Open Letter to Beenie Man
October 12, 2007
My [very long] version of a civil tongue lashing… I intended to send this to the Gleaner or Observer but never did. Not that I think they would print it. Quite honestly, I don’t think BM would understand much of what this letter says. However, I also think that noone should be able to make these kinds of inaccurate, incendiary and downright stupid claims in a public venue without being challenged.
August 31, 2006
Dear Mr. Davis/Beenie Man:
The following was excerpted from “I’m not homophobic” The Independent, London, August 11, 2006.
“Jamaica is not against gay people. Gay means consented sex. What we have in Jamaica is not what it is in England were two men live together. That’s not it in Jamaica and these people [gay activists who protest my music] fail to understand that. In Jamaica, gay is rape. It’s a big man with their money going into the ghetto and picking these little youth who ain’t got nothing. And then give them money and then involving them. There were 550 youths who got raped inna Jamaica you know? And nobody seems to speak of that. Nobody sees the youth get raped and throat cut because the man who raped him, he knows him, and he doesn’t want him to go back and say he did it. And these things still happening.” […]
“People need to understand this,” he sighs. “I’m a Rastafarian. And I believe in the Bible. I know that if a man sleeps with another man, life ceases to exist because a man cannot breed. Woman to woman can’t make no kids. But I’m not fighting against gay and lesbian life. As a man, you don’t like to see two men together, you find it disgusting. But that’s their life. To you it’s disgusting, but to them it’s happy. That’s why they call themselves gay, they are happy people. They are happy with their life and they’re doing their thing. So it’s not for you to come and make these people feel sad and unhappy. And dancehall music never set out to do that because people are people. When I see a gay man, I see a man.”
[…] “Because my ting is my ting,” he says, firmly. “I have my foundation, the Beenie Man Foundation for Troubled Youth. And 95 per cent of these kids are boys that have been sexually molested by elder people. So what are we going to do? We need help from the gay community, too. Because if they support all these things, they’re not supporting life.”
In the interest of encouraging informed discussions that include as many persons as possible, I am writing an open letter to you. I felt that it was important to respond to your recent statement as reported in The Independent and elsewhere, and to directly challenge much of what you have said about homosexuality in Jamaica for its inaccuracies, unspoken assumptions, and misleading conclusions, all of which ultimately create more problems and confusion than they resolve.
For the past few years, I have been paying close attention to the various international protests against the anti-homosexual lyrics in your (and other musicians’) songs, as well as to the responses of the artists and listening public in both the US and Jamaica. But I also write as a Jamaican who is quite disheartened and saddened by the stale, uninformed discussions about sexuality that pervade all aspects of Jamaican society – from the university to the street. After all, it is not just you and your contemporaries in the music industry who espouse and act on these problematic views about sexuality. Much of the general population – regardless of their educational or social status – share all or part of your views. One just has to read the daily newspaper and listen to the radio and daily conversations to recognize the patterns of erroneous thinking. In my view, discussions about sexuality among Jamaicans must be honest, based on solid evidence rather than personal experience and hearsay. Above all, it does not help us when the more self-righteous and powerful among us act as gatekeepers, by imposing their views through the media and various platforms, actively using their power and influence to marginalize or silence the diverse voices and experiences of Jamaicans.
On several occasions in recent months, I have read or heard you make reference to the sexual exploitation of Jamaican children by Jamaican men, and heard you suggest that the wrongness of homosexuality is related to such abuse of children. In each successive statement on this issue, you have become more passionate in your critique, offering more details that suggest that you have personal knowledge and insight into these issues.
While your public statement condemning the sexual exploitation of children, and particularly boys is commendable in some ways, your motivations and ultimate goals are not quite so noble.
To the extent that you are showing good faith in raising the issue of sexual exploitation of children, you are also drawing attention to a problem — Jamaican men’s unregulated sexual access to those who have less power than them, i.e. women and younger persons — that you would rather deny.
