By Stephanie C. Horton
I define freedom as ways of being human in the world that exist beyond the realm of the juridical and that allow for bodily sovereignty.”— Rinaldo Walcott (The Long Emancipation, 2021)
By way of background, this writer stands for gay rights in Liberia, and has written several articles that have been published online calling for an end to anti-gay violence and discrimination in our country. I do not write from a position informed by homophobia. A homophobe is someone who hates anyone who is not cisgender or heterosexual.
Let me be clear: I stand as an ally of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) Liberians who engage in adult consensual sex with anyone they choose. In fact, a whole body of serious scholarship by African scholars confirms the existence, normality and acceptance of African peoples of different genders and sexualities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual) who flourished within all African cultures throughout the continent prior to the colonial conquests—both the Islamic conquest beginning in the 6th century and the Christian conquest beginning with the Euro-American transatlantic slave trade in the 13th century—when ignorant, hypocritical, punitive homophobic laws were imposed across Africa in the wake of immense colonial violence enacted on the bodies of millions of African peoples: rapes, mutilations, castrations.
To the point of this writing: I take grave exception to how some gay activists are defending the late John Tubman – only because he was an unashamed, openly gay Liberian man.
It is an open secret in Monrovia that John Tubman was a rapist and pederast who sexually preyed on hundreds of boys and young men over the course of his life. Mr. Tubman was never prosecuted or faced any consequences for one reason: he was born into a powerful, prominent family and considered untouchable. He was also known to be extremely violent and vindictive, which intensified the fear of retaliation and sense of powerlessness his victims felt.
Why should any Liberian support such a man?
Rape is an act of sexual violence that leaves an emotional, mental and psychological wound on the victim or survivor. There are gay pedophiles and gay rapists in the same way there are heterosexual pedophiles and rapists. The gender or sexuality or sexual preference of the victim does not matter. The belief that rape only happens to girls is a lie. Pedophiles sexually abuse both girls and boys.
The difference between pederasty and pedophilia should not be conflated, although these psychiatric disorders share similarities.
A pederast is an adult man who is sexually attracted to young men and adolescent boys. Pederasty can be defined as a sexual relationship between a grown man and a much younger male.
Pedophilia is sexual molestation of children by an adult male or female. A pedophile is not only the face of the male rapist of a child we see splashed across the pages of our newspapers. A pedophile is any of those white men we see everywhere latched onto and hovering over our children; white men who come to Liberia for one purpose: to rape children with impunity in a country that glorifies whiteness with laws that have no teeth to convict them or protect innocent victims.
I personally know two teenaged boys who were violently raped in the 1980s by John Tubman at his Sinkor compound in Fiamah. I loved them like a sister. They were bright, beautiful boys, almost pretty, vulnerable and inquisitive with gentle souls. One became a drug addict in his attempt to bury and escape the unforgettable trauma with hard drugs. He died alone on a dark, squalid street in America of a drug overdose. The other carries a weight of silent shame and deep emotional scars decades later, conflicted about his sexuality.
For far too long, gay pedophiles and gay rapists in Liberia have targeted young gay boys as if the violent act of rape is a normal form of sexual initiation into homosexuality. They have normalized rape as sexual play. In many instances, they target young gay boys who don’t even yet know how to interpret or process their sexuality. This is criminal. It is cruel. Rape is rape! And yes, they rape heterosexual boys, too.
The belief that a boy can get away from a rapist and escape being raped is another lie. Every boy or young man is not as physically strong as a fully grown man. Boys can be overcome after drinking alcohol or drugged, or groomed by the rapist over time to feel comfortable in their presence before the rapist lunges like a snake. Youth can also be coerced or driven by desperate circumstances to participate in a sexual relationship with an older man because of poverty, fear, confusion about their sexuality, and lack of protection from family members and society at large. There is really no consent involved; no real willingness or choice. It is abuse of power wielded through subtle threats and intimidation, a form of domination and control.
John Tubman often walked around like an arrogant prince surrounded by an entourage of good-looking young men, being violent and aggressive even in public. In nightclubs, he would break a large club beer bottle over the head of any boy he felt belonged to him if that boy so much as talked to or laughed with someone else. He would drag boys outside to beat up with punches and kicks in full public view. People who worked at Lips, Black Sugar and other popular nightclubs he often went to were eye witnesses to his ego-driven, power-drunk, violent outbursts.
