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.