No vagina registry, Muddled discussions in the Senate on the Sexual Offences Bill

Glenda Simms (article in the Gleaner)

The current debate on the Sexual Offences Bill which was recently introduced in the Senate has frequently provided the television-viewing public the opportunity to either raise their eyebrows or drop their jaws. These responses are related to the bizarre comments of some of those who purport to bring sober and intelligent responses to the policies that are designed to bring decency, sobriety and balance to societies which adhere to the Westminster parliamentary model.

Some of the sensational sound bites emanating from the pristine upper chamber include visions of:

Scrotums on silver platter delivered to conniving wives

Wicked women who tell lies about rape

The spectre of the need to differentiate between real vaginas and surgical ones

The sound knowledge base of a non-biased woman who knows that having a sexually transmitted infection is not a death sentence

The idea that, without a change in the current definition of rape, men can be raped in some circumstances such as when a female uses “date rape drugs” to overpower a hapless and unsuspecting guy in the bar

The laying of criminal charges against bisexual men or those “on the down low”.
All of these muddled discussion points demonstrate a serious and severe lack of understanding of human sexuality and the historical sexual atrocities that are designed and executed to keep women and girls in their place in patriarchal systems.

Sexual Offences Bill

These systems are still rigidly cemented in individual psyches, in the religious institutions and in the fundamental social, economic and political structures of the nation state.

Perhaps, before they continue to debate such an important piece of legislation as the Sexual Offences Bill, the members of both esteemed chambers of Parliament should take a refresher course in human sexuality before they speak to complex issues which should not be defined in terms of any indivi-dual’s sexual experience or belief systems.

Edmond Campbell, Gleaner staff reporter, enlightened the readers of the June 28 edition of the attempts by some of the honourable Senators to block loopholes in the proposed sex laws which are now before them.

It is these attempts that have shown the Jamaican public moments of hilarity in the Senate. We observe men bent over in laughter slapping their chests and thumping their desks at some of the most titillating of comments.

These responses are rather disheartening to those who have worked so hard over the years to ensure that our decision makers take seriously the issue of sexual violence against women and children in the Jamaican society.

These are not laughing matters, nor should they become hysterical sound bites in the Upper House.

One of the most controversial and unclear notions put forward by one of the female senators is the concept of the real versus the surgical vagina. Of course, the gender of the senator should be important to such a ‘red flag’ idea. In some quarters it might be argued that it would have been inappropriate for one of the male ‘landed gentry’ to even imagine the difference between a real vagina and a fake or surgical one.

God-given special body parts

Indeed, only those who have the real ones can describe the feel, the contours and the authenticity of their God-given special body parts.

It is this issue that jumped out at me because it calls into question the human reality of transgendered individuals, hermaphrodites and others who have no control over how the Creator designed them.

Perhaps members of the medical fraternity who understand the notion of sexual identities and who would have the data base to enlighten us about the demand for operation to change the genitalia in the Jamaica society should lend their voices on these issues.

These professionals should be able to join this debate in order to ensure that sane, sober and informed interventions will lay the base for the justice inherent in the Sexual Offences Bill if and when it sees the light of day.

Against such intervention by the medical specialists, the question of false genitalia could be discussed in a more gender-neutral framework.

For instance, the fact that it has been reported in popular media that entertainer Cher’s daughter is now transitioning from female to male, the spectre of surgical penises committing sexual crimes is a real possibility. The society would, therefore, be challenged to examine all our body parts in order to establish their authenticity.

Engaging in hysteria

Obviously, we are not serious about the issue of the distortion of human sexuality that has forced the Jamaican society to enforce a Sexual Offences Bill at this time in our history.

Rather than engaging in hysteria we should stand back and remind ourselves what healthy human sexuality is all about.

To this end, we might find some enlightenment in the discussion on ‘Sexuality and Development’ carried in the April 2006 policy briefing issued by the Institute of Development Studies.

The following point was highlighted in this document.

“While it is a fact that sexuality and gender is a defining characteristic of every human being in every culture, we are predisposed to ignore important aspects of human sexuality or alternatively to discuss sexuality in relationship to population, family planning, disease and violence.”

Limited view

It is this limited view of human sexuality that prompted the World Health Organisation to present the following working definition to guide its work in all regions of the globe.

Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.

Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships.

Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.
This local struggle to define the parameters of the Sexual Offences Bill must be framed in the context of the criminal deviation from healthy sexual relationships between consenting adults of whatever sexual identity and within the established formats of human relationships.

We, the women of Jamaica, look forward to a Sexual Offenders Registry, the understanding of marital and other forms of rape as forced sex against our will, and appropriate punishment to deter the predators who think they own bodies besides their own.

Reject ‘vagina registry’

We do not want to be lured into complacency or side-tracked by the possibility of registries of surgical penises, men on the down low, conniving wives and women liars.

Most definitely we reject any ‘vagina registry’ to identify real and false versions of the female genitalia.

The trouble with such a registry would not only be related to the costs of identifying real vaginas but the stress that would be placed on the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the Opposition to recommend to the governor general an appropriate, qualified citizen to become Jamaica’s first Vagina Registrar.

Glenda P. Simms is a consultant on gender issues

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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