In Jamaica, a gully is no place pretty. It is nothing more than a big drain that acts as a conduit for sewage, garbage, dead animals – all things refused. It is a place that you will associate with worthlessness.
A queen is a female monarch; someone to whom you will ascribe worth and value.
One will never associate a queen with a gully. Perhaps for Dwayne “Gully Queen” Jones, the nomenclature was an unconscious critique of the society in which she lived – a society that refused to recognise her inherent value and worth because it never understood her. It associated her with a gully (worthlessness). But she knew she was important still – she was a queen. By her name, she insisted, “call me whatever you may, but I am a queen and I AM worthy!”
Dwayne “Gully Queen” Jones who was born on January 31, 1997 in the community of Paradise Rowe in Montego Bay, St James, loved dancing. She was a very good dancer, in fact. Her friends say she wanted to be a teacher. A dance teacher perhaps? She perhaps would have excelled at Edna Manley. Now, we will never know. We can only speak to the potential we saw in her.
A lot is jumbled in my head and it may come out that way.
Some believe that Dwayne deserved to die. “Battyman (derogatory name for male homosexual) fi dead”, (“All homosexual males must be put to death”, they say. It is sad that we see violence as an acceptable way of dealing with others with whom we do not agree. Perhaps we should start killing everybody we disagree with. We cannot continue to give violence a pass when it does not affect us. Sooner or later, it will come back to haunt us.
There are others who feel like Dwayne brought her death upon herself for going out dressed like a woman and deceiving men. While that is a most unfortunate thinking, not everyone who holds that opinion comes from a very hateful place. Some think that she should have been aware of the place in which she lives and modify her behaviour – at least for the sake of self preservation. While, I understand that kind of thinking, I find it troublesome on so many levels. I find it to be victim blaming. And this habit of blaming victims is worrying. We continually say to victims that is their responsibility to avoid being victimised/violated. We do it with women who get rape. We dig up her sexual history, rip through her wardrobe, track the place and time of her movements, peruse her non/faith (perhaps if she belived God enough she would be spared the ordeal of rape) – searching for a reason why she brought the rape on herself. We might as well say to women, to avoid rape, hide your vagina in a safety deposit box and hide the key. Suggesting that Dwayne should have modified her behaviour removes from society its responsibility to act as humans. We are forcing homogeneity and implicitly suggesting that difference is to be met with barbaric, anti-social behaviours. We are giving a large group of people an excuse for acting lower than their humanity – as brute beasts. We are saying to people that that which is normative is necessarily normal and that which is not normative is abnormal/an aberration/a dispensable appendage. Something is certainly faulty about that thinking. It says that as a society we are maladaptive. We do not know how to treat with the “other”. It is for that reason we disregard the old, the disabled and those we think are less than we are by virtue of their otherness. Is murder the only way we know how to treat with otherness? Should Dwayne have changed who she was, while others are “allowed” to be cemented in their hatefulness. Why does it have to be Dwayne who must modify her behaviour? Why must we police her? How does her “behaviour” harm another? Is it not those who behave in anti-social ways that bring harm to others and upon society? Why are we not policing their behaviour? Asking Dwayne to go in a corner and not be seen is exactly the kind of thinking that will invibilize and silence “otherness” and inhibit our collective evolution.
Most people simply saw Dwayne as a mama-man; a fish; a battiman; a chichi; a gay body dressed in female clothes, drag queen. She was none of those. She was a transgender woman. And, there is a difference. As activist and advocates, we have failed to bring awareness to the realities of the transgender community in Jamaica. We, too, have failed Dwayne. We (Activists and Advocates) have also failed to humanise her in life and now in death. Such gruesome attack on the young transgender woman, now, presents those who advocate for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (lgbt) community with the opportunity of bringing more awareness to transgenderism.
Another concern that I have is how we have sensationalised her death more than we commemorate her life. Perhaps, there is more to be gained politically from the former but ignoring and silencing the counter-voices to our pervasive homophobia might also hurt us. We MUST bring light upon demonstrations of hate and injustice but we must equally bring light upon those who are standing in tolerance and solidarity. Those among us who are hateful must know that there are others (lgbt and non-lgbt) who do not support their beliefs and actions. Others who are lgbt sympathizers who are in that closet because of fear of being labelled need to know that there are others like themselves, who are willing to stand… Perhaps they will gain the courage enough to come forward if they were aware of the many who are like them. I was heartened to see persons from the church who came out in condemnation of the murder of “Gully Queen”. This is noteworthy in a context where the church tends to be more strident in its anti-lgbt campaigns than it sympathizes with lgbt causes. I note also that Minister of Justice, Mark Golding, came out condemning the murder. As late as the statement is in coming, I am grateful there was even one… change sometimes is slow and incremental…The symbolism in his statement is welcomed.
Dwayne had to drop out of school prematurely because she had no support. Her family had abandoned her to the streets on which she lived and earned her daily bread. That is the kind of existence that many lgbt youth are forced into. And it is all well and good to tell them to change their behaviour to prevent it from happening to themselves.
Dwayne, in your death I want to honour your memory by apologizing for how each of us treated your humanity while you lived. Sorry we ignored you. Sorry for calling you a ‘drag queen’ when you were transgender. Sorry for not paying too much attention to your reality and instead, keeping the light on the gays. Sorry for allowing your parents to put you (a child) out on the streets, making you even more vulnerable, without outrage. Being outraged after your demise is a bit too late to be outraged about how you were allowed to be treated by all of us. Dwayne, please permit me to rename you… to see you as you saw yourself. We saw gully – worthlessness – refused but you saw in yourself a QUEEN. I call you “QUEEN” because you have much value and you ARE worthy!!