On tolerating homosexuals and such… – Editorials, Current Issues & Opinion Articles – JamaicaObserver.com.

You know what I love (in a cheeky kind of way) about this editorial?  Even as its authors concede that a lot will and continue to change regarding the status of gays and lesbians, it still showed ambivalence of its editors about this change, despite their best efforts.  Try as they might, they really can’t handle it; that’s what the “and such” is really about.   In a way, their ambivalent stance mirrors the attitudes of many Jamaicans today who see that their attitudes are slowly changing but they really can’t get a hang of exactly when and how.  This kind of ambivalence wasn’t so noticeable 10 years ago.  So, THAT is something to celebrate!  In another 10 years, I think we will probably be someplace different, regardless of the vitriolic sentiments that many are clinging on to.  Those folks probably won’t change their minds, but others around them are changing, making them more of an anomaly than ever before.   Laws don’t change until cultural attitudes shift.   I can wait.  And so can many of us.

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I am seriously, seriously at a loss about why so many well-thinking people are up in arms about Ernie Smith being caught shitting through his mouth.  That’s this is a habit of his is quite well known and clearly tolerated.  Remember the “virginity testing” proposal a few years ago?  In fact, he is a member of an organization called Parliament, where one criterion for membership is willingness to talk out of one’s ass rather than using one’s intellect.  And although a few have slipped in under the radar, there are many others who feel it is their duty to uphold this particular standard of membership.  This has been true for many years now.

I am thinking that maybe our consciousness about the profound violence being done to us through words and utterances has been heightened by the daggering debates, the barefaced lies and corruption taking shape in front of us as if we are stupid, the glaring ineptness of our political leaders on any issue you name at the moment.  I don’t really know.  But it seems that we have hit a kind of threshold of tolerance, and now we say we can’t take it anymore.  Good thing, yes.  But what is so so frightening to me is that we have waited so long, allowed so many psyches to be destroyed, lives to be taken, misinformation to become known as gospel, treated the spiteful vipers as messiahs, and condemned common decency and respect for our fellow citizen to the dungle heap.  I am wondering who else is being sacrificed right now while we deal with this issue.  Actually, I am not wondering; I know.  What a state to be in!

This is not a country where people feel the need to be kind to one another.  We don’t have any defined standards for how to talk to each other.  People say the meanest and most debased things to one another, just so.  Compassion is not our first love; its more about retribution and punishment.  Love is not what we live.  And using language to cut each other down is what we admire and nurture best here.  That’s what makes dancehall DJs so popular; the art of the quick tongue; the carefully worded verse that sends a vibe that ricochets off the soul.  And dem im lik it again just in case you missed it the first time: come dung selector!

It is in the “do I know you?” “and who did you say you were?” and “do you know who you are talking to?”  It is in the “hol yuh corner” and the utter refusal to believe that there are more than two sides to a story.  It is in the ridiculous reverence for numbers of degrees, and each degree entitles one to say the most insulting and ridiculous things, never to be challenged for the credibility of the sources, the veracity of the information, the logic of the argument.   It just IS because someone of importance said it.  And they must know, shouldn’t they?  It is in the maddening genuflection to “government” and “politicians” as know-it-alls, although they know nothing much except how to use their power to extort more out of the citizenry without giving much in return.  Why else then do we elect persons who can barely utter a completely correct sentence,  and who use their marital status, number of children, and reverence for the Bible as qualification for public office? Why else do we quietly accept, and give more power to, persons who seem to reside in some nether-world where every utterance is equivalent to every other utterance, no matter whether what is said does violence to another’s identity.

We just don’t understand this concept.  We just don’t get that words harm, and that those who are harmed have a right to say that they have been harmed, and to refuse to be treated in such a manner.

Since Buju Banton touched off a storm with his “boom bye bye” we have been having a conversation that has gone nowhere, fast.   Words harm. Language does violence.  Violence is not always physical, it is also ideological, psychic, emotional.   But make no mistake: harm has been done.

