Photography kindly provided by Alfred Quartey

This story was crowdfunded by Questionmark's Kickstarter campaign.

How do you tell harrowing stories of homophobia without sounding self-destructive? You probably start from the time when things were easier.

It is the 18th FIFA World Cup and Ghana is the shining star of African football. At least, that is what your cousin tells you ahead of the tournament in Germany. At the time, you have no interest in sports. “If an African country could lift the world cup, it’d be Ghana,” your cousin braggingly projects. At the Zinedine Zidane World Cup of 2006, 2baba, a Nigerian Afrobeats, and Afropop singer, is wearing a green shirt with the word “Ghana” scribbled in front of it. His decision is an indication of his pride and support for your country’s senior national team. This shirt is displayed in the music video to his smash hit song, “If Love Is a Crime," with yellow side packer shorts and impressively clean white sneakers.

You are about 11 years old when this song first hits the airwaves. Ghana is kicked out by Brazil in a controversial defeat after an impressive first-time run, beating the Czech Republic and the U.S.A. You hear people talk about off-side goals and fake penalties and race etc. On the one hand, you only watch soccer because all the men in your family do. So you sit on the floor, head in your neighbor's lap as he runs match statistics with your step-uncle. You are passively listening and also resisting the urge to tell them to keep it low. But you enjoy his lap, and there is nothing weird or incriminating about you resting your head on his lap. Even your uncle did it with him once. And then asked you to sleep on his, too, because of your chronic headache.

On the other hand, the arguments during the game make you popular in class when you regurgitate them during lunch break. The data from these arguments, stored subconsciously in your brain, is how you have won three game nights that focused on soccer trivia from this era. Indeed, it is your reward for enduring the uncomfortable weight of soccer when you could have been watching a beauty pageant or planning one for your middle school graduation. Fashion, lifestyle, and what you have come to know as an adult to be pop culture is what you would rather spend your time watching and reading. When the internet is strictly regulated in middle school, friends in the senior classes pay you in snacks for written lyrics to Rihanna, Beyoncé, and PSquare because you have a sharp ear for lyrics, especially in American and British accents.

You write out the lyrics to this 2Baba song for your friends. The lyrics to “love is a crime” is poignant. He sings, "If love is a crime, then I'm willing to be wanted." Unknown to 2Baba, he is crooning the soundtrack to the lives of all queer Africans. There are 32 countries where being queer is synonymous with being willing to be wanted by law enforcement. When this song debuted, that number was higher.

2face’s Official Video “If Love Is A Crime”
This is specifically for all the lovely fans of 2face, right here is a nice one for your eye alone. Expect More Coming.

High school now. You become famous in your Boys’ Catholic high school for doing drag. People make jokes about wanting you, hating you, raping you, and marrying you. It is all in the mix, and you cannot tell if anyone is ever serious. It is unsettling, but somehow, it gives you a rush that, at least, there could be a few desiring you. You make many social friends and build a few close relationships, enemies in the conservative circles too. However, all your friends and acquaintances are protective of you. Teachers too, especially theatre and literature ones.

One of your favorite things is performing in plays in drag. You perform the lead role every time, sometimes not even matching the character's description on paper. But you do it so well. So you score the role before the script is picked. Drama club in a day school means you stay after classes to rehearse; it’s like detention but fun. It is detention where you are the lead character every day.

Nine months come and go, and each day since you started high school, you stop to speak to the security man at the post before you go home. You are not doing it as a service to humanity, not doing this because he is overlooked, and you want to show him some love. You are using him or intend to, at the very least. Other people pay their way out of the school in the middle of the day. Not you. You are manipulating him to be friends with you, and then when you feel like leaving school, your friend would let you. You do not know when you will call in a favor, but you are laying the groundwork.

You are in a day school, so you need to join the bus when school and drama rehearsals are over. No school buses or state-sanctioned ones, just regular buses with broken windows, growling exhaust notes, and throaty vrooming motorcycle sounds from the robust and constantly failing engines. Very regular buses. Your friends go the other way, most of them walk home, and the others drive home. So usually, you join random groups at the bus terminal. Not random, you recognize their clothes. They fist bump you, hug you, and straddle their arms along your neck and those of others as they make quick-witted comments. You are part of every group once you don the school uniform.

Sometimes, you are a little behind everything because the security man enjoys your company. This time as you make your way to the bus stop, the streets are darkening, but you can still see clearly. The streetlights aren’t shining luminously on the school streets yet. As you leave, there are few people in uniforms anywhere. So you are looking around for familiarity and comfort. However, there is very little of that, just strangers wearing uniforms you do not recognize. Long-sleeved shirts, flowery ties, reflectors like traffic wardens, and some t-shirts here and there. Crop tops and high waist pants, flowy work dresses, suit skirts, and more uniforms from middle schools you cannot identify. As you scan the highway that looks so small it might as well be a corner street, your eyes meet a man who is mean mugging.

