I was about eight years old when my parents told me and my brother that a close family friend is a lesbian. We were living in Kingston at the time and I had never heard of anyone actually being gay. My parents emphasized two things—this information was private and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.
Regardless of that strong non-homophobic foundation, I was swayed by the sentiment of the culture I was being raised in. In elementary school there were light jokes and accusations about who and who was “funny” and by high school the jokes were no longer light, and any accusations of being gay were adamantly and vehemently defended. How could anyone actually be gay? The accusations were generally regarding boys and I recall even myself teasing an effeminate boy because of his feminine tendencies. Sorry! Ironically, I was a girl with masculine tendencies but being a tomboy in Jamaica was much more acceptable. Phew!
I was in the New Kingston Mall with my best friend at about age 13 and there was a sudden rush of boys stampeding through the mall. We learned that there was a “battyman” amongst us. I never saw the boy being chased, but remember my mixed emotions of fear for him and disbelief that he or anyone was actually gay. Although I knew of our family friend who we referred to as “Aunt” was gay, at that point I had not heard of anyone else being gay in Jamaica. And I had never seen my Aunt with a partner or girlfriend, so her life as a lesbian became mythical.
Homophobic sentiments became an integral part of the music that was rapidly growing in Jamaica at the time—Dancehall Music. Some songs focused entirely on sending a strong anti-gay message and some songs just included a line or two of such messaging—it’s wrong to be gay. I adopted that belief.
As I got older, I would intermittently hear rumours of this person or that person being gay. My Mom told me about some adults who were gay—even adults who had married the opposite sex and had children. I was in disbelief. Like everyone else—hopefully, lol—I questioned my own sexuality a few times and confirmed I was straight. I remember watching what we called “blue movies” on my friend’s satellite dish and how my stomach turned during the lesbian love scenes. Yuck!
I left Jamaica at age 15 and kept my homophobic beliefs. I remember being in the Village in New York and seeing men embrace and kiss. Lawd! As a college student, I hosted the local Reggae radio show called “Vibes.” I played reggae music and dancehall music that was getting increasingly homophobic; the best of which or should I say the worst of which was the now infamous song “Boom Bye Bye.” I sadly played the song with pride.
I began to finally open my mind when two very close friends “came out.” It was traumatic on many accounts and contributed to me questioning my own sexuality. It was extremely challenging to shift my beliefs but it became very necessary so that I could accept my dear friends and later on dear me. Once I recognized myself as gay, I had a long journey to accept myself and to live openly.
I see that there is a lot of work being done in Jamaica to help create a more tolerant and accepting society. I see the growth of great advocacy in the LGBT community but it saddens me that Jamaican culture remains so homophobic. But hey, seeing where I came from and where I am today, it gives me great hope that all Jamaicans will become as gay as I am today. Lol, just kiddin’, but seriously—my evolution does give me great hope that one day Jamaican culture will be more accepting and embrace the LGBTQ Community.