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.

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.

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!

365 days later…

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It is a year since I have been away from Jamaica and oh, what a year it has been.

I’ve made new friendships, but still support those I created in Jamaica with phone calls, BBM, Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype.  I have been assigned the role of ambassador in social settings when my accent reveals my nationality. This is a role I’ve been happy to fill, because I have been allowed to debunk some of the myths people have of Jamaicans. I have been asked questions ranging from my relationship with my family to how Bob Marley’s music affected my life. One particular question that floored me was if Jamaicans know about Canada. I simply smiled and said yes then walked away to prevent any further interaction. To my new friends I am the official litmus in determining if a smell, sound or taste labelled Jamaican is authentic.

My assimilation into the Canadian society required me to disrobe of some of the bigoted world views that I inherited from my fore-parents. I have been confronted with other lived truths and experiences that have forced me to re-evaluate things I have held as true. I started my journey on the 21st of December, 2011 at 5:10 p.m. from my parent’s house in Jamaica and I am still travelling.

Possibly the most frequent question I’ve been asked is if I miss Jamaica. I’ve often responded with a reflexive yes, but recently it hit me that I was lying.

I don’t miss Jamaica.

I miss the familiarity it affords me.

I miss my family, friends and the memories I created while growing up.

I do not miss Jamaica.

I don’t miss the need Jamaicans have to police your behaviour, dress-code and speech.

The suffocating value system that we cloak in black, green and gold and use it to suppress expression and individuality.

Since my journey began I have pierced my ears and I am contemplating a tattoo.

I have a fire-engine red pants in my closet and a jeans so tight it requires a special dance to get into them.

There are things I have done and expressed that I was afraid to consider in Jamaica.

I surprise myself at times, but it gives me a great feeling that makes my heart smile, a rush that makes me feel like I am alive and living. The thought of shelving these inhibitions I have developed over the past 365 days scares me.

I’ve said I love you more in the last 365 days than I have in my entire life. I have cried openly with members of my family and have fearlessly exposed my vulnerability in ways I dreaded. This journey I am on has taught me more about myself than I cared to know.

I have heightened my relationship with my sisters and made me realize how much I love them. My younger sister sent me a card on my birthday which made me cry. She has never expressed the words she wrote to me and just reading them forced me to realize how much I took for granted. I also realized that had I not been away from home, I may never have read those words.

My mother is my life. Yet, I would get annoyed when she told  stories that I have heard a thousand times before. Now I long for them and laugh my ass off as if I am hearing them for the first time while listening to her on the phone thousands of miles away. I picture her warm eyes, the smell of vanilla that I attach to memories of my mother and the way she smiles while reliving these memories as only a mother can. My father and I are also different. He is no longer the man who I fought on a daily basis as a teenager, but instead has morphed into daddy. A man with his own insecurities who never grew up with a father but was required to play the role without a script. Our conversations has become meaningful since I have been in Canada. I recently saw a picture of my dad and it forced me to deal with his mortality. My father has aged so much within a year. The implications of this realization were not lost on me and all his vices seemed irrelevant in that moment. I have him now and I plan to make it count.

This journey has brought people of various faiths into my life, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jews and even Atheist. I have been able to sit and listen to world views and lived experiences that challenged many of the things I questioned, as well as things I held as true. I grew up in church. I taught Sunday school, worked at church camps and served two years as Youth Director, but I had major issues with the tenets of the faith I was socialized with.   Surely this will cause many conflicts with family and friends, but I am ready to live with the consequences of my actions that are decided by my perception of the world.

Just a year and already I can document changes in my life. We often tell people, “don’t change, because I love you just the way you are”, yet change is inevitable, even the dead changes.

I am changing and this fact excites me. I look forward to where this journey takes me and how much growth I will experience…and it r the truth.

Stranger than fiction…o_0

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I pledged never to write about the people around me in my blogs. This is if we become friends and they stumble upon it eventually, that would be awkward. However, I have to write about my experience last night which still has me pinching myself.

Last night I had an encounter with a random girl, she might as well have been a ghost because I don’t know where she came from, neither where she went after.

I live in a shared space with five men. We all have our own rooms, but we share bathrooms and kitchen area. Now this situation lends itself to so many stories, but we will have those on another day.

