‘I didn’t want to be a mother’
Trifonia Melibea Obono is a writer, academic and activist from Equatorial Guinea. An award-winning author of three published novels and one short-story collection, she has now written her first work of non-fiction – a j’accuse about the reality of LGBT+ lives in Equatorial Guinea today.
Yo no quería ser madre (‘I didn’t want to be a mother’) is a collection of testimonies by 30 lesbian and bisexual Equatoguinean women about their experiences of forced pregnancy.
These stories come from women across Guinean society, but they all chronicle betrayals by their families and their communities, when their same-sex activity is suspected or discovered, leading to violence, both physical and psychological, to try to ‘correct’ forcibly these ‘deviant’ behaviours.
Girls and women have been beaten by their families, starved, locked up, sold off in marriages, and treated by traditional healers, Catholic priests and other religious figures. They have been tortured by the military or police, drugged and subjected to ‘corrective’ rapes, sometimes by family members. Many are pimped by their families or turn to prostitution themselves as their only means of support outside of the traditional family structures from which they are ejected because of their sexuality.
While homosexuality is not illegal in Equatorial Guinea, neither is homophobia, creating a legal vacuum.
The institutions – police, courts, educational establishments – do not protect queer Equatorial Guineans from their families and communities. The institutions themselves often inflict homophobic violence.
The alarming truth, revealed in these testimonies, is that these homophobic punishments, performed in the name of preserving tradition and traditional family values, usually begin at an early age.
This collection of testimonies serves as an educational tool, for people inside and outside the country.
It is a denouncement that, hopefully, will raise awareness and exert social and legal pressure for change.
Here follow two testimonies, as spoken to Trifonia Melibea Obono, and translated from Spanish into English by myself.
Content warning: the following accounts contain references to sexual violence.
'I didn't want to be a mother'
In my ethnic groups – I’m part Ndowé, part Bisio, part Fang – a woman is not considered to be one until she has given birth. If I belonged to just one Equatorial Guinean ethnic group, maybe the pressure would come from just one group. But I come from three of them.
My mother and grandmother have reminded me, since I was little, that I was born to maintain the family economically. That rich men would love me and that we’d live off them because ‘you are the prettiest of all my daughters. You have the biggest heart, the heart of a good person. You are the family’. My mama and grandma said this all the time.
When I was 16 my family started to complain about my companions: all girls of my own age, and no boy. Mama berated me for not looking at the boys with admiration, just at the girls. My female friends who also made love with other girls advised me to bring home a male friend. My mama and grandma liked him. But soon another complaint arrived: the boy didn’t sleep here.
The boy and I came to an agreement: that he would come and sleep with me from time to time. We were friends; at school we were always together. I helped him to approach girls, my friends. The night he stayed to sleep at my house, he stuck his tongue in me; then his penis. I couldn’t defend myself. He was 20 and was much stronger than I was. I couldn’t shout. My room was right next to my mother’s and near that of my grandmother. How could I shout?
People said that when you had a boyfriend he touched you, you liked it, it didn’t bother you. That’s why they were called ‘boyfriends’. They wouldn’t understand why I was upset that he stuck things in me. Until then, the only things that had been inside my vagina were the fingers and tongues of other girls, never a penis.
I kept my mouth shut. My family were muttering already. They complained that I didn’t have a boy who brought money into the house, despite my being so pretty. I didn’t want to make things worse by shouting that he hurt me in the night.
And it hurt. My hands, my head, my heart cried out as he placed himself over me. It was my first time with a man. It hurt me a lot. The next day, I walked with pain in my vagina. I got pregnant. I wanted to abort with nitric acid and bleach.
Mama caught me with the liquids in my hands. She promised that she would take care of the baby. I believed her. My female friends advised me not to believe my own mother.
My mother swore that a first pregnancy was sacred; that I shouldn’t abort because I could die or wind up sterile forever. And she went on: ‘A woman without children is not a woman. A woman without children is a bad woman. We are not like the white women who die without giving birth, disobeying God.’
I gave birth by caesarean. The agreement with my friend fell apart; our friendship as well. He failed me. I really hated him. At first, my mother and grandmother took charge of taking care of my first child; they were very happy. Now I understood everything. Their happiness now was to do with the first time they discovered me making love to a girl. They beat me; her, too, my girlfriend. My grandmother never explained to me why it was bad to make love with another woman. She only said that what I had done was not good, that it must never be repeated and that my grandfather couldn’t be told about it. He would kill me.
When I broke off with the father of my first child, I had to bring another man home to stop the rumours. Grandmother and mother said that being a single mother was shameful; a bad woman and a bad mother who condemns her offspring to be bastards. I decided to try things with another boy, to see how it went. At home, everyone was happy.
