Big Up Dr Zuma and Mr Obama!

Dr Zuma

Dr Nkosazana Zuma

Last Thursday, the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies hosted two distinguished visitors. Yes, two! Not just United States President Mr Barack Obama. A couple of hours after his uplifting town hall meeting, another speaker of equal stature, Dr Nkosazana Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), delivered the 8th Lucille Mathurin Mair public lecture.

The first woman to chair the AUC, Dr Zuma has broken barriers of gender that seemed as insurmountable as the stumbling blocks of race that have been put in Mr Obama’s path. I will never forget the euphoria of attending the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. On a very cold January morning, I stood in line with hundreds of others for more than two hours just to get on a train to the Capitol.

But I almost turned back when the train got more and more crowded as we approached Washington, D.C. My sister, Donnette, had to remind me that I’d come all the way from Jamaica for the inauguration and couldn’t miss it. When we got to the Capitol, I was glad I hadn’t given up. To be part of that massive crowd on that historic occasion was truly awesome.

I felt a similar sense of awe as I heard Dr Zuma tell her heroic story of the struggle for gender equity on the African continent. As the African Union website notes, “She was born on 27 January 1949 in KwaZulu-Natal, a time when black women’s career expectations did not go beyond domestic work”.

As a medical student in South Africa, this politically engaged young woman became an underground member of the African National Congress. In 1976, she went into exile in the UK where she completed her degree. On her return to South Africa, Dr Zuma was appointed as minister of health and introduced reforms that made basic healthcare free. In the spirit of much later Obamacare! Dr Zuma also served as minister of foreign affairs and minister of home affairs.


Quite early in her lecture, Dr. Zuma used the vivid image of the hoe to symbolise the difficulty of life for many women on the African continent.Women farmers have long been complaining that the backbreaking work of digging the ground with a hoe makes them age rather quickly. A woman of 40 begins to look like 60.

By the way, according to Dr. Leahcim Semaj, this prematurely aged woman would definitely have to stay in her lane. No ‘ageable’ man is going to want her. Then would you believe that Dr. Semaj is taking bets on his Mind Spa blog that no ‘ageable’ man is going to look me? “The bird will soon learn” is how he puts it. What a prekeh!

Seriously, though, the AUC has make a commitment to ensure that women farmers have access to new technology that will make their lives far easier.

Womenintechnology-templateOne of the big issues Dr Zuma addressed was the effectiveness of quotas in increasing the number of women in representational politics. At a “Phenomenal Women” breakfast on Friday, she told the amusing story of how the AUC handled negative responses to the decision that each of the five regions of the Union should send two representatives, one male, the other female, to the Commission.

Only two regions complied. The other three claimed they could not find any qualified women. They were told that their quota of women would be given to other regions. And they would just have to explain to their constituents why they couldn’t find appropriate female representatives. All of a sudden, suitable women appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.


Dr. Zuma also settled the non-issue of “token” women. Some pompous women, opposed to the quota system, keep saying they don’t want to be seen as “token” women. But, as Dr. Zuma put it, “quotas and merit are not mutually exclusive”. Quotas force men to acknowledge the existence of qualified women who are routinely overlooked for leadership positions.

This indisputable affirmation of the value of quotas reminded me of the easy way in which Mr Obama applied the principle of gender equity in his fielding of questions at the town hall meeting. Simple alternation: boy/girl. But this is not the usual practice in the ‘real’ world of male domination! Men don’t usually like to share power.
imagesIf only we could apply this boy/girl system in all areas of public life. At the University of the West Indies, for example, we could institute the principle of quotas to ensure gender equity. Boy Chancellor, followed by girl Chancellor; boy Vice-chancellor, girl Vice-chancellor. On and on, all the way up and down the University’s hierarchical systems. And we could put in place term limits. So more people would get the opportunity to provide leadership.

Dr Zuma’s visit has received very little coverage in the local media. She has been overshadowed by Mr Obama. But for those of us who knew she was here, her presence has been a most welcome affirmation of woman power. Twenty years after the Fourth World Conference on Women, convened in Beijing, the African Union has declared 2015 as the African Year of Women. We in the Diaspora must join forces with women on the continent to claim our full of quota of rights.

