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 mi av mi gyal ya." That makes me very uneasy. I'll have to think about this some more. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gay "Lifestyle"

I think it is time we retire the use of the term "lifestyle" in regards to gays and lesbians. People never talk about the "heterosexual lifestyle". True, because it is the norm, but also, it's ridiculous to consider someone's sexuality as a mere "lifestyle" choice (Well, if you are aware that people don't choose their sexualities). I decide to lead a healthy lifestyle today. And hey, why not throw in a "homosexual lifestyle" too!

Many people are hung up about homosexuality because of they are disgusted by anal sex. So the lifestyle you speak of, I am assuming, is the men-screwing-men lifestyle. Well suppose I only like to cuddle, caress and kiss my men, am I still living the "homosexual lifestyle"? And what if I only do it once a year? Still a lifestyle?

If you are gay or lesbian consider what it means when you use this term. Too often, we forget that language shapes perceptions! I don't think it helps for gays to talk about the "homosexual lifestyle". I have a wonderful family; I go to school; I have amazing friends; I volunteer. My gay lifestyle? It doesn't really fit in there. I am attracted to men. It's not as active a phenomenon as the word "lifestyle" may lead one to believe.

If you find yourself using the same language as homophobes to describe your sexuality, then maybe, just maybe, you are hurting your own cause. I wish the media would stop using this term, which I believe greatly influences people's belief in the mutability of (homo)sexuality. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Teaching in Jamaica is Hard Work

For two weeks this summer, I will help to facilitate a summer camp for grade five students in Jamaica. I have always been convinced that with an approach appropriate to student’s competencies and cultural context, they can learn. After just three days, however, I am left scratching my head. I am at my wits end as to how I can help these students understand the material they need for the GSAT exam, and more importantly, their future. I have realized that I am not cut out to be an educator, for I do not possess the requisite patience to govern children who seem to have missed the memo about why they come to school. Let me detail some of my experiences here, so you too can understand my frustrations.

My primary teaching role at the camp is instructing three classes of pupils in Language Arts/ Communication Skills and Drama. These children have no reservations when it comes to expressing themselves in the nation’s language, until they are called upon to share an opinion. And let me tell you, when a child tells you they won’t participate, they are serious. No amount of coddling, beseeching, or guilt tripping, will make a difference. I always felt children learn better in an environment where they are made to feel as though their opinions matter. Collaboration is key, and so long as you establish that modus operandi, people would not be shy about sharing a view. WRONG!

The most expressive child goes quiet when called upon- if even for a few seconds. Their faces relax; their eyes fixate on some point in my direction, but never at my own; their limbs go limp. They look almost mournful. Their peers start to giggle. Stinging epithets are exchanged between the individual in the spotlight, and their heckling classmates, before their stoic expressions return. It’s almost as if they forget the questions they were asked in their bid to avoid contributing to the discussion at hand- to avoid giving an incorrect response. I am waiting Shatika, the class would like to hear your thoughts. Shatika is adamant; she will not speak. In the interest of the time, I must move on.

I was troubled, so I took the time to ask them why they think, personally, that they freeze when called upon to contribute to the learning experience in the class. They seemed to be listening intently, and their expressions suggested that they understood what I was asking, but when I prodded them for responses, again, they froze. The classrooms are located in one building. Each of five classrooms is partitioned by two blackboards, beneath which the feet of students in the other class can easily be observed- the students make ample use of this design feature. The walls of the classroom are decorated with stylish see-through blocks and windows, through which every sudden flash of colour or the source of outbursts of sound is identified by the curious students. Chatter, shouts and laughter from every other class is heard in my own, and it is often impossible for me to hear myself speak. The children seem more concerned about all the exciting things going on around them more than my voice, droning on about the importance of committing that day’s lesson to memory.

Today I taught pronouns and parts of speech in class. Elementary? Certainly, yet, these are concepts that they have not mastered.
"Verbs are action or doing words," their voices ring out in a chorus.
Okay, so give me a verb and use it appropriately in a sentence.
"RUNNING, EATING, TALKING, DANCING.’ Their voices are a most annoying cacophony. That’s a remarkable vocabulary you have there! Okay, what is an adverb?
"A word that modifies an adjective, verb or adverb."

