Earlier this month news surfaced about a number of incidents of attacks – verbal and otherwise – against members of the LGBT community. There was one particular report that suggested incidents against women in the LGBT community have intensified. Subsequent to that I was asked whether I believed men in the LGBT community were disproportionately affected by homophobic violence and discrimination, and before allowing me to respond, the questioner put forward her view that based on her knowledge, she believed men were more affected than women.
I flatly responded by saying no; that is actually not the case. I continued by sharing that before getting involved in advocacy about two years ago, I used to think that our intolerance as a society for homosexuality, was largely and primarily actioned against men. I used to also think, and believe that the only piece of legislation that had an anti-same-sex component was the Offences Against the Person Act, commonly known as the ‘buggery law’, never mind this piece of legislation also speaks to murder, abortion, aggravated assault, and many other offences against the person.
The first time I challenged my (old) thinking about how men and women were affected by homophobia was in an interview I conducted with Javed, who was at the time a member of staff at J-FLAG. His response to a similar question as the one referenced above got me thinking, and thinking, and thinking some more. I did my own little research and the more I explored this issue of actioning homophobia, the more I got involved with the work J-FLAG was doing, the more I became an advocate who was also learning feminism, the more I realised, what I believe today: that men and women are affected differently by homophobia, and this difference is not, and should not be, in my opinion, a manifestation of portions – greater or lesser. It is just different. What happens, however, is that many of the visible (and I mean media visible) and common (everyday) forms of homophobia that affect the LGBT population is actioned against men. The incidents don’t even need to be reported for them to become headline news.
Let’s take homelessness, for example. Very few women actually live on the street because of the circumstances around their SOGI status. Some women who are displaced as a result of their SOGI status are able to stay with friends until they ‘get back on their feet’, because familial support seems to be greater for our women than our men, of course, excluding women who become pregnant ‘too early’. So although men and women could possibly be equally (I don’t know) affected by displacement, the worst manifestation of that – which is living on the street – affects men more than it does women. And people who ‘sofa surf’ are not visible to Jane public, but people who live on the street are visible to many of us, including our media entities and our police service. Let’s take another example, non-sexual physical violence. When reports of these incidents make the news, the victim/survivor is oftentimes a man. And it doesn’t make the news because the incident was reported to the police, it makes the news because a mob was involved, or at least a small crowd.
For those reasons, and many others, an impression is created that men are disproportionately affected by homophobic violence and discrimination. But it is a myth, in my opinion. It is my work in particular with WE-Change, for example, that led me to realise just how messed up our society is in how it treats with lesbians and bisexual women, and even worse-so, how it treats with transgender women who are at greater risk than many women for being abused, or contracting HIV and other STIs. It is my work with WE-Change that made me realise just how disturbingly discriminatory our legislative framework is against LBT women. LBT women in same-sex domestic partnerships have no form of spousal rights – rights that are afforded ‘even’ to heterosexual cis-gender couples in visiting relationships. I can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about that now, but not a year or two ago. And even though I can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about that today, there is still a lot about what I, or anyone else in this context for that matter, can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about mothers who are submitting their girl child to forced penetrative sex with older men in an attempt to ‘cure’ their homosexuality. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about all sorts of ‘corrective’ sexual violence that lesbians experience. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about how LBT women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about how LBT women are disproportionately affected by street harassment. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about a lot of things related to how homophobic violence and discrimination are actioned against the LBT women’s community living in Jamaica.
I like to talk, preferably boldly, and in an evidence-based manner, and primarily with the ‘right’ people if change is what I want to effect. And in this country, like in many others, if you don’t speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner, your advocacy is as effective as it is useless. A lot of what we have been saying when we talk about how LBT women living in Jamaica are affected by homophobia has been lacking in evidence. And I don’t mean evidence that equals to or amounts to five, or eight, or twelve women talking in living rooms about the traumatic experiences of their LBT sisters, friends, and colleagues. I mean evidence that can make use of anecdotes and personal experiences yes, but in Jamaica, in this political culture, in this victim-blaming place we call home, we need to find innovative and creative ways of talking boldly and in an evidence-based manner, with the little we have. And it will take long, it will take a very long time because underreporting is a dirty little disease, and I don’t mean underreporting to family, friends, colleagues, pastors and counsellors, I mean underreporting to rights organisations and government entities charged with protecting (technically some of) the rights of each of us.
So while I sit whether at my home, which is in a gated community that has a few watchmen and a watchwoman because I make myself able, even amidst my poverty to afford it, so I may feel safe enough to place a no discrimination sticker on my door; or while I sit at J-FLAG’s office where everyone has to be buzzed in to enter the office in an effort to reduce the possibility of being threatened or attacked by LGBT or non-LGBT persons; or while I dine at restaurants that are branded as LGBT friendly or have security cameras so I may minimise the possibility of being attacked, and in the event that I am attacked or anything happens to me, there will be evidence (I hope); or while I ride in the seat of a chartered cab to avoid frequent street harassment; or even while partying up a storm at a soca event where I can boldly wear a ‘some people are gay, get over it t-shirt without being overtaken by anxiety, to think about the creative and effective ways in which I must utilise my skills and abilities to challenge the status quo of homophobia, including self-loathing, and patriarchal homophobia, I will not talk as much as you with mere anger and disgust because I am busy in all these spaces trying to plot my moves on the graph of change, until I am able to speak boldly, and in an evidence-based manner about what I started out knowing anecdotally. All the while being proactive, to reduce the number of times we need to be reactive. And all I can use are my skills. I don’t have many, but I try to capitalise on the few I have. I am also fully aware of the skills I don’t have, including those much touted soft skills. And I make myself okay with that, even though I was recently advised at the #CWSDC2015 that in advocacy, likeability and respect are perhaps equally important. But I make what I do have, work, and work the best possible way I think I can make it work…
Yes, I know I have been blabbing for about 1000 words or so, maybe not making much sense to you (yet). But that blabbing was my preamble for making two simple and probably unimportant (to you) points in this post.
