Dressed for murder

Published: Sunday | August 4, 2013 Comments 0

DWAYNE JONES probably thought he was dressed to kill when he stepped out to that fateful dance. He couldn't have known he was going to be the prey. But he must have realised he was making a risky fashion statement. After all, the dance was taking place just outside 'Gyal-tego' Bay.

That's the new name for Montego Bay in the twisted vocabulary of super-sensitive Jamaican males. And Mandeville is now 'Gyal-deville'. It's not a joke. It's a very serious matter. Sexually insecure men are so fearful of appearing to be homosexual that they cannot go into a 'man' town or city. Only gyal.

It's the same 'reason' bad man don't eat guinep. Dem don't suck seed. And, despite all the bravado, they don't succeed in hiding their weakness. If you have to go to such extremes to reassure yourself that you are a real-real man, something must be fundamentally wrong.

It's the fear of being tainted by homosexuality that drives irrational males to commit acts of violence against so-called sexual deviants. In Jamaica, even cross-dressing is seen as a provocative sign of other crosses. But most male cross-dressers are not homosexual. And both men and women cross-dress for a variety of reasons. It should be nobody's business but their own.

ABOMINABLE FASHION

The diabolical mob that murdered Dwayne Jones must have been made up of men and women who believe that cross-dressing is sinful behaviour. The Bible is to blame. Deuteronomy 22:5 declares: "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."

The problem with applying the abomination rule to fashion is the indisputable fact that there is no universal standard of male and female dress. Gendered dress styles vary across cultures. In some parts of the world, men wear kilts and sarongs. They may look like skirts. But they are not 'female' dress. Many Fundamentalist Christian women don't wear pants because that "pertaineth unto a man". I suppose these pious women do wear underpants. Not to do so would certainly be an abomination.

The word 'abomination' turns up a lot in the Bible. But it's not only homosexuality and cross-dressing that are abominations. There are lots of other sins that self-righteous fanatics conveniently forget. Adultery is an abomination. But if we were to stone adulterers to death in Jamaica, there would hardly be any of us left.

Proverbs 6:16-19 gives a long list of abominations that includes shedding innocent blood: "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren". That primitive mob outside 'Gyal-tego' Bay was clearly very selective about their abominations. Their feet swiftly ran to mischief, shedding Dwyane's innocent blood.

CARIBBEAN FASHION WEEK

Most of us are much more sophisticated than those anonymous murderers. Take, for instance, the patrons at Caribbean Fashion Week. For the last several years, two male cross-dressers come to the event and no one would think of attacking them. In fact, I've seen other patrons taking pictures with them. They are part of the fashion scene.

The only judgemental response to them I've gotten is from a woman who heard one of them in the women's restroom asking for toilet paper. "Fi wipe wa?", she wondered. We have a wicked way of getting right down to the nitty-gritty. I did laugh at the observation. But laughter is a far cry from murder.

Fashion is often about transgressing boundaries. It's about role play. In 2009, the Trinidadian designer Claudia Pegus stirred up quite a bit of excitement at Caribbean Fashion Week. All her models wore masks. At the end of the set, one of the female models returned to the stage and unmasked. She was actually a male cross-dresser. In an article in The Gleaner, published on June 16, 2009, the reporter noted the "awe" and "in some cases disgust" that the male model's performance of female identity had provoked.

Some Jamaicans may be uncom-fortable with this kind of masquerade. But Trinidad and Tobago is the land of mas. On Carnival Monday, cross-dressing men use pillows to create big buttocks and breasts. They wear wigs and dresses. It's all playful. It's not about an identity crisis. Men play women and women play men. And they even play themselves.

JONKUNNU CROSS-DRESSING

We don't have to go all the way to Trinidad and Tobago to appreciate the arts of role play. We have our own forms of traditional masquerade and cross-dressing. Just think about jonkunnu. The Bellywoman character is usually a man dressed as a pregnant woman. And she gets a lot of laughs as she jiggles her fake belly while dancing.

There was a time when jonkunnu maquerades were seen as an abomination. They were vulgar and sinful. In 1841, the Mayor of Kingston banned the 'John Canoe' parade - as the word was then spelled. The current spelling acknowledges the African elements in the ritual. The banning of the parade caused a riot. Angry revellers clashed with the Militia and the Mayor had to run for cover. He was forced to retreat to a ship in Kingston Harbour.

It's a real tragedy that Dwayne Jones wasn't so lucky. There was no place of safety for him in 'Gyal-tego' Bay. A 17-year-old child was slaughtered because he was only trying to play himself. His murderers must be brought to justice.

A mob is made up of individuals who choose to suspend responsibility for their actions. As a society, we cannot afford to follow suit. In this season, as we celebrate Emancipation and Independence, we must liberate ourselves from those biblical 'abominations' that threaten to turn us all into truly abominable brutes.

Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com/. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.

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