By De Bajan Feminist
DISCLAIMER: This is a hard story for me to tell as it involves my ex partner, who from now on we will call X.This story took two years to make and one year to process enough to write. Within this piece I am not trying to advocate that queers and religious people can never have working relationships. I'm also not insinuating queer religious folks don't exist either. I am just exorcising an experience I am coming to grips with. Hopefully it can offer insights to help others avoid the mistakes made and ultimately save someone from all kinds of pain.
In my country we torch cane fields. Sometimes it's rebellious youngsters exploring their pyromanic compulsions. Sometimes it's landowners replenishing the soil. Sometimes it's the duppies of enslaved people enacting their final revenge on the crop that buried them. No matter who started it the flames leap,the barks crack, and the billowing black smoke blindfolds the open night sky.
The love X and I shared was like that.
We had no real business being together in the first place.
Like tall, dry grass ain't got no business playing with splint.
But we were troublemakers from the get go. The danger in the other made us like being together a little too much.
In nature dry grass never gets to know that it has a similar sense of humour to fire rock.
Or that they both love writing and performing.
Or that they both fight against social oppression.
Or that they both long to taste the bonfires on each other's lips.
But we were young and foolish and had a quota of disastrous choices to make. .
Just like the bush, neither of us knew we were burning until we were almost gone.
Weeks after we broke up we walked around like scorched land. Singed in places people couldn't see.If anyone was to ever ask a blackened cane field how it felt, it would’ve pointed to us and said: "Like them."
Megara from Disney’s Hercules said these sage words as she died due to the self-sacrifice she made for a demi-god: “People do crazy stuff when they are in love”. Now I’m pretty certain this truth isn’t absolute but I’ve seen people who love supreme beings and mere mortals, do some crazy shit in the name of that love. Even I must have internalised the “love” thing as an excuse to descend into lapsed judgement. Some of the actions I committed in the name of love were like maggots to the carcass of my common sense. For example: initiating a relationship with someone, despite the red flags flapping away like Donald Trump’s toupee, even before we held hands in public.
X was a Christian.
I was, and still am, not.
He would walk hours with Jesus in his heart. I grew to respect that, which was no small feat for a heathen like me. In secondary school I was told I had demons by my French teacher - I have always had a lot of trouble with religion.
As someone who grew up in the Caribbean and listened to historians preach more than pastors, I developed a dislike for how the faith was introduced to the populace and why.
The weaponising of a faith system strikes me as too problematic to reconcile, so I just just left it out of my life. He didn't like that. Even when he first found himself staring at my goofy smile, or doing silly things to make me laugh, he kept room between the two of us for the Holy Ghost when we touched.
Eventually I finally confessed my own spiritual understanding; based in ancient ancestral worship. It was fun breaking down my rituals and discussing how my practice had been demonised. There were some contentions but overall he understood. That was enough. But there was one sin in particular he could not forgive this pagan for.
I am a whole lot of queer. On my C.V I list under my skills, “rainbows shoot from every orifice”.
I have been with several women in the biblical sense.
I have been with several men in the biblical sense.
The Holy Book doesn’t like either very much.
Apparently the homosexuality thing is a little worse.
X knew this. X knew I was a queer queen since we were just friends who hung out at coffee shops. Yet once we were well in the capital of Relationship City it was my queerness that started the embers to leave us charred.
June 26th, 2015. SCOTUS had just passed the bill legalising same-sex marriage in all 50 states in the U.S.
I read it in England as I was prepping the peppers for Escovitch fish at the restaurant we both worked at. I smiled fiercely to myself. Thought the progress in the US could potentially lead to progress of the same kind in the Caribbean. There would hopefully be more pressure to dismantle more intolerant laws in the wake of such a massive human rights victory. Things were looking up!
I told X. He was unimpressed. “I can’t celebrate with you.” He said walking away.
My world imploded.
