Gay Abroad, Closeted at Home: How it Hurts

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Granny passed in July. It wasn’t unexpected, since she had been ill for some time. I was driving home from yet another doomed date when Daddy called. From the sound of his voice, I immediately knew it was serious.
“Son, bad news.”
Silence.
“Kevvy, granny dead.”
Silence.
My heart is racing. Crashing my car is NOT an option…insurance premiums are the devil! I manage to pull into a parking spot…can’t remember where.
“Whey yuh mudder?”
I hear myself explain that she worked today, and that she should be getting home around the same time that I would. My father quickly walks me through the appropriate things to say to her, when I get home. It suddenly dawns on me that I will have to be the one to tell my mother that her mother has passed away. My stomach drops, as I turn into the driveway. Mummy’s car is there. Key in door…Feet up steps….
“Mummy…”
The fallout includes a laugh, a stretch of denial, stunned silence, a series of sudden screams, soul-bending laments to the Holy Ghost, and frantic calls to the travel agency. Doh ask meh what order all dis happen…I can’t remember.
Dear reader, I think this is as good a place as any to pause and give a brief history of my formative years in the Caribbean. I was born and raised in Trinidad. My father is Trinidadian, and my mother’s family is from Grenada. My childhood included regular visits between the two countries. I have an equal appreciation for Trini pelau, and ah serious Grenadian “oil down”…best of both worlds.
At 17, like many others before me, I packed up and moved to Toronto to pursue post secondary education. That was the late 90s.
I consider myself to be a true child of the islands. No matter where I go in this world, my roots will forever and nostalgically be planted in the warm soils of the Caribbean. If I’m being honest, however, the decisions that I have made about the kind of life that I now live are seemingly at odds (according to some) with my Caribbean upbringing.
The boy that left the islands at 17 is not the man who will be returning at 29. He has not yet discovered the power of authentic living. That 17-year-old boy has not done the painstaking work required to come to terms with being a gay man in this world. He has not gone through the slow, on-going metamorphosis of living his truth. He did none of it!
This 29-year-old man has done the work. I have done the work, and I can tell you that it was not easy…and that it is never truly completed. This is probably the reason why, in spite of everything that is happening around me concerning my grandmother’s death, I feel as though this trip back home runs the risk of being a regression of sorts. By not addressing our sexuality upon our return trips home, are Caribbean LGBT men and women undoing all the personal development and potential contributions that can be made to our families, to our friends, and to our wider community?
Look, I know some people reading this may be thinking…
”Gosh, yuh grandmother dead, and yuh mudder hurting, and all yuh could tink bout is yuhself?! Yuh rell selfish, boy!”
I can appreciate that line of thought. I think it’s legitimate. Allow me to explain where I’m coming from.
This experience made me realize that in not addressing my sexuality openly and honestly with my family back home, I had unconsciously ushered in a kind emotional castration that made it impossible for me to engage with them in any real and authentic way. Our relationships had become as superficial as girlfriends complimenting each other on their makeup, but saying nothing ‘bout de webs ah yampee in de corner ah dey eye! What pink elephant yuh talking bout?!
I started putting some serious thought into what that emotional castration…that inauthenticity actually meant within the context of all the difficult lessons I had to endure to become who I am today. I did not want to risk emotional and developmental regression on this particular trip back home.
I also started to think of all my LBGT brothers and sisters around the globe, who make that annual or occasional pilgrimage back to the islands. How do they do it? Do they temporarily shut off part of themselves to make the trip possible? Are they going back with partners, totally unaffected? If they are making “concessions”, do they feel that these are sometimes at the expense of their personal development…like I do?
Are my fabulous brothers and sisters going to be there when I plan to visit for Carnival? Are they going to want to want to buss a lime at Smokey and Bunty with me? Do they have cute and single friends and family? Between 35 and 45 years old, perhaps? Who like fellas like me…with a lil cushin’ fuh de pushin’? Maybe I’m getting a bit specific with my questions…I digress.
I also wonder about my other LBGT brothers and sisters who, for whatever reasons, have decided that it is best to not look back. I wonder about the circumstances surrounding such a major sacrifice. I think about them, because I understand that there, but for the grace of God, go I.
To my original question, what do we, as a community, lose when one of our own has completely erased themselves from our lives…usually out of fear? Is the sacrifice ever worth it for them? Lots of questions; not many answers.
My grandmother’s funeral went as expected. It was bittersweet. She was a wonderful woman…well loved and respected by her community. Did I sit down to have the talk with my family? No. It simply wasn’t the time. Will it happen in the future? I believe it will…especially after dem blasted macos catch wind of this article! Do I particularly care? Not at this moment. For all the work that I have done on myself thus far, I understand that there is more yet to be done.