Who’s Stuck in Dr Semaj’s Boxes?

unimaginative_by_xrniborI got so many amusing responses to my column, “Mi No Want No Woman Look Mi”, published on March 22. It’s amazing how a hot headline can motivate people to read Jamaican. If I’d even used only the ‘prapa-prapa’ writing system, that wouldn’t have stopped too many readers from trying to figure out what the column was about.

One of the first emails came from an unimaginative man: “Can you please define ageable genkleman (age group)? I fit all other criteria as stipulated in your article. Your response to my question will let me know if I have a chance:=)”. He was not too happy with my answer: “Remember, age is just a number. But you also need a recommendation from your last woman”.

That’s not an original line. It’s from a vintage calypso:

“She tell me to bring a letter from mi last woman

With she signature stating why we done

Bring two passport picture of the woman to

Ah want to know how much children weh she have for you”.

It wasn’t the letter of recommendation that bothered my would-be suitor.   It was my imprecision about ‘ageable': “You contradict yourself by saying that age is just a number. Your article clearly spoke about an ‘age-able man’”. Yu see mi dying trial! The man picking quarrel with mi already an mi an im no deh. That was the end of that.


A rather clever man made his “application fi hart occupancy” in Jamaican. And he had no difficulty understanding ‘ageable’. After giving some lovely compliments, he proceeded “to di meat a di matta”, as he put it: “mi a di right smaddy fi look yu. Self praise really anuh good recommendation but mi tink mi a one ‘nice, ageable genkleman’. Mi anuh young bwoy nar old man cau mi a jus fifty-four even dou mi easily look thirty-four.

“Mi did marry one time but mi fine out seh di ooman a Delilah genaration an mi ave fi tek weh miself fast, fast. Mi bun fish-tail wicked so yuh woan ave nuh concern deh so.

images“Mi feel mi can read an write well cau a intallect dem call mi. A one teacha gi mi di name wen mi did deh a primary school because she seh me always a read wen all the odder pickney dem a play. All a mi teeth dem inna mi mout an none a dem nuh ratten. Mi feel mi well qualify fi de position. Please shortlist me an sen mi a email”.

I had to laugh though I wasn’t so happy about the fish-tail burning. A ‘real’ man doesn’t have to call down hellfire on gay men to prove he’s not one of them. But this man did give a good account of himself so I shortlisted him and sent an email. Incidentally, the condition of one’s teeth is a good indicator of overall health. And literacy is a sign of access to a world of books.


The most elaborate response to my column came from a psychologist, Dr. Leahcim Semaj. He was definitely not putting in an application for my hand or any other body part. In fact, he was casting me into outer darkness – a lonely place of total manlessness. In a guest column published last Sunday, Dr. Semaj prophesied that I would have “a long wait” for a suitable man. Bright!

By the way, I hadn’t said in my column that I was looking man. I was simply stating the desirable qualities of any man who might want to look me. There’s a difference. Mi no want no young boy fi work out mi soul case. An no old man fi go dead pon mi. Dr. Semaj concluded that my desire for an ‘ageable’ man was a sexual fantasy that wasn’t likely to be fulfilled.

The headline of his column was intriguing: “Ageing And Lovesick? Don’t Chase Sex Fantasies”. But what is sex without fantasies? Especially if you’re stuck with a boring partner who is trying to box you in! To be fair to Dr. Semaj, that was not his headline. It was the editor’s. But it did capture the essence of his argument.

imagesThe goodly psychologist constructed some neat little boxes in which he tried to trap young, middle-aged and old people. I was amused to see that, with typical male vanity, Dr. Semaj proposed that women age faster than men. So young boy ends at 35 years of age; but young woman ends at 30. The ‘ageable’ man ranges from 35+ to 50. The female equivalent starts at 30+ and pops down at 45. The old man starts at 50+ and, presumably, keeps going. It’s all over for the old woman at 45.

