Today, or on another day perhaps not so different from this one – a day of light and birds and even laughter, genuine laughter – another faggot in Jamaica will perhaps scream, or not, as someone moves to burn down his home with him inside it; or tries to rip open his bowels with a machete, as he, that faggot (picture his watching eyes, watching; picture his open or just-closed mouth, sometimes waiting), is perhaps momentarily distracted by looking at the sea, at our gorgeous bluegreen Caribbean Sea. He, the faggot, pondering waves there; pondering color and light and birds, and for possibly even more than this moment, not dwelling – no, not at all --on how much his body and his flesh, and his very breath, are all still so hated, hated, hated in Jamaica. For this moment, as he ponders that beckoning water where scores of his enslaved ancestors leapt off ships to their deaths three hundred years before, he unremembers the fact that this country, for the most part, has never loved him; that its motto of “Out of many, one people” seems, astonishingly, not ever – not even after death -- to include him; and that in fact, one of the nation’s proudest patriots, in the name of God and nation, or simply in the spirit of fear and outrage, might, even on this day of light and birds and color, already be dreaming either of eviscerating him, or burning him alive, or both.
Such dreams of annihilation that occasionally lead to fearsome acts should come as no surprise in the Jamaica many of us know and love in spite of itself; the country that we know and love in spite of the fact that this Jamaica, the same one that venomously calls some of its male citizens faggots or battymen, and calls some of its female and male citizens sodomites, would just as soon slice open faggots’ throats as see them – me -- hanged from someone’s mango tree. It should come as no surprise that somewhere, on a day not so different from this one, some “lesbian bitch” (as one has sometimes heard those people referred to in Jamaica),or a woman perceived to be a lesbian, is raped and perhaps murdered, maybe eviscerated: yes, for that is what she deserved, isn’t it? Because a woman should be a woman, goddamnit, and not aim to be like a rassclaat man, no true? She, the bitch, should know her damnblasted place, no true? Know her place even though some of us say that we are not, in Jamaica, like South Africa: we do not have “corrective rape” here. We are not ignorant and dirty like those whom some of us would consider disgusting black Africans, even though many of us, if not most, also are black. And lesbian bitches and faggots in Jamaica should know their place because this kind of carrying on, this faggotness and lesbianness and simple filthy perversion, is pure wickedness, nastiness, filthiness. It is an abomination (so it has been said). It is a sickness, a white people ting, a (to some, to many) Satanic ting. . . a ting we cannot bear inna dis ya country, Massa God: so annihilate de battyman dem, de sodomite dem.
And so, many have indeed thought and on occasion shouted; and so many have believed and believe still: yes, by God, by Jesus His Son on the cross, it must be done. Exorcise. And if at least some of them are annihilated or exorcised (or both), and if enough eyes and backs are turned away when the police or others torture them, people will dance and cheer and sing in the streets, won’t they? Many people will, won’t they? Yes, of course: for isn’t that what some people did when, just about seven years ago now, one of Jamaica’s most famous faggots, and one who helped to found that nastyman organization, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), was killed? Brian Williamson. Chopped up with a machete, someone chopped him; carved up with an ice pick, someone carved him. Brian: remember him? His insides were ripped open by metal gripped in a pair of angry hands. Upon announcement of his death that June 2004 morning, people who happened to be out on the road where he lived began dancing, dancing in that narrow New Kingston road: dancing for joy outside Brian’s home at 3A Haughton Avenue, as his still-warm corpse was carried out of his house by those whose work it is to do such things. And many people who were watching on that lovely day not unlike this one danced and even sang the song, that so-infamous song, the annihilation anthem by Buju Banton: Boom-bye-bye in a battybwoy head/Rudebwoy nah promote de nasty man, dem haffi dead.
Because that is what we deserve, many people in Jamaica still believe. Because that is what faggots are, many people in Jamaica (and throughout the world) still believe. Unpersons. Not-people. Things. Pedophiles. Aberrations. The depraved things called faggots. Lesbian bitches. Battymen. Sodomites.
