Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homophobia Boosts IQ's in Jamaica?

Could it be that Jamaica’s virulent homophobia is driving its gay teenagers to the top of academic rankings? The correlation between disenfranchisement and how driven one is academically is not immediately apparent; in fact, for people from indigent backgrounds, it is likely that on average, they will perform more poorly academically. This matrix does not seem to apply to effeminate gay men in Jamaica however, and I’ll explain why I believe so.

I was one of the top students in my high school. All of my close friends were doing exceptionally well, and among the five that are male, three are gay. Coincidence? Perhaps. In the grade below mine, the top student for four consecutive years (until he was forced to leave the school amidst rumours that he was gay and had had gay sex on campus) was very effeminate. I am desperately trying to reconnect with this young man today. I can’t speak to him identifying as gay, but he was definitely as effeminate as the rest of us who now identify as such.

I won a scholarship at the end of high school and was one of three men selected to study abroad. Of the three of us, two are gay. I have some friends who know both of us who used to joke that they only know gay Jamaican guys- the irony kills me. I know at least ten Jamaican men studying in America, half of them are gay.

I don’t know many people at UWI, but the few I know tell me that a significant proportion of the men there are gay. I have met a few myself, and they tell me about the large network of gay men of which they are a part. This never surprises me because I have had my theories for a while now. Now, there is a point beyond which this has to be recognized as more than coincidence.

If this is true, that gay men perform much better than straight ones on average, why is this so?

In Jamaica, it is not cool to be studious if you have a penis. You are called a sissy, gyal and a batiman- which are among the worst names you can call a Jamaican man. It shouldn’t be surprising then that the only boys who brave the onslaught of ridicule are the ones that are actually effeminate and are questioning their sexuality. Creating masculine men is a serious objective of Jamaican culture, and so those of us that exhibit feminine tendencies are reprimanded at every opportunity from a very young age. I lost count of how many times I was asked, “yaa gyal?” (“are you a girl?”) as a child. I was very close to my sister and would try on her dresses, and walk in her shoes. I would have gotten away with thinking this was normal, except for when my father came home and screamed at me to get out of my sister’s clothing. I never received dolls, but I would play with my sister’s, and we would design and make clothing for them. I knew I was different, because everyone told me I was so. I used to follow my brothers to the football field in the evening but I never had interest in playing. They would forcefully suggest that I join a team because supposedly, having a penis qualifies you to play football, and I would always embarrass myself. Then came the name-calling! When I went to school the teasing escalated tenfold.

Children want nothing more than to be accepted by their peers and it hurts when they cannot get the acceptance they seek. Now this is what I understand in retrospect: doing well academically is one of the surest ways to gain some respect in school. It is not always from peers, but adults are drawn to the star performers and they are very encouraging. How nice it was to be patted on the back and to hear, “good job”, or have your test score announced to the entire class.

In high school, people teased me relentlessly. One day, while participating in a science quiz in St. Catherine, someone who didn’t even know me called me a ‘he-she’ after I quipped that she was disrespectful when she said something vile about a friend of mine. For the entire day, her friends teased me. One of them later asked to see my fingernails. I asked why, and she said, “oh I was told you wear nail polish.” I showed her that I didn’t, and she remarked how strikingly clean they were for a guy. Aren’t they supposed to be clean, I asked back? One day, I was walking with a friend of mine, when a group of primary school students visiting my school shouted at me, “si di girly wan de!” (“Look, the effeminate one!”)- I had been on TVJ the night before.

It seems that only people who didn’t conform to gender stereotypes as children would have the opportunity to make the realization that they can gain some modicum of respect among their peers if they do well in school. More masculine males with homosexual proclivities never had to claw for respect, and so there was no extra motivation to do well academically. Beyond conforming to gender norms, by being good at sports, or dancing, there aren’t many ways to raise one’s social capital.

I am not suggesting that all effeminate boys make great students, because this is clearly not so. It is unmistakable though, that there are a disproportionate number of gay men doing well academically in Jamaica. Scientific studies suggest that gay men make up between 4 and 10 % of any given population, but I can promise you, in faith, that of all Jamaican men with stellar academic records, a greater proportion are gay than such statistics would suggest.

I want to do a survey of all the Jamaica men studying in America. I have a feeling my hypothesis holds true here too. Gay Jamaican men have a life-preserving imperative to leave the island, and getting a scholarship to study abroad is one of the less demanding ways to do so. Those who can’t find a way out before university seek out grad programs or jobs abroad after they complete their first degrees.

Isn’t it interesting? Jamaican popular culture is very homophobic. It hates gay people, and it wishes to eradicate them for the plague that it believes they are. Yet its very stance against gender non-conformity has pushed many gay men to the top of academic performance tables, and therefore in positions of power- maybe not politically, but otherwise. This is Jamaica’s big secret. Many of the sons of its soil whose achievements it celebrates are in fact same-gender loving. Who is going to tap Bruce’s shoulder and share this information? Little does he know, he might do well with some gay men in his cabinet. But then again, Gordon House is not known to attract the brightest minds.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Skinny-Jeans and Durags: Gay & Black Normativity

If only through watching American TV, many of us are familiar with the stereotypical characterization of the gay man. (The Jamaican stereotype is far more limited- cross dressing-limp wristed-go-go dancing- gyali gyali-he-shes.) Many gay men do not fit either stereotype. Interestingly though, the gay community and the media have helped to normalize the stereotypes, by which all other gay men are judged as being out or not, gay or straight. I do not feel as though I am a part of the gay community in America, but my situation is more complex- even though I apparently fit many of the stereotypes, I never grew up in America and so do not associate strongly with what I like to term ‘rainbow culture’.

I recently spoke with a gay man, two years my senior, who said that he did not fit into the gay community, and was made to feel unease for this reason. His experiences forced me to ask, is there any utility in perpetuating an exclusive dominant culture within a stigmatized population? Otherwise, what are the negative implications of having a dominant culture that everyone is expected to acculturate to, and do these implications merit a revolt against the normalizing culture?