Granny passed in July. It wasn’t unexpected, since she had been ill for some time. I was driving home from yet another doomed date when Daddy called. From the sound of his voice, I immediately knew it was serious.

“Son, bad news.”

Silence.

“Kevvy, granny dead.”

Silence.

My heart is racing. Crashing my car is NOT an option…insurance premiums are the devil! I manage to pull into a parking spot…can’t remember where.

“Whey yuh mudder?”

I hear myself explain that she worked today, and that she should be getting home around the same time that I would. My father quickly walks me through the appropriate things to say to her, when I get home. It suddenly dawns on me that I will have to be the one to tell my mother that her mother has passed away. My stomach drops, as I turn into the driveway. Mummy’s car is there. Key in door…Feet up steps….

“Mummy…”

The fallout includes a laugh, a stretch of denial, stunned silence, a series of sudden screams, soul-bending laments to the Holy Ghost, and frantic calls to the travel agency. Doh ask meh what order all dis happen…I can’t remember.

Dear reader, I think this is as good a place as any to pause and give a brief history of my formative years in the Caribbean. I was born and raised in Trinidad. My father is Trinidadian, and my mother’s family is from Grenada. My childhood included regular visits between the two countries. I have an equal appreciation for Trini pelau, and ah serious Grenadian “oil down”…best of both worlds.

At 17, like many others before me, I packed up and moved to Toronto to pursue post secondary education. That was the late 90s.

I consider myself to be a true child of the islands. No matter where I go in this world, my roots will forever and nostalgically be planted in the warm soils of the Caribbean. If I’m being honest, however, the decisions that I have made about the kind of life that I now live are seemingly at odds (according to some) with my Caribbean upbringing.

The boy that left the islands at 17 is not the man who will be returning at 29. He has not yet discovered the power of authentic living. That 17-year-old boy has not done the painstaking work required to come to terms with being a gay man in this world. He has not gone through the slow, on-going metamorphosis of living his truth. He did none of it!

This 29-year-old man has done the work. I have done the work, and I can tell you that it was not easy…and that it is never truly completed. This is probably the reason why, in spite of everything that is happening around me concerning my grandmother’s death, I feel as though this trip back home runs the risk of being a regression of sorts. By not addressing our sexuality upon our return trips home, are Caribbean LGBT men and women undoing all the personal development and potential contributions that can be made to our families, to our friends, and to our wider community?

Look, I know some people reading this may be thinking…

“Gosh, yuh grandmother dead, and yuh mudder hurting, and all yuh could tink bout is yuhself?! Yuh rell selfish, boy!”

I can appreciate that line of thought. I think it’s legitimate. Allow me to explain where I’m coming from.

This experience made me realize that in not addressing my sexuality openly and honestly with my family back home, I had unconsciously ushered in a kind emotional castration that made it impossible for me to engage with them in any real and authentic way. Our relationships had become as superficial as girlfriends complimenting each other on their makeup, but saying nothing ‘bout de webs ah yampee in de corner ah dey eye! What pink elephant yuh talking bout?!