I didn’t dare to be with a girl, either openly or in secret. What shame I felt! And this boy, the father of the second child – I didn’t bring him home until after I gave birth prematurely, at just six months. My mother met this boy at the hospital. Suddenly, my family took a curious liking to him. The baby was in an incubator for two months.
The boy treated me well. I hated him a lot. With him I realized that I would always love men as people, but not in bed.
With the second child came marriage. Mama and Grandma decided that only sluts, bad women and bad mothers, had children by different fathers and without a husband. That I would bring indecent habits to the family, like the white women of the Spanish Co-operation Agency, all of them spinsters. With a wedding, the problem was solved.
I went to live with the father of the second child. Over time I learned to love him for the money. Mama told me that when it came to men, one had to love their money. I loved in that way and every time he gave a lot of money to my family, Mama adored him.
The boy gave me everything that women said a man offered: money, money, money. With him I never had an orgasm, just money. While I was still with him, I met my current partner. She is a woman and we’ve been living together for seven years.
I had children because they happened. Now I know that, for my family, this was for me to be a woman and to stop being a lesbian. I am 27 years old and have four kids. I don’t love any of them. I hate them. I hate them a lot. I hated condoms. My mother told me that I shouldn’t be like the barren white women, women whose countries manufacture condoms. During my marriage, my family continued helping with the children. I could see them. Now I can’t see the children. They’ve been taken away from me.
One day I went home without warning and found my husband in bed with another woman who was giving him a blow job. I was angry, but it didn’t hurt me; deep down, I didn’t like him, I didn’t love him. And I didn’t return to his home.
With my current partner everything began well (in secret, of course). I told my sister, in secret. She is my sister; I had no other way to pour out my heart. She told Mama. Mama brought me to the police. Crime: ‘My daughter has told her sister that she has had an orgasm with another woman.’
Do you know what? I never had an orgasm again. In my adolescence, I went with girls and the orgasms were guaranteed. Then men came into my life, thanks to my family. Goodbye to my orgasms, until I returned to sleeping with girls. Well, I don’t know how to say it: when you’re young, sex is something mechanical, but when you’re older you enjoy it more. It was that experience that I shared with my sister, speaking with her. You know, right? Everything turned out wrong.
I got a call from a landline. When I answered it, I realized it was a man. The police! Oh, God! The police told me that a female friend in trouble had asked me to call. He gave the name of my best friend – of course, my mother knew her – so I went rushing off. If only I hadn’t gone. When I arrived in the Public Disclosure Room of the Central Police Station of Bata, I saw my mother. Everything changed. I explained that my current partner was just my friend. I didn’t confess. They threatened to beat me with 50 lashes if I didn’t corroborate my mother’s version.
The police commissioner came right away. His name was Lucas; I will never forget his face. He ordered me to be set free, that the State would not be responsible for what happened if they gave me 50 lashings with a stick. However, when the commissioner left, they locked me up for a month. I understood that in this country there is no law, no respect for authority or anything. The subordinates complained that the commissioner, a man trained in Spain, had lost respect for the customs of Africa. Look at me, see the African skin I have; I am black but someone had decided that I am not from here, from this continent.
My mother, before going home and leaving me locked up, ordered that I not be allowed to eat, drink, or relieve myself. I was alone until one guard began to flirt with me, refuting his colleagues’ claims. He said that I was very pretty, educated, formal and feminine, that I couldn’t be a lesbian. Thanks to him I ate, drank water, and slept on a mattress.
When I got out of jail, I returned to my mother’s house. I picked up my smallest child to take him away with me. The family showed up as a group to take him away from me; the fracas took place on the sidewalk with the entire neighbourhood watching. Today I know they knew I’d come back home and their strategy was to keep hold of my child. That child who I wanted to take with me out of pity, I left with them. I went off with my partner.
The truth is, I wouldn’t do anything for those kids that cost me my life. I didn’t want to be a mother. I remember my recovery after the first time I gave birth, by caesarean section. They brought me the baby and called it ‘beautiful’. I wanted to die. How could they call something so ugly ‘beautiful’? I asked them to take it out of my sight. I didn’t want to see it. I almost died on the operating table for a baby I didn’t love. I didn’t want to touch it or suckle it. I saw it as a stranger.
The second baby, my God! I had it after I fainted. The man who was my husband and the father of the next three children came to the house and asked me for sex. I don’t know, I just don’t like penises. After yet another pregnancy (how badly that boy sat with me!) came the labour. My mother told him to have patience, because the hormones of the pregnancy confused me. It wasn’t hormones, it was loathing.