My friend shared that people suggest that he is not out enough, or assume that he is not comfortable with his sexuality, for the mere reason that he ‘passes’ more easily than others who embrace popular representations of gay men, or. How we present ourselves has a lot to do with our gender identity. You would think that gay men should better be able to recognize that the male gender encompasses a diversity of gender identities, and would be more empathetic to those excluded by the now normative standards. 

Is this dynamic different in other minority communities? Some of the elements of the stereotypical African American identity are as follows: Baggy jeans hanging below the butt. Hoodies. Durags and hats. Air Force sneakers. Having swag. Walk around any major American city, and you will see many black men who present themselves in this way. Others who do not are teased for trying to be white, and they too feel excluded from the dominant culture of which they should supposedly be a part .

Many aspects of the Black identity are stigmatized, and so a perpetuation of the black identity as we have come to know it potentially furthers the marginalization of Black males as the stereotypical male representation is also the stereotypical profile of criminals. How is it sensible for stigmatized minority groups to present themselves in ways that further distinguishes them for the dissenting majority? Because it is comforting. It gives people something to cling to... a group within which they can give their lives meaning, independent of the majority's view of them. This seems to be more important than capitulating to the expectations of the majority through assimilation.

I am very put off by suggestions that I am merely acting out what society has prescribed as appropriate social roles for gay men, so I always feel compelled to make disclaimers as to why I fit some gay stereotypes. Insecurities surfacing? Perhaps. I still have some issues with popular representations of gay men, and how they in turn influence people to perceive me a certain way I mean, some people fit the stereotypes because that is what they are most comfortable doing, and there should be nothing wrong with that. It's the disappearance of choice that gets to me. But even if I fit the stereotype, do I dance well because I am gay? Am I loud and self-confident because society expects me to be so? Do I dress well because gay men are supposed to?

It so happens that I came out at a time and in a place where it was okay to make a fool of myself on the dance floor. It was okay to have an opinion to the contrary of the majority. And I could finally afford to buy my own clothing (I do have a certain style, but I think that has more to do with being Jamaican than being gay). So it is easy to look and say Fiyu came out to the gay identity that society has created for him. How much of what I do is innate? It's hard to see when you observe countless other gay men doing the same, and when your actions mirror popular representations. Should it matter? I'm still the process of trying to figure this out.

I wish people were able to come out without the fear of being murdered. Maybe then we would be able to deconstruct the many stereotypes that help to perpetuate our marginalization; some Jamaican people are of the opinion that gay people (i.e., what little they know about them) and their lives don’t matter. I would like to introduce Jamaicans to my friend, who doesn’t think he dances well, would never be caught dead in skinny jeans, is very reserved, yet fully cognizant of his sexuality.

I can acknowledge the utility of creating some singular identity behind which people can be mobilized for the greater cause, but gay men must be careful to recognize the diversity that exists in our community, and find way to engage people of various characters. The media has put us in a box; we need not reinforce its walls and make it more difficult for others to come in... we must be doing the opposite.

This issue matters to me because I can empathize with the extremely effeminate, flamboyant gay men. I'm as gay as they come in Jamaica, so I stand out easily- or so I think. Also, I believe I was much more effeminate when I was younger. I'm not quite sure if I lost (most of) it as I matured, or if Jamaica's efforts at social conditioning finally got to me. Flamboyant gay men are stereotypically bold. They are at the forefront of the fight for LGBT rights, and it makes sense that they are, since they are most easily identified as gay, and suffer the most homophobic hatred and violence. Those of us who can pass do so, because life is that much more challenging otherwise. But I also empathize with those that become outsiders to the gay community, because I understand well what it means to be ostracized from a community in which you feel you should belong.

It is impossible to create a singular identity for all members of any minority group. Or rather, it is difficult to create a singular identity that everyone will embrace. Every community is by its very nature exclusive. It is imperative that we have a certain sensitivity to this, and help to integrate people who may be different from prevailing standards as much as is possible. Diversity is good. After all, Isn't that the message we take to the majority?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Inefficacy of American-led Boycotts Against Jamaican Homophobia

I have always been ambivalent about the renewed call for a boycott of Jamaica by North American gay-rights activists. Though I believe that inaction should never be an option, I am mindful of the complexity of the situation at hand, and know fully well that a boycott of Jamaican products and tourism will not be sufficient to make the social environment more tolerant of minority sexualities and genders. The question one must then ask is this, whose interests are being served by calls to boycott Jamaica? The evidence on hand suggests that gay and lesbian Jamaicans who lead lives shrouded in fear and shame are not always a primary concern. 

Over the last decade, different organizations have sustained an assault on Jamaican musicians, who sing lyrics they deem objectionable. Much of Dancehall music is indeed homophobic, as much as it is sexist, misogynistic, and murderous. But, it is important to acknowledge the cultural context which gives rise to such an abhorrent reality, and holistically consider feasible strategies to induce progressive change. I have noticed that some of the translations of music from Jamaican Creole to English muddle the meaning of words and phrases, by using literal and superficial interpretations.

In their Dancehall Dossier published a few years ago, Outrage! deliberately attempted to portray Dancehall music as hate speech, supported by poor translations and misleading texts. For example, the first line offered as unequivocal proof that one Jamaican artiste, Beenie Man, spouts hate speech, is from his song, An Op De (Throw Your Hands in the Air). The line in the promotional document reads:
“Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope.”