This particular Saturday I sat down to dinner of curried chicken and white rice. I heard a knock on my door and there was this red-head waving to me in the doorway. This is unusual, because I have never seen a woman in this house. She introduce herself and was kind enough to apologize for the alcoholic fumes leaving her body because it is her day off and she has been drinking, so she maybe drunk. Wait, it isn’t awkward yet.

She said she smelled my dinner and it smelled so good that she was wondering if I have any more so that she may have some. Please understand that this is a common joke among Jamaicans back home. We will ask to share in a stranger’s meal as a compliment to how good it looks or smell, but will definitely not accept after the polite consent from the cook. A Jamaican friend of mine shared how he was severely beaten by his mother because she caught him accepting food from the neighbours; What made it worse was that it was a dumpling… that warrants the death penalty in Jamaica. This tacit rule is rooted deep in our culture and we all blindly obey it without thought to question its origin. Anyway, back to Miss Thing….I nervously laughed at the request and she laughed too, but I became confused because she was looking with expectancy. I said to her that I don’t have any left as I only prepared for one . Now please understand my surprise when Miss Thing takes the plate from my hand and starts eating….as God is my witness it r the truth. She shovelled too clumps of chicken into her mouth before I even registered what was happening. She handed me back the plate while informing me she graduated from George Brown with a Food Management degree and my dinner is very tasty… as if I didn’t know; I told her thanks with a smile.

She goes further to take my cup and begin drinking. At this point I started looking around for a hidden camera because clearly this was a prank, it had to be. She then steps beyond me, sits on my bed and starts shooting questions at me about where I’m from and what I am doing in Canada …looking around the room as she speaks. Then Miss Thing removes her shoes, so I say, “This feels so surreal, like I am in an updated version of Goldy Locks and the three bears.” She responds, “…but there are only two bears,” and starts to cackle…0_O She eventually left, well not before taking some more of the rice and giving me a high-five. 

Can somebody explain to me what happened? I’ve never had this experience in my life and I am too shock to be angry. Can anybody say if this has happened to them and if I should expect more encounters like this? Clearly I am not in Kansas any more Toto…and that r the truth.

Oh Canada….

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“Oh Canada, our home and native land….” Alright, I don’t know any more, but for those who are clueless, those are the first seven words in Canada’s national anthem. It’s kinda catchy but I haven’t just yet. Anyhoo, this is another one of those blogs where I update you all on my latest discovery about my new home. I have to say that I am loving TURANNO!!!!!

I went to a drag show last weekend, yes, go ahead and judge me now, call a friend and tell them…*rolling eyes* Are you back now? Good! So I went to the drag show and I loved it. My mother called me while I was heading there, I told her I was going “clubbing”, did I lie? I don’t think I did. Anyway, I had to rush off the phone when I got to the venue for fear she may pick up on something, yeah I know she on the phone, but that woman has always been able to know what I was doing before I did it. I was nervous like a ballerina stepping on a scale when I entered the venue, but I left the show asking why people hate on homosexuals so much, especially men? I’ve asked people who’ve been vocal about maiming and killing gays if they know any personally and they have all said no, so it makes me wonder where this deep hatred comes from.

Anyway, the club was pumping. I had a lot of fun and I laughed hard and enjoyed myself thoroughly. Aside from a straight Zimbabwean friend of mine who was approached by a girl, it was pretty incident free, no one approached me or even asked for my number….not sure if this is a good thing…but I’m not complaining. So the drag queens performed songs from musicals, tv shows, mainstream divas, some underground divas and even dancehall acts, yes, Lady Saw, Spice and Pamputee were present and they WORKED!

I’ve seen drag queens on TV, on posters and on-line, but nothing prepared me for them in person. They have a presence, it felt  like I was among goddesses. They stood on stage with their flawless make-up, lace-front wigs, and sky high heels, which I’m sure the average woman would not handle, and they commanded the stage. I realize the venue had a large amount of heterosexuals, mainly women, something you would never find in Jamaica and I seriously think it is our loss as a nation. I think Jamaica could have drag shows that people would talk about for days. We would have drag queens fly in from across the world to compete. This would be a good source of income for Jamaica, hey, it could ease the pressure on JEEP, I wonder how Lucretia would feel about it, hmmm.

Needless to say I had a great time. Would I go again? Hell yeah, in a heartbeat. I am a free spirit, one of those who live to break conventional rules. Who made these rules anyway? Life is just for living and I intend to do so. I not sit and wait patiently for the call from my pastor and that r the truth 😀