By Denise Balkissoon
I’ve got 50 first cousins. Yeah, you read that right. As part of the Ethnic Aisle’s Pride edition, here’s a Q&A with Clyde, the only one that’s openly gay.
Was there an actual day that you came out to your parents?
There was. I believe it was 1994, I was 21. I came home from classes on my birthday, which is October 11, which is also National Coming Out Day in the U.S. Oprah Winfrey was having a special where she talked to parents who were dealing with the issues raised by their GLBT kids. I watched the program with my mom. Afterward, I turned to her and said “And you know I’m gay, right?” She sort of sighed and said “are you sure it’s not a phase?” I said no, and she said ok. I kind of left her there with that.
Two days later, I was hanging around with my sister, Suzanne, and late brother, Andy, and mom came up to me. She gave me a hug and said “I don’t care, I love you anyway. I’m glad you came out of the cupboard.” This became a huge lost-in-translation joke.
Me and Suz were always close. Andy, we loved each other for each other. He’d make jokes sometimes, but then he’d say, “if anyone ever says anything to you, you know I’ll kick their ass.”
My dad didn’t get it at first. Then years later, he was getting remarried and our whole family was–well, you know how they are. So I said “It’s really weird to have everyone judging you, isn’t it?” He said, “yeah, boy.” Then I said “I don’t care, I love you for you.”
He looked at me and said “and the same to you. Live your life safe and be careful. And if anyone in the family ever says anything to you, tell me and I’ll deal with it.” I remember once one of our aunts said something about “the devil at work” and Dad just looked at her and said “why don’t you just hush your mouth?”
I definitely noticed that when it became obvious that you were gay, a lot of our relatives, especially the ones our age, they started behaving differently, stopped saying stupid things. It was nice.
It’s kind of cool. I think with our family, they just saw me. They don’t see gay Clyde, they just see Clyde. Dad’s side, you guys, as you might think our family is narrow-minded, they’re generally very accepting. They don’t judge for the most part, though they might talk behind your back. On Mom’s side, the ones that live here in Trinidad, they know and they’re ok with it, but no one ever talks about it. I think they don’t know how I would react. They fear saying the wrong thing.
I’ve developed a tough exterior. I really don’t give a shit what people think, but at work I have to. In my workplace, you still can’t say anything, it’s still taboo. To some extent you do have to limit yourself. I have my four Fs: you can be my Friend, or you can be my Family, but if you’re not Financing me and you don’t like what I’m doing, you can Fuck off.
You’ve lived in Toronto and in Florida and now you’re back in Trinidad. What are the differences for a gay person?
I would definitely say Toronto is the most open. The laws are structured differently. People are allowed to express themselves, to be free about it and not be scared of the repercussions.
Florida is ok. Orlando has a huge Pride, so does Miami and Tampa. It’s not that bad. They’re tolerant. They do have openly gay areas. But Florida still falls within the Bible belt. There are extremely conservative people and still some bashing going on. But at least the law is on their side.
In Trinidad, we still have very archaic laws. It’s basically illegal for two same-sex people to be in a relationship. You can’t hold hands in public. We have a new government that is pushing for some equal rights, but new laws still haven’t passed. Kids are still getting bashed in high school, especially effeminate guys or butch lesbians. With my generation, a lot of us spent time in the U.S. and Canada studying, so we were exposed to a lot more. Especially in the 90s, that was a revolution for sensitizing people to different genders and sexual preferences–when they came back to Trinidad, they had become tolerant. But the people who know better aren’t saying anything in fear of being beat up as well.
What I’ve noticed in Trinidad is a lot of closeted people. What’s really sad is there are a lot of people in heterosexual marriages who are having gay affairs on the side. Outside of Africa, the Caribbean has the highest number of people with HIV. The new government is offering free testing and retroviral drugs, but it’s taboo to even talk about it. We have a population of 1.2 million people but only one openly gay bar.
What’s the security like there?
What they generally do is have a lot of house parties. They rent a location and the party is by invitation only, so the people who go out to bash or beat up or rob don’t know where it is. There are people that are an easy target, very effeminate guys. I’m all for expressing yourself, but you have to keep remembering we live in Trinidad. If you report it to the police, they don’t have to do anything. They can actually arrest you, for being gay. That’s just the law.
So our dads come from a family of 10 kids, and we’ve both got just as many people on our moms’ sides. One in 10 people is supposed to be GLBT, but you’re the only one that’s out. I’m not asking you to name names, but…well I’ve got ideas about who else might be.
I think that one in 10 thing is just a broad way of defining the average. I mean, here in Trinidad, I know one family where all four of them are gay. On Mom’s side I have a cousin who is, and he is so petrified, he has alienated himself out of the fear that someone may ask him. We’ve had conversations about it, but I’m not going to change his mind. He went to Canada with his lover and got married, yet he refuses to come out. His parents know and that’s it.
But he lives with his husband? So everyone knows and they just don’t talk about it?
I don’t think all of them do know. I think a few suspect. Some have asked me and I say I don’t know. It’s not my place. I would hate it if I were in the closet and someone outed me. It’s alienated him from hanging out with the cousins, he always makes excuses. I’m glad I don’t live like that.