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.