“Nyame mpa ngu na Jesu moga impipa!”
She utters these words as if she had been asked to exorcise a demon spontaneously.
“God forbid! And Jesus’ blood wash away!” She prays again.
She was visiting. A distant cousin by marriage; her words really shouldn’t have made such an impact. But because they were indicative of quite a broad cross-section of the Ghanaian population, they hit home. She was convinced mine was a scenario that required exorcism and she was the right woman for the job.
The scenario: I was sitting in between my cousin’s legs getting my hair oiled and twisted (let’s deal with the connotations of this later) when she asked which boy I was dating now. I was famous for having quite a slew usually to divert attention from the real issue. We were all a little tipsy from my cousin’s bachelorette party.
“I’m just not into boys as much,” I said before I realized it. I was exhausted from making up fairy-tales for my favorite cousin.
“Her you dis gel! Are you letting girls stick their fingers into you? Or are you sucking on vaginas?” These two questions sounded worse because they were said in the crudest way using specific words in our Ghanaian language that were usually reserved for potty mouths, or so we were taught. My cousin, whom I had revered and idolized since boarding school, was far from a potty mouth.
I blushed deeply. Thankfully my skin only warmed to my touch; it didn’t change color (here’s to chocolate skin!) I smiled at my niece and her brothers as they instinctively looked my way.
The conversation was halted for now.
Later in the evening when my cousin caught me by myself she said: “Who is it? Who has done this to you? Tell me!”
“Nobody. People don’t just turn gay or lesbian, you know!” I mustered a tight smile as I began the arduous journey of justifying my orientation. As if coming out was not torture enough, everyone felt it their duty to interrogate you to make sure you hadn’t made a mistake.
“Are having fingers inside of me somehow worse than having a penis inside? I was emboldened by the wistful look on her face. “If it’s promiscuity you are worried about let’s talk about that.”
“California turned you gay! I knew it! That’s what people do over there in San Francisco.”
In the last four years of living in the Bay area, I had learned not to respond to this one.
The reality is that those in denial need something to hang their hats on. Who caused this? Who did something wrong along the way? They seem to need an explanation that will make it all better. The first, and my favorite, is the excuse of my abuse. The second, my absentee father, God rest his poor soul! The third, my independent streak. The fourth, too much education.
When my rebuttals to these four fail to appease them, they ask the quintessential question: “Does your Mama know?” Then they go down the list of elders who should be informed. I nod with each one. Yes, they all know already. Then they get mad that they are the last one to be informed.
“Well, how did your Mama react when you told her?” Favorite cousin asks me.
“Oh Ma, she was very supportive of me and has been ever since.”
The incredulous look on her face says it all. She doesn’t think this is possible.
“Ok. How long have you known?” As if the number of years I’ve been out makes me more valid as queer. If it’s too short a time, then it’s a phase. If it’s a long time, then they want a list of people to go blame for this.
“You’ll find the right man, soon. I’m sure of it!” She gives me a squeeze.
I smile tightly knowing I’ve lost another one. I have become invisible yet again.
I entangle myself from her squeeze and climb the stairs to my guestroom.