The man that I loved, the man I was willing to build a life with could not celebrate with a part of my identity. Even though he knew the stories. He knew of the ridicule and shame I had endured. Knew how I had seen my queer brothers,sisters and non-binaries suffer.
Yet he still looked at me, jaw hardened and eyes disgusted. I was disappointed with him and myself.
The fight that ensued that night was the fight that destroyed us.
No matter who started it the flames leap,the barks crack, and the billowing black smoke blindfolds the open night sky.
Love The Sinner Not The Sin
This whole idea of “Love the sinner not the sin” echoed as we battled to make it work. Yet every time I heard it I could hear the rifts breaking our solidity. This was a weak premise to build love on. By seeing me as a sinner I immediately felt judged by the person I was supposed to be most vulnerable with.
X was by no means the antagonist to this story, he was and undoubtedly still is, a great man. I just don’t think he was able to empathise with how painful the phrase was. I ended up likening it to someone saying “I love you, but not your skin colour” as both race and sexuality are heavily politicised aspects of our identities no one gets to choose. Additionally due to the oppressions both aspects strive to overcome in general society, they should not be parts you ever have to apologise for. Especially not to the one you hope to cause trouble in a seniors home with.
I found myself conflicted. After years of trying not to change his mind or wanting to erase aspects of his identity, apart of me really wanted to make him empathise with me. Even if it was just so he could accept me holistically.
I knew X loved and cared for me. I knew it couldn’t have been easy for him either. Deep inside himself he believed I was going to burn with Lucifer while he ate chakalaka with black Jesus.
That is a heavy burden to carry alone, but yet, whether as a form of preservation or not, I just let him bare it. Harshly thinking, “He’ll get over it” instead of wondering how do we work through this together.
The whole experience reinstated how paramount acceptance is in a relationship. We must properly accept who we are as individuals first. Then, in knowing ourselves attempt to truly accept who the other person is and what their individuality brings to the relationship. In retrospect, my adoration for him let my mind compromise on what that acceptance looked like.
I subconsciously filtered out the relationships I had with women when we spoke to preserve his comfortability. He filtered out how the words in the Bible granted him solace on the harder days. He walked to church rather than let me drive him, I got frustrated.
I spoke of queer discriminatory events to my best friend instead, he got frustrated.
Our conversations could never be as honest as they needed to be. Throughout the process X and I stopped saying how we really felt though we never stopped feeling it. He led me to believe he was more at peace with this topic than he was. I led him to believe I didn’t feel burdened to change on his behalf. In all this silence we neglected to be attentive of the effects it had on the other person.
It was this silence between us, and repetition of harmful rhetoric that turned all we had built into ash. And even though enough years have passed, and new, healthier lives have sprouted for us since, I still reflect on how naked, alone and yet free I felt when our field was set on fire.
In last months meet up we explored the poetry of QTIPOC writers of modern history. Check out the poetry we read and discussed below. What do you feel when you read their words?
—for Creativity and Crisis at the National Mall
tell my students i’m gay
tell chick fil a i’m queer
tell the new york times i’m straight
tell the mail man i’m a lesbian
tell american airlines
i don’t know what my gender is
like summer blockbuster armrest dates
armrest cinematic love
elbow to forearm in the dark
humor me queerly
fill me with laughter
make me high with queer gas
decompress me from centuries of spanish inquisition
& self-righteous judgment
like the blood my blood
that has mixed w/ the colonizer
& the colonized
in the extinct & instinct to love
bust memories of water & heat
& hot & breath
beating skin on skin fluttering
bruise me into vapors
bleed me into air
fly me over sub-saharan africa & asia & antarctica
explode me from the closet of my fears
graffiti me out of doubt
bend me like bamboo
propose to me
divide me into your spirit 2 spirit half spirit
& shadow me w/ fluttering tongues
& caresses beyond head
fist smashing djembes
between my hesitations
haiku me into 17 bursts of blossoms & cold saki
de-gender me in brassieres
& prosthetic genitalias
burn me on a brazier
wearing a brassiere
in bitch braggadocio soprano bass
magnificat me in vespers
of hallelujah & amen
libate me in halos
heal me in halls of femmy troubadors
announcing my hiv status
or your status
i am not afraid to love you
implant dialects as if they were lilacs
in my ear
medicate me with a lick & a like
i am not afraid to love you
so demand me
Audre Lorde, 1934 – 1992
Speak earth and bless me with what is richest
make sky flow honey out of my hips
rigid as mountains
spread over a valley
carved out by the mouth of rain.
