Tue | Aug 4, 2020

‘We are humans – not a disease’

Published:Friday | July 31, 2020 | 12:14 AM

For obvious reasons, I cannot use my real name – you can call me Markus. I am a 23-year-old gay man, born and raised in Jamaica. I realise that every time there is any mention of the LGBTQ+ community in Jamaican media, it is always portrayed in a negative light. Whether it is a ‘gay lover who stabbed his ex 16 times’ or the recent article about ‘gay mobs attacking a hospital clerk’.

I want to set the record straight – give my side of the story and those of some of my brethren.

To start with, I want to explain what being gay is – gay or homosexual means being attracted to the same sex. However, gay is often a male term meaning men who are attracted to other men. The female counterpart would be lesbian, for women attracted to other women (homosexual includes both gays and lesbians). This attraction is the same way that straight people or heterosexuals feel in that men are attracted to women.

Now the jury is still out on what actually causes homosexuality, but there is almost universal consensus in the medical community that we were probably born with it. I’ve read that it’s a combination of hormonal and environmental differences in the womb during pregnancy.

The key takeaway here, though, is that it’s not a choice. It is not a lifestyle that we chose. We were born this way. We never asked to be this way. During my teens, when I started to discover my attraction to other men, I tried to be straight. God knows I tried. But in the same way a straight man can’t choose to like other men, or a straight woman can’t choose to be with another woman, I can’t choose to like women either. The female body does nothing for me. It’s like trying to be attracted to a toaster oven, or a car. My body just doesn’t work that way.

NOT A DISEASE

Being gay is also not a disease, nor caused by some childhood trauma. This is another common myth I’ve seen making the rounds. I wasn’t molested or raped, I wasn’t ‘brought into the lifestyle’ by other gay men. I had a relatively normal childhood with a family who cared for me. To be honest, it just happened. One day, during puberty, I found myself being drawn to other males, it is as simple as that. I am pretty sure it’s the same story for other gay men like me.

As to these myths that gay people are violent or troublesome, I say, a crime is a crime. If someone does something wrong, they should face the consequences. Gay or not. But it is far too often that the actions of single individuals are being used to cast a bad light on the entire LGBT community. There are good LGBT people and bad LGBT people, in the same way there are upstanding straight citizens and criminal straight citizens, too. You never hear a news article say ‘Straight gunmen shoot up store’. You never hear the orientation of the persons involved at all unless they’re gay, lesbian, or trans. These skewed headlines only perpetuate the myth that gay people are violent criminals, and it needs to stop.

There is nothing dysfunctional about being attracted to other men. It’s no different from being left-handed or having blue eyes. We wake up like you do. We go to school and work like you do. We watch football and play dominoes like you do. We have hopes and dreams and careers and we want to build families like you do. We have loving, caring, nurturing relationships like you do. You may not know it, because we’ve trained ourselves to hide so well but we’re everywhere.

Most studies show that on an average about five per cent of the population is LGBT. That’s about one in 20 persons. With our population of almost three million people, that means there are about 150,000 LGBT people here. We are your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your best friends, the person you travel beside on the bus, your boss, your employees, your students, your teachers, your shopkeepers and customers, your fathers and mothers. We are people too – the only thing that makes us different is that we like others of the same gender – nothing more, nothing less.

TERRIFYING

Living as a gay man in Jamaica is ... terrifying. There are no other words to describe it. We’ve learned, almost from a young age, instinctively even, that to be caught by the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time means you’re dead. We see these news articles about gay men being stoned, or committing suicide, or being kicked out of their homes and being forced to live in gutters. We’ve heard of men being chased by lynch mobs to police stations because their lip balms were a bit too shiny. And then there are the songs. Whether it’s dancehall or reggae, it’s everywhere. We hear lyrics like ‘ba**y man fi ded’. Of course we’re terrified. Who wouldn’t be?

Because of that, we’ve learned from an early age to hide in the shadows. To put up masks and walls to keep away suspicion. We’ve trained ourselves to talk about women in the company of other straight men. We’ve created fake girlfriends and relationships to divert suspicion. We’ve practised looking at women on the street. We’ve learned to hide our secret lives in secret apps and hidden phones. Many of us have had sex with or even married women and had children, just to shift the doubts. We will even act homophobic ourselves, just so that others don’t get suspicious. Because the alternative is awful. It’s death. It’s losing your job, your family, your home.

There is often talk from religious groups about the LGBTQ+ community having a ‘gay agenda’. There is one – we want to be understood. We want to be accepted. We want to not live our lives in fear. We want to not be shamed or ridiculed or killed for a part of us we didn’t ask for, nor can we change. We want to be able to walk in peace without hearing our very friends and families talk about how people like us should die in a fire. We want to feel safe at school and at work and in doctors’ offices.

We want to feel safe going to the police for help. What we don’t want is to force ‘our way of life’ or ‘lifestyle’ on to other people. We don’t want to ‘corrupt your children’ or ‘try to turn straight men gay’. We just want to feel safe, and accepted, and loved and normal. Isn’t that what anyone would want?

BREAKS MY HEART

It breaks my heart to see such rampant homophobia in such a beautiful, diverse and awesome country. Out of many, one people. Isn’t that our motto? We have Indian teachers and Chinese shopowners and Rastafarian taxi men and women politicians and people from all walks of life living together. Why can’t we be included too? We’ve experienced first hand over 400 years of oppression and discrimination and disenfranchisement based on something we have no control over: the colour of our skin. So why are we turning around to do the exact same thing to our brothers and sisters? Why?

We’re not asking for much. All we’re asking for is to be treated like people, like humans. All we ask for is tolerance, dignity and respect. I know you won’t agree right away. One letter to the editor won’t change centuries of history and ingrained beliefs. But please, open your hearts, act with compassion and kindness and love. Please let us feel safe in the island we were born and raised in.

So I’m appealing to the leaders of this country, please repeal sections 76 and 77 of the Offences Against The Persons Act. I know those laws haven’t been enforced for decades and it would be more or less a symbolic gesture, but it’s a start. Show that you are willing to take a stance and fight for the rights of all Jamaican citizens. Show that you truly believe in Jamaica’s motto: Out of Many, One People.

* Name changed on request.

Send feedback to concerned_gay_citizen.resoothe@aleeas.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.