{Guest Post} Speaking the truth is not homophobia… Right?

It’s a very clever slogan. The anti-homosexual lobby in Jamaica has really outdone itself this time. It’s catchy, it helps bolster the idea of the need for freedom of speech, it fits neatly on a placard.

But, is it true?

Before we get into it, I think we need to briefly address what ‘homophobia’ actually means. Many want it to mean, “Fear of homosexuals.” But it doesn’t. In most use around the world, it refers to discriminatory action or thoughts against homosexuals, including having heteronormative ideals. We can’t fight that, no matter how hard we try. We can’t make a word mean what it doesn’t; language doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. So, to be clear, I am using the term ‘homophobic’ for homosexuality in the same sense that ‘racism’ applies to race.

Credit: flickr user jDevaun
Credit: flickr user jDevaun (click for link)

Next, we have to break down ‘truth’. I presume it refers to honesty, whether it refers to accurately reporting scientific/statistical information, or when expressing thoughts, emotions, and opinions. The question we have to ask now is, “Can this still be homophobic?”

Let us look at a few scenarios. A young girl is told that she is pretty “for a black girl”. A few minutes later, her friend makes a passing remark about how bad her “tough” black hair is. A decade after that, she is told by a professor that he is impressed with her work, that he did not expect it from someone who looks like her.

What would you call the aforementioned comments made to this girl, and then to this woman? Would you say they are racist? I think many of you would. What if I told you that the people who said these things to her were speaking the truth, that they were being honest?

Credit: flickr user Carlos Smith
Credit: flickr user Carlos Smith (click for link)

So, let us think of a gay man who happens to tell his female friend that he is gay because she just expressed a romantic interest in him, and he didn’t want to lead her on. She tells him he doesn’t act gay. She means it as a compliment. She’s speaking the truth. But couldn’t that be homophobic? Holding preconceived notions of what a gay man acts like is no different from telling someone, “You don’t act [insert racial, religious, other affiliation here].” Who are you to decide what [blank] looks like? And saying it with a smile suggests that you think it’s less-than to act [blank]. Is that not discriminatory?

I should mention here that discriminatory thoughts and comments like that are not limited to those outside the group. Sometimes the most vocal ‘pretty hair’ and ‘browning’ rhetoric comes from those you consider one of you. In the same vein, it is arguably homophobic when gays themselves look down on others for not being ‘straight-acting’. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter where it comes from.

Credit: Flickr user Dimitri dF (clink for link)
Credit: Flickr user Dimitri dF (clink for link)

The above examples have been fairly innocuous, but, to further explain the point, let us go with something a bit more likely to stir up some emotion: HIV. The ‘plumbing’ involved in much male-male sexual activities makes it ‘risky’; the rectal lining is thin enough (and easily damaged enough) for HIV and other pathogens to pass through, and so infection can spread. So, HIV/AIDS and its statistics are often mentioned in anti-homosexual rhetoric. But, is that homophobic?

What if I told a young lady that she was better off being a lesbian, because HIV is more easily passed through penile-vaginal sexual encounters than lesbian sexual encounters. I’m being truthful. The statistics do say that but surely you see the problem. Do you really except a young woman to give up men just because of that? So, why say the same kind of things to (and about) homosexuals? Why associate HIV/AIDS so exclusively to homosexuals when condoms and lubrication work just as well for them as for the heterosexuals?

I think it should be clear by now that truthfulness and homophobia can exist together. Clever as the catch-phrase is, it does not really stand up to scrutiny, I am afraid. In my opinion, it is intellectually dishonest to hide discriminatory words behind a banner of ‘truth’. As a society, we should do better.

Credit: Alan Groffman
Credit: Alan Groffman (click for link)

*

Ken, also known as Mr Multilingual, is a tutor of Japanese, and a sign language interpreter. After listening to both ‘sides’ of this issue, he decided some definitions were in order.

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Journo Thugs! Pen-toting Partisans Drive Fear into the Hearts of Intellectuals

Firstly, congrats to all the recent MBBS candidates who were successful in their examinations! The Class of 2015 is officially next in line (pretending not to shake in my boots here).

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Jamaica Observer recently published an article entitled: Homo Thugs!: Gun-toting Gays Drive Fear in Citizens of Garrison Communities by Karyl Walker.

Cue outraged gay rights lobbyists.

In addition to its subject matter, the writing in the article is a complete journalistic travesty. To quote a friend of mine (fully qualified – in postgrad journalism school. There’s a fancy word for that).

There are relevancy issues, libel issues, morality issues, source issues – all on top of really bad writing and lazy reporting.

Since we can all agree that this article has no journalistic merit, I’ll tackle all the emotional pots it is trying to stir. Which is all of them. Sensationalism has found a new home.

The attached picture features a tube of pink lipstick overlying spent shells and a necklace with the male symbol. Which is just all kinds of stereotypical.

No way am I claiming this image. Horrible image.

