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YOUR STORY

The CONNEK team worked with the amazing Tiana Reid to interview some of our Jamaica ambassadors and family to get a deeper look into what it’s actually like to be queer in Jamaica.

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Kandice Thomas
Tell me about your experience with queerness.

”My experience in Jamaica as it relates to queerness has not been toxic as people may think it is here in Jamaica. I have a real group of friends who have my back. I’ve heard horror stories about homophobia but have none to share myself. I will say though having friends has been really important for me living my life out and proud. I don’t feel alone knowing I have them.”

How do you conceive of home?
”Jamaica is paradise, there’s no lie there, but my island has a lot of growing to do in many ways. The lack of knowledge makes it hard to have conversations about sexuality, gender and other social political issues. That part is tragic.”

What is one of the biggest myths about Jamaica?
”Jamaicans NEVER say ‘Irie’ and there are indeed safe spaces for lgbtq people.”

Why is the CONNEK project important to you?
”I really would love for awareness and education about the lgbtq to influence a better future for Jamaicans. I believe this CONNEK movement will encourage that and much more. I’m excited to do my part.”

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Mainz
Tell me about your experience with queerness.

”My experience comes with the negative and positive. Especially in coming out. For me, I was always that kid who was wrapped up in fashion. When I was young I wasn’t able to express myself the way I wanted to so I would always dress up the kids in my in my family and neighborhood. Getting older, involved more in my interest of fashion and meeting more trans people like myself in Jamaica gave me courage. ‘If they can do it, I can do it too.” I opened up a new instagram account where I could express myself and show who I really was. Immediately people started reaching out to me with lots of compliments, encouragement and so I felt support. When I go out people mistake me as a cis girl but so far it’s been fine and good comings. The negativity is out there but for me I don’t focus on that. For example if I know an area in Kingston is a bad area I don’t go into that area and try to “base up” myself. I rather spend time with my people. Sometimes people will see me make and comments but I don’t pay attention to the negativity.”

How do you conceive of home?
”Jamaica is very “run and go”. If you’re trans, born and bred in Jamaica you grow up thinking home is overseas in “foreign” where you can express yourself more and meet more people like yourself. However I’ve come to realize that a lot of people here accept it, you know? On the low. I’ve seen over time that the misconception is the majority of Jamaicans here don’t accept it but that’s more so in public. Around dem friends, in mix company. Person to person a lot of people have said to me and I have heard ‘Nothin nah wrong with what you a do ya know? I like you for you. I will still show you love.’”

What is one of the biggest myths about Jamaica?
I think the biggest misconceptions about Jamaica is that people are not allowed to express themselves the way they want to in Jamaica. Maybe it’s because of the music. Yes there are close minded people here but overall that isn’t everyone in Jamaica.    

Why is the CONNEK project important to you?
It’s really important to me because it gives me a good energy knowing that I can connect / link to people like myself not only overseas but locally. I think the project can bring a lot of opportunity for people here and there. The networking will be great and we’ll also get to bound. I think it’s important that we fight for each other and link up. For people like me, it make us feel more safe knowing that people out there are reaching out to us and want to connect.

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Moon
Tell me about your experience with queerness.

”My experience is continually evolving as I strive towards a deeper and fuller understanding of self and the many dimensions that encompass who I am. So far, I would say it has been a fairly equal mix of love and support (sometimes from unexpected sources) and negativity, harsh words or behaviour from loved ones, or simply the complete disappearance of individuals from my life. Over all, I would say who is still around is who’s meant to be at this time and I am grateful for the ones who continue to empower me and give me room to exist in totality by expressing all aspects of my being.”

How do you conceive of home?
”Jamaica has always been home. Though I wasn’t born here, I felt a strong connection to my ancestry from an early age and knew I would live here some day. The Jamaica my parents and grandparents grew up in and described to me is nothing like the experience I have had and I give thanks that I found the courage to take that step and discover it for myself. There is so much beauty and culture here that for me overrides the violence and corruption it’s known for. There are certainly many real issues and ways the country can and needs to evolve, but there is also an immeasurable wealth that exists in the people, the creativity, the soul of Jamaica that I feel is often omitted in the media.”

What is one of the biggest myths about Jamaica?
”I’m not sure what the current popular opinion is on Jamaica, but I know growing up it was assumed that most or all Jamaicans (at home and those who have migrated) are rasta, smoke/sell cannabis, own guns, are a part of gangs (or have a family members who are). I can even remember being asked if I stayed in a house when I came to visit relatives or if we all lived in trees and huts. I think one of the biggest, and certainly one that has affected me the most, is the perception that all Jamaicans are black. Being a minority in both countries I’ve lived, it’s often pointed out to me countless times in both places that ‘[I’m] not black, so how can you be Jamaican?’ as if I was previously unaware of the colour of my skin. Jamaica’s population may be majority of African descent, but there is mixture everywhere, and mine came out this colour nobody seems able to identify or categorize. ‘Out of many, one people’ is something even other Jamaicans seem to forget.”

Why is the CONNEK project important to you?
Connek is important because so many Jamaicans have been limited in their life experience by laws designed to imprison us. By no fault of their own, persons born here are marginalized simply because they are born here, and are now relegated to proving their worth and value almost every time they want to leave the island. It is a degrading and draining process that forces individuals to become submissive and often manipulative just to experience life in ways that most citizens of “first world” nations will never have to. The visa application process has kept many brilliant Jamaicans captive, so making connections like these is vital for the growth of the island and its people, while also bridging the gap and ending negative stigmas of Jamaica and Jamaicans internationally. There are many like my self, first generation children born overseas who grow up only hearing stories and not knowing how much to believe and how much is being told to create a fear atmosphere and keep them from experiencing their history. There are also those without any biological ties to Jamaica who feel the country is off limits to them if they are too “different” or not a part of the country’s perceived norms.  However there are safe places for lgbtq+ persons, there are venues for alternative music and parties that don’t centre around reggae or dancehall. There are Jamaicans and others who have migrated here who belong to various societal groups and endeavours, and it’s important for people outside to know these places and opportunities exist.

Tiana Reid is a writer, editor at The New Inquiry, and PhD candidate in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her work has been published in Canadian Art, Flash Art, Garage, The NationThe New InquiryThe Paris Review, VICE, Vulture, and more.