Dr. Semaj clearly does not take into account the sex appeal of the ‘nice big-woman’. That’s how I was greeted last week by a young-boy ‘ductor leaning out of a Coaster bus. And Dr. Semaj doesn’t distinguish between biological age and chronological age. People age at different rates depending on how well they take care of their teeth.

Dr. Semaj insists that people must ‘stay in dem lane’. Young with young; middle-aged with middle-aged; old with old. Nothing no go so. Sexual desire is unruly. It makes people veer out of lanes.   It’s only Dr. Semaj who’s stuck in his little box.

Bob Marley’s Face At Large

bob-marley-legend-the-best-of-delanteraIn his song “Bad Card”, Bob Marley boasted, “dem a go tired fi see mi face”. Of course, this mocking threat did not mean that Marley was going to be tired of his own popularity. The very opposite! Like many a Jamaican star boy, Bob was throwing words, tauntingly declaring the longevity of not only his image but, more importantly, his mission: “Can’t get mi out of the race”. Marley was predicting that his legacy would endure.

Bob’s ironic prophecy has certainly been fulfilled.  Seventy years after his birth, the power of the mass media – both old and new – has magnified Marley’s image incalculably. Album covers, calendars, billboards, teeshirts, coins, stamps, luxurious coffee table books and documentaries all portray the many faces of Bob Marley: sensual, mystical, playful, contemplative, withdrawn, angry, spirit dancer, freedom fighter, duppy conqueror!

The Bob Marley Estate cannot possibly police the use of the reggae icon’s image across the globe without retaining a veritable army of intellectual property lawyers. In any case, the Estate is itself efficiently exploiting Marley’s image. Late last year, it was announced that the Tuff Gong was going to be the face of a new international ganja brand. The story was carried widely in the international media.

A November 14, 2014 article, posted on the BBC’s Latin America and Caribbean website, reported that:   “The family of the late Jamaican reggae artist, Bob Marley has launched what they describe as the world’s first global cannabis brand. It will be called Marley Natural and be used to sell cannabis-infused lotions, creams and various accessories.

1426115042438“The new brand is being developed with Privateer Holdings based in Washington state, stressing the life and legacy of Jamaica’s greatest cultural export”. I couldn’t help remembering that a privateer is “an armed ship owned and officered by private individuals holding a government commission and authorized for use in war, especially in the capture of enemy merchant shipping.”

In a flash of uncensored free association, the opening lines of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” came to me subversively: “Old pirates yes they rob I/ Sold I to the merchant ships”. But I don’t suppose the Marley Estate would appreciate this mischievous irony.

According to that BBC article, “Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella Marley said her father would welcome the move. ‘My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb’”. Not quite the same as exploiting Marley’s image, I don’t think.


unnamed-2-e1423469546908Last month, a major exhibition of Bob Marley posters opened in Mexico City. The venue was not a conventional art gallery. It was the Jamaica metro station, one of the busiest in the system with over a million commuters every day. The posters were selected from the collection of Marley entries in the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), co-organised by the Jamaican graphic artist Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson and the Greek graphic designer Maria Papaefstathiou.

Since its inception in 2012, the IRPC has become a powerful visual medium for the spread of Jamaican popular culture. It has inspired graphic artists from across the world to create vibrant images that leap across sensory boundaries:  reggae music from sound to sight.

The vivid posters are both global and local. All the artists pay tribute to the Jamaican roots of reggae music.  But they also acknowledge the far-reaching branches of ‘roots’ culture.   They imagine the story of reggae in new ways that display their own cultural values and aesthetic practices.

Bob Marley has been a favourite subject in all three years of the contest. He is the single most popular image. Of course, there is Marley’s endlessly reinterpreted face. But other posters use the singer’s words and related images.

In the 2012 contest, there were 9 Bob Marley posters in the top 100 entries. In 2013 there were 14; and in 2014, there were 23. The figures for the other 900 or so posters each year were not easily retrievable. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.



