Feature Article of Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Columnist: Mensah, K.

The Ghanaian homosexual in an evolving culture

By K. Mensah

The recent story of a gathering of gay men at a party in the port city of Takoradi generated a predictable rash of comments dripping with hatred, disgust and condemnation. Whilst many called for the burning, execution, decapitation or stabbing of these ‘vile’ men with their ‘disgusting’ lifestyle, others lamented the decline of Ghanaian culture and the concomitant importation of depraved western cultural values. For good measure, the bible, the Koran and African traditional religion were invoked ad nauseum as justification for the hatred of such men and their bedroom habits. Under no circumstances, it was argued, should the notion of human rights be extended to such persons, because after all, they were sub-human, doing stuff that even animals would not do. Ghanaians are at their most righteous when it comes to the sex lives of others.

Of course, in a society such as Ghana’s, and by extension, Africa’s, where many cultural practices have been jettisoned and western culture seems to be creeping in at an alarming rate, it is perhaps understandable that many would feel threatened and seek to defend what they consider to be one of the last bastions of traditional African values.

But the idea that homosexuality is a western concept and therefore foreign to Africa is nonsense. The fact that our anti-gay law was put on the statute books by the departing British colonialists should in itself put paid to that ridiculous notion. Homosexuality cuts across all cultures worldwide and is simply human, in as much as it is also derided across cultures. In fact, until relatively recently in western societies, homosexuality was frowned upon and criminalised in many countries. Even today, in spite of liberal laws, there are gay men in the west who hide their sexuality and go through loveless marriages just for the sake of keeping up appearances, fearful of the ridicule and contempt of their peers were their secrets to come out. Hardly a ringing cultural endorsement, one would think.

At the coastal secondary school in Ghana I attended in the mid-seventies, homosexual conduct was rampant but latent, and I have no reason to believe it is any less the case now or that this was/is limited to my school. Yet most of those involved had never come into contact with a white man or seen gay pornography. It may very difficult to understand that some men drool over Michael Essien’s naked torso and tight muscles but are completely indifferent over the lovely Beyonce’s shapely figure , but that is a fact of life-. The strict Ghanaian societal expectations of yesteryear simply meant men who had sexual feelings for men were forced to bury them whilst they went through the tortuous and sometimes unhappy ritual of marriage and procreation that was expected of them, and in many instances, led double lives. Even North Korea, the world’s most isolationist state with hardly any western contact, does have gay men. The fact that they are not openly gay does not change their homosexuality. The argument therefore that homosexuality is intrinsically a western being foisted on poor but pure hapless Africans fits into an interesting narrative, but it is simply a hysterically jingoistic, ignorant one devoid of any intellectual basis or evidence.

This is not to say western culture has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality in Africa as it pertains nowadays-far from it. What has simply happened is that some gay men in Africa are gradually emerging from the woodwork and behind the closet, choosing to lead their lives as they deem fit, and without the strictures of marriage that they do not desire, just as it occurred in the west over the past three decades or so. On several fronts in Ghana’s evolving culture, the pressure to conform, which is the bedrock of our ancient communalistic society, is fast evaporating, and clearly in that vacuum groups begin to assert themselves as they cast of the ‘yoke’ of conformity. It therefore should come as no surprise that homosexuals in Ghana are becoming bolder by the day. Gone are the days in the 70s when they were all married and had their parties in private homes and in morbid fear.

As urbanisation and education and international travel and the internet spread on our continent, it is inevitable that certain structures will come tumbling down, and we will be powerless to do much about it. For instance, many educated Ghanaian women with independent careers and finances no longer feel the need to remain trapped in loveless and sometimes abusive marriages just to conform to traditional society’s expectation of ‘stable’ marriages. Single parenthood no longer is a matter of eternal shame. In the affluent parts of our urban areas, people lead western-style cocooned lives, with high walls and all manner of gadgetry that keep both intruders and neighbours out. You cannot go round disciplining other people’s children willy-nilly these days. A woman’s choice to work as a prostitute no longer raises hysterical outrage-certainly not in the anonymous jungles that our cities are.

As people become more and more aware of their democratic rights of self-expression through the concept of human rights (which of course is a positive thing, surely), they will remind you that it is their life if you dare reproach them for their haircut, micro skirts etc. Our extended family system is dying slowly and the nuclear family gains centre ground. Many young people come from broken homes and have taken their own destinies into their hands. We are very slowly but gradually ceasing to care what another person does with his or her life.

It is within this context of the western-style individuality taking over African communality that the gay Ghanaian feels unwilling to live according to the strict demands of societal expectation and demands to be left alone to get on with his life as he see fit. After all, there is something comical, if not hypocritical, about an adulterous or fornicating straight man berating a gay man on the biblical injunctions of his sins. It does remind you of the biblical injunction in Matthew 7:5 regarding eyes, specks and logs. It is, for instance a very twisted society that is able to summon moralistic rage over what two men do in their room but shrugs its shoulders over corruption in public life.

Of course, people have every right to find what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their room disgusting or unnatural or sinful. That is a matter of opinion, which, like noses, everyone has one. After all, we live in a democracy. But the state has no business policing consenting adults’ bedrooms. If they did, they would find a lot of repulsive and unnatural things that occur between men and women in the privacy of their rooms. Many Ghanaians would agree that a man who performs anal sex on his wife is engaging in an unnatural carnal knowledge of another person, which is clearly an offence according to Ghanaian law-the same law cited against gay men for homosexual conduct. Yet if a story appeared about a court jailing a man for having consensual anal sex with his wife, many are those who would rightly scream and ask the state to get the hell out of people’s bedrooms. Therein lies the double standards. Those who shrill and scream and lunge at gay men and lump them together with paedophiles and armed robbers as justification for maintaining the law as it stands do themselves a disservice by forgetting the key element of consent. Victims of armed robbers and paedophiles never consent to the act. And those who argue that the law must be obeyed simply because it is the law do not understand the concept of unjust laws and positive defiance.

We may scream and make vile threats from behind our computers until the skies turn pink, but that rage is impotent. Surely as night follows day, there will come a time-most likely not in our lifetimes- when the revelation in Ghana that someone is gay will not be news and may be met by a shrug of the shoulder and a bored ‘ So What?’ Many have argued that if you decriminalise homosexuality in Ghana, soon these people would want to marry each other-surely an aberration. Interestingly, in America during the sixties, many white people opposed giving black people civil rights on the grounds that if you give them the right to vote, they will eventually have the audacity to want to be president of the USA. Then Obama came along and proved them right. British women also heard similar arguments when they agitated for equal rights. Then Maggie Thatcher came along...

An amusing observation in conclusion. Many have called for the death sentence for homosexual conduct-after all the bible considers it an abomination. Fair point. Then some Ghanaian Muslims started calling for sharia law in order to deal with gays and other such ‘deviants’. Under sharia the punishment is the death penalty. You would expect the ‘Christian’ rabble rousers to nod in agreement over a common cause. But puzzlingly, they descended heavily on the Muslims and screamed that Ghana is a secular state. Really? Rather smartly, all the heterosexual adulterers and fornicators ( also abominations in the eyes of the good Lord and punishable by death according to the bible) realised that if Sharia came into being, then they would be stoned and hanged along with the sodomites, hence their outrage and protestations that Ghana is not a theocracy.

What rank hypocrisy. I am no Muslim, but I say recruit the Taleban to bring on sharia and let’s have a stoning party to deal with adultery, pornography, masturbation and sodomy, among other sins. Then let’s see how many Ghanaians--including those doing the stoning-would be left standing