Sunday, February 22, 2009

Virginity Testing? But of Course!

This morning I was reminded of Ernest Smith’s suggestion a few years ago that high-school girls be given virginity tests as a condition for readmission at the start of a school year. This has sent me reeling, as I had somehow missed that report when it was first reported. My immediate reaction was: How sexist! How demoralizing! How puritanical! I will disregard the proposal however, for it was made by an individual who notoriously talks through his ass, spewing shit at unsuspecting, and ignorant civilians.

Sex is everywhere. Humans have a built in time clock, which is dormant for the first decade of their lives, but that kicks into high gear throughout puberty- that odd time when hair starts growing in unseemly places, among other things. Adolescents are having their first sexual experiences at increasingly earlier age, which for me is alarming, because I understand well the pitfalls that they expose themselves to when they start having sex. Forget the psychological trauma, or the chastisement to me endured if anyone finds out... I am talking about pregnancies (the pregnancy isn’t even scary- it’s the thing that comes out crying at the end of the process) and diseases (some incurable).

I am reminded of sex education classes in primary school, in which the guidance counselor used various scare tactics to discourage sexual activity. I remember looking at blistered vaginas and penises covered in gaping wounds brought on by Sexually Transmitted Diseases. I was never reminded that these images depicted STD’s in their advanced stages, and that there were treatments available to cure said illnesses.

I was shown how to put on condoms on a banana, which surely helped me by the time I turned 16 and could actually fit a condom. But my thoughtful Guidance councilor forgot to mention that even if I was having sex, I wouldn’t have any of these available to me, for children were not supposed to be engaging in sexual activity in the first place or that they never made then in my size.

I learnt about sexual intercourse from a very young age. People who has sex got pregnant, and if they didn’t they would get nasty infections which produced sores all over one’s genitalia that festered into eternity. I shouldn’t have sex, but if I do I should wear an oversized latex contraption known as a condom...being careful to roll it on just the way she did it onto the banana. Most importantly however, I was never to forget that abstinence is the best safeguard against the inevitable pregnancy or malodorous infection. I would never have sex EVER

Now let me consider. Her efforts to dissuade those who had never had sex from doing so worked well. In all honesty, however, I doubt that I would have started having sex any earlier than I did, if I had been given a more accurate picture of what sex was and the possible ramifications of engaging in such activities. The more pertinent question is, what effect did her scare tactics have on those who were already more likely to start having sex at an early age, or who were already engaging in sexual activities? It’s hard to tell, but my intuition tells me abstinence/ ‘ignorance based’ education is not very effective.

In a hyper-sexualized society like Jamaica’s there will always be a significant number of adolescents who decide, or are persuaded, to engage in sexual activities. Does it not make sense to truthfully educate students as to the real chances of getting pregnant (which are slimmer than we were warned), contracting infections, (slim to nothing if condoms are used properly), and what options are available to students who fall victim to any of the unfortunate situations. Resources are available. Dare I say, potential pregnancies couls easily be terminated using, dare I say it, the morning after pill, or and many treatments are available for the Syphilis and the Gonorrhea we could so easily contract, before our pubes broke out into those sores that were plastered all over the walls of the guidance counselor’s office.

I’m so tired of hearing people talk about how making condoms accessible will provide an incentive for having sex. Sex will take place with or without the condom; but that is not what we should be concerned about. We should be concerned about how an unwanted pregnancy will change the life of the teenage mother forever, and how contracting diseases puts EVERYONE in society at risk. I’d be happier knowing that everyone was having safe sex, than that a few were having unsafe sex, because diseases will come always come back to bite everyone in the ass. Unfortunately, the movers and shakers of education policy in Jamaica do not see eye-to-eye with me on this matter. They view Jamaican society through the lens of 1960’s nostalgia; the good old days when children were respectful of their parent, and sex was a sacred affair between two consenting adults who dedicated their lives to each other.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but the evangelical doctrine that sexual intercourse is primarily for procreation no longer holds sway. The good old days are long gone, and it is time we create policies that reflect that paradigm shift. I can imagine it is hard to let go of a belief so rooted in religious morality, but let’s get real. Sex is sex is pleasure is before marriage is pregnancy is AIDS is can be avoided is time is overdue is when will we act in the service of future generations.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Silence = DEATH

Never once have I woken up without being conscious of my sexuality. It isn't important to me, for it refers only to who I'm attracted to, not who I am. But everyone else perceives it as being essential to my identity...

