Homosexuals… Dirty Words… and Me

By Nhojj

Nhojj has shared stages with Norah Jones, Regina Belle, and Taylor Dayne.  Earlier this year, he debuted the groundbreaking marriage equality music video for the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”   Winner of 2 OUTMusic Awards (OMA), Nhojj was the 1st Black male to win an OMA, and was also the first out independent artist to reach #1 on MTV Music with a gay “Love” music video. He has released 6 CDs, 9 singles, and an “Unplugged Live” DVD filmed by Emmy-nominated director Bill Cote.  Most recently he used his #1 Reggae CDBaby single, “The Gay Warrior Song” to raise awareness about Guyana’s LGBT Rights Organization – SASOD.  “Nhojj has been delivering high-quality jazzy soul for nearly a decade. A soul pioneer… Soul Sessions congratulates soul singer Nhojj for being a Black history and a gay history first!” – BET/Centric TV Blog.  For more visit www.nhojj.com

I am a homosexual man.  It took me a long time to admit this fact to myself, much less proclaim it from the proverbial mountain top.  You see I grew up right here in this Dear Land of Guyana, I attended St. Margaret’s Primary School and St. Roses High School, and like every one of you, I grew up in a society firmly rooted in Western binary opposition.  This complicated sounding term, I discovered, simply allows us to think and speak in opposites:  right versus wrong; holy versus sinful; male versus female. More importantly, it denotes mutual exclusivity:  one can‘t be the other.  Life viewed solely through these contrasting lens has no grey area,  no mixing of apples and oranges, no exotic concoctions – only stiff, archaic paradigms leaning against rival, irreconcilable walls.  Hollywood blockbusters often exploit these polarities for our entertainment, but we know instinctively that they do not reflect the full spectrum of our lives.  Our reality is never black and white; if it were so, life would be forever simple, but we know life is often complex.  There is a truth that resides beneath these perceived dichotomies and there have always been individuals born outside of its walls, but our society so far has offered silence or a selection of dirty words for coping with them… and who wants to be a dirty word?

(This is one of a series of weekly columns from Guyanese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guyana and the Caribbean)

It is into this world that I was born, crying I’m sure, as all babies cry.  Naturally, as children do, I adopted the stance and beliefs of my community, even when all the pieces did not fit.  “Children obey your parents…” the Good Book says, and obey I did – I was as good as any little boy could be, but my good behaviour did not save me.

I don’t remember the first time a dirty word was hurled at me, but I do remember how the realization of its meaning shook me to the core.  The word attempted to cast me into the hellish world of ‘them’ – the perpetual opposite of ‘us.’  Once that line was drawn in the dirt, the troops could be called in to destroy the newly identified enemy in our midst – the only problem was now that enemy was me!  Of course at that age, I couldn’t articulate this, but I understood on a gut level that I was in real danger unless I ran for cover. Unfortunately pre-teen battle hideouts aren’t easy to come by, and the guns took aim.  The attack began with random teenagers tossing the ugliness from across the street, and thankfully, escalated slowly.  I say thankfully, because for many the attack escalates quickly resulting in dire consequences.  At any rate, all those dirty little words banded together and generated the desired effect in me – shame. They planted in me, like in so many others, the desire to do a bit of sculpting, to recreate what God had obviously messed up.  I think I only succeeded in burying my head in the sand and wasting precious years.


However, it would be a mistake to say my youth was all dirty words and hurt feelings – I did have the love of my family, I did well in school, and I had unlimited access to the transcending world of music.  I would sing songs (of unknown origin) for hours from our veranda, until my mother gently suggested I sing songs (of known origin) from the pulpit. I sang these latter songs all the way through elementary school, high school, and college, in Guyana and, when I migrated with my family, to the United States.

It wasn’t until I was studying Economics at New York University that I began to lift my head out of the sand.  It started with informative words concerning free counseling sessions at school.  There were many therapy groups to choose from and like a drowning man gasping for air, I enrolled in as many as I could.  I remember one exceptionally helpful group that required us to share our life story – particularly the details we usually hide from the others.  That was the first time I admitted  – I am a homosexual man.  It was the most difficult thing I had done, mainly because I had internalized all those dirty words I’d heard growing up.  I had given those words power to erode and damage my spirit, and the results weren’t any less disastrous than if I’d cut off my own arm or leg, and left the wound unattended. But thank God, that little group planted a seed in me. I didn‘t have to be dirty words for the rest of my life, I could define myself for myself using whatever words that best suited me.  That began my 10 year quest for encouraging words, supportive words, informed words, accepting words, and yes loving words.

Music played an important role during that time.  By writing I was able to transform much of my pain and confusion into beautiful notes others could enjoy.  This is the power of art:  to transmute our human experience into articles of beauty, because beauty is truth and truth sets us all free.  I wrote and recorded, and over time healed my spirit and helped others to heal.  The next step was obvious – tackle my homosexuality in my music.  It was scary at first, like admitting “I am a homosexual man” all over again, only without the safety net of a supportive group, but that’s when my career really took off. The dilemma, I realize now, with viewing life solely through contrasting lens is our tendency to promote one side to goodness and demote its opposite to evil, instead of realizing both sides, like yin and yang, exist because of each other. It’s a philosophy of balance, in which one hand compliments the other.  More importantly though, it overlooks a fundamental truth – the opposites coexist in all of us.  We all do “right” and “wrong” from time to time… we all have moments of holiness, and then… well… you know… and we all have active male and female elements dancing around inside us.  If we realized this, we wouldn’t be so quick to cast those we perceive as different (our opposites) into darkness, because we would realize that difference is only an illusion.  We are our opposites – the limitations we force around the necks of others are the limitations that eventually hang us, the hate we hurl at others is the hate that falls like an avalanche upon our heads.  Thankfully the opposite is also true – the acceptance we allow others is the acceptance we grant ourselves, and the love we give to others is the love that makes our beds at night.  Our world is a brilliant spectacle of splendid extremes linked by a continuum of subtle variety.  I choose to see this and accept this, and like many others, I choose to believe God created me just as I am.

It is with this belief firmly planted within my soul that I proclaim from the proverbial mountain top – I am a homosexual man.  I proclaim it in the songs I compose, in the music videos I produce, and in the blog posts I write.  I proclaim it for all who can’t yet proclaim it.  I proclaim it because it is a part of who I am and like being a man, being black, and being Guyanese, it is something to celebrate and be proud of.  Celebrations by their very nature involve the opening of doors and the welcoming in of others.  Celebrations are a time of happiness because they remind us that my joy is your joy and my love is your love.  Bob Marley spoke the truth when he sang “One Love… One heart… Let’s get together and feel alright…”.  Love is a real force in this world.

Throughout history, there have always been naysayers.  They said the world was flat, they said God sanctioned the slavery of black men and women.  Sound familiar?  Let those with ears hear.

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