And I knew when I entered her I was
high wind in her forests hollow
fingers whispering sound
from the split cup
impaled on a lance of tongues
on the tips of her breasts on her navel
and my breath
howling into her entrances
through lungs of pain.
Greedy as herring-gulls
or a child
I swing out over the earth
over and over
My Lover Is a Woman
my lover is a woman
& when i hold her
feel her warmth
i feel good
then—i never think of
my family’s voices
never hear my sisters say
bulldaggers, queers, funny
come see us, but don’t
bring your friends
it’s ok with us,
but don’t tell mama
it’d break her heart
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?
my lover’s hair is blonde
& when it rubs across my face
it feels soft
feels like a thousand fingers
touch my skin & hold me
and i feel good
then—i never think of the little boy
who spat & called me nigger
never think of the policemen
who kicked my body & said crawl
never think of Black bodies
hanging in trees or filled
with bullet holes
never hear my sisters say
white folks hair stinks
don’t trust any of them
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother talk
of her backache after scrubbing floors
never hear her cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?
my lover’s eyes are blue
& when she looks at me
i float in a warm lake
feel my muscles go weak with want
then—i never think of the blue
eyes that have glared at me
moved three stools away from me
in a bar
never hear my sisters rage
of syphilitic Black men as
rage of sterilized children
watch them just stop in an
intersection to scare the old white bitch
never feel my father turn
in his grave
never remember my mother
teaching me the yes sirs & ma’ams
to keep me alive
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?
& when we go to a gay bar
& my people shun me because i crossed
& her people look to see what’s
wrong with her
drove her to me
& when we walk the streets
of this city
forget and touch
or hold hands
& the people
stare, glare, frown, & taunt
at those queers
every word taught me
every word said to me
every deed done to me
& then i hate
i look at my lover
& for an instant
then—i hold her hand tighter
& i can hear my mother cry.
Lord, what kind of child is this?
When A Nigga Call You a Faggot- Jayy Dodd
You gotta laugh at least once.
Like the pot calling the kettle
A more dangerous thing.
When he spits it your mouth,
you must swallow the sour,
hurt of anxiety. How your lips
make him salivate.
When he swings his fist,
duck down and tackle him to
the ground with soft kisses.
When a nigga call you a faggot,
He’s calling you by his first name.
He’s telling you about his-self.
His own fault lines splitting his tongue,
toxic and tender. He’s crying for help
from the bottom of the ocean.
When it discharges from his throat,
imagine it lands on the shores
of which both your bodies washed up.
When a nigga calls you a faggot,
you still gotta call him brother.
You still gotta pray he makes it
home at night.
by Blake in #personalstories
TW: sexual violence, abuse
I always find the biggest injustice of psychosexual or emotional trauma is how long it lasts.
Recently, I had an experience and I learnt that actually, it’s quite like depression. It never really goes away. What was a five minutes here and there of abuse can actually stay forever, can come back in a way unexpected. Mine was unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. A long time ago, I told my story. For reasons too long to explain, years later it was sent back to me. At my request. Absolutely fine, I thought.
I thought wrong. I read excerpts from my story, what had happened to me – the things that made me legitimately identify as a ‘survivor’, and I wasn’t ready for it. How can I not be ready for it? It was my own story. I had neglected to put my mental warnings on it because I’d completely forgotten the content. It had been so long that I had almost no idea what had happened to me.
