Most of us are familiar with the reggae hit “Boom Bye Bye.” This song, with its catchy dancehall beats, makes no apologies for its overt homophobia. Like many other reggae songs, Boom Bye Bye’s lyrics resonates the deep-seated disdain of homosexuality in Jamaica and the Caribbean as a whole.
With a culture widely known for its openly harsh attitudes against homosexuality, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered West Indians feel conflicted between their cultural identity and their sexual identity. I spoke with one Jamaican woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, living in New York City who is bisexual, which for her complicates matters even more.
What would you say is the biggest challenge to your identity as both a West Indian and a bisexual?
Those are two totally different challenges. Being a West Indian, the biggest challenge is keeping my identity separate from my family, because they are so disapproving, un-accepting and unforgiving. And because the culture is unforgiving, West Indians don’t come in contact with many homosexual individuals and then don’t know how to handle a situation when they do. Also, I’m not so much in the West Indian community that it affects my everyday life. And I’m not in the community because of the ignorance that comes along with it, and their unwillingness to change or try new things. I even have trouble on social networks [on the Internet] because my family members want to be added—and I can’t have that.
So what communities do you feel accepted in?
I feel accepted in the lesbian community only for the simple fact that I have forged personal relationships with people. However, I feel I’m not taken seriously with the lesbian community as a whole because I am bisexual, and not [gay] or [heterosexual].
Do you feel like you have others you can identify with, a support system?
Not really, because [those] who fall into the West Indian category are usually gay and not bisexual. So being that I am bisexual puts me in a smaller minority.
Don’t you think that bisexuality can be kind of an “in” thing at times, especially in the entertainment industry and especially regarding women?
I think it’s becoming more of a gimmick. It’s gimmicky which helps the straight community, but hurts in the gay community. It helps open dialogue for the straight community but is not taken seriously for the gay community.
Artists like Staceyann Chin, who is a renowned poet from Jamaica, have helped give public exposure to the complexities of being a West-Indian lesbian. Do you feel you can relate to her stories and experiences?
No, because her experiences relate to her on the island, what she went through while she was there. I can’t relate because I came over here at a young age. And homophobia is much more intense on the island versus in the United States.
Yet, there are prominent West Indian communities in the U.S., especially in NYC.
And that is why I don’t live in those communities. It’s also why I don’t listen to dancehall [music] anymore. It’s too much, it’s too violent.
Are there any other public figures or role models who inspire you to be comfortable with your identity?
, even though she’s not really in the public anymore. That’s it. There’s really nobody. There is no one for us to look up to because that would endanger their life. It’s almost like being gay and Jamaican is an oxymoron.
What would you say to younger West Indian girls who may be struggling with their own sexual identity?
Probably [to] let their parents know as soon as possible, because I feel like I waited so long it doesn’t make sense for me to come out to my parents now. If young girls are serious about it, they should let their parents know as soon as possible so they don’t have to spend the rest of their lives being something that everyone thinks they are, when they’re not.
What about the dangers of coming out?
They have to decide if they really want it. They have to decide if they really want their family to know. It also depends [on] where [they are]. It would be different in the States than in Jamaica.
To find out more information about the Bisexual Community, please visit bi.org