Close to 15 years ago, and I know I am showing my age, I wrote Basic Reality, a love story about teenage twin sisters who during the course of one summer, everything changes for them, their perception of love, friendships and sisterhood. The book was really a personal book, wasn’t looking to publish it. But I decided to give it to an old editor family friend, just to get his take. It was my first complete novel, and so I braved the world of harsh critical editors and handed it over. I expected different reactions, but the one I got, sort of threw me off. He said, ‘You have to take out the sex scene.” I was a little confused, sex scene? There is only one mild sex scene and he wants me to take out that?
“It’s one sex scene, pretty mild, I think. That’s what you’re referring to?” I asked, as innocently as I could. And then he gave me a whole lecture about the target audience, and its meant for secondary school kids and it’s not appropriate for readers my age. It took a minute for it all to sink in, and it really shouldn’t have taken even a minute. This was Ghana, what did I expect? He was my mother’s friend! He wasn’t going to jump for joy that a 16 year old girl wrote a book with sex in it, targeted at other teenagers.
In all fairness, the sex scene was completely based on imagination, I was a virgin then. Yeah yeah doubt that if you want, but I really was. So I dug deep and imagined this innocent ‘mild’ sex scene and he wanted me to get rid of that? I refused. I dug in my heels and refused. So my inappropriate book didn’t get published and I didn’t bother to shop it around with another Ghanaian editor. As long as that sex scene remained, Basic Reality wasn’t going anywhere.
So now, almost 15 years on, I can’t even count how many sex scenes are in Circles. But I’m 30; there is nothing mild and innocent about the sex in Circles! But being 30 didn’t make shopping Circles around any easier! The Ghanaian prudish conservative culture knows no age limits. I was recently telling my co-workers that we have nothing like PDA (public display of affection) in Ghana. Couples don’t walk down the street holding hands and kissing and hugging and touching. We don’t kiss our parents on the mouth. We are not touchy feely and God forbid that someone thinks we’re having sex. It took forever for kissing scenes to be introduced into Ghanaian movies and I am yet to see any in our television shows. We’re so conservative that couples don’t even full blown French kiss at weddings – which can also be because it looks yucky and uncomfortable. Is that our problem? We don’t know how to kiss or be affectionate? That’s part of it. But this aversion to PDA and all things sex is so pervasive, that at 30 I got the same reaction to Circles.
I totally cracked up when I got a review/assessment on Circles from a Ghanaian junior editor. He stiffly wrote, ‘you used the word sex, in some form or the other, 32 times in the 28 page proposal.’ I am not even kidding! I was like what? Is he for real? He actually counted? I had a conversation with his senior editor (same person I gave Basic Reality to) and he was a little more subdued, but still the same message. He basically said the theme and language may not be appropriate for my target audience of 16- 35. Wicked, sex in Ghana has now been assigned only to persons 35 and older!
Don’t get me wrong, Circles isn’t remotely soft porn. Far from it, Circles is just about people like me, and other Ghanaian young people who love, and kiss, and maybe do more, but our culture and our senior citizens (35+) don’t want to admit it. Are we the norm? Those of us who live freely and are open minded? We are not the norm and we will never be the norm but we do exist, and it’s best not to pretend Ghanaian young adults are all conservative and holier than thou. To be fair, even those of us who’d admit we’re open minded, may not be so liberal. I have never seen any of my girlfriends or best friends kiss, nada. Wow, as soon as I said that it hit me. That’s insane. I’ve never witnessed any Ghanaian I know kiss in front of me! Doesn’t matter, we do it.
I am not lobbying for Ghana to be amoral like Sodom and Gomorah, but for our older folks, ignorance really isn’t bliss. So for my mother, my aunts, uncles, former headmistress, former bosses, etc who just read this, sorry, yep, we kiss, we have sex and we have fun! You’re just gonna have to deal with it 🙂