I’m in a very different place to where I was when I told that story, when I told exactly what had happened to me. Back then, it was always at the back of my mind constantly preparing my fight or flight response. That experience would be the reason why I’d be doubting my self-worth, or justifying many terrible decisions I’d made. Now, all of that is in the past. Long since ‘dealt with’. I mean dealt with in as in, I can have CBT and focus on current issues without going into it. With my mental health treatment, I’ve decided not to carefully unknit myself and delve into those issues unless it’s strictly necessary because now, I have a job and a family. I can’t afford to fall apart.
So, here I am. Casually sitting at work. I open the email. The email I’ve asked for. I start with the small bits. The articles, not the transcript of the full conversation. Immediately I fear. The pseudonym I thought I picked out of thin air at the time is actually quite identifiable now. I’d better not share this.
I read the content again. I’m not ready to put my name to this. I’m not ready to expand on my story. A lot of what I do is fairly public, I love to be in the media if I can and so I behave as if anything I do could one day be a scandal – I’m careful. I don’t put things out there unless I’m ready for everyone to know them because the world is a big place and the internet is not anonymous. So. I read this story. It is a part of me that I no longer consider part of my identity. It certainly formed who I am, but it’s not relevant to me now. It’s like someone getting your most cringey high school pictures and putting them on every computer screen in your workplace, but instead of a cringey picture it’s actually a detailed recollection of your life history and the sexual violence you’ve experienced.
See the bit that was triggersome wasn’t really the details of what had happened. Well, I say that. I haven’t read the transcript yet. The bit that affected me most at the moment was the fact they’d got the gender wrong of my abuser. I don’t think I ever told them the gender, as I was ashamed. Even in a safe space such as this, I wasn’t ready to tell them that the abuser was the same gender as me. I think I let them assume. I never corrected them.
Now, in the privacy of my own home I can identify as bisexual and be fine about it. I wouldn’t say I’m in the closet, but I’m not exactly out and proud either. I am living a quietly conservative life and I’m in a heteronormative relationship, I don’t get many questions. I have one for myself though.
My story starts pretty young, at around seven. Did I ever really get the chance for my sexuality to develop ‘naturally’, or is that another part of my identity I can attribute to this opportunistic abuser? I don’t even know what I mean by naturally but I will always feel that something was stolen from me. Something I will never get back. It’s important to note that the link between abuse and sexuality is a tentative, unproven one. I don’t think it exists, but the kind of questions your brain asks aren’t always logical. In fact, the link doesn’t add up. Some academic research finds a link, other research comprehensively and utterly disproves a link. In this case, I’m inclined to believe in researcher bias - you find exactly what it is you’re looking for.
Before today, I hadn’t really spoken about my story. Other than stupidly blurting it out to someone as an attempt to explain something that I never got a chance to feel, I hadn’t thought about it in months. Now I feel like I’m back there –two steps away from it, like with one wrong move I could fall back into that experience. It’s like I can close my eyes and be back there, feeling everything, hearing conversations echoed into my reality. It’s like a really shitty version of time travel. Today I’m realising that this kind of thing could happen to me for the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter how deep I bury that memory, it can come back whether I like it or not. I take solace in the fact despite the fact triggers are everywhere, the occurrences are becoming few and far between. One day, it won’t matter anymore.
If you have been affected by similar themes raised in this blog post, here are a list of resources that you may find useful:
Rape and Sexual Violence Project (Birmingham) : http://www.rsvporg.co.uk/
Edgbaston Wellbeing Hub : http://www.wellbeing-hub.co.uk/
Birmingham LGBT Counselling and Psychotherapy: http://blgbt.org/counselling-and-psychotherapy/
by De Bajan Feminist in QTIPOC INTERNATIONAL
To any visitors to the Caribbean who are interested in the gender and sexual political atmosphere of the Caribbean, please do not use our countries as case studies.
And yes, quite possibly you may come from a country that advocates principles more focused on acceptance. You may have some ideas on how to promote societal tolerance but please, check yourself before you speak out.
