conflicted as to why I would go. But if Stonewall didn’t happen we wouldn’t have same sex marriage. Someone, some people, had to stand up and put their feet down for me to even be professing my love to a woman publicly. If I don’t go to Ghana and choose divestment and shunning, how will anything ever change? But can anything change with just one person standing up, especially someone who hasn’t even been to Ghana in 8 years.
Since I wrote this, I have decided not to go. I cannot ensure our safety and it doesn’t make sense for me to put us in harm’s way. It also doesn’t make sense for me to return to the country of my birth and have to hide from family members because they want to set me up with men. I felt all kinds of guilt when I made the decision but I have gradually come to feel more at peace about it. It was not an easy decision to make because I do miss her dearly and do want to share her with my love.