Beautiful short film. Beautiful cast!! Wonderful video/film, featuring Gabriel Union, Afre Woodard, Goapele, and Adepero Oduye! We all need friends like these who can get us up and out of our funk. It will have you hooked. Oh, and the fashion is insane!!!!! ♥
Last night I watched an All Angles special aired on October 3rd on Homeless gay youths in Jamaica. As I watched, my heart went out to the youth, mostly boys, who left their communities to seek asylum in the streets of New Kingston. The accounts of their daily struggle ranged from being assaulted with weapons that left them with visible scars that they pointed out to the camera, to being propositioned for sex. As a means of survival, they use their bodies. One youth said he knew he was possessed by a spirit he couldn’t explain. He said he prayed the spirit would leave him. Only then, he said, would he be able to exist as the son his mother wanted him to be. As he spoke, he scratched his arms as though the very spirit he spoke of were mosquitoes biting into his skin, gorging on his blood. His high pitched voice and slight bend of his wrists as he spoke were just afflictions he attributed to the spirit. He nervously adjusted a ladies purse over his shoulder and itched again: “Yea man, is di Devil. Mi guh church an’ pray bout it.”
The boys’ faces were obscured, their identities as unknown for supposed protection. Such reality is sad in itself, because homosexuals in the larger Jamaican public would forever be known as mere shadows with altered voices in front of tv screens; their existence as eidolic as an apparition spotted in a haunted house or between trees in a dense forest that our ancestors refer to as “rolling calves”. Their affliction is in the head, people say. It’s as bad as leprosy, which warrants distance, scorn even.
So as the boys spoke about their reasons for dropping out of school, leaving home, and taking to the streets at 12 and 13 years old, I listened to the sadness in their voices. Their voices were all we had. It was a sadness that not many people could hear if their heads were already filled with judgment. The boys’ cries for help were laced in sentences ridden with patois: “We nevah have any support. We nuh have nobody fi push us, encourage us.” And so they stray, attracted to the bright lights of a city where anonymity promises to protect them from the shame, wrath, and in some cases, abuse of guardians. But not without a cost.
Their homes are now makeshift sheds. They sleep in packs, after a long day of scrounging for food, making sure to wake before the police threaten to bulldoze their sheds. With nowhere else to go, they congregate on corners or in front of buildings, on steps. The only acknowledgements they get are the stares of so-called upstanding citizens with nothing to give them but scorn and contempt. No one sees the ravaged innocence in the eyes of these youths, their humanity stripped under wigs and women purses slugged over bony shoulders. They’re merely seen as a masquerade of madness, an example to mothers and fathers of things they pray their sons would never become. Yet, those parents never looked at those boys as sons.
“I want to do hair,” one boy said to the interviewer. Though his face was covered, I imagined him looking up at the huge billboards in New Kingston at nights, marveling at the beautiful models with coifs he probably knew he could do a better job with. I imagined him imagining a future with the possibility of working on a photo shoot, busying himself with a stray strand of a supermodel’s hair, a tail comb lodged in his back pocket like a magic wand. His precision would be rewarded with prestige. And no one would know that he once sat on these dirty sidewalks next to piles of people’s trash, studying beauty in someone else’s lens--beauty that he has the ability to create with his magic wand. For in these streets he would learn the importance of illusions.
But in reality, many of these gay homeless youths do not have skills that would enable them to get jobs. So most times, they use the one thing they know for survival: Sex. Imagine the hunger pangs that echo louder than reasoning, louder than the hymns learned in Sunday school about Jesus, eyes bright as they sang as children: "I am a promise...I am a possibility...I am a great big bundle of potentiality." With eyes shut tight to block those images, they now bend over to receive another man’s rage, another man’s desire, another man’s secret, another man’s insecurities, another man’s disease. Though their hands are balled into tight fists, a fight is lost.
And so the cycle continues.
You can do a lot when you’re invisible. You slip through cracks, walk in the middle of the road in the direction of traffic, your feet on the solid yellow lines; or sometimes you perch on ceiling fans, the blades dangerously slicing the humid air. You sit on edges, be it buildings or cliffs, and wait until the wind picks up and flings you in whichever direction it chooses. And no one notices you. They never noticed you. Your existence is a mere conundrum, someone’s mistake. A fate they have no control over, just like they have no control over the shapes and sizes of their own shadows splashed across city sidewalks under the harsh, acidic light of the street lamp.
