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‘I never knew I was gay until...'

A Jamaican male’s struggle with homosexuality

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 08, 2011    

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HE'S known from about age 12 that he was different, though at the time he would never have labelled himself a homosexual.

Now 20 years old, the youth, who the Sunday Observer will refer to only as 'John', admits to having had a long and arduous journey to self-acceptance — the reality for many Jamaican children and teens who find themselves sexually attracted to others of their own sex.

John, who said he was never molested as a child, grew up with a host of women, among them his mother and grandmother, and one male — an uncle. His father has been absent from his life since age six.

It is those women he credits for his perceived feminine ways, but until he went to primary school, he never realised girls were supposed to act differently from boys. His ignorance and upbringing earned him the label 'sissy'.

"It (being called a sissy) got so bad (at one point) that I used to just hide away and not go to school. I never got bullied because I have a temper and I will fight, but sometimes it got to me and I just stayed home. I used to get ready for school and then wait until mommy them gone, and go back," he told the Sunday Observer.

It was at high school that John began to understand what it means to be homosexual.

"I started to learn a lot more, like the gay thing and the lesbian thing and the whole sissy and blah. Honestly, I never considered myself gay, I just considered myself a sissy," he said matter-of-factly. "I didn't do sports; I would sit and keep to myself and I was always around the girls. (Then one day) my chemistry teacher said something to me and (because of) the way I reacted towards her, she said that only girls act like that."

John took offence and left the classroom. It was while outside the classroom that he met the first young man, a prefect, who he would find himself attracted to — though they would not become close until later.

"He despised me, but secretly I liked seeing him," he said of his 12-year-old self.

"It was just awkward having that feeling," he added, noting that he ignored the attraction for another three years.

"It wasn't normal to me. I wasn't big in church or anything, but I had never seen two guys together so I was (like) naah. I normally clouded my mind from it," John said.

To help feel more masculine, he joined the track team — until the boys on the team took a dislike to him, and over a girl no less.

"It (track) was going pretty well then I had some guys on the team that made it hard for me. I had this girl in grade 11 who liked me, but she had a boyfriend on the track team. So they made life hard for me," he said.

In grade nine, his understanding of what it meant to be gay deepened and he began to see himself as such.

"We were discussing the fact that the guys used to dress up as girls (in Shakespeare's time) and the teacher made the comment about them being the first era of drag queens. I asked who is a drag queen and the class got quiet. My best friend said '(John), what rock have you been living under?' They explained that they were gay men who dressed as women... and went deeper into it and said that gay people have the same attraction for the same sex. I realised that I never really liked any girls and I still had a crush on the guy (I had met while in grade eight) who by then was my form prefect," he recalled.

Then, when John turned 15, the other youth, 17 at the time, moved to his community and they formed a fast friendship which saw them spending time at each other's homes.

"One day I never had school and he never had school. He was helping me with my history SBA (school-based assessment)... I said, 'we need a break, let's watch TV or something," John said, recounting his story in much the same way a boy or girl attracted to a member of the opposite sex would.

"I laid down in his lap and he started playing in my hair. I asked, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'Nothing'. But it was just nice. So I am here questioning this guy (while thinking) this can't be right. It was very confusing," John noted.

He was given a momentary reprieve from his confusion when his mother called. But then the 17-year-old kissed him.

"That was the icing on the cake that messed up my head. I was confused out of this world. I started to question everything that I ever learned. I never realised when I reached down the house. My mother was like '(John), are you OK?' For the next couple of days at school, I avoided him (the 17-year-old) totally," John said.

"If I saw him on a bus, I would wait on another bus. If I saw him on the road, I would act like I never see him -- until one day I was at school, he called me and apologised and said he never meant nothing by it. He explained to me that he liked it and what not," he added.

"I said to him, this is so new to me. I told him I was attracted to him, but that it was just weird. I (told him I) had never done anything like that before, that it was just dropping me in a whole other dimension where everything was like just wrong... So he was like, 'here is what I am going to do, I am going to work through this with you'," he said further.

It was help John said he welcomed, particularly since there was no one else he could talk to about it -- not even his mother whom he loved and with whom he had a good relationship.

"He used to wait on me after school. We would have lunch together. On weekends, we would go out. People never thought anything of it... They thought we were like brothers... He treated me like a little brother," John told the Sunday Observer.

Soon, the two had sex but even so, the then 15-year-old's confusion intensified.