And the one thing that has characterized this society since at least 1993, is a sincere commitment to destroying gay and lesbian identity from its most physical dimensions – ravaging the bodies of men and women through rape and death – to its social dimensions – creating distorted representations of us through stereotypes as man-hating, child-molesting, violence-prone, diseased, anti-family bodies, and denying us the ability to live, work and love in the country of our birth without fear – to its psychic and spiritual dimensions – calling us evil, diseased, a scorge on the soil, unfit to be loved, touched, healed, or even buried alongside the more righteous ones.  This war – and it is a war – has been ongoing, and virtually unabated for over sixteen years now.  Sixteen years.  That is the length of a generation.  That means there is at least one entire generation that has never not seen or heard lesbians and gay men talked about in anything other than the most disparaging ways, as less than persons to be shed from the body politic – whether by death, disease or hiding them away in the recesses of the family wardrobe.  This is what we have been doing, taking occasional breaths by focusing our attention on the other queer body – w0rking class women who are having too much sex, too many children, doing too much daggering, etc. etc. etc. etc.  And when that runs its course, we are back to gays and lesbians.  Because after all, the job was not finished. They are still here.

We now have new rightwing groups who have made it their raison d’etre to target women’s bodies and queer bodies; they intend to ground us into constitutional dust through any number of state-sanctioned regulations and calls to moral vigilantism that would make us into non-citizens, permanent aliens.    And they have spewn their hate, lord have they spewn their hate, in the name of legal arguments, pounding us into oblivion with scriptures, threats of hell and damnation and what not.  But we have not gone away.  They have said no less than Ernie Smith ie. that gays and lesbians are not full citizens by virtue of their sexual practices, and are thus not entitled to full protection under the law.  The Justice Minister A.J. Nicholson said it;  the Public Defender Earl Witter said it; Peter Phillips said it; Bruce Golding said it; PJ Patterson said it.  Everybody who has felt the need to prove their Jamaican-ness has said it: gays and lesbians ought to be expelled from the national body, or rendered silent, however we choose to accomplish that.   If we can’t even agree and forcefully argue that gays and lesbians are entitled to privacy, then how are we going to let something like “freedom of association” be respected for this group? There’s no contradiction – NONE – in the consistent ways in which gays and lesbians have been denied full citizenship in this country.   And those questions and utterances have been legitimized by the silence of more than a few.  It is not only the rabid ones who are to blame for what has come to pass.

JFLAG’s existence has been questioned, not once, not twice, but ever since it came into being in 1998.  Who do they think they are, our “veteran journalists” said? What exactly do they think they are doing, acting like they have a right to speak, said our “well-respected religious and civic leaders”?   Who came out and defended JFLAG’s right to exist?  Not even JFLAG has always been able to articulate that it is the nature of a democratic society that people can organize themselves around their shared concerns and advocate for themselves, despite what others thing.   And even JFLAG may well have doubted itself and its existence, tenuous as it has been; only one person at a time is ever publicly associated with the organization; the last person fled the country to seek asylum elsewhere last year.  Jason is now at the helm holding his own, and is he ever.  I am so proud of him right now.  JFLAG is the source of the framing of the critique of Ernie Smith’s utterance as an affront to democracy, and don’t you all forget it!

What is even more amazing to me is that the argument is taking hold.  I think we are waking up, readers.  Yes, I think we are maturing; we are figuring out what it means to live in a democracy, and that such an existence does not allow the utterances of Ernie Smith to go unrecognized for what it is, nor to be left unchallenged lest he be taken to be right.  And there are many who will agree with him.  But maybe, just maybe, some of the silent ones, who have allowed this climate of ignorance and hate to fester for 16 years, are ready to say ENOUGH.  And maybe we are ready to start acting like we live in a democracy, where every single one of us is responsible for creating and defending a society where ALL of us can live and fully exist, regardless of what we think of each other’s views.  I am the kind of person who would lay wait for Ernie Smith and throw a bag of human shit at him, to complement what came out of his mouth.   I do believe in live and direct protest after all.

But what I really want is for us who believe that we are better than what Ernie/Beenie/Al/Shirley/AJ/Bruce/Buju etc. have reduced us to, to start creating new ways of talking, living and working together as Jamaicans that does not require us to name those who we disagree with as the ENEMY, or to plot the other’s demise because we feel morally superior to them.    Let the village idiot run around screaming all manners of garbage.  But let there be few people who are standing on the sidelines waving and cheering him on, and let even a few wait for him to stop and calm down, then offer him a glass of coconut water, and ask him if he wants a place to rest his head, or a ride home.   Then let him go home to wherever he came from, as we continue building something better that he might not even recognize when he passes back this way.  Because, he WILL be back.  And if not him, someone just like him.

And let’s not keep electing these people to office, please.  It makes us look even more stupid than him.

P.S. Hilaire Sobers also weighed in on this issue, using nicer words of course, to frame the problem.

You see how we haunted? It’s summer in America, so I guess it’s time for this year’s round of insanity with the dancehall flavour of the month.

