Losing My Religion…

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My parents raised me with a level of piousness that was nauseating. They knew being the child of a deacon and a Sunday school superintendent would cause me to be judged by standards reserved for pastors’ children and gods. My life could be summed up as church, home and school because that was my routine; I was a member of an evangelical church. My baptism as a pre-teen was predictable and the fanfare that followed mirrored the return of the Ark of the Covenant when David danced before the Lord, well, except the nudity. People called me young Samuel while encouraging me to considering studying theology. I came to the realization early that I was the prototype; the good church boy who became the president of the youth group, then promoted to a Sunday school teacher, while leading choruses at Sunday worship services, and eventually becoming the director of youth ministries and sitting as a council member. Young people my age told me their parents would compare them to me and they hated it. I hated it more, but not for reasons you may imagine. I hated it because I was not being true to myself.

When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child… The idea of Moses parting the red sea after inflicting plagues on the Egyptians is believable when tooth fairies deliver cash for fallen teeth. Mermaids and glass slippers need the same level of imagination that the story of the Tower of Babel demands. I believed it all, until my parents could no longer quench my questions. I was submerged in this world until I learned good doesn’t always win and evil is just as encompassing. I lost my innocence and I was losing my faith. I disliked the hypocrite that I was morphing into and felt like I was denying my true self to live…but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Beside the need to suspend logic and replace it with blind-faith into a book written by a tribe of desert people, my exposure to history provoked thought and was one more stake in the heart of Judeo-Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition, Monroe Doctrine, Salem Witch Trials, Jewish Holocaust, residential schools, and the enslavement of Africans showed me that Christianity is smeared in blood. Our ancestors inherited Judeo-Christianity from men who viewed them as chattels. Our fore-parents were taught the tenets of Judeo-Christianity through systems that told them they were inferior. My granny has a framed image of a White Christ, with golden blonde hair and sky blue eyes. It features prominently in her bedroom and takes pride of place over pictures of her daughters and grandchildren.

The self-hatred taught in the name of evangelism is seen in how the church in general paints Africa, especially the black churches. It is agonizing to hear anything connected to the continent being casted as evil and most forms of African retentions derided. It is even more painful for me to admit that I bought into this lie for many years. Gods that looks like me were demonic, but I woke up to a framed Caucasian Jesus on Christmas holidays at my granny. Jupiter, Athena and Apollo enjoy the privilege of being considered myths, but Ogun, Eshu and Nyame are demonic forces that were worshipped by the savages of the Dark Continent before they were rescued by slavers. The lead up to visiting Ghana in 2001 was revealing; church folks warned me to “cover” myself from evil spirits that prowled the land. I gave them the side eye, but went along with the charade and did as they recommended. Assimilation was successful, but its hold on me was slippery.

I feared telling mommy and daddy about my changing views. My folks were simple-working-class people who had little to nothing to pass on to their children. Christianity was the greatest gift they could give and they had worked hard to tie a bow around it. The certainty wrapped in hope of a paradise after death, was greater than any tangible thing they could give me. How could I reject it? I witnessed controlled pride in my mother’s eyes when I taught my first Sunday lesson. My father invited his sisters and brothers to church when I delivered my first sermonette. My parents had been successful in steering me down the straight and narrow. I had doubts. My questions festered until I found plausible answers outside of the church. I was no longer a sheep.

In Grade 12 I shared my sexual preference with my mother…well, more like she found out. My mother exposed a side of herself that I’ve never seen. Her logical questions were bathed in an empathetic tone. The words she offered were perfect for a 17 year old who had contemplated suicide because he was gay. Her prayer was not that I would change, but that I’ll find joy. My father was told by my mother and though we never discussed it, our relationship remained the same. I found it odd then for two evangelical Christians, Jamaicans without post-secondary education, to comprehend sexuality the way they did. But their reaction to me walking away from Christianity was stripped of all reason. My parents could not understand it; they didn’t try to understand.

