Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blackmail: Battyman Pay Mi, or Else...

Blackmail. It's a word we don't use very often in Jamaican Creole, and I can't now think of an equivalent word or phrase. In detailing the struggles faced by gays and lesbians in Jamaica few would mention the threat of blackmail, but the Jamaican situation, marked with intolerance and repression, nourishes this kind of crime. 

A few months ago, one of my good friends from high school, we'll call him Michael, told me about how he was blackmailed. Like many Jamaican gays and lesbians he turned to the internet to try to find other queer Jamaicans. Michael happened across a popular chat-room in which one of the men took particular interest in him and hey eventually exchanged phone contact details. Through their phone conversations my friend became more trusting, and he mentioned casually what he was studying at a university and also the company he worked with. One day he was shocked when the tone and nature of the conversation changed. His online-buddy contacted an informant in the HR department of the company that he worked and uncovered his home address. This phone friend was not gay, and wanted to be compensated or else he would start telling people that Michael was gay. 

Michael was terrified. What if this guy went to the apartment and told all the neighbours? What if he went to the university and posted signs? What if people at the company were to find out, would he lose his job? Michael refused to answer any more calls from this guy, but then the texts came flowing in... characterized by stinging homophobic epithets, among death threats, and a reiteration of the price to be paid to keep the prospective informant quiet. The attacks continued for weeks, and would only come to an end after Michael contacted the telecommunications provider, explained that he was being harassed and asked that the number of the attacker be permanently blocked. 

The texts stopped coming. Michael breathed free. But he always considers that this unknown, malicious and opportunistic fiend knows where he lives, and could make another orchestrated attempt to corner him if her ever had the resources. 

Michael's experience is not unique. I'm sure many other Jamaican gays and lesbians have suffered this fate. Crimes like these will continue so long as people have to remain closeted. Now we have one more thing to fear, besides the wrath of our intolerant families, or communities. Fear and intimidation are bitches. In fact, what proof did this man have that Michael was gay, besides some cryptic online screen name, and maybe a few texts from telephone number he assigned the name Michael he wouldn't have much damning information. But the idea of being outed is paralyzing, and it was under the grips of this paralysis that Michael suffered for weeks. 

Online chat-rooms are not safe. You can never be assured of someone's purported identity, and should be careful about revealing personal details when using these media. 

Take care,


  1. A lot of Jamaicans just want to here the word gay as enough evidence for them to attack. I feel it for Micheal as now he will find it hard to trust anyone.
    My question is why go on a gay chat room? I know he wanted to blackmail someone but something may be hidden deeper in his mind.

  2. Mi no nuo bwai. If he has discovered that it is profitable to impersonate gay men, and exploit those he meets in chat-rooms then he would be willing to put in the effort. I remember Michael saying that he had gotten money from another Jamaican gay man who works with a prominent company... he didn't get any money this time around.

    Yea, after an experience like this one really has to wonder if the online-chatting experience is worth having outcomes such as this one... it's just too sketchy. I totally understand the need to meet people though and that the search often leads to chatrooms such as the one Michael used. I remember meeting people on social networking sites like Hi5 myself.

  3. im so having second thoughts on these chat thingy's its dangerous

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