Good, so name one and use it in a sentence. Then their eyes roll towards some point away from me. Silence permeates the still, hot air, and I sigh in desperation. They’re listening, or at least I think they are, yet they do not understand the material. I repeat the same material from yesterday, but still it is foreign to them. When I ask for the part of speech of the word "slowly", rest assured that all five parts of speech mentioned the day prior would be offered as an answer.

I read five sentences written by one girl today. She completely misplaced subject pronouns for object pronouns in the first, and it was my job to highlight where she had gone wrong. When I asked her if she remembers yesterday's lesson about pronouns, she said in a sombre voice, "no." She is in grade 5. "Him must put down some money an pay the man him rent, because him not to live on the man land." Again, I sighed heavily, this time in exasperation. I’m not giving up just yet. I still have another week to figure out how to, even to a small degree, rectify the structural and cultural realities, which affect these children’s ability to learn.

And, to think that teachers are poorly paid!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Billy Elliot

Even though I haven't been updating this blog recently, I have still been writing. I just managed to make three different posts. I swear, the motivation to write disappears when one loses access to the internet.
But, finally...

I just saw the film Billy Elliot, for the millionth time. Have you seen it? It is such an amazing movie! Aside from me finding some difficulty understanding the accents of the actors, the themes explored in the film resonate well with me- for obvious reasons. I look forward to the time when my family will be proud to see me in whatever capacity I find myself, as an openly gay man.

I find myself watching and re-watching films with gay themes recently. It's My Party, Prayers for Bobby, For the Bible Tells Me So, Boys Don't Cry, Milk, Noah's Arc- Jumping the Broom. I lived without representations of queer culture and people for such a long time, that I revel in my newfound collection of timeless films that inspire me to be proud of my sexuality. I once thought it was my greatest burden, but it is now turning into one of my strengths.

Older Gay Men...

So last summer, I met an older gay man in the streets while walking home one night. I spent the day with my old classmates at the beach, then left for home at around 10 pm. While walking, an older gentleman came up to me and asked if he had met me before. I said no, but he continued. "Are you sure? Which high school did you go to?" I was too naive at the time to realize that this was his conversation starter. He told me he was a primary school teacher in Brown's Town, and I tried my best to appear interested by asking him questions about his job, and the education system in general. He asked if I would like to sit somewhere and talk. Despite being really tired, the conversationalist in me said, "sure."

Things got awkward the moment we sat down, because he started to get a little personal. Not one to engage in conversation with random old-er guys, I wasn't sure if my present relationships, sexual history, and whereabouts in Jamaica, were standard talking points. He went on to reveal that he had seen me a week earlier, standing with a woman he guessed was my mother. Good guess. He had wanted to approach me then, but wasn't sure who the woman was. Since then, he had been keeping an eye out for me. Creepy? Yea, just a little bit.

It got creepier when he said to me, "I have a hard-on, would you like to touch it?" Then he proceeded to describe his penis to me, and what he would do to me if I ever went home with him. I was not amused. I told him it was time for me to go home, but he beckoned me to stay, because surely I had a hard-on too. How highly he thinks of himself. You might wonder why I never left if I truly found the situation uncomfortable. This was the first time a man hit on me, so it was a novel experience I tried to savour, once he established that he was gay and that he liked me. He kept calling me, "my pretty little boy," which I found annoying, but I obliged him, because I too had an agenda.

"So what is it like being gay in Jamaica?" Of course, I understand what this means for me, but one- I do not live here, and two- I have no plans to get a boyfriend and settle in Jamaica. He went on to tell me how difficult it is. He says there are gays around, but hooking up is hard for him. He lives with his mom close to Ocho Rios and needs some company every now and again. "I can give you money," he offered.

After what seemed like an hour, I was adamant that I needed to go home, and so we left our public meeting place. While walking to the bus stop I assured him that I would be fine, and that he could be on his way. We exchanged formalities, then I crossed the street away from him, and went to buy a drink at a gas station. Lo and behold, I stepped out of the store to see him standing at the door. "I was a bit worried about you. I want to make sure you get home safely." Oh dear me! "Can I have some of your drink?" His smile hinted at some misplaced sexual innuendo. He must be kidding, I thought. Am I supposed to be happy he is concerned about me? "No, I will not share my drink with you." Sir, I am fine. I do not need to be walked to the bus stop. He insisted, and again, I gave in.

