Coming out within the Ghanaian culture all started when I was born! All jokes aside, my culture is homophobic; others blessed with this duality of life will relate. However, in addition to struggling with familial identification, I struggled with honoring my sexuality in a home where religion, culture, and shame were held to the highest pedestals. I created this post to share my coming-out story within Ghanaian culture with you!
A Child Coming-Out
Growing up, I never discussed sexuality, dating, or liking anyone due to the fear of being abandoned. I watched my siblings get tossed aside as if they were nothing to be wanted or cared for. Being so young, I was terrified to speak out regarding the fear of never being liked or accepted in my culture. I hid my sexuality as best as I could from anyone who could use it to harm me. Specifically, my mother. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate who my mother is and everything she has done to support me and my growth. However, I never suspected she would accept me with open arms and abundant love.
I went through high school, college, and graduate school, keeping my identity behind bars, and truly felt the effects of being two people all the time. It is a feeling that overcomes your mind and body. The yearning to know who you warrant and if living on a façade is better than being rejected. I had an arduous journey of feeling disconnected from my Ghanaian culture and immediate familial upbringing. Safe to say it sucked so much (and it still does).
My Coming Out Story
My immediate friends and siblings have known about my sexuality for a few years. However, my mother was the only person I struggled with coming out to. On February 9th, 2019, my life was changed significantly. My mother showed up at my house. She said she was bringing me a gift for my birthday and that we could have dinner and catch up. Unfortunately, or even expectedly… none of that happened.
After de-lesbianizing our home, my mother showed up around 9 pm and confronted my sexuality. She turned to me and asked if I could do her a favor… I was super confused but awkwardly agreed. She said, “I want you to have children.” I wish I could take a snapshot of my face when she said that. I answered and said, “okay”… she quickly interrupted me and said, “I mean, I never see you with a guy; what is wrong… are you gay?”
Before I could breathe or even have a thought surface, I quietly said “no”…and looked down. I felt as if every moment of my life where I suppressed my true identity flashed before my eyes.
Suddenly, I snapped back into a new reality and just said, “yes.” When I say reality, I mean I had entered a space that was all of me. I had surfaced; my true self had been created in a single moment. I was finally here. She looked at me with a look of confusion and deep sadness. I had never seen my mom be so “disappointed” in me. Her mouth was slightly open, and her head was tilted downward. She shook her head several times and used her hands to cover her face.
Cultural Differences of Coming-Out
I felt nothing… what did this feeling of nothing mean? I felt like a puddle of mush put together by limbs. But all the while, it was easier to speak. For the first time, I was honest with myself. I shared with her that I was a homosexual, more significantly, a lesbian. I identify as African, black, and American. Ghanaian culture labels homosexuals as an abomination and disgrace. If I lived in Ghana as a free version of myself, it would call for harm in various ways. To her, I was now without value and represented as nothing but humiliation.
My mom began to ask several questions, “But why,” “why are you like this,” “who made you,” “how were you born,” “do you think you are a guy,” “do you know you are not going to heaven now?” “we will not live in eternity together,” “you were on my will,” “do people know”…is it with your roommate?” “is she forcing you to do this?” “let’s pack your things and get out of here, stay at my house,” “why didn’t you tell me, we could have helped you.”
Reflection and Introspection
To write these words, and to read them over and over again, is surreal… almost dreamlike. I feel as if this moment never happened, and I have to bear to hear these words repeatedly until I decide to be nothing but entirely myself.
Living in this reality for almost ten years, never truly spoke about my sexuality or the never-ending conflict and pain of hiding who you are. In 22 minutes (yes, I was aware of the time), I disclosed the hardest thing I could ever imagine. I was left with a sense of empowerment but also shocked to find I lived a skewed life focused on representing everything my mother expected of me and dismissing large parts of myself I had been rejecting. The pain I felt was unbearable, but I knew this was exactly what needed to happen to some degree.
Reclaiming Your Voice After Coming-Out
I bet you are wondering how I responded or handled the situation. Well, what I usually do is remove myself from the situation. I did what I knew best; I began empathizing with my mother… she had an emotional strain that filled the air, and her energy soon took over the space. My mother appeared to be in so much distress, and the heavy feeling of sadness she was harboring became my focus. I started to validate her feelings; I said, “I can’t imagine what it is like to hear this from me right now,” “I bet you are feeling hurt and disappointed,”…she would nod. Then she would ask another question, and I found myself stepping into her reality while affirming my own.
Making Sense of Everything is Hard
I spoke about my beliefs regarding Christianity and our African culture. I expressed that I once felt that being who I was was not good enough and was afraid to share my authentic self because of how she and our family would perceive me. Before this moment, I was not safe enough to stand up for myself and my joy. But now, my being and my mind were on one accord, and I was real, I was finally here… I was honest with my truth.
The last thing she said to me was that she loved me but could never be in my home again, connect with my chosen family, or accept my lifestyle. I said, okay and we both leaned in to hug one another. She gathered her things and left my house.
You Came out, So Now, What?
The process of understanding yourself and your perception of the world is ongoing and never-ending. The care associated with doing so is vital. Coming out is the beginning of living in my authentic self every day. Being open about my sexuality affects not only one aspect of my life but ALL of me. Transcending the beauty within and the beauty that illuminates my authenticity is beyond healing. I hope to share my story with more Africans struggling to find this balance of culture and identity.
My mother and I went from speaking several times a week to not at all… but I thought about how much pain she was going through. We have that in common. I believe she can choose to find relief and understanding through it. She has worked hard to build our family and is truly a gift.
As I get older and continue to work on my identity, I can’t imagine being anything but myself, and I can’t imagine what it will be like to live a life of authenticity. If you want to be a part of a psychologically safe community, follow our Instagram page.
Advice For Ghanian Parents of Queer Children Who Come-out
I may never know how to help her or other African parents struggling to support their children in any realm. Feeling confused, sad, worried, or frustrated with the process is okay. Please give yourself some grace and self-compassion. However, it is unlikely that you will ever stop loving your child. Creating something and building it up to be strong enough to live in this world is magic. Your influence is so impactful. Take your time to understand what it is like for your child. The feelings you harbor are not from within but from cultural and societal effects. You can decide to be genuine to their senses, or decide to be different, or choose to love them for better or for worse. Nonetheless, decide to pick your child.
If you have resonated with this post and want to talk more about your experience, feel free to send me a message. I am here to hold space and offer insight to support your growth.
Art Therapy for Healing and Coming-out
My art therapist and I discussed my prior art and the daily art I’ve been creating since I began therapy. I didn’t know what I was making or even why I was making it, but I knew I needed to create myself. I unconsciously suppressed this self, but my artwork fulfilled what I needed and brought to life my true self. This is one of my favorite paintings but one of the most moving experiences I have ever been a part of without me realizing the magnitude of it.
I would stay up for hours in the studio, painting and listening to my favorite artist Justin Nozuka! As if he was the only person who knew how to evoke such work in me… the truth is… I create no matter the music, location, or circumstance. The completion of this piece was cathartic. For two weeks, I spent hours outside of my obligations and responsibilities working on this woman. To think years later, she would represent a world of untold narratives and untold truths.
With Intention, Sarafina