It was a question that raised a lump in my throat each time it was asked, each time I thought about it, fully aware of my privilege of living in New York where same-sex marriage is legal. The first time it was asked was in a NPR interview (then in a recent TVJ interview on a program called All Angles), I took the time to swallow. The words never came instantly like all the others, because I was halted by the sudden feeling of sadness that dawned on me. I looked at my wife who was sitting next me the first time the question was asked. But no one could answer that question but me. Not the me now—the writer, scholar, adult me who had been living in New York for over a decade. It would be the me then—the one who lived in Jamaica for most of my life. Would she be OK with being open and free to love the way she loves now? Would she have dared to let her guard down and invite another woman inside? Would she?
The world awaited as the series of blinking lights in the studio alerted me that I was still on air. That still, my voice was expected to fill the households of those who drew near to their radios to listen. What if I were a gay person living and working in Jamaica? What would I have done if I had a ceremony that was leaked to the media? What would I have done in a society where I could get fired if my boss knew I was gay? What would I have done walking the hallway at work, drawing all eyes and whispers? Again, I paused at each hypothetical question, ambushed by anger. I knew that the luxury of being an out lesbian would not have been an option had I lived in Jamaica. Yes, I could’ve been open in a protected realm of certain parties or scene, but I would still be forced to live a life of secrecy where partners become “just friends” under the searing eyes of the public.
Also, had I lived as a lesbian in Jamaica, perhaps I’d start to feel as invisible as many people think about gays living there. Perhaps my fight, if I had any in me, would’ve dimmed and I would’ve adapted a more passive stance. Perhaps I would’ve eaten my fears away, buttering up depression and stuffing it like bread inside a gaping hole to numb the pain. For this pain would’ve been far more unbearable than the one imposed by sticks and stones. I would’ve shrunken away from fighting the system because perhaps my socialization would’ve been to accept things for what they are. Like any other Jamaican living there, my life would’ve been consumed with the day to day injustices of high GCT and a government that seems complacent with antiquated laws. I probably would’ve buried myself in my work and use insomnia as a way to get ahead as the world sleeps comfortably. The stress of it all would’ve probably weighed me down like the pressing heat and scalding sun with rays that would do little to revive me.
Therefore, to answer the question—I would never have done what I did had I lived in Jamaica. For had I stayed in Jamaica, I wouldn’t have gained the capacity to love someone else, because I had so much internalized hate. Had I stayed in Jamaica, I wouldn’t have met my beautiful and amazing wife. Had I stayed in Jamaica, I wouldn’t have gotten the help I needed to let go of the mental prison I was once trapped in.
It wasn’t until I lived in the United States that I learned that I have a voice—that my feelings and thoughts mattered. That my life, the way I love, and my right as a human being, are worth fighting for. Most importantly, I gained the capacity to forgive and love my country wholeheartedly, because I had learned to love and forgive myself; and thus opted to share a very important moment in my life in the country that is very much a part of me.
2:55pm. The day of our wedding. My skin is two shades darker, thanks to lots of sun on the beach. To many women my complexion, this would’ve been a travesty before their wedding. But for me, it’s no big deal, just an asset I wear proudly. Like a queen. My partner joins me in the water and for the next hour we swim and mingle with our guests who have also been baked and rejuvenated by the sun. “You ready?” my partner whispers, swimming up behind me to encircle her arms around my waist. “Yeah, I’m ready.” We smile at each other, aware in that moment that we’re about to do something big, bigger than us. “Come on guys, save the kiss for later.” We look up just in time to see our wedding photographer, Kwesi snap a picture of us. “Say cheese, everyone!” Kwesi calls out to our guests who have all gathered around us, our bodies bobbing in the undulating waves. Everyone splashes around to find their space in the camera’s lens. Family and friends alike. We all stand close, smiles etched on our sun-burnt faces; and the sun, nude and marvelous in all her glory rains down upon us. A blessing.
I married my soul-mate, Emma Benn on the luxurious compound of Silver Sands Villa in Duncans, Trelawney on Saturday, May 26th, 2012. We exchanged our vows under the wooden arch of the gazebo overlooking the ocean. As the waves crashed against the shore and the wind blew skirt tails in its sweeping lullaby, we said our “I do’s”.