"I was confused, but I had him to talk to. What made me afraid to talk to my mom was hearing how they (family members) talked about gay people on a whole. They said gay people fi dead and all of this," John said.

Added to the other challenges he faced, his struggle over his sexuality, John said, made life almost unbearable.

"When I was not around him (the 17-year-old) I felt a level of guilt in myself and that just put more stress on my head (particularly) with the CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) exams that were going to happen. I just never knew what to do. I kinda got depressed at that point in time because CXC, stress; sexuality, stress; mother and stepfather always a fight, more stress," the 20-year-old said dramatically.

"This whole emotion thing was getting too much for me. The only time I felt happy was when I was around him," he added.

Then one afternoon, John's world came crashing down. The 17-year-old was fatally stabbed during an altercation with boys from a rival high school — after he had waited on John to complete an extra-curricular activity.

John never attended the funeral of his teenage friend and lover whose stainless steel ring he still carries on his person.

"After he died, I kinda killed that feeling. There was no feeling for girls or for guys," he told the Sunday Observer.

That soon changed after he was molested on a bus at knife-point by a man who he said looked to be in his 30s.

"I was coming home from training and I fell asleep on the bus. I felt somebody's hand in my pants. I saw the knife in my side," John recalled.

But not even that would he share with his mother — the fear of her reaction always foremost in his mind.

"I wanted to tell my mother what happened but based on how they always talked about things like that (homosexuality), I never knew if she would put me out. So I started to keep things inside," he said.

"Exams were one of the hardest things I could do. There was no level of concentration. CXC math, I never did it. I went into the math exam, opened the paper and I couldn't do anything..."

Of the eight subjects he was down to sit, John passed only two — art, and food and nutrition.

"My entire brain just went on shutdown. And then the guy on the bus (the molester) just threw me over the edge," he said.

John got involved with a number of other youths with whom he had "make-out sessions", risking getting caught. It was also about that time that he started cutting himself.

"When I cut myself, it took my mind from the emotional pain to the physical pain," John said.

That went on until last year, when he finally had a breakthrough — after returning to Jamaica, having spent more than two years in the US with his mother who migrated there.

He ended up staying with his stepfather and said they had no problems until he was served divorce papers from his mother.

"This guy is the only father figure I knew. But then, is like he went through a mid-life crisis... He came in (to the house) with young girls my age," John said, adding that he had to speak to his stepfather about it, having regard for his younger sister and brother.

Their talk reaped results as the stepfather began dating a woman closer to his age. However, no sooner was that issue resolved, John's sexuality became an issue.

He was out at work one day and got a call from his mother who told him not to go home. His stepfather and other relatives were threatening to do him harm should he return to the house.

John had no place to go. He called a girlfriend who put him up for two nights, but then he had to leave because her parents returned home. He ended up spending a night on the streets before he called the manager at one of his former places of work.

She agreed to put him up but said he had to speak to his mother about his sexuality.

It was she -- a woman who has since become his good friend, herself a bisexual — who ended up talking to his mother, urging her to take the time to understand her son.

"She (mommy) started to cry," the youth said.

"About a week later, we spoke again and then everything was OK. When parents find out that their child is gay they just don't know how to react. Based on how they (parents) were brought up, the reaction you get is either the aggressive reaction or the crying. My mom was brought up in the church so that was the reaction I got — the crying."

John was thankful.

He eventually had to move in with his grandmother and aunt in St Catherine.

"And that was a whole other episode," he said.

Among other things, his sexuality, yet again, became an issue.

"They keep thinking that when I am out on the road at night that I am out there on the road with some guy doing whatever. They think the worse. It is a thing I see with people, they think about the negative and they dwell on the negative," John told the Sunday Observer.

He subsequently had to leave his grandmother's home to go out on his own -- with the help of his mother.

He finally stopped cutting himself last year, thanks to his former boss and friend.

"She and I started to talk and she tell me plain and straight to stop. She told me that anytime I have an issue, I had her to talk to. She knew when I had a problem and she wouldn't stop asking until I told her," he said, smiling.

According to John, he is finally comfortable with himself.

"There are still a few things that I say maybe I could have done better, but I have grown to accept me for who I am," said the young man who is currently enrolled at a local tertiary institution and who works as a peer counsellor, helping other young people struggling with their sexuality.

Still, there have been days when he wishes he were not gay.

"Like two years ago, I would say that maybe my life would be a little different when the rocky road started with the family. Maybe my family would have been a little bit more supportive when it came on to certain things. That caused me to want to be 'normal' so to speak," he said.

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