In speaking out against the injustices faced by queer individuals, I must adopt a gay identity, for otherwise the impetus to act against intolerance is hard to come by; it is so easy to cower in silence, when entire societies are vehemently opposed to one's sexuality.

I recently watched the movie, "It's My Party", and was touched by the experience of the protagonist. He contracted HIV and was soon after dumped by the love of his life. Within a year, his body was deteriorating rapidly, and he decided to commit suicide and shorten what would otherwise be a painful, and long journey to death.

I cried throughout the entire movie, because I empathized greatly with his experiences. Homosexuality and HIV/ AIDS are both stigmatized considerably, yet this man smiled in the face of disenfranchisement. His travails were made bearable by a close group of friends and his family.

I don't have this. I can't have this. My family would surely disown me if I was to ever pronounce myself to be homosexual. (For what reasons?) Even more far fetched is the possibility of having a homosexual community in Jamaica, where queers rightfully hide, fearful of their own looming execution at the hands of the masses.

How I long to be a part of an inclusive community. Not a gay community, but a pluralistic, cosmopolitan community, which can accommodate people of all persuasions. Till then, what shall I do? I will speak out! I am no less Jamaican that any heterosexual, and I refuse to be treated as such.

We need to stake our claim to Jamaican citizenship before the illiberal society degenerates further into social anarchy, and denies us other fundamental rights. Vigilante killings of queer individuals must no longer go unnoticed, for if we don't speak out now, we might very well be next.

I Am...Homophobia

I am the girl kicked out of her home because I confided in my mother that I am a lesbian.

I am the prostitute working the streets because nobody will hire a transsexual woman.

I am the sister who holds her gay brother tight through the painful, tear-filled nights.

We are the parents who buried our daughter long before her time.

I am the man who died alone in the hospital because they would not let my partner of twenty-seven years into the room.

I am the foster child who wakes up with nightmares of being taken away from the two fathers who are the only loving family I have ever had. I wish they could adopt me.

I am one of the lucky ones, I guess. I survived the attack that left me in a coma for three weeks, and in another year I will probably be able to walk again.

I am not one of the lucky ones. I killed myself just weeks before graduating high school. It was simply too much to bear.

We are the couple who had the realtor hang up on us when she found out we wanted to rent a one-bedroom for two men.

I am the person who never knows which bathroom I should use if I want to avoid getting the management called on me.

I am the mother who is not allowed to even visit the children I bore, nursed, and raised. The court says I am an unfit mother because I now live with another woman.

I am the domestic-violence survivor who found the support system grow suddenly cold and distant when they found out my abusive partner is also a woman.

I am the domestic-violence survivor who has no support system to turn to because I am male.

I am the father who has never hugged his son because I grew up afraid to show affection to other men.

I am the home-economics teacher who always wanted to teach gym until someone told me that only lesbians do that.

I am the man who died when the paramedics stopped treating me as soon as they realized I was transsexual.

I am the person who feels guilty because I think I could be a much better person if I didn't have to always deal with society hating me.

I am the man who stopped attending church, not because I don't believe, but because they closed their doors to my kind.

I am the person who has to hide what this world needs most, love.

Homophobia is wrong.

Author - Unknown

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Am Your (Gay) Child

I have read with interests the diversity of perspectives on Earnest Smith’s incendiary claims that homosexuals are "abusive (and) violent", among other unsubstantiated declarations. His statements did not surprise me, as such ridiculous postulations are a commonplace in Jamaica. Again, another government MP’s has revealed himself for who he is: a bigoted, misinformed ignoramus who has no place in the parliament of a progressive democracy.

People often say of homosexuals: “we don’t want them here!” or “OutRage and other foreign gay right organizations cannot force their nastiness on our Christian nation!” What many of these people fail to see however, is that there are many homosexuals here in Jamaica, though you wouldn’t know any, because you threaten to kill whichever one is “brazen” enough to profess their sexuality. While I understand that most people do not support homosexuality, it is important for people to develop the understanding that as citizens of Jamaica, homosexuals deserve to be treated as such- that is, guaranteed protection under the law. Today, they are treated like second class citizens, whose opinions are invalidated because the majority disagrees with the gender of the individual they choose to love.

