Homophobic T&T: One Foot in the Closet

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Last week I posted a YouTube video on my Facebook wall, made by an American comedian, addressing the recent spate of gay, teen suicides in the States. An FB friend, let’s call him ‘Bob’, decided to comment on the video saying, “Gays could do what the f@ck they want. Once they don’t come around me”, followed up with the more insightful “They could all kill themselves, don’t really care”.

Now it would be easy to dismiss Bob as an idiot, after all he sounds like one, but on closer inspection of Bob’s Facebook page, you’ll discover that listed in his favourite music are Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin. He has a Maya Angelou quote for his FB status, and his profile pic shows him enthusiastically enjoying a mojito at Shakers.

A friend from France, who was appalled at Bob’s comments, emailed me and asked if Bob represented the ‘typical Trinidadian view on gays’.

Here is my reply to her:

Dear Candice,

Yes. Bob does represent Trinidad and Tobago’s attitude towards gays. You see like Bob, Trinidad and Tobago is not really homophobic – it’s schizophrenic. Let me explain.

While being a country that denies gays and lesbians their right to a legitimate space in mainstream public life – out of the sentiment that their lifestyle and values are in conflict with mainstream society – Trinidad and Tobago is also a country where, for two, whole days every year, mainstream society celebrates Carnival, the national festival where we don skimpy, colourful costumes, designed by celebrated ‘mas men’ like Peter Minshall or Brian Mac Farlane, and ‘parade’ ourselves down the streets of Port of Spain, happily ‘jamming’ and gyrating our buttocks on other scantily clad, sweaty, half-naked bodies along the way.

 

“T&T is also a place where there is no legal recognition of same-sex partnerships… yet it’s also a place where gay culture is very much mainstream.”

T&T is also a place where there is no legal recognition of same-sex partnerships or media addressing gay and lesbian issues, and homosexuality is still technically a crime, yet it’s also a place where gay culture is very much mainstream. From skinny jeans, to mohawk haircuts, sparkly t-shirts, trendy wine bars, man bags, spoken word poetry, Beyoncé concerts, male grooming products, David Beckham worship, film festivals, and mixed martial arts to Carib and Stag commercials, where true manhood is depicted as having the bravery to walk through the rain carrying a flagpole up a slippery mountain, and then thrusting it into the muddy earth beneath you, making it fully erect.

You probably have heard of Pastor Winston Cuffie, then again probably not. He is a prominent pastor who was very opposed to Elton John performing at the Plymouth Jazz Festival. He believes gays can be ‘cured’, and once wrote in the Trinidad Express: “We must introduce (gays) to the love of Christ, for deliverance into a straight and normal life, which so many gay folks continue to enjoy after their born again experience”. You can see Pastor Cuffie every Sunday morning on TV delivering his sermons – after which he presumably goes back to his house in Couva, which looks like a fairytale castle.

 

“Trinidadian society has created this special, mental psychosis.”

As you can see, Trinidadian society has created this special, mental psychosis that enables us to live in relative peace with the idea that there are gays amongst us. It’s our version of the American military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”, except ours includes “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to deal with this, I’m not hearing what you’re saying, burn in hell you heathen!”

Is this a healthy state of mind for a country to be in all the time? How do we cure it? I don’t know. I am part of the sh*t. What I do know is that we have created a deep-seated, cultural mindset that will continuously evade the pressing issues of equality and justice that hang over certain members of our society. It prevents us from maturing as a society, and taking responsibility for our actions, or the lack thereof. The Trini, schizophrenic state of mind is something that has become so stitched into our brain, so woven into the fabric of our consciousness, so elegantly and perfectly designed in our cultural outlook, that if it looked like a dress, it would surely score maximum points on Project Runway.

Laters.

P.S: Bob is also just a douchebag.

Darryn

 

Related article: Trapped – Homosexuality in Trinidad and Tobago. Young, gay Trinis shed light on their experiences.

 

Darryn Dinesh Boodan

Darryn Dinesh Boodan is a freelance writer who works on Murray Street. Email him at darryn.boodan@gmail.com.

4 Comments

  1. Sai

    October 26, 2010 at 10:43 am

    If it’s one thing about us trinbagonians that seems quite pervasive…it’s our ability to hold on to two opposing concepts/ideals at the same time. Dialectics!! Your piece provided an excellent example..our double standards when it comes to homosexuality. Yes there were generalizations. Yes references made weren’t strictly ‘gay’ (psshht at what is gay what is not gay anyway btw) etc…but in the end the point remains the same in this very relevant issue. However, I did notice the range of comments here..which in itself speaks to our perception of gays. The mere fact that people have negotiated with what you’ve said and not give comments like ‘Bob’, in my mind means we’re all not that easily contained. Funny..I read this and thought about the people who drive on the shoulder..who drive under the influence..who litter, who swear in public and then I thought about the people who berate criminals for the lawlessness and ridiculous crime-rate in this country..and sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing persons from the two groups…jus saying…lol
    this schizophrenia (dialectical nature as i call it) certainly isn’t limited to homosexuality..

    ah yess..sweet sweet tnt…

  2. Quilin Achat

    qachat

    October 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

    and that’s regardless if you’re male or female 😉

  3. Isaac Rudder

    October 29, 2010 at 3:24 am

    I agree and like a lot of this article, but I also disagree with some of it as well.

