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To Kill a Cross-dresser - Jamaica flirts with Jim Crow

Published:Sunday | September 1, 2013 | 12:00 AM
A male cross-dresser all dolled up in lace at a party in Discovery Bay, St Ann, in July 2012. - File

Newton D. Duncan , Guest Columnist

Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. - (Devotions on emergent occasions No.17 - John Donne 1624)

'To Kill a Mockingbird' is the title of a 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. The novel captures the ignominy of white-against-black prejudice in the first half of the 20th century. The story is a tale on the link between ignorance and wickedness; ignorance that spawns intolerance and snuffs out innocent life.

In the book, the mob lynching of a black prisoner wrongly accused of raping a poor ignorant white woman is tantamount to killing a mocking bird - a harmless bird that does nothing but sings.

To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in Jim Crow America; the Southern United States between 1886 and 1964. A system of laws then enforced the segregation of blacks and whites. State-sponsored injustice gave whites impunity to lynch blacks.

Jamaica wrote its own mockingbird story with the mob lynching of Dwayne Jones, a 17-year-old male cross-dresser who made the fatal mistake of publicly attending a dance with his partner. Harper Lee's reflective line to each reader, 'Remember it is a sin to kill a mockingbird', is as apt for bloodthirsty Jamaica as it was for Jim Crow USA.

There have been other acts of violence against cross-dressers since the killing of Dwayne Jones on July 22, 2013. On August 14, THE STAR reported that police were called to rescue a cross- dresser on Portmore Drive, St Catherine, after he was chased to that location by an angry crowd. Reinforcements had to be called in because the mob was intent on harming the cross-dresser.

To the overwhelming majority of Jamaicans, cross-dressers are homosexuals who deserve the full wrath of the righteous. Some express dismay that a cross-dresser, knowing the homophobic culture of dancehall, would risk death by attending such an event. Truth is, the motivation to cross-dress by many who do so is usually overwhelming. Further, we must not forget: Dwayne Jones, at 17, was still a child, who would have been prone to drives that are foolish and against better judgement.

A homosexual is someone who is sexually and romantically attracted to another person of the same sex. Cross-dressers simply are persons who wear the clothes of the opposite sex for part of the time. It is a known fact that the majority of cross-dressers are not homosexuals.

Gender role-playing

In fact, an early definition of transvestites (a derogatory term used interchangeably) presumed heterosexuality. The term transvestite implies a sexual motive or fetish to cross-dressing and, as such, is deficient because the majority of cross-dressers have no sexual motivation for their behaviour.

A male cross-dresser assumes the gender role of a female for a time but reverts to his male role at other times. Some do so because they are acutely aware of themselves (though male) having a feminine side and they cross-dress to act out that feminine side. Many heterosexual men find more socially acceptable and less obvious ways to manifest their feminine side, such as wearing of earrings (favoured by macho sports stars and TV presenters), wearing ponytails and the shaving of eyebrows. These are feminine gender statements.

Cross-dressing represents only the extreme end of the spectrum of feminine gender role-playing by males. We all are aware of effeminate boys who talk and act that way but are definitely heterosexual, even as some may be homosexual. In short, humans have male and female hormones. They share the X chromosome and males express a feminine side to a greater or lesser degree.

The act of cross-dressing has become a global topic recently. Chris Beck, elite Navy Seal, was featured on BBC after serving 20 years in the US military. Married twice with children, his very personal secret was the wearing of women's clothes because he always felt himself to be a female born in a man's body. Chris' gender identity (sexual perception of oneself) as female is opposite to his body anatomy.

Gender dysphoria

This state of discordance between gender identity and body anatomy is called gender dysphoria, and leads some cross-dressers to seek out sex-change operations and, in so doing, become transsexuals. If one is forced to live in contradiction to one's gender identity, psychiatric problems such as depression and suicide may result. Homosexuals who cross-dress are in the minority. One reason for such behaviour by homosexuals is the desire to play a passive partner role in their homosexual relationship.

The word that repeats itself in all matters to do with human sexuality is 'gender', to which there are three aspects: gender identity (the sex in which we each have our self-image); gender role (how we present ourselves in speech, dress and gesture); and sexual orientation (homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual). With respect to gender in any individual, there can be variation in each aspect resulting in gender compositions in a population that are quite diverse.

Moral judgements on homosexuality hinges on this being a chosen lifestyle rather than a biological determination. Not many, however, are able to recall the particular point in their lives when they made a conscious choice to be sexually aroused by one sex rather than the other. Moral judgements are also predicated on a view of sex as two polar opposites; a male sex and a female sex, placed on earth to multiply.

There is, however, considerable variation in humans with respect to sex. This reality presents itself to physicians who, not infrequently, are called upon to assign a sex to a child whose sex organ is neither a penis nor a vagina. One must assign a sex of rearing for this child.

In these uncertain cases, assigning one of the two accepted sex types (male or female) during infancy is an important social emergency. This child's internal sex organs may consist of either testis (male) or ovary (female), or a mixture of both. Where a mixture exists, that child is neither male nor female but falls in-between. There may be significant variation in the child's genetic sex, including XX (genetic female), XY (genetic male) or a wide variety of possibilities in-between including XYY, XXY, XXYY and XXXYY.

Assigning a sex to a newborn can become problematic, particularly after puberty. Success in sex assignment depends on whether the sex one assigns is in keeping with the child's gender identity, a characteristic that is fixed, though unknown at birth. The sexual ambiguity of these intersex children and their unpredictable gender makeup preclude moral judgements on their sexual behaviour.

In short, humans manifest wide variation in sex, gender role, gender identity and sexual orientation. Although the vast majority of persons are gender conforming and are at opposite ends of the gender spectrum, approximately 10 per cent of mankind are gender non-conforming (lesbians, gays, cross-dressers, bisexuals, transgender) persons and should not be treated as people who brought this situation on themselves.

Tolerance of individual differences is not natural to mankind. Tolerance grows in an environment of empathy, education and civilisation. Variation exists in all aspects of life, and human sexuality is not spared. Diversity is the first law of creation.

Haiti recently lynched two gay individuals in the midst of a religious rally. Jamaica, by adopting Jim Crow tactics against gender non-conforming persons, joined Haiti along a dark road that leads to an unknown destination.

Newton D. Duncan is professor of paediatric surgery and head of Department of Surgery, Radiology, Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, UWI, Mona. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and newton.duncan@uwimona.edu.jm.