Instead of using the queer Caribbean struggle as a wrung in your ladder of academic achievements or to win a badge of activist excellence - take a step away from the ladder, put the badge down.
Even if you see outward signs of aggression to the LGBTQ+ community in newspaper articles, or in song lyrics.
Even if you experience homophobia or transphobia yourself.
Even if you begin to feel entitled to the issue - web searching and reading the antiquated legislations that leave you to consider the Caribbean as a hot-bed of case studies for your doctorate thesis.
Be mindful before you interject your own ideologies on the matter. Your intentions may be well placed but too often it is riddled with Eurocentric biases and I am here to ask you, not to interfere.
You see, as queer caribbean people we already know how far we have left to go on the road to progression. It is 2016, same-sex intimacy in Barbados is criminalized. It is not just looked down on. Not just socially unacceptable. Section 9 of the country’s Sexual Offences Act of 2002 states the possibility of a sentence of up to life imprisonment for what is known as “buggery” or anal intercourse. Section 12 of the Act has a law against “serious indecency,” which has been used in the past to describe all forms of same-gender intimacy including lesbian love.
Now it’s all well and good knowing that, but cultural relativity is important when considering where these laws came from.
As a Commonwealth country, Barbados is a territory that was previously colonized by Britain. One of the legacies of that particular stain in history’s sheets was the enforcement of imperial governance in the legal and judicial systems. Laws policing sexual practices were chosen in the time of slavery and one cannot neglect their use as a tool to enforce societal division and population control.
In the process of making this diaspora into a subjugated work force white slave owners ensured that tribes men and women were separated. This resulted in the loss of language and histories, including various African cultural responses to same-gendered intimacy.
White slave owners needed slaves to procreate so that there would be more slaves.
White slave owners used sexual violence as a means of imposing subordination over the bodies and minds of male and female slaves. Homosexuality was used as a punishment and a contention was created.
This contention inspired those who are anti-colonial to misinterpret these cases of same-sex violence as the introduction of homosexuality to Africans by the Europeans. It is only now, with accessibility to alternative histories that veer away from colonial acceptance that we can see that homosexuality is not inherently anti-African, homophobia is.
Another contributing factor to the resentment of alternative sexualities and gender representation can be traced to the use of Christianity...
...as a method to entrap the black psyche into behaving “respectably” for fear of spiritual repercussions. Respectable meant to present in very specific ways: to obey unquestionably, to adhere to strict gender assigned behaviors and to communally police thoughts and actions. These more harmful interpretations of the Christian faith reinforced anti-LGBT sentiments. That, accompanied with the trauma of sexual violence, meant that with 95% of the country identifying as Christian, a covert oppression of those who are of gender and sexual minorities occurred and is still perpetuated.
But contrary to popular belief, we are not all intolerant.
Despite having the harshest punishment throughout the Western hemisphere, the LGBT community are still protected by Section 23 of Barbados Constitution which states “that no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner”. There are a lot of tolerant and accepting people in Barbados, and the same goes for the whole Caribbean region.
I’m not saying that life imprisonment for loving your guy (or girl or anybody in-between) right doesn’t deserve flack. It does. It deserves to be dragged by it’s cornrows and marched right back to the shop to return that outdated, obsolete, colonial ideal. But not by some researcher looking for some validation from an ivy-league, imperialist institution. It needs to come from people in the Caribbean who live and experience their oppression first-hand and understand the nuances of that oppression.
There is far too much at risk when someone who has no context or connection begins to take centre stage on these issues.
First of all they can accidentally perpetuate the notion that aggressive homophobia is inherent as opposed to systemic.
Secondly the Caribbean public is resentful and dismissive of another neo-colonial voice. That dismissal can result in them not only dismissing you, but those who are speaking on behalf of the queer Caribbean community as well.
