20 April 2010

Batty Man

"How I see it, Empress, is that all the people who are talking about faggots and making battyman music, it's like they are bigging up battyman! You understand? Battyman deserves no space on my album! When I say, "Babylon" or "corruption", a dem that, mother of all that! A dem that, you understand?"
Battyman or, indeed, chi-chi man, is a derogatory term for a homosexual or gay man, originating in Jamaica. The word occurs alarmingly often in Jamaican popular culture, in music related areas and amongst other popular celebrities, including those barely-linked to Jamaican culture, such as Ali G.

Whilst it would be foolish to take much offence from Ali G's clearly tongue-in-cheek use of the term, it is nevertheless a fact that in many cases the word is used with deadly seriousness in such songs as Buju Banton's 1990 hit Boom Boom Bye Bye, which encourages the killing of homosexuals or, more recently, Chi-Chi Man from TOK, which features the lines: From dem a par in a chi chi man car, blaze a fire mek we burn dem. From dem a eat in a battyman bar, blaze a fire mek we done dem.

It might not be what we'd laughingly call 'the Queen's English', but it's pretty clear. It's hatred, not even thinly disguised. It's a plain and straightforward declaration of irrational and crudely-directed hate, involving fire and derogatory name-calling. But the question is, can this hatred be explained by culture?

It's true that being gay or lesbian is the ultimate sin under Jamaica's widely-held religious beliefs. According to the Guinness Book Of Records, Jamaica has the most churches per square mile, and let's not forget that there is also a strong Rastafarian component to Jamaican society. Complicate this further with laws that support intolerance - in Jamaica it is still legal to arrest two men caught having sex in private - and you are provided with a culture that seems to have by-passed any semblance of understanding and is hell-bent on making sure every Jamaican teenager, gay or otherwise, grows up with the the inculcated certainty that you're better off dead than queer. Or, to put it another way, if you're queer then you're dead.

Can this be true - an embedded culture of hate? Many proponents of Jamaican culture, citing such examples, insist that the implied hatred is simply not there, it is merely a natural reaction founded in culture and religion. The argument here essentially being that these 'battymen' break both legal and moral boundaries and thus deserve pretty much all they get. Others, such as Swedish band Army Of Lovers claw back the word in a more aggressive manner, releasing the song Mr Battyman with its deliberately provocative lines, all delivered in a sarcastic Buju Banton-esque intonation: He meet dem hunky sailor... He dress in fruit and flowers... Dem say that him obscene...

Obscene... right. Then there's the mOBSCENE, who really put the boot in with their homophobic mob:
"The gay man who died after being attacked in Trafalgar Square last autumn was called a "batty man" before he was kicked and stamped on, the Old Bailey heard. Ian Baynham, 62, died in hospital on October 13th 2009, several weeks after he suffered head injuries while on a night out."
Quote 1 taken from interview with Luciano and Mikey, available on jahworks.org
Quote 2 taken from PinkNews.co.uk, April 20th, 2010

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