They brought me to the hospital. I spent two weeks in the intensive care unit. After recovering, the doctors forgot the gauze in my belly and, I think they said, some scissors. So, a third operation: they needed to remove what the doctors had forgotten. It was a surgery without anaesthesia: there was no anaesthesia left in the city of Bata. The doctors told me that, if I wanted to live, I must not squeeze the skin of my belly.
I didn’t care if I lived or died. I didn’t want to live; in fact, I squeezed my belly. I don’t know why I didn’t die on the operating table.
Look at my belly. Today I can’t stand my life, it hurts me all the time. The births, my births, I don’t want them; they almost cost me my life.
My mother got tired of me, of telling me to get back together with my husband and to stop being with a woman. Her next strategy was to sue my partner before the provincial office of Social Affairs and Gender Equality. The decision of those women was a disaster.
The women who were the directors of Social Affairs... Ignorant, all of them. None of them spoke coherent Spanish. I might be a street walker, you know? But I know the street. My clients have been men with class who take you to important places. You learn manners from them. I learned.
In Social Affairs were the most foolish women of this country, I assure you. You bring a case to them and they don’t know where to grab hold of it. My girlfriend was accused of abduction of a minor – I was over 18 at that time. And, without any administrative document, any certificate, they decided that my mother should take my children because they ran two risks if they remained at my side: conversion to homosexuality, and bad education. They decided that because I was a homosexual, I wasn’t capable of educating my children.
The custody of my children was taken away from me by the Ministry of Social Services, through the provincial delegation of Bata, alleging that I would contaminate them with my bad lesbian spirit, my witchcraft and my un-African ways. All without writing on any piece of paper. The important men I sleep with like to say that ‘the Administration is paper, it’s not verbal’.
Before Social Affairs, we’d gone through the courts. The judge had told my mother that it wasn’t a crime to be a lesbian, but neither was it something that was admitted. That’s why she grabbed me by the braids and dragged me to Social Affairs, the ministry of foolishness that doesn’t respect the laws and obeys tradition.
She, the woman who birthed me, called my partner ‘husband of my daughter’. She also accused her of adultery, because I was married. I don’t want to be a mother again. But should I decide to be one, my partner, who says she acts as the man in our relationship, would not become pregnant. She says that men don’t get pregnant.
Here, in Equatorial Guinea, homosexual couples are made up of two figures: the ‘husband’ and the ‘wife’. I don’t understand it. It’s not what I see on TV. And, if you play the role of the wife (as I do) in a relationship, your partner will load you with the children she was forced to give birth to. You are the mother; she acts as the father.
Since they took my babies away in 2013-14, I can’t take them anywhere. My mother says I have an evil spirit, that I am a bad woman and a bad mother, that I am like the women of the Spanish Co-operation Agency, that I am forgetting the natural duties of a good woman.
Many families like mine don’t accept us, the lesbians in whom you don’t see our homosexuality physically, we’re not masculine. It hurts them; they’ve already lost the chance to live off the men who will sleep with us in exchange for money, because a Guinean girl expects men to bring money. And suddenly, you don’t obey and you come out that you’re a lesbian: forget about family love. They make your life miserable and only shut up if the lesbian who’s with you has money. Then they kidnap your children.
Through the children, they can humiliate you. For the children, you’ll have to come back. They demand that you maintain them; if you don’t do it, then you’re a bad mother.
I worked the street. I was good working the street. Since I was 14, 13, I was already in the street. I brought money home, lots of money. My mother and grandmother called me ‘our pretty girl’. Grandma was quiet. I smoked and earned money. I had sex and smoked a lot. I earned money by the thousand, do you understand? My family was happy.
My family and I are united by the money of my partner and from working the street, which I still do. I am like the umbilical cord that joins them to my vagina, from which they expect money for the rest of my life. They call me for everything: there isn’t enough food in the refrigerator, there isn’t rice, there isn’t... Everything is lacking. They pull money out of me, out of my partner, out of my clients. It’s a constant blackmail.
Three months ago, my mother came to our house and told my partner that she had given up on me, but that she should at least give her money in exchange for me: four million francs, six thousand euros. I thought that then she’d leave us the children. She said no.
No, because my children represented the only healthy thing left of me; I, contaminated by lesbianism, should forget that I was a mother. She wanted money for some business plan or something, I know.
Since we’ve been together, we’ve never been happy, my partner and I. My family doesn’t let us be, nor hers either. My mother, every time she comes near us, asks for money.