It is very disturbing that any gay Liberian group would support a violent gay rapist who got away with it only because of his power and connections. Gay Liberian men are not above condemnation! It is tragic to see how young gay males have been willing to accept the reenactment on their bodies of the same sexual violence directed at their mothers and sisters.
Studies reveal that boys are equally damaged when violated by rape in the same way girls are. Both pederasty and pedophilia are traumatic and violently cataclysmic on the young male body and psyche. Most importantly, we need to understand that sexual abuse does not cause same-sex desire, but instead produces transgenerational trauma.
We can almost say the shame boys feel is intensified given the way boys are socialized to be strong and hide their emotions. We somehow behave as if boys should not acknowledge the harm they suffer or they will appear weak and feminine. In and of itself this sexist urging to distort a normal human reaction to violent sexual behavior is another layer of oppression and silencing for male rape survivors. And sadly, many rape victims mistakenly believe pedophilia and pederasty are a part of same-sex love and desire.
Rape is not about sex and desire. Rape is about destructive power, violence, domination and control. Rape is a weapon of subjugation.
We need to think about how the imperialist/colonialist powers are obsessed with domination, subjugation and possession. Male rapists subscribe to the colonial paradigm and reimagine victims as conquests to be subsequently pitilessly possessed.
Rape is colonial. Rape is imperial. Rape in precolonial African societies was taboo, strictly forbidden, and harshly and swiftly punished.
The precolonial gender/sexuality spectrum shows us how positive open same-sex love and desire has always existed in African cultures. Burkinabe philosopher Malidoma Somé writes, “gender has very little to do with anatomy. It is purely energetic. In that context, a male who is physically male can vibrate female energy, and vice versa. That is where the real gender is . . . The whole notion of ‘gay’ does not exist in the indigenous world . . . [Gay] people are looked on, essentially, as people . . . So to then limit gay people to simple sexual orientation is really the worst harm that can be done to a person. That all he or she is is a sexual person . . . it’s hard for me to take this position that gay people are the negative breed of a society. No! In a society that is profoundly dysfunctional, what happens is that peoples’ life purposes are taken away, and what is left is this kind of sexual orientation which, in turn, is disturbing to the very society that created it.”
Compare the premise drawn from African philosophy to the messages from Christian pulpits that level hate against gays to an unbearable degree. No one was gay in Africa until others from outside came to call free people gay and enslave us. Indigenous Liberian cultures show us powerful intersex Zoes who trespass the boundaries set by those obsessed with sex. To deny that is to deny the spiritual foundation and fundamentals of our African identity.
I understand that John Tubman was brutally murdered. I understand that gays in Liberia face an ongoing onslaught of lethal violence. I understand that our society unjustly judges gay men more harshly. But I cannot understand the support for a serial gay rapist who preyed on young males.
Young gay Liberian men must learn that there are healthy ways to exhibit and receive love and fulfill sexual desire outside of violence and emasculation. The queer Somali-British artist Diriye Osman writes: “You can go through trauma and abuse and heartbreak, and still find love marinated in trust and vulnerability and care. You can heal.”
Heterosexual Liberian men who were raped should vomit the shame they carry onto the rapist. Be courageous and expose them. By your brave testimony you will also help to protect other young boys to become aware of these sexual predators.
I mourn the tender boys I knew, your shy laughter destroyed by these men, almost all of you dead too soon. I remember seeing a glimpse into that ultimate fate surrounding you: your dismal despair unto death.
KH, ABM, PW . . . I felt your sorrow like cold, misty rain. Rejected, despised and reviled, treated like subhuman creatures by your own flesh and blood. I grieve for you. Sweet darlings, I will never forget you.
The case of John Tubman is one I strongly suggest gay activists withdraw from because John Tubman was no victim. John Tubman was a victimizer.
John Tubman was a rapist.
Stephanie C. Horton is a writer, editor, educator, consultant and founder of Sea Breeze Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writings, an electronic publication that was published online from August 2004 to May 2012
Editor’s Note: The views expressed do not represent journalRAGE.
Erratum: This piece earlier appeared as ‘Letter to the editor’ with the title ‘John Tubman Was A Rapist’. Following a conversation with the author, a correction was made to reflect the original title.