It is said you wont know what it feels like, until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoe.
Drag Queens/Transgenders are perhaps the most maligned of the LGBT community, both within the community and within the straight world. For a very base appreciation of who/what a drag queen transgender is, a drag queen is a born male who is happier and most comfortable dressed and being female. This is a hard to swallow concept for many. why would a man want to dress and feel like a female? How is it that he only feels complete and whole if he walks and talks, looks and feels like a woman, and doing anything else would be fake? Who knows, it is what it is, and perhaps the same confusion is the cause of the marginalisation of gay people, as straight people struggle to justify how a woman can please and love another woman, or how a man can find masculinity sexy. For many of us as gay people, being attracted to the same sex is what is natural for us, where attraction to the opposite sex is unnatural. We would not feel complete or whole doing anything else?
The church says it is a demon, and perhaps like the inquisition against witches who were really normal women hunted and killed at stakes, the church orders/supports/influences such murders and then stay quiet while it happens. Families are ashamed, and try to ignore the ‘signs’, but can not help but convey the disgust, whether influenced by their fear of their loved ones being hurt or the pain that maybe they did something to cause it. The state ignores them and those sworn to serve and protect, abuse. A mile in these shoes would leave anyone with severe corns, manifested in anger, resentment, abandonment, hate and perhaps all the trappings of a wild life, living without the opportunity to have or believe in dreams…a constant nightmare.
I had the opportunity to meet one of the most beautiful young promising gay men, just entering the scene about 3 years ago…Rojae, he had the sweetest shy smile, gorgeous skin, nice body…clean and pretty attending school, not knowing much gay men, hanging with a bunch of lesbians and begging for the chance to go to a gay party, even if its all girls. I turned him down, because Pandora: The Magic City was strictly for women. I saw him staring at this pretty pink princess looking short dress, he wanted to try it on, giggling and blushing all the way…I zipped the dress up on him in the changing room, taking sad note of how excited he was to be in the closet at the back of the store, see himself in a pretty pink pumpkin dress. Looking at him, I never imagined his eyes would light up as much at the thought of putting on a dress, I had met the issues of transgenders and the struggles involved in living in the skin they knew was not theirs as it didn’t match how they felt inside. Seeing the peace in the smile of someone who is allowed to settle into themselves is heart warming and Rojae warmed my heart. I lost touch with him for a while, and then turned up Amber Rose…fierce drag queen very unlike his alter-ego in attitude, great dresser but unfortunately always in arguments and fights. The transformation from Rojae to Amber was hugely contrasting…night and day, black and white. In our 30 minute discussion about the incident at Bargain Mall, on Saturday October 13th, I tried to understand what happened. Rojae/Amber is now 19 years old, and has been living the fast and furious life of Jamaican drag queen. He has never been exposed to programmes at JASL or JFLAG (the leading agencies with access to and ‘working ‘ with gay Jamaicans , it has been a long held criticism that JFLAG and JASL only works with certain classes/types of gay men…whiles the others (like Amber) are ignored/marginalised.
Drag Queens and Butches arguably face the most challenges in attempting to survive everyday in this homophobic society, the poor ones, without family support have it even harder. In trying to find a solid enough base/launching pad in the absence of family and social acceptance from which to begin exploring life, the start off is usually shaky with support garnered from the available source of equally marginalised gay youth without guidance and launching pads.
When I asked Amber, what happened, what caused the change? His simple reply without thought was:
‘Mi just fed up, Mi just fed up of straight people a tek disadvantage ah wi, and mi just feel like a stoppage must put to it, and that’s why mi a stand up fi my community and a defend my community’.
The reaction to Amber’s standing up to what is regular and expected by so many gay people is met with varied degrees from appreciation to outright disgust and anger. Some people say the straight guy deserved what he got for attacking Amber and that they should start leaving gay people alone, saluting Amber for not backing down after being attacked in a club knowingly frequented by members of the LGBT community; while others are blaming Amber for her activities that will make straight people more mad at us.
According to Amber, she went into the club as she usually does, the bartender calls out to her, she wasn’t sure and turned to ask if the bartender actually called her, the answer was ‘no’. However, a straight patron decided to make his disgust with ‘battyman’ known and felt as he hurled a bottle at Amber. The typical response would be for the gay man and every other gay person in the club (despite the ratio of gay to straight) to leave, with common sentiments of ‘this is Jamaica and we don’t belong here anyway’. Not the evolved dragon Amber, she asked him what he knew of her and the guy threw another bottle, and the fraca began, Amber claims that in self defense she took out her weapon and stabbed the guy in his hand before he could hit her again. She said she only became aware of the acid incident on leaving the mall and feeling her own skin as if it were set on fire.
Amber has single-handedly, and it would seem by some supernatural power and divine influence, at 19 years old, decided to take on this fight with straight people as she is simply ‘fed up’. She is adamant that Jamaica is as homophobic because of the amount of illiterate people who populate it and that the government must recognise that gay people are people too and leadership is needed to address this. She acknowledges JFLAG’s presence but believe that the ordinary gay and lesbian need to chip in, and stop running and hiding, as they are also part of the struggle for change. She thinks more presence in the media, a peaceful and secured demonstration, as well as meetings with public and government officials sensitizing them to the plight of gay Jamaicans is what is needed now. She is very aware, and though she won’t readily admit it, that many people see her and her attitude as a curse to the gays being accepted. Despite that like Joan of Arc she is confident that this is something she must do, almost like its her purpose.
I shudder to think how this will turn out, will Amber get the support, guidance and partnership from JFLAG and the rest of the community to fulfill her passion for a Jamaica where gay people are free to be, or will her radical attitudes render her just another dead saint, who becomes a fable. There are ripest opportunities in deepest darkness, it is just a matter of perspective, Amber has been on radio programmes and is willing to become a visible drag spokesperson, willing to do TV or whatever it takes to move this forward. Would it be better if we engaged her, exposed her to the big picture and try to see if, where or how she might be able to positively help create the change, or will we operate as normal, ignoring the true issues but focusing on the personalities we like or don’t like, to the detriment of arriving at a solution that is for as much people as possible…inclusive and not marginalizing?
Whose call is it? There is a vacuum.