In A Closeted, Homophobic Society
We live in a closeted and homophobic Caribbean where male homosexuality is seen as a threat to national and regional identity (Atluri). Here, some men are perceived as being feminized, their productivity (having children) reduced, and seen as agents of the spread of HIV. This outlook places limits on their humanity, reinforced when acts of bullying, discrimination and stigma are perpetrated.
When do we admit that, at the personal and community levels, sexual behaviours and orientations in the Caribbean are just neither neatly defined nor experienced?
When do we acknowledge that some of our attractions, behaviours and desires occur far outside of heteronormativity?When are we going to notice that we often use “silence” and “omission” to negotiate appearing conservative or conventional, to “pass” in society?
Now is a good time to hold a line against gay oppression, to resist its conditioning and rigid binaries. It is important to take a more relaxed posture, to review and resist conservative and fundamentalist practices, and build alliances and support to interrupt addiction and compulsive practices that are found in all kinds of sexual activity. Creating ‘safe’ spaces of us to get perspective, face inner fears, and address issues that attach themselves to all discussions about sex. Social media, currently being used by marginalized and ‘taboo’ orientations and sexualities that are underground, can help shed ‘light’ on these issues.
In Barbados, where “everybody knows somebody”, ‘advocates’ and ‘allies’ are necessary to insist that differences are acceptable. Our ability to interrupt homophobia and heterosexism is a sign of an evolving community. Repairing the effects of gay oppression in our communities is a crucial step. Celebrating our humanity, healing from our traumas, and giving up our privilege is critical to reclaiming full human lives.
Those of us who are non-conformists, who choose not to assimilate and who are visible face being mistreated in various ways. Male-to-female transgenders (trans-women), “queens”, usually considered non-threatening, sometimes get the society’s coded respect once they survive the initial degradation and show they can serve the community. Female-to-male transgenders (trans-men) value being invisible since it is currency for them to “pass” as men. The lives of “butch” Lesbians and bisexual women are sometimes reduced to being seen as either “freaks” or sexual objects. However, men who engage in homosexual activity and carry no stereotypical gay signs, what some may call straight-acting MSM (men-who-have-sex-with-men) or DLs (down-lows) in the Caribbean, are considered deceptive and heinous. Then, there are others that “lurk in the shadows”.
As such, a person’s right to privacy seems to be more at risk. This type of scrutiny reinforces a silence that used to be tolerated in traditional circles behind “veils” of decency and discretion. Self-imposed loneliness, isolation and regulation often protected some against feeling hurt and disappointment. These days, modern-day advocates seek to normalize all sexual activities, while others perceive non-conformist sexual orientations and marginal sexual identities a threat to their way of life.
Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte. Picture by Adrian Richards.