My partner’s best friend, Anna, who had been her friend since college, was our officiant. We had six bridesmaids and one best man between the two of us. But one important guest loomed in the aquamarine backdrop of the sea. The green surface of the land. She needed no invitation to wear her canary yellow dress that lighted up the day as she pranced above clouds. Her mystique was even spotted in the smiles spread across faces of onlookers. She was my Jamaica, the land of my birth.
In my vows I mentioned that because of my partner I fell in love with my country again. For a long time I ran away from Jamaica, seeking refuge in the freedom that America offered. However when I met Emma, she was adamant about visiting Jamaica. “Why not?” she asked when I turned her down a few times. I couldn’t tell her then how much I was hurt by the culture stifled by the seemingly robust structures of colonialism. I couldn’t tell her then that every time I touched the soil my insecurities flooded the gates of my consciousness and broke the levees, thus paralyzing me. However, when Emma and I finally returned to the island together for our first visit as a couple in 2010, something felt different. At the time I couldn’t place what it was. There were no words to describe it since my brain had not yet processed it. I felt beautiful, stronger. Empowered.
Feeling comfortable with myself had nothing to do with maturity; it had a lot to do with acceptance, not of myself, but of my culture. You see, while I learned to love and appreciate myself, the good and the bad, I found my culture to be a big part of who I am. So running away with a knot in my chest only robbed me of half of the woman I am; half the partner; half the writer; and half the soul of the stories I live to tell. It wasn’t until I began to love myself unconditionally that I began to love my country despite the socialization and problems I endured as a child growing up there. I never felt I had a place or a voice there. I was an outsider, an interloper. I had not yet understood why I felt different, why I spoke different, and why I acted different. I only knew I was human and somewhere in the universe the dots would connect. They finally did. I now love myself enough to love my people and accept that not everyone had the opportunity I did to be exposed to certain knowledge that would rid the flaws and mentality colonialism imposed on us. I am lucky to be free, emancipated from mental slavery, free to love myself, and free to love others. In other words, I am now whole.
For this reason, I soberly chose to have my wedding celebration in Jamaica. I say “soberly” because my friends began to question my sanity once I told them that I’ll be getting married in Jamaica, a country known internationally for its blatant homophobia. “Weh di backside yuh mean yuh getting married in Jamaica?” Their eyebrows would shoot up to their hairline followed by a sharp inhale of all the oxygen in the room. I had to reassure them that everything would be fine, simultaneously trying to convince myself too. I would constantly ask myself if I’m doing the right thing. My partner and I discussed other options and had even gone around Brooklyn as we entertained the idea of having the celebration in the backyards of our favorite restaurants. “But it wouldn’t feel the same,” my partner retorted. “Jamaica is our second home.” With that statement we knew what the consensus was.
I met up with a friend of mine for drinks in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a fellow Jamaican. By then, same-sex marriage was on the verge of being legalized in New York State. It was March 2011, and although the possibility looked dim from where we sat on that early spring night at Madibas restaurant, there was a pulse throbbing wildly beneath the surface. The thought had hatched. My partner was growing more and more excited about having our wedding in Jamaica. We began to work closely with my friend who we later hired as our wedding planner. Slowly but surely, the dream wedding began to take form in our minds and became real when we began to hire key people like the photographer, the cake vendor, the DJ, and even the boutique that would outfit our wedding party.
One thing missing was the location. Location, location, location! The following question became a conundrum greater than the world’s biggest riddle: Which hotel in Jamaica would host a gay wedding? The question loomed about our heads for months. We dug deep into the roots of the hairs on our heads. My partner and I took turns calling resorts in Kingston, the South Coast, and the North Coast. Pleasant voices with warring cadences of British and calypso accents greeted us on the phone. We clutched the receiver with sweaty palms as we prepared to come out as lesbians over and over again: “Yes, hello, we would like to inquire about hosting our wedding at your hotel. What’s the estimated cost for space? Great! Just one more thing you need to know…my partner is a woman. Yes, that’s what I said. A woman. Oh. OK. Uh-huh. I understand. Thanks for your time.” In that silence after the click of the phone we knew we would be asking around for a while. One hotel executive at a prominent hotel in Kingston told us they could host our wedding under one condition, that we not use their outdoor premises. But an indoor wedding would defeat the purpose of getting married in Jamaica with all its natural beauty, so we kindly thanked her and moved on. Our search continued, taking us all the way to Negril where another hotel kindly advised us to try Hedonism. Again, having a wedding at Hedonism would defeat the purpose of our wedding given that we see our relationship as worthy as heterosexual couples see theirs. We’re not heathens; we’re two women in love.