This time, a “Straight Pride Parade” is scheduled to be held on Eastern Parkway in late August this year. From what I gather from the newsbits, this showdown was originally conceived to show support for dancehall reggae artists who have been under fire for several years now because of their odious lyrics and stances regarding same-sex sexuality. The latest casualty is Stapler and his song “Hit Them Hard.” However, somehow, these folks, under the auspices of TCOOO Productions, have decided that the best way to show such support and to protest what they see as unfair treatment, is to take up the mantle for all the oppressed heterosexuals everywhere in the US who have been unable to stave off the worldwide dominion of the sodomitic ones.

The march is being promoted as a precursor to the West Indian Parade and a wake-up call for all heterosexuals who clearly don’t know they are under seige.  According to Jango Fresh, “when “Hit them hard” by my label mate Stapler can be banned just because it stresses the importance of a male and a female in every family, it is a sign that heterosexuals need to wake up.” Just because…there is a whole lot going on in those two words.

The press release goes on to say that the event is “a chance for Heterosexuals to gather and proudly embrace their sexuality […] Adults are encouraged to bring their children along for the celebrations, as the event will be family oriented. Yardflex claims that the press release also stated that “Gay friends and gay relatives must be left at home or worse kept in the closet.” In a really fucked up way, they do recognize that we are a part of the family and friendship networks of the dancehall fans who are being invited to this special event, even if they would prefer that our families burn us at the stake. I wonder what will happen to those straight dancehall fans who choose not to follow their advice?

There is much I could say about this ridiculous waste of time and effort, but I will bite my tongue for a second.

I really really do think this is a joke. It has to be. I mean, really, people. March for Straight Pride? Who thought this was a great idea? Is this yet another one of those moments when that peculiar version of arrogance exhibited by many Jamaican men trumps common sense? I didn’t realize that we -well, they – had special insight into the plight, perils and possibilities of the heterosexual, and are uniquely positioned to define a straight identity, and to mobilize straight people around it?  I guess I haven’t been listening to enough dancehall music to recognize that the songs and performances are not only anthems to heterosexuality, but should be considered as doctrine too.

Seriously, is heterosexuality really the problem here, or these blasted artists’ insane obsession with where some men put their dicks and who’s eating whose pussy? Is there really nothing else to talk about?

At best, this is a brilliant PR move on the part of TCOOO Productions. Yep, use the power of the internet to generate controversy, get people to download the music, get all kinds of folks worked up in a lather about whether such songs, this song, should be banned, etc. etc. etc. Make Stapler a household name. There’s your entertainment for the summer, folks!

Lawd áv his mercy pon we….

Gagging Dissent

June 24, 2008

PM Golding has invoked the Staff Orders rule that says governmental officials must keep their traps shut when their individual positions conflict with existing gov’t policy. Not an atypical move for him to make. But, it really does and should sweet us when we see cracks in the veneer of retrograde, unsubstantiated policies, that come in the form of truth-telling, even if the labba-mouth will probably lose their jobs.

Even if current gov’t officials can’t say it, the rest of us can, over and over and over:

PROSTITUTION AND ANAL SEX SHOULD BE DECRIMINALIZED.

Such a move to silence dissent even within the government tells us a lot: that it does take a lot of arm-twisting and energy – and not divine inspiration as some might argue – to keep a country in the gully and backwaters.   And just before you line up behind the “loyalty” argument, remember that when the gag rule is invoked, it also shuts up those gov’t officials who would want to speak out on the cobwebs of corruption and back-scratching that are keeping some of them in their SUVs and nice houses.   Sure they will be punished because they have been disloyal, but we need a lot more disloyalty from those inside the big house. and should encourage it.  Don’t feel sorry for these folks if they lose their jobs: they are pretty well-connected, savvy and always land on their feet (that’s the perk of having a gov’t position, silly!).

This is also an ideal opportunity for media folks and other inquisitive ones among us to step into the fray and bring these stories to light.   We need to know what is being kept from us, by who, and why.   There IS more than one way to skin a cat, after all.

This week, the Gleaner notes that Rev. Dr. Marjorie Lewis, of United Theological College – WI, offers a strong criticism – rebuke is really more apt – of PM Golding’s ass-backwards stance where he claimed that he would exclude gays and lesbian MP’s from participating in his Cabinet (on a side note, the man obviously thinks he’s going to be PM for life, you know. Why would you even make such a statement unless you had the wherewithall to make it a policy? Just saying ‘im nuh too right inna im ‘ead…). More importantly, she took the opportunity at the Diaspora conference (a gathering that has, to date, pretty much ignored and thus rubber-stamped the State’s putrid stances on homosexuality) also spoke to the implications of such arguments coming from the PM, particularly in the way that he explicitly legitimizes the exclusion and maltreatment of gays and lesbians in Jamaican life. I do love a woman who speaks her mind…ok, so this is a bit of hero-worship — I have a crush on this woman, and she clearly is deserving of such (yes, I am very choosy)! Between she and Rachel “Evie” Vernon, the big church man dem betta’ watch dem self! Change is a-coming, and while she is looking mighty fabulous, she na’a joke!