Since I was little, I was the whore of the family. I am pretty, the investment. I must spend my life being with men who’ll maintain my family members. If I am now with a lesbian, I must somehow replace the men who should be maintaining the family.
Four million, my life, my head. I am a whore; that’s how we whores live. Ever since I was a little girl.
Searching for the hero
Homosexual girls here, if we want to have kids, we get drunk. We smoke banga, cocaine, weed, whatever we have at hand. You’re not going to go with a guy of your own volition. We don’t like penises. My case was like this. My friends gave me advice. I didn’t want to smoke; I drank a mix of alcohol, and one time or various times... I don’t even remember now... I prefer not to remember... I slept with this boy who... anyway.
My family told me they’d been under pressure for a long time. During a family gathering to which I was summoned, without letting me have an opinion, my family ordered me to have a baby to replace myself, because they had lost me. My grandmother literally said: ‘You are no longer a daughter of this family.’ One of my mother’s sisters told me: ‘You are a delinquent. You’ve brought bad things to the family.’ They insisted that, in order not to lose me completely, I had to give birth; that way they would again care for me a little.
After I’d given them a child, they assured me, they’d let me free; then I could go and die, and they wouldn’t care. This was a lie. The agreement was that they would take care of the child after I’d given birth; now, they’ve abandoned me.
The father of my child was my cover. He paid my expenses. I thought that he could be the right guy. Once I was pregnant, I told him. He abandoned me, saying that he doesn’t get lesbians pregnant, and he’d been told that I sleep with other girls. He found out that I’d used him as my cover. The people who took care of me were other homosexual women.
The guy, my ex, told his friends to attack me in the street. They took away my mobile phone that he’d bought for me himself; later I saw him with that same phone. To this day he hasn’t met the child. My baby is two years old now.
I live with my family like an animal in the jungle. Sometimes they buy the child milk. They ignore me. I found out that they thought that if I gave birth, it would take away my lesbianism.
A few months ago, I decided to enter a military academy. I want to work. I am not going to die like this, being poor. Everything began well. When I collected my things (a bag of clothes, among others) to leave, my entire family voiced their opposition. ‘You’re not going anywhere. You’re a mother now, and mothers take care of their children.’ So, I stood there with the bag in my hand in the doorway. I can’t work. They find fault with all my jobs. I can’t enjoy myself.
If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have a child. I don’t know, maybe if I were financially solvent I would think about it. But living like this... I don’t want to be a mother. I can’t be a mother.
Months ago, I was locked up in the gendarmerie of Bata, located in front of the Stadium; they have a prison inside. They locked me up with a female friend, also homosexual, and with a female cousin. They arrested us on a sidewalk. A private car parked in front of us and someone in civilian clothes got out of it saying, ‘I’ve been looking for you girls. Get in the car, lesbians. The President of the Republic has not signed a document saying that you can exist in this country.’ It happened on the roundabout in Ngolo neighbourhood.
We were with the female friend, waiting for a taxi. We had gone along to keep her company. I told the man with the gun that, as far as I knew, the President also hadn’t signed any document that we were to be persecuted. His reply: ‘Get in, I said. Into the car, lesbians. Who told you you had permission to speak?’
The man in civilian clothes made us get into the car. He was well armed. We were sent straight to a cell. Four days passed before we could make a statement.
‘If you don’t tell the truth, we’ll take you to a public jail; then to the courts; then to Black Beach.’ My heart was pounding so hard, it felt like it would fly out of my mouth. That’s what the commander ordered. ‘We were looking for you.’
The military man who arrested us said that we had committed two crimes: sucking the tit of a girl on the sidewalk and going out onto the street as lesbians. According to his declaration, I was the one sucking the breast of a girl. He referred to my cousin. Her husband came to the jail, told them his wife was not a lesbian. He paid the fine and took her away. After ages, it was decided that the issue would be brought to the court, but first they tried us in private, my friend and me. It was the decision of the commander, who looked at us strangely. They asked me if I was a lesbian. I answered, yes, but in my youth, that I’d given it up; same for my friend.
The next day they tortured me. The person who arrested us came to the cell again; they told us: ‘Get up.’ There I was, sitting in a room full of darkness. The commander explained that our case was serious for two reasons: disobedience to the Chief of State because we practised habits that were not approved of by him, and public scandal. In Guinea it was not permitted, they informed us, to express affection in public spaces. ‘Not kisses or caresses or anything, and even less for deviants.’
My family decided they weren’t going to pay the fine, 50,000 francs for each of us. My family brought the child and a suitcase of clothes for me and the baby. My grandmother put both the suitcase of clothes for my child and my child on top of the commander’s table. She said she was too old to take care of the babies of mothers who were in jail for witchcraft and evil lesbian spirits. Then my family was asked to leave the room.