One would imagine that the song’s primary intent is a directive to kill lesbians by hanging, but further consideration of the lyrics in their entirely yields a different truth. In my analysis, two lines in the chorus stand out as being particularly homophobic:

“Ef yu bon batiman mek mi si di an a go op”
“Ang chichi gyal wid a lang piis a ruop”

Someone without an understanding of Jamaica’s sociolinguistic culture would translate these two lines in English as follows:

“If you burn homosexuals let me see your hands going up”
“Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope”

In the literal English that is reminiscent of the misinformed translations in the dossier, the chorus continues:

“Burn hypocrites, let me see the hands going up”
“Hang witch doctors with a long piece of rope”

Jamaican is a language coloured with many violent metaphors, perhaps a reflection of the high levels of physical violence and aggression that are permissible in the society. In the song, the same murderous regard is offered for ‘hypocrites,’ or ‘haters’ as they are better known in America, and for witch doctors, who in Jamaica are thought to possess the ability to thwart your potential for success, if someone commissions them to do so. The assumption would be that Jamaicans dislike witch doctors to the extent that they do lesbians, and are advocating for them to be hanged en masse, but this is not the reality. Obeah men are feared, even revered, and their services are much sought after. “Burn” and “Hang” are not meant literally; they are not proclamations of war against the groups named, but denunciations of those groups whose actions are an affront to personal growth, and heterosexual hegemony- both important aspects of the Jamaican psyche.

The advocacy group singles out and reduces the content of An Op De to one objectionable line from the song, then characterized the artiste and his music, as homophobic. Clearly, there is an unaknowledged complexity to the imperative to denounce homosexuality in Jamaican popular culture. There is no equivalent world for homosexuality in Jamaican Creole, so it is possible that the artiste is denouncing homosexuality, and not homosexuals as a group of individuals. A more culturally sensitive, translation of the first line of the chorus could read:

“If you disapprove of homosexual lifestyles, let me see your hands going up.

This clearly reads very differently than "burn homosexuals." Fi bon out sitn (to "burn" something or someone) is a spoken show of disapproval, or distaste. So Jamaicans "bon out" witnesses to crimes who testify in court (infaama); oral sex practitioners (pusi soka); and the covetous among us, who do not like seeing others prosper (ipokrit).

The belief in a homosexuality-free global African cultural traditions is very prominent in Jamaica. Thus homosexuality is viewed as a foreign-derived corruption. Homosexuality is widely regarded as morally reprehensible, and few would deny the religious nature of Jamaican society, and the pertinence of such beliefs. The activists are decrying the wanton proclamation of violence against homosexuals, but it is perceived that they are forcing immorality upon the nation, or otherwise, an enlightened ideology, which again is evocative of centuries old European imperialism.

We need to act decisively, and with exigency, but not with ignorance of Jamaican culture, and misguided, singular approaches to dealing with its unique manifestation of homophobia. American gay rights activists have a very important role to play in the offensive against entrenched conservative values, but their efforts will only be fruitful if it is coupled with advocacy efforts within Jamaica. Homosexual, like Hispanic or Italian, is an identity marker in America, but in Jamaica, it is regarded as a lifestyle choice, a behaviour, akin to smoking, or exercising. We need to mobilize support in Jamaica to educate people about what it means to gay or lesbian. It is not enough to tell god-fearing Jamaicans that their opinion of homosexuality is bigoted and wrong, because then, we become bigoted ourselves.

No one culture has the authority to dictate morality. We seek to educate, not intimidate, as that could result in an epic backlash of violent proportions. Jamaicans will surely defend the legitimacy of their cultural mores, however retrograde we perceive them to be. This is their sovereign right.
We know what needs to be done. Let us do it well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ragashanti Interviews 'Male Cross-Dresser'

I find the content of this interview quite objectionable, because Raga’s analysis is characterized by misunderstandings, and ignorance about human sexuality and gender identity. Sadly, she too supports the anachronistic gender binary, which renders people like her invisible.

Ragashanti ignorantly refers to her as being “gay” numerous times, as if to suggest that gay men typically cross-dress. This is a fallacy. Being effeminate does not equate to being a woman, and even so, many gay men are not effeminate. Therein lies a popular misperception that Ragahanti uses the interview to perpetuate. His insistence that she is not a woman is ridiculous, but understandable, since it is common knowledge that most Jamaicans conflate genitalia with gender identity. A baby with a penis is male, which means he must like trucks and the colour blue, and he will be attracted to girls. This reductionist model of human sexuality and gender fuels our belligerent reaction to gender non-conformists.

What does it mean to be male or female? When we meet people, we assume their gender based on their gender presentation- clothing being the most significant gender marker. It is improbable, that you would ask someone if they have the genitalia to match their gender presentation. This woman clearly has a feminine gender presentation, and has genuine interest in undergoing gender reassignment surgery. If the genitalia of all your friends whose genitalia you have not yet seen is insignificant to your understanding of their gender, then it shouldn’t be used to disqualify this woman’s claim that she is a woman.

Ragashanti expresses his desire for her to stop “deceiving” people. Gender is not something you turn off or on at will; it is inherent to your being. It is unfair to expect that this woman should conform to unrealistic gender norms that do not reflect the way she identifies herself. Deception is unavoidable in this situation, because she cannot speak truthfully about her gender without realistically fearing that she might be on the receiving end of vigilante justice. And for what? Many Jamaicans do not fit into the binary model of gender and sexuality. This may be hard to imagine, but males do not always have a penis, and having a penis does not necessarily indicate that someone is attracted to women. The sky will not fall, and the world will not end with the acknowledgement of this truth.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Gleaner on 'The Jamaican Gay Issue'

Does this venerable newspaper have an opinion on the 'homosexual issue'? Oftentimes, it publishes editorials slamming politicians and vigilante groups for perpetuating hatred, and using wanton violence against homosexuals. Other times, its pages are filled with poorly argued, homophobic rants without any disclaimer. The Flair this week includes an article entitled 'The Jamaican gay issue'. This inflammatory piece argues that violence against a minority group is acceptable when it is culturally sanctioned, and that crimes against gay men should not be taken seriously, because in all likelihood, the person was killed by their violence-prone lover.

Firstly, how is it logical to compare someone's choice to play cricket or baseball with their sexuality? The analogy is weak, when one considers that sexuality is an immutable human characteristic, and that homosexuality exists in every strata within every culture. When a country's laws and cultural practices sanction violence against a group of its people who have historically been marginalized, then I understand that foreign organizations will be moved to counsel us. Jamaicans are being hurt everyday- if not by physical violence, by feelings of guilt and shame about something that is normal. They feel that they do not belong in the country of their birth, and fear that mob murder is inevitable and imminent. Had the writer been the parent of a gay or lesbian child, I am sure s/he wouldn't support the status quo so vigorously. The world didn't stand by and wait during Apartheid, assuming that it was culturally acceptable to marginalize Black South Africans, so it'll have to wait till things change from within. People everywhere are able to identify injustice (or their perceptions of injustice) and will speak out against it in whatever capacity possible.