Then one day out of the blue I decided to surf Facebook. I became more interested in viewing wedding photos of my friends for the sheer hope of finding inspiration. Two of my acquaintances had gotten married in Jamaica and I sent both of them emails asking where they had gotten married. Both women are in heterosexual marriages, but something pushed me to inquire more about the location. In all their pictures there was a sense of intimacy with all the guests, the deep blue of the Caribbean Sea sprawled across the backdrop. I rarely spoke to these two women, and one of them I had never met in person; so I didn’t want to send them a random message requesting details. But time was running and we had to make a decision on location so I pushed the send button. I was shocked by the quick responses. One would’ve thought we were long lost girlfriends reconnecting over Facebook the way how the women eagerly chatted about their weddings. I formed a bond of sisterhood with two strangers over wedding location. Through them I found out about the beautiful property that spans the white sanded beach of the North Coast, not too far from the reaches of the all-inclusive hotels with their massive architecture, maze-like compounds, and watered down versions of my culture. We came to know this property as Silver Sands. With its quaint villas by the sea and beautiful gazebo overlooking the deep blue of the undulating waves, high security, and gated community, it provided the privacy we needed for our wedding.
Once we nailed the location for our destination wedding, we went full speed ahead with the planning. Everything fell into place, including the confirmation of guests who would be there. We rented out six different villas for our thirty-seven guests. We were blessed to have an eclectic mix of family and friends from various chapters of our lives. Emma had her best friends from college in the wedding and I had my childhood friend from middle school and high school. We paired old friends with new friends to spice up the essence of the weekend that would become the most memorable weekend of our lives. Our guests arrived the Friday before the wedding in shuttles to their assigned villas, all excited to celebrate with us. We designated villas by personality traits and who we thought would mesh well together. Many of our friends and family flew in from New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia while some drove from Kingston. By dusk on Friday, everyone who was supposed to be at our celebration was there. The dj arrived and it was non-stop dancing and mingling and fun. Our guests were treated to a welcome party put on by Silver Sands. My partner and I knew we were on our way to having a spectacular weekend. We also knew we were safe and protected by Silver Sands, which has also been a low-key destination choice for many Jamaicans and tourists alike looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the real world.
Each villa was assigned two to four helpers. Emma and I were fortunate to get great women who assisted us throughout the weekend. These helpers were women from Duncans, Trelawney who have been in the Tourism industry long enough to not blink twice when they were informed about our wedding. In fact, the first thing one of our helpers did was hang our wedding attire up to reduce the wrinkles. She also pressed my partner’s suit and meticulously fluffed the handkerchief in the left breast pocket. As jittery brides, we tried not to take for granted the importance of mother figures fussing over us given that our own mothers had declined our wedding invitation. Our two helpers made sure that we were well taken care of, well fed, and of course, well ready to exchange our vows.
Once I knew everything was under control, I loosened up a bit. I took deep breaths and proceeded to practice mindfulness, a meditative technique I learned last year. I became aware of everything around me, the smells, the sights, the sounds. I allowed myself to feel everything flowing through me in that moment. The moving hand on the clock stopped, suspending everything in the present. I savored every second of it. My moment for life. And just like that my body relaxed. There was nothing that could steal my joy once I claimed it. I likened my joy to the process of an iceberg melting, the solid components made up of fear of rejection and knowledge of a cultural history known to refute the bond between my partner and I. Once that iceberg of fear melted I exhaled. So forceful was the exhale that I quivered. “Would you like some rum punch?” the bartender at the beach bar asked, as if she had witnessed my tenseness just seconds before. “Yes, please.” I took sips of my rum punch labeled A-Train, our signature drink which was aptly given its name because when I met my partner four years ago, I journeyed on the A-train from Brooklyn to Washington Heights almost every night to be with her.
