The African Lesbian: A Self Portrait

Hey, the lesbian here! I am 25-year-old Ghanaian American female currently living in Pittsburgh with my partner Kelly and my dog Gracie! This year has been a transformative year for me. Transformative in the sense of re-birthing or a re-creation… I would like to say a resemblance of a phoenix. It all started when I was born! Ha-ha, all jokes aside, it really did start when I was born into a Ghanaian American household. My family is very unconventional, and to others blessed into this environmental duality of life, they are sure to understand. 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. 

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 wanted 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 that she would accept me with open arms and with an abundance of 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 if who you are is warrant and if living a façade is better than being rejected. I had an arduous journey of feeling disconnected from my Ghanaian culture and my immediate familial upbringing.  Safe to say it sucked so much (and it still does). 

My immediate friends and siblings have known about my sexuality for a few years now. However, the only person I struggled with coming out to is my mother. On February 9th, 2019, my life was changed significantly. My mother showed up to my house in Pittsburgh (where my partner and I lived (to my mom, she was obviously just my roommate)). 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 my partner and I de-lesbianizedour home, my mother showed up around 9pm 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 take a breath or even have a thought surface I quietly, said “no” …and looked down. I felt as if every moment of my life where I supressed my true idenity flashed before my eyes.

All of a sudden, I snapped back into a new a reality and just said, “yes.” 

When I say reality, I mean I had entered into 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 finally used her hands to cover her face. 

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 especially, that I was a lesbian. Being African, black, and American, homosexuality is regarded as an abomination, disgrace, and in Ghana calls for harm in a variety of ways. To her, I was now without value and represented as nothing but humiliation…

… she was the person who “made” me. 

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?,” “lets pack your things and get out of here, stay at my house,” “why didn’t you tell me, we could have helped you.” 

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 again, and again until… I decide to be nothing but entirely myself. 

I lived in between this reality for almost 10 years. I never truly spoke about my sexuality or the never-ending conflict and pain that comes with 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 terribly 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 to some degree, I knew this was exactly what needed to happen. 

I bet you are wondering how I responded or handled the situation. Well, what I normally do is remove myself from the situation. I did what I know best, I began empathizing with my mother… she had an emotional strain that filled the air, her energy soon took over the space. My mother appeared to be in so much distress and the heavy feel of the 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 her head. Then she would ask another question, I found myself stepping into her reality while affirming my own. I shared with her that I was safe and that my partner was not trying to harm me. I spoke about my beliefs regarding Christianity and our African culture. I expressed that I once felt as if being who I was was not good enough. I told her that I was afraid to share my real self because of how she and our family would perceive me. Before this moment, I was not strong 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. 

My mother was at my house for a total of 22 minutes, the last thing she said to me was that she loved me, but could never be in my home again, be around my partner again, or accept my lifestyle. I said, okay and we both leaned in to hug one another. She gathered her things and left my house. 

I have an amazing Art Therapist (everyone should do art therapy – trust me, you can!), and we discussed my previous art and the current art I’ve been creating since I began therapy. The most impactful discovery my AT and I came across was this artwork I created about 5 years ago. I didn’t know what I was making or even why I was making it, but I knew I needed to create myself. This work is a creation of myself saturated in the life I chose to hide at that time.  I unconsciously suppressed this self, but my artwork fulfilled what I needed and brought to life my true self. However, I wasn’t ready… I wasn’t prepared to face (no pun intended) the hurt that came with being who I knew I was. 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. When I first created this piece, it was for a painting assignment during my undergraduate program. I do not even remember what the assignment was supposed to be focused on, but I was so immersed in it. I would stay up for hours in the studio painting and 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 the circumstance. The completion of this piece was cathartic. For two weeks I spent every hour outside of my obligations and responsibilities working on this woman. To think 5 years later she would represent a world of untold narratives and untold truths.

Truth

Oil on Canvas

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. How unreal!!! Being open about my sexuality does not only affect one aspect of my life, but it affects ALL of myself. Transcending the beauty within and the beauty that illuminates off my authenticity is beyond healing. I hope I can 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 think to myself how much pain she is going through. We have that in common. I believe she can choose to find relief and understanding through it. I have. She has worked so hard to build our family and she is truly a gift from heaven.  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. 

I may never know how to help her or other African parents struggling to support their children in any realm… but please know that it is okay to be confused, sad, worried, or frustrated with the process. 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 are harboring are not from within but from cultural and societal effects.  You can decide to be genuine to their feelings, or decide to be different, or decide to love them for better or for worse. Nonetheless, decide to pick your child. 

With Intention.