Rogério Araujo, Portugal

Bob Marley’s global appeal is beautifully illustrated in this report on the Contest’s website: “In 2014, the IRPC received an email from the General Directorate of Rehabilitation and Prison Services of the Ministry of Justice of Portugal (, communicating their interest in participating in the 2014 International Reggae Poster Contest. . . .

“The IRPC was delighted to support the Directorate in this creative mission in the area of cultural and artistic activities, and to implement this as an instrument of prison rehabilitation. . . . All eight prisons were encouraged to participate in the contest: A total of 20 posters were designed and submitted by 26 inmates. . . .

“‘Many of the prisoners are reggae enthusiasts,’ says the director of one of the prisons. He also stated, ‘The music of Bob Marley is favored highly among the prisoners in the institutions. They see the message from Bob as a message of hope and inspiration to help them while they are incarcerated’”.

Bob Marley has given the world an everlasting legacy of rebellious creativity. Visual artists will never get tired of imprinting on his face their brilliant interpretations of his life and legacy. Dem naa go draw no bad card.  Rogério-Araujo

Phillips Sweetens “Bitter Medicine”

imagesIn a hopeful Budget speech that insistently focused on facts, Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips demolished the false claims of both Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) spokesman on finance, Audley Shaw, about the state of the Jamaican economy. Ironically quoting both Shaw and former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, Phillips underscored the urgent need to place the national interest above political opportunism.

On the contentious matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Phillips emphasised the failure of the JLP to “undertake the necessary structural reforms in order to achieve a sustainable balance of payments”.  Instead of administering the “bitter medicine” that Holness had prescribed in 2011, the former JLP government simply “took the money and ran,” according to Phillips. Now, the JLP insists that the passing of IMF tests is “contrived”.

asl-alphabetIn a witty aside, Phillips asserted, in reference to Audley Shaw, “him want the horse but not the bridle”. I wished there had been more of that kind of vivid language in Phillips’ rather technical speech. I kept on wondering just how many listeners really understood the ins and outs of Phillips’ arguments. I got lost at times. It struck me that the deaf were much better served than the majority of Jamaicans. They had access to sign language. For most of us, the minister’s technical words fell on deaf ears.

I believe that for important national matters like the Budget debates, translators should be employed to turn technical English into accessible Jamaican Creole. All our talk of democracy is pointless if we continue to exclude the majority of Jamaicans from public discourse. As one woman said to me, “From dem start wid dem ‘per cent’, mi stop listen. Because mi no know weh dem a seh”.

korting_TUINederlandWhat is so sad is that “per cent” is such an easy concept to translate: “out of every 100”.   But those of us who know English don’t think it’s essential to include in our national debates those Jamaicans who don’t know the language. We claim that they understand when they don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter to us that so many Jamaicans stop listening when we start to talk to ourselves.

I am convinced that many more Jamaicans would buy into the government’s Budget if they fully understood our options. We would come to accept the fact that the price of hope is sacrifice.   Eucalyptus oil is, indeed, bitter medicine. But it really is therapeutic. That’s the message Peter Phillips needs to communicate in a language that everybody can understand. Including Mr. Shaw and Mr. Holness!

Mi No Want No Woman Look Mi!

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.


imagesEverywhere mi turn, macca jook mi. Look how mi a try emancipate miself from mental slavery. Mi a defend gay people rights inna fi wi country. It look like mi mighta ha fi go stop. Trouble deh a road, mi naa bring it a mi yard.

Di whole a wi inna Jamaica grow pon Bible. An from yu a pikni, big people tel yu seh man an woman business a no fi pikni. An wen yu grow lickle bigger, dem mek yu know seh man fi sex woman an woman fi sex man. No man an man an woman an woman slackness! Dem seh a so God seh inna Bible.

Mi memba di first funny man mi know. Im did work inna one beauty parlour pon di same road weh mi did live. Mi a bout eight, nine. Dem deh age. An mi get fi understand seh im never ‘normal’. Im did walk an wine, an im hair did straighten. An im a hairdresser! Dem deh time, dat a woman work.

