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.


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