Jamaica's culture of homophobia may be crumbling
As a child of the Jamaican soil, there were a few things we knew as staple or gospel when growing up, and some were: power cut is a must while light bills are high, Christmas has a special breeze, and there is no room for fish/gay in reggae and dancehall culture. Despite the many efforts towards forging a tolerant nation and the arduous work of organisations like JFLAG, who have hosted incident-free Jamaica Pride events since 2015, the latter remains true - until.
A Tide Turn
It has always been clear that the world will change with or without Jamaica, and more apparent still is that these 'outside' changes would influence the dominant culture. As an observer of culture, I note when culture shifts, and for Jamaica, there are significant moments that are stress tests for our tolerance. First, the tolerance line was pushed with the 'roots plays' usually popular among the dancehall crowd. In these productions, we saw characters such as 'mama man' and later Shebada emerged and push the boundaries of what men were traditionally known to do, all within the armour of humour.
Mama man washed his wife's underwear (a big no-no for patriarchal men) and Shebada; well, everything from mannerisms to tongue lashings was greeted with loud laughter at every staging. These influences would subtly resurface in dancehall attire and behaviours. One day we can draw further lengthy inferences because, on the surface, the influenced are unaware of this fact.
We have seen the tolerance line shifting with everything in the music, even a softening in the lyrics. So gone are the boom bye-bye and fyah days of overt hate lyrics. Instead, there were replacement words like 'fish', and popular artists currently take extra seconds to say 'swim around' instead.
We cannot ignore the numerous time's female artists have posted pictures with same-sex loving as either teaser for upcoming visuals or conversation starters. Confusion around paedophilia aside, we can now admit that the environment for an artist with non-heteronormative sexual proclivities is much easier to navigate in present-day Jamaica.
It stands to reason that we would be in a season where some, who, quite frankly, have been suspected to be LGBTQ, are venturing beyond the safety of their closets.
It appears to be doors open as in a matter of days; one artist had to 'out' herself as extortion and violence threats were sent her way. Soon after, another known in the international circles came forward to own her sexuality. Currently, the rumour mills are all abuzz, waiting to see who is next?
However one wonders shouldn't the real question be, why has it taken so long? The reality is that despite the outcry and all-out panic from notable members of the Dancehall fraternity, these coming out moments are good news for the culture. It is an opportunity to further appeal to audiences who loved the culture but were unsure if it was safe to partake. It has, of course, great earning potential for individual artists and the island. Imagine for a moment the island is seen as a regular travel option for a whole group who have been told to avoid Jamaica. Imagine the possibility to host another range of events and imagine artists in the most homophobic fraternity being freed to be booked everywhere.
Hypocrisy and Hindrance
Perceptions about Jamaica and Jamaicans have for too long hindered our access and progress globally. There is an opportunity here to follow this next progression in the culture to new pathways. There will be those who see this as abomination and destruction post haste. To them, I say you may have been playing the hypocrite.
Show me an objector to these new moments. I'll show you, somebody who likely wore tight pants to the dance wears a man purse (murse) across the shoulder, attires in all the designer wear (name brand) of noted and out designers, attends or watches all the roots plays and sings loudly the songs of those who have now exited the closet.
Obviously, this piece is not asking you to change your position or beliefs, nor is it pretending that a couple of persons saying they love the same sex will change the appetite of a deeply ingrained culture and its tastemakers. This development is instead a thumbtack at this moment in time where all the subtle shifts are amounting to an unavoidable change.
You can sit on the sidelines, you can complain, you can even pray about it, but you cannot stop it. Special mention to the current Queen of the Dancehall for boldly accepting to headline 2022 Toronto Pride. I guarantee it will be a successful move for her, and more wise artists will want to follow suit.
There are many ways to protect the culture and fight for its authenticity to remain intact. Pushing a boulder up the hill of intolerance is not one of them. Being active participants in the music industry (which has used every excuse to block us, including a related ban) is the way forward. Reggae and dancehall, in this time, what is your next move?