The writer ignorantly declares that foreigners should keep their baseball and allow Jamaicans to play their cricket. But, acknowledging someone's right to 'play baseball' has nothing to do with what game everyone else plays. To borrow from the weak analogy, why can't we play baseball and cricket in Jamaica, as we already are, albeit covertly? What s/he, and many others, fails to recognize is that there are thousands of gay men in Jamaica. This class of individuals does not have a powerful voice, and foreign groups have stepped in to help, so that this disenfranchised class can be acknowledged and one day guaranteed the rights that are offered to all Jamaican citizens, freedom from persecution and protection from the state. In the same way that it took great pressure from international organizations and nation states to overcome apartheid in South Africa, it might take a similar effort to dismantle the foundations of anti-gay rhetoric and action that flourishes on the island, and around the world. Cultural imperialism? Absolutely. Some things are just wrong. I accept that people can believe that homosexuality is sinful, but it cannot be okay to advocate for violence against a group of people.

Lastly, The Soloist supports the misconception that homosexuals are more violent than heterosexuals. This cannot be proved empirically, and belief in this libelous statement justifies police and government inaction in times when the rights of gay Jamaicans are being infringed. Typically, many have considered gay men only when they are casualties of homicide, or mob murder, so it is reasonable that they characterize gay men as jealous, violence-prone maniacs, or cross dressing, limp-wristed pseudo females- but these are stereotypes, and should be regarded as such. I do not doubt that there are gay men who were murdered by their lovers, but I will trust that the axe wielding lover is a minority, akin to their heterosexual counterparts, until I see evidence to the contrary. There has to be a rational voice in any discussion of homosexuality. The Soloist's published article gives credence to parochial propaganda. Through publishing this unsophisticated opinion piece, the Gleaner actively retrogresses from the advances it has made championing equal rights for all Jamaicans.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Mother Always Knows Best...

Almost a month since my last post, and so much has changed! Last Friday was one of those days when all the hatred against gays in the world became apparent to me. I was weak, and vulnerable, and I wanted to find someone to talk with, someone who could understand. But for that one moment in my life, nobody was around. So, I called mommy. She immediately asked me what was wrong, and then the tears started to flow. I started to weep, and my mother tried to console me.

You would never believe the things she said to me:

Honey I love you, and your siblings love you. It shouldn't matter how other people perceive you, because you must understand that people will not always affirm your sense of self. If I, your mother, can accept you for who you are, then I don't see why others cannot. Just be yourself, and do what makes you happy.
I was her baby again, and not some gay thing that happened into her life. I expected her to come around sometime, but never so soon. Now, my heart is at peace.

Here at school I am making headway into the LGBT community. Last year, I didn't have the courage to go to Coming Out Stories, and present myself as a gay man, but this time around I was. I listened as students, males and females, black and white, shared aspects of ther coming out stories with about 40 people. I had to tell my story. I raised my hand and started to talk, just after hearing a freshman female reiterate that "chicks are so hot!" People listened. And they smiled at times, and stared intently when they were supposed to. The snapped rhythmically when I ended with my mother's dramatic turnaround. How sweet it is to be able to speak so openly about my sexuality. Not having to consider who is in the room listening. Not having to look over my shoulders. Not having to feel self-conscious. Bliss.

I am so lucky. I read the news reports of new considerations in parliament to put a clause institutionalizing homophobia and discrimination into the Charter of Rights Bill. The possibility of same sex marriages in Jamaica is so far fetched at this point, that debates about prohibiting it are senseless. We should be discussing that question at a time when it is more pertinent, but, this is Jamaica for you, where every effort to distract people's attention from the inefficiencies of the government is maximized. A year ago I would have been outraged at this development. Today I am just concerned. I don't have the strength to persuade all the ignorant people in my country that I am deserving of basic rights of freedom and equality. I am but a vagabond, scrimmaging on the fringes of Jamaican society waiting for a break.

If only they knew.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Failed Exorcism

It's been far too long. Classes have long started, and I am drowning in the sea of academia. I took a look at my blog today, and the desire to share my recent experiences was too compelling for me to resist.

Very little has happened since I left purgatory almost one month ago. My mother is working tirelessly to find a cure for my diseased mind and body. I am indifferent. She is confident that I never left Jamaican "this" way, when I set sail on a journey of self discovery three years ago. I was corrupted by blasphemous liberal ideology, and now she wants her son back. She has enlisted the help of pastors, doctors and close friends, to help her find a solution to this pernicious evil devouring her heart. I must be purged of the demons that lie within me, lest she loses me forever. She prays constantly, beseeching God to do what she herself cannot manage to accomplish from thousands of miles way.

This is so frustrating. She is putting up every barrier imaginable to thwart my efforts to help her come to terms with what I am sure is a very difficult reality. She doesn't want to understand. She wants nothing more but for me to apologize for my sexual identity. She innocently asks me how classes are going, while she schemes wickedly against me.

Life goes on. I was convinced of this fact when I decided to drop the bomb. Now it's time for the slow and painful period of reconciliation and healing.

I have made great efforts to integrate myself into the school's LGBTQ support system. My efforts haven't been enormously successful, but I am learning to revel in the marginal advances made each day. I am more self-aware and self-confident than ever before.

I love myself. I love and appreciate the people around me. I love being happy.

Keep well, and love yourself always.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Coming Out to My Mother

Coming out is never easy. I think we can all agree with this statement, no matter our personal experiences. I knew I had to tell my mother before I left Jamaica, but I was growing scared that this might never happen. We watched gay-themed movies; we had discussions about gender, and sexuality; I told her of my gay friends, but I couldn't say three simple words: I am gay.

