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my pace
Office of Multicultural Affairs—NYC

The Story of Me

Being born a gay, African man whose family’s faith is deeply rooted in Catholicism, is what has molded my life today. Each attribute reflects a puzzle piece during a point of my life. They all fit in the right to place for me to consider myself the person I am today. The shape up of my life has been built on the foundation of my religious upbringing, my migration to America, and the revelation of my sexual orientation.

On May 1992, I was born in Accra, the capital of Ghana. I had a grand family therefore the news of a pregnancy was received with joy. My family was and still is very religious. My grandparents, parents were Catholics, so that was the basis of the family upbringing. They went to mass every Sunday, hailed the holy Mary and asked for forgiveness at confessions. It did not come as a shock to the rest of the family when my birth had brought upon an array of religious events. The weekend of my birth, a baptism took place at the diocese, my christening was celebrated by the bishop and family friends, and I was taken to mass, the first of many to come. The first week of my life symbolized the prelude of my upbringing as a catholic boy.

I was raised on the principle of the bible, my rosary beads, and the constant urge to pray. I was raised to pray every evening before I went to bed, and every morning before I woke up. In my family the common knowledge was that, God had the answer to every problem. If anyone was in a difficult position, all they had to do was get on their knees, recite the Hail Mary, and pray to God. As time progressed I grew accustomed to this way of life. It became my life support. I went to mass every day, and took communion. When a problem arose, I took out my rosary beads and prayed to God. As a young boy, the idea of having a spiritual being be prominent in my life and listen to my prayers, made me feel safe. In my naivety I thought God was listening to my prayers. I prayed for material things and I got them. My experience with religion solidified my faith at such a young age, that it had engulfed my childhood. As I grew up I quickly learned that life was not what I had imagined it to be and that journey began with my family’s migration to the United States of America.

It is every migrants dream to travel to America, A dream of having a fighting chance; a chance to better their lives. To the outside world it is viewed as the land of opportunities; a land where everyone is happy. This misconception is rampant especially amongst citizens in third world countries and this causes people to resent their own birthplace. When I was 11 my father won a lottery visa for the family to travel to America. Everyone was ecstatic, because going to America meant you were going to make it. I was not as ecstatic as my family was because I thought America meant that I was leaving my life behind. It started to dawn on me that I was leaving my church behind, and in a nutshell that worried me. I started to worry that God would not be as prominent in my life in America, but I complied to go because as the bible said you had to honor your father and mother. I thought moving to America was going to be a replica of what I saw in the movies. A car was going to pick us up from the airport and drive us to our white picket, fenced house, but I had thought wrong. I learned a great lesson in my journey to America, which was not to view the world through a narrow mind.

My family’s migration to America was a difficult one. For the first few months we struggled a great deal. My parents had difficulty putting me in a public school or finding jobs for themselves. We decided to move from the fast paced New York City to a suburban Connecticut. There we lived with my father’s friend in a small one bedroom house. Meanwhile I myself was shocked to realize that this was not the America I saw on television. Why was I sleeping on the floor and not going to school? My life back in Ghana was better. An astounding reality check that hit us all was when my parents had to work minimum wage to support the family. Here I was a kid, witnessing America steal my life away. I watched as the man I respected, went from managing a prestigious bank in Ghana to coming home with leftover food from Burger King. This experience toughened me up as young boy. I realized I was not going to have the lavish life I dreamed of. I threw my dreams out the window and faced reality. With reality came realization; realization that my faith was not as prominent as I had thought it to be. My dwindling faith hit an all-time low, when I started integrating into the American society.

Immigrating to a new country is no easy feat. A person has to learn how to maneuver themselves in a different setting. A person must learn how to master the citizens’ language, and culture without losing their morals, believes and culture. I can now say that I am not the person I was when I moved to America due to my experiences. When I first started middle school, I was teased daily on my darker complexion, my accent and my blossoming sexual orientation. Being from Africa, resulted in me being bombarded with questions about how I liked wearing clothes or if I missed my hut or if I ate tiger meat. I know now that these children were being ignorant, just like I was being ignorant on my perception of America, but back then the teasing affected me emotionally. I did not know how to handle myself in a situation like that, but I did what I was taught as a child. I got on my knees and started praying, but nothing happened. The teasing never stopped, and I started to really wonder if God was real at all. With that experience I completely lost my faith in Christianity. I thought to myself that God was not going to help me I was going to help myself. I started building up my wall of defense. I ignored people who teased me, and unlike before I did not give them the satisfaction of my wrought reaction. I simply ignored them and the teasing stopped. At that point in my life I had given up on a religion I was brought up on. This defense mechanism I had developed proved beneficial on my journey to high school. The four years I dubbed, ‘One Way Ticket To Hell’.

My transition to high school was a smooth one. I felt like I had already dealt with all the negativity in middle school and I had my own personal religion if anyone or anything was going to attack me. My family was in a great place. We seemed to have finally assimilated into the American culture, but at the same time finding ways to keep our culture alive. We were living in our own house, my father was working on his master’s degree, and a new baby was being welcomed into the family. I gained back the respect I had for my father, because he proved to me that you could make something out of a tragic beginning. He taught me that even from nothing, you could make something and that was my big lesson I had going into high school. With maturity brought growth, knowledge and revelation.

I always knew that there was something different about me. When I was young, I never played sports; instead I preferred to play with the girls. I viewed boys in a different way than I viewed girls. I thought myself as one of the girls and this realization became prominent in high school. At first I did not know the term for what my feelings were. In high school I had a lot of female friends, because I felt like I had a lot in common with them that I did with the boys. I found the girls to be friends, and therefore had no attraction to them. I did not come to a full realization that I was gay until I became the ‘is he, is he’ not spectacle in my high school. I went to a small high school so everyone knew each other. I dressed differently from the boys. My pants were a bit tight, I crossed my legs and I carried around what they call a man purse. This drew attention to a lot of people. They started asking me if I was gay. I wondered myself if I was gay either. I was attracted to boys, but I knew it was wrong. I hated myself for being that way. I tried to change the way I dressed, and the way I acted, but deep down there was an internal conflict going on with myself. It made me suicidal. Once again the defense wall I built in middle school went right back up. I denied to people that I was gay. I got an epiphany when I went to confessions one day, and told the priest about my feelings towards men. He belittled me and told me to get rid of those thoughts. He told me that God did not accept a man who laid with other men. From that point on I refused to go to church or even believe in God. I did not want to follow a man who shunned his own children. Through that realization I started to accept myself for who I was. The dismantle of my faith was the birth of a new me.

I came to truly accept myself when I moved to New York for college. From every corner there were so many different people, with different skin colors, different hair, and though not everyone was accepted, everyone was respected. That’s what I wanted for myself. Not to be accepted but just respected for whom I was. I came to the realization that if I did not accept myself no one would. If I truly wanted to follow my dreams and be happy in life, I had to be confident in myself. My past experiences have defined who I am. I try to erase the pain from my memory, but I know that if I had not gone through that experience I would not be the person I am today.

Being a gay, African man with a catholic family could seem like the worst thing a person could embody, but like any other person, I have learned from my experiences, good and bad. I haved used them to mold what my life is today.

G. O.
Spring 2012