On March 9 The Gleaner published a front page news report that sexual assault is a serious problem in a prominent all-girls high school: Lesbians And Learning – Younger Students Under Siege At Corporate Area All-Girls School.
The next day another front page headline tells us the issue will top the agenda of the next meeting of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS): Lesbian Issue Tops Agenda – Principals To Address Matter At Next Meeting.
As a student of gender and sexuality studies the sensationalized framing of the first article troubled me. While I do not doubt that sexual assault is an urgent problem at the school, it was hard to focus on the issue because the tone of the report betrayed an understanding of homosexuality as perversion.
The report taught me a few things about female homosexuality (and reaffirmed the misconceptions of countless others): Lesbianism is now rampant; lesbians are predatory, brazen and insatiable; young girls are being recruited into a lifestyle that none of them choose; and teenagers are being exposed to pornography. I will address each of these claims in turn.
Homosexuality is no more prevalent today than it was in times past. The increased visibility of lesbians and gays globally has allowed for the emergence of homosexual identities, which were previously masked and denied in service of heteronormative cultural expectations. My generation is far more willing to question imposed heterosexuality and it should not be surprising that lesbians are more visible in Jamaican schools.
All children explore their sexuality in high school—at least in thought. We are only concerned about the reports of ‘rampant lesbianism’ because we think homosexuality is threatening in a way that heterosexual activity in schools is not. In our homophobic minds the predatory homosexuals are at it again. Having lost their (heterosexual) souls by turning to unnatural desires, they must recruit others into ‘the lifestyle’ to satisfy their lecherous appetites. However, as with heterosexual relationships where the man or the more experienced person initiates intimacy, someone needs to make the first move in same gender relations. Sexual interactions between heterosexual students are seen as more exploratory than exploitative so why should they always be ‘predatory’ with homosexuals?
The idea that young people must be recruited into homosexuality presupposes that no one initiates or engages in same-gender intimacy by their own volition. In the same way that one cannot consent to sexual activity until the age of sixteen, it is clearly believed that girls cannot consent to homosexuality because it is forbidden. Any introduction to homosexuality is an imposition—a vile attempt to besmear the innocence of our (presumably heterosexual) children. This can only be true in a world where heterosexuality is the only legitimate option for sexual expression. Despite our best efforts to feign ignorance and nurture our disdain for homosexuality, we know it is a human reality.
Perhaps the most absurd claim in the news report was the intimation that it is wrong for students to view pornography. Unless I am mistaken, high school is a time when we learn a lot about sex from our peers. Apparently adulthood is a stage of blissful naiveté and forgetfulness, because I do not understand why parents would be shocked that their children are ‘exposed to’ pornographic materials in school. Not only is pornography far more accessible today, it is hypocritical for anyone to suggest that curiosity about sex and sexuality in adolescence is inappropriate.
Ricardo Brooks, author of the blog Veritas, writes:
I find the idea that there is a recruitment of younger students abhorrent. A child must never have sexuality forced on him or her, be it heterosexuality or homosexuality… If these allegations are true, then we must move to protect our children, and reform those who would seek to prey on them. The older girls must find those who share their preference and not seek to force it on those who are impressionable… Jamaica as a whole also needs to apply the same level of scrutiny to lesbian conduct as it would to gay conduct, if you will. If this happens, I am confident that these students would not be so bold and brazen as to prey on their younger schoolmates.
But sexuality cannot be forced upon someone. The difference between sexuality and sexual activity is small, but significant. As a child, Mr. Brooks admits to having been instructed by his father to refuse gifts from older men. Homosexuals, you see, are known to seduce little children who are innocent and impressionable. I find curious the insinuation that children can become homosexual (or heterosexual) as a result of “molestation”. In this analysis, there is no possibility that there are young children who desire same-gender intimacy.
Just to be sure he isn’t accused of being homophobic, Mr. Brooks insists that all sexual activity in schools is unacceptable. He says, “Every child who attends school has the right to feel safe and free of harassment, let alone sexual harassment.” I plan to ignore his puritanical prescription that teenagers not engage in sexual activity. Even if that were a good moral position to take, it would be inconsequential since the Jamaican reality is so far removed from the strictures of Biblical morality. I am more troubled by the assumption, consistent with the position of the original news report, that sexual activity involving children is necessarily coerced.
Moral disapprobation of homosexuality is clearly informing how we interpret the reports of “rampant lesbianism” in one Jamaican school. The Gleaner needs to recognize and take responsibility for the role it plays in shaping public consciousness about homosexuality. Propagating stereotypes and inflaming hatred of homosexuality and homosexuals is irresponsible. Yet, even tolerant Jamaicans find it difficult to see beyond popular framing of homosexuality as fundamentally deviant.