You have a little secret. Well, not altogether a secret, but something you may have never found words to describe until this moment. You like the guy from Antwone Fisher a lot. Not Denzel. Derek. Like when a girl likes another girl. You also like Taye Diggs and Morris Chestnut a whole lot. So you like this person behind you a little bit too. He is roughly 6 foot 2 because he is about the same height as your classmate, and that boy swears he is 6 foot 2. Flawless dry, dark skin and about four years of extensive and consistent gym work appearing on his arms, shoulders, and chest. Maybe he is only six months into his leg workout regime. This mid-20s Michael Jai White is unquestionably fit to join the club. The club of people you think about and know you would meet one day when you make your Hollywood debut. “They will all be obsessed with you,” you often tell yourself.

Whatever the case, you feel something you had never felt before in real life. First, it is the shyness of his intense stare. An intense stare you hold for the ethical period of about 3 seconds. That is how much time you are allowed to stare at a stranger. However, you notice that your crush is coming at a steady pace as if wanting to catch up with you. You do not look back again, and you do not slow down either. But you feel it in the heaviness behind you. As he hurries towards you, and to put it without exaggeration, you swell with passionate enchantment.

He is breathing down your neck now. He smells of coconut oil, ointment, and cigarettes. His figure-hugging t-shirt is also reeking of a little bit of manly sweat. You are sure he spends a lot of time in the sun. Maybe in traffic or at some construction site. You wonder why he picked the brown shorts to go with the green shirt. Maybe he is a fashion enthusiast with the way he matches the colors. He is pressed against your backpack now. Not entirely resting on you, but close enough that your head is pressing against something that feels like a wooden necklace inside his shirt. You are on the side of a busy highway, but your surroundings feel hushed. You do not know what this closeness, this intimacy, means.

All of this is happening in a flash, but it feels like forever since you two got acquainted with each other’s bodies. Suddenly it feels like he is holding your backpack. You don’t know what groping is, so you don’t wonder if the man of your dreams is groping you on a street-looking highway. However, you are no longer enchanted. To clarify, you are an outspoken teenager. You have also spent all of your time practicing elegance, poise, and grace. So this business of being grabbed in public is a test of your conflicting characters. This is not a drill; he has grabbed your backpack, indeed. He whispers in a soothing yet affirmative baritone. It’s like a late-night radio host's voice, but if he were discussing politics. The politics are you and your entire existence in this scenario.

“If you don't stop walking like a girl and looking at me with your gayness, I will beat you right now, do you understand?” You are gobsmacked. Your exuberance vanishes. He has been trailing you to beat you up, and yet here you were, moving, increasing the sway in your hips to try and get him to talk to you.  So you act fast. You whisk yourself away from his firm grip. Once you face him, you note that he looks better than your corner eyes presented. He could one hundred percent be a basketball player who falls for the cheerleading captain in another school (you), and despite the ups and downs, you end up graduating together. Until there is, college and your real breakup journey begin with the lie that you could both do long distance. A romcom set in Accra. You snap out of it; this man could kill you any second.

Your mouth dries up, and you begin to shake. You have never fought in your life. Pointless, because it is not like you could fight off an adult built like he is making his debut in a Tyler Perry play. So you gather the courage to question him on whatever wrong you might have done in a voice shaking so bad that you cannot recognize it as your own. You are speaking below a whisper. And your mouth is open smaller than when you apply lipsticks for the stage. Other students are passing, unripe mango in one’s hand, a torn sandal and dusty brown feet on another, a pair of glasses and a science magazine in another’s hands. They call out to you and pass by, unaware that the man you face is about to beat you for walking like a girl. They might assume that he is asking for directions or that you know him. Somewhere in your childish mind, you imagine that he would laugh and say that he is just kidding, and then you two would exchange Facebook names. But what comes after the boys are in a considerable distance goes slightly off script.

“I will slap you into this gutter right now if you open your mouth again,” he says, staring straight into your soul. His eyes are red, probably from smoking or from something he needs an optometrist to check. He stands for a few seconds and puts his hands into a fold across his chest as your eyes well up, waiting for you to speak. You say nothing, making two fists by your shorts that you have altered a bit too high for the school. For what exactly those fists would do, you are not sure. He decides to walk away now but not without muttering "batty." You shrug the whole moment off and start to walk as if nothing happened. But something has happened. Because your confidence is diminished. He does not look back. Probably satisfied that he has completely broken you. This is not your first time facing or dismissing abuse relating to your effeminacy.