To counter, even if you are acknowledged and propelled to the forefront of this issue you can end up spreading misunderstandings especially since expressions of sexuality and gender in the Caribbean do not always sit comfortably within the confines of Western gayness. It is it’s own thing. It has it’s own struggles. It doesn’t belong to you. So put it down.
You do not want to be responsible for queer Caribbean people not hearing the voices of their own queer Caribbean community simply because you were speaking too loudly.
Instead use your voice as a platform. Raise the profile of those advocates who are making statements and changes (like BGLAAD in Barbados). Let someone else handle this fire. Someone who knows where the flames have come from and maybe even felt it’s destruction a little more deeply than you have. They have more reason to fight and understand the battle field a little better.
*image from 76crimes.com
On Saturday UNMUTED took part in what can only be refereed to as herstory in the making. Artivist Aliyah Hasaniah and Olivia Brown organised a Black Lives Matter (BLM) silent demo and march in Birmingham City Centre in response to the US killings of two black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and to raise awareness to the UK killings (namely Kingsley Burrell) in Police Custody.
Photo credit: Kadedra Duffus
There is no doubt about it, Saturday was easily one of the most powerful and moving moments we have ever taken part in.
It really was empowering to stand with each other, silently healing whilst simultaneously raising awareness to our pain, collectively saying we're important, we matter.
After marching we stood outside the police station, reciting poetry, singing, expressing, most of us reminding ourselves why we started creating art in the first place. In this crowd we felt at home.
As the day went on, somehow caught underneath the layers of pride, strength and motivation were persistent internal questions:
Would we rise together in the same way if these men were black gay and killed because of their sexuality?
Would stand up like this for Queer Women of Colour?
When we said we will support black businesses and organisations, does that include UNMUTED which is about supporting people of colour who are LGBTQI, and here to fight against homophobia?
These questions are not intended to be accusatory, but simple wonderings, thoughts which we hope will be answered with a resounding 'yes' and challenge our own assumptions. I know there are so many great activist out there who are 100% inclusive in their work, but how far do we have to go?
We also wonder as we saw the silence from the majority of the black community following the shootings in Orlando, we noticed a sea of white faces at the vigils, and wondered if the majority of the black community even cared?
It is not news that many of the Black Lives Matter movements are spearheaded by Queer people, and a lot of the time Queer women. Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton met and married amidst the Ferguson protests in 2015, they spoke in Ebony of how their engagement helped to raise awareness of the intersections within the black community .
"Do you really think it’s not about gay Black lives? …A lot of people were so stuck on the fact that this was a Black man issue. Few months later, nah, it’s all Black people. It’s Black women. You gotta show up for Black women. You gotta show up for Black LGBTQ folks. You have to do that.....All of us are dying, regardless of how we identify. We’re all dying."
We hope here in Birmingham that we too are ready to have some difficult conversations around how we can build a city that champions all identities and backgrounds including the intersections in non white communities. If this is something you are passionate about please be sure to follow the work of UNMUTED @unmutedbrum.
We as a community will always stand together in times of tragedy, but we ask 'how can we support black lives when they're living?'. "BAME" LGBTQI people have some of the highest rates of poor mental health, how can we encourage a culture that propels love and support to all corners of this family we've formed, to create safer environments for everyone's better wellbeing?
We hope what we can all learn from Saturday is that we have the tools, skills and knowledge to build when we unite. That we don't have to wait for outside programmes and institutions to work through challenges in our community, we can do that ourselves, we have been and will be and how much stronger are we when we do it together? ALL of us.
We have read recently, people commenting on Facebook posts about the black on black crime and why isn't anyone doing anything about it, the answer is, WE ARE. Craig Pinkney and many others are out here doing the work with much support. We want us to be able to say the same when others challenge us about homophobia in our community, how great to be able to stand and say, yes we see this, we're doing something about it from within our community.
One thing that was clear from Saturday, is that this is the start of something powerful and we hope the beginning of this #BLMbrum chapter can begin to #shutitdown for everyone in our community.