Yesterday I wrote a critique of the heteronormative framing of recent Gleaner news reports on sexual assault (or lesbianism—yes, they’re sometimes synonymous) in a Jamaican single-sex high school.
I was skewered on Twitter for not stating that sexual assault was possible among lesbians. I was told I should have added that I believe the allegations made should be investigated and that I support efforts to apprehend and discipline the perpetrators. By critiquing the problematic discourse while not speaking out against sexual violence in schools, I was downplaying the seriousness of the issue.
Two comments are particularly memorable for different reasons:
I ignored the question of “molestation” because usage of the term is contested and needs to be examined. Many Jamaicans believe sexual coercion is the cause of homosexuality. I would love to denounce the tyranny of aggressive lesbians, but I recognize that the class of ‘Predatory Homosexuals’ that these girls belong to is not exclusive—it implicitly includes all homosexuals. From the perspective of a parent the courting of a daughter or son by an older homosexual is always an act of aggression. As I said yesterday, it is widely believed that no one engages in same-gender intimacy by their own volition. No one is born gay; everyone is recruited. Or so the argument goes.
Six years ago allegations of homosexuality forced a young man to leave St. Mary High. While discussing the event with a teacher at the institution who was close to the situation, she mentioned that he had sought counseling with a psychologist—not for the trauma experienced when he became a pariah among his peers, but to help him overcome his homosexual inclination. You see, as a child he was a victim of sexual violence. The teacher isn’t accepting of homosexuality—that would be against her Adventist religion—but she is sympathetic. She feels great pity for homosexuals because they become so as a result of molestation.
Was the molestation in question a clear-cut case of child abuse by a pedophile or relative? Was it a consensual interaction with another boy his age? Was the molestation the act of same-sex engagement itself, or was there an element of coercion? Lastly, was the molestation, in fact, the cause of his homosexual orientation? These are questions we never ask. Any incidence of sexual abuse sufficiently explains the emergence of homosexuality.
We are socialized to believe homosexuality is not normal. Those afflicted with homosexual attraction often search their sexual histories for examples of perversion that could explain their turn to “unnatural desires”. Heterosexuality is presumed to be the default state, so self-identified heterosexuals are never asked to identify which sexual event initiated their desire for the opposite sex. Last summer a gay man in Kingston recounted stories of sexual exploration in his childhood. Men never molested him though—girls in his community robbed him of his innocence. I listened as he tried to trace the development of his homosexual attraction before I asked whether such sexual experiences in childhood were universal or unique to him and others similarly afflicted. He wasn’t sure.
I only have anecdotal evidence, but I believe children in my community, Hampstead, St. Mary, were exposed to sex and sexuality at a very young age. I saw an older woman’s vagina, a pubescent girl’s breasts (—& vagina) and talked about sex long before discovering pornorgaphy. I came home from school one day in the third grade and was told by Oral, also eight, that he had sex with Janice. “Really? What did you do?” Obviously, I was curious. He explained that they fooled around in an abandoned building next to the playing field. There was no vaginal penetration, but he described pressing his groin into hers with great certainty that they were having sex. I was doubtful. I’m not sure Oral has ever been compelled to recount this story except as a celebration of his early conquests. Contrastingly, we bury same-gender experiences deep within our subconscious. Regardless of our interest at the time, they are often memories of shame, guilt and perversion. It is not surprising then that tales of abuse are often unearthed by confused, tormented, self-hating teens who are trying to suppress their homosexuality. If the source of sexual confusion is identified, it can be corrected with prayer and therapy.
It could be that those who experience sexual abuse in childhood are more likely to become homosexual. But I think another correlation is equally plausible: Homosexuals are likely to recast childhood sexual experiences as sexual abuse to find the source of their perversion.
@mz_Karizma is partly right. Sexual abuse is a chronic issue in Jamaica and it definitely needs to be addressed. I am in no way suggesting that children are never coerced into (same sex) sexual activity. That would be silly. I am trying to show how conversations about sexual abuse are tightly interlaced with questions about the emergence of homosexuality and the perceived increased prevalence of homosexuality in Jamaican society. I disagree that “homosexuality is not the biggest issue here”. The framing of the message in the first front page headline harnessed popular anxiety about the increasing visibility of homosexuals as a foundation for addressing the sexual exploitation of girls by lesbian upperclassmen. This report simultaneously raised awareness about the incidence of sexual assault in one school while furthering a heteronormative imperative to demonize homosexuals and pathologize homosexuality.
@jaevionn’s comment that I am apologist for all things homosexual was perhaps the most stinging. I would never trivialize the suffering of anyone whose body and whose right to refuse sexual advances was violated. He was most frustrated that I refused to state explicitly in the body of the blog post that I condemn perpetrators of sexual abuse and that I support any effort by school authorities to clamp down on “rampant lesbianism”. However, I am far too aware of the influence of discourse in shaping consciousness to make any such statement without first deconstructing the narrative that I find so problematic.