Read part one here
Gay pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but the right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight parade movement, be thankful you don’t need one!Pride Quote
Disclaimer: This is a real story happening right now to a real person. To ensure anonymity and maintain confidentiality, the name has been changed and the African country in question will not be identified. Everything else is real.
Ashley’s story continues:
I smiled through the pain. I had no emotional energy left to explain to her or anyone else that I wasn’t attracted to women and never will. I tried dating a woman once, but it didn’t work, partly because I felt it was unfair to date women just to please my family and partly (mainly) because it was unfair to me. Despite my shortcomings in life I had integrity.
The garden conversation with mum also brought back bad memories of other conversation I had with other family members whose inability to be flexible left me feeling suicidal.
The following summer my mother, sister and I went to visit my mother’s relatives in Africa. It was smooth sailing until my mother outed me to my grandfather without warning.
“This one is gay you know!” she said pointing at me like I was a leper. I froze. Grandfather was a very traditional Christian man. He read the bible every day and believed every word …. literally. I had no intention of coming out to him because I knew he’d never understand or accept. He was conditioned to believe the only honourable union was between man and woman and nothing in between.
“What do you mean you don’t find girls attractive? Are you insane?” he barked at me, but not before momentarily gazing at mother as if to say, ‘I’ll deal with you later coz this is your fault!’
Grandfather had several gazebo-like structures all over his compound. He beckoned me to follow him into one of those structures. I felt like a lamb to the slaughter As we walked out of the main house, he grabbed a bible that was set on a coffee table. Outside was beautiful with fresh air and birds’ song. We sat down on a handmade bench; grandfather put the bible between us.
“Explain to me this nonsense about being gay,” he said.
“I don’t know how else to explain, tis just that I prefer boys to girls…” he didn’t let me finish, he expected or wanted me to say I wasn’t.
“Nonsense!! The bible is very clear about these things. It’s a sin to lay with another man. And sin is infectious, and you are going to infect us all with your depravity!”
He went on to read some verses in the bible that called for people like me to be stoned to death. I may have learning difficulties but I fail to see how God who supposedly created everyone as equal would want some to stone others, but this was not a bible study class.
“Are you going to stone me to death?” I asked. He could see I was scared and confused. I was rocking back and forth, my head oscillating dangerously between the backrest of the bench and my knees. At that point, all I wanted was to die. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I wanted to evaporate into thin air.
“No, I won’t stone you to death and no one will…. on one condition,” he paused for effect and gave me an authoritative look, “you promise to change your ways and stop with the nonsense,” his voice was not of anger, but it was stern enough for me to know it was a semi-threat. I nodded in agreement.
“For the rest of your stay here, I’ll pray with you. I’ll get you to see someone and they’ll purify your spirit.” Again I nodded furiously, anything to avoid a stoning.
As I sat there listening to the birds sing, I remembered something my boyfriend had told me, “our people will never understand or accept that being gay is not a lifestyle choice, but who we are, an identity. For your peace of mind, it is best to just go along with whatever they suggest and live unhappily until they die,” we laughed about it. It was morbid to hold your peace until someone dies. There was something innate and deep-seated about their views on homosexuality that trying to explain is like trying to bend steel with your teeth.
I have faced extreme barriers in my life with my mental health issues and learning difficulties, but I have found sufficient support for them. My sexuality, on the other hand, has been the bane of my existence as support is not readily available and some service providers have unconscious bias and use cultural and religious reasons to be ignorant and unhelpful. Not only is my family rigid in exploring the possibility that homosexuality is not a choice, but I have faced other difficulties because the majority of my carers are just like my family with biases (conscious or not).
My grandfather suggested I should live with him to be straightened up because he believed my problems were because I was being raised in the western world by a woman and the TV.
People in my community are more likely to assume people are straight and in general, sexuality is not often a topic for open discussion no matter your sexuality.
For now, as I bake in the relentless African sun, my life is dominated by fear and anxiety, however, I hope to one day live independently and manage my mental health issues and learning difficulties. I grapple with my sexuality daily, and I know one day I will be brave enough to take my boyfriend’s advice, it is my only redemption. Some of the rituals I have to endure are reigning havoc on my mental health, like when I had to have sex with an older woman as part of a cleansing ritual in the presence of my grandfather and a traditional healer. I was mortified and I bet the woman was too. Everyone tells me I am confused and that being gay is not really what I was meant to be. As humiliating as these rituals and bible training are, I believe one day I will be free to live my life as intended.
My mother believes I was cursed from birth: apparently, there was an accident during my birth and this led to my learning difficulties; when she was pregnant with me a stranger blew weed smoke in her direction and this led to my mental health problems; my father was apparently a closeted gay (why else would he leave my mother and remain unmarried), and this led to my being gay. None of these things makes sense to me but they do to everyone else, and so they must be true.
I tell this story to raise awareness of the challenges faced by those of us who don’t fit society’s definition of normal.
Photo credit: Joshua Mcknight – pexels.com