- I am not your kind of perfect.
- I am not trained, equipped, or even have the capacity to play the role of a Crisis Intervention/Support Officer.
I am sick and tired of people (advocates included) expecting that everyone who is involved in any form of social justice advocacy work, must, as a prerequisite, have social work training or even the inclination. Everything in social justice advocacy is not about reactive advocacy, in my opinion. It is not all about responding to, or reacting to crisis on the ground, always being present and visible on the ground. Always willing to be there on the ground, even when the folks who you are trying to support are (literally) spitting in your face because they don’t believe you are doing enough for them in that moment. And always going back, on the ground no matter how many times you are called, the day of the week you are called, the time of the day you are called, just always, always being there, being present, being on the ground. That is not all advocacy is about. And someone’s (read my) incapacity to be a Crisis Intervention/Support Officer should not preclude them from supporting the advocacy movement in the ways they know how to, and believe me, if you are literate, you will know that there are several ways that one can advocate. In fact, we need these several ways, these several methods, if we intend to fast-track our way into an enabling and inclusive environment called Jamaica. I am sick and tired of people who continue to create this impression that advocacy is only about doing crisis work. And I am equally sick and tired of people trying to guilt me for making decisions about how I live my life and where I live my life, to ensure that my dad, or my mom, or my sisters, or my aunt, or more importantly my nephew and partner do not have to worry all the time about my safety, about my mental and emotional safety, about my physical and social safety, about my professional and financial safety.
Nobody knows how much I struggle almost every day to do the work I do and try to do it well. You see ‘high life’ and ‘affluence’. What the hell do you know about affluence? What the hell do you know about middle class? I am poor. Yes. Poor. There are many categories of poor my friend. I used to teach Sociology, so I think I understand social class and status. And oh yes, the variables are changing, and the ‘qualifications’ are changing, but my dear, my life is no representation of this middleclass business I hear people (read you) ascribing to me. And even if I had the resources and capital and access that I believe are typically associated with middleclass status, so what? Am I not allowed to advocate because I am not homeless? Or was never raped? Or was never hungry for more than two consecutive days? Or avoid unchartered public transportation? Or is it that I should not be allowed to label my work as advocacy because I am not a Crisis Offer? Or maybe I should not say I am an advocate because I don’t use every platform I access to be angry and cuss eternally while doing very little about patriarchal homophobia? And the newest one….Am I not allowed to be a social justice advocate because my partner and I are going through the worst darn possible patch of our relationship because I messed up and she messed up?
Let me talk about this newest one…
It seems as if in writing about the challenges experienced by LBT women in that report I referenced in my opening paragraph, the eloquent ghost-writer who also spoke about the grave underreporting of homophobic incidents, suggestively linked my ‘affluent’ living and this darn bloody rough patch I am experiencing with my partner to this underreporting. The stimulating and refreshing piece was brought to my attention by a friend of mine via email. The preamble to the email was that the public brawl between my partner and I on Twitter a couple weeks ago (something we are still trying to navigate but making peace as we go along) has resulted in a loss of trust and perhaps respect for both of us and the work that we do. And that one of the organisations with which we are affiliated will now be incapacitated in some shape or form, and lesbians and bisexual women will now be concerned about reaching out to the organisation for support. The trust has been broken I hear. Because clearly, my partner and I are not allowed any rough patches. And if we are even allowed rough patches, these can only be accessed in private. And then when we come into the public sphere we what, pretend? Of course! Pretend like we are always on top of the world. Pretend that everything about us, between us, is perfect, that I don’t mess up? That she doesn’t mess up? And we are somehow an ideal couple from Mars?
Sorry to burst your bubble. I messed up, real badly. And my partner was justifiably mad at me for messing up and it got ugly. It got really ugly, especially on Twitter. And in my real world, that is ok, and ought to be ok, in my opinion. We are real people, with real feelings, with real issues, with real hearts, with real pain. And we hurt when we hurt each other. We don’t hurt each other a lot, but we do, sometimes. And it doesn’t make us any less competent to do our work. It doesn’t make us any less of advocates. It doesn’t make us any less human. And we fix it. Always, we fix it. Because we acknowledge privately and publicly that what we did was messed (you can tell I desire a different word) all the way up. I am not saying or suggesting that everything that happens in the private domain should, or must, or will happen in the public domain, because god knows, if our sex life was public, many of my colleagues, especially the close ones, would probably have heart failure. What I am saying is that we are not by nature – individually or as a unit – hypocrites. And so as a couple that shares a lot publicly, especially the silly spontaneous stuff, when we do mess up and get really angry at each other, sometimes, sometimes, social media becomes our coping mechanism, our ranting agency. And for that, don’t crucify us. We love our work (well I love mine most days), and we love each other. We try our best when we are at our best, and we try to cope when we are at our worst. If this means that some so-called trust in us and the organisations with which we are affiliated will somehow be lost, then maybe the holders of that trust aren’t so sincere, and real, and honest, and human after all.
I am not a leader. But I try to be a good worker most days. And it is my partner, more than everyone else (well, maybe there’s a tie with Jaevion) and everything else, that, by her very existence and belief in me, inspires me daily to be the best worker, advocate, colleague, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, and partner I can be.
If anybody’s trust or belief in me and the work I do is rooted in an idealistic perception of Latoya McFee Nugent, then I am unaffected by your loss of trust and belief in me.
Please forgive the absence of pictures in this post, and the incomplete arguments, I was really just ranting and not speaking boldly, in an evidence-based manner.