GB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2006
Is There Gay Life in Benin?
a Current PC Volunteer
homosexuality wassuch a non-entity inBenin—something thatexists in Europe andAmerica...
Arriving in Africa, I was certainthat I would be signing a two year vow of celibacy and a contract for anon-gay existence. I knew that thiswould be difﬁcult. Although I am notthe type of guy who only shops in gaymarkets and eats in gay restaurants, Ido enjoy hanging out with other likeminded guys and dabbling in the gaysocial scene. After a few months of ‘stage’ in Benin, my role as a PCVchanged drastically, as my
ifestyle as a TEFL volunteer meltedway, and I took on an HIV/AIDS prevention project for Beninese youthwith a large American NGO in Coto-nou, the largest city in Benin. With a population of 700,000 people, a largeexpatriate community, a smatteringof foreign restaurants, and a host of ctivities to keep me busy, I knew thatmy Peace Corps experience would bevery different from that of my fellowPCVs. I also knew that this was mychance, if any, to glimpse a trace of the homosexual community in Benin.I was, after all, the only out gay vol-unteer, so I had to look elsewhere for my gay brethren.Keeping in mind that homosexual-ty is illegal in Benin and that anynvolvement with such issues couldendanger my place as a volunteer, Iset out to ﬁnd a sign of its existence.Over the course of my ﬁrst six monthst post, I deftly posed non incriminat-ng questions to my colleagues and tothe people I met… ‘What is the urbanview of homosexuality?’ ‘How does itdiffer from that of the village view?’‘Does HIV/AIDS prevention materialddress homosexuality?’ ‘What’s theword for homosexuality in Fon?’ ‘Doyou know any homosexuals?’ Themajority of responses were rather va- pid and noncommittal, quick shrugs.For them, homosexuality was such anon-entity in Benin—something thatexists in Europe and America but hadnot ‘infected’ Africa. Some responsesndicated beliefs that homosexualitywas a gene only found in white peo- ple. Although men walked hand inhand down the street, this union wasentirely nonsexual; locals were quick to identify this as completely normal,entirely replete of any homosexualundertones. I was not quite so sure.Sometimes I felt that the inquisitivelooks that I received while walkingdown the street from Beninese menwere more than a slight curiosity—the particular ‘I know about you’ gleamwas in their eye, albeit ﬂeeting and in-conclusive. Still, I kept on my path of discovery. Even though I had no hard proof and everyone seemed to denythe existence of homosexuality—noone spoke against it either.I continued to lie about my so-called ‘girlfriend’ in France—never mind the fact that she was a he; ithelped to explain why I was not mar-ried or even interested in the plethoraof available women. I kept telling my-self that there must be a gay commu-nity in Cotonou—convincing myself that any city of relative size was sureto have an active homosexual pres-ence, no matter how hidden. At thesame time, I must admit, I was begin-ning to lose faith in ﬁnding any evi-dence, and I began to resolve myself to the belief that whatever communitythere was would continue to evademe. Then, when I least expected it,I found it. Or rather, I found a traceof it, with promises that there weremore. While at a housewarming partyfor a fellow American, I met a Beni-nese guy and his, ‘shhh’ boyfriend.I was elated. Finally, a glimpse.Unfortunately, that was all that was to be provided to me. I learned that their secret was so hidden, that not evenheir closest friends knew. They bothaintained a separate public life andonly indulged in the presence of eachother behind closed and locked doors.ow sad…my initial reaction madee feel pity for their situation. But,n this society, where such behavior s not ‘common’ and completelyunacceptable and worthy of imprison-ent or even death (not legal death, but traditional
‘death by burning’)…at least their highly secre-ive life affords them some amountof existence as the gay men they are.They can be with each other in privatend lie to others in public. I imaginedother private love affairs scatteredhroughout the city and country: souch for Africans being immune tohe gay gene.To this day, not two months after his initial contact, I have yet to haveny gay friends. The couple thatI met remains elusive to me, andhough I have heard that others existnd even socialize together, I haveyet to be privy to such information.non-gay friend mentioned hear-ng about a gay bar—though with noame and no address, I was rather SOL in ﬁnding this rare jewel. Fromime to time, my questions yieldnswers, though not always positiveesponses. For example, I learned thatone expatriate was put in jail and hado ﬂee the country due to rumors thate practiced homosexual sex; I willave to remain careful, especially inight of recent events in Cameroon. Iill continue to wait, and I will con-inue to observe. I have learned thatife in Benin is full of mystery andsurprises…so I shall remain patientnd see what materializes. So muchn life happens when you least expectt, and often the answer is closer thane think. Who knows, maybe myeighbors are gay?
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