What appears to be missing from your public statements then, is a thoughtful and careful approach to understanding the problem, accurate information, and a useful framework for how we can mobilize as Jamaicans to address the epidemic of sexual violence in our society.
Firstly, it seems important to clarify a few things for you. You state that “In Jamaica, gay is rape” which suggests that consensual sex between men is not possible in Jamaica. That is a grossly inaccurate statement. Simply because Jamaica’s archaic legislation criminalizes homosexual activity does not mean that men (and women) will not find ways to express their desire for each other in ways that are mutually satisfactory to them.
Nor does the existence of this colonial-era legislation mean that such a law is just and deserving to exist. The sodomy laws, in which you and many take such comfort, were devised by British colonial authorities who were also responsible for the governance of slave-holding societies they had created in their colonies in the West Indies. Yes, Jamaica was one of those colonies. So, it is rather interesting to me that you, of your avowed Rastafarian faith, would endorse cultural values and legal practices that were so central to colonial domination and exploitation of peoples of African descent.
How can this be, many might ask? Is it because you did not know the origin of this law that you now so vigorously defend? Or is it because it convenient to you to rely on the law in this instance, while you gladly dismiss it in other situations?
Lately Jamaicans like yourself have also taken the existence of the sodomy laws as permission to incite and to inflict harm against homosexual people, with the avid cooperation of national political leaders. And yet, any thinking person would question why and in whose interests would such laws be created, and what purpose it served then, and now. And when homosexual sex between men (and between women) is not recognized legally as “sex”, any thinking person would want to understand why the current government, which we claim to be a democratic one, would want to impose rules about how adults should conduct themselves sexually, with each other, in private.
Secondly, you seem to be conflating pederasty/pedophilia – sexual relationships between adult (often men) and children — and homosexual sex. Again, a convenient argument for people who are looking to justify their intolerance for sexual diversity, to confuse the issue and to suggest that our children (you know, the ones we don’t educate, physically abuse, throw out on the street, and treat with utter disrespect) are in danger from these perverts.
Perhaps it is natural for you to think of homosexuality and pederasty as one and the same; that way, your obvious disgust for one – pedophilia – can be easily and fully translated into hostility towards the other – homosexuality. However, it would be worth your while, and save you some embarrassment, if you decided to investigate issues before you make such public declarations. In fact, one has little to do with the other. The majority of pederasty and other forms of pedophilic relationships are initiated by men whose primary sexual relationships are with women. Does that mean that are all or most heterosexual men like yourself are closet pedophiles? I don’t know the answer to that – I doubt it — but I suspect that’s not your point, since such a conclusion would implicate you as well.
For your information, pederasty might include relationships between adult men and boys; these have certainly been well documented across history and in various societies. But they don’t always or only involve men and boys; sometimes, adult women also have sexual relationships with girls and with boys. These relationships are often regulated in some form, whether through cultural values, laws that define the “age of consent” and define what “consensual sex” is and is not, defining what is “statutory rape”, etc.
Homosexual sex, which is frequently the target of your hatred and venom, includes relationships between consenting adult men and women, respectively, and between consenting boys and girls, respectively. Social attitudes towards these relationships depend on the political, cultural or historical context, and often change over time. For example, while sex between two consenting men might be legal in a given country or cultural group, sex between an adult man and a boy-child might not be. This is because the law or the cultural norms might say that sex should only happen between people of the same generation, or only under certain conditions (e.g. as first sexual experience, when both parties are not married to others, etc).
Or, consensual homosexual sex between men might be legal, but if they are imprisoned, the law often presumes that no person who is incarcerated can really consent to anything freely. In that case, sex between men in prisons is often punished, ignored, or, in an otherwise homophobic society, treated as a form of punishment. Or, like the situation in Jamaica, random persons like yourself, prison guards or mobs might use an archaic law as justification to kill, maim, and terrorize others who are different from them, to support ideas that they haven’t really given much thought to, but which they somehow feel are “right” and “part of their culture.” Throughout world history, the most heinous acts against persons have been committed according to this principle of expunging those who are different.