We stood awkwardly at the bus stop, while I waited. A taxi came soon, and we said our awkward goodbyes. I wouldn't see him again until another ill-fated day in Ochi. There are two roughly parallel main streets in Ocho Rios. If someone is in town, there is a very high chance you will bump into them. So I'm walking down the street and I see this man bustling up in my direction. My mind starts to race, and I resolve not to acknowledge him. Let's be honest, he's creepy. Just when I though he had passed without seeing me, I heard someone shout out just behind me, "HI!" I turned to face him- ina di middle a Ochi- then he said, "yu don't memba mi?" Holy Fuck this is awkward, I thought. I told him I was in a hurry, and needed to be on my way. I managed to avoid his eyes the entire time. Whew!

Another day, about a month later, I walked into Island Grill with my sister, and saw this man standing at the cashier. "Sis, that is him!" I looked away from the cashier, praying that he doesn't approach me. When he left she says to me, "Hey, he was staring at you the entire time." We went upstairs to eat, and as I looked out the windows, would you believe I saw the man looking in our direction from the second floor of a building adjacent to ours!!! Thank heavens I was with someone, for surely he wouldn't resist the urge to strike up another conversation.

I know the day will come when we must meet again; Jamaica is a small country, and Ocho Rios is a small town. I think I know what I must do to hold him off next time though, speak in Patwa. There is no greater turn off than to be dismissed in Patwa. English is far too polite to serve my purpose with this stalker.

Ever been stalked before? What's your story...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Boyfriend is Gay: Ragashanti

I was listening to Ragashanti this morning, and I was fortunate enough fi kech the conversation just when a woman called to talk about her experience with someone on the DL. Her story was quite moving, especially at the climax when she catches her boyfriend having sex with his best friend. She wept as she remembered the ordeal. Her story is very typical: woman loves man dearly. Believes with her heart man is faithful to her and committed to lifelong relationship. They have a child. Woman comes home and hears man having sex with someone. Opens door and is shocked to find him with his best friend. Man cries that he is not really gay. Man emphasized that he is the top- as she witnessed. Woman is embarrassed, and feels inadequate. Woman leaves man.

In this story though, the plot thickened. The man seems to have stayed with his boyfriend, who died two years after the incident- from AIDS. The man calls the woman to inform her of his misfortune- losing a loved one- and begs her forgiveness. Even more, he also has AIDS and has no one else to turn to... He begs her fi tek im bak. This woman, having a heart of gold, decides to take him back and care for him. I salute her courage and kindness.

Raga then went on a rampage about the despicable act of gay men dating women, for the reason that the deceit inherent in such action is most selfish. I agree. He clarified that people who are gay will always be gay, and that the idea that we can convert gay people should be scrapped. Thank you Raga. I was still somewhat disappointed with his evaluation of the situation, however. Surely it is understandable that gay men in Jamaica will enter into heterosexual unions to deflect questions regarding their (homo)sexuality. It is not excusable behavior, because people get hurt, but it is clear that the homophobic situation in Jamaica dictates that such eventualities will be commonplace. I would have liked him to acknowledge this reality.

Cheating is bad, no matter the sexual exploits of the cheater. Deceiving a partner in such a malicious way should be frowned upon no matter the circumstances. I can now imagine that many are saying, "A so battyman carry AIDS come ina people house all the time." And if that is all we can learn from this woman's experience, then we learnt very little. I am still glad she was brave enough to share her story with Jamaica this morning. While it is true that it portrayed gay men very negatively, we are no longer invisible.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hitting on Men in Jamaica

I feel so amazingly good right now. Can’t quite place the feeling. I have been thinking long and hard about how I can advance the LGBT human rights movement in Jamaica, and I feel hopeful. I just need some people to work with. I’ve emailed J-Flag a few times, but it seems the organization is busy, because it is not very responsive (or there are just a few people running the operation and they are overwhelmed). Either way, I am here to help, and I need someone to bounce some ideas off.

Last year, a young man walking closely behind me asked, “a how come yu wan a hot up the place so,” and I was dumfounded. I turned to him and said, “excuse me?” haha

Memories. At the time I thought, but this boy wants to get me into trouble man. And also, what if he had guessed wrongly? Well he didn’t. But still, that is not something I have the guts to do in Jamaica just yet. I love my life too much.

