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Ngowo: Growing up as a little girl in Cameroon, where I’m originally from, there were clear expectations of what a girl grew up to be, what a boy grew up to be. I never saw reflections of myself. But it was something that I felt is something that was real. And it was something that I just knew existed deep down inside of me. But I kept it a secret from everyone because you don’t see people that look like you, and you don’t see reflections of what you’re feeling. It’s hard to express that to the larger community. And I think [that fear] is all Christianity-based.

Going back with my wife, there are Africans in their 60s and 70s, who are so cool with how I present myself to the world with my Queerness. My great aunts are so welcoming to my wife and myself. And they’re like, ‘thank you for coming back home’ because it was a time when I stayed away. When I came here, I stayed away for fear of just, you know, the homophobia that can exist in the [African] continent. And not everyone is. But I’m so glad that I got to go back. Because I wanted to experience the continent as a Queer African boi. And there’s plenty [of us], and we do exist, and we do live in the continent. We’re not out and proud about it, but we’re there. And I mean, just this past summer when we were there, I ran into people and, you know, you make that little like eye contact and it’s just like, ‘Hey, I see you. I see you.’ You know what I’m saying? So, yeah.

Nancy: So, one, you know, who am I sitting across from? Can you tell everyone your name, pronouns, where you’re from and what brought you your family to The West?

Ngowo: Yeah. So my name is Ngowo Nessa and originally from Cameroon, born and raised til I was 18. Pronouns she/her/hers. What brought me here was my parents felt, I grew up in Cameroon until I was 18. Because my dad wanted us to have that African upbringing. But he also felt like he wanted us to experience another side of the world. So, I came here for college. And that’s what brought me here. But what brought me to Minneapolis is work.

Nancy: And what do you do [in life]?

Ngowo: I am a senior web designer for Best Buy corporate. And I’m also on the Pride Leadership Team. So, outside of my daily responsibilities of being creative and coding, I’m also a part of a team that is really invested in creating a culture that’s inclusive for the LGBTQ community on campus.

Nancy: And have you returned back home?

Ngowo: I’m going to give you a quick history. So, I knew I liked women in Cameroon, but I never— I did act on it, but I didn’t tell anyone. And so when I came here, I reignited a relationship with an old friend of mine. And then it— because I didn’t know what these feelings were I knew, ‘okay, I liked women,’ but it’s not talked about I don’t see other relationships like mine. So when I came here, I figured, ‘oh, okay, you’re a lesbian, and you like women, and it’s a taboo in Africa. Therefore, if you go back, you’re going to get killed or you’re going to get in trouble.’ So, I stayed away for like, 10 years. I did go back like after college in my late 20s. But I concealed my identity, you know, I’m masculine presenting, but I tone it down and I just— I was there for three weeks and spent time with my family. That time away was very difficult for me.

It was a period in my life where you can’t deny where you’re from. I felt like I was running away from the core essence of who I was as an African. I told myself— I’ve just felt a pull to go back home. And I said, ‘You know what, you just have to face it. Go back and see it for yourself. And if something happens, oh well.’ So, I went back, I came here, and then I went back five years later, and then I need to go back for like 10 years. And then — yes, that was a huge gap, a really huge gap.