I touched on this topic just barely in my latest newsletter, but I thought I’d tackle this idea of homophobia and ignorance toward gay people in Guyana a little bit more right now.
As I stated before, I tend to experience the negative thoughts and feelings that people seem to have toward gay people more from within Mercy Volunteer Corps than from the general public of Guyana. It has been increasingly obvious that there are roaring stereotypes about what it means to be gay down here. I don’t hear too much about lesbians, but there are a couple of things that they call gay men down here. “Batty man, anti-man (or auntie man—as in aunt instead of uncle). These may just seem like collections of words to someone skimming over this writing, but I assure you, when these words are said with passion in Creolese, mixed in the middle of sentences fueled by ignorance, intolerance and (ultimately) hate, it stings. One of my colleagues here proclaims that “this is medieval times down here”, and she’s right. If I had to try and pinpoint the year that Guyana seems to be in according to where the U.S. was, I’d say we’re sitting somewhere in the mid-eighties. I’m not sure if an openly gay man would be outright attacked on the streets of GT, but I think that they would certainly experience intense discrimination, heckling, etc.
So where am I at? I’ve not been bothered yet. The only thing that bothers me is the fact that everyday is adding another piece to the puzzle, learning more about this homophobic culture. I think that there’s a true lack of understanding here about what it means to actually be gay. This is tough to stomach as I hear more and more from my boys that I teach and interact with everyday about how much they dislike gay people. The sad fact of the matter is, they don’t even know any gay people. At least, they think that they don’t.
My worst experience with the boys happened the other week when I was standing at the gate of the orphanage, trying to make my way off of the grounds after being around the boys for a number of hours. Some of the older boys had walked with me over to the gate and were clustered around, continuing to talk with me, delaying my exit. One of the boys had asked me about gangs. I told them that I was aware of one of the Guyanese gangs around the neighborhood that I live in. The conversation eventually made it’s way to talking about gangs in America. Then, one of the fourteen-year-olds said, “don’t they have faggot gangs in America?”
I was taken aback by his unexpected question. What? What the heck is a faggot gang? I didn’t respond right away. I was curious to see what the other boys would say in response to his words. Looking back on it, I think hearing the word “faggot” was so jarring, so out-of-the-norm that I wouldn’t have been able to respond immediately to it. The boy then asked, “are you in a faggot gang, Sir?”
“Sir isn’t in a faggot gang,” another boy responded.
Whaaaaaat? What the heck is a faggot gang? Or, better yet, what do YOU think it is?
I still didn’t have any response; I just let the conversation roll into a new topic. I walked out of there feeling a bit beaten up though. I hate that word, especially when it’s used in such a cruel manner, which is something I haven’t heard too often in my life. People don’t normally throw that word around lightly in America. But here, of course, they say and do as they please. Gay people are looked down upon, so they’re not spoken kindly of. “Faggot” is just something that comes with the territory. Processing the conversation was hard for me though. That word hits home in such an intense way. I don’t like that anyone is being called that word, gay or straight. It’s a word that exists solely in the realm of hate. With faggot, it’s personal.
The boys in my class think that if they speak fast enough that I won’t catch them calling each other anti-gay slurs. My ears are well trained at this point to listen for specific words. I call my kids out on their crude language all of the time, and I won’t stop. Not until the day I leave. And even then, I’ll write to them in letters about how I hope they’re behaving and using language that gentlemen use. When you boil the situation down; however, they’re growing up in a place that doesn’t value every member of their society. I feel for the boys who are living in the orphanage who are gay themselves. They’ve got a true uphill battle ahead of themselves. As if life hasn’t dealt them a difficult deck already, it’s just one more thing to have to process.
When it comes to authority figures who are gay, the boys struggle to find respect for them, I’ve witnessed. There is a swim instructor at the pool I swim at with the boys every Saturday and some of the older boys suspect he is gay. This; therefore, is a deterrent for many of the boys to go swimming. They don’t want to be around him, so they forgo swimming. The older boys influence the younger boys…the next think you know, no one wants to go swimming. For the record, the swim instructor is very nice and he volunteers his time to assist in making the boys better swimmers. He enjoys the boys’ company.
I have other tales; heartbreaking, confusing tales about gay people here who have suffered for being who they are, or for allegations made against them because of assumptions other people were making about them. I can’t share what those are just yet. It’s difficult dealing with learning all of this junk, but it’s part of what being here is all about. I knew I wasn’t signing up for a gay cakewalk when I came down here. I just wish the general focus of the country would shift from fear to love, like many minds and hearts around the world are doing. “The world only spins forward” after all.