Harsh Realities of Being Gay in Cameroon (part 2/3)

Part 1: Breaking into Cameroon’s Gay Community

I was in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, a few days before Christmas with a few hours to kill so I decided to call a local gay Cameroonian friend, I’ll refer to as Clinton, who I had met online a few months back and spoken to on the phone a few times but never met in person. Clinton brought his gay friend, I’ll refer to as Desmond, to the bar where we met and spent the evening mostly discussing the challenges of gay life in Cameroon. Desmond and I casually flirted throughout and exchanged numbers, much to Clinton’s disapproval (Clinton deleted my number from Desmond’s phone when he wasn’t looking and weeks later told me it was because he didn’t trust Desmond). Over the next few weeks Desmond and I developed a casual dating relationship that involved sex. During this time Desmond began moving emotionally too fast for my comfort and it became clear that he expected what I viewed as casual dating to grow into something long-term and serious. This, combined with a number of unattractive personality traits made me decide to break things off with Desmond sooner rather than later.

Shortly after making this decision Desmond took the day-long bus ride from Douala and surprised me late one night with a visit. Because I had decided to break things off with him I was highly irritated, however, this would give me the opportunity to talk to him face to face. That night as I explained I wasn’t comfortable with the serious direction he was pushing things he told me he loved me, which I doubted for two reasons. First, we had only known each other a short time and I felt we had no real connection. Second, because Desmond seemed overly eager to be with me and constantly reminded me he was struggling financially I felt that he may be viewing me as a potential replacement for the Frenchman he had dated previously who used to regularly send him money. I gently told Desmond that I didn’t love him and apologized for the misunderstanding but his demeanor told me the issue was unresolved.

The next day I left Desmond at my house while I attended a meeting. Upon returning both Desmond and my computer were gone. I was incredulous and immediately called Desmond. He explained that he felt extremely betrayed and angry that the sentiments he expressed to me the night before were not mutual and that he would return my computer if I sent him a money transfer of 2 million CFA (approx. $3,000.00). If I refused to send the money he said he would go to the police and tell them that I drugged and raped him and show them the gay porn on my computer that I now clearly regretted showing him. Banking on the fact that Desmond would not following through with his threats and risk also ‘outing’ himself, and wanting to at least try to get my computer back before Desmond left the village making it much more difficult, I went to the police for help.

There was only one road leading out of the village and expecting Desmond would try to escape on public transportation I went to the village checkpoint with the police officer and for the next hour checked every passing vehicle. After this was unsuccessful I worked with the local money transfer center to send a fake transfer hoping to trick Desmond into meeting me and returning my computer. This too failed. The next day he called me and reiterated his original threat and I tried once more but failed to reason with him. I don’t remember if our conversation formally ended or if I hung up on him but either way, I permanently removed the SIM card from my phone so he could never contact me again, and moved into a new house within the week to decrease the chances of anymore surprise visits.

In retrospect, I regret going to the police that day. If Desmond would have been caught the situation could have quickly exploded resulting with Desmond being beaten by the police and potentially jailed while making it unsafe for me to stay in that village if he told the police I was gay. At that time I naively thought that physical abuse at the hands of the police was the exception but would later come to view it as the rule and decide to only involve the police in the direst of circumstances. I also naively thought that if Desmond were caught the police would let him go if I didn’t press charges but would later learn that the law would have viewed his crime as being against the state, meaning that he could have been prosecuted regardless of what I wanted.

The weeks that followed were extremely stressful. I began stress smoking while my mind played through every scenario that could possibly transpire. I went so far as to look up U.S. and Peace Corps policy concerning U.S. citizens abroad who violate country laws and read that they would be subject to the country’s judicial system. However, I was unable to find any case concerning a U.S. citizen charged with homosexuality and therefore had no real precedent. While I never feared for my physical wellbeing I feared that the police, despite their inefficiency, would come knocking on my door any day to question me. I longed for anonymity but being the only ‘white man’ in the village, there was no hiding. Reaching out to the Peace Corps for support was never an option because, based on another similar case, I believed the Peace Corps would have pulled me out of the village and likely the country.

Throughout this period Clinton kept me updated of his conversations with Desmond but no good news came. Clinton told me he had tried to reason with Desmond but he was too angry to hear reason. Desmond was in revenge mode and after unsuccessfully blackmailing me his revenge sought new targets. Clinton told me that Desmond began to threaten him and did in fact go to the police but instead of following through with his original plan to incriminate me he accused Clinton of essentially running a gay sex tourism ring of which Desmond was a victim. I think Desmond knew the police would willingly believe this story because Clinton was gender non-conforming and therefore an easy target for this type of accusation.

After a couple weeks of no phone calls from Clinton I received an email that he claimed to be sending from his sister’s phone while she was visiting him in prison. He said that after Desmond accused him the police put him in prison where he was physically abused. He included pictures of himself wearing a hospital gown sitting on a gurney with a severely swollen eye. Clinton’s email was angry and accusatory but he was also afraid. He wrote that his family now knew he was gay because of me and that they wanted nothing to do with him.

Even after seeing the photos I didn’t want to believe that Clinton’s story was true. I considered that Clinton and Desmond were ultimately colluding to get money out of me and that the photos were somehow faked. If Clinton really was in prison it wasn’t my fault but it was because of me and I wanted to help but I had no idea how. Soon after, I received a couple more emails from Clinton and was relieved to learn that his family had bailed him out of prison and everything seemed to be returning to normal.

I never kept in touch with Clinton after this because I felt so horrible about what had happened and thought that there was little opportunity for redress. About a year and a half later I learned that Clinton had been seen out at a gay party where he was recounting the whole situation with Desmond and my computer. Upon hearing this I felt relieved to know he was okay but I also felt a rush of negativity come over me as memories of the event came rushing back. To this day I have not heard from either Desmond or Clinton.

Part 3: Don’t Need to Be ‘Out’ to Change a Mind

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