I started putting some serious thought into what that emotional castration…that inauthenticity actually meant within the context of all the difficult lessons I had to endure to become who I am today. I did not want to risk emotional and developmental regression on this particular trip back home. I also started to think of all my LBGT brothers and sisters around the globe, who make that annual or occasional pilgrimage back to the islands. How do they do it? Do they temporarily shut off part of themselves to make the trip possible? Are they going back with partners, totally unaffected? If they are making “concessions”, do they feel that these are sometimes at the expense of their personal development…like I do?

Are my fabulous brothers and sisters going to be there when I plan to visit for Carnival? Are they going to want to want to buss a lime at Smokey and Bunty with me? Do they have cute and single friends and family? Between 35 and 45 years old, perhaps? Who like fellas like me…with a lil cushin’ fuh de pushin’? Maybe I’m getting a bit specific with my questions…I digress.

I also wonder about my other LBGT brothers and sisters who, for whatever reasons, have decided that it is best to not look back. I wonder about the circumstances surrounding such a major sacrifice. I think about them, because I understand that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

To my original question, what do we, as a community, lose when one of our own has completely erased themselves from our lives…usually out of fear? Is the sacrifice ever worth it for them? Lots of questions; not many answers.

My grandmother’s funeral went as expected. It was bittersweet. She was a wonderful woman…well loved and respected by her community. Did I sit down to have the talk with my family? No. It simply wasn’t the time. Will it happen in the future? I believe it will…especially after dem blasted macos catch wind of this article! Do I particularly care? Not at this moment. For all the work that I have done on myself thus far, I understand that there is more yet to be done.

 

Image credit: outtraveler.com


Kevin Campbell

In a past life, Kevin Campbell was an incredibly talented force to be reckoned with. In this life? Not so much. Born and raised in Trinidad, Kevin has been living in Toronto since 1998. Architectural designer by trade, notorious skylarker by passion, he is also an avid proponent of exchanging ideas and media, having also pursued communication studies at the University of Ottawa. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys ah good ole talk, and ah good party/palance combo!

11 Comments

  1. Rain de Lima

    December 5, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Good article, important question and I liked the fact that you’re not comfortable with the inauthenticity because it means you want to be real, connected and engaged as the 4 remaining LGBT members of my family. You’re not alone. If your siblings are truly fabulous, they’ll choose you. If they’re bigoted like some I know, they’ll choose their ignorance. You are the first lover of yourself [my saying to myself] so choose yourself first … and keep writing!

  2. CJM

    December 6, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Powerful story! People often say things would be better if more Caribbean people came out. And if, in turn, heretofore homophobic family and friends have the opportunity to experience GLBTs as people they know and love. All of that is easier said than done but it holds so much potential for our evolution.

    One third of Caribbean homophobia is people trying to make others feel small because they don’t feel good about themselves. Another third is people coping with same sex attraction themselves and trying to deflect by bunning batty man. The remainder, I think, are authentically ignorant and open to growth. Thank you for sharing and good luck chipping away at some of that ignorance with your truth.

  3. trogers

    December 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    The word ‘homophobia’ and bigoted have been thrown in there adding a different weight to the conversation. Congratulations on the article and on your personal grown. On the other side may I post the simple arguement that one’s discomfort with being openly gay in the Caribbean is entrentched in the simple fact that most of the Caribbean holds fast to very traditional Christian principles and to the Sciptures on a whole whereas it’s much easier to find ‘leeway’ in north america. That said, the notion that everyone who disagrees with the lifestyle is ‘homophobic’ or a ‘bigot’ is (for want of a better word) tiring. Even more laughable is the catorization that again..not ‘agreeing’ with the lifestyle is a testimony of ignorance. Really? I support anyone in living an authentic life….it’s the only way to be happy, but as another writer had put it in a recent article, see no reason why we can’t simply ‘Agree to disagree’. Bless