Fast forward to our wedding. I felt like I’d emerged from a dark tunnel, greeted by her radiating light. My father walked me down the aisle; while my partner walked down the aisle with her aunt who she hand-picked to represent her father and the other elders, both past and present, who could not be there. We walked together as a couple paired with the most significant people in our lives to Whitney Houston’s “My love is your love”. Our bridal party had long taken their places in the gazebo in front of all the guests. Behind us, staff and curious onlookers snapped pictures. It was Silver Sands’ first gay wedding and everyone on the compound was excited. Helpers stopped in their tracks on their way home from a long day of work to peer at the brides dressed in white. Front desk clerks flocked to the base of the jetty to give their well wishes then snapped more pictures. People were so excited that they almost followed us onto the jetty leading to the gazebo. They were prevented to do so by the DJ.
In that moment I wished I had a camera to snap pictures of the smiles that followed us that day. I wished I had a video to capture my Jamaican people full of nothing but well wishes and love. A side of Jamaica that the world needs to see; a side that the Jamaica Gleaner and other media outlets would constantly silence with biased stories depicting ignorant thoughts that breed stereotypes of the Jamaican people, especially the working class. My helpers were the ones who snuck away during the wedding procession to sprinkle flower petals on our immaculate white sheets.
Luckily for us, everything ran smoothly. With the help of a quick thinking DJ who stepped in to cue the bridesmaids and clear the jetty during the procession and the ceremony; my very animated friend, Dahlia and my Uncle Turkey, who took to the mics to MC the evening and directed waiting staff to serve food and drinks; and the photographer, Kwesi, who temporarily put down his camera to light the candles. It was all good.
The wedding was surreal in that we never expected the love and support we got from certain people. We even met a videographer who is the owner of one of the villas. The encounter was serendipitous since we had forgotten our video camera and wanted footage of our wedding. He and his wife documented the procession and our vows. However, word got around town that a gay wedding was taking place on the premises of Silver Sands. But the workers, upon hearing this, simply kissed their teeth and fanned away any slight buzz of ignorance.
My partner and I were too ridden with wedding jitters to even care about anything else. She reached for my hand in marriage and I took it. It was just us standing there before an audience of our friends and family. I looked into her eyes and saw those connecting dots in the universe, all aligned; and I thought to myself, she completes me. When it was time to jump the broom it occurred to us that the ceremony was over. We did it. We got married in Jamaica! Well, technically, given that we had really done the legal work in New York where our marriage is in fact legal. What we did in Jamaica, was celebrate with family and friends, reenacting what was already celebrated between us before a judge at the Municipal Building in Brooklyn in the spring. Thanks to Governor Chris Cuomo, same-sex marriage was legalized in New York. Therefore when we jumped the broom, it was literally an emotional experience for the both of us.
Jumping over the broom symbolizes various things depending on the culture. But in our ceremony, uniting us as two beautiful, black women, jumping the broom symbolized the hurdle gay and lesbians had overcome for same sex marriage to be possible. On June 24, 2011, a bill was passed recognizing, for the first time, gay and lesbian unions as worthy by the state of New York. Following that great milestone, President Obama, who I proudly voted for in the 2008 presidential election when I got my US citizenship, announced to the world on May 9, 2012 that he sanctions same-sex marriage. This announcement was a tremendous honor to millions of gays and lesbians who had fought for this very right. On our wedding day we remembered those living partners of gay men and women who were left with nothing—no healthcare and thrown out of the apartments. Those who weren’t able to sit by their partner’s bedside or even dare attend the funeral. Those who took the backseat as “friend” and not recognized as partners having the rights to have any say over how their partner was buried.
Therefore, jumping the broom on our wedding day symbolized not only the ancestors who were not allowed to get married as blacks on plantations and who died to make our dreams possible; but that our union and our love for each other as Black Women will be recognized by everyone, including the very country in which we publicly exchanged our vows, Jamaica.
As the 50th Anniversary of Jamaica’s independence approaches, so has the maturity of a nation. As a Jamaican, I have seen with my eyes and felt with my heart the burgeoning of a nation that is beginning to accept individual choices with little judgment. I say “little” with a bit of caution given that it’s all relative. I’m speaking from the experience I was blessed to have on the weekend of my wedding. At fifty, Jamaica has taken baby steps, but at one hundred, I am positive my country would have already taken giant leaps. In fact, my grandchildren will one day look back at our wedding pictures and feel proud that their grandmothers were the first same-sex couple to marry openly on Jamaican soil.
