There’s a very vulnerable group of women who don’t seem to be on the agenda of Dr Carolyn Gomes and her Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) Coalition.
According to their website, CVC focuses on “Caribbean populations who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection or often forgotten in access to treatment and health-care programmes. These groups include men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV, migrant populations, ex-prisoners, and youth in especially difficult circumstances”.
Since sexy acronyms are now fashionable, let’s call this forgotten group WSMSMW: women who have sex with men who have sex with men and women. Yes, it’s a mouthful. But it’s only words. It could be far worse. There’s a big difference between WSMSMW and MSM. Obviously, men who have sex with men know what they’re doing. By contrast, most women who have sex with men who have sex with men and women are totally ignorant of the fact that they are in a very messy situation.
In this instance, ignorance is definitely not bliss. It can be deadly. These vulnerable women may suspect that they are sharing their partner with a matey. But they naively assume that the matey is a woman. There are some women who do have their doubts about their husband’s sexuality. But they are afraid to face the truth: Ah so im lie an wicked? No, sah! By the time these women discover that their matey is a man – if they’re so lucky – it’s much too late for informed consent. Their partners have robbed them of their right to choose; or, much worse, infected them with HIV!
Most men who have sex with men and women (MSMW) deliberately and methodically deceive women in order to pass for straight. The woman becomes a front or a beard, as it is more popularly known, protecting the MSMW from exposure. In some cases, the role play is consensual. The wife is a lesbian and the husband is gay, and they choose to be each other’s beard. Like Jack Sprat, who could eat no fat, and his wife, who could eat no lean, the gay man and the lesbian are perfectly paired. There’s no fighting over beef.
I have a lot of respect for MSM who don’t bother with the fiction of getting married to a woman. Disdaining pretence, these courageous men just brazen it out. They don’t hide under the frock tail of women. They accept themselves for who they are and just gwaan bout dem business. And they take the necessary precautions to protect their health. I do sympathise with vulnerable young men who are embarrassed about buying condoms and lubricants. As a teenager, I was quite distressed about buying sanitary pads. Everybody in the shop knew it was that time of the month.
But you grew up and just accepted the course of nature. Admittedly, this is often much harder for MSM. All the same, when you hear the propaganda spouted by Dr Gomes’ Coalition, you would think that no MSM are sensible enough to take care of their health.
This is the way the Coalition’s argument goes: The buggery law stigmatises MSM. Therefore, they are afraid to buy sexually sensitive health-care products. Furthermore, criminalised MSM are unable to get medical care because they are afraid their doctors will report their illegal sexual activities. The only solution is to repeal the buggery law.
SHOCK OF THE FIST
Like many clever Jamaican higglers, Dr Gomes’ Coalition is trying to ‘marry’ goods of unequal appeal. You know the trick: If you want scarce produce, you have to also buy goods that are in plentiful supply. Everybody wants treatment for HIV/AIDS to be readily available for all. But not everybody wants the buggery law to be repealed. So the price we have to pay for HIV/AIDS care is repeal of the stigmatising law.
I have no objection to getting rid of the law. What consenting adults do in the privacy of their home is none of my business. Nor should it be the business of the State.
But the stigma associated with anal sex will not magically disappear once the buggery law is repealed. The Jamaican word for MSM vividly expresses the disgust associated with anal sex. The body part stands for the whole man. Some sexual practices are quite distasteful to the uninitiated. But that’s not a good reason for criminalising them.
The first time I heard about fisting, I was alarmed. A man makes a fist and puts it up another man’s anus, all the way to the elbow! I quickly recovered from the shock when I realised I didn’t need to empathise with the fisted anus. It wasn’t mine.
In some cultures, MSM don’t practise anal sex. They use their thighs. Remember how, as children, we would bend our elbow, squeeze and there would be a fairly good imitation of female labia! Same principle with the thighs. There’s no fooling around in the anal canal. The female partners of these MSMW do not risk HIV infection.
Having failed to acknowledge the special needs of vulnerable WSMSMW in the Caribbean, Dr Gomes and her Coalition now need to take extra lessons on inclusiveness from Professor Brendan Bain.