Yesterday, I did it. She went silent, perfectly on cue. It didn't help that I said the words most bluntly, in a matter of fact tone (as I've said before, people deal with the news a lot better when you sound sorry for yourself, concede that what you are doing is wrong/immoral, and that you want to change). For the rest of the evening her brows remained knitted, concern etched into her face. "I want to talk about this," I said to her, but she wasn't ready. Today, I pushed her to tell me how she felt. Though I am familiar with all the concerns she raised, it was still hard to hear them from her. I keep forgetting I do not have the luxury of living in a country where gay issues are pertinent, and where parents are sensitive to the issues that their gay children face. I was caught off-guard.

God. Sin. Anal Sex. Blood. Gender Incompatibility. Childhood. Effeminacy. Nature v Nurture. Love. Fear. Disbelief. Shock. Tears.

She couldn't sleep last night, and probably wont tonight either.

Sometimes in life it is much easier to leave things unsaid. Today, I chose the difficult alternative, and said things my mother would rather not hear, despite her suspicions. I'm not sure how things will progress from here, but I believe her when she tells me that she doesn't love me any less. Perhaps now she is just torn between her loyalty to me, her son, and her pastor who tells her to rid her life of sin. I am sin walking, I suppose.


*Knowing how deeply immoral homosexuality is, I should never have chosen that lifestyle for myself.

This is the same woman whose sons have had multiple children out of wedlock, with multiple women. They have collectively screwed half the women in my Parish. I doubt she ever chided them for choosing an immoral lifestyle. But oh, fornication is not sinful.

*I made her feel bad about the event with her Bishop, where I was fondled. Luckily the ordeal was lessened by the prayers and bible scriptures he chanted simultaneously. She would be so embarrassed now, if she had ever confronted her Bishop.

Okay. So heterosexual people who are raped shouldn't get redress, because they are supposed to enjoy heterosexual sex? The man put his filthy hands on me!!! Whether I am gay or fucking straight, my mother should be furious!

* She is not condemning me, I am reassured. That is very comforting to me, having just gone through all the reasons why homosexuality is bad.

Forget that I have to live with the fact that "my choice" is the bane of the entire developing/ religious world's existence. Being a gay Jamaican is nice and dandy. I am so thankful that my mother is stopping just short of kicking me out.

I agree she is ignorant, but I would rather she try to understand, rather than recycle all the misinformed, homophobic garb that I have heard time and time again.

*Sodom and Gomorra? Really?!

I don't give a fuck at this point. I told the truth. Perhaps she would rather live in Utopia, where all her children are heterosexual, and are busy populating the earth with their many babies.

She wants to put her hands to her head and holler out, crying. Okay.

I'm being very insensitive here, but didn't she say she always surmised? It seems to me that her reaction should be, "what took you so long," as opposed to one of outrage. The Gleaner article on the characteristics of a gay teenager were very explicit, she says, and everyone in the house read and confirmed that I fit the bill perfectly. I sent her blood pressure skyrocketing. My apologies. There isn't really a good way to tell you I'm gay.

She used an interesting analogy to explain her reaction.

You know when you know you are sick, but you try to convince yourself you are fine... and then after a while the doctor makes a damning prognosis that you don't want to hear: You have cancer, and but a few months left to live.

I'm not sure if the cancer is a pun for my malignant homosexuality.

I am angry. People are stupid. Instead of pulling people closer, they push them away. I don't fancy being regarded as a casualty of North American attitudes, and an imperfect son, because I know there is nothing wrong with me.

I am convinced that people can project negativity on you. I come to Jamaica and I morph in to this self-concious, fearful, self-hating version of myself. In the house now, I am battling a melange of feelings ranging from, resentment, to regret, to guilt and sorrow. I can't be surrounded by this.

Thankfully, I am just days from freedom.


When she returns she comes to the room with tears in her eyes. My sibling asks her what is wrong- if she is still troubled by what I told her.

Yes. She hasn't been able to sleep for the last few days. Every minute she thinks on it, and she breaks down crying. The way she is feeling now, she wished I never said anything. Then she said the words I never wanted to hear. It's the kind of stuff you hear in movies- the kind of thing that you know no gay child should ever hear: I do not now, and will never accept that you are gay.

*"What of every man, like you, decided to be this way (she can't quite say the word gay/ battyman), what would happen to humanity?"

Ammm, ok. People tend to ask this a lot. That statement is based on the premise that people can "turn" gay. This is simply not so. Homosexuals have always existed, and if they never undermined population growth before, they surely wont now. Everyone wont "turn" gay. The majority of people are predisposed (for whatever host of reasons) to be heterosexual.

My sibling tried to respond to her ridiculous question (I'm being harsh, yes, but I really do hold my mom to higher intellectual standards), and by this time I was so frustrated that I flew past her and ran out of the house. According to her, nothing I say or do will justify my "behaviour", so I saved my breath.


I watched the film Boys Don't Cry with my mom a few months ago, so we could have some serious conversation about gender, and sexuality. That obviously didn't work too well, because now she swears that I want to be a girl. "He doesn't walk like a boy", she says to my sister. "And look at the way he dances!" Okay. I have a penis, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I am ultra-masculine, and it doesn't mean that I like girls. There are variations of human gender identity and sexuality. I thought watching and discussing the key issues in the film would make that clear, and I thought she understood, but I guess everything changes when the subject of such discussions is your own child- well, apparently.

Anyway, I still tried to reach out to her before I left the island. The day before I left, I begged her to watch the film For The Bible Tells Me So. We started watching, and then she fell asleep. I woke her up, but in another minute, her eyes were closed. I grew so frustrated. I'm trying to make this woman understand me, even if from a perspective, which affirms some of her own biases (some of the families still think homosexuality is morally reprehensible), but she wouldn't even try. When she woke up after I walked away, she ended up staying up for the entire night. I guess she wasn't that tired.

The next morning, as I packed to leave, she asked if I could leave her a did of the documentary. I couldn't.