Mi can’t member di first funny woman mi know. It look like seh wi no so fussy bout dem deh woman inna Jamaica. A di funny man dem wi tek set pon. An chruu woman an woman a fren, an woman love hug up dem fren, woman coulda funny an yu no know.


All dis fi seh, mi did get one next email from ‘Jordan’ last week. It funny. But it never sweet mi. A now mi know how di man dem feel wen man try hold dem down an dem no want it. Mi a big woman. Mi know mi mind. Mi naa follow ‘Bible’ go burn fire pon gay people. Mi have lesbian fren. But mi naa sex dem. Mi no gay, an mi no want no woman look mi.

Si di email ya: “Good day Prof Cooper, how are you? I took a look at your blog it’s nicely set up. The articles are interesting.The patois makes me dizzy though as we read only english during my time at UWI. I know you don’t remember me but we ‘met’ briefly on the jogging trail a few mornings. I’ve always hoped you were gay but i never had the courage as a student to make such a brazen proposition!

books_4“It would be good to have intelligent gay role models for homosexual youth in Jamaica, however i don’t think our society is ready for this.The PM seems to share the same sentiment as evidenced by her apparent avoidance of the issue which i believe to be a wise decision at this time. Developing a thriving economy and minimising corruption should be top priority …. well things may change unexpectedly … look what happened in Brazil a few years ago! Anyhow take care and keep up the exercise …. you look good girl !”

Liberty come from carelessness. It look like mi ha fi go stop write column fi Gleaner an tek bak mi privacy. If a no cuss dem a cuss mi, a look dem a look mi. Di ongle smaddy mi want look mi a one nice, ageable genkleman. No young boy. No old man. No married man. No man weh a sex man an uman. Yu ha fi can read an write. Yu ha fi have teeth. If yu qualify, come put argument. Otherwise, beg yu please lef mi in peace!


Evri we mi ton, maka juk mi. Luk ou mi a chrai imansipiet miself fram mental slievri. Mi a difen gie piipl raits ina fi wi konchri. It luk laik mi maita a fi go tap. Chrobl de a ruod, mi naa bring it a mi yaad.

Di uol a wi iina Jamieka gruo pan Baibl. An fram yu a pikni, big piipl tel yu se man an uman bizniz a no fi pikni. An wen yu gruo likl biga, dem mek yu nuo se man fi seks uman an uman fi seks man. No man an man an uman an uman slaknis! Dem se a so Gad se iina Baibl.

Mi memba di fos foni man mi nuo. Im did work inna one beauty parlour pon di same road weh mi did live. Mi a bout iet, nain. Dem de iej. An mi get fi andastan se im neva ‘naamal’. Im did waak an wain, an im ier did chrietn. An im a ierjresa. Dem de taim, dat a uman work.

Mi kyaahn memba di fos foni uman mi nuo. It luk laik se wi no so fosi bout dem de uman iina Jamieka. A di foni man dem wi tek set pan. An chruu uman an uman a fren, an uman lov og op dem fren, uman kuda foni an yu no nuo.


Aal dis fi se, mi did get wan neks iimail fram ‘Jordan’ laas wiik. It foni. Bot it neva swiit mi. A nou mi nuo ou di man dem fiil wen man chrai uol dem dong an dem no waahnt it. Mi a big uman. Mi nuo mi main. Mi naa fala ‘Baibl’ go bon faiya pan gie piipl. Mi av lesbiyan fren. Bot mi naa seks dem. Mi no gie, an mi no waahn no uman luk mi.

dizzySi di iimiel ya: “Good day Prof Cooper, how are you? I took a look at your blog it’s nicely set up. The articles are interesting.The patois makes me dizzy though as we read only english during my time at UWI. I know you don’t remember me but we ‘met’ briefly on the jogging trail a few mornings. I’ve always hoped you were gay but i never had the courage as a student to make such a brazen proposition!