I came out atheist to my parents two years ago and it was one of the hardest tasks I’ve undertaken in my 30 years. The revelation altered our relationship. My mother wept openly. My father’s tone told me I had failed him as his only son, despite the plaques and trophies that littered the living room. My mother called me early the next morning to pray. She had not slept; I could hear it in her voice. Her one desire was for the lord to reveal himself to me. To say I felt horrible would be an understatement. I had caused my parents so much pain. I have replayed the conversation many times since then and sometimes wish I gave an alternative response to the questions surrounding my absence from church.

I am not an evangelical atheist. I have no desire to convert people or even have them understand my rejection of a religion that I was fully immersed in. I lead my life with a principle that pre-dates Judeo-Christianity; do to people what you want them to do to you. This has forced me to be less judgemental, more empathetic and more vulnerable to those I interface with. I know if I should die now that my parents would ensure I was given a proper burial, starting with a lengthy sermon at my funeral. Deep inside I want them to respect my decision and even be proud that I am bold enough to follow a path based on my own understanding of the world. But I don’t get expect that to happen,  not any time soon and that r the truth.

The Black that I Am…

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The BLACK that I am … came to the realization that dark skin was an issue circa 1994 through the informal education system called recess. I was a chubby pre-teen, with horrible acne and a lisp that seemed more pronounced when I was hungry, so understand my delight when I got in with a group of girls that were considered “hot” due to my limited knowledge of the world. It was a weird period in Jamaica with people forming groups and claiming titles as crews, or rather kru’s. I was a member of the K.L.A.P.P.A.S. Kru, an acronym that held all our names and there was my “A” dangling close to the end, or maybe I was third, either way I was happy to be a member. It was during one of our recess periods that I learned a lesson that still stays with me. I don’t remember the conversation that lead up to the black Sharpie being used to make a mark on my forehead, but I remember the laughter that erupted. My dark skin prevented them from seeing the blood rushing to my face as shame, rejection and embarrassment enveloped me within seconds. It had never registered to me before that day that I was exceptionally dark skinned; my sisters, cousins and childhood friends had never told me and I never asked. I eventually lost weight. The acne left me without scars and I learn to control my lisp… even when I’m hungry. However, I remain dark skin.

The BLACK that I am … joined the drama society at UWI in 2002 and was granted/earned the lead role in the major production. I was cast as God. I think it may have been due more to my skin colour than my acting skills. The director wanted to do something… different and what could be more different than a dark skinned man playing god? How ironic that this role as God provided me another lesson on the limitations of my dark skin. The stage lighting technician, who was an ogre of a man with caramel complexion, lamented the difficulty he was having in finding the right light for me. It became a joke that I was “too black” for the lights in the theatre. A joke I laughed along with, but felt pained inside. As if this wasn’t enough I soon learned I would go without make-up because there was no match for my dark skin. I took it all in strides and even tried my hand at a rebuttal by claiming my ancestors to be proud field slaves who were known for their strength. I even wore it on a T-shirt to the delight of many, but I knew it was a band aid on an open wound. I hated the position I was relegated to due to my skin. I blamed teachers for making me stand in the sun as punishment for my skin tone. I hated the sun for burning the brown out of me. I hated my skin.
The BLACK that I am … became enlightened around the first year I volunteered at summer camp, working with 12-14 year old. The week-long camp brought together a wide cross-section of Jamaican children from all over the island and I loved how they mingled and learned from each other. My attention was drawn to a small gathering on the play field one evening. When I got closer I realize a young man was being derided because he was “black as tar.” I saw him shrink before his peers as they marked his skin with their words and laughed. I heard his feebly attempts at a comeback, which were shot down by ridiculous claims of skin complexion and the laughter of a captivated audience. In that moment I saw myself. I broke it up and took him aside. I listened as he broke down, gushing heated words of hatred targeting his skin tone. His beautiful face wrapped in innocence challenged my own self-hatred. I found words. I shared my own experiences and told him how I was challenged that someone as beautiful as he was would be downtrodden because of his dark skin. I made him promise me that he would never use chemicals to change his complexion. We made a pact. I left that conversation with more than I could give him. It was after this point that I started to examine my face and see the beauty that was hidden by people’s perception of me. I came to the realization that there was nothing wrong with me. There has never been anything wrong with me; simple and direct realization that changed my life.
The BLACK that I am  … wears my skin like a badge of honour; skin noted for years of hardship, but also bearing an ancestry of chiefs and warriors.  I am still affected whenever I hear ignorant comments on skin colour. It still affects me seeing my beautiful brothers and sisters using chemicals to become translucent forms of them selves. However, the world is changing and more dark skin brothers and sisters are stepping forward and affirming their beauty. As I type this Lupita Nyong’o sits on my phone screen flashing a megawatt smile; Hollywood is catching up. Though Nyong’o’s impact is yet to be measured, I cannot help but smile especially because this issue affects dark-skinned women more than it does men. I sense a change occurring, the ripples are everywhere. I am here for the realization that all shades have a place at the table even if we have to fight our way in and demand our space.
The BLACK that I am… is Beautiful.