So I left the island, with a huge unresolved issue behind, but I am very glad the big secret is out. A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I'm sure she will come around eventually. I'm sure she doesn't mean it when she says, "If I wasn't a Christian, I would beat you with a broom-stick and kick you out of my house." After all, I am still her baby.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gay in Kingston, Jamaica

I spent a few days in Kingston, and what a blast it was! I identified more gay men in Kingston in three days, than all my life in rural Jamaica. I stepped off the bus from my parish, and my mentality changed. I wasn't alone; I knew it. Before long, my vision of urban utopia was jarred when a group of young men spoke loudly, just after passing them, that I am surely a homosexual. I continued on my merry way, as I don't yet have the courage to stare homophobes in their eyes and actively acknowledge their hateful words.

Besides seeing many gay men walk by me in the streets, I spent some quality time with two gay friends of mine. One of them shares an apartment with another gay guy, who had two gay friends over. My friend's boyfriend had also planned to visit. 5 Jamaican gay men sharing the same space. I was too excited! It is different in America, because the experience that gay men have coming to terms with their sexualities is so diverse. Here though, I feel such empathy for my gay brothers, because I am fully aware of what each of us must face each time we leave the comfort of our homes and walk into the public sphere. It was nice to see gay men fraternizing, completely at ease and comfortable with themselves.

The day I returned home, I sat in a mall reading a book when a handsome young man, who I believed was gay, walked by me. I couldn't help but stare. Not long after, I followed in his direction, as I had to head to the bus stop. I walked by him, as he stood near the staircase with two other friends. As I passed, one of them hissed, "gunshot for a boy." I shook my head, mystified. How could a gay man say such ugly words to another? Both of us have to live in the same fucked up world, and perpetuating homo-hatred will do nothing to serve our best interests. I was very tempted to turn around and stare into his eyes this time, but alas, the thought came too late.

I can definitely see myself spending more time in Kingston. It's the most "real" I will ever be in Jamaica. It's the only place i've been able to gain some anonymity. I guess anonymity is an important factor to living without constant fear for the worse.


I came out to my mother last week. It didn't go too well. More on that soon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Obeah. Molestation. Fear.

I started writing this post over 6 months ago, but never had the strength to finish it. Finally, I am able to articulate one of my darkest moments, and hopefully encourage someone to speak up about the abuse they have endured, or are enduring. Too many people are struggling with difficult memories. Sexual assault is too familiar in Jamaica for there not to be more first hand accounts of it. Here is my story: 

By the time I was 16 years old, I had long stopped going to church. Christianity made less sense to me as I grew, and nothing could convince me that my mother's newfound love for the lord didn't grow out of her desperate attempts to justify the series of misfortunes, which she had recently experienced. She was advised to attend a nearby church by an old friend. This friend claimed to recognize that my mother needed divine intervention, and told her to see the pastor as urgently as she could. One evening while coming from school my mother suggested that I stop by, and then go home with her after the ceremony. I was reluctant, but eventually I gave in, and obliged her. The church was small. It occupies a storefront in a street-side plaza, and could only accommodate about fifty people. The "Pastor" spoke from the front of the room, in front of an altar set up with consecrated water, and some other objects and fluids I cannot remember now. Is this man a pastor or an obeah man, I thought?

Besides the traditional Afro-Jamaican approach to worship, there were more men than women, which is surely a rarity in Jamaica. The young, male ushers revered the pastor, subserviently wiping away every sweat, which poured out of his face. I sat through most of the service, but was forced to stand, when the pastor approached me and pulled me from my seat. I was so put off by it. My mother smiled slyly, as she was surely pleased with my forced participation in something she considers worthwhile. The pastor danced with me a bit, to a song I do not care to remember, in a manner typical of the other attendants. I felt out of place. Near the end of the service, he called on people to purchase the prayer rags he had blessed. Each cost $500, and was surely a bid to fatten his pockets. The rags bought last week no longer work he proclaimed, as their power had fizzled. At the end, everyone joined a queue to be anointed by him, with consecrated water that he and his elders had just prayed over. My mother insisted that I join the line, and again I reluctantly agreed. I went home with a bitter taste in my mouth, and vowed to never return.

Pastor was known to have supernatural powers, which enabled him to find cures for illnesses. His insight into the supernatural enabled him to provide shrewd guidance, which my mother desperately sought. I told her I wouldn't be caught dead in his church ever again, but she told me that she needs the help and so will continue to support his ministry. It has often been said by his followers that he is god's representation on earth. It's not hard to tell that they regard him very highly. It was another few weeks again before I heard of him. There was a conference in Kingston that my mother wanted to attend. The church would rent a bus, and each patron would pay $500. He informed my mother however, that I could come for free. He told her that he loves bright little boys like myself. I didn't go, of course. One day, my mom told me he had said some things to her about me that she would like to share. This was June of 2006, a few weeks before my graduation from high school. I was in mortal danger.

My academic success had earned me countess enemies, who I needed to watch out for. Only by being protected by the word of god could I escape harm. My mother was convinced this was true. My parents are not very trusting of anyone. Each person they meet is a possible enemy, who could have malicious thoughts about them. They have no friends, because only your friends can hurt you. I detest this kind of paranoia. I love people! I learn so much about myself through interacting with a diverse group of people. I trust people that I meet, and I think the best of them, unless I have a legitimate reason not to. I like to think I am a very good judge of character, and I am surrounded by many amazing people who I would trust with my life. I never believed in witchcraft, and I was never truly concerned about my mother's concerns. She told me I needed a bath, but I told her that would never happen, so we'd just have to wait and see what happened.

Two weeks later, while on my way to school to rehearse for my graduation ceremony, my mother and sister were getting ready to go the Pastor's home. Mother asked me if I would like to come along, since I never needed to be at school until much later. I must have been feeling curious that morning, because I agreed. We arrived at his house, situated in a prominent community. We walk together by two big dogs, and step into his house. Just in the foyer, and the smell of dogs was overbearing. It is apparent that the dogs live in the house. On the walls are pictures of the pastor and what I believed to be his wife. He wasn't married then, but perhaps he had divorced his wife a while ago. There were about seven other people in the house at the time- seven men. I began then to think, maybe this guy is gay. The young men were in the kitchen, conversing and eating, some in nothing but boxers. They live here too? I wished then that I too lived in the house with them.