For you, based on your beliefs, any homosexual sex between men or between boys is unacceptable and can only be forced, not consensual. Although based on questionable assumptions and no evidence, this is your opinion. However, that does not make your position legitimate or equivalent to other opinions that are based on evidence and knowledge, rather than belief. In my view all women, girls, parents of girls in Jamaica should be up in arms, demanding an end to this insidous kind of discrimination and oppression. But are they? No, because too many are dissuaded by popular entertainers like yourself from focusing on the important issue — the epidemic of sexual violation — and to focus on a group that seems to be the nation’s scapegoat — homosexual men.
In Jamaica, there is tacit acceptance for sexual relationships across generations, especially between men and girls. If there wasn’t, few men would be allowed to live happily ever after when they have violated somebody’s girl-child. More typically, that man is mostly called “baby father” rather than “rapist” or “pedophile”. In my view, the latter is often more accurate. Today, the issue of “age of consent” is often interpreted/assumed to concern the age at which adult men can have sex with girls without fear of getting into trouble with the law. This violation takes place in broad daylight everyday, especially on schooldays, and to date, you have had nothing to say. There is no explicit social sanction against boys having sex with girls or boys of any age, which leave school-age girls subject to the sexual assault of their peers, often under the noses of their teachers. If reported as a crime, and that is highly unlikely, adult men having sex with girls below the age of consent can (but probably won’t) be charged with “carnal abuse”. Boys are simply ignored. More typically, these issues only come to light when there is a major scandal, and usually, it is the girl who is chastised, even by the very authorities whose job it is to protect children from such abuse.
But, because homosexual sex between men is so heavily stigmatized, men having sex with boys is treated first, as a matter of the evidence of the ‘perversity’ of homosexuality, and secondly as a question of sex with a minor. So, according to persons like yourself, it is not possible for a boy to consent to sex with another boy, nor is it necessary for that man to be punished for violating that child. Rather, he is to be punished for violating that male child. This is a double standard that does a great disservice and harm to both boys and girls, while allowing adult men to conduct themselves as they wish.
Most Jamaicans like yourself, whether or not they approve of men “troubling” little girls, rarely seem to demand direct legal or social intervention by parents, communities, social workers, etc. or want to make great speeches on international stages. In fact, rarely do men like yourself have anything critical to say about these most glaring forms of sexual exploitation which work in men’s favour. Even your music reflects this. I wonder why?
Thirdly, you claim that you are aware of the silence concerning the rape of young boys in Jamaica. However, you completely ignore how your – as well as other social figures, leaders and opinion-makers – rigid and uncritical stance about homosexuality make that silencing possible and keep it going, much to the detriment of everyone. In the social climate that you and others of similar minds continue to create, few persons will raise the issue about the sexual exploitation of boys as a problem in its own right. In fact, many policymakers and members of the public, like you, would rather deny those boys’ experiences, or focus almost exclusively on the notion that they were raped by a man and “what a shame” that it is, and to call for the systematic expulsion of homosexual men from the society. In a completely selfish move, you [and many others] would prefer to use the pain of boy-children to justify your own insecurity and ignorance, rather than give attention to the fact that their person/soul/body/spirit was violated by an adult who should have been protecting them. That is the real crime and the problem that must be addressed.
Persons who are in the position to advocate for children also have not made it an issue because they, just like you, can’t really see the trees because they are so completely engulfed in the forest of ignorance and misinformation. They too have internalized these problematic ideas about homosexuality being wrong, etc. etc. and that if a boy-child has been sexually assaulted that he is going to “turn out gay” and that he is not going to be a “real man”. The goal then is to get the right psychiatrist, pastor, social worker to “turn him right”. That child’s fears and poor mental health are being created and reinforced by the misinformation about sexuality that is constantly being fed in schools, churches, homes, and via musicians like yourself. If the message is so clear that having sex with a man makes one homosexual, and that homosexuality is wrong and is a crime punishable by death, then what are boy-children, who are being raped and exploited everyday in the circumstances you describe, to think of themselves and their sexuality when you sing these lyrics? Who are they to turn to? How can they become whole again when you help to make it impossible to do so?