“It would be good to have intelligent gay role models for homosexual youth in Jamaica, however i don’t think our society is ready for this.The PM seems to share the same sentiment as evidenced by her apparent avoidance of the issue which i believe to be a wise decision at this time.Developing a thriving economy and minimising corruption should be top priority …. well things may change unexpectedly …. look what happened in Brazil a few years ago! Anyhow take care and keep up the exercise …. you look good girl !”

Libati kom fram kielisnis. It luk laik mi a fi go tap rait kalam fi Gleaner an tek bak mi praivisi. If a no kos dem a kos mi, a luk dem a luk mi. Di ongl smadi mi waan luk mi a wan nais, iejibl jenklman. No yong bwai. No uol man. No marid man. No man we a seks man an uman. Yu a fi kyan riid an rait. Yu a fi av tiit. If yu kwalifai, kom put aagyument. Adawaiz, beg yu pliiz lef mi in piis!


I Don’t Want Women To Proposition Me!

emancipate-ourselves-from-mental-slavery-big-text1At every turn, I’m under attack.  I’ve been trying so hard to emancipate myself from mental slavery. I’ve been defending gay  rights in Jamaica.  But it seems as if I might have to stop and start minding my own business.  I can’t take on other people’s troubles.

All of us in Jamaica were raised on the Bible. As children, we were told by adults that sex was not for minors.  As we grew older, we were taught that heterosexuality was the norm.  Homosexuality was condemned by God:  that’s what the Bible says.

I can still remember the first gay man I became aware of.  He worked in a beauty parlour on the same road where I lived. I was about eight or nine years old at the time.  And I came to realise he wasn’t ‘normal’.  He walked with a swing in his hips and his hair was straightened.  And he was a hairdresser!  Those days, that was women’s work.

I can’t remember the first gay woman I became aware of.   It seems as if we’re not so obsessed about them in Jamaica. It’s gay men who are constantly scrutinised. And since women are open about friendship and love to embrace each other, they could be gay and no one would be any the wiser.


All that to say, I did get another email from ‘Jordan’ last week. It was funny. But I wan’t amused. Now I know how men feel when a man tries to have sex with them and they don’t want it. I’m an adult. I can make up my own mind. I’m not going to uncritically accept any interpretation of the Bible that claims we should call down hellfire on gay people. I have friends who are lesbian. But I’m not having sex with them.  I’m not gay and I don’t want to be propositioned by women.

Here’s the email: “Good day Prof Cooper, how are you? I took a look at your blog it’s nicely set up. The articles are interesting.The patois makes me dizzy though as we read only english during my time at UWI. I know you don’t remember me but we ‘met’ briefly on the jogging trail a few mornings. I’ve always hoped you were gay but i never had the courage as a student to make such a brazen proposition!

SMILEEE“It would be good to have intelligent gay role models for homosexual youth in Jamaica, however i don’t think our society is ready for this.The PM seems to share the same sentiment as evidenced by her apparent avoidance of the issue which i believe to be a wise decision at this time. Developing a thriving economy and minimising corruption should be top priority …. well things may change unexpectedly … look what happened in Brazil a few years ago! Anyhow take care and keep up the exercise …. you look good girl !”

People take liberties with you if you’re not careful. It looks as if I’m going to have to stop writing for the Gleaner and reclaim my privacy. If it’s not abuse, it’s unwelcome advances.  The only person I want to proposition me is a suitable gentleman of an appropriate age. No young boy. No old man. No married man. No man who is having sex with men and woman. You have to be literate. You must have teeth. If you qualify, you can make an offer. Otherwise,  please leave me in peace!

Coming Out In Jamaica – Dead Or Alive

Last Wednesday, I got two emails that forced me to write this column. I’d already been thinking about sharing a schizophrenic email that came in response to last Sunday’s column. Homophobia in Jamaica is still so fierce that even writing about the subject makes people point fingers at you. But my back is broad. So mi just a gwaan.

coming-out-450x429Here’s the first email, which I’ve not edited for punctuation errors, etc. So mi get it, so mi give it: “Hello Ms Cooper, how are you?I am an occasional reader of your column and it seems like homosexuality is one of your favourite topics.Tell me something are you in the closet yourself? If not then why such passion and sympathy for these folks. Well, if i am right and you need a hook up feel free to let me know. Peace, love and respect.”