    First off, let me agree that yes, Trinidad is a very homophobic nation. Even our general jargon, where normal straight individuals refer to themselves as “fag” and “bullerman” as insults, is a symbol of how socially unacceptable it still is to be homosexual. Even I, who am not homophobic myself, still tend to find myself using these slang words, although (even though it is not right), I have gay friends who use that jargon themselves, thus almost empowering others to use it. However, I think due to our general culture and the fact that a lot of people still have some sort of tie to religion, it’s going to take quite some time for our general society to becoming accepting of homosexuals, their lifestyle and their culture.

    On another note, I have to ask Darryn, not to offend you, but doesn’t your identification of “homosexual activities” such as skinny jeans, mohawks, wine etc kind of indicate that you yourself are buying into the somewhat ancient Trinidadian idea of what makes you gay? As far as I was told, being gay means having sexual relations with an individual who was the same sex as you. Straight european and high class individuals have been drinking wine for years, straight rock stars have been donning mohawks and as far as I know, skinny jeans is part of a “nerd” culture and not a homosexual one. Not too certain I agree with some of the things you said. Let’s not even delve into issues such as spoken word and MMA…

    On the note of Bob … although I don’t believe that outward hatred on homosexuals is right, I kind of respect Bob the douchebag’s opinion. I beleive that homophobic men, just like racists, have the right to like or dislike whatever they so desire, and our reasons should not be considered when studying theirs. I do believe at the same time however, that they should keep their comments a little similar to Bob’s, in that they can be comfortable once they don’t have to interact with them. If Bob was like “f*ck gays” or “bullers should die” etc, I would be opposed, but all his request stated was that they stay away from him, which I believe should be a right given to him. As a black man, I would feel way better having one less racist (aka ignorant, horribly wrongly opinionated person) be a part of my life, and I would expect that a homosexual person would like the same. Just as a homosexual person may want their sexuality to be respected and not maligned, I personally believe a homophobic person should themselves have that right, once they stick to themselves, similarly to Bob. So while he is horribly ignorant and intolerant of a lifestyle that does not mirror his own, I’ll have to disagree with the douchebag part. He’s just stating his opinion, and while it implies his dislike for gay people, it was not in any way a direct attack on them.

    My 2 Cents

  4. L

    December 12, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    This Article is RIDICULOUS. Not only being passe` in nature but foolishly written as well as revealing the hypocrite that is Darryn.
    Firstly!!! Dont people realize yet that IN EVERY PLACE IN THE WORLD no matter what the subject their are always people for, against and who dont give a damn(like Bob i suppose in this case).ITS NOT A TRINIDAD THING BUT AN INDIVIDUAL THING happening on a GLOBAL SCALE. Its just that the people on the extreme sides (ie for or against) are usually the ones that make the most noise thus creating the illusion of a Phobia. At least people here are not killed if they are found to be gay… Stop Complaining about Homophobia and Grow up.. no one is holding a gun to your head, your human rights on this island are in no way jeapordized due to your sexual preference. So what for the “schizophrenic” state to which you claim Homosexuality in TT to be. This contradictory standard which i believe you are trying to portray (very pathetically i may add and which i will follow on). Question- you are driving in the middle of the night and have to pick up either the white guy or the black guy..who do you pick up? Does this answer make TT a racist island as well??
    Now for your approach….
    What on earth are you trying to prove with the Carnival Issue?? people blah blah blahing on the streets doing this doing that in a Peter Minshal or Mcfarlane band….is it that they ( the designers ) are generally perceived as homosexual, yet the homophobias are indulging in their creations to the max?? Dude!! BE real!!! not that it is important but 99.9 percent of folks who play in those bands are not the “BOB or anti type” and respect very much the WORK of the artist. and if you were not implying the hypocrisy of the homophobic masquerader and the designer then WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY???
    The Culture- Fashion has been in recycled mode for so long that i dont think anyone knows of the origins of various styles. As far as my life has been previewed to Skinny jeans were worn by nerds and Rockers, Shiny Tshirts by rappers who had to extend their bling from their necks to their clothes and teeth.. Mohawks from street punks in all sorts of colours” How can you be so passive minded in categorizing the aforementioned as gay culture?? im not even gonna get to the Wine part..Rudder said it nicely… Carib andStag??? what??… macho ads?? so what!! have you seen the “Captain Morgans” or “Budweiser” or Dos Equis (My favourite) beer commercials?? Are the US Homophobic as well???
    and last but not least and i think the most retarded example in your article.. Pastor Cuffie ?? Come on!! A word of advice..never use so called religious icon/s (whether respected or not) in your arguments towards the existence of Homophobia in a society… They are always against it and have voices larger than the average man to say it.. They have the most passive minds.. Think of the POPE always attacking gays..in ITALY..where the percentage of homosexuality is one of the highest in the world.. And Italy is certainly not homophobic/ schizophrenic..
    And Dont be to hard on BOB..Although i dont share his opinion on the matter he seems to have good taste..and maybe he his pissed of with gays because he is always perceived as one (just like what you were implying when stating his FB details) Maybe from YOUR immature writing i should say that TT suffers from a schizophrenic state of STUPIDITY as well.
    L

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