Two years ago I dreaded returning to Jamaica. I’m proud of myself for growing so comfortable with the place. It’s still scary… but I am finding it progressively easier to live with it. It's exactly two months before I return to school- I better make every day count!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Women's Rights vs the Religious Right

Every woman should have the right to regulate the number of children she bears. In some countries, this statement is indubitable, the resolution of a long fought women’s rights movement. Framing discussion about abortion around its perceived immorality is convenient for the pious among us, for Jamaicans are so-called religious people, whose knowledge of scripture will mandate their rejection of laws supporting a woman’s right to abort an embryo. This approach is retarding the women’s rights movement, in a sexist society where the patriarchal oppression of women is commonplace.

We speak superficially of gender equality, but Jamaica is far from the ideal. The high rates of sexual abuse, in the home and workplace, sexual assault and rape perpetuated against women speak volumes to the grave inequalities, which still prevail. Further, the degree to which our women are objectified, commodified, and de-humanized in popular culture, is a good measure of the slight with which many regard women. Concerning abortion, we continue to hear multifarious horror stories about women who regret having one, but few accounts of women who illegally aborted embryos, then went on to lead successful lives with children that have loving and emotionally stable parents.

A recent report published in the Gleaner says that 70 % of Jamaicans believe that women who become pregnant because of rape should not have an abortion. By propagating such impressive statistics, self-serving moralists seek to deny women the right to control their reproductive capacity. Jamaicans like to talk about ideals, so I am not surprised by the poll results, though they are highly suspect; most will speak out against abortion when prompted, and espouse their preference for adoption. In reality, many of these people would abort an embryo if their circumstances necessitated such action, and are unwilling to adopt a child into their family themselves, for adopted children are widely regarded as inferior to biological ones. Also, what percentage of the individuals polled were male? Begetting children is the marker of manhood in Jamaica, so I expect that Jamaican men should overwhelmingly oppose abortions, which detracts from their ersatz masculinity. This despite the reality that many cannot afford to take care of the multitude of children they lend their sperm to create.

Women’s rights must come from the people, but sadly, the momentum is lacking. Jamaican women deserve better, and the right to determine how many children they have is only one of the privileges they must be allowed. The anti-abortion lobbyists are puppets of a patriarchal oppressor, whose antiquated modus operandi should be rejected by the Jamaican government.

Yaa Battyman? No. Aawuo!

Here in Jamaica, I can never get tired of being asked that question. In America, at least on my college campus, it is a politically incorrect one, as is the question which usually follows an affirmative response, "so, are you a top or a bottom?" But Jamaicans haven't cultivated enough sensitivity to LGBTQ people to know what is appropriate, so I will gi dem a blai.

I speak very confidently about Jamaica's misguided approach to "the homosexual problem," and apparently, non-queer Jamaicans aren't very vocal about the necessity for our culture to respect and even appreciate variances of human sexuality, which materialize between consensual adults. Every time I open my loud mouth someone asks, "so which one are you?" And I smile. The answer shouldn't matter, but it does. Ef mi a difen batiman den mi a mos wan. If I was straight, then I could just laugh and say, "Mi straight man, si mi bups ya!" Aawuo, yu kuda neva bi... And then, nothing changes.

The prejudice wiggles, then firmly roots itself into their psyche again. There I thought she was listening to me. She, for I would never engage a Jamaican man in such a conversation. Still, my week was a success, because I helped three Jamaicans think on a perspective different from any they ever imagined. Gays are people. Different, but not abnormal. They are our doctors, our sisters and brothers, our children, our sick, our homeless and our friends.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm Coming Out... But Not Yet.

Two days ago my brother asked me if I was gay. For a split second, I almost said yes. He said it most casually, even jokingly, after looking at my clothing and suggesting that my style is like that of Jamaican gay men. I was caught off-guard, and I considered my promise to myself to never lie if confronted. But I hesitated long enough for my sister to say, "are you joking, of course he is not!" Now, the uncomfortable discussion about my homosexuality has been postponed, but it wont be long before it returns. He also said, "you could never be gay. Don't you want to make beautiful babies like mine?" I wasn't amused, but I held back. Is there any easy way to just say it?


If only...