Fourthly, most of the ‘big men’ who you claim are sexually exploiting inner-city boys may be homosexual, but they do not necessarily identify themselves with a(ny) gay community. In fact, they are acting exactly as many “uptown” heterosexual men do with “downtown” girls; after all, homosexual men are the products of the same society and its sexual norms. However, I suspect that your focus isn’t really on the social causes of men’s sexual behaviors, but on demonizing a larger community. For example, it is curious that you don’t hold all heterosexual men responsible for what your colleagues such as Jah Cure have done. What if we as your listening audience decided to conduct a witch-hunt against all heterosexual DJ’s, because we believed them to be vicious beasts whose sole purpose was to rape, assault and dehumanize Jamaican women? You are right – it sounds ridiculous, but only because it has become far easier for us to accept the violence and disrespect committed against women, when the very perpetrators themselves – most of whom are men like yourself – are the ones telling us what to think. If you are willing to treat women in this fashion, then why wouldn’t you be willing to use the little privilege that you have to justify the symbolic and literal slaughter of men and women who you don’t even know?
Fifthly, in your treatment of the recent data on rape, you report that 550 youth (I presume you mean boys, although “youth” come in at least two genders) were raped; you did not say what time period these numbers reflect, or acknowledge the source of your data. You should also be aware that that number is not at all reliable. Any increase or decrease in the number over the past few years is not a reflection in the incidence of rape; the number probably reflects what is reported and how well the police and legal records are kept. All rape and sexual assault in Jamaica is underreported. Most victims never tell anyone; families use a variety of strategies to cover up the problem; defense lawyers do a horrible job of preparing the cases; victims know that they are not protected from the people who rape them, those who are supposed to defend their individual rights, or from a society that insists on punishing victims by saying they deserved what happened to them. Recall the case of one of your colleagues, Jah Cure, and the enormous public support for him, at the expense of the person he violated.
For your information, the rape of women and girls far outpaces the rape of boys in Jamaica. So if you are concerned with the rape of young boys, then you would need to acknowledge how these two issues are related. On one hand, these reports of sexual assault against boys is a good thing, despite the horrible situation; it helps to document the problem, and suggests that more attention to the sexual abuse of children is required, in every social group – village, district, social class and religious community – in Jamaica, including your own. It also reminds those of us who are committed to social justice to return to this issue on our agenda as it still deserves our attention.
On the other hand, the way in which you have used that data and sought to draw attention to the sexual abuse of poor boys is dangerous and entirely specious and taken out of context. Here again, it is the body and soul of poor, young men who are being sacrificed to support your ill-gotten, anti-homosexual stance, which in this case, you are using to keep some of our fellow citizens in utter ignorance, and others in paralyzing fear.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between your clear anti-homosexual stance, and your supposed concern for the wellbeing of boys in inner city communities. Your mention of these statistics seems to be more like convenient facts that help your argument for stigmatizing homosexuality and justifying your call for anti-homosexual vigilantism. Yet again, your analysis couldn’t be more off the mark. The problem here in Jamaica is not and never has been about homosexuality. In fact, the weight of the evidence says the contrary: that it is Jamaican men’s deployment of their heterosexuality that is the problem, from politician to peanut man.
Again, I cannot stress enough that it is important to have accurate and reliable information before making any public statements on any topic, let alone one as complex as sexuality. There is ample evidence gained from decades of research done by scholars in and outside of Jamaica that would help to clarify these issues for you. I would be happy to provide you with additional references and reading material, if you wish.
