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Skirting danger with Maurice Tomlinson

Published:Sunday | October 12, 2014 | 10:00 AM
Daniel Thwaites

Daniel Thwaites

On the very day that Maurice Tomlinson, who The Gleaner says is a homosexual activist, responded to my column about the New Kingston cross-dressers, another reader named 'L.H.' wrote a letter about coming face to face with transvestites in the bathroom at a New Kingston hotel. I enjoyed L.H.'s letter more than Mr Tomlinson's diatribe, even though that was pleasurable in its own way.

In the unedited letter sent to me via The Gleaner, L.H. actually asked my advice on what to do regarding this bathroom invasion. I got a visual of women bucking up on a big, rusty man in the bathroom, and finding it discomforting, so that one of them would have to hightail it out of there, metaphorically speaking, of course.

Now, while I have some observations that I hope are pertinent, the plain truth is that I don't have much good advice about how to handle that situation. I'm not actually an 'advice columnist', unlike some of my more established and respectable colleagues. Nevertheless, my humble suggestion is that if you face this situation, don't lef yuhself cayliss. However much they may appear to be women, they are, in fact, men, and as a rule, women aren't safe around men.

GENDER DIFFERENCE

I don't suggest running and/or screaming. A firm reminder ("You are a man!") and a polite request ("May I have some privacy?") might help. If they contest the assertion that they are male, maybe ask for an immediate on-site inspection to prove the point. Actually, I'm not a doctor or biologist either. But I'm told that ordinarily the distinction between males and females can be discovered by direct observation of the midsection of the human animal. If it is a male, there is likely to be a sizeable protrusion, like a tree branch. Yuh can't miss it.

On the other hand, 'L.H.', better get with the times, and join up with the New World Order. What she has to recognise is that in the new regime of 'privacy' being urged upon us, an inviolable zone of personal liberty will surround you if you want to have anal sex, sell your vagina on the open market, or have an abortion after the selling, but not if you want to do something more traditionally personal like go to the toilet without a man inspecting your parts. Get wid de programme!

I take the point that there are some people confused about their gender. Or to put it more politically correctly, there is sometimes a disjuncture between people's biological equipment and the gender that they feel they are or want to be. But I subscribe to a basically biological view of gender, meaning I think one's sex determines whether you're a man or a woman.

I'm also unconvinced that it's something we could ignore because it has no real-life practical consequences. How should we treat with cross-dressing coaches, kindergarten teachers, nurses, doctors, and so forth? How about the actual instance where a man, or I should say a person born male, felt he was a woman, so had a sex change, before then deciding that he/she was a lesbian? It seems to me that he could have just stayed in the male body and kept it simple by being a lesbian from there. But I realise that these views make me out of step with the times.

Actually, where my son goes to university, they've dispensed with designated bathrooms for the sexes. Even the showers are unisex, and each shower stall is separated by just a curtain. Now that arrangement fills me with bafflement. For it illustrates how men have to be de-balled, de-natured, and de-fanged for this brave new world to come into being. Can you imagine trying that stunt in Jamaica? Not a rose! It couldn't work.

Not for one moment do I doubt the right of anyone to dress as they like. If a young man wants to put on a skirt and high heels, he should go right ahead. But I do think it's generally inadvisable, not least because to deliberately invite and court social prejudice is a bad strategy for getting along in the world.

I note that for someone intent on pointing out the changeability of gender identity, somehow Mr Tomlinson still has very precise and exacting notions of racial identity.

"In the past, at least half of Daniel's ancestors were forced to abandon their cultural African attire in order to adopt the clothes of their slave owners ... . The very difficult language Daniel uses in describing homeless youths' attire is emblematic of the Eurocentric mindset that has prejudiced the minds of many in the Afro-descended Jamaican intelligentsia."

Still, rarely have a couple sentences afforded me such sustained enjoyment. The distant echoes of Marxist class analysis in "intelligentsia"; the gratuitous slapdash appeal to some kind of Afrocentrism; the essentially Victorian complaint about the propriety of "difficult language" - it all adds up to some post-structural miasma of confusion. Why not just say: "Mi nuh like yuh!?" There's more honesty in that than in all this other mental gunk.

Anyway, I would never presume to speak on behalf of long-gone ancestors. My own predilections and metaphysics inspire me to only learn what I can of them and consider the desperation of their circumstances in humility and gratitude (that they survived, and that I do not live in their horrific circumstances). However, I realise this is in profound opposition to the spirit of our times, which is more geared towards encouraging people to imagine they continue to live in slavery even while abusing the copious freedoms we take for granted.

I do want to say, though, that when I place myself imaginatively in the circumstance of my transported and enslaved ancestor, I don't find that the enslaver's insistence that he switch from dashiki to pantaloons is the thing that troubles him. I suspect it would be the leather whip, not the cotton underpants.

Exploiting comparisons with slavery is too close to the top of the rhetorical grab bag, and if I thought there was even a remote chance that Tomlinson would desist from this error, I would ask him to. But he won't. It's too important for his ideological mission. However, it is for the public to judge if subjugating Africans is quite the same or even remotely similar to saying it's wiser, in our culture and circumstances, for boys to pull on trousers and desist from wearing weaves.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.