Ghanaians Like Sex Too Much to Be Homophobic

Question: What was your experience like coming out of the closet in an evangelical family in Ghana?

Kwame Anthony Appiah: Well, I would say that, sexuality when I was growing up in Ghana wasn’t a form of identity—gay sexuality—because there just wasn’t a public discourse, there weren’t words for this.  I went to an English boarding school, a boys school, so I pretty quickly acquired the words.  And so I had a sort of language for talking to myself and maybe to some friends in England about my... the discovery that my sexual orientation was that my own sexual desires were directed toward my own sex and not towards women.  But that wasn’t something that—I mean, if I had sort of as it were worn a t-shirt saying I was gay when I was 15 in Ghana, people would have not idea what I was talking about.  That’s changed.  I mean, there is now, there are now gay organizations and the gay movements in Ghana and while the government hasn’t as a whole moved in a bad direction in response to that, I would say there isn’t a huge sort of social consensus on the badness of homosexuality.  There’s still just a lot of people who haven’t thought about it very much and so they will take a view if you give them a view.  If you give them the evangelical view they’ll take that but it’s not because they’re deeply committed to it.  

My father is famous in my family that when my father was asked about this, he said, “Well, I can see why you would have sex with a man because sex is pleasurable.  What I can’t see is why you wouldn’t want to have sex with women.”  So, again, this is a different way, this is a different sort of cultural contest for thinking about sexuality.  For many people in Ghana today, I think gay men are men who don’t want to have sex with women, it’s not what they do want to do that interests them, it’s what they don’t want to do.  Though there is a significant evangelical Christian influence from the United States in particular that’s pushing a more American style form of what I regard as homophobia.  

As far as my own sort of dealing with these things are concerned, I was raised in a Christian family.  We went to Sunday school, it wasn’t the kind of Sunday school that talked much about that.  I don’t think anyone ever mentioned homosexuality or gayness in church so far as I can recall the whole time during my childhood. This wasn’t one of the things that people were preoccupied with.  My mother was British and... I know one of my sister’s godparents was a gay man, so I assumed she, and it was obvious to me even when I was eight that he was gay, so even though I didn’t have a very well developed sense of what that was.  So I assumed that my parents didn’t think that that was an obstacle.  But my own dealing with it really came from the kind of Protestantism, evangelical—but in this case I would say progressive—evangelical Protestantism, which meant that you took the key thought of the gospels to be that God loved us.  And it seemed to me as I was looking as my sort of own relationship to my sexuality that if I was like this and God loved me, you now, the church might not think it was okay, but it couldn’t be the case that God didn’t.  

So I actually didn’t have too hard a time with this and I think I was reconciled with my sexuality as a Christian before I eventually stopped being a Christian.  But this is sort of lucky story turned out well, I think that for people of my generation in Ghana, men and women who discover as they grow up that they have sexual desires for their own sex, it would have been difficult.  And many of them would have left.  I mean, there’s I think a million Ghanaians outside of Ghana, in Amsterdam and New York and London and Manchester and cities like that around – Frankfurt, and cities around Europe and the United States.  And you know, I suspect that a good number of them are gay people who fled to those cities in the way rural gay American fly to cities because in cities you can find other gay people and also perhaps more tolerance of gay people.  

But I think Ghana will figure this out.  People in Ghana like sex too much to think that in the end it’s a bad thing.  So my hope is that things will move in the right direction.  

Was it difficult to reconcile the conflicting dimensions of your identity?

Kwame Anthony Appiah: I think reconciling different dimensions of identity is actually something that people are quite good at.  People know how to be gay Mormons.  I mean, the Mormon Church isn’t so happy that they know how to be gay Mormons, and maybe some gay people don’t like the fact that there are gay Mormons, but gay Mormons know how to be gay Mormons.  And they know how to be gay Mormon men.  They know how to reconcile their gender, their sexuality, and their religion.  

My father knew how to be a Methodist, a Ghanaian, a Pan-Africanist, a loyal son to the kingdom of Ashanti, a father... And you know, all of those are things were things that can pull you in certain moments in different directions.  Being a loyal Ghanaian meant that you had to go to Parliament and leave the family and not spend as much time with us when we were growing up as he might have, being a cosmopolitan supporter of the United Nations meant that sometime he had to support... he had to be on the side of governments that were opposed to our own government because there are international norms that our own government wasn’t respecting and so on.  