My Personal Stonewall

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The commemorations of the Stonewall riot, is heralded as the beginning of the movement for the recognition of human rights of LGBT people in North America. This quickly spread across the world allowing for what is the annual WorldPride event.

In 2014 Toronto was the venue and it is the first time a North American city has been the host. This should not be surprising, as Toronto has been a leader in the movement that seems to be sweeping the world. An estimated 2 million people converged on the city to partake in the symposium, competitions, art exhibits, parties and concerts over the 10 day celebration. World Pride is easily billed as a time to party the night away without limitations and the clubs, bars and bathhouses’ profit margins are living testaments to this. However, it was important to pause amidst the EDM and glitter to think of the many men and women who abandoned their comfort zones so that we can live free from persecution.

I’ve evolved immensely since living in Toronto and I’ve rubbished many misnomer taught to me about LGBT people. Of late, I find myself offering a deep sigh when people frame sexuality as a choice. I tend to smile when I hear that it is learned behaviour and I’ll more likely to laugh when I hear that sexuality can be altered with some prayer and fasting because I at various points of my life held these views too. At the very least, World Pride 2014  was a reminder I have cause to celebrate my personal Stonewall that moved me away from desperate shame to unimaginable pride in who I am.

I knew I was … different, from an early age. The constant name calling and stares from peers and adults when I spoke or walked by them never allowed me to forget. Names like batty-fish, sissy, stay-free crotches and the classic fashioning of my name to Galbert endured throughout my years in formal education and honestly still pain me when I think about it. Who would choose this? Who would want to be constantly derided and rejected by peers? Who would choose to struggle to hide a natural attraction they had to members of the same-sex?

One day,  the 17-year-old star soccer player in high school created a triangle on the ground during lunch period. I was 13 years old. He along with his minions used brute force to get me to stand in the middle of the triangle that could barely fit one of my feet. He hit me across the face repeatedly before my peers and other students. The Dean of Discipline in the presence of this boy and his disciple, told me it happened because I was too effeminate.

When I had to hide in the classroom for 3 hours after school, out of fear of being beaten-up by older boys because I was “too much like a gal”, my friends told me I needed to act differently to prevent this from happening.

I never chose this. I would never choose this. To think I wasn’t satisfied with being a sheltered, chubby, pimpled face, dark-skinned teen with a lisp, but chose to be effeminate and attracted to the “wrong” sex too… what an emotional masochist I must have been!

