A business associate in Ghana is a married, middle-aged marketing manager, and he has a young assistant who goes with him everywhere. We were in a meeting one day when he touched the younger man’s shoulder and told him to “speak up.” It was such a tender moment, so illuminating, and it suddenly became very apparent that these two men were intimate.
All of us in the room clocked the moment. Although we never spoke of it directly, we caught ourselves smirking about what exactly it was this young man did for his marketing manager boss, especially after the boy was unusually absent from our follow-up meeting the next week.
His boss said that he was busy, planning for their extended weekend trip up north, visiting customers and handing out awards to their various top distributors. It was something they did together every month or two. Apparently, sharing the same hotel room at each leg of their journey, to keep costs down–and that got me thinking.
Gay Ghana: men who have sex with men
It’s so easy in Ghana for men who have sex with men to get together that you don’t actually need a separate gay Ghana subculture at all. Why would you when you can do it unsuspectingly right under the noses of everyone? You can be queer undercover. In fact, African culture seems ready-made for it. There are houseboys, chauffeurs, gardeners and personal assistants, all as part of everyday life. The society is so male-dominated that no one bats an eyelid when men spend most of their time together.
Moreover, though it happens less frequently these days, nobody will scream alarm to see two grown men walking through the streets hand-in-hand. You’ll rarely find your average heterosexual couple of whatever age showing any affection at all in public. I had been in Ghana almost a year before I saw the first straight couple holding hands in a public place. He was a local youth and she a young, white American. He looked so very uncomfortable with her all over him. But if truth be told, the beauty of Ghana lies in its children and menfolk because the women take pitifully poor care of themselves at best.
The Gay Ghana marriage plan
As a (gay) man in Ghanaian society, the trick is to marry early. Give your wife at least two children sharp. After the firstborn, and certainly by age thirty or so, on a diet of oily, starchy foods and sweet cakes with no exercise, she should have already turned into “Big Mama.” In a society where size is equated with wealth and power, the hefty mother of your children is already seen as the wife of a very rich man indeed. And as long as you can afford to keep her latest hair-do done, and provide a “home used” 4×4 all-terrain vehicle for her to roam about in at will, she will be happy enough to just play “de madam” of the house for the rest of her natural life.
Work still keeps you physically active, trim and taut, while she remains sedentary, and looking, within a few years, more like your mother than your wife. Sex between you had been on the decline for years, and now really only functions as procreation, not pleasure. Day by day as a couple, you drift further apart. Pretty soon, you may as well be two separate people sharing the same house.
Leaving you with enough time on your hands to go chase the young skirts, and maybe even a few tight trousers, too. For your wife and you now live very separate lives, still under the same roof, but in separate bedrooms. You may come together for church but only on Sundays and funerals. Not that you would have it any other way. You have finally arrived. You are now a “big man.” No more small boy-ooo.
Travelling through several rural towns in Ghana, I have often been surprised to see just how many young men are forced by circumstances to sleep in close proximity to one another night after night. Are you telling me that none of these supremely virile adolescent males has a little fiddle in the dark? It would be hardly surprising in western countries, where testosterone-filled youths have much less time on their hands and limited access to each other’s half-naked bodies, let alone where young men are bored, unemployed, and cramped into tiny living spaces night after night.
A marriage of convenience
Many of the gay men I’ve known in Ghana over the years have married women. They are usually heavily involved in the church or mosque and feel they could no longer continue to live the bachelor life without arousing the suspicions of family and friends to their homosexuality. They have followed tradition in Ghana and decided to each take a wife instead, and to adopt the kind of plan outlined above. The women in these unions are not usually aware of their partner’s same-gender attraction. However, the men each pray that their marriage will work to cure them of homosexual tendencies and that children will provide a focus for their love. It’s a familiar pattern we see at work in many Mediterranean countries, and other places like South America, where homophobia is rife.
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