What Does it Mean to be a Man in Jamaica?
One of things that I am reminded of in Jamaica is how strong the sense is ‘manliness’ is in Jamaican men. Taking it a step further, the manner in which that strong sense of masculinity encroaches on even being remotely associated to homosexuality is intolerable.
Straight men don’t say “two” that has a homosexual reference. So you won’t find counting to include voicing the word ‘two.’ Terror Fabulous song lyrics, “some man a play number two,” is direct reflection of this.
Straight men don’t say “Montego Bay,” they say, “Gal-tego Bay” alluding to the man reference in the pronunciation of country’s second capital. Another city is Mandeville, concurrently called “Gal de ville.”
Just few moments ago I had playful banter with two male colleagues. One is particularly jovial and laughs a lot. The other said of him, “He is always happy.” I nodded and smiled. Who doesn’t like being happy, right? The jovial colleague suddenly got serious and said, “Hey, I don’t like how you said that.” He was alluding to the synonym of the word “happy” which is “gay.” So apparently straight men can’t be called happy either.
Another word is “funny.” Call somebody funny as in funny ha ha ha, and the quick response is “No mi nuh funny.” As in funny man or funny woman…gay.
Fish somehow, (don’t ask me where or how), this word means gay male. So they say sea creature. Man nuh eat fish.
It so deep that regular everyday words have to removed from the vernacular or re-purposed to steadfastly assure the listening public that not even a whiff of homosexuality is to associated with any person.
This can be seen all in good fun, but is it really? I would venture to say, no, on an island where homophobia is rampant. Personally I don’t care who consenting grown folks choose to sleep with, it’s none of my business. However, Jamaican homophobia veers from clever word puns to violent acts. I walk on the streets it is everywhere. It’s on the radio. It’s in almost every passing conversation. You can’t get away from it.
Jamaica is a country of dualities. The homophobic duality extends to the stage. Pantomime and theatre actors are held by different standards. Cross dressing males are humorous on stage. Popular cross dressing actors are very effeminate and regularly gyrate to give any dancehall queen a run for her money. When these men dress as women, they get barrels of laughs. Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, Jamaica’s ultimate bad man was found in wig after being captured in the biggest and perhaps bloodiest manhunt in this country’s history. Guess he missed “Bad Man Nuh Dress Like Girl” memo.
All male dance crews are still popular. Some crews might have an obligatory girl. Go to a party and you find mostly men on the dance floor battling and when the tunes slow down for slow jams, hardly a heterosexual couple is locked in an embrace. Dancehall culture has men bleaching, shaving their eyebrows and doing their nails.
In a study by Dr. Noel Cowell of the University of the West Indies, predictors for anti-gay rhetoric were measured across 40 communities and with 2,000 participants. This was the first of its kind in Jamaica.
According to the study, religion is often the cornerstone of anti-gay lobbyists and anti-gay bias. Surprisingly, religion was not the most reliable predictor or the strongest. After taking in all the factors simultaneously into account, the two most reliable predictors were dancehall music and gender. Naturally I ask, What does it mean to be a man in Jamaica? What is it about those perceptions on masculinity that makes homosexuality unbareable? Is the idea of masculinity cloaked in toughness and machismo that even words barely alluding to homosexuality defy social constructs?
Jamaica is not alone. Sexual prejudice is not unique to this island. Spin the globe and you will find homophobic practices from the Sultan of Brunei’s introduction of Sharia law to Uganda’s anti-gay bill. In the UK, gay couples recently acquired equal marriage rights and in the United States, it is still illegal in some states for gays to get married. Jamaica does have the unique problem of being dubbed “the most homophobic place on earth.” Unfortunately, little or no research is done to explain these homophobic sentiments.
Dancehall music is a strong predicator and proponent for homophobia. Turn on the radio and any given song has anti-gay lyrics. This year I was at a popular roots reggae concert and almost all the performers lashed out against gays and got rousing responses from the audience. I remember thinking, why do they have to do that? Can’t they just sing their songs and entertain? Pedophilia is rampant in Jamaica with reports of pre-teen and teenaged girls being murdered because they were pregnant for older men. Only a handful of performers at this concert lashed out against pedophilia. Where is the Christian righteousness? Yet homosexuals fuel the religious fodder whilst children are raped and impregnated?
At first my approach to this post was a light- hearted word play on references to homosexuality. After careful consideration, it would be irresponsible of me as a writer, as a thinking person to not explore this more.