Last week, Prime Minister Bruce Golding of Jamaica stated on a BBC talk show that he has no intentions of lifting the "buggery" laws that outlaw man to man sex, and that he would never have a homosexual in his cabinet. I would post the BBC link, but they refer to Jamaica as probably being "the most murderous country in the world" which is some pretty racist effed up shyte if you ask me, especially coming from one of the most militarized countries in the world besides the USA.
Canada is responding by calling for a tourism ban on Jamaica, which would be a considerable blow to the Jamaican economy. Just tourism from Toronto alone to Jamaica is huge. There is a Jamaican myspace page called fReE sPeEcH which features perspectives on the Canada ban, and reggae songs (including written lyrics) which support the Prime Minister in his choices, and calls for gay folks to expatriate asap to countries that do not illegalize same sex love.
Personally, I don't think this tourism ban is a good idea. For me, it would be like finding a domestic abuse situation, and then cutting off food supply to everyone related to the couple until the abuser stops. If anything, this tactic would most likely escalate blame and abuse. Which is precisely what JFLAG, Jamaica's sole LGBTQ advocacy group feels. They have released an official statement rejecting the tourism bans. JFLAG essentially operates like an underground railroad for queer folks in Jamaica, and they state on the web page, "Due to the potential for violent retribution, we cannot publish the exact location [of our office]."
The issue of homophobic lyrics in dancehall has been in the international limelight for probably at least a decade now. Dancehall artists have been banned in various countries. Estimated losses in revenues exceed 5 million dollars. Some dancehall artists have however actually issued statements condemning homophobia in dancehall. 2 years ago, Sean Paul issued a statement of his own free will criticizing homophobia in dancehall. And some of the somewhat larger perpetrators of "burn battyman" music, Capelton, Sizzla and Beenie Man signed the Reggae Compassionate Act drawn up by the Stop Murder Music campaign. Though this is considered to be a large step in terms of dealing with homophobia in dancehall, it is felt in Jamaica and other places that this particular action may well have been strategic, since the financial blow has been so hard to these artists. If anything, they may be under some pressure in local performances to show how they are still "burning the flame" to "burn sodomites" despite pressures from "white foreign people."
Race becomes an issue when people note that Eminem seems to be able to say homophobic things and still enjoy international tours. He has a pretty "interesting" defense too. It also becomes an issue when people who have homophobia in their own countries choose to vilify us Jamaicans. I would hope that the energy that the Canadian government is taking with Jamaica, that they are using the same energy, if not more to look at the homophobia that exists in Canada, and to do some radical things about it.
I am definitely against the homophobic lyrics in Jamaican music, and i am a member of the straight and gay alliance group Love Liberation Collective, which is comprised mostly of Caribbean descended folks. As a dj, you will not hear me play these tunes, no matter how popular they are. For me, it is sad to know that black people, my people, are so energetically pursuing ways to oppress each other instead of building together. I had on online argument with another Jamaican who was telling me i was in league with Satan for defending queer rights. I told him he is required to believe in Satan, hence giving Satan power, so he can enjoy him; and that he might as well join the Ku Klux Klan, because they are also a group of people that would like to see black people dead, queer and straight. There is also a very common way that a lot of homophobic people tend to conflate homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia that is also pretty maddening. So many times, i have had to say slowly "we are talking about consenting adult humans who love each other." There does not seem to be overwhelming concern that because some people are heterosexual, we should be worried as to whether we will automatically become child molesters and over run barnyards with insatiable lust. I am also confused by the "its not natural" statement, as if gay folks are synthetically designed and programmed androids engineered in laboratories. Love is natural, and always has been.
The religion piece is big in Jamaica. Trying to have a rational conversation on this subject when someone is backing up their argument with faith based points gets nowhere fast. This is not to say that Christians and Rastas are essentially not rational, i am just underlining the dynamic where some may quote the bible as if it weren't a belief system, but was fact set in stone like 1 + 1 = 2. "The Bible says, x, y and z, so that's all there is to it!" This drives me mad. The Bible has beautiful universal truths in it, but it is also a 2,000 year old book with 2,000 year old customs and morals, written by men for a patriarchal religion. Patriarchy does not benefit women or LGBT people.
