LGBTQIA - the new sex alphabet

Published: Sunday | December 15, 2013 Comments 0

Carolyn Cooper, Contributor

If you think there are only two genders, you're not living in the 21st century. You're stuck in the dark ages, at the very beginning of time, in the Book of Genesis, King James Version: "Male and female created he them." That was then. These days, gender is much more complicated. It comes in multiples.

Even if you swear by the Bible, you have to consider the possibility that, just like the Trinity, some people are two, three and more identities in one. And that's completely natural, if not normal.

What if the divine declaration in the Book of Genesis actually means that every human being is both 'male' and 'female', in various proportions? This is what Genesis 1:27 says: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." I don't know Hebrew - neither ancient nor modern - so I have no idea of the meaning of this verse in the original language. In the 17th-century English version, authorised by King James, it sounds as if God is both male and female, even though the male pronoun is used to describe 'him'. And the 'man' that s/he created in his/her image is not only male but female as well. What a prekeh!

There's a completely different account of the origin of human beings in Genesis 2:7: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." God gave man the job of keeping up the garden, but that wasn't enough to occupy him. So God decided to create "an help meet (fit) for him". Surprisingly, God didn't immediately think of making woman as a companion for man. At first, s/he created beasts and birds to entertain man. But that didn't work.

So God performed surgery on man, took out a rib, and made woman. This story is clearly a male fantasy. Everybody knows that men come out of the bodies of women. Even the most patriarchal of men know the basic facts of human biology. So who would make up a story like this in which woman comes out of the body of man? Insecure men who can't cope with powerful women. As Louise Bennett put it so wittily in her poem, 'Jamaica Oman', "While man a call her 'so-so rib'/Oman a tun backbone."


LGBTQIA. If you're still in the Garden of Eden and haven't yet eaten the fruit of sexual knowledge, you probably aren't aware of what all these letters stand for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, questioning, intersex and asexual/allies. I must confess I only recently discovered the QIA bit of the acronym when I was invited to speak at a workshop on sexual diversity that was held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, earlier this month. I did wonder if 'questioning' really is a distinct gender/sexual identity. It sounds more like a state of general confusion. And 'allies' is definitely not a fixed position. Allies come and go, depending on the politics of the moment.

In fact, I turned out to be not such a good ally after all. The invitation to speak came with 'notes' on the workshop. And, surprisingly, right up there was the usual derogatory stereotype: "Jamaica has always had the reputation of being the most homophobic place ... ." In this open-ended statement, our terrible reputation isn't even limited to Earth! It seems as if Jamaica is the most homophobic place in the entire universe. And from time immemorial! Though the whole point of the workshop was to challenge stereotype, I thought it most unfortunate that the conversation was introduced in this inflammatory way.

Time magazine is largely responsible for spreading this pathological image of Jamaica far and wide. On April 12, 2006, it published an article by Tim Padgett with the screaming headline, 'The Most Homophobic Place On Earth?' Padgett's cautious question mark quickly gets deleted in the body of the article. The interrogative mood becomes combatively declarative: "Though familiar to Americans primarily as a laid-back beach destination, Jamaica is hardly idyllic. The country has the world's highest murder rate. And its rampant violence against gays and lesbians has prompted human-rights groups to confer another ugly distinction: the most homophobic place on earth."


This murderous 'distinction' is not only ugly; it's dubious. It is true that wicked acts of violence are sometimes committed against LGBTQIA people in Jamaica. But these random acts of mob violence are vigorously condemned by the majority of Jamaicans. And even those who say they hate the sin but love the sinner know that hate crimes are evil and cannot be condoned.

Admittedly, it's not enough to verbally condemn hate crimes. Passivity is a form of complicity. Collective action must be taken to ensure that Jamaica becomes a much safer place for all people. The Jamaican Constitution must protect the human rights of all Jamaicans, irrespective of which letters of the alphabet they claim to mark their identity.

Then it struck me that the expansion of the acronym LGBT by three letters creates a perfect parallel to the first line of the famous alphabet song that was widely popularised on 'Sesame Street'. The melody has been around for a couple of centuries, with different lyrics here and there: "Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?" and "Twinkle, twinkle little star".

I can't help wondering if all these modern sexual identities aren't just as fundamental and arbitrary as ABC. And will children soon be lustily singing LGBTQIA in and out of school? That's not such a far cry from a bi-gender, three-in-one God of the Old Testament who made 'man' in his/her image.

Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at Email feedback to and

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