Curiosity not (always) condemnation: On the freeing potential of queerness
By Anima Adjepong
In my last essay, I discussed a comment I overheard from a Ghanaian woman who did not want my “kind” sullying the respectability of her community. I concluded by noting that her comments were simply one woman’s claims about what kind of person the community was willing to accept.
It is important to me that I push back against the idea that one or even several people can, of their own accord, construct the boundaries of belonging within any given community. Yes, there is often a dominant claim about what constitutes belonging among any group of people. And among Ghanaians, whether in Ghana or abroad, the discourse of heterosexual Christian respectability is particularly loud. But even in this context, I have found that there are people within these communities who subtly challenge this characterization of the community.
Sure, my dominant experience from groups of Ghanaians has been ignorant aggressive homophobia – “we don’t want your kind here” being an outstanding example. Other times, this ignorance comes in the form of questions about how I express my gender identity or claims of nonjudgmental stances. There’s the time when one woman explained to me that having worked with gay people, she did not judge anyone’s sexuality. After all, she added, “I’m not god.” Although to this woman’s mind, she may have been expressing a progressive nonjudgmental view, the claim “I’m not god” is pregnant with moralistic judgment. The implication being that there is a judgment to be made, but it is not her place to make it.
Stories like the above aside, there are other stories to be told as I show below.
About three weeks before my wedding, I received a phone call from an “auntie” wanting to know my address and confirming the date of the wedding. I knew, without asking why, she wanted this information and experienced slight trepidation as I considered the conversation that would have to ensue once she learned that I was not marrying a man as she had assumed all these months. When my partner and I received a generous cash gift in the mail from not one, but three aunties, I knew the jig was up. I could not return the gift and so, doing what I felt was the right thing, I sent them a thank you note, signing the email with both our names.
The response from my “aunties” challenges the rigid boundaries of heterosexual respectability that characterize this community. Every one of them responded with words of congratulations, wishing us happiness and expressing a desire to meet my wife. Another auntie, upon learning that I had recently been married asked to see photos. Her question upon seeing these pictures was: “why did neither of you wear a dress?” Although the question took me aback, I also noted that it was laden with curiosity rather than overt condemnation.
Granted, there are several reasons why some people, when explicitly confronted with queer sexuality might express curiosity rather than condemnation. The respectable silence that surrounds discussions about any form of sexuality may make it so that queerness serves as a conduit through which women may discuss other more normative expressions of sexual desires in empowering ways. The presence of unabashed queer sexuality stands in contrast to the salacious stories that popular media outlets write about women’s sexuality in general. Unrepentant queer sexuality has the potential to create space for women to talk about masturbation, orgasms, straight fucking, kissing, and all the rest of it.
A skeptical reading of the curious responses I received from my aunties is also possible. As an outsider in the community, I might be awarded a certain level of deference making it less acceptable for people to overtly express their anti-gay views towards me. Recalling that my “aunties” sent a wedding gift before they knew the gender of my partner, there might be some weight to the argument that for reasons of respectability they would remain tight-lipped about their feelings after the discovery that we were a same-gender couple. A less cynical approach might rest in the idea that by getting married, I was articulating an investment in monogamous respectability that domesticated my queer sexuality. Within this framework of respectability, there is also a way in which my getting married can be interpreted as an indicator of familial support of my relationship, thereby silencing different critiques and judgments that could be lobbied at me.
Despite these cynical interpretations regarding what I perceive as a latent acceptance of my queer sexuality, I want to return to my suggestion that the presence of queerness might make room for women (especially), to more openly discuss different aspects of their sexuality. Within the middle-class Christian heterosexual respectable community, same-gender sexuality might make things such as out-of-wedlock parenting, divorce, and women’s expressions of their normative heterosexual sexual desires appear less of an aberration. Although all of these occurrences already challenge the dominance of Christian heterosexual respectability, communities have a way of suppressing these aberrations. For me, queerness can lend the lie to the rigidity of these boundaries, transforming the political landscape within which not only sexuality, but also gender politics at large can exist in these communities.
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