I’m standing in line at the neighbourhood KFC restaurant that I patronize way more than I should. I’m having the hardest time deciding what to order and therefore how much hot n’ spicy chicken worth of trans fat I am about to consume. But I’m not the only one who is indecisive.
In front of me a little girl of no more than 6 waits with her father for their dinner. Our eyes met when I came in and twice more inbetween my glances at the menu and my phone. She turns away..again…then turns back around. I feel her gaze appraising every inch of my form. Trying to decipher who I am; how she should categorize me.
“He has low hair so he must be a boy…”
“But she has breasts. Only girls have breasts…”
“He’s wearing a loose tshirt and jeans. If it were a girl, her shirt would be tighter…”
Back and forth I imagine her banter goes inside her head. Her thoughts as confused as any adult’s would be. I desperately wish I could explain it to her, but that would be quite improper of me; and I’m not about to add any fuel to the all-homosexuals-are-paedophiles fire.
Here’s my dilemma: I look like a young man of 24 or 16 depending on the day, but the globes present on my chest are exceedingly hard to miss – at least to me anyway. This particular scenario is not unfamiliar to me; it occurs quite frequently with both children and adults alike. Sometimes they are not as polite as the little girl though; as they must audibly question the nature of my genitals at the top of their lungs; seemingly to create a scene and place me in a state of embarrassment. More often than not, they win. I hold my head straight and proceed towards my destination with spectacular tunnelvision.
Imagine walking down the street minding your own business when a slew of comments and speculation about what’s contained in your pants and with whom you have sex form the basis of public conversation. It can be quite unsettling.
“Ey yuh a man ar yuh a woman?”
“Yuh fi wear dress and skirt and stop dress up like man!”
“Mi seh di place just full up a bere sodomite.”
“Yuh want a man hold yuh and fuck yuh!”
The commentary is endless and far from respectful. They assault your sexuality, gender identity and self-expression in ways which make you feel like you have no right to be who you are nor present your true self. Their words poke holes in your confidence and slowly cause your concept of self-worth to disintegrate into nothingness. You are classed as a second-class citizen. No more worthy of human rights than the goats and sheep of the field. In fact, if you listen to President Mugabe, you are “worse than pigs and dogs”. With the abundance of negativity surrounding your “otherness” wouldn’t you eventually begin to believe the slander?
In response, I have developed a strategy; albeit an arguably dangerous one, but when I’m strolling down the street with my earphones in, listening to one of many favourite deep house tracks, I’ve donned my armour and am ready for battle.
“Yuh nuh see seh a woman?! Mi did tek seh a one man!”
“Out on the west coast they’ve got a saying…”
“Yo! Yo yuh nuh hear mi a talk to yuh?! Yuh a lesbian dont!?”
“…If you’re not drinking then you’re not playing…”
“My girl mi just waan hol’ yuh and suck off yuh breast dem.”
“…But you’ve got the music, yeah you’ve got the music in you…don’t you?”
Wisps of their dialogue seep into your ear canals amidst the glorious melody, but you forcefully shove them aside and focus instead on the rhythm and beat of the music. The sharpness of their words still inflicts wounds; each pang causing you to shrink further and further into yourself; enclosing yourself in a cocoon of imagined safety, but right now, it is only the music that matters.
The stares are harder to combat however. For while you can tune out words, you almost always know when someone is staring at you; and I can’t very well walk around with my eyes closed. Their unwanted gaze caresses you like that of an unwanted lover, causing your very hair to stand on edge due to the immense discomfort. Sometimes, depending on the situation, I ask the offender if there’s anything I can help them with; because truly, you must be expecting some form of service from me if you’re staring at me like that.
There is a certain level of anxiety I experience whenever I venture beyond my place of abode. I wonder if I will arrive to my destination safely as so many things could happen in the time it takes me to commute to and from wherever I’m heading. I particularly avoid staying out late as one can never tell when they will become the next victim of corrective rape.
I recall this one particularly unnerving incident. It was approximately 9pm at night and my girlfriend at the time and I were standing at the bus stop waiting for her to get a taxi home. A group of adolescent boys were loitering nearby. As they observed us engaging in conversation while we waited, they ultimately decided that the relationship between us was definitely not platonic.
“Ey a yuh woman dat?”
“A she a fuck yuh a night time?”
