Border/Clash: Litany of Desires

Posted: July 20, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

First puplished in the Sunday Independent July 2010

Grabbing your crotch and talking about boobs is generally reserved for rappers but a pint-sized poet and performance artist is taking the discussion of body parts to another level.  

Staceyann Chin is at thirty-seven-year-old resident New Yorker with her roots firmly in Jamaica.  She is an exotic mix of Chinese and Jamaican which has left her with a wild crop of hair and unusual, and very beautiful, eyes and colour of skin.   Although we soon discover that many years ago her appearance was a great burden to her.   She is also an activist and a lesbian.  When I think of Jamaica I conjure up images of golden beaches, palm fronds and super chilled out Rastafarian dudes who loves everything and everybody.   However, during Stacyeann’s performance we learn that Jamaica is also home to extreme homophobia.  Times magazine once named Jamaica ‘the most homophobic place on earth’.   And Rebecca Schleifer of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said “Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen.  Groups gang up and participate actively in gay-bashing all over the island.  A Jamaican father, upon discovering that his son was gay, invited a group to lynch the boy at school. The boy subsequently nearly died.  Even many of the supposedly peace advocating Rastafarians are in on the filthy act.  Rasta singer, Banton in one of his first hits, Boom Bye-Bye, boasted of shooting gays with Uzis and burning their skin with acid “like an old tire wheel.”  Another artist called Elephant Man declares in his song, “When you hear a lesbian getting raped/ It’s not our fault … Two women in bed/ That’s two Sodomites who should be dead.”

 STACEYANN CHIN in the Cultureproject production of "Border/Clash, A Litany of Desires" written by Staceyann Chim and directed by Rob Urbinati.   Photograph © 2005 Richard Termine

STACEYANN CHIN in the Cultureproject production of "Border/Clash, A Litany of Desires" written by Staceyann Chim and directed by Rob Urbinati. Photograph © 2005 Richard Termine

And this really is the strength of Staceyann’s performance. Her story is not new but her voice and her commitment is compelling as is the the revelation, for me anyway, of Jamaica’s long history of homophobia.

Throughout the performance Staceyann’s tells her life story of abandonment by her parents, separation from her brother, abuse, and a most enduring sketch portraying her journey into discovering that she is gay.  What struck me the most during her performance was that the scars must run so deep for this woman that she felt compelled to drag her history and roots into her present and make it part of her life – every day. She relives the trauma over and over during each performance; surely a sign of a true activist.   Her body punctuates each word and as she passionately climaxes into a slew of male bashing I cringe for my male feminist friends who must take it on the chin for the men who are not present. It felt a bit like she was preaching to the converted, as the ears for which this performance is meant, would never willingly find themselves at one of her shows.  South Africa may not be as bad as Jamaica when it comes to homophobia, but the scourge of ‘corrective rape’, the act committed by men behind the guise of trying to “cure” lesbians of their sexual orientation, seems to be on the rise in our country.

STACEYANN CHIN in the Cultureproject production of "Border/Clash, A Litany of Desires" written by Staceyann Chim and directed by Rob Urbinati. Photograph © 2005 Richard Termine

The murder of Eudy Simelane, former Banyana Banyana star in 2009 sent ripples of fear through the black lesbian community.   Simelane was gang-raped, beaten and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs. Simelane was one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in KwaThema. Upon sentencing the men found guilty of Simelane’s murder, the judge said that her sexual orientation had ‘no significance’ in her killing.

When I spoke to my male friend afterwards I told him he is a feminist without even knowing it.  He just looked at me and said that he is not threatened by females and that in his opinion it is fear that drives men to commit these acts against woman. It’s a dominance thing.  I think he’s right.  I also think that this abuse has gone on for long enough.

Staceyann has enjoyed great success internationally, performing in London, Denmark, Germany, and New York’s Central park.  She has also won numerous awards for her slam poetry including the 1999 Chicago People of Colour Slam, the 1998 Lambda Poetry Slam, the 1998 and 2000 Slam This, and WORD: The First Slam for Television, she also took the American Amazon Slam title in Aarhus, Denmark in 2000.  She is also the recipient of the 2007 Power of the Voice Award from The Human Rights Campaign,

 Border/Clash: Litany of Desires runs until 24 July at the Baxter Theatre.

The End

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