They cut my hair with scissors, a pair of scissors they’d grabbed from I don’t know where. ‘Lesbians are men. What are you doing with your hair? Learn to be a man,’ they taunted me, as they cut my hair.
They brought me into a dark room. Each beating felt like two. They decided to give me 50 on my rear. After 14 I no longer cried. I began to piss and shit myself. After the beating, they dragged me across the floor, from the torture room to the entrance of the gendarmerie. They threw me out into the street, right in front of my family. The suitcase of clothes for my child broke. All the clothes, mine and my child’s, scattered across the ground.
I couldn’t sit down for a week. I had to lie down all the time. I pissed and shit myself. I am not going to die of shame now; I got out of that alive...
My family, while I was in prison, sent me messages. They wanted me to stay in prison for a long time so my lesbianism could be beaten out of me. In prison, I learned they arrested homosexual girls and brought them directly to jail, without question.
Any policeman who sees you in Bata looking like a man can lock you up for lesbianism. They say that it is the President of the Republic who orders them to put an end to this delinquency. What girl in Bata would think of wearing trousers and sneakers? Acammanam, ‘civil protection’, the night guards who patrol Bata go hunting for us in particular. I don’t know if there is a lesbian who looks masculine in the entire city of Bata who hasn’t been jailed. Every one. Now we disguise ourselves with long hair. No trousers. Dresses, the longer the better. If someone calls you on the phone, you don’t know if it’s the police. Be careful: don’t respond casually.
I want to work. If they hadn’t saddled me with this baby, today I’d be in the military. My son is growing up. His father isn’t around. The boys who get us lesbians pregnant, if they discover we’re lesbians, they abandon us. I didn’t want a child. I didn’t depend on anyone. I worked at my jobs until they forced me to be a mother.
I don’t have a lot of education, but I’ve got an excess of strength. I feel sorry for my child. Born to a mother in my situation. I’m afraid that they’ll make fun of him in the street.
When he was born, I started to love him little by little. In the hospital, I didn’t even want to look at him. What a tiny thing. What a disgusting bawler. My plan was to abandon him and get out of there. Leave the hospital and this world. Send money from time to time. I didn’t want him. Now I have him here, I don’t know, like this... all he does is poop and pee.
Now I understand the girls who are like me. Suddenly, you’d see them pregnant. Now it was my turn.
Here families cast curses. They told me that if I didn’t get pregnant, they’d put a curse on me. The woman who was with me in prison had been threatened: either she got pregnant or they’d kick her out into the street. She escaped to Malabo, but she was in jail for two more weeks because she couldn’t pay the fine. Other lesbians raised the money and she got out.
Families in Guinea think that if we lesbians get pregnant we’ll stop loving other women. I find no relation between one thing and the other. They think we’re going to change. They feel betrayed if we don’t.
Now I see it. They said in my family that they had lost me, that I had to leave an element with my blood in the family. I thought they would change if I did this for them. That they’d love me like they did before. Now they hate me even more. And on top of everything, there’s this baby I have. What am I to do with him? Why am I a lesbian? Nobody answers me that. I wonder about it a lot. I have to accept that I am this way. I don’t pity myself. Nor can I imagine myself not being a lesbian. Ceasing to be myself.
When I walk through the streets, the Christians tell me that the Pope hasn’t decreed that I have a right to exist either. They point out that I am this way because the world is backwards, because the end of the world approaches. I ask myself: the President of Equatorial Guinea and the Pope don’t accept my existence: why should they decide about my life? I don’t do the same about theirs, I don’t even know them, and given the life I lead and how I am, I don’t want to know them, either. I exist because God created me this way, just as he did with the Pope and with the Chief of State. I am a daughter of God, like they are children of God. They have no right to decide about my life.
My pregnancy was bad, terrible. People began to say that I had stopped being a lesbian because lesbians don’t get pregnant. After giving birth, homosexual friends came to the house to see the child; my family members were dismayed: I hadn’t changed with maternity. My grandmother was very dismayed. My mother was very dismayed. The entire family felt dismayed.
Over the course of my pregnancy, the man who had impregnated me was declared a hero. Everyone sought him out. People wondered who had been able to impregnate a lesbian. I was very ashamed. Those bitter fucks, high on alcohol and cocaine, that gave me a child I didn’t want, had become admirable actions. ‘I want to give something to the man who got you pregnant.’ I realized that nobody knew me.
I’ve always been an unknown. Sometimes, when they talk here, in Bata, about homosexuals, I wonder if they’ve ever made an effort to know who we are.