Written by Steph Duchess
There is a saying that people fear and condemn what they don’t understand and this encompasses my experience from being a conditioned homophobe to becoming an ally who regularly consumes and writes same-sex content.
Growing up in a Christian home in Ghana, homosexuality was a topic that was never broached until it was time for senior high school. Before you are sent off to a single-sex boarding school, you are told that lesbianism is a spirit from the devil that is rampant in same-sex schools. Like many other young ladies before me, I received “the talk” where my mom and aunts warned me not to allow myself to be seduced into the sinful and disgraceful act of lesbianism. To be honest, I found the talk ridiculous. I was fifteen and not even interested in sex. What would I want with girls? Nonetheless, I listened humbly and promised not to forget my Christian values. This formed my first strong opinion about homosexuality as an abomination and grievous sin.
Just two weeks into high school, rumours about lesbian seniors finding first-year victims began to fly. Seniors in our dorms warned first-years about suspected lesbians and advised us not to befriend them. Presumed lesbians were seen as predators, with no exceptions. That formed my second biased opinion about queer people: that they were wicked and took advantage of weaker people. Curiously, the majority of suspected lesbians were tomboys or girls who engaged in activities perceived to be male-inclined; the School Drummers and Sports Girls, as well as girls in the Drama Club who acted as male characters. Any girl who fit into this criteria automatically became a suspected lesbian. I didn’t realize how ignorant it was until a close friend became a victim of that rule. Still, it didn’t do much to change my opinion on homosexuality.
My class was full of staunch Christians, and once a week we prayed against the spirit of lesbianism, committing the class into God’s hands with the fervent hope that none of us would succumb to the “evil lesbianism spirit”. To show how serious we were as a class, we composed an anti-lesbianism song which we proudly sang as part of our campaign. While I didn’t lead this campaign, I was a very active member.
Throughout my three years in high school, there were a lot of anti-lesbianism campaigns led by our school chaplain and teachers as well as students. We were told to name and shame any two girls who were caught in compromising situations. Furthermore, private prayer and deliverance sessions were held for girls who were suspected to be lesbians, caught in the act, or confessed to lesbianism to be delivered from their sins. By the time I graduated from high school, the experience had reinforced my indoctrination of same-sex relationships as a dirty sin. I wasn’t an aggressive homophobe, in that I didn’t think gay people should be imprisoned, beaten up, or killed. I just thought they needed deliverance.
It is interesting how life works, and the unexpected things that can cause a change in opinion about something. Eight years after high school, I was watching beauty youtube videos when I stumbled upon a video by the controversial beauty YouTuber Jeffree Star. The Silicon sponge had newly hit the stores, and I was looking for a tutorial video. Perhaps it was fate, but I clicked on the first video in the results, and it was his. He was such a fascinating culture shock. Not only was he a man with pink hair in a pink top, but he also had an almost full-body tattoo. I was fascinated. I had seen pictures of men in makeup before, but something about him applying makeup captivated me. He was funny, sarcastic, and unlike anyone I had ever come across.
After the silicone sponge video, I binge-watched several of his videos. Everything about him was so unrepentantly gay, but I enjoyed his personality and his videos so much that it took me a while to remember my prejudice. For over one hour, as I watched his videos, I didn’t see a gay sinner with a ready ticket to hell; I only saw an interesting man applying bomb makeup. I remember feeling a slight jolt when it clicked that this was a gay man, and being gay was supposed to be a sin. Then it made me sad to think that if he was in Ghana, he couldn’t be that interesting man I found so fascinating. It would be a crime to be him. That made me wonder how many more men like him were forced to be who they weren’t because it was considered a sin, and an abomination, and I remembered the girls in high school who were so good at drumming. They had been tagged lesbians, and one of them stopped drumming as a result.
That was the beginning of the shift in my perception of homosexuality. I had prided myself on being someone who formed her own opinions, but on this particular topic, I hadn’t. I had just swallowed everything I had been told hook, line, and sinker, without even thinking about it. So I began my research. The first thing I did was to write down the main things I had heard against homosexuality and the things that had formed my bias:
- Homosexuality is a sin caused by an evil spirit.
