16 December 2005

Some thoughts on Philip's and Ingrid's comments

I've been reading your exchanges this morning with great interest. I'm not far from either of you right now, over here in New Kingston. Here are my preliminary thoughts:

I believe that Ingrid makes some good, valid points about the need for more stories on successful, fulfilled (relatively speaking) lezzies and gay men living in Jamaica. However, in my travels back and forth between the US and Jamaica over all these years, dating back to before my days with J-FLAG, I discern these concerns:

A lot of people, both J'cans in Jamaica and people abroad, want to *see* who these J'can queer people are. They want an actual *face* instead of the constantly anonymous stories about queer life in Jamaica. (Christine Hewitt said this to Flo O'Connor on J'can radio 6 years ago. "We don't know who none a dese J-FLAG people are," she said, in, unfortunately, rather hostile tones. "We cyaan recognize dem face.") But the problem seems to be that *no* queer J'cans, successful and living in Jamaica OR poor OR working-class, wish to come forward and openly present their side of things in -- for example -- an interview in the GLEANER or OBSERVER, or on radio/TV. Larry Chang did this in his own way, but he is now a political asylum resident of the U.S. Brian Williamson was open in the media all the time, but he's dead. Who else do we have?

In the time I worked with J-FLAG, all of our media representatives (and we had about 4-5 in those days; I still have the tapes of those radio shows) used pseudonyms. Robert Cork was one of our first, and, in an interview with Cliff Hughes, called himself "Mr X."

Sure -- perhaps it's ridiculous, preposterous, to expect J'can lezzies and gays living on the island to come out. J'can queers living in Ja -- especially those who DO NOT have the choice of leaving, who DO NOT have visas -- will have to answer that question for themselves. But it seems, from all evidence, that that coming out is where things have to begin. Jamaica's critics abroad, including the NY TIMES, will not know about the thriving underground queer life in Jamaica unless those living that life come forward and talk about it. To date, most J'can LGBT people remain shadowy figures to the rest of the world -- except the J'can queers, like Gareth and Carlene and some others, who do the political/representing work at international conferences. And then there are those like me who, U.S.-born and U.S.-residing, are very "out," but are not seen by some as "true" J'cans because we didn't grow fully in yard and don't speak with a J'can accent. Notice, btw, that the most famous J'can queer writers -- Patricia Powell, Makeda Silvera, and Michelle Cliff -- all live abroad. I know them all well, and know that not one of them, sadly, has any intention of returning to Jamaica.

So what happens next? J'can queers living in Jamaica have to come OUT. This will be monstrously difficult, eh? Most of the J'can queers I know who still live in Jamaica haven't even come out to their families -- certainly not to their parents, nor to other family members. If these queers -- perhaps understandably -- haven't shared the truth about themselves with their most primal human relations -- their parents -- well, where exactly does that essential coming OUT process begin? That's not a question for me to answer, since I don't live in Ja regularly -- but I think it is a question that bears centrally on some of the arguments Ingrid has so provocatively put forth.

When we who are connected to Jamaica, and others (such as the NY TIMES editors, and Amnesty, and Human Rights Watch) begin to SEE stories of *visible* J'can queers living in Jamaica and thriving, succeeding, and living, clearly, without fear as non-closeted people, the stories about Jamaican LGBT life will, I think, begin to change. The stories of anti-gay murder will be challenged, somewhat, by stories of J'can queers WITH FACES AND VISIBLE LIVES succeeding. For now, however, the stories of those lives are muted: they remain hidden, in the underground networks that most of us know; they remain hidden to the rest of the world, and to most of Jamaica, in the places we socialise with each other (such as Ian's New Year's Eve party last year), but about which our dear families, for the most part, know little or nothing.

Share your thoughts, folks! This is all so thought-provoking, and I'm thrilled that we're having the exchange.


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