On Saturday May 12, 2012, I read excerpts of my novel to an audience of friends, and my family who came all the way from Jamaica to hear me and my fellow MFA classmates read. My partner, who is my biggest fan, was also there documenting the moment with our video camera and regular camera as well (yes, we are a couple that believes in documenting awesome moments. Soon it’ll be our baby’s first everything!). Anyway…where was I? Oh yes! My MFA thesis reading! In that moment I took to the stage knowing that this is it. This is the moment. I spent two years in my MFA program honing my craft and now, I was given the chance to read it aloud to a full auditorium of faculty, parents, and students. People leafed through pages of our bios, circling names of their loved ones. Others used the programs to fan themselves. But they were all there for one thing. To hear the MFA graduates read our work. As a MFA’er, you imagine this as a reading at your book signing at Barnes and Nobles, your name brandished across the spines of hardcovers, then later, paperback second editions, bestsellers nonetheless. Of course we all aspire for this (even if some of us want to admit it or not), so we all use this chance to capture—even a minute glimpse—of a distant premonition of success. Our readers unknowingly sat in the audience, destined to select our books off the shelf someday.
So it was in this thought process that I stood poised, elegant in a recently bought dress in front of my audience, my future readers. I thought of Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde and other women of color writers before me. Yes, I thought, breathing in the Jasmine scent of my sweating armpits, this is it. The beginning. My beginning. Everything felt surreal when I leaned into the microphone, opened my mouth, and heard the words on the page echo into the consciousness of my listeners. Each word had an effect, tumbling down the aisles, thick with my accent, moving across rows un-apologetically defying the humble decorum I once assumed in the beginning of my immigrant experience. I met the eyes of my smiling mother and grandmother, aware of them squaring their shoulders and elongating their necks amidst the foreign audience who know their daughter and grandmother as more than an Alien. My words incited heads to tilt to the side and elbows to align with knee caps in an effort to move closer to the source. People stopped fanning, stopped circling bios. They paused long enough to listen. To savor. To appreciate. I remained poised at the podium, taking it all in. For I reasoned then that this--—me standing there in front of an audience, reading my work--—was what I was born to do.
I took deep breaths and delivered the story the way it was meant to be heard. After my reading I was greeted with applause and “great job!” However, nothing beats the feeling that resonated inside. It was a feeling greater than anything I’ve experienced in my 30 years, quickly swelling my chest, quickening my pace, and reducing the earth’s gravitational pull so that at one point I felt like I was flying. It welled up inside me and when I looked at myself in the mirror I was able to name it. This feeling. I used my fingers to try to touch it, tracing my reflection in the mirror, my upturned lips, the dark onyx pupils in my eyes sparkling as if newly polished. I could look inside them and see me smiling, see me radiant, see me proud. See me.
I’ve accomplished my dream of successfully completing a writing program. I have expressed many times before on this blog how meaningful writing is to me, and the fact that I pursued my passion and took it to a higher level makes this experience even more visceral. I savor each moment, collecting each experience during the two years like precious stones. I’ll treasure them. I’ll also use them, knowing that my moment doesn’t stop here. There will be many more moments in life when I’ll feel accomplished. Like now. There will be many more moments in life when I’ll smile at that woman in the mirror. Like now. But what I’ll learn from these bursts of joy, these moments in life, is that I am responsible for creating them. God has blessed me with this talent, this passion, this drive to succeed, and the right people in my life to encourage me. BUT. The rest is up to me.
Now as I prepare for graduation I know in my heart that I’ve achieved something significant. Something amazing. I have a completed my first novel, which I’m currently shopping around to agents as well as a collection of short stories. Whenever I mention this to people, they raise their brows and say, “Girl, you really wrote your ass of in that MFA program didn’t you!” And I’d smile at them, like I smile at myself in the mirror. I tell them that I was given a second chance and I chose not to waste it. I chose to honor it and work hard. God has blessed me the opportunity to pursue my dream and I went for it. It was a leap of faith that I’m happy I took with the encouragement of my partner. She made me realize that I was given a gift and I’d be damned if I take it for granted.
With this in mind, I’ve begun to submit my work to every literary journal I can possibly think of. I start from the top—the big dawgs like the New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Granta, etc. I decide that even if I get rejected, I’ll wear those rejections like scars, beautiful in their own right, for they are reminders that I’m actually doing something—that I actually tried. And I’ll try again. And again. And again. Every writer has suffered rejection and so I will willingly give myself that opportunity too. For I am a writer. A real one. Now, more than ever. I’m living, breathing, sleeping, eating, being a writer. And my mantra now: Real failure is NOT trying at all. So I'll keep writing. It's only the right thing to do.
