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.

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.

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.

We are not Free….

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Recently I made a declaration on Facebook, that I do not believe people choose their sexual orientation. As is typical with my status comments, it elicited  a range of responses, from support, to indifference and of course a few disagreeing with my position. However, one comment provoked me to examine my own thoughts on free-will; ‘God gives us choice in every aspect of our lives….” Simple reasoning would prove this statement invalid, as none of us choose our parents, our date of birth, or nationality, yet these seem diminutive when juxtaposed with other aspects of our lives where we have no choice.

I’ve always believed in Predetermination, the idea that every event is caused, not simply by the immediately prior events, but by a causal chain of occurrences that goes back well before recent events. For example, one’s personal characteristics are predetermined by socialization and heredity, by a chain of events going back before one’s birth. Children born in the ghetto to a poor dysfunctional family are predetermined to live a life of crime or debauchery. One could argue that some make it out of the ghetto and lead successful lives, but even this is predetermined by factors outside of that person, factors they make no decision on; opportunity, motivation, “the drive” to make things better for themselves. This  does have seriously implications on our penal and reward system, as this reasoning suggest that criminals are not responsible for their deeds, and people are not responsible for their own successes. My personal belief is that society makes criminals then punishes them for being criminals, but that is for another blog spot.

I’ve pondered on the following disposition where I love honey roasted peanuts, they are delicious. I also love peanut cake and may say it is a confection that I was addicted to as a student at University, yet I cannot put peanut butter in my mouth, the very smell of it makes me nauseous…how come? I did not choose to dislike peanut butter, neither did I try not to like it, it was predetermined by something in my genetic coding. 

With advancements in science, we are able to see that genuine dysfunctions exist that cause students to be slow at Math and other technical subjects. For years they have been labelled as slow, dunce, or just lazy, yet we realize this exist outside of their ability to control it. The spin-off due to this dysfunction that they had no control over has led many of them down unsavoury paths. So are they free, or predetermined?

I should hasten to say I think there are some points at which persons make decisions, but even the options are based on predetermined factors, so how free is there choice? There are studies to show that human behaviour is affected by so many external factors, that coupled with those based on genetics, it is ridiculous to say we have free-will.

The idea that people are free agents making decisions based on an unlimited course of action is flawed and should be examined honestly. As it relates to sexual orientation; homosexuality is as much a choice as heterosexuality and it r the truth.

 


Ode to the Small Staff room members…

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I’ve heard many stories pertaining to employee-employer relations. I’ve heard tales of supervisors being diabolic in their actions against subordinates. I’ve even listened to stories which ended with a desire for co-workers to die a slow and painful death, or be tormented forever in a dark hole….however, I can’t connect to these stories, I worked with a group of people who were like family.

Our home was the small staff room, perched on the fringes of the school compound and houses 10 teachers, we are the last to receive information and usually deprived of basic amenities like tissue, soap and hand towels . We have even been called “the teachers in the diaspora” to show how much we are separated from the main building. Yet, with all this, I would never exchange our positioning.  Within the small staffroom though, there was a core group which I considered my family. We had an enviable relationship that eclipses all the other ills I’ve listed above. They made work bearable, a major feat when u r working at a boys school. If there was ever a time I was low in my spirit, u can count on my family to lift me up. We all had unofficial assigned roles and we were true to them.

Boss Lady (Cross) was the Claire Huxtable of supervisors. We were allowed to have fun, but work must be done :D. She has high standards and great expectations of us and you feel the impulse to work hard because Boss Lady believes you can do it, so you will do it. Never had a better supervisor and God knows it will be hard to top her.

Super Chef, (Campbell-Jones) is the consummate cook and nice parent. You know the type of mother that helps you to hide the bad report card if you promised to make good on the next one? Yes, that’s here. Plus she can cook like no one can, her things not local either; blue berry pies, red velvet cakes, crepe a la peach, hello please! Super Chef have the thing locked! I would give anything now to have a slice of one of her pies…*sigh*

Hampster Queen (McCleary) is the pretty sister you have that is also down to earth. She is a fashionista who is able to make a potato sack look good. The poor boys at Wolmer’s found it difficult to deal with this beautiful teacher who is no nonsense; it intimidates them. She is bright like god but funny enough, she is so humble about it. The only draw back is that she supports the PNP, but I will forgive her for that, we are all allowed a vice *rolling eyes*.

Fair Knight ( Tyson) is the spoiled younger brother that you want to beat up when your parents are away. Yes, he gets away with things and you just want to punch him but U can’t, because he is endearing :D. The funny thing about Tyson is that his greatest vice is also his most endearing feature…You want to strangle him but end up hugging him…cho.

Distant Cousin (Atkins) She is a story all unto herself. Atkins and I are runaway slaves. We were trapped in Egypt and escaped to the promise land of Wolmer’s at the same time, so we have a shared history. However, this woman refuse to move over to the small staff room because she loves the energy of the main staff room, well that is the unofficial reason. Atkins though is the crazy sister, the one who you find always messing up and forgetting things, but you love her still though you laugh at her. She is an enabler, you can share your indiscretions with her and trust that she won’t be judgemental, I love her for this. She doesn’t sit in the small staff room, but she is there often enough for us to leave dinner for her, lol.

Power Puff (Scott-Banton) is a ball of energy. Have you ever witnessed someone walking into a room and their energy is able to make the space bright and sweet? Well if not, you have never met Scotty. She is one of the sweetest persons I know, and she is so genuine. This young lady has the heart of an angel with a little impish alter-ego which makes her perfect :D. If you’re planning something evil, don’t tell Scott, she is going to talk you out of it unless the person really deserves it. She is the younger sister, who is convinced she is the mother of the group, always trying to ensure that we were alright.

Kevin (mi cyaan member him nick name) He started as the neighbour who liked our older sister and wouldn’t leave our yard, but soon became an adopted brother into the family :D, you know like Steve Urkel? Kev became a brother though and I am happy our mommies adopted him, because he was a good bro. Granted I would constantly end up in arguments with him, it was coming from a good place.

Madam Pampadore (*******) hmmm, the crazy aunty locked-up in the attic. Not crazy hahaha, but crazy…0_O. This woman was able to take the most trivial issue and make it histrionic, OMG! However, I think she played a role in the rest of us bonding. We had cause to laugh and talk about her behaviour and that brought us closer together. SMH at mad Mavis.

I miss you guys so much and I look forward to a great reunion in the future. Signing out for now, Captain Mello and it r the truth.