You are not able to explain this to anyone. Because despite never being in this situation, you know how the story goes. You are wrong for being yourself, and he is right for wanting to beat the queerness out of your walk. You know this from the many times family and friends have made remarks about your effeminacy. So you do not even think of sharing this ever. And you hope to forget it ever happened. However, you think about it on the taxi ride to the main bus terminal, and you think about it on the bus home. You still think about it, and maybe twice or three times a year, you dream of the encounter in detail. Each time, it becomes clearer that you did not look at him first. That when you noticed him, he was already walking toward you. This makes sense because you have never taken a keen interest in someone on the streets. The movies – yes. Music videos – absolutely. But not the people around you. You were 14 and not fantasizing about people walking on the streets. So this man attacked you for simply existing as a happy schoolboy.

Meanwhile, this is how you learn that a look of passion could either mean that they passionately want you or they passionately wish to harm you. So you ignore all looks. Even when it is obviously from a place of flatter. You are no longer 14; now you are pushing 30. But you carry this moment as one holds a picture of their lover in a purse. So you go on the offensive. You are no longer tolerant and understanding. Anyone who tries you becomes collateral damage for what that one guy did. Like when you interviewed at a law firm, and the HR manager tried to trick you into determining your sexuality. Asking about your commitment history, as if not spelled out in a document on her computer. She attempts to illustrate an analogy. Something we have all agreed that Ghanaians cannot do.

“Let’s say when you were with your…is it girlfriend or boyfriend…so that I don’t make a mistake?"  You say that you do not understand. “Oh no we are an equal opportunities employer; she just wants to use the right pronouns,” the managing partner steps in to clean things up. You still say you do not understand because this gossip style of interview is not a route that pro-Queer companies take. You don’t say all of that. Just, you don’t understand. She doesn’t quit despite your clear discomfort. In the end, she gets her answer, and you get the job that you don’t take anyway.

Because you are no longer 14 on that highway or 11 resting innocently on laps. You are two months shy of 25 at that interview. You have no fear left—just the occasional discomfort at the start of that difficult conversation. But you will not live that life again where you travel the world and are too scared to document it or tell anyone. Now you only work where you feel comfortable or leave with a fight.

Another favorite thing of yours is to catch up with old friends. Spend time drinking coffee and having hearty laughs about the past. Those are the ones who have never made you feel uncomfortable. So when a college friend connects with you three years after graduation, you choose your favorite café in the Airport Residential space. There this old friend narrates how he kissed another person in the dark at a public place and got caught by the security officer on duty.

You know the culprits. They were both on the school’s basketball team. Until this moment, you never made them out to be anything other than straight. Their precarious actions cost them three hundred cedis. It was either that or the security man takes them to the military office upstairs. He narrates that after the transaction, the security man escorts them off the property through the bushes and wishes them well, folding his money into his breast pocket. Your friend later matched the security man on Grindr. Only realizing it was him behind the blank profile after they got comfortable with each other and exchanged disappearing photos.

With the Black Stars failing to have another impactful World Cup moment after their 2010 South African exit with the help of Suarez and 2Baba not exactly in the spotlight for his musical stylings, one would think that the queer community would have seen some changes too. You agree because there have been some violent changes. You see someone with blood oozing from their mouth as they are instructed to incriminate themselves in a video that was circulated on social media. The mob claims he arrived in their neighborhood for a hookup. The other party to this hookup was their informant and online bait. "I wan chop Salim," he confesses with a huge log to his head. That person was one of your BlackBerry contacts when BB Pins were a thing. A law-abiding citizen who ran a successful weekend party event and other businesses. Nothing happened to the perpetrators.

Other on-camera attacks start to swing in. The ones committing the crimes are in the videos claiming they are doing an honorable thing for the country. The majority of social media engagements show support for these violent crimes. The state looks away each time. Soon, a conservative white supremacist evangelical bill threatening Queer identity, fashion, and advocacy is introduced in parliament. Arbitrary arrests of advocates follow. Closing down a community center is next. And unprecedented records of mob action against community members follow the closure of the community center.

In all of this, the only way to survive is to embrace the probability of incarceration or death by jungle justice. It is a constant likelihood. You could never beat the allegations when it comes to it. So you should prepare for war. The young man in a green shirt and brown shorts is behind you. Every day and everywhere. So you adopt a reality that could end your freedom or life. But whatever happens, 2Baba says, “just keep the fire burning burning burning.”

Growing up black and gay: Tired of being different #BLM
As a child, my grandmother would always tell me. ‘Stay away from those white kids, they ain’t nothin’ but trouble’. This sounded racist butI failed to understand is that having been born in the 1910s, the majority of her encounters with whites were terrible.

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