We sat in a settee together, before being called into his office. He showed us his altar where he prays. I was very excited to observe the way he arranged his holy space. So this is what an obeah man's place is like, I reasoned. My mom negotiated payment for the services he was to perform. $10,000 today, and the next twenty in two equal installments. I would be done for free. We went back to the living room and sat for another few minutes. My mom and sister were waiting for a female elder in the church, while I was waiting for the Pastor himself. I was to be done first. I was carried off to a bathroom nearby, the entrance to my left. The bathroom was small, but it offered enough space for both of us to fit comfortably. In the near distance was a bath tub, which had a red pail filled with water in it. I am here for a bath after all.

"Take of your clothes", he said to me. He left the room briefly, while I stripped to my white fruit of the looms brief.
"Do I need to take off my brief as well?"
"Yes, unless you want to get them wet."

Oh dear. I had never been naked with another man before. Surely, I will get an erection, so how will I conceal it? The moment I pulled my briefs to my feet, blood rushed intensely to my groins. Oh dear. This is no happening.

"Sir, I hope this is a typical reaction." He chuckled.

He turned me away from him, and proceeded to pinch my thighs. Slowly his hands moved closer to my buttocks. His touches became more intimate, as he wrapped his hands around my waist, and began to grope for my erect penis. He wrapped one of his hands around my shaft, while the other caressed my left thigh.

Wait, what is going on here? Is this what a bath entails? Did mommy have to endure this? No. Does he know I like men? Did I do or say something to suggest to him that I was? Does he really have heavenly powers to foresee that which is beyond my reality? What if my sister walks in now, will she think am an accomplice to this? Why did I come here?

A million things raced through my mind. The Pastor chanted scripture and banished non-existent demons from me, while he roughly rubbed my penis back and forth. This went on for what felt like an eternity. At one point, I could swear his penis was against my body, but I was too scared to look.

When would this end? You are not enjoying this. My grandmother is dead. The funeral was saddening. I cried. My sister and mother are outside this door. You are running through a rose field. You did well on your exams, no? There is only one window. It's square.

I thought of everything except what he was doing to me. I could never make him think I enjoyed this... I can't believe mommy invited me to this place. He finally stopped, and led me into the bathtub. He sprayed some foul smelling aerosol all over my body, and then poured the water from the red bucket over my skinny frame. Do not turn to face him. Do not look into his eyes. He passed his tainted hands over my buttocks, which were now slippery from the spray. When will this end.

I stepped out of the bath once he was done, and dried myself with a towel he handed to me. He left the room, much to my relief. Would my sister and mother know? How long was I here for? Why didn't I say something? I felt so dirty. He came back and told me to make sure I didn't say anything to mommy. OMG, he would know if I ever told her. He's psychic! I hurriedly put on my school uniform and walked briskly out to my family, trying my best to look natural.

"FP are you alright?" Fuck, she knows something is wrong with me.
"Yes sis, I'm fine."

When are we leaving, I asked my mom? Can we please leave now? I need to get to school. They had both received the bath, and had time to sit waiting, while I was still in the bathroom. We couldn't leave. There was no way to get a taxi at the top of this hill, and so he would have to drive us to the main road. Shit!

So we waited, and then boarded his car to be driven to the taxi stand. He and my mom conversed, but I don't remember anything that was said. Why did I have to come? I'm so stupid!

For at least two weeks after, every minute of every day was spent replaying the series of events in my mind. Why did this have to happen to me? Why didn't I say something? Did I fancy the thought of being with a man so greatly that I didn't care to stop him? Would anyone say I would have rejected his advances if I hated what was happening so much? Would they be right?

Even worse, the fucking smell of the spray was stuck to my body for two weeks. My flesh reeked of the molestation I endured at the hands of a pervert. No amount of washing and scrubbing would rid me of it. I can't take this anymore. I decided to tell my sister what happened. She was shocked, but also, she knew something had gone wrong, and was merely waiting for my admission.

Please don't tell mommy. She can't know.

But she did tell.

Mommy seemed very upset at first, and she vowed to confront her pastor about what I said he had done to me. But that was not to materialize. She stopped going to the church, but she never confronted him. One day the three of us were in town, when he pulled up beside us. My sister realized that he was the one in the van, and dragged me away from the vehicle.

"Don't you see it's him!"

He spoke to my mother briefly, before driving off. Why was she talking to him?

I dreaded bumping into him in town. It was very possible, considering the fact that I frequent a very small town, with only two parallel main roads. Thankfully, that meeting never materialized. I do not believe I could stand looking in his big, bulging eyes again. Perhaps today it is different.

I spoke with my mother about it today. She told me that she believes some things should be left to God, and that what she did not do someone else will. I don't think that is enough. I still hold her partly responsible for what happened.

It's uncanny how an outspoken person can be forced into silence by such an experience. Sometimes I am so upset with myself, that I could stand in that semi-lit room powerless, as this man robs me of a positive first sexual experience with a man. I have had to relive the horrors of that morning repeatedly, but now I have largely resolved the issues that this unfortunate experience has raised for me, and I am no longer afraid of him. I will never be violated in this way again.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Preteen Lesbians on a Jamaican School Bus

I was on a school trip recently, with about 40 pre-teens. At lunch, one girl ran off crying and the students were abuzz with apprehension. One student came to us (myself and a close friend of mine) and whispered, "Miss a because Miss Audrey call her lesbian." (Miss Audrey is one of the permanent employees of the school). Immediately, the only other permanent employee rushed over to her co-worker's defense, failing at her attempt to deflect blame to the children. It was more than obvious to me that she was merely trying to save her own ass. This is the story she told:

Rishanna and Monique were sitting together for the entire bus ride. Rishanna had her arms around Moniques waist, with her hands "down there". So Miss Audrey told her to sit properly, or change seats because that kind of behaviour is not appropriate. The students know that if the principal was here on the trip that they could only hug around the shoulders. (Ammmm, ok). So then when the inappropriate behaviour persisted, Miss Audrey told her fi lego di pikni because they are not simese... and then Miss Audrey stuttered, and a student shouted out LESBIAN. Then comes Miss Audrey. "I did not say that. I would never say that word. The children are liars."

