Jamaica is not a safe place for queer or trans folks. It has been considered the most homophobic nation in the world. Many years of white supremacy and colonization have informed the country’s queerphobic and transphobic policies. According to the National Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions (2011), 85.2 percent of Jamaicans did not believe that homosexuality should be legal. This was not a shocker.
I am queer and agender. I’m also Jamaican-American. For many years, my family and I went on annual vacations to visit family and friends. I can’t speak Patois for the life of me — nor can I cook all the dishes associated with my culture. But I still feel connected to Jamaica.
I’m constantly on the hunt for shows or movies that talk about the queer and trans folk on the island, mostly out of curiosity, but also so I don’t feel alone in my alienation. That’s how I stumbled upon Gaycation’s episode about Jamaica.
Bear with me. Tovah Leibowitz wrote about why Gaycation ain’t shit and I’m very inclined to agree. Who wouldn’t? The show involves two basic white folks who are part of the queer upper class basically making money off of neo-imperalism and false sympathy. But I don’t deny I was curious when I heard the Jamaica episode was going to happen. Even though I don’t want to give Ellen Page the time of the day, I decided to watch it to see how the country was presented.
And let me tell you, it hit home.
I wished that I could yell out “SLANDER,” but I honestly couldn’t. This literally was the Jamaica that I know for queer folks. The Jamaica I know for trans folks. Other people see resorts and drinking out of coconuts. Aside from my family and the home that my deceased grandma lived in, I see harm constantly being done to folks: attempting to set folks on fire. Assaulting lesbians in an attempt to make them conform.
And it all comes down to colonization.
As a country, Jamaica is still a baby. It only gained independence from Europe in 1962. It will take a long time for that to be undone. Gaycation’s Ian and Ellen had a discussion during the episode with a person named Leighton. They talked about how class status determines safety levels in Jamaica. They also discussed how English patriarchy and colonization influenced the island’s extremely queer- and transphobic policies.
I honestly don’t even know when the majority opinion about queer and trans people in the country will begin to change. Colonization continues to run deep in this country. There are churches in every corner and it doesn’t help that there are missionaries consistently going to the country to spread information. Remembering this made me so frustrated.
However, a scene with a gender non-conforming person named Trina Bo$$ Bitch made me really sad. Essentially, Ellen, Ian and Trina had a very casual conversation. Then, all of a sudden, Trina discusses shit like being burned and stabbed. Trina still says it in a casual manner, but they constantly also mention wanting to get out of Jamaica.
This is way too common. I have witnessed stones being thrown at effeminate men for appearing to “look” gay. I have heard nasty slurs towards trans women. And, yes, I have definitely read comments about queer and trans people in the comments. Trina sounded hopeful about being able to go overseas, something that many queer and trans Jamaicans to escape the island’s hostile environment.
(I want to take a moment to touch on the state of sexual health in Jamaica. Jamaica is not just unsafe for LGBTQ+ folks because of the violence directed towards them, but also because of the lack of safe and proper health care available. Even when care is available, it doesn’t automatically mean safety. Many queer and trans people in Jamaica sometimes forego getting STI treatments because of the stigma. However, some are trying to make these spaces safer. In an undisclosed location, folks are able to receive judgment-free and safe LGBTQ+ related health care, something that should be a right and not a secret.)
Despite the voyeuristic premise of Gaycation, the Jamaica episode humanized the survivors of various phobias on a beautiful country polluted by colonialism and white supremacy. I never felt that these people were just props and their situations were going to be ignored. They showcased Jamaica’s very first Pride celebration, which gave me a glimmer of hope. For a moment, I saw the joy and a feeling of potential safety.
But it also reminded me of a home that I could never live in. And that hurts.