My family are from an idyllic island in the Caribbean called St Vincent. The weather is sweet, the music is even sweeter and the food is unbelievable! The island attracts honeymooners and loved up couples, however I do not ever see myself skipping hand in hand with my girlfriend on the beach. On this tiny island homosexuality is illegal with a potential consequence of up to 10 years of imprisonment. A place where my parents speak so fondly of and has inspired my latest book, is one of 72 countries that still discriminates against same sex relationships. A place that is part of my heritage and cultural DNA outlaws something that I cannot control nor wish to control.
The Caribbean islands are known to be historically and culturally homophobic. Being black and being gay is just not something that you want to promote. (And by ‘promote’ I mean act like a completely decent human being who just so happens to fancy the same sex. Outrageous I know.) Especially when locals have been known to take the law into their own hands with disgusting acts of violence against the LGBT+ community.
When I was 18 I would frequent a bar in my local town and dance til sweaty o’clock in the morning to RnB, Hip Hop and Dancehall music. It was back when people still could smoke inside, so at the end of the night my damp clothes and moist hair would reek of cigarettes. One of my favourite songs at the time was called ‘Chi Chi Man’ by a Jamaican group called T.O.K. It had a primal, racy beat and made everyone lose their minds when the bassline kicked in. At one point of the song, those who owned a lighter would ignite it and wave it around in the air. A gesture that I presumed was showing appreciation for the song as we all excitedly screamed “CHOOOOON!”
It was only a couple of years later that my veil of naivety slipped and I realised that the song I was so enamoured with was an anthem about burning gay men. ‘Chi Chi man’ is Jamaican slang for a gay man. Here are the some of the lyrics:
“From dem a drink inna chi chi man bar
Blaze di fire mek we burn dem!”
Translation: Some guys minding their own damn business are drinking in a gay establishment… so just for fun let’s start a fire and murder them all. Sound.
Pennies. Dropped. Everywhere. Now the lighters in the air made sense and I wanted to throw up at how stupid I was.
The thing is, sometimes I am distracted by privileges that have been bestowed on me. The country I live in, my upbringing, my education, my job… It’s strange to think that I take for granted the autonomy of my own life and because of that I am naïve and innocent to certain ugly truths. I’m fortunate to have grown up in country that somewhat embraces the minority. Female, black, gay… Pass me an ‘other’ box and I will tick that shit all day long! It’s taken a long bloody time and we’re still not there yet but at least I don’t feel like I must tuck in my ‘gay’ for fear of corrective rape or being lynched from a tree. It’s all too easy for me to forget that the freedom to be who I am, is a pleasure that is not afforded to those living in the 72 countries that still outlaw homosexuality.
One day I would love to return to St Vincent and decide that the only reason I am not skipping hand in hand with my girlfriend on the beach is because I might get a stitch from too much cardio, rather than the fear of what others will say or do.
Absolut are running a campaign partnered with Stonewall, to celebrate 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. The project includes people from the 72 countries locking lips with pride. Check out the campaign here and use the Snapchat lens #kisswithpride where £1 will be donated to Stonewall. Do it!