Today, I can honestly say that I’m happy and proud of myself for trying. This Friday I’ll walk across the stage to receive my second Master’s degree—the ONLY degree most meaningful to me—my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College.
Cheers to the beginning of a special journey!!!!
Like any elite club masculinity establishes its eligibility criteria with strict rules against those who dare diverge from it. Fathers train sons in preparation to be inducted into this club. Grueling drills begin as early as two years old when the boy child, still witnessing the world through wide, glassy eyes, is taught that he is different. The realization of this difference is seemingly unpleasant when he’s told not to cry, for crying is for girls. It’s in this moment that the child makes a life altering decision. The sogginess of his diapers perplexes him more, but he is suddenly given an ultimatum that will crystallize in his mind. It’ll grow big enough to be chipped away into a crown. The heaviness of it he’ll try to manage throughout his life.
So what about the boy who dares to be different? The boy who dares to take off his jeweled crown and places it on the head of a goat? The one who has been raised in a culture where masculinity is a prized possession? A power to be executed. Masculinity varies according to culture. In some cultures, the women ought to be submissive. In others, the women are seen only as sex objects. While in most, gender equality is that distant goal that glistens like an unattainable star.
Jamaica happens to be one of those countries where masculinity is perceived as sexual dominance.
Often in our music, male artists describe the violent ways in which they’d have a woman in bed. And women, of course, dare not challenge this notion unless if they’re enlightened feminists. Usually the ones who went to UWI or who had left the Island to be college educated and had come across Women Studies courses. In fact, women dancehall artists like Lady Saw for example would encourage “rough sex”, making the whole grit teeth experience a badge of honor. For a woman who cannot satisfy her man in such violent ways—or dare I say, allow herself to be literally raped—becomes the laughing stock, “the wifey” who gets dumped for “the matey” (aka. the other woman) because she can’t satisfy her husband in the ways the violent sex lyrics of the songs imply.
Also, it’s very rare that women voices get heard. Yes, we have a woman prime minister, which is seen even in the western world as progressive. But so many of our women live in secrecy. Incest and rape are high among our women. Yet, it’s hushed, kept quietly like that monthly visit from Aunt Flo. Discreet. It’s treated with care, the way one treats a wound, covering the gaping hole with hopes that it’ll disappear. But it never does. They’re raped again in songs. Over and over again, sandwiched between stereos and boom boxes. At that point the women can’t do much about this violation except to succumb to it. Gives it dominance over her life. Survival of the fittest, right? She begins to incorporate it as a way to be more desirable, to please. Walks away from the dancehall feeling nothing. Just a deep resentment for the woman who dares to raise hell about the lyrics. “Hush yuh mouth an’ suck it up,” she whispers sharply. For isn’t this what she was told as a girl who once cried to her own mother who told her the same thing? Just hush…
Meanwhile the boys are patted on the back for number of girls they score with. But more than the numbers is the technique. For the typical Jamaican man who adheres to the lyrics of the dancehall hates the concept of cunnilingus, fearing he’d be deemed an abominable sissy or “chi-chi”. He likes to thrust viciously (as reported in lyrics) into the woman like she’s a stuffed cushion and not a human being to prove this point. This point he proves not only to himself, but to other males who themselves would dare not admit to succumbing to their woman’s needs in bed. Such is the elite club of masculinity that men would literally die emotionally, physically and even mentally to be a part of it. To be considered “one of the boys”.
Those who dare to break out of these norms are often questioned. Scrutinized. The effeminate gay man, for example is a walking death sentence given the hyper-masculine fear they incite. The mere glimpse of feminine behavior in these men sparks an attack—sometimes violent, depending on the community or neighborhood. Other times the insults are verbal. But contrary to the adage “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never harm me”, words do hurt. And the wounds are lasting. The more masculine gay men on the other hand often pride themselves for “passing”. They know that their male privilege is more valuable than let’s say, showing open affection to a male partner. But at some point they get paranoid, afraid they’ll be found out. Hence the cyclical abuse that happens in these relationships driven by the internal conflict of living up to a certain standard of masculinity.