The idea that homosexuality is learned behaviour is simply ridiculous from my purview. The first time I saw a man who I recognized as gay was in a movie. It was Waiting to Exhale circa 1994. I may have been 10 at the time and this shaped my view of gay men in a strange way. The character wore a silver loop earring and I assumed after that, men who wore silver loop earring were gay…please, I was 10. You can imagine the stares I gave to those wearing silver loop earrings as I searched desperately for confirmation in another form. I had no prototype to know how LGBT people look, sound or dress.There was no body I could pattern in the way of being a gay man…I wasn’t molested either.

I was raised in a household of 5, which occasionally stretched to 6 or 7 depending on which cousin, or aunt was staying with us until they got back on their feet. My father and I were very close during my early years. I bear his name and every break from school was spent with him on the road travelling all over Jamaica or on dull days in an air-conditioned office doing odd jobs. I would wait up for him on weekdays so I could sit on his lap as he ate his dinner and tell him about my day. Despite the turn our relationship took in my teen years, my father was never absent. He was and remains a fixture in my life today. So much for gays being products of single parent homes with absent fathers…that stereotype does not work with me.

My parents are pious Christians in a prudish country. The evangelical church we attended never diluted the horror that awaited LGBT people in hell. The salty tears I cried nightly soaked my pillow. The days of fasting I endured for g(G)od to help me past this “test” he had allowed in my life helped me keep up my weight in my late teens. The condemnation I heaped upon the heads of those who were living a gay “lifestyle” was an attempt to eradicate all attraction I had for the same-sex. I wanted to change. The explicit and implicit discrimination I endured and witnessed made me want to change. The “shame” I brought to my family due to this “feeling” I could not shake bugged me down and attracted suicidal thoughts. I tried… A Christian counsellor told me I needed to replace the attraction I had for men with a distraction, so I took her advice and started dating women. I came close to getting married to one but snapped out of it on the realization that it was not fair to her and certainly not fair to me. I questioned g(G)od. I searched desperately for answers within and outside of the church. I found my answers.

I met a band of rebels while studying in University. They were students my own age that had similar experiences and like soul mates we quickly became a support group for each other. We never judged…well, most of us didn’t and we were willing to defend and support each other in our little Stonewall support group. Through tears, laughter, shame and triumph we forced other students and members of faculty to deal with the reality that we were present and would not go into hiding. The University has never been the same as the space we occupied still has the reputation of being a safe space for LGBT students, or the aquarium as it is affectionately called in moments of reflection and nostalgia. I recently had a conversation with a newly self-affirmed gay man who said he used to despise me and my friends on campus. He shared that looking back he realized our pride and confidence offended him because he was ashamed of that part of himself. While most from my group of university friends have made the transition to North America, we marvel at how far our personal evolution has taken us and are open to where it will end.

I stood at Wellesley and Church St., the edge of the Gay Village, on the last Saturday of World Pride 2014 and people watched. I saw young people expressing themselves in ways that counters patriarchy’s tacit laws around masculinity, and I got emotional. The pride I see in many just being themselves gives me hope for the future and the world my child will be raised in. It pains me at times that I wasted so much time and energy trying to fit in, when I was perfectly made to stand out with my true self…that r the truth.

Hell of a marriage…

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I recently came across an article titled “Marriage is made in Hell” by Laura Kipnis, a Media Studies professor at the NorthWestern University. She presents marriage as an outdated and in some respect constrictive institution. I hate to think that I am as cynical as Kipnis, but I found myself agreeing with her observations. I came to the conclusion that marriage must experience a major overhaul to remain relevant in our ever changing society. A report by the Globe and Mail showed that in 2008, more than 40% of marriages ended in divorce, a 2% increase from the previous year. Marriage has its advantages, some of which are highlighted by Kipnis, but it has also proven to be a prison of broken dreams and desires for many people.

