Getting heckled on the streets of Guyana is a common occurrence. I’ve witnessed this happening hundreds of times in the eight months that I’ve lived in this country. I’ve seen it happen to a variety of people—to women, to the Chinese, to people of mixed races, and, of course, to white people. Since I’ve spent such a large portion of this year living with three white females, I’ve heard time and time again about how annoying the heckling on the streets is. I’ve been annoyed plenty of times as I maneuver through the streets of Georgetown. There is truly no way to describe how out of place one can feel walking around this country. There just really are NOT a lot of white people. And so, for better or worse, we get a lot of attention. I think, for the most part, when I’m alone, people on the streets call out to me, just to see if I’ll react to them attempting to communicate with me. I try to be polite, make eye contact, respond to whatever question or statement they’ve made. I assume innocence—that most of them aren’t purposely trying to make me uncomfortable. For the girls, it’s a totally different story. The stories are different each day, but it really all comes down to the men on the streets having the same thing to say over and over again. When you boil it down, no matter what they yell, what they’re really trying to communicate is: “I’m SO completely insecure about myself that I want to let you know in the most demeaning way possible that I would like to have sex with you!”
Get this: I was born in the 80’s and I have managed to never be called a fa**ot to my face. I consider this an accomplishment considering my conservative, rural upbringing. Granted, I’ve been told I’m going to hell and people have refused to break bread with me because of who I like to hold hands with, but no one has ever had the nerve to call me this particular insult to my face. That is, not until today.
In Guyana, being gay sucks. It isn’t easy to be gay here. The worst thing may be that general gayness is discussed so infrequently that it’s damaging to the small community that does exist here. No one speaks highly of gay people here. You’re a little less if you like the same gender. In some eyes, you’re a lot less. Gay men here are called anti-men, fire, blaze, fa*s, and a variety of other names that I fail to make sense of. For most of this year, my sexuality has not been a factor. Most people don’t see past the color of my skin. I’m paper white. Nothing more.
Here, while living in Guyana, I’ve heard anti-man (the most common way of referring to gay men) described two ways. It’s either anti-man as in the opposite of man, or it’s aunty-man, as in you’re feminine…like your aunty? Either way you look at it, I’ve got a glistening response for you…First, if you indeed spell this insult as “anti-man”, then I’m letting you know now that that’s fine with me. If being the anti man means not being associated with the jerks on the street who blurt their insecurities, then heck yes, sign me up. I want to be the opposite of a man. I want to be who I am, wrapped up in my respect for both genders, not just the one that can pee standing up. If, you happen to spell your insult as aunty-man, then I’ll let you know that that’s OK with me too. I’ve got six aunts who I think the world of. I’ll happily grow up into a man that mirrors my aunts’ qualities. Any day of the week, baby. I want to be pieces of each of my aunts. I’ll be an aunty-man.
My solid, twenty-five-year run of never being called a fa**ot to my face ended this afternoon. Granted, I wasn’t called that particular word, but I was called the Guyanese equivalent. I left my house around five o clock to go to the grocery store and the local market to collect ingredients for dinner. It really wasn’t a bad afternoon at all. I saw one of the boys from the orphanage when I went to the store. He stocks the shelves there and when he saw me he came over and gave me a hug. Then, he told me that he prays for me every night, thanking God for the service I’m doing. That’s enough to turn anyone’s day around. So, I left the store and cruised through the market, collecting different vegetables from a half dozen different vendors. I weaved through the crowds, thinking about how far I’d come in the past eight months. I know how much every vegetable should cost. I know when vendors are trying to cheat me. I know how the traffic works—both the foot traffic and the automobiles. I know how to be discrete. And, darn it, I can weave through the streets like a champ. As I journeyed through the market, I really was on kind of a high.
After I had everything collected, which, mind you, was a large variety of vegetables (all hale vegetable soup), I had one large shopping bag slung over my shoulder and I turned east to head home. The city street was busy as usual, but I just weaved through like usual. As I crossed the street that separates the market from the neighborhood next door to it, I noticed two women staring at me as I approached them. I looked away, then glanced back at them to see that they were still staring at me, sizing up my white-ness, I assumed. I watched them as they scanned over my entire body, finally ending up at my face. I raised my eyebrows at them so they would know that I had just witnessed them staring me down. They were each holding toddlers in their laps. I waved to them politely, to ease the tension, so they would know I wasn’t offended by their questioning nature. They cracked smiles. As I moved past them, one of them called out after me, “ANTI-MAN!” The other laughed in response.
Becoming who I am today has been a revolutionary process, one that has carried me to the person I am today. I think, had this happened in my “gay hey day” in 2009 or 2010, I would have had a snazzy comeback and a handful of facts to drop in the hecklers lap. But today, I walk away, and maybe sashay a little more than usual on the rest of my walk home. I didn’t even look back at the women. My reaction time was slow, but I don’t regret not acknowledging them. They didn’t deserve my time. As I walked though, the gears in my mind turned. Gay gears that have long since begun to rust in my mind began to turn again. Thoughts I haven’t had since the homophobic days of my college years at Niagara University began to run through my head again. I mean, come on, how childish can someone be? You want to throw an insult at me and then listen to your friend cackle about it? Lame. I felt like they were saying, “here ya go, you can carry this around for as long as you can stand it.” Automatically my day got so much heavier just because of one comment. What did I do wrong? Was it my purple t-shirt? The grocery bag slung over my shoulder? Thankfully, I had a bunch of vegetables to chop up when I got home, so each collision between the knife and the cutting board helped to ease a bit of my distress.
I spent some time this evening thinking about the two babies those women were holding. I felt sad thinking about those two little guys. Thinking about them made me sad for the world. We live on such a backward planet. We’re moving in the right direction, but to think those two little kids have to grow up witnessing stuff like what happened this afternoon from their own mothers reminds me that we, as the human race, have some serious work to do. We need to move closer to love, and further from pointless intolerance.
What century is this? In Guyana, it’s somewhere between the mid and late-1900’s.
A popular bumper sticker in Guyana, one that is plastered on the backs of many cars reads: Rise Above Haters. My new and improved self is taking that advice. This occurrence was worth writing about, but I won’t think anymore of it after tonight. I won’t waste anymore time. I will resume my life as normal in the morning. I have kids to teach, lessons to learn, and another three months of Guyanaese culture ahead of me to explore. That’s what I’m going to focus on.