Now if it's one thing I have learnt from working with Jamaican children is that they do not lie without ample reason. They are extremely frank, and blunt, and will say whatever is on their minds. Tishina, one of our most industrious students came to us afterwards and said, "Miss (they call me Miss, by the way) I will swear on the cross that dem call Rishanna lesbian." I believed her. The confirmation that Miss Audrey had referred to a pre-teen as a lesbian wasn't from Tishina, however, it was from Miss Audrey herself. While defending herself poorly (I didn't buy a second of it), she said at the end "she lives with her aunty who is a lesbian and she does anything around Tishina, so I know Tishina will do those things!" This is when I almost exploded. She did not just say that. Right?

I said to my friend, I think I am going to withhold my tongue on this one. My friend agreed. I walked away. My close friends then had a talk with all the students about not calling other people names, and not being concerned about sex and sexualities, because they were too young. She comforted Tishina, and told her she could hug her friends however she'd like to.

Can you imagine? You see two pre-teen girls hugging around the waist- two boys, and that would be something else- and you immediately assume that their friendship must be sexual? Are we so afraid of homosexuality that we must curtail homosexual physical contact on the whole from that stage? Paranoia I tell you. Miss Audrey and her colleage were absolutely "outavaada". They should feel lucky I said nothing to them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nobody Asks to Fight in this Battle

I hate feeling like this. Every time I am reminded of the hurdles I face coming out to the world, I fall into a state of despondency.

Yesterday I visited the home of one of my cousins. He committed suicide in 2002, or so we believe, based on the evidence available to us. I was just 13 then, and had never met him before (he visited the house for dinner years earlier, but I cannot remember). At the time, allegations loomed that he was gay. A drop dead gorgeous young man (I dug through albums to find pictures of him), it is believed that he was often beaten by his male lover- I’ll leave the evaluation of why such abuses often continue unabated in gay relationships, when societies are still hostile towards gay men. For whatever reasons, he stayed in the abusive relationship, until he took his life. He was found hanging from a rope in his home; his naked body swinging gently, suspended from a wooden post in his bedroom.

He was just 25 years old. I imagined what it would have been like to visit the house with him there… acknowledging our common plight in a hostile world that hates us, and conversing about our varied experiences as gay Jamaicans. This, however, was not to be. Each time my father described him as a “batiman” my heart sunk, and a feeling of wretchedness welled up inside me. I'm not sure how long it will take for me to be comfortable using that word to describe myself.

This feeling hasn’t left me. I feel as though I am unarmed for the battle I must soon fight. I’m prepared to lose people along the way, but that does not make the unfortunate reality any less painful.

I’m going to rest my weary soul. My gumption has temporarily evaporated.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jamaican Bisexuals

A few years ago, one of my brother's old classmates (4 years ahead) told me he wanted to be with me. This came as quite a shock, because I never dreamed he was gay, and further, he could remember things I did, or said, in high school of which I had no recollection. Creepy? Yes. We haven't spoken frequently since then, but when I came back he made an effort to reach out to me,

I am not interested. Never was, never will be. Like many gay men in Jamaica, he is in a relationship with a woman; most of the 'gays' I meet identify as bisexual (or in order to avoid labeling themselves gay, they tell me they love people- I used that one once too). I have nothing against bisexuals, for I have met a few "true" ones in my short life. I labelled myself bisexual once too, just after I turned 17 and was coming out to myself. I met a few bisexuals then too :) After a couple of years, we spoke again and confirmed that we were now homosexual (gays and lesbians). You see, the term bisexual is much more palatable to a heterosexist/homophobic populace, than the term gay. You know it, and I know it.

However, bisexuality seems to serve a different function for Jamaican gay men. It has to be their way of life. Not their sexuality, but their way of life
(And this is what we call a lifestyle!!!). This guy admitted to me that he loves the girl he is now with, but is largely attracted to guys. He will never leave her, he says. So it is imperative that she knows his boyfriend, and that his partners are comfortable with each other. "The family that has sex together stays together," he assured me. (he he he) By this time in the conversation I was about to explode- and not in the good way. He tells me, "she will want to watch us, and if she likes you she might participate. Participate? Excuse me!

We talked about human sexuality for a while, and I told him I was gay. To my surprise, I was asked if I was totally that way- whatever does he mean? "You've never fucked a woman?" No, I have not and will not. "You aren't even the least bit attracted to women?" No, I am not. "So, couldn't you just like stick your dick in a hole and pop?" No, I cannot. And why would I ever need to? I don't put myself in awkward situations where such eventualities may arise! And how dare you describe a woman's vagina as "a hole"!

But then it all made sense to me.

This boy doesn't love women! He likes saving his ass from speculation about his sexuality. And let's be real now, what better way is there to do so (well, aside from getting a kid). His bisexuality is his survival mechanism, not his sexuality. I understand fully why this must be so, but I am also gravely disappointed- I don't know why. So many gays in Jamaica pass as straight- we need to survive now, so fair enough- but doing so requires that they lie about themselves and lead lives that I consider would be less fulfilling (I may be wrong, because everyone desires different things in life). But then I ask, If we don't stand up for ourselves, who will? I'm not suggesting that anyone start a one man campaign against homophobia, but the solution can't be to just wear a mask and pretend to not be affected by prejudice and fear of gay men.

I will never enter into a three person relationship just so you can be protected from the 'shame and guilt' I am supposed to endure for being gay. You see, when you have a girlfriend you can always say, "Mi ano really batiman, a jos try mi did a try somting...si mi av mi gyal ya." That makes me very uneasy. I'll have to think about this some more.