Being Gay In The Caribbean

Growing up gay and female in the Caribbean means being in survival mode.

In June 2004, founding member and the public face of the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) and Jamaica’s leading gay-rights activist, Brian Williamson, was stabbed to death in his home…

Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Rebecca Schleifer had a meeting with Williamson that day, and arrived at his home not long after his body had been discovered. She found a small crowd singing and dancing. One man called out, “Battyman he get killed.” Others were celebrating, laughing and shouting “Let’s get them one at a time”, “That’s what you get for sin”. Others sang “Boom bye bye”, a line from a well-known dancehall song by Jamaican star Buju Banton about shooting and burning gay men. “It was like a parade”, says Schleifer. “They were basically partying.”—Trinidad & Tobago Newsday

I grew up in reggae and dancehall culture. I used to sing along to reggae and dancehall songs. I was a child and didn’t know what I was singing. Many of those songs were about killing LGBT people in the most horrific ways. I remember when “Boom Bye Bye” was a hit, years later the song was banned and Buju Banton wasn’t allowed to perform it in the United States.

I’ve met many people who claim to have been gay fresh out the womb, others simply came to the realization later on in life. Unlike many teenagers, I never thought about sex or sexuality. I was never interested in anybody in a romantic sense. As I got older I liked and found men attractive…until I did not. That’s the story. I didn’t wake up one morning and make the choice to pick the fairer sex. In fact, it happened when I wasn’t even paying attention. I suppose now I can look back and see what could very well have been signs. But of course, if a 14-year-old girl doesn’t think boys are good for anything besides playing soccer with her, it doesn’t mean she’s gay. If she’s busy crushing on her male teachers and Shemar Moore, then BAM, a senior girl walks by and she thinks she is hot—that doesn’t make her gay either. So perhaps my ‘signs’ weren’t really signs after all.

From as early as ten years old I’d made up my mind never to get married. Based on what I saw around me every day I believed then that marriage was about being subservient to a man. I believed it meant doing as I was told the way it worked with me and my parents. I also truly believed it meant cleaning your house daily (I hated cleaning), having lots of kids and getting beatings. The kids and beatings terrified me the most. As a little girl I had fantasies of traveling the world and living a sort of life that wasn’t conducive to constant childbearing.

Corporal punishment was a legal way of life in my Caribbean home and oh how my mother took advantage of that! I decided when I grew up I couldn’t marry or live with a man as I didn’t want to keep getting beatings. You see, domestic violence was so commonplace my 10-year-old brain processed it as normal. I remember watching a man chase his woman around their house, beating her with a machete. I remember their daughter screaming and telling her mom to run, run faster while their son laughed. Weeks later we were all playing soccer and he was telling other kids about the incident. He told us when he grew up he’d get a girlfriend and if she was disobedient like his mom he’d beat her just like his dad did.

Rape was also commonplace. In fact, in a sordid, twisted way it was a kind of rite of passage. An acceptable way for a boy to become a man without the pressure of actually dating a girl and waiting on her to be ready for sex. Some men thought they were doing girls a favor as they were introducing them to sex before they found a boyfriend. It’s not at all appalling to me—I grew up in Caribbean rape culture. Yes, it even has a name now.

I started developing rather early and quickly became self conscious. I’d be walking to the shops and men old enough to be my father would shout out how appreciative they were that I was finally starting to ‘get big.’ They’d laugh among themselves as they openly discussed whether I was ready for sex and who’d be the first to give it to me. I felt so dirty and guilty then, like it was all my fault. I should’ve worn a bigger shirt and I should’ve worn the training bra my mom kept begging me to wear. So I dressed like a boy until I turned 20. I’d convinced myself that’s how I felt comfortable but the truth is, I thought if I looked like a guy then guys wouldn’t want to rape me.

My neighbor’s son eventually raped another neighbor’s daughter; he also stabbed her in the vagina because he was mad that she was struggling. The victim’s father wanted to go to the cops but the rapist’s mom was furious and warned him not to. Her logic was that he was a horrible person for wanting her son to get locked up over “a little sex.” She said a little sex never hurt anyone and besides, the girl was growing up and would be f***ing sooner or later either way. If it wasn’t her son it would be someone else’s and with that argument it all ended there. That’s just one of many examples of what it’s like growing up in Caribbean rape culture.

I only accepted my own sexuality in my mid-20s and by then I’d already made plans to leave the Caribbean altogether. You see, it’s particularly dangerous to be gay in a country where homosexuality is illegal, but forced introduction to sex isn’t.

The environment I grew up in didn’t turn me gay, however it made me realize that I couldn’t stay there once I accepted that I was. In MANY ways I’m proud to be a Caribbean girl. I love my country but I also understand that it’s an unrequited love and for my safety and sanity I’ll do well to love from afar.