  4. Colin

    December 8, 2011 at 3:49 am

    I have a different story, Kevin. Of making Carnival hajj every year and seeing how we GLBT visitors helped expand queer space in T&T, with the entitlement of natives and the immunity of non-residents. Now it’s the Bajans who come here and play deyself in ways none of us would dream of. That’s quite different from doing work in family, which is tough wherever you are, but there is loads of social space in T&T. So, yes, we could buss a lime Carnival time. And yes, it have plenty people looking for a foreign Carnival man, though 35 is a little old for this community, eh. Much has changed in the past 12 years. Your grandmother and father reading about GLBT issues in the paper, watching people play deyself on TV (though CNC censored Glee the other day). Government minister saying people need to get over dey homophobia. I’m glad you are ready to do the work. Start with a letter to Granny.

    Bless!

  5. Daniella

    May 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    To be honest I hope we never become as liberal towards gays and lesbians and I wish to God you all stayed in the closet. I have always been for all people being treated equally regardless of sexual orientation. I don’t judge and you live your life to suit yourself. But to go as far as wanting to call their union marriage and adopt children is where my tolerance stops. I hope and pray that homosexuality will always remain illegal in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. I hope “queer space” remains somewhere deep down inside Sky Bar. Personal feelings aside, I just don’t want my children thinking it’s ok to have sex with the same sex. It’s not natural no matter what anyone says. Especially those who are flagrantly gay and promiscuous. I know that you are all not like that. I know gay men and lesbian women who are in relationships and their struggles and issues are the same as a heterosexual one. But I really don’t care to know that you enjoy sex with your own kind. Do you ever see or hear straight people boasting about being straight? Seriously … get over it and keep your private life private!

  6. Daniella

    May 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    To add a bit more. I have been met with some serious intolerance from gays and lesbians simply because I disagree with their lifestyle. The same so called ignorance that they deride straight people for is so much more compounded by their disgusting attitude towards me simply having a different opinion, that I simply keep my opinions to myself. I have even been provoked by statements like “you ignorant straight people …” etc .. It seems that they are no better than those they complain about. Live and let live. Just leave God and government out of it. Why be so offended and defensive and angry if you believe there’s nothing wrong with having another man upchuck his stuff in your butt!? (digression) :)

    • Kevin Campbell

      May 7, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      Daniella,

      Thank you for your comment. It was truly appreciated. I read, and re-read it a few times, just to be absolutely sure that I understood your stance. I find that people’s opinions are based on their experiences, so I willingly entertain perspectives that are not in line with my own, and don’t feel the need to internalize them.

      I don’t know you, but it seems that you have had experiences that have caused you to form very specific opinions about the gay community…some of which may very well be true. As I mentioned before, we don’t know each other, and I’m not privy to those you come in contact with on a day to day basis, so there’s nothing that I can say about the experiences you may have had.

      That being said, thank you for supporting Outlish, and sharing your thoughts.

      Perhaps in a future article, I will explore gay laws, gay marriage, gay adoption, gay promiscuity and, as you so eloquently put it,
      man upchucking…none of which were discussed in the article you just read.

      Just to reiterate, my story is one of personal evolution. My story is one about searching for authenticity in my life.

      Respectfully,
      Kevin C

  7. Hassan John

    July 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    boi Kevin this one really touched me whole heartedly , and boi  i dont care   u will still be one of  my closest school mates ever  and for the macos and them ( dont want to say anything foul  on here lol ) they will always be macoing  , at least  you are being true to u self  ….  and im glad to call u a friend …..

  8. Liesl Semper

    June 10, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    <3. a life lived in dishonesty……….well what is that exactly? It ain't livin'. Own your truth. It's the only way to go. Is it hard? Heck yeah, but it is also worth it for the peace it brings. Everyone has a truth that they must own. Sometimes it's a big thing like their sexuality, sometimes it's a smaller thing like "I don't want to join the family business". Whatever it is, once it challenges family norms, trouble bong to follow but peace follows too.

  9. Jenni Jones

    June 11, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Well written article.

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