How brazen they have become, yes. Brazen because they are tired of living lives shrouded in secrecy and shame; tired of fearing that they may lose their lives, when one day, someone shouts out, “a fish dat”; tired of being silenced by puritanical evangelists who fail to recognize the diversity of moral perspectives present in our society . We must stop dictating morality to people, for few of us who lambast homosexuals are paragons of virtue and holiness. If you think homosexuality is immoral, then I would hope that you never engage in homoerotic activity; but how callous, and unchristianlike you are in your violent efforts to conform ‘moral deviants’.

I was nurtured in your womb, and am now working to positively contribute to the development of our nation. I am a Jamaican. I am your child...but you wish me dead.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vybz Kartel's Editorial: Traversing the Chasms

The resurgence of the Dancehall/censorship debate, has once again caught my attention with the Broadcating Commission's announcement that "daggering" songs could no longer be played on the radio. You will recall I did a post demanding that these songs be banned, but interestingly, I am not very happy about the way this matter was dealt with.

A flood of articles lambasting Dj's have beenx featured since Esthe Tyson's article was published on February 1, largely with a monotony of perspectives. Vybz Kartel went on the offensive, and fired off an editorial in defence of Dancehall. See his article here.

The time has finally come, when dissidents are unafraid to speak out against those in authority. Like-minded individuals, who represent but a small segment of Jamaica’s populace, dominate debates in the print media. It was refreshing to hear from Vybz Kartel in his editorial "Censorship vs free expression”; he has an opinion that I deem no less valid than that of the fire-breathing, middle class dragons, who categorically believe in the superiority of their arguments. I hope this current exchange of perspectives works to traverse the chasms that divide us as a people, and too, that it heralds the beginning of a new era of intellectual exchange. No longer should pro-choice advocates be cornered by religious conservatism; nor should homophiles be silenced by puritanical moral objectivism. Vybz Kartel, a representative of the marginalized classes, refuses to be bogged down by classist intellectual elitism, which hinders the possibility of forming a progressive nation, founded on mutual respect for people of all persuasions. Noteworthy however, is that he decided to deflect blame to other socio-economic problems facing the nation, without acknowledging the real possibility that our children are overexposed to countless mature themes in Dancehall.

I am personally overjoyed that the Broadcasting Commission has started to live up to their mandate. For far too long, we have indiscriminately allowed crude, deleterious lyrics to clog our airwaves and infiltrate the minds of our children. The popularity of Dancehall today speaks volumes to the influence it now wields in Jamaican society, and though it is by no means the cause of any of Jamaica’s problems, it cannot escape all blame. UWI academics and many diehard dancehall fans continue to exoticize the music as a means of cultural expression and a metaphor for life. Furthermore, they assert the lack of empirical evidence to support the claim that Dancehall promotes sexism, belligerence, homophobia and other retrograde persuasions. However, we do not need empirical evidence to know that if you hear something often enough, in the absence of critical thought, it eventually becomes verity. How often do you hear people chanting dancehall mantras in justifying their actions or reproaching other’s? “Man a gyalis” (I am a player), “Man a bad man” (I am a gangster), “Man fi main uman” (Men must financially support their women), or even “Bwai fi get gon shat” (He needs to be shot).

We need take our future into our own hands. There is no longer any ‘them’ and ‘us’. We are all witnessing the unraveling of a social fabric that was built through centuries of oppression and struggle. It will take a very long time to rebuild it, but if each of us grabs some thread and a needle now, we may be able to stitch together the pieces- together. Dancehall is a potent socializing force, which desensitizes our children to the use of violence, sexualizes our young girls andmakes them targets for predators, and on the whole glorifies the objectification of our women. Once our greatest pride and showpiece to the world, our music and the influence it has had on the psyche of Jamaicans is now a cancer threatening to envelop Jamaica’s prospects of being a prosperous nation.

