Writer: Ghenete Wright Muir | Photography: David I. Muir
Ghenete Wright Muir is possibly South Florida’s most outspoken gay, Jamaican woman. As evidenced by her signature crew cut, button down, vest and tie, her gender identity leans masculine. In this piece she shares what it was like to transition from self loathing to self acceptance, and gain the support of her family and a growing community.
IT MAY BE hard to believe, but once upon a time I was extremely homophobic. I actually like to tease myself and say I went from a homophobe to a homosensation!
People who meet me now, often ask, “G, how could you not know? Hello! You’re so gay?” But hey, when you grow up in a culture where gay people are nearly invisible and ostracized, it’s hard to envision yourself as gay. It’s hard to be what you cannot see.
A Classic Tomboy
In terms of gender identity and expression, that was more clear to me. I was a classic tomboy, and I saw reflections of myself in my culture and the media. I apparently told my mom I didn’t want to wear dresses anymore. I was just 4 years old. She accommodated me when possible, but when we left New York City, where I was born, to live in Jamaica, I had to wear a dress to school every single day. And to top it off, I had to do ballet every single week! My mom requested that I be excused from ballet but the school refused. My boyish body begrudgingly did the plié, relevé… the whole nine, though I undoubtedly lacked the grace.
My neighborhood, however, was my saving grace. I reveled in the freedom of riding my bicycle with my dog, Hunter, galloping behind me, following my brother up the towering ackee tree, and playing football. I learned the game so well, my father advocated for me to play for my elementary school. ‘Girl a play football?’ They reluctantly allowed me to participate in practices, but I felt so unwelcome I fled the field.
Mom took me to get my first haircut at 10 years old… it was my first time presenting as a boy. I loved it! My long, thick plaits were chopped to a little afro, much to the horror of pretty much everyone I knew. Of course as a teen, I grew it back to look more feminine and attract boys, can you believe it? But seriously, I enjoyed dating boys and fell in love with my future husband David on our high school campus in Kingston.
I Joined The B****man Fi Dead Crowd
Around the same time I started to enjoy dancehall music… and much of it had strong homophobic messaging. Although my parents had taught me that there was nothing wrong with gay people, I joined the crowd and started to really feel the strong hate and homophobia. I would raise my hand with pride, gun finger in air, shouting, “Brap, brap…all ba**yman fi dead!”
I heard people using religious arguments for why it was wrong to be gay, and I adopted those arguments. Funny enough, there was little concern with any other types of “sins.” No one cared that people were committing adultery or fornicating, but everyone cared whether people were gay. With this religious condemnation and the fact that I did not see an example of a same-sex relationship during my early teenage years, It’s easy to see how I was so unaware of my sexuality.
I was elated, decades later, when Jamaican singer Diana King came out as a lesbian on Facebook. I messaged and thanked her for her courage. I was still married at the time, but was gearing up to kick down the closet door as well!
When I finally met Diana and had the opportunity to interview her, she said she did not imagine herself to be gay either. We just did not have any openly gay role models in Jamaica. So being a lesbian was beyond our imagination. We had similar experiences – a realization of being gay in adulthood followed by a journey of self-acceptance.
I began to embrace the LGBTQ community when my dear friends, twin brothers from Jamaica, came out. I had returned to live in the US as a teenager and remained homophobic even through college. But when I realized that my friends, who I loved dearly, were gay, it started to open my mind and change my heart. Then David was working in Manhattan and met many people who were gay. He would tell me how normal they were. The anger, hate and fear that consumed me, finally started to dissipate.
My Greatest Challenge Was Accepting Myself
My greatest challenge was to accept myself as a woman who loves women. I hated the thought of it. I started to have horrific panic attacks. I had to share my secret. I felt like it would, literally, kill me. I even contemplated suicide. The first time I said out loud that I was a lesbian was to David, my husband. He was stunned. I was sickened. We wept.
Let me tell you, I married the right Jamaican man. He spent the next 20 years supporting me as I grew to accept myself. In the meantime, we had a wonderful family with beautiful children, surrounded by close friends and family. I started coming out little by little to those closest to me. Mostly everyone was happy for me. My siblings were very supportive. My best friend knew, even before I did. My parents were surprised. Remember, I was still married to a man. My Mom struggled a bit with that, but eventually fully supported me.
I still struggled with living a double life. Eventually, it became too much, and I decided to come out publicly. I finally got what 4 year old me wanted — no more dresses! I started to date women openly. Freedom. And after 17 years of marriage David and I decided to go on separate paths.
It was so difficult to become openly gay in a country more accepting of the LBGTQ community, I know it’s even harder for gay people living in Jamaica. Even here in the US many Jamaicans are afraid to come out. It’s been a long, long journey for me to get to where I am today. OMGeee! But hey, I have no regrets.
The truth is, once I recognized and accepted myself as a lesbian and later became openly gay, I evolved into an advocate for the LGBTQ community. I started “Thou Art Woman” an event celebrating LGBTQ women and allies, and I now volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT organization in the U.S. I started to blog and share my LGBT life very publicly as @verygtv on Facebook, IG, YouTube and my blogsite, www.verygtv.com, to bring more visibility to LBGT Jamaicans. And, I actually co-hosted at Montego Bay Pride this October.
I remember thinking that being gay was like a curse but it has been one of my greatest blessings. I’m part of a proud, resilient, beautiful global community – a family. I have a beautiful supportive girlfriend. My children are so well adjusted and happy for me. And I’m liberated from the judgment of society and able to live my life authentically.
Such a touching story so beautifully told!