So, you know, people have complex identities but it’s one of the things human beings know how to handle.  It’s usually other people that make it difficult for you.  It’s the homophobes that make it difficult for the gay Mormons or the anti-Mormons who make it difficult for the gay Mormons.  And while I don’t want to underestimate the struggling that goes on in the process of dealing with one’s religious identity or one’s sexual orientation as one grows up, these can be – these are challenging difficulties for young people.  Usually the big problems are derived from either what other people do think or what they think other people will think.  Which brings up back to our main topic because at the heart of this is a concern to be respected and to be entitled to respect and to be respected as what one is.  To be respected in spite of being a gay person or in spite of being a Mormon or in spite of being a Catholic or a Jew, but as a Catholic or  a Jew or a Mormon or a gay person.  And one of the things we need to figure out in many of our honor codes is to make them more friendly to all kinds of people who are currently excluded by them and that’s the task I think, not abandoning the honor, but reshaping it to make it supportive of human flourishing, both by using collective honor to get people to engage in the moral revolutions that are necessary and by using individual honor to sustain excellence in human lives.

Recorded September 13, 2010

Interviewed by Max Miller

Philosopher Kwame Athony Appiah talks about the difficulty of growing up gay in Ghana and why he is optimistic about the future.

Related Articles

Quantum computing is on the way

Ready your Schrödinger's Cat Jokes.

Quantum entanglement. Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles or events (left and right) interacting at a distance. Quantum entanglement is one of the consequences of quantum theory. Two particles will appear to be linked across space and time, with changes to one of the particles (such as an observation or measurement) affecting the other one. This instantaneous effect appears to be independent of both space and time, meaning that, in the quantum realm, effect may precede cause.
Technology & Innovation
  • For a time, quantum computing was more theory than fact.
  • That's starting to change.
  • New quantum computer designs look like they might be scalable.

Quantum computing has existed in theory since the 1980's. It's slowly making its way into fact, the latest of which can be seen in a paper published in Nature called, "Deterministic teleportation of a quantum gate between two logical qubits."

To ensure that we're all familiar with a few basic terms: in electronics, a 'logic gate' is something that takes in one or more than one binary inputs and produces a single binary output. To put it in reductive terms: if you produce information that goes into a chip in your computer as a '0,' the logic gate is what sends it out the other side as a '1.'

A quantum gate means that the '1' in question here can — roughly speaking — go back through the gate and become a '0' once again. But that's not quite the whole of it.

A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. To continue with our simple analogy: you don't have to think about computers producing a string of information that is either a zero or a one. A quantum computer can do both, simultaneously. But that can only happen if you build a functional quantum gate.

That's why the results of the study from the folks at The Yale Quantum Institute saying that they were able to create a quantum gate with a "process fidelity" of 79% is so striking. It could very well spell the beginning of the pathway towards realistic quantum computing.

The team went about doing this through using a superconducting microwave cavity to create a data qubit — that is, they used a device that operates a bit like a organ pipe or a music box but for microwave frequencies. They paired that data qubit with a transmon — that is, a superconducting qubit that isn't as sensitive to quantum noise as it otherwise could be, which is a good thing, because noise can destroy information stored in a quantum state. The two are then connected through a process called a 'quantum bus.'

That process translates into a quantum property being able to be sent from one location to the other without any interaction between the two through something called a teleported CNOT gate, which is the 'official' name for a quantum gate. Single qubits made the leap from one side of the gate to the other with a high degree of accuracy.

Above: encoded qubits and 'CNOT Truth table,' i.e., the read-out.

The team then entangled these bits of information as a way of further proving that they were literally transporting the qubit from one place to somewhere else. They then analyzed the space between the quantum points to determine that something that doesn't follow the classical definition of physics occurred.

They conclude by noting that "... the teleported gate … uses relatively modest elements, all of which are part of the standard toolbox for quantum computation in general. Therefore ... progress to improve any of the elements will directly increase gate performance."

In other words: they did something simple and did it well. And that the only forward here is up. And down. At the same time.

Why Japan's hikikomori isolate themselves from others for years

These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.

700,000 Japanese people are thought to be hikikomori, modern-day hermits who never leave their apartments (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images).
Mind & Brain
  • A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
  • This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
  • Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less