My response: “Thanks for taking the time to send feedback. If you were to read my columns regularly, not just occasionally, you would see that I write on a wide range of topics. I would say that chik-V (and the failure of the Ministry of Health to protect) is one of my recent favourites. You can catch up on my blog – the link is below.

“Then you wonder if I’m in the closet. Your question is a classic example of the fool-fool assumption that a newspaper columnist only writes about his or her personal issues. In any case, I must decline your facetious offer to “hook up” with me. I do not embrace abusive relationships. Best of luck with finding a suitable sexual partner!”


That email came from ‘Jordan’. Could be male or female. I suppose s/he was not necessarily proposing her/himself for the ‘hook up’. But the tone of the email is abusive. And what I find intriguing is that s/he is willing to source a lesbian for me, even though s/he appears to disapprove of homosexuality.

Then why does this ‘bright’ person feel I’m not able to find my own sexual partners? Why would I need his/her help? The email is not only facetious; it’s facety. And instinct tells me that the author is male. And Jamaican. There’s a type of Jamaican man who just loves to tell women what to do. Especially if it’s directing them to engage in sexual practices he enjoys watching under cover.

I’d decided not to bother to write about that out-of-order email. And then I got these two others. The first came from my friend Maria, co-organiser of the International Reggae Poster Contest, who lives in Greece.

It was about a story in Pink News, ‘Europe’s Largest Gay News Service’, published on March 10.

The headline was sensational: ‘Report: Gay man stoned to death in Jamaica’. The actual ‘report’ is more cautious: “Video has emerged reportedly showing the bloodied body of a gay Jamaican man who it is claimed was stoned to death.” If this is true, we’re back in the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus. This is not a good place to be in the 21st century.


The second email came from another friend, Ben, an attorney in the US. It was a link to a beautifully written personal essay by the novelist Marlon James, published in The New York Times on March 10. The essay is headlined “From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myself”. It opens with an unsettling quote: “I knew I had to leave my home country – whether in a coffin or in a plane.”

James’ account of growing up as an outsider in Jamaica is disquieting: “I’d spent seven years in an all-boys school: 2,000 adolescents in the same khaki uniforms striking hunting poses, stalking lunchrooms, classrooms, changing rooms, looking for boys who didn’t fit in.

“I bought myself protection by cursing, locking my lisp behind gritted teeth, folding away my limp wrist and drawing 36-double-D girls for art class. I took a copy of Penthouse to school to score cool points, but the other boys called me ‘batty boy’ anyway every day, five days a week. To save my older, cooler brother, I pretended we weren’t related.”

But we are related. No matter how religiously some of us deny it, gay Jamaicans are us: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins – not-so-distant relatives. I suppose ‘Jordan’ could have been one of the boys who would have hunted Marlon James. And s/he might very well email me again this week, like a stalker, looking for confirmation that I’m in the closet. Another column on homosexuality, so I must be gay.

After writing the first draft of this column with those sentences, I did get a seemingly conciliatory response from ‘Jordan': “Sorry Carolyn, no offence meant…Peace, Love and respect to you. Keep up the good work.” Makes no sense. But this is Jamaica. Conflicted about sexuality.

OverTheEdge_logoMarlon James writes about being suicidal: “One day after school, instead of going home, I walked for miles, all the way down to Kingston Harbor. I stopped right at the edge of the dock, thinking next time I would just keep walking.”Marlon found the courage to stay in Jamaica and not walk over the edge. He has written three brilliant novels that are rooted in our fertile/arid landscape. Thank God Marlon James came out of Jamaica in a plane, not a coffin!

