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The plight of a ‘faggamuffin’

AFRO CENTRIC AUTHOR: John R Gordon and his book Faggamuffin

“OUT OF many, one people.” The famous Jamaican motto reflects the country’s mixture of different races, religions and cultures – but rarely is it extended to the island’s gay population.

Being a gay man is still illegal in Jamaica, and if two men are found guilty of committing sexual acts together, they can face up to ten years in prison. But in fact, the consequences for being ‘outed’ as a gay man in Jamaica can be much worse.

That is how Faggamuffin, a new novel by John R Gordon begins. Cutty, a successful Jamaican record producer is on the run from a murderous mob who killed his partner and tried to kill him.

Releasing this book now, when Jamaica has been labeled the most homophobic country in the world by human rights groups, and has also been the subject of criticism from British prime minister David Cameron, who has spoken out against the country’s anti-gay stance, Gordon feels it is still necessary to highlight this issue.

“The book could be seen as bad timing, but it is based on things that have actually happened,” says the author. “I don’t think we should be caught up in representing people at their best, so much so that we don’t raise anything difficult or challenging. Lynch mobs do happen, in all societies. I didn’t intend the narrative to be demonising.”

A self-confessed writer of ‘afro centric’ issues, Gordon, a white, middle-aged gay man, is perhaps, not the type of person people would expect to fit that bill.

But the 47-year-old, who co-owns the publishing company Team Angelica with fellow writer Rikki Beadle-Blair, has long been intrigued by issues relating to black culture.

“All of my writing is concerned with the lives of black people, particularly young, black gay men,” he says. “It’s just what interests me the most; I like to put black people on the centre stage.”

Whilst at college, the writer became engrossed with black American works of literature and began to examine his life through the lens of black culture.

“In the ‘80s, I was doing an art history course that included Marxism and feminism, and at the same time, I just became really fascinated with the works of James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Franz Fanon, who were thought-provoking. It was a weird mish mash of a sexual political awakening.

“Although I was this white person from a white suburb, my sense of politics really came from there [the black political scene]. I think, in a way, my mind is hybridized, because so much of my focus is seen through the lens of black people’s interpretations of the world.”

His overwhelming fondness for the black community was not the only reason the Londoner chose to write about a gay Jamaican. He also drew on personal experiences for his book.

“My first boyfriend was Jamaican and because I loved him, his struggle became my struggle.”

Acknowledging the almost insurmountable pressure that black, gay men can be subjected to, Gordon says: “White is allowed to be a non-category; no one says I’m letting down the white race because I’m gay. But if you’re black and gay, you’re often seen to be letting down the black race.”

Still, Gordon admits that he didn’t have the easiest of times when he told his parents he was gay.

“When I came out to my parents, my dad didn’t speak to me for 25 years. He’s only speaking to me now because he has Alzheimer’s and he can’t remember why we fell out. It’s sort of a happy ending.

“In contrast, when a Somali Muslim friend of mine was outed, his family came with all the death threats and drama. But within a year, he was speaking to his mother again and actually most of his family didn’t really care.”

Gordon, whose other works include the novel Black Butterflies and Skin Deep, also believes that money has the power to conquer prejudice.

“[In Faggamuffin] Cutty works in the music industry and he goes to the houses of the wealthy. We have all heard rumours about gay reggae artists. If you can hide behind a wall of money, you can live a much freer life.”

To the dismay of Cutty, who runs away from the Caribbean to England, in hope of a new start, he stays with his gay friend Buju and finds that life for a gay man in Britain, is not much different to that in Jamaica.

Juxtaposing these two men, Gordon shows in his narrative that his British character Buju is no freer that Cutty.

And yes, the author did name his character after reggae star Buju Banton, who has long been lobbied against by gay rights activists for the homophobic lyrics in his earlier musical works.

“It was of course a parody that Buju should take on Buju Banton’s name. I think Buju [Banton] thinks he is in a never-ending war with gay people.

He adds: “Some people say some of the most homophobic reggae artists are gay and it’s a form of self-hatred, but that seems too convenient. It almost lets them off.”

Admitting that there are homophobic and misogynist lyrics in all genres of music, Gordon thinks everyone should have the right to free speech, but says advocating violence needs to stop.

“It’s one thing to say ‘I hate fags’. It’s another to say ‘go and kill people.’ That’s wrong.

Faggamuffin is out now on Team Angelica Publishing

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