'Gay' Guyanese speaks out

Published: May 20, 2013

IN the ongoing discussion about gay rights in Guyana, arrivals and identity, please allow me space to share these thoughts with your readers. What it means to be Guyanese has been a recurrent thought over the past year.  That is because this year marks an important milestone – more than half my life has been lived in another country.  Despite this, I am undeniably Guyanese.

I speak with my native accent and retain a strong sense of attachment to the country and its customs.  This experience suggests that a person’s identity is weighted heavily on childhood experiences.  There are many developmental theories that corroborate my experience.  They point out that childhood experiences set the foundation for emotional, cognitive and social development of the individual.  I agree. Despite living outside of Guyana for most of my life, my experiences at home shaped who I am.

I am a gay Guyanese. My experiences are arguably very different from any other group in Guyana, and to leave ‘gay’ out of my identification would be to hide not only who I am, but to leave out the experiences that compel this letter. Over the years I have searched for a way to reconcile my two identities, knowing that sexual orientation discrimination is still prevalent in Guyana, and although there is momentum in the direction of acceptance, it is apprehensive.
I feel it is because there is still much room for misunderstanding. Understanding homosexuality and our reactions to it are keys towards acceptance. I share my story, and so it isn’t anecdotal, references to researchers for additional reading. I hope this will add even a modicum of empathy towards equality.

Growing up gay was very difficult, especially in Guyana. Years before sexual attraction became an issue for me, there was a feeling of difference. In ‘The Velvet Rage’, Alan Downs indicates this feeling of difference seems almost universal. Although vague, it established vulnerability and doubt in me. In those early years of development, little events in life make impressions that form that basis for adult identity. Difference created discomfort and sensitivity – perceiving myself apart from the world; needing more reassurance that in fact, everything was okay. In many cases, as Downs observes, mothers sense this instinctively and move in. Fathers withdraw, setting the scene for an almost characteristic pattern of invalidations the gay child will receive throughout his life. Not too long afterwards my mother also withdrew.

A child’s relationship to his parents, from infancy to puberty, is unlike any other. From mother and, or father, the child learns to bond with other people. A parent’s smile, touch, voice, imprints on him. He adopts behaviours that elicit more of these feel-good responses.  Parents communicate with children not only through words, but facial expressions, touch, body language and even rate of breathing and non-verbal sounds.

Emerging from these interactions, the child builds a reference of human behaviour that will serve as the blueprint for all other relationships and a sense of safety and joy in the world. On the other hand, a child with a sense of difference might react less enthusiastically, and his parents follow suit. His experience of the world is qualitatively different.

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