By Carolyn Cooper
I recently got a provocative email from one of my friends who lives in Jamaica:
Heterosexuals Will No Longer Be Silenced
Fight For The Freedom Of Speech Right of All Heterosexuals
Straight And Proud
Don't Allow Heterophobics To Systematically Remove Your Rights.
This is a classic illustration of the inflammatory meaning of the relatively new word 'heterophobia'. According to Rational Wiki, "The term implies that, rather than reacting to anti-gay rhetoric, homosexuals and gay-rights advocates are, in fact, speaking out against heterosexuality and heterosexuals. This phraseology attempts to equate the fight against bigotry with bigotry itself."
In response to my friend's perplexing email, I shared my own definition of heterophobia which I'd elaborated in my book Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large, published almost a decade ago: "I coin the term 'heterophobia' as a politically neutral label for a whole range of anxieties that plague all peoples in all cultures: phobias that are reducible to the singular fear of difference. Differences of race, ethnicity, gender, class, age and sexual orientation all generate phobias."
I proposed, "'Heterophobia' is not the straight 'opposite' of homophobia; it is an inclusive, generic designation whose multiple applications incorporate the current definitions of homophobia. Heterophobia goes straight to the heart of the problem of cultural difference." My expansive definition of heterophobia obviously challenges the current, derogatory meaning of the word.
I haven't been able to find an exact date for the first use of the term. I certainly wasn't aware of its existence in popular discourse on sexual identity more than a decade ago when I was thinking through the subject. In any case, whether or not I did coin the contentious term, I'd certainly like to make a claim for the superiority of my own inclusive definition.
TURNING JAMAICA INTO A THEOCRACY
The emergence of the term 'heterophobia' in Jamaica, in the much more limited and exclusively sexual sense of the word, seems to be a sign of the unsettling transformation our society is struggling to accommodate. As public debate on the sexually repressive culture of fundamentalist Christianity becomes more nuanced, self-righteous defenders of the faith increasingly close ranks in a futile attempt to turn Jamaica into a theocracy.
It is true that Jamaica boasts more churches per square mile than any other country in the world. But that high density of holy buildings has not stopped us, on occasion, from earning the ungodly reputation as the murder capital of the world. What we preach is clearly not what we practise. And, in a most peculiar way, this is particularly true of our public pronouncements on homosexuality. I am convinced that some of the most noisy advocates of maintaining the buggery law have a quite different private agenda.
And I don't mean that they, themselves, are homosexual. Quite the opposite! I think many heterosexuals in Jamaica feel obliged to take the party line in public, even if they have private doubts. It's just like tribal politics. If you are a hard-core Labourite or a diehard Comrade, you don't ask any questions. You just follow the leader. That is, if you have a leader. Otherwise, you simply go with the crowd. It's the herding instinct.
That same mentality is evident in religious organisations. For example, there are so many instances in the Bible where believers are compared to sheep. Psalm 23 is a classic case: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." I know the Bible was, originally, the sacred book of a sheep-rearing culture. So it's quite understandable that obedience to God's will was conceived in this sheepish way.
All the same, even as I child, I wasn't a very good grazer. I used to have lively debates with my pastors, or shepherds, to give them their rightful name. 'Pastor' is actually the Latin word for shepherd. In our local religion, Pocomania, or more correctly, Pukumina, the leader of the flock is called shepherd, for good reason.
These days, more and more pastors are realising that it's not an easy job to turn intelligent adults into meek lambs. But that doesn't stop some stubborn shepherds from trying. They believe it's their sacred duty to search far and wide for straying sheep and bring them back into the fold.
SAVING HOMOSEXUAL SHEEP
"Jesus is the answer for homosexuals." That was the message on a placard carried by the Reverend Dr Donald Stewart, pastor of the Portmore Lane Covenant Community Church. He was campaigning outside the Sovereign Centre cinema, Palace Cineplex, in 2006 where the movie Brokeback Mountain was being screened. But what was the question? I guess Rev Stewart would say it's, "Who will cure homosexuals of their disease?"
More recently, Senior Gleaner writer Erica Virtue quotes Rev Stewart in an article published on August 25: "Somebody must stand up to homosexuals." I don't suppose the goodly reverend intended a pun on standing up. But it's a lovely Freudian slip. Upstanding Pastor Stewart is relentlessly fighting the good fight to save homosexual sheep. But his militancy is not likely to entice any converts.
Shepherd Stewart himself seems to concede that it's now looking like a lost cause. This is how he puts it in that Gleaner article: "The Church, like the wider society, is confused on the issue, and there are reasons for that. The church leaders themselves, and speaking as a pastor myself, have not been very clear in our understanding of the issues . ... Many times we are more bent on reacting to what we hear about homosexuals. But the same turmoil that is being demonstrated in the society on the issue is the same turmoil that is in the Church."
What Pastor Stewart conceives as "turmoil" is, for me, a clear sign of a cultural revolution taking place in Jamaica. Antiquated Old Testament doctrines are being systematically undermined in the 21st century. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays has taken the lead in pushing the society to move beyond heterophobia.
It was Jesus himself who said, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." I speculate that Jesus' fold is far more inclusive than Pastor Stewart's sheep pen.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.