- It was unnatural
- Queer people were predators
- Homosexuality was a choice
For the first point, I did a Google search on the query “Is homosexuality a sin?” and read through several of the results, both for the motion and against the motion. I can’t recall the websites I read at the time, but a few years later, while helping a friend who also wanted some answers, I found an article on HRC Foundation titled: What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality? that stuck with me. The article, which was written by Christian scholars, is stated to be “At the heart of the claim that the Bible is clear ‘that homosexuality is forbidden by God’ is poor biblical scholarship and a cultural bias read into the Bible”, and that claim summarised my opinion after my own earlier research on the subject.
After my findings on my first search, I moved on to the next. “Homosexuality is unnatural.” What makes something natural or unnatural? By what criteria was homosexuality unnatural? Over the years, I had heard preachers condemn homosexuality as unnatural, claiming that if even animals knew better than to be with the same sex, how could humans do it? With that in mind, my next question for Google was “Are there gay animals?” To say that the results shocked me was an understatement. Not only did science and research prove that same-sex pairing in the animal kingdom happened, but it was also common. According to this article on DW, studies show that there are 1,500 animal species from insects, fish, and birds to mammals that exhibit same-sex coupling. To find out that giraffes, dolphins, and even lions to mention a few, exhibit same-sex coupling was another eye-opener for me for two reasons; the first was that it became quite clear that most of the people I heard strongly condemning homosexuality had known as much as I had before I started my research– which was nothing. It began to click that perhaps like me they had been conditioned to believe all those things they say, which were turning out not to be based on any fact. And secondly, how could sexuality that was also exhibited by other species in the animal kingdom be called unnatural?
I did not need to do much research on the third point to know that it was baseless. I was old enough to understand that abuse was about power and control, not about sexual orientation. Almost every woman I knew had been sexually abused or harassed in one way or the other as a young girl, and the perpetrators were heterosexual men. In fact, an article on Zero Abuse Project states that science and case management experience have revealed that the majority of child molesters are heterosexual. This statistics sheet also states that in a study where 82% of sexual crimes were committed by people close to the victims’ families, only 0.2% of those instances were perpetuated by people who identified as queer.
I concluded then that if the heterosexuality which recorded the majority of sexual abuse was not defined by simply by sexual abuse, it was ridiculous and hypocritical to then simply define homosexuality by sexual abuse.
Finally, the last point, “Homosexuality is a choice” is one of the misconceptions about homosexuality that confused me even before I became an ally. Why would people choose to be gay when it made their lives so much harder to the point of endangering their lives? Queer people are shunned, abused, get disowned, driven out of their homes to fend for themselves, or murdered, often by their own families.
I didn’t choose to be heterosexual. I was just born that way, and reading stories of queer people sharing how they discovered their sexuality made me realize that so were they. In one of the stories I read, a young man said, “My mother knew I was gay even before I knew the meaning of sexuality because my first crush at age six was another boy. I’m grateful she accepted it and never made me feel weird or different because I know so many who were not nearly that lucky.”
After my research, I watched movies and read novels about queer people, as well as documentaries on Youtube about homosexuality and love between same-sex couples without my earlier prejudice clouding my judgement, and it was easy to accept.
As an ally, I try my best to educate other people, especially those around me, about the misconceptions about queer people, because a lot of homophobes base their prejudices on myths and not facts. Sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t, but I never get dissuaded because sometimes it takes one person to plant the seeds and another person or several other people to water it until it takes root.
It has been six years since I watched that first video, and I will never forget that turning point in my life. If you’re now shedding your prejudices about homosexuality, you’re on the right path. Like me, you can do some research to have an informed opinion, or you can be more open-minded the next time you read about a gay couple in a book or see them in a movie. Gradually, you will come to understand that they aren’t much different from you and me; they are just people who want to find love and sexual connection with another person who feels the same way about them.
These days, I read a lot of gay fiction and write some myself. Taking the time to shed my conditioning against homosexuality to become an ally is one of the best decisions I have ever made in life. After all, love is love, and everyone deserves to love and be loved freely and without fear.