As much as I disagree with Vybz Kartel, I want to see greater representation of his perspective in our print media- the delineation of sometimes controversial, divergent views, which more accurately represent the opinions of all Jamaicans. Jamaica’s lower classes have long been seething at the slight to the validity of their opinions, and many “well thinking”, “decent” Jamaicans are surely staggered by Kartel’s audacity. Serves them right! How insensitive we have been, in ignoring the perspectives of an entire class of people who cannot understand the need to ban any Dancehall songs. Had we made more inclusive efforts to bring all interested parties into the debate, we would not now be faced with a torrent of never before aired opinions. Let the dialogue begin.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mi Buut a Beg Bred

As children, we tried desperately, and often in futility, to fit in with our peers. Our desire for acceptance caused much heartache, as lack of money was a most formidable hindrance to being able to ‘fit in’. Today though, we are stronger individuals because of those experiences, unafraid of admitting to our lacking something now that we understand that we are not defined by our material possessions. Everyone’s reality is different, and so long as we remind ourselves of that fact, we need not be ashamed of our circumstances.


Mommy can I please have my lunch money? FP, I can only give you enough for bus fare, but don't worry, I will come by and give you the money for lunch by noon.

The lunch bell rings, and I run out to the playing field. Staying in the class room was never an option, because the students would ask if you weren't hungry, and why you weren't buying anything. Lunch period ends, and still, mommy is nowhere in sight in sight. She finally arrives at 2 pm, and she asks the teacher to take me from class for a bit. We go to the back of our building, and she offers me a slice of delicious potato pudding, which she baked that morning. I then drink some water at the stand-pipe, and run hurriedly back to class, but not before she wets her fingers with her saliva, and straightens my hairline and eyebrow.

Other times, she made sandwiches for my lunch, but I was too embarrassed to eat them at school, so I waited till I got back home. By then however, the guava jam had soaked through the bread, which became unappealingly soggy and squished. I would toss it to the dogs, and instead make a sandwich with white break and seasoned tomatoes. Word cannot express the shame I now feel, for discarding the food my mother so thoughtfully prepared. If only I could turn back the hands of time.

I remember the days when the front of my shoe began to open up, over worn after two years. Mommy insisted I wear my sneakers to school, so she could take my brown school shoes to the "shuu meka." The teachers would quickly notice the white shoes on my feet, and demand an explanation. The other kids though it was cool, but if I could have gone invisible on those days, I would have.

I used to dread yearly trips to attractions across the country. After paying the fee to go on the trip, we never had the money for me to enter the attractions, or to buy fast food at the end of the trip. I remember once, I had enough money to buy a two piece combo from KFC, but in order to save it, I had to skip seeing the Green Grotto Caves, and had planned to forego touring the Greenwich Great House. I waited outside while everyone toured, insisting that I had gone before. We got to Greenwich, and I everyone started lining up to enter, but I shied away. The teacher, Miss Bennett, called me over and insisted that I spend the negligible (likl) 20 dollars to enter. I felt weak...KFC was now a distant dream. We got to Montego Bay and everyone started dashing (in typical konchri pikni style) for KFC, Burger King and McDonald's. I went off on my own, touring the nearby stores, until everyone came back. I was able to afford an ice-cream cone, and I comforted myself with the rummy sweetness.

Jeans day: pay 10 dollars if you wear casual clothing. Oh how I hated those days. If I managed to find something to wear, I would always be embarrassed once I saw everyone else. I decided to stop participating, for it would often mean going without a snack at "break time." After a while however, the teachers started charging half the fee, for those who decided not to wear causal wear, anyway. The poor man always loses.

Then there is that ugly pair of jeans I bought in grade eight, that I wore for the duration of three years, whenever I had to go out. Sometimes, I was fortunate enough to wear my brothers' clothing. They were 8, and 4 years ahead of me. They never fit well, but I was afforded some variety. A year ago I went home, and saw the pair of jeans. I looked at it carefully, then put it away in a "skyandal bag" and tossed it in a barrel in the garage. I never want to see it again.

There were the textbooks I needed, but never had. It wasn't until grade 10 that I bought textbooks. I hated having to share with people, who were clearly disgruntled that they had to shift their books a little to the left so I could see. I would always tell them to keep it directly below their eyes; that I would be able to see regardless. I would borrow their books after school, and sometimes take it home, on the few nights that they wouldn't be using them. Literature classes were particularly challenging, for people would never lend those overnight. I never read any of the assigned books between grades 7 and 9- if the characters, themes, and the like, were not mentioned in class, I would never write about them.