     Kipnis suggest that a successful marriage requires the denial of personal desires and goals for the union. She identifies some of the sacrifices that marriage demands, and I know many women and men who have endured discomfort to honour their wedding vows. My parents are an example, as they struggled for many years to keep their union together. Being leaders in the church, they felt they had a duty to set an example and fight for their marriage. Their stubborn attempt to stay together made home a living hell, and my sisters and I had to endure many fights between our parents. When they finally separated, we experienced a side of our parents we never saw before; they morphed into real people who loved every day of their new lives. Dad bought a red car, a colour my mother hated and mom travelled to Haiti, a destination my father forbade. It was clear that being single allowed them to fulfill desires they were denied when married. I would go even further and say that the separation had released them from a match made in a personal hell.

  The comedian Chris Rock jokes that the wedding reception is a set up, as couples will never again experience “the high” felt at this ceremony; it is all downhill after this point. However the ceremony is not alone in creating a false sense of reality. Women who grew up with images of Disney princesses riding happily ever after into the sunset with Prince Charming, are given a rude awakening when the glass slipper does not fit. Men who are caught up in the world of sitcoms, where every problem is solved within 20 minutes, will also find reality to be bitter. The very idea of being husband and wife harbours unrealistic expectations. There are many instances of couples who have lived together for many years separating soon after they get married. This is an indictment on marriage, as the couple proved that they had the ability to stay together outside of wedlock, but having made it “official”, heightened expectations and ruined the union. These couples can be accused of bringing damnation upon themselves by getting married.

With marriage rates on a steady decline and divorce rising, it is safe to say that many people have opted out of this institution. Its benefits are easily duplicated, making marriage redundant. The society is changing along with our values, and marriage still holds true to its core which fits perfectly in the Victorian era. The celebration of individualism, education, capitalism and “singledom” has allowed people to aspire for more than the title afforded to them in wedlock. Is it hell? I wouldn’t go as far as saying that, but I know that unless you are masochistic, discomfort and sacrifice are not appealing…and it R the truth.

 

Ground Zero Abortions

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Abortion is legal in Canada where it is considered a reproductive right. Women health clinics are scattered across the GTA and serve a diverse clientele consciously deciding to terminate their pregnancies.

It was just coincidence that I happen to notice two abortion clinics in close proximity to women’s only shelters and government funded housing. It provoked thought that this may have been mere coincidence, but the conspiracy theorist in me would not allow this rational to stick.

I did some research and came up with a shocking trend that I decided to show through mapping. The map shows clusters of shelters and government houses for poor families in Toronto. Most of them are near to clinics that specializes in abortions. Another dimension is added when consideration is given that the main demographic within these areas are First Nations and Blacks…not trying to call it strategic placing, but it does smell foul.

Take a look at the map.

Kimye a REALITY dream…

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Once upon a time, in a land called Hollywood, the reality TV gods blessed the land with a union that would sell many magazines and keep the wives and children of paparazzi clothed and well fed…the gods gave us Kimye.

The Twittersphere came alive Monday night when news broke that reality TV star Kimberly Kardashian and her Hip-Hop star beau/babydaddy had made it somewhat official with a 15 karat diamond ring. Kim whose divorce was recently finalized was visibly elated in picture she posted on Instagram showing-off her most recent piece of bling.

The story is just a click away…*waves magic wand*

Construction City!

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Toronto has 5 seasons; spring, summer, fall, winter and construction.

There is always something being built, renovated or demolished in the city.

Though this is inconvenient for residence of Toronto, it is a sign of a healthy, growing city.

Welcome to Construction city.

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This sign by Dundas Square prepares motorist for delays and detours.

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What more is there to do on a finished building? Well, maintenance is essential for public safety.

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Dundas and Jarvis awaits the completion of another condo. Construction City is headed for a name change…Condo City.

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Pedestrians are appeased with graffiti art for the inconvenienced caused by all this construction.

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No, this is not the entrance of a haunted house, it is a pathway for pedestrians secured from falling objects.

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Construction zones over lap in the city’s skyline.

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Detour…take this right, construction zone ahead.

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A maze of steel, helping to finish this building.

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Tower of Babel? Who knows, at the rate this is climbing we may touch the heavens soon enough.

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Danger due to….Construction!