Normative collusions and amphibious evasions

The contested politics of queer self-making in neoliberal Ghana

Authored by: Kwame Edwin Otu

Routledge Handbook of Queer African Studies

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138503472
eBook ISBN: 9781351141963
Adobe ISBN:


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In Summer 2013, I returned to Ghana to conduct long-term ethnographic fieldwork among a community of self-identified effeminate men known collectively as sasso (singular) or sassoi (pronounced sa-sway) (plural). Some few months into fieldwork, Kobby, one of my key informants, asked me to accompany him to an outdooring (birth ritual/naming/christening ceremony) in Jamestown, the primary site of my fieldwork and an old suburb of Accra, Ghana’s capital. Formerly a colonial outpost, Jamestown is predominated by the Ga ethnic group and, among them, the ceremony is referred to as kpodjiemo. Kobby was elated about the event, revealing that it “will be very sassoi in character since the couple for whom the naming ceremony is organized are sassoi. They are renowned for their wealth in the community and their industriousness,” he says softly. Surprised, I responded: “If they are sassoi, then are they men who have sex with men or merely self-identified effeminate men?” Kobby’s rejoinder was:

No, they are a male and female couple. I know that sounds strange. However, the man is very feminine and the woman very masculine. She was an outstanding footballer whilst in secondary school. Here in Jamestown, she is known for her past achievements in soccer. Her husband runs his own business ventures in the community, which includes a provision store and a little restaurant … Now they have their third child and, a baby boy, and we are all very proud. The couple has done such an amazing job taking good care of their children, and the community seems to enjoy their accomplishment. So many people would attend, because of how much respect and status they have accumulated. The outdooring would be special because you know we invest a lot of attention and money into these events if we want them to be breathtaking.

At the time, I understood that sasso referred primarily to effeminate man, hence Kobby’s reference to female sassoi, and, in fact, a seemingly heterosexual sassoi couple appeared utterly contradictory to me. Indeed, such revelation challenged my initial assumptions about sassoi subjectivities and the linguistic conventions, laying bare the fluidity and diversity of those experiences and identities indexed by the term sasso. Up until then, my knowledge of sassoi was limited to self-identified effeminate men, who have increasingly become targets of the Ghanaian state and a transnational LGBT human rights regime. I was later to understand based on intensified ethnographic interactions and observations over time that masculine women and even non-feminine men were also integral constituents of the sassoi universe. The outdooring event, as it were, represented one of my earliest experiences with the complexity of the community of self-identified effeminate men and those social relations that orbited around sassoi lives.

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