Going home to a house without electricity. It was cut this morning while I was in school, for we couldn't find the money to pay the bill. Homework would be done under intimate candlelight, which burned out more quickly than I would have liked it to. The old iron was heated on the stove the next morning, for my school uniform had to be ironed before going to careful now though, don't "blak op" the uniform.

My my my. How far we have come. I look back today, with a smile on my face...disbelieving that I faced those challenges as a child. What I have realized though, is that I wasn't alone. All over the world, from Mexico, to Kenya, to Namibia, to Fiji, other children were having similar experiences. We were all ashamed of our poverty, and wished to live differently. Little did we realize then how greatly our situations could change over time. Tis only a decade later, but things have radically changed for the better.

If only we realized the possibilities then...

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Jew and the Male Homosexual…Hated to Death

This is an extract from an essays I wrote for a class on LGBT Studies:

Constructed Identities: The Jew and the Male Homosexual…Hated to Death

Jean Paul Sartre writes that anti-Semitic hatred of Jews is derived from “nothing but passion” (Sartre: 1995, 19). This sentiment resonates strongly with the irrational treatment of individuals perceived to be homosexuals in Jamaica. These popular phrases ring out everywhere: ‘Wi no waahn no bati man bout ya’ (we do not want homosexuals here), ‘faiya bon fi a batibwaai’, (burn homosexuals), ‘dem fi ded’ (they must be killed). Perception is all, for few Jamaicans could escape violent murder, typically at the hands of a mob, if they declared themselves homosexual. Sartre’s book Anti-Semite and Jew (Sartre: 1995), seeks to define the origins of anti-Semitism, and the subsequent construction of the Jewish identity. This etymology of hate is useful for understanding the construction of demonized identities, as analysis of the text reveals striking similarities with the condition of Jews, and that of the modern male homosexual, in Jamaica. Sartre claims, “if the Jew didn’t exist, the Anti-Semite would invent him” (Ibid 19), but it seems implausible that such a claim could be made on homophobes, who would rather not contend with homosexuals. Ultimately, the Jew, and the homosexual are constructed identities, shaped by an irrational hatred; the Jew cannot easily reject his condition, for it is a birthright, but the homosexual may perform the identity of the normative heterosexual, and more easily escape victimization.

Jamaica has the most churches per square mile in the world, a fact, which declares its unwavering belief in Christian morality. Going to church on a Saturday or Sunday is a national pastime that is taken very seriously. Further, Christian doctrines are reemphasized in all schools across the country, where morning devotions and daily prayers take place. Belief in Christian morality is frequently used to justify homophobia, leaving no room for other considerations, because, God’s word is absolute. This view is similar to that of the Anti-Semite, who Sartre describes as being attracted to fixed ideas. “They do not want any acquired opinions; they want them to be innate” (Ibid 19). I find this description to accurately fit the disposition of Jamaicans, who refuse to discuss the matter of homosexuality openly. It is a non-issue, ‘because there are no homosexuals in Jamaica.’ Interestingly, Sartre goes on to describe hate as a ‘faith,’ the same word used to describe spiritual beliefs in a God that are not based on proof. Religion provides a backbone for the homophobe to depend on, as it itself is grounded in faith based beliefs which secure the intellectual certainty sought after. This oppressive environment is a great deterrent to practicing demonized homosexual activity, so the homosexual must perform.

Similar to the experience of millions of Jews who were persecuted by anti-Semites and even murdered for being Jew during the Second World War, homosexuals today risk losing their lives for self-identifying as gay. While the Jew could not easily escape his condition, which was often determined at birth, the modern homosexual has the ability to perform the identity of a heterosexual, and lead a life in relative safety. The necessity to perform an identity, like the “inauthentic Jew,” brings into focuses the far-reaching impact of hatred, described by Sartre as “a regressive social force and a conception deriving from the pre-logical world” (Ibid 143). Like the anti-Semite before him, the homophobe wins on all accounts (Ibid 74). The homosexual is but an intruder in the heteronormative Jamaican society, who is compelled to remain silent, or be the object of ridicule. Heterosexuals coined the term homosexual, to define sexually deviant men who choose against nature, to have sex with other men. The hatred directed towards self-proclaimed homosexuals will not cease, until such a time that the notion of sexual deviance is completely discarded, and the homosexual is made human again.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate. Ed. Michael Walzer. Trans. George J. Becker. New York: Schocken, 1995.