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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 14 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2012 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 223 “THE ONE WHO FIRST SAYS I LOVE YOU”: SAME-SEX LOVE AND FEMALE MASCULINITY IN POSTCOLONIAL GHANA1 SERENA OWUSUA DANKWA When I first met Janet Aidoo2 ten years ago, she stood bent over the open bonnet of a car, her white overalls heavily stained with oil. It was in the centre of Accra, Ghana’s capital city, in the improvised car repair shop of a friend, who—like many other young Ghanaian men—had specialized on disassembling car wrecks and building “new” cars out of the functioning parts. Janet Aidoo, the stocky young women who was responsible for re-spraying the cars, was flattered when I congratulated her on doing such a hard “man’s job.” When shaking hands, she scratched my palm with her right index finger—a quick, but firm gesture of erotic interest that up to that point, I had only experienced from Ghanaian men. A few years later, in search of women who would participate in my research project on female same-sex intimacy in southern Ghana, I remembered Janet Aidoo. It took several attempts, to track her down. In the meantime, she had spent two years in her rural hometown to recover from a respiratory disease due to the inhalation of toxic paint fumes. Back in 1. For their comments on different drafts of this paper I thank Dominique Grisard, Andrea Hungerbühler, Yv E. Nay, Patricia Purtschert, and Talya Zemach-Bersin. I am also indebted to Judith Halberstam for entrusting me with the English version of her introduction to Masculinidad Femenina (2008). For their enabling financial support I thank the Swiss National Science Foundation and KFPE—the Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries. 2. The names of all respondents figuring in this article have been made anonymous. 224 Ghana Studies • volume 14 • 2012 Accra, she stays in the densely populated immigrant neighborhood where she grew up. With her mother and younger brother she shares a two-room home, the cooking and washing facilities are situated in a compound shared with a dozen households. Periodically Janet’s infant nieces, her elder sister, who is a teacher, and her mother’s boyfriend join them. But Janet was not home much and eventually her brother brought us to Vida’s place where she spent most of her time. Vida who rents a hall-and-chamber in an airier compound around the corner, turned out be more than “just a friend.” As a native Akan Twi-speaker and a Christian, Janet belongs to Ghana’s largest and dominant group, both in terms of language and religion. In her pulsating Muslim neighborhood however, she is part of a proud minority. More significantly, she is known as sprayer and is notorious for roaming about with young men, talking big, cracking jokes, being quick-tempered and effusive, and for frequenting drinking spots, having one too many, and boasting about it with her mates—all behaviors indicating youthful masculinity .3 Some people recall that she was once detained and friends and family pleaded for her release. Apparently, she was street fighting over a girl whose father happened to be an army officer. When the angry father turned up at her place, Janet responded to his interference, by telling him “It’s not you who I love, it’s your daughter.”4 3. In Akan society, youthful masculinity in its junior, subordinate status implies that young men are less constrained in their moral comportment. It allows them to be impetuous , stagy, and exuberant and to voice emotions associated with women. 4. Janet herself never explicitly mentioned this dramatic event, which, again according to gossip, must have destabilized her for quite a while. Dankwa • “The One Who First Says I Love You” 225 Female Masculinity Inevitably the way Janet carries herself, her gait, her style, her demeanor, and the trade she proudly pursues, reminds me of what Judith Halberstam (1998) captured as “female masculinity.” This term challenges the widespread notion that masculinity in women is “a pathological sign of misidentification and maladjustment” (Halberstam 2002: 360). It suggests that female...


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