The “Kill Dem Wid De Polls” machine drones on. This time, we are asked to believe a recent poll’s results that Jamaicans are overwhelming in their disdain for homosexual men and women, and unfailing in their efforts to deny basic social rights to our fellow citizens. Well, what’s new here, you ask?

Oh, but there is definitely more than a glimmer of something here. Given the amazing effort devoted by press, pulpit, party and academia alike over the past several years, what should be surprising to the moral crusaders, including the PM, among us is that there are not MORE people who support their retrograde point of view that homosexuals should not be regarded as equal citizens.

Yes, 26 percent is a w’ole ‘eap in any survey researcher’s book. And that’s a cause for celebration, my fellow justice-minded Jamaicans!

If you take the margin of error seriously (that’s the amount of percentage points that the figures could increase or decrease by, given how the questions were worded), 23 – 29 percent of those coerced by the veneer of objectivity of the poll into answering poorly worded questions *still* think that the question of fair and equal treatment of homosexuals before the law deserves redress. Given the transparency of the positions taken by those who want to keep the sodomy laws and who regularly argue for more, not less, violence against homosexuals, and the disjuncture between the anti-homosexual position and the overwhelming concerns for the state and citzenry to be more proactive about dealing with violence and social decline, it is hard to ignore that the anti-homos are stagnating, stewing and even being drowned in their own hate-mongering juices.

Yes, social attitudes do catch on, and the call for a more inclusive, justice-minded, and democratic society is being reflected in greater social tolerance. Even our brilliant PM had to cede this point, although he was dumb enough to paint himself as one of the intransigents, rather than part of the vanguard. It is also highly likely the respondents are going to bring these perspectives to bear inside their families, churches or in public. So what we have here is enough commitment to ferment significant dissent. In other words, there is enough support for the idea of equal treatment before the law that such support will not wash ‘way anytime soon, and will probably continue to “contaminate” and eat away at the baldly prejudiced viewpoints and perspectives of many others.

Now, if only we could get our pollsters and spinsters to be clear and consistent in their definitions. Granted, the pollsters were obviously trying to figure out a way to distinguish between the specific attitudes about homosexuality, and respondents’ support for broader ideas around inclusion and citizenship. But, I am still waiting for a definition of the “homosexual lifestyle”, just to make sure that I am living correctly. Straight folks should try to find out an answer to this one too; just to know if ass play is the only criterion, or is there more to it.

One other moment of glee — the folks who were surveyed didn’t really agree that our esteemed PM’s grand entrance on the world stage of hypocrisy increased their support for him. Sorry, PM. You thought you could cash in some political chips with your embarrassing ignorance sung to the NIMC drumbeat. You keep showing your ass on so many other things, its only a matter of time before Jamaicans, even the bell-ringing types, see you for what you are.

So, in spite of ourselves, we show that we are not as daft or as blind or as inhumane as we are often portrayed, or even portray ourselves. And our moral crusaders can now get back to work on amping up the hate-speak and inciting us to unspeakable violence in every possible form. It’s a losing battle, so please save unnu money and bile.

Justice will not come tomorrow morning, but it will come. 26 percent and counting…

Money with strings

November 7, 2007

The government of the Netherlands is on the offensive regarding LGBT rights.  It has decided that it will directly engage, through Dutch ambassadors, with countries of the global south about decriminalizing same-sex relationship and sexual behavior.   All donors have strings attached to their monies — who they give to, the relationship they want to build, and how it should be spent.  It would really sweet me if they called the Jamaican government to task on the particular hostility to debate and to human rights issues regarding homosexuality.  I want to see the govament embarass itself on an international stage so people far and wide can see that while media coverage is part information part propaganda, the information piece needs to be taken seriously.   I was even thinking last evening that Jamaicans seem to take a particular pleasure in doing harm to people — through cussing, support for heinous practices like flogging and death penalty, and legislation.  What is it about us that we have come to believe that being punitive produces positive outcomes?  And why would we want to live under this kind of regime any longer?