And all of it – blood, words, dancing, rage -- evidence of the great harm that the denial of full human citizenship does to human beings. Denial of the human citizenship that makes people into ghosts, unpeople, things. Things which, because less than human, are more easily hated, feared, despised. And killed.
And so perhaps, thirteen years ago, the small group of us who founded J-FLAG had already had enough of our thing-ness, or had decided to pay it no attention and move on. Perhaps we had had enough of faggots’ body parts tossed into ravines for mangy dogs to sniff and consume, and policemen’s batons cracked into our skulls either before or after those batons had been shoved up our asses, then down our throats. Perhaps we decided that it might be better to face head-on the possibility of being chopped up, instead of living always in fear of being chopped up. I remember that one of us, one who departed the group soon after our first meeting, asked us with great concern, in regard to the danger of the work to come: “But if you were a Jew in Nazi Germany, would you go about stating loudly that you were a Jew?” None of us could say what Jews would have done; I replied, “But what else can we do? What else is there to do, now?” And so impossibly, possibly, we went forth, and went forth again, and thirteen years later, although the founding group has dispersed, the organization lives on, and only one of the founders – Brian -- has been murdered. And many more lesbians and gay men, and some transgendered people, have found in J-FLAG a place in Jamaica that they can call “home,” of a kind; a place that they can call their own; a place where, on a day not so different from this one, or one exactly like it, they can sit down, recalling at some point the beauty of our gorgeous bluegreen Caribbean, and actually touch the miracle of their own living flesh, and say, or think, But yes. I exist. I’m alive, here, and that is a good thing. Alive, here, where, at least for now, no one will try to toss acid upon me, or spit in my face and call me an abomination, or cut off my hands and hate me because in me they see nothing but filth, just sickening filth. Not here, where I can be alive. Where I can have flesh, a face, and my own hands.
And Jamaica? It has had to contend with us. Is contending. Contending even though it has rarely seen our faces; for to show our faces without great caution in Jamaica, even now -- perhaps especially now – just might bring death in some quarters, in many quarters; just might bring fire and kerosene and machetes, and then people dancing on a road somewhere. But Jamaica knows, more than ever now, that we are here. There. It knows more than ever now, our beloved but often cruel country, that it may kill some of us, but by no means all. It cannot murder all of the women; it cannot annihilate every single man. The prime minister knows it, Jamaica’s Parliament knows it. Fire and machetes, but also resistance. Resistance. Everyone knows it.
Ultimately, perhaps I really wanted to help form J-FLAG because of him: because of that little faggot, sitting there, broken-fingered and partly burned, in a dark corner of my most lonely, most abandoned imagination. A corner of exile and sometimes death. Sitting there, that little mincing, lisping, despicable faggot who should have been shot dead in his youth; who should have been raped, who was raped; who should have been beaten, and was beaten, constantly: that sickening little faggot, with the too-large eyes and the swaying hips, who might have been me or so many others; who was me, and is, and will be, many others. It is for him, and for all the others – the women, the men, the mannish women and the womanish men, and all those yet to come – that, I am sure, we walked toward great fear and uncertainty, but also toward the power of freedom and liberation. There is something in the pursuit of liberation that feels exactly like – that is -- prayer. Let these words, then, and a part of this day, become a kind of prayer for all of them – for us -- and also for the dead. A prayer with open hands and heart for the living and the dead. A prayer that already knows that the time is coming, will come, when a faggot or sodomite might walk alongside our beautiful Caribbean, thinking of nothing, nothing whatsoever, but water, waves. Silence. Just walking -- and, on a day not so different from this one, gradually turning his or her face up to the sky, thinking, But yes. Here. Alive. Where I am. Where I can be. Alive.
Thomas Glave is the author of Whose Song? and Other Stories, The Torturer’s Wife, the essay collection Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent(Lambda Literary Award, 2005), and is editor of the anthology Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles (Lambda Literary Award, 2008). A founding member of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), he teaches in the English dept. at SUNY Binghamton, and will be a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University in 2012.
This essay was delivered in slightly different form as a talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum, Oslo, Norway, May 10, 2011.