Many adherents to the Bible know that there is much that cannot be taken literally, and much that is no longer applicable to our times. Yet the example of Sodom and Gomorrah (in which heterosexuals also perished) and other biblical examples that can be interpreted to denounce gays are used as proof that homosexuality is an "abomination". Should death also be sentenced to those who break the sabbath by cooking on Sunday? The Bible says we should. (Exodus 31:14-15.) The Bible was also used to approve an institution that i would hope most Jamaicans now find to have been a real abomination to humanity. Slavery. During slavery, slaveowners and their Christian supporters would quote this from the pulpit:
If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property. - Exodus 21:20-21
As i mentioned in a previous post, I strongly believe that a) being colonized by the very Christian, very Victorian "sex is dirty, and so is the body" British (ie, Jamaicans still retain the colonial British jargon of "buggery" in the legislation), in combination with b) having a particular experience of slavery that had only men on the plantations for decades- I believe these two factors largely contributed to our particular brand of homophobia. Our men were worked to death on plantations, raped and violated as boys by slaveowners, and realistically only be able to have sex with other enslaved African men (voluntarily or forced). At some point, slaveowners decided that it may be more profitable to have forced reproduction on the plantations, and brought women over for slave labor, as well as to be "breeding grounds" for more "property" (roots of which also feed into our particular brand of sexism and objectification of women). It is my very strong belief that Jamaicans have a collective unconscious trauma that associates men being together sexually with the nightmare of slavery. I believe that the rage against the atrocities that happened to us has been misdirected towards gay folks. The rage targets men who are with other men, and women who would make such an anti-patriarchal move as to withhold sex from men, and love each other instead. The trauma is deep, and the religion that came with slavery and colonization adds fuel to the fire, as most interpretations justify and encourage the rage. Old leftover colonial era British "buggery" laws seal it in, legitimizing the misguided rage.
Slavery mercilessly degraded girlhood, womanhood, boyhood and manhood. Under patriarchy, all of us in Jamaica are subject to the acting out of men who are still in recovery from the passed down legacy of degraded manhood, in a society that grants men more privilege and power. The trauma of poverty and the sense of powerlessness that can evoke may exacerbate historical traumas. Historically, we were subjected to institutionalized domination. Acting out may then display itself in "hyper-masculine" forms, using dominance as a way to reclaim manhood. Donna P. Hope, a noted Jamaican feminist scholar, makes this statement about an aspect of Jamaican masculinity and dancehall:
In Jamaica, the use of sex and sexual symbols to create a highly sexual(ised) masculinity is dominant as a site of empowerment, to assert manhood and symbolise a particular type of masculinity. In the male-dominated dancehall, this is translated into the courting, conquering and/or dominance of female sexuality, femininity and women.I would further this to say that for some of the more homophobically minded and re-traumatized Jamaican men, the femininity that must be dominated is the feminine inside us all. There are many definitions and experiences of masculinity and femininity, but one of them bequeaths masculinity to the "penetrator" and femininity to the "penetrated" (i prefer "penetrator" and "engulfer" myself, more equalizing of power), and for a man to allow himself to be penetrated becomes unacceptable to re-traumatized men who are trying to reclaim power and masculinity. This can become an all encompassing way of being, including needing to be emotionally "unpenetratable" to feel as if one has an intact masculinity. Sadly and ironically, one of the more toxic markers of the more violent masculinities is to dominate and "feminize" other men by violently penetrating them with words that question their masculinity... and by penetrating other men with bullets. Truly, the male dominated concept of war can essentially be distilled down to a
dysfunctional urge to penetrate men, women and children to death. How people can support war (the unconsenting penetration and destruction of millions), and cannot support consenting penetration and love between two adults baffles me. I pray for healing and transformation.
In near closing, I will mention some things I learned when i was travelling in West Africa. I was refreshingly schooled on a new perspective in Ghana, where i was surprised to see men walking down the street holding hands. And i mean little boys holding hands, and adult men holding hands too, regardless of sexuality. I also saw this in Senegal- it was so incredible to see grown men in business suits walking to work hand in hand! I am used to seeing women be physically close in public, but there is so much armoring around men and physical closeness in the communities I grew up in. In Jamaica, we don't even slap hands and do the back pat greeting as brothas in the States do... we pound closed fists together, minimizing intimacy and connection of open palms. Oh yes, back to what i was schooled on though- In Ghana (which is not without their own brand of homophobia) homosexuality is seen as something someone does, not something you are. The distinction was refreshing, making sense. It wasn't considered a marker of identity. There wasn't a word for a person who was in a same sex relationship, it was simply seen as something that someone does. "Oh yes, there are people who do that." That was the perspective in Kumasi, Ghana anyways.
Many Jamaicans are descended from Ghanaians. Seeing how our not so distant relatives embody masculinities, and the relatively relaxed approach to same sex love they seem to have, it makes me even more certain that slavery is a large component for us Jamaicans and our masculinities and brand of homophobia. I have a feeling that there may have even been some shameful, degrading ritual that enslaved Jamaican men were subjected to by the power drunk plantocracy, something so underground and unspeakable that it has been erased from memories and books. Something that would keep this fire burning til now. It is my hope and prayer that we may heal from this historical trauma and see that we are truly all brothers and sisters of value who want to love and be loved. I believe that some deep decolonization therapy is needed. And i don't mean that people need to discard their religion to do this. I think the words of brotherly and sisterly love are already in the holy texts. Surely it is wrong to withhold love from our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, because of who they love, while others chat on the mike about shooting and killing. Is it more acceptable to have a gunman for a child, or a gay person? I am not sure what a poll in The Gleaner would say to answer that question. I hold the strong belief that only shedding slavery mentalities can facilitate our transcending to our true greatness. This little island of Jamaica has already impacted the world with Marcus Garvey, Rastafari, Robert Nesta Marley, reggae music and more. I dare to imagine a new, positive impact we could have on the planet and ourselves once we have moved past this divisive issue, into a new era of healing and community.