Sixthly, you completely ignore the large body of evidence that shows that the majority of the rape and sexual exploitation that happens in Jamaica (and anywhere) are committed by persons who are familiar to the victims – not by those who come from some place far away – socially or geographically – ‘uptown’ and come downtown to find someone to take advantage of. It is the uncles, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, fathers, stepfathers, neighbors, pastors, DJs, teachers, schoolmates etc. who are most likely to commit these acts of violence.
For individuals, families and communities to condemn such acts, it would mean they would have to confront the very persons who have lived among them and who they have often looked to for advice, support, etc. They would have to begin to accept that sexual exploitation has been a part of their lives, not the foreign or isolated experience that you would have them believe.
But how to do so when the line between sexual consent and coercion is often blurred when one’s life, livelihood and social worth is at stake. Again, many Jamaican women and girls (and boys, as you point out) endure rape and all kinds of sexual humiliation for the sake of what they think they will gain or hold onto – social recognition, emotional attachment etc. – but it always comes at a very high cost to them. Interestingly, heterosexual men’s social worth is never questioned when they engage in these exploitative relationships.
In Jamaica, men generally wield power over everyone else using their penises, guns, money and control over information as weapons. Wealthy/monied men, poor men and superstar men compete with and among themselves for ownership of women and children, who are treated as commodities, or goods, to be bought, sold, or put on the shelf until ready for use. What makes this possible? Too many of us [men and women] believe that it is in men’s ‘nature’ to want to have sex as much and as often and with whomever they want, and to talk about it as they wish, that men have expert knowledge about sex, and that sex is some intense competition to dominate the other. The targets of men’s sexual interests are expected to comply, by negotiating based on what is being offered, and by trying to find ways to make oneself attractive to them.
When Jamaican men demand or create coercive situations to extract sexual services from those whom they desire, they know that they can do so with relative impunity. They are fully aware that sex is still perceived as a private, dirty act; that few people, even themselves are willing to talk honestly about sex or the conditions under which such sexual transactions take place; that they can count on other men’s silence, acquiescence and threats of retribution, including lawyers and policymakers, and the ambivalence of women to cast doubt on the accusers and victims, rather than to ask why men would commit such vicious acts and to hold them accountable.
Far more than their victims, men of all stripes are most often given the benefit of the doubt – remember, if it is considered ‘natural’ for men to want sex, then a woman, girl or a boy was raped because they put themselves in the situation where men had no control over themselves or no choice but to “take advantage.” According to this kind of thinking, it’s not that the victim deserved it, it’s that men couldn’t control themselves or felt that this was a fair way to exact payment for women/girls/boys who “won’t listen”.
So men know that what they do – whether it is consensual or not – will not be fully revealed or criticized in public because the burden of proof and shame rests on those who they violated, people without much power or credibility. And too many women feel that they owe it to men to defend even the worst behaviors, even when such defense is clearly not in their interests. Again, I think this should sound familiar to you, as a Jamaican man.
Finally, religious doctrine regarding sexuality may seem quite rigid and set in stone, if you take the point of view of many of Jamaica’s religious leaders seriously and as representative. As such, you [and these same religious leaders] are using your platforms to consciously mislead persons in a country where most will not investigate or question what you say, once you claim that God said so. Practitioners of Christianity, Rastafarianism, etc. are far more diverse, and live a much more complicated reality than you or those leaders might want to recognize or accept. Men from all religious backgrounds, including Rastafarians, have and continue to live happily in homosexual relationships, and are probably more sincere believers than some of the avowed anti-homosexual ones because they learned to distinguish between religious propaganda and spiritual truths.
Certainly, the issue of the sexual exploitation of children in Jamaica is complex and multilayered, and raising the issue about sexual relationships between uptown men’ and ‘downtown boys’ only gets at a small part of it. And, you are right in the sense that the issue of social and economic power, and the misuse of such power, is an important factor in understanding all the ways in which inner city youth are being disenfranchised, sexually and otherwise.
Where your argument falters is addressing the source of the problem; you seem quite invested in one explanation – homosexuality as the source of all social wrong – without recognition about the limits of your own knowledge and the expanse of your ignorance.
