Arts·Point of View

'Standing unapologetically in our truth': On being the bisexual daughter of an African pastor

One artist shares her journey in finding self-acceptance after growing up with homophobia — and how tragedy helped her father gain understanding.

One artist shares her journey in finding self-acceptance after growing up with homophobia

"My father couldn’t understand why anyone would 'choose' a Sodom and Gomorrah 'lifestyle' and blamed the entire community for persecutions against them." (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

My mom used to joke that the most meaningful works of art came from queer minds. She would come home from work completely in awe of the creative origami her gay coworker made for her — emphasizing that he was more gay than talented.

My father was a lot less tolerant. He'd come home complaining about the "disgusting" men he'd seen kissing by the side of the road on his way home and how abominable their actions were.

For a long time, I never stood up to him. In fact, I'd grown up taking his beliefs, opinions and doctrines as literal gospel, and had trouble distinguishing between his word and His Word. I'd begun associating him with God himself.

But as I began to grow and surround myself with other bisexual black women with religious upbringings, I realized that though homosexuality was in the Bible, religious guilt wasn't.

My father comes from a country where same sex sexual acts are still illegal. He, like a lot of Ghanaians, reduces queerness to the physical acts of sexual intercourse. For him, genuine love, attraction or relationships with others of the same sex are unfathomable.

As an artist, bridging culture and religion can be tough, especially when religion is entrenched so deeply into a country's genetic makeup. Over 70% of Ghana's population practices Christianity, making it even more difficult to disclose one's sexual identity there.

I want to live in a world that doesn't ask me to apologize or compartmentalize, or ask one part of myself to die so the other can exist.

Though I wanted to understand where my father was coming from, after a while, I could no longer accept his opinion as truth. My condoning of his bigotry led to my own internalized homophobia, which is something I struggle with even now. Not only did I have to unlearn problematic notions of religious and cultural ideologies, but I also had to teach myself how to be comfortable with my sexuality — and to understand that though it is a large part of who I am, it is not all that I am.

As he completely dismissed the validity of our sexuality or the history of the struggles that our community has gone through (struggles that, according to my dad, were "self-inflicted"), watching any news of queer-based hate crimes with my African pastor-dad became especially painful. My father couldn't understand why anyone would "choose" a Sodom and Gomorrah "lifestyle" and blamed the entire community for persecutions against them.

It was this mentality that forced me to leave the church building when he preached from the book of Deuteronomy. It was this that made it impossible for me to ever disclose how truly uncomfortable I'd felt with myself and around church members. And it was this that made me unable to have meaningful conversations about acts of violence in the queer community. I clearly remember walking out of a church service the moment my father spoke about the legalization of same-sex marriages. According to him, the real travesty was preachers being "forced" to marry gay couples in same-sex weddings.

The parking lot at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, is seen with mementos and displays honoring the 49 people who were killed one year ago during the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. (Letitia Stein/Reuters)

It wasn't until the devastating PULSE nightclub shootings that he was able to acknowledge the lost lives and humanize queer bodies. Before that, discussing queer-related events made things extremely uncomfortable in my household, and I started to wonder how dark it must be to consistently remain so hateful against a community he'd never engaged with. But the tragedy made it real for him — and even realer for myself. That could've been any queer person anywhere. And it could've been me.

Up until recently, I felt stifled in my home and immediate circle. I had no idea what black queerness could look like and felt extremely alone. I had discovered Blockorama at Toronto Pride, but that wasn't enough for me. But when I saw the play Black Boys at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, I finally saw what Ghanaian cultural queerness could look like. If Tawiah Ben M'Carthy could exist as an artist, standing unapologetically in his truth as an artist, as a black person and as a Ghanaian, why couldn't I?

As a filmmaker, I want to diversify what queerness can look like on screen.

As a writer, I want to talk about how religion and culture can inform our identity in positive ways.

As an artist in general, I want to move past a perpetual feeling of cognitive dissonance and help others understand that they can create meaningful, non-stereotypical bodies of work despite how messed up they feel inside.

And as a woman, I want my sexuality to be respected and acknowledged. As if it wasn't hard enough from a cultural and religious standpoint, my sexual identity is often erased or not taken seriously. For one reason or the other, people don't believe bisexuality actually exists. I want to live in a world that doesn't ask me to apologize or compartmentalize, or ask one part of myself to die so the other can exist.

Now, my only prayer is that my world can understand this too.

CBC Arts has respected the author of this column's request to have it be published anonymously.

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