KC Old Boys Won’t Kiss and Make Up

Bishop Gibson, Founder of Kingston College

Bishop Gibson, Founder of Kingston College

Last year, I got a lovely invitation from Dr. Patrick Dallas, president of the KC old boys’ association. It was to give the Kingston College Founder’s Week lecture, scheduled for next month. I was delighted to accept. KC is the brother school of my high school, St. Hugh’s; and my own brother is a KC old boy. We’re family!

Then, a few months later, completely forgetting about the invitation, I foolishly had a little fun at the old boys’ expense in my now-infamous column. I won’t even repeat the scandalous headline because I’m afraid of arousing the old boys’ passion again. That’s not the kind of passionate arousal I like to provoke.

When I saw the murderous responses to my satirical column, I immediately emailed Dr. Dallas. Given the ‘trauma’ I had caused, I told him, I would completely understand if the old boys decided to withdraw the invitation. I felt it was the right thing to do at the time. The wounds were fresh and the old boys were hurting.

Then, after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, I publicly apologised in another column for pulling the old boy’s legs: “Wa A Joke To You A Death To Me”, published on January 18, 2015. Sex and religion are very delicate subjects. Especially in Jamaica, homosexuality is no laughing matter.


All the same, I hoped that the old boys would eventually forgive, even if they could not forget. But alas! That was not to be. Late last month, I got a rather disappointing email from Dr. Dallas. The invitation to give the Founder’s Week lecture has, indeed, been formally withdrawn because “the distress still runs deep among many persons in the KC Family and this makes such a possibility too difficult at this time”.

I’m disappointed not because I no longer have to prepare a lecture for the Founder’s Week event. I give lectures for a living. So it’s not like I’m dying to speak in public to old boys and young men who may be carrying feelings. What surprises me, though, is that some of the KC old boys are still keeping malice – after four months!

I say “some” because I really can’t imagine that it’s a unanimous decision to withdraw the invitation. There must be a few men on the committee brave enough to say, “Wi no fraid fi her”. They must know that on a grand occasion like the Founder’s Week lecture, I would behave myself. Not a word about same-sex dinners would slip out of my mouth!

stereotypesThe problem with having a reputation for being ‘controversial’ is that you get stereotyped. It’s assumed that you delight in controversy for the hell of it. In my case, this is certainly not true. I don’t go looking for controversy. It’s the other way around. Controversy stalks me. And I have to keep running away.

By now, the KC old boys must have found an uncontroversial substitute to deliver the Founder’s Week lecture. So it’s not like I’m begging them to reconsider their decision to uninvite me. What I am hoping for is that the ‘controversy’ ignited by my column will inspire more frank discussion about sexuality in Jamaica today.


At the core of that satirical column was the expectation that one-day, one-day, gay men could, indeed, come out in Jamaica and not feel ‘a way’ about their sexuality. It was a serious joke I was making. And the fact that so many KC old boys got so angry at the very thought of the Fortis name being ‘tarnished’, means that I touched a very sensitive nerve.

largeI keep wondering about the young people all across Jamaica who may be wrestling with their sexuality. And I don’t mean hands-on combat. Conflicted young men and women need reassurance that it’s OK to be gay. Where are they going to find support? Where are the gay men and women who could be role models for these youth? Without exploiting them!

This is a conversation that needs to be taken out of the proverbial closet and put on the public agenda. We can’t keep on hiding from the subject. We must take the shame out of sexuality in all its variations. My edgy column on the male-only dinner was an opportunity to seriously consider the taboo topic of sex at school. In and out of the water closet!

Admittedly, the ironic tone of the column made it look as if I was not just mocking the old boys for their folly in excluding women from their special dinner. I seemed to be turning homosexuality into a weapon of abuse! That’s the trickiness of satire. It both is and isn’t what it appears to be.

I certainly understand the persistent desire of long-time buddies to reunite annually.  Without the prying eyes of females who may be tempted to pass unwelcome judgement! Old boys are entitled to their homosocial world. Social means just that: innocent socialising.

And even though I did say I would understand if I were uninvited, I thought the KC old boys would be able to kiss and makeup. But I now see that it’s going to take a very long time for me to be accepted back into the family. If ever! And I would have given such a nice lecture, you know.