Coming out in Jamaica – dead or alive
Last Wednesday, I got two emails that forced me to write this column. I'd already been thinking about sharing a schizophrenic email that came in response to last Sunday's column. Homophobia in Jamaica is still so fierce that even writing about the subject makes people point fingers at you. But my back is broad. So mi just a gwaan.
Here's the first email, which I've not edited for punctuation errors, etc. So mi get it, so mi give it: "Hello Ms Cooper, how are you?I am an occasional reader of your column and it seems like homosexuality is one of your favourite topics.Tell me something are you in the closet yourself? If not then why such passion and sympathy for these folks. Well, if i am right and you need a hook up feel free to let me know. Peace, love and respect."
My response: "Thanks for taking the time to send feedback. If you were to read my columns regularly, not just occasionally, you would see that I write on a wide range of topics. I would say that chik-V (and the failure of the Ministry of Health to protect) is one of my recent favourites. You can catch up on my blog - the link is below.
"Then you wonder if I'm in the closet. Your question is a classic example of the fool-fool assumption that a newspaper columnist only writes about his or her personal issues. In any case, I must decline your facetious offer to "hook up" with me. I do not embrace abusive relationships. Best of luck with finding a suitable sexual partner!"
LIVING IN LEVITICUS
That email came from 'Jordan'. Could be male or female. I suppose s/he was not necessarily proposing her/himself for the 'hook up'. But the tone of the email is abusive. And what I find intriguing is that s/he is willing to source a lesbian for me, even though s/he appears to disapprove of homosexuality.
Then why does this 'bright' person feel I'm not able to find my own sexual partners? Why would I need his/her help? The email is not only facetious; it's facety. And instinct tells me that the author is male. And Jamaican. There's a type of Jamaican man who just loves to tell women what to do. Especially if it's directing them to engage in sexual practices he enjoys watching under cover.
I'd decided not to bother to write about that out-of-order email. And then I got these two others. The first came from my friend Maria, co-organiser of the International Reggae Poster Contest, who lives in Greece. It was about a story in Pink News, 'Europe's Largest Gay News Service', published on March 10.
The headline was sensational: 'Report: Gay man stoned to death in Jamaica'. The actual 'report' is more cautious: "Video has emerged reportedly showing the bloodied body of a gay Jamaican man who it is claimed was stoned to death." If this is true, we're back in the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus. This is not a good place to be in the 21st century.
'BOYS WHO DIDN'T FIT IN'
The second email came from another friend, Ben, an attorney in the US. It was a link to a beautifully written personal essay by the novelist Marlon James, published in The New York Times on March 10. The essay is headlined 'From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myself'. It opens with an unsettling quote: "I knew I had to leave my home country - whether in a coffin or in a plane."
James' account of growing up as an outsider in Jamaica is disquieting: "I'd spent seven years in an all-boys school: 2,000 adolescents in the same khaki uniforms striking hunting poses, stalking lunchrooms, classrooms, changing rooms, looking for boys who didn't fit in.
"I bought myself protection by cursing, locking my lisp behind gritted teeth, folding away my limp wrist and drawing 36-double-D girls for art class. I took a copy of Penthouse to school to score cool points, but the other boys called me 'ba**y boy' anyway every day, five days a week. To save my older, cooler brother, I pretended we weren't related."
But we are related. No matter how religiously some of us deny it, gay Jamaicans are us: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins - not-so-distant relatives. I suppose 'Jordan' could have been one of the boys who would have hunted Marlon James. And s/he might very well email me again this week, like a stalker, looking for confirmation that I'm in the closet. Another column on homosexuality, so I must be gay.
After writing the first draft of this column with those sentences, I did get a seemingly conciliatory response from 'Jordan': "Sorry Carolyn,
no offence meant...Peace, Love and respect to you. Keep up the good work." Makes no sense. But this is Jamaica. Conflicted about sexuality.
Marlon James writes about being suicidal: "One day after school, instead of going home, I walked for miles, all the way down to Kingston Harbor. I stopped right at the edge of the dock, thinking next time I would just keep walking."
Marlon found the courage to stay in Jamaica and not walk over the edge. He has written three brilliant novels that are rooted in our fertile/arid landscape. Thank God Marlon James came out of Jamaica in a plane, not a coffin.