“Unnu want a man hol’ yuh an’ give yuh some good cocky!”
I’m both appalled and amused. Firstly, how did these boys determine that it was not only acceptable, but imperative to speak to us in such a manner? And secondly, what do these pubertal males know about really pleasing a woman?
But there is another emotion which slowly permeates my psyche: fear.
Given Jamaicans “mob mentality”, in one on one situations your chances of leaving the encounter physically unharmed are quite good, golden even; but these odds decrease disproportionately the more “opponents” with which you are faced. And since there were 5 of them and only 2 of us, the odds weren’t particularly in our favour at all.
Thankfully, she got a taxi relatively quickly and I proceeded to make my way home before the situation could escalate. We had ignored their comments and threats and since they were silent for a minute or two I figured all was well…that was until I began walking away and they started following me.
The jeers resumed. There was very little distance between me and the turn-off for my street and I questioned whether or not I should take it. I needed to regain my sense of safety, so in the most convincing “bad man” voice I could muster, I ordered the youngsters to go home and leave me the hell alone. I implied that I was ready for any physical altercation and that at the end of it they would surely be sorry. It was all bark and no bite coming from someone who’s only ever been in one fist fight.
One youth decided to call my bluff and made a grab at my arm. When I wrenched it away and told him a few supreme words of choice though, he thought better of it and he and his croonies proceeded down the street leaving me in peace. They had gone, but I still felt threatened. So much so in fact, that I walked past my house onto an adjoining street and looped back around before returning. Even as I opened the gate and entered the yard I still had a niggling that I was being watched.
It is a similiar kind of anxiety which accompanies me daily; except it’s not the result of a figment of my imagination. The comments are present, the stares are there and discrimination in various forms abound. Sometimes in fact, simply speaking to someone who has just addressed me as “Mister” or by another masculine pronoun is discomforting. Having been identified as a man, I dread that the tone and pitch of my voice might betray me and potentially place me in a particularly prickly situation, even though my gender identity was so wonderfully affirmed.
On some occasions, persons express their shock in a relatively acceptable manner.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I thought you were a man!”
Well I am, but it’s a tad bit difficult to educate someone on the complexities of gender and sexuality in 30 seconds, so I just smile and say
“It’s okay. I get that all the time.” or “Had I a dollar for every time someone said that to me…”
At other times looks of disgust and disdain grace their faces. It is during these occurrences, I mentally don my armour and remind myself that as much as I would love to, I do not yet live in a such a progressive society where gender roles are not obnoxiously intrusive to one’s gender expression, so I should be like the Father and forgive them for they know not what they do.
I have had to get accustomed to the idea that persons find me and my “unconventional” ways genuinely interesting; I have mixed reactions to this. When I just started working at my current place of employment, persons’s uncertainty as to how they should interact with me hung thick in the air of every room and every corridor. They all had the same question, but none was yet bold enough to ask it.
I had taken to using the unisex bathroom which was available to the public instead of the conventional ones which were solely for employees. Reason being, things tend to get real awkward when man sees you using the men’s room, but even more so when a woman walks into the female bathroom and instantly becomes uncomfortable by your presence.
Anyway, it was during one such visit that this “brave” man decided to broach the subject; just a little bit.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Why do you dress like that?”
“Dress like what?”
“Like a man.”
“Well, I feel more comfortable that way.”
I thought to myself, “Well, that didn’t go badly at all.”
If only all persons were so polite. Since publicly identifying as a transgender man, I have had brazen individuals question me about my genitals. And just in case you’re wondering if it’s okay to question a transgender person about their genitals, its not. Under which set of circumstances is it ever okay to insolently ask anyone, whether cisgender or transgender about their private parts (unless of course you both are negotiating sex)? They’re called “private parts” for a reason: they’re PRIVATE.
However, some persons simply do not know better. Especially here in Jamaica, there is a lot of work to be done educating citizens about gender, sexuality and the alphabet soup of identities which are associated with them. (Btw, shout-out to JFLAG for all the work that they do ^_^). I plan to provide a primer for these concepts soon. It is by no means extensive and I am NOT a gender and sexuality expert, but I’ve been throwing some terms around that some readers might be unfamiliar, or need greater clarity with. Don’t worry, I won’t keep you waiting long again. 🙂