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What's In a Name: Gay Identities Affirmed in Latest Social Media Campaign

Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals & Gays (JFLAG), Jamaica's foremost advocacy group for LGBTQ persons recently launched a social media campaign entitled,"We ARE Jamaicans" on youtube (perhaps because no media house would have carried it as they have traditionally helped to silence the voice of LGBTQ persons in Jamaica and construct a singular narrative that is often derogatory and prejudiced). The campaign was covered by international press - from the little-known ones to the more widely read ones like the Miami Herald to the Huffington Post. Unsurprisingly, though, this went under the radar of the Jamaican Press. Perhaps, now we know how lazy the Jamaican press is in finding news or maybe they just do not read (that explains the many glaring grammatical errors) or perhaps our press had been bitten too hard by the bug that causes a severe case of prejudice. Nobody who's alive could miss the BIG cacophony JFLAG's latest campaign caused in international and social media.

The campaign was headlined by JFLAG's Executive Director, Dane Lewis; apparently an official coming out occasion for him. We ARE Jamaicans also features gay, Jamaican activist and Dartmouth educated, Javed Jaghai, Susan Goffe, prominent humans rights activist/advocate and Alexis Goffe, human's right advocate; the latter two are straight allies of the LGBTQ community.

Video of Dane Lewis

Javed Jaghai

Susan Goffe

Alexis Goffe

According to JFLAG, "We Are Jamaicans is a campaign for Jamaicans, whether gay or straight, to share their experiences and perspectives about LGBT human rights. This in an effort to promote greater understanding and help change minds and hearts of Jamaicans about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."

Unfortunately, not many Jamaicans want to understand LGBTQ people. In fact, they may feel that they already know them. They have bought into narratives about LGBTQ people particularly gays and lesbians (the others they either do not know about or do not understand, so everyone is bulked in the L and the G)that are reflected in the names that they call them.

Funny man

All of the aformentioned names have one thing in common; they do NOT recognise the humanity of the individual. They all fall in either of two categories non-human or sub-human. The non/sub-human nomenclatures are influenced by deeply entrenched Christian dogma that teach that such sexual orientations and behaviour are resultant from "The FALL" of Adam & Eve, presumably, from their lofty "full human" state (Jamaicans love quote scripture in opposition to homosexuality). Homosexuality, therefore, is a manifestation of this new non/sub-human status and the society's attitudes and values are constructed and entrenched around this perspective. Consequently, for many Jamaican homosexuals there is a devalued concept of self. In my experience counseling with and researching gay men as they negotiate their sexuality (and their faith) has shown that these men often are uncomfortable with their identity that some often:
1. Deny the existence of God (as explained and experienced within their immediate cultural context)
2. Create for themselves a more benevolent and sophiscated god who is
accepting of them and their orientation
3. Exist in a state of dissonance (Hold on to the religious views that devalue/dehumanise them, while maintaining a secret gay life. Often this gay life is lived simultaneously with a public heterosexual relationship [with wife or girlfriend] in keeping with the expectations of the church). Those who function on the level of the latter usually are the ones who tend find it most difficult to cope with life (being unable to reconcile sexual and religious identities). They "know" they are condemned and that there is no "redemption" unless they change their orientation (which cannot be changed). The impossibility to change their orientation (desires), even when they have changed their sexual behaviours (having sex with men) have often lead to suicidal ideations.

The attitudes and values inherent in those names, by which Jamaican gay wo/men are identified are inherently hateful. One needs only hear the venom with which they are spat at anyone perceived to be gay or even to insult someone with whom there is a quarrel. One is either instructed to go suck parts of your mother's anatomy or called any of the names listed above. It is that hate that the campaign hopes to transform, as deduced from JFLAG's description of the intent of the campaign.

Fish & Chichi (Non-human): the Gay man is not viewed as fully human. He embodies the depravity of fallen human to a non-human state. A fish is a sea creature, covered in scales, fins etc. A chichi is the Jamaican name for an
insect otherwise called termite that eats out wood/board the metaphor is applied to the gay man who is presumed to have an affinity with the (male)phallus known locally as wood/hood. Ergo, the gay man acts as a termite by being drawn to wood/hood.

Battyman/sodomite: The gay man is reduced to part of the human body - the
bottom anus or batty). The presumption is that the penetration of the orifice is the sum of the gay man's experience (a notion the campaign sought to debunk)... the name sodomite is hardly used is reference to the place (Sodom) but mostly in reference to the "judgment" that Sodom received for its "sexual deviance". The attitude attached here is that the sodomite/gay is deserving of "judgment" from God or those who must execute judgment on this god's behalf.

Funnyman: The name aknowledges that their is something abnormal about being gay and engaging in gay sex...the fullness of the masculinity/humanity of one who so engages is denied.

Hopefully, if we take the time to view these video, we will come away with an understanding beyond those names that deny the humanity of others. What's in a name? Those awful names we use expose hearts that are darkened by hate and ignorance; hearts that must be opened to the light of love and understanding.

*Excerpts in this blog post were taken from a previous post I wrote for Jamaica Opposition


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