Growing Up Gay and Jamaican: As if Being Gay Wasn't Enough

I spent the majority of my childhood living in absolute fear. I tucked my thoughts of wanting a boyfriend deep down in my gym bag. I mean, I grew up hearing that being gay is a one-way ticket to hell, and that batty bwoys deserve to be killed because they're nasty. In case you didn't know, a "batty bwoy" is a man considered to be gay; and for your back pocket, other terms include batty man and chi chi boy/man. I dare you to listen to almost any popular reggae song. You will more than likely hear one of those terms used along with "burning" and/or "fire." It's absurd. I even remember getting nauseous whenever the topic came up around family. I thought they'd be able to see my inner gay, jumping up and down in the pit of my stomach with a muzzle over his mouth. It was hard to control him, but I wasn't going to allow him to have me disowned by my family!

The very thought of being disowned would scare anyone to the core, I'm sure. However, I cannot say with confidence that it is fully understood how commonplace this is for those who grow up in a Caribbean family, particularly a Jamaican one. Let me tell you; it is both terrifying and depressing. I remember feeling alone and abandoned by my family every time I would hear them say hateful things about a gay person because they were talking about me. So, I hid. I hid one of the coolest parts of myself to avoid the heat and hate -- but is it ever really avoidable?

Jamaican people begin to ask questions when you don't have a girlfriend at 14. I cannot count the many times my uncles and aunts have asked me how many girlfriends I had. I have always been baffled by the idea of it being okay to have a couple of girlfriends, but the mere thought of playing footsies with another dude would result in me burning at the stake. I mean, really? There is a conversation that needs to be had when we condone and celebrate heterosexual male promiscuity while firing fleet-seeking missiles to obliterate anyone even suspected of being gay.

I have my own theory: I believe that in every culture, there is a human need for hierarchy. Gay people are a minority in Jamaica. That, paired with the Old Testament reading, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination," in Leviticus 18:22, is more than enough to get the mob mentality going. After all, there is nothing quite as good as feeling that you're better than someone else, especially if God told you so! It gives people the permission to pry and condemn. If you're Jamaican and a Christian, you get to put your sentiments in a song and blame this behavior on demons. Welcome to my world.

At around 17-years-old, I remember my mother sitting me down and asking, "Are you gay?" I knew this was coming, and was certain that the laughable amount of porn sites on my computer would eventually tip her off, but my heart was beating a mile a minute and I wanted to pee and vomit everywhere. So, I did what any teenager would do. I lied! "No, I was just curious and decided to do some research," I said. She was so not buying it. She, too, admitted to wanting to vomit. That was the worst summer ever! Every time she looked at me, her eyes told me that I was a disappointment because she knew that even though I denied it, I was gay. I was gay and about to be let loose on a college campus. We fought everyday that year, and she balled like a baby when she and my father dropped me off at SBU.

10 years later, I can say that it's been rough, but it gets better. My parents never ask me if I have a boy or girlfriend. I may as well be asexual to them, but we do speak. Actually, I chat with my mother everyday. I can't say confidently how they'd respond if I were to bring up my gay ways, but I'll update you when I do. I have a feeling that it will be soon.

The world is changing. Although with some pushback, I believe my parents have been evolving as well. We need more examples of men and women of various backgrounds to speak out and show up. I hear of so many killings, beatings and abandonment of Jamaican gay youth, but those stories go unreported because their lives aren't even valued by their own people. I imagine that if there were more visibility of strong, gay Caribbean men and women in the public space, there would be a need for conversation. This piece is the beginning of what I hope can be an offering to my community.

Get up, stand up. Stand Up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Don't give up the fight.

-- Bob Marley