Make space for pariahs

Published: Thursday | August 1, 2013 Comments 0

By Jaevion Nelson

What on earth could 17-year-old Dwayne Jones, who was recently murdered in St James, have been thinking to have patronised a straight party in women's clothing? Besides, why would a male want to dress and be a woman?

Why would a cross-dresser think he would be safe in certain places? Certainly, the teen must have known Jamaica is homophobic and transphobic. Why couldn't Dwayne be satisfied with underground gay parties?

These are questions that have been posited by many of us - heterosexuals, homosexuals and transgender Jamaicans from all walks of life - when we learned on Monday, July 22 about the horrific incident where the teen was set upon by an angry mob the previous night.

I must admit I, too - in my shock and fear - am guilty for thinking Dwayne Jones should have known better, been more careful, and not gone to that party. Sadly, in that moment, I was complicit in the culture of violence where we blame the victim or survivor of injustice, abuse or violence for what happened to them.

It's just the same as saying a woman who was raped must have done something - smiled seductively or wore a very short skirt - to invite the assault. I even forgot that as a child, my friends and I took a whole lot of risks - our sense of insecurity was almost non-existent. So why did I expect that Dwayne would be any different than I was?

TRANSGENDER TEENS AT RISK

Dwayne is one of many teens who, according to Dr Diane Ehrensaft, a developmental and clinical psychologist, "face aspersion from a surrounding culture that attempts to impose prescriptions and proscriptions for 'appropriate' gender behaviour" because they are transgender or non-gender conforming.

A transgender person is someone whose gender differs from the one they were assigned at birth. There are many such Jamaicans, and daily - even when they are keeping their sexuality and gender identity to themselves - are harassed, misunderstood, turned out of their homes and communities, mistreated, denied jobs, etc.

This happens because many of us think that our gender is determined by our chromosomes, genitalia and hormone receptors, and it is, therefore, our 'responsibility' to keep people on the straight and narrow path of how a man or woman should walk, talk, and dress, and who they can love.

I say this to remind us that the teen by virtue of being 'different', not living (fully?) to the dictates of the gender assigned at birth and found on his/her birth certificate, was already in great danger whether or not he was at a party for heterosexuals. Persons like Dwayne go about their lives at even greater risks than a gay, lesbian or bisexual man or woman who might be in a better position to hide their sexuality.

A BETTER JAMAICA

Dwayne Jones, also known as 'Gully Queen', who grew up in Paradise Row in Montego Bay, St James, is one of several lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who are forced to live and work on the streets, voluntarily or involuntarily, to avoid persecution in their home and community.

Sometimes the street is more accommodating and is more comfortable than being disregarded in your own home. Who would ever want that? Dwayne could have easily been one of the so-called 'errant gays' torturing the hell out of people in upscale Kingston and St Andrew communities.

The Government, through the minister of justice, must be commended for condemning this incident and encouraging the pursuit of justice by the authorities. Likewise, individual Jamaicans and civil society must be acknowledged for speaking out.

Every person - gay or straight or transgender - is valuable and has potential to be a productive citizen, but they can't do so if we continue to treat them with hostility.

As Kartel said in his book, "The only way we can have a better Jamaica is if we spend the time learning from each other." We all have to be willing to speak out about injustices of any kind. We have to be willing to embrace everyone - rich or poor, gay or straight; educated or uneducated, Christian or non-Christian; male, female or transgender. We must commit to rebuilding this great nation on the principles of inclusivity, love, equality and respect with no distinctions whatsoever.

May Dwayne Jones' soul rest in peace, and I hope the teen's friends and family will get the justice they deserve.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.


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