March 13, 2009

Commentary by Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis.  Originally printed in The Jamaica Star. Republished with permission.

Caribbean people are very funny. We’re funny as in humorous, amusing, comical and witty. We are also funny in another kind of way. And here I mean funny as in odd, weird or peculiar. There’s also a third kind of ‘funny’.

Gay men, especially in Jamaica are often euphemistically referred to as ‘funny’, and I find our attitude to that kind of ‘funny’ to be sometimes funny, on one hand, while being confusing and contradictory on the other hand.  In Jamaica, a man who acts ‘funny’ onstage is a guaranteed commercial hit every time. But a man who’s genuinely gay off-stage lives with the risk of being literally and physically hit at anytime. And that’s not so funny.

But funny also sells.

In Jamaica, there’s an increase in the number of comedy promoters. There were eight major comedy shows in Trinidad & Tobago over the last two weeks. I performed on three and I saw the ads for the other five. As a Jamaican, one of the interesting features of Trinidadian comedy shows for me is the number of acts that employ cross-dressing men or men playing gay characters.  I find especially funny how the audiences find them funny. A man comes on-stage in neon coloured wig, skimpy bikini and bra, and the crowd goes wild. Chairs turn over, people run up and down and ‘buss blanks’ and di place nuh good again.

Two such acts appeared on the same events I did.  One was a man playing a woman giving tips and sharing recipes for women who want to learn to fix foods to keep a man tied. The other was a drag-queen-comic protesting the promoter’s decision to shorten his act when his motto, philosophy and mantra can be summed up in four words, “want it long!”

People loved it.

The thousands of people at Jean Pierre Complex, and Guaracara Park in Trinidad, as well as an unbelievably massive throng at Dwight Yorke Stadium in Tobago threw big cheers, applause and adoration at those performers. I couldn’t help thinking that if they were in Jamaica, the audiences would probably respond with not cheers, but chairs, tables, stones and other missiles.  But that’s not necessarily true.

You see homophobia’s very funny- and selective. Gay men are tolerated if they have the right connections, or they work in stereotypical spheres like cosmetology or choreography, and they are adored and celebrated if they consent implicitly to be perpetually framed as comic relief.  In fact, based on current official logic, it’s OK to be gay and acceptable for gay people to form groups as long as they don’t try screechie into Mr Golding’s cabinet, insert themselves into the police force or own guns.

But I wonder if we realise that technically there is no law in Jamaica that says it is illegal to be a homosexual. What’s illegal is buggery. And buggery means anal sex (whether it’s with man or woman!) Funny eeh?

Funniest part of the scenario for me is Ernest Smith the MP. He righteously condemns buggery in Parliament, but as a lawyer he has to earn his money yu see. So, based on what I read in the papers, here’s how it look to me. A noble lawyer, who’s a Smith, stands before an honourable judge, who’s a Pusey, and makes a plea in mitigation on behalf of a man who pleads guilty to buggery! Funny eeh? Well at least it’s funny to me.

Imagine if the government made JFLAG illegal. They could then become his clients and earn him some real funny money. Trust me, he might not be anywhere near as hilarious as ‘Bashment Granny’, but I think the South West, St Ann Member of Parliament is very, very funny.

What you think?



  1. ruthibelle Says:

    This post was very funny, as is Blakka, and many of the images in this article. All very funny… and nevertheless provocative.

    Jamaica’s tolerance of homosexuals is really selective. The word Blakka was looking for is stereotypical. As long as it fits into the stereotypes we have created for them, it’s ok. Anything outside of that becomes a threat that must be instantly obliterated.

    Sometimes I honestly wonder if we realise that being gay is not illegal… cause it dont seem so at all!

  2. Great post. Blakka is hilarious but unfortunately I don’t think this issue is funny (ha ha) at all…

    Jamaica’s homophobia just represents another sad prejudice this time against gay people and ought not to be tolerated nor encouraged (very disappointed in Mr. Golding for this).

    Hopefully the situation here is improving- it seems to be much better in Trinidad. Until we have real change, we can all continue to laugh uncomfortably…

  3. Wayne Says:

    Blakka is a really clever writer and keen observer of Jamaican life. Good article. I am afraid though that in the long run, the hostility to all gay people will only end when the wider society realises how many live among us and how much we admire them for the positive things they do – (clearly without knowing about their sex/love lives) – like teaching our children, helping us in hospitals, fixing our cars etc. Of course there are obnoxious gays and child molesting perverts among them, but then the heterosexual “community” is not immune to these deviants either.

  4. Sara Miller Says:

    I know this might not be the most appropriate place to post this but for other readers living in the USA are you concerned about the debt? It just seems like it is getting to the point where the country is going to go bankrupt and my husband and I are just a little concerned that our kids and grandkids are going to have some big problems in a few years. Thanks for letting me vent, Sara

    • longbench Says:

      Sara – Thanks for stopping by! Did you mean the debt in the U.S. or in Jamaica? In both cases, govt’s have mortgaged our children’s futures. But, I am not nearly as concerned about that as I am about how the existing resources are being used, as well as the absence of long-term planning for strengthening key areas of the social infrastructure, despite the debt. Education is taking a beating in both places; schools not being built, schools being closed, teachers not paid, laid off, etc. Some of us who have laid down prostrate before the altar of capitalism and private enterprise should be ashamed of ourselves right now. Well, now that we know that allowing governments and politicians to become corrupt as we turned all our attention to get-rich-quick schemes was not a good idea, maybe it’s time to demand that the glorified private sector step up and help cushion some of the blow being dealt to Jamaica. At the behest of the U.S., our governments have paid more attention to appeasing local elites by selling off the land and helping them get rich, and far less to securing basic services for its population. Wasn’t it recently that the Supreme Court in the U.S. declared that corporations can be treated as individuals? Well, they are just catching up with how things have been for a long time. Either here or there, we are screwed unless we get up off our duffs and find ways to generate capital even in these hard times, and to plan for the future.

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