“Imagine a Bahamian society where no one of any sexual orientation is ever again killed or otherwise silenced because of who they love… Imagine piety, conformity and hatespeech at the altar gone from the voices of women and men who are teachers of spirit, replaced now with inclusiveness, tolerance and views that are constantly widening. Imagine us by the many thousands changing into people no longer afraid, but wholly and completely empowered: this will be a time for embracing.” –Lynn Sweeting (http://www.womanishwords.blogspot.com/)
Two days before I left Oakland to come home to Nassau, I found out about the murder of Wellington Adderley.
Solomon Wellington Adderley was an AIDS activist and gentle warrior. Wellington lived with HIV for over twenty years, and on May 26th, 2008, his life was destroyed by an as yet unknown entity: he was found lying on the floor of his home, clothed, in a pool of his own blood, his neck so severely cut that his head was practically severed. Wellington was the third prominent gay man to have died a brutal death since November of last year. The fourth gay man to be murdered died a week later. And as of this writing, no person or persons have been found to be responsible.
This morning, on a local talk show, Erin Greene, spokesperson for the Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas, the only GLBT advocacy group in the country (of which I am a co-founder) spoke openly about the need for citizens to help create a safer and healthier environment for all its members, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender Bahamians. The conversation was again and again interrupted by callers who used the Bible to attempt to shame and silence Greene, and even to justify the killings of these men. One caller stated "If you choose to live that lifestyle then you should accept that there will be consequences... When criminals engage in criminal activity, they are faced with punishment." The caller was invoking two biblical passages: Genesis 4:6-7 that says (and I paraphrase): "“If you do what is right, won't you be accepted? If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door..." and (though somehow both passages run into one in my mind) the more popular phrase, "The wages of sin is death... (Romans 6:23)"
The conversation about the rights of gays and lesbians in this country is stuck in a Christian fundamentalist scriptural war that cannot see gays and lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people as integral to the wide spectrum of human existence. And the few (read one or two) public spokespersons for the GLBT community who dare to engage in this conversation publically are time and time again drawn into a circular argument which begs the question: how can you ask for human rights if God says you shouldn’t exist at all?
And by presuming firstly that all Bahamians are Christians, and assuming, secondly, to know God as absolutely as they do, Christian fundamentalists not only reduce and limit that God, but reduce and limit the scope of what it means to be human. And I cannot help but see the metaphor: It is God lying in a pool of his own blood, head severed, and no one has been held accountable.
Last night I attended a candlelight vigil in Wellington’s honour. As friends and I walked over to Addington House, here in downtown Nassau, the sun still warm on our shoulders as it dropped lower in the sky, we were stopped in mid-step by a rainbow directly overhead. But this was no ordinary rainbow. This rainbow was inverted, curving the 'wrong way', opposite to every other rainbow I have ever seen. We were startled, even a little afraid. It's a sign, I thought, but of what?
I remembered a story told in the Afghan film "Osama", by a grandmother to a young girl child each night before the day when she would dress as a boy and go out into the village in search of work. The story told of a young boy who wanted to be a girl. He was told that if he stood under a rainbow he would be changed, from one gender to the other. Yearning for this change, the little boy did what he had been advised, and lo and behold, the boy was transformed into a girl. And, recently, while researching the significance of the rainbow serpent in traditional West African-based spiritualities, I discovered that the snake deity Oshumare, is often represented by a homosexual, bisexual or transgender priest. Specifically, in the Afro-Brazilian tradition of Candomblé, Oshumare is said to be the youngest son of Nana (one of the oldest Candomblé deities of creation) and the force that shaped the earth and connects earth and sky. In “Candomblé and the Psychological Types”, Carminha Levy writes that Oshumare
"…participated in the creation of the World wrapping himself around the earth, joining matter and shaping the World. He supports the Universe, controls the stars and the ocean, and sets them into movement. Crawling through the World, he designed its valleys and rivers. He is the great snake which bites its tail, representing the continuation of the movement and of the vital cycle. The snake is his, and that is why in Candomblé it is not killed. His essence is the movement, fertility, the sequel of life. Communication between heaven and earth is granted by OSHUMARE. He takes the water from the seas to the sky, so that rain can be formed - he is the rainbow, the great colored snake. He assures communication between the supernatural world, the ancestors and men, and is therefore associated to the umbilical cord. His color is lettuce green and all the combinations of the rainbow. Bi-sexual with a feminine aspect, he dances with ADE (the queens' crown). He is a man for six months, a woman during the other six.
"…Physically he is slim, with fine features. He is dynamic, intelligent, inquisitive, and ironic. He likes to gossip, and he attracts, seduces and entertains because he is intriguing. He is often snobbish, and likes to show off, being sometimes eccentric and extravagant. When rich, he protects talented youngsters. He is homosexual or bisexual. He is neither rough nor gross, he is refined and civilized, but his vilification can be dangerous. He has a great intuition, and can be a smart soothsayer. (The Deep Transforming Shaman, http://www.tranceform.org/)"
The connections between these fragments of story and tradition point to the rainbow as an old symbol of double gender or double sexuality for which contemporary western language may have no adequate words. I imagine that many adherents to Christianity, especially in its fundamentalist forms, will object to these findings, pointing out that, like other indigenous spiritual traditions, Candomblé is ‘pagan’, and therefore unworthy of their attention or care. But it seems to me that the wisdom embodied and transmitted through traditions like Candomblé has much to teach us about honouring differences and valuing them as essential to understanding the fullness of who we are as a human community.
At the beginning of this week I was privileged to sit beside an elder of my community. He happens to be a Catholic priest whose ideas and insights I have long appreciated and respected. We were at an event which featured speakers who had survived genocides and were there to speak of their experiences and the process of forgiveness. The Monsignor and I talked about what it means to be rejected because of who you are. We talked about fundamentalist Christianity’s black and white version of the Bible and its unbelief in the possibility of human transformation – the despair inherent in that unbelief. I told him I believed imagination was the balm for despair. He suggested the word ‘imagine’ is connected to ‘imago dei’ which means ‘image of God’. I said, Yes, yes, and the Christ is that ability to imagine, inside each one of us, that remains, that is, radically: the ability to imagine so necessary if we are to conceive of a God deeper and wider than the Bible, of a divinity as multiple and complex as we might actually be. And as compassionate as we might yet become.
But what happens to imagination when it is violated, assaulted, crucified or found lying lifeless in a pool of its own blood?
After the tributes had been given, tears shed, and red candles lit, and as the bass drums of a junkanoo rush out beat, beat, beat, I understood what is most radical about Christianity, in spite of its motherless God, its fundamentalisms, its fear of its own most ancient faces: the resurrection is still wild, untamable, unstoppable. This is what I mean: imagination cannot be destroyed. It will come back, say the drums, it will return, say the drums, this is the meaning of revolution, you can kill the story tellers, but the story is in the ground and will grow back; boom boom, say the drums, boom boom boom, says the goat skin, the hand that beats it, the heart that hears it, feels it.
Solomon Wellington Adderley was an AIDS activist and a gentle warrior. He was also an intelligent, kind, sensitive, beautifully masculine and feminine man who loved other men, though nowhere in any of the tributes to him was this important part of who he was mentioned. And yet, there in the sky above us was the rainbow, inverted, uncommon, showing its own startlingly beautiful self to those who dared look up and see.