“The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. Your silence will not protect you. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid. I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”- Audre Lorde
“Eh eh, is who that anti-man shaking off?” She rolls her eyes and sucks her teeth.
This was an issue from night one. We’d successfully launched our action and from the initial handful of determined women, our numbers had more than quadrupled. We were ecstatic; Revolution was in the air and we were the righteous warriors, on the side of justice, freedom, equality, and all that was good and right. Though a migraine was forcing me to lie down in the tent with a rag over my eyes, my heart and soul were soaring among the stars. I could not rest; the excitement from the gathering was too palpable. I was also thinking ahead. I knew that many of those now with us would have to leave in the morning, and that the police were sure to appear.
Before police tho, the cross dressers showed up. Many live around the corner from our encampment and they had to pass us to get to their work. I had forgotten about this; we had other things on our mind when we were scouting out the location for our action- proximity to public thoroughfares, transportation, bathrooms, other facilities, security, etc. I’d forgotten all about Leopold St.
“Hello! What is that? Look! Is a man or a woman? These people, boy! Anti-man. Batty bwoy. Fyah!” Suck teeth. Laughter. Damn. The pounding in my head increased. I was pained. This is my community, see, and I felt the taunting personally, as if it were directed towards me. Forget the police harassment and confiscation of our tent, the rain and hot hot sun. Forget the name calling by passers by, the ignoring- all that I can deal with. Harder, is the homo/transphobia of the ‘comrades’.
Revolution brings together strange bedfellows. We who initiated this action knew that we’d have to reach out, grow our numbers in order to succeed. There were just four of us women, several with dependent children, ailing parents, and a multitude of other responsibilities. We knew we couldn’t do it alone. Still, compelled to act, we did, and allies appeared. Strangers at first, who we now spend more time with than our blood relatives and loved ones.
I said nothing that first night, hesitant and unsure how to talk about it. The movement is young still, fragile, and we are just now building community, trust, and understanding. Also, this is Guyana; homophobia/transphobia is just a part of life, right? Don’t tek them on, a friend advised. They don’t have to accept, just tolerate, said another.
There is no discrimination against gay people in Guyana, said the Minister. There is tolerance. Yes, hatemongering goes unchecked. In fact, there is overwhelming silence in the face of widespread injustice and abuse. Gay people simply walking down the street, minding their own business, are subject to daily/nightly harassment. “But is not as bad as Jamaica, they are not getting killed in the streets,” they say. Also- “Is just words; nothing to get so worked up over.” This from comrades in the struggle. “He’s really homophobic, you know. I just pretended not to hear.”
I have a hard time with police and politicians. I try to remember that they are somebody’s son/daughter, mother/father.. It’s not easy. But when we talk about human rights and demand justice and equality, that is for *all* Guyanese- not just the ones that look like us, act like us, think like us, and believe all the same things we do. We cannot have equal rights yet still perpetuate discrimination and intolerance against gay people. Everybody means everybody. Societal transformation begins with the individual- how we relate and deal with each other is at the core of it all. There is nothing more revolutionary than that.
I went home and brought my rainbow flag and pinned it onto the Guyana flag; no more quiet, safe living- it must be all out in the open now. We cannot continue to stay silent any longer, to simply endure. We must stand up and speak out. We exist. We are here, we are an integral part of this movement and this society, like it or not. It will be hard and uncomfortable, but we are going to have to deal with this- you with me, and me with you. Because we’re in this together and we need each other.
The cross dressers still pass all the time. Sometimes comments are thrown, some still taunting, although less than before. We are working though, on taking it from mere lip service to respect and more than tolerance. When a gay man is stabbed the block over, it’s the one among us with the big bible (who seems unable to stop himself from saying ‘fyah’ every time a cross dresser passes) who ends up taking the victim to the hospital. After the pageant, the queen stops by to show us photos and pose by our sign. Others from the community, gay but not necessarily cross dressers, also show their support, in ways both tangible and intangible. And one Friday night- revolution. Three young gay men come and sit down among us.
“My family is real Christian.”
“I got kicked out of the house when my father found out I was gay.”
“I feel really sad about that boy who got killed in Agricola.”
“Next time we come back we’ll bring some food and drink for y’all.”
We are all family. Revolutionary love.