So you see, Mr. Davis/Beenie Man, if you are really interested in advocating for boys/men who are or have been sexually exploited, homosexuality in Jamaica is the least of your /our problems (if it ever was one to begin with). Indeed, your very stance on the issue says a lot. You have become so enamoured with the power and notoriety of your celebrity status that you have completely ignored the ethical responsibilities that bind you to the rest of us as Jamaicans. Yes, I know that ethical living is not what makes you money – which you are losing like a leaking well – but maybe you should consider the issue now that you are in the spotlight of a different sort.
Frankly, our children’s prospects as thinking citizens are consistently undermined by politicians and individuals like yourself, who are more attracted to making big money at any cost and creating a public image of being worth something because of how much money you have, and who and what you can buy. The idea of using your celebrity status to open up new ways of thinking and being among the inner-city youth so that they can realize themselves as human beings and make positive contributions to humanity seems to be beyond your thinking.
Overall, my sense of your impassioned pleas to help sexually abused boys is entirely self-serving. Here, you present yourself as an innocent bystander by claiming the moral high ground, when in fact you regularly participate in and turn a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of women and children by heterosexual Jamaican men. Rather than making an effort to address the real problems, instead, you prefer to hold on to the idea that homosexual men are the problem, and to make them scapegoats, because it seems expedient, ‘logical’ and righteous to do so. But probably because you think there is money and status to be gained from it. No thought, questioning, dialogue or self-reflection required of you, and certainly not encouraged of the fans who you cater to.
Based on your public statements, it is evident that you have not bothered to do your research or acquired the necessary training to deal with issues of sexuality, self-esteem and empowerment. If this is an issue that you want to work on collaboratively with other groups – women’s groups, gay and lesbian groups, etc. – you first have to concede that your analysis is wrong-headed and needs some serious work. In other words, this foundation may be “your ting” but you are poised to do more damage than good to the boys who you claim you are trying to help.
While everyone is entitled to an opinion – an opinion is free, and is not even worth a penny – not all opinions are equal or are deserving of merit or social legitimacy. Some opinions are wrong when they cannot be supported or justified by any body of evidence and support cruel and inhuman practices. Likewise the attitudes and behaviors that come from those behaviors are also wrong, morally and socially, and should not be acceptable, or condoned by any society concerned about justice. In other words, you have the right to hold a stupid opinion. However, you do not have the right to use your access to a public platform – music and entertainment – to pass that opinion off as “fact”, nor to manipulate your listening audience to conforming to your ill-conceived position. The last time I checked, prejudice, speculation, gossip and hearsay – whether disguised as “religious doctrine”, “morality”, “culture” or “knowledge” – did not constitute a valid basis on which entire groups of people should be judged or excluded from full citizenship, even in Jamaica.
Just because many people believe something to be true, does not mean it is true or makes any sense. All it means is that a lot of people are wrong and feel relatively comfortable, even arrogant, in their ignorance. In a context where information is denied or limited in availability, and is often imperfect in substance, most people in Jamaica might choose to believe ideas over facts, because those ideas seem to have been around long enough to feel true, and because there is little opportunity or encourage to question or disprove what doesn’t support the status quo. But, other ideas that compete with and reject the ones you hold dear have also been around a long time. Those ideas include the importance of privacy, tolerance for sexual diversity, and recognition of human dignity. The question is, why do you [and so many Jamaicans] choose to accept one set of ideas — and the violent, inhumane and debilitating consequences that are attached — over others? Your answer to that question says a lot about your own skewed moral values.
In closing, let me say this. What if you, Mr. Davis/Beenie Man, chose to think beyond the ‘box’ of received information, popular opinion and propaganda about sexuality in Jamaican society? What if you chose to use your platform, such as it is, to recognize and celebrate the humanity in all of us Jamaicans, rather than claiming some hallowed, righteous space for yourself and others who think like you? What if you chose to listen with humility and without judgment? What if, Mr. Davis/Beenie Man?