Imagine if the article was talking about black people and pictured fried chicken and grape juice. Maybe someone in a ski mask robbing a grocery store. Not to mention the persistent belief that all the homosexuals are men. Female homosexuality is always shuffled off to some quiet corner, tacitly condoned with creepy leering and socially acceptable fantasies.

The first paragraph really sets the tone for the entire article:

DESPITE claims from local and international gay rights activists that Jamaica is a fiercely homophobic country, recent evidence is suggesting that homosexuals are living openly in some of the country’s notoriously tough garrisons without hassle or intimidation.

It sounds like they’re saying Jamaican garrisons have accepted homosexuality, but what they’re actually saying is

“YOU’RE SLACKING OFF, GARRISONS. YOU HAD ONE JOB.”

Their aim is not to prove that our country can be accepting, it’s to prove that gay men will kill us in our sleep if we don’t.

Image credit: cocoacasino.com

The train wreck continues.

A reliable police source said that it is common knowledge in the constabulary that some of the top names in the criminal underworld were homosexual and had relations with multiple gay partners.

However, because of their fearsome reputations, many persons who know of their lifestyle keep their mouths tightly shut in fear for their lives.

Why is Karyl Walker trying to tell us that people would call the cops on homosexuals if only they weren’t criminals too. It’s like saying, “I want to tell the police what this man does in the privacy of his bedroom, but I can’t say anything because he also sells guns and drugs to children.”

So-called informers are ready and willing to point fingers at “crimes” of sexuality, but hesitate when confronted with crimes against humanity: murder, rape, human trafficking.

Image from dvice.com

She finally crashes into what may actually be libel with her closing paragraph reaching for an illicit relationship between recently murdered Montegonian Kenley “Bebe” Stevens (openly gay and rumoured to be a criminal) and Member of Parliament Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams.

Stephens was fingered in the illegal lotto scam, the stealing of electricity, among other illegal activities. He had strong connections in the ruling PNP, as he was one of the main fund-raisers in that part of Jamaica, and was recently elected vice-chairman of the party’s West Central St James constituency, headed by state minister for industry, commerce and investment, Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, who is also MP for the constituency.

I know journalism in this country has been taking a turn for the worse ever since I learnt how to read but sometimes it’s just really disappointing (and slightly nauseating) when the top stories from our national newspapers are no better than the top stories in our tabloids. I expect bad journalism from The Star but the Jamaica Observer has disappointed me for the last time.

homophobia at utech: my very visceral reaction

Last week the UWI allowed a group of people who believed humans were created by alien scientists to have a seminar on their campus. This wasn’t handled very well by most of the students in attendance.

Last week also, two male students at UTECH were caught in a bathroom in what is rumoured to be a ‘compromising position’. This was handled even worse.

The issue at hand is our extreme intolerance of anything different or other. It’s not that the students were right in fraternizing (or whatever it is they were doing) in a public place, but that’s not why one of them was attacked. If we’re going to be entirely honest, everyone knows that if he had been caught with a girl whoever found them would have simply looked the other way. Maybe even shared a knowing look with him afterwards. The incident would have probably sent his ratings up a bit.

But because of the who and not the what, this young man was held against his will by the same security guards he ran to for help. He was abused physically and verbally by the persons whose job it is to ensure the safety of all UTECH students. But there is something about the Jamaican mind that can conveniently separate the homosexual from the rest of humanity (aided by the derogatory words we call them) therefore making it okay to treat them like crap.

When you listen to the video, it’s all ‘battyman’ and ‘fish’ and some student telling the guards that they can’t have all the fun. All any of the observers cares about is that he’s gay, not that he was caught in a public bathroom doing something he probably shouldn’t have been doing.

On the other hand (and I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this): these guys must have been either really brave or really stupid to do their business in a public bathroom in one of the most violently homophobic countries in the world.

ETA: 
Just to keep you informed:

  • There was a petition floating around to get the security guard fired (he has been).
  • Observer and Gleaner had been following the story up until three days ago, but I don’t see anything new. This is the shortest 9 day wonder like, ever.
  • The delightful Carla Moore has a (rather lengthy) spiel on the whole incident in which she tries to decode the “bun battyman” mentality of Jamaicans. And I love her for it.

the Obligatory Valentine’s Post

Exact copy of the card I'll be giving this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, imagine you have just met a stranger. He or she possesses the physical attributes and personality traits that most appeal to you. You enjoy spending time with him or her and find yourself doing so more and more. You realize that you are beginning to like this person quite a bit and you make the decision to enter into a relationship with him or her. The relationship progresses naturally and after some time you find the faintest beginnings of a stronger and deeper feeling; you and your stranger are happy and in love.

Now imagine you are the same sex.

That was written in 2007 for my oral presentation in a communications course (CAPE Communication Studies), and I dusted it off because I think Valentine’s Day should be all about love. Not hate. Let the red mean passion, not bloodshed. Let them wear pink. Let people love each other.

And maybe you’ll let someone love you.

Nickelback’s If Everyone Cared

Happy Valentine’s everyone. <3