Now in walks the transgendered woman. Once a boy. The ones who dare to openly challenge masculine norms, having enough courage to stand up to it, give up their coveted passes. One transgendered woman I know says the day she decided to live as a woman was the day she knew she was doing something big. She walked away from her privilege on a pair of four inch heels, never looking back. Not even once. “Honey, I’d rather pawn that crown to get my nails done,” she said with frank sincerity. Never mind that she’ll be giving up a lot.
Those coveted passes that come with a) higher pay (as men are known to get more pay and raises than women), b) the ability to be assessed for your intellect and skills, and not be objectified c) the luxury of getting more respect from both men and women, d) the higher probability of getting a promotion, e) the absolute certainty of tenured faculty positions. The caveats to this include: lucrative publishing deals, having your name embellished as the leader or pioneer of some sort in your field, mentally jerk off and be patted on the back for it, sit at a table and expect to get the most servings of food (whether or not the server is cognizant of their own biases). And the list of privileges goes on.
The real heroes in my eyes then, are the people who could care less about having these privileges revoked. The transgendered women who are the ultimate revolutionaries. They’ve been fighting this gendered fight since they were young. Girls trapped inside the bodies of boys. Girls unable to fathom the mental and emotional abuse of a boy deemed “different” from his peers. Girls beaten and taunted because their boy body acted in ways they feel. Girls ostracized because unlike other girls, they couldn’t express simple attraction to boys without being beaten. Girls unable to use the girl’s restroom because to the world they were boys. And boys had their places, still do, on top of the totem pole.
And still, the fight continues given that women say to these transgendered individuals: “Why? Why give up your privilege? Why not just continue wearing your male costume and fake it?” Little do they know or understand how hard it is for a transgendered individual to come to terms with this themselves. Subjecting them to gender roles they're not cut out for is like silencing them, taking away a big part of who they are. Perhaps those women born female at birth, the ones inclined to ask these questions, can’t possibly believe that someone who was born a male would dare give up his privilege. Perhaps these women watched their brothers be told to go discover the world without penalty, without responsibility, without obligation. While the women get stuck with feeding and taking care of the parent(s) who imparted this dichotomy. Perhaps these women were survivors of rape or incest and have struggled thereafter with getting in touch with their feminine selves.
So a man’s willingness to look the way that might attract perpetrators to more than just his wallet is foreign to them. For being born a woman hasn’t been a luxury for many. From menstrual cramps to breaking glass ceilings with force. However, this resistance or questioning of how a man could possibly want to be us shows how we’re socialized to think. In a world so polarized by gender, the suspicion of anyone who dares to break this barrier is a reflection of one’s internalized biases.
You know that girl who good things always happen to? Yeah, the one in high school who got voted prom queen and valedictorian? The one with the easy smile who had everyone kissing the ground she walked on?
Slowly but surely I’ve risen above comparing myself to others. There’s always going to be someone prettier than me, smarter than me, or who is a better writer than me. I shrug my shoulders and call that life. However what I take from living this life is valuing my own journey. I have been chosen to be a vessel for the voiceless and by all means I want to honor that and appreciate it. Being chosen is a luxury that comes with self-acceptance. A mindful recognition of my own capabilities. My strength.
Years ago I was that child who thought I was too dark to be favored. Too nappy-headed to be called beautiful. Too shy to be acknowledged. Too clumsy to be given tasks. Too awkward to be a part of the in crowd. But now I rise out of myself a phoenix. I don’t look back to mope on what should’ve been, I look back to gain momentum. To push myself forward. To reflect in this light---Its rays warming my skin, sinking into my pores, and awakening something in me. The little girl perhaps who now stretches and yawns like a glorious princess. Her eyes flutter open and she wonders where she is and how she got here. She rips off her old dress and dances naked in the sun, its rays pouring down on her like rain. With outstretched arms and her face toward the sky she skips and rejoices.
You see, I was never chosen for the earthly things. The exclusive groups and whatnot. Yet, as I begin to accept everything about myself I’m beginning to see others gravitate toward my energy. I’m beginning to see doors open up, emails streaming in, strangers stopping to give me second looks, smiling. For this new me walking this earth is living my life like I KNOW I’ve been chosen.
Somewhere in the depths of my prior insecurities I’ve dared reach to find my crown. It still glistens. Good as new. I now wear it like a queen. And everyone is taking notice, including the Almighty.
Thoughts about life, love, living and exploring the internal and external forces that impact the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. The sole purpose of this blog is to empower and educate others both inside and outside the lesbian community.