Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Revisiting My Ugly Reaction

In an earlier entry, I shared my ugly and hateful reaction to a phone call that I received from a colleague who I thought was gay.

Also, I have been wondering why it is that the label "homophobic" just does not seem to ring true here in Jamaica, whereas in the US I could more readily see why it made sense.

I believe that there is a connection between my Ugly Reaction entry, and the label.


The label "homophobia" implies to the listener that what is at work is a fear of gays, or homosexuality. The average Jamaican man would admit to no such feelings: "star, mi nuh 'fraid of dem man deh at all!"

Today, as I was cleaning my bike in the front yard, I overheard a 'ruptions in the open lot next-door. Several taxis park there, waiting for fares.

It is not unusual to overhear heated arguments in Jamaica that sound as if they are about to turn into immediate bloodshed. They do not (of course) but the effect is still felt on the nerves.

I could tell from the conversation that it was escalating, and that at some point I realized that I knew that I knew something about what was coming next -- that one person would accuse the other or "being a battyman" (the worst epithet for being gay.) Sure enough, it came out loud right over the fence.

It struck me a moment later that the particular kind of homo-related phobia that we have in Jamaica is not of gays themselves, but is instead of "being called gay."

Being called gay in Jamaica is one of the worst things that someone can be accused of.

Accusations can have dire consequences in this country. Lynchings happen from time to time, and less than a mile from my home a man was lynched after he attacked an employee at the tax office. The police only showed up when he was dead.

A thief, once accused and caught, can lose their life on the spot. So can a murderer, a thief and a rapist. And, according to different news reports, so can a homosexual.

So this is not homophobia (unless it is to be understood in the abstract psychological sense.) Instead it is more akin to character assassination, and is driven by a fear of rejection and isolation. Furthermore, it is a fear that is shared by every single Jamaican, whether they are gay or not, because behind the accusation is an intent to attack and do harm. It really is another form of violence.

I think I'll call this fear "homo-name-a-phobia" -- a deep and powerful fear of being accused of being homosexual.

2 Comments:

At 7/21/2006 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi --

Actually, feeling belittled and insulted for being called a "battyman" is one of the best examples you could offer of how homophobia and sexism work even in Jamaican society. That is, being called a name that is assumed to describe a "lower status of man", someone who is not a "true man" and who, in many ways, is perceived as "closer to a woman" will certainly generate feelings of hostility in men who already hinge their entire sense of self on their heterosexual reputation - whether earned or not - and sexual prowess with women, and think that looking and acting like a "real man" is driven by an aggressive and insecure heterosexuality, and a profound distaste for femininity -- woman is to be admired, etc. etc. from afar, but not so much that one identifies with her.

Among the many Jamaican men I know, with the exception of my father, more of the gay men than heterosexual men qualify as "real men". Why? Because they do not insult someone's integrity or identity in public or private; they do not participate in the violent, exploitative, self-aggrandizing behaviors that most Jamaican men I know and encounter seem to participate in; they don't see women as "things" and "objects" to be scoped, groped, and belittled even in a joke; and they have a profound sense of ethics and responsibility to others first, and see themselves as accountable to others first and foremost. I so wish that more Jamaican men were like them, that I see them as role models for my son -- yes, and if my son decides to claim a gay identity, that's a bonus. Too many of us as Jamaicans forgo the responsibility of learning to think and imagine for ourselves, and depend on some vague notion of "culture" with no clue about how such cultural values are really useful or productive in any way.

In a way, it is up to straight men like yourself to take the sting out of being called a "battyman" by making it clear that this is not the worst insult one could level at you; indeed, that they see it as an insult says more about them than it does about you. Next time, try leaving them with something to think about, instead of confirming the chupidness and leaving it in place so that someone else can be assaulted and harmed in ways that you could not imagine.

It is these kinds of individual acts that make a difference - I know that because I do it everyday, and I can see the positive effects on the people I interact with.

 
At 7/08/2007 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow this was a good entry. i realize presently that people hate to be called gay. being a closet homosexual i often wondered why heterosexual men think it the worst insult to call someone else gay. it seems completely ridiculous, but most insults are. i recognize the insight you have of homosexual men,the traits and characteristics that some of homosexual men have are very similar to my own, and to hear it recognized in someone else made me like this article alot. thanks

 

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