Book Review: Buller Men and Batty Bwoys
Is Canada a utopia paradise and the battle for gay rights are over? African Canadian scholar Wesley Crichlow shatters this misconception with his groundbreaking Buller Men and Batty Bwoys. My perspective is, Crichlow was unfairly criticized for not conducting “enough” research for his book when it was first published a few years ago.
Crichlow made the first step he wrote the book. It is often easy for some gay black men to attack Crichlow. Yet the question has to be asked, what are other gay black men doing to advance the rights of gay black Canadian men? Its pretty easy to hide in the closet or live in a glass closet in the ivory towers of universities and colleges isn’t it? It is very easy for gay black professors to write books about the black community but never discuss their own homosexuality in the public sphere?
I am so sick of these gay black cowards that roam free in the white gay community yet are suddenly silent about black community politics. Wesley Crichlow is no coward he is a real man and he is a brave black gay Canadian man for writing his book.
Crichlow’s book is a building block it is a step in the right direction. The mainstream and black communities are apathetic to the concerns of gay black Canadian men. Crichlow’s book finally provides some context into the reasons why this occurs.
Crichlow is a black gay Canadian activist, he fought for black gay rights in the city of Toronto for almost two decades. Although Crichlow has moved from Toronto he once owned a bookstore called “A Different Booklist”. “A Different Booklist” is still open today on Bathurst street in Toronto and is a very important store because its core focus is about providing a platform for black writers. Black Canadian writers we still encounter a patronizing, elitist, and racist Canadian publishing industry.
The title of the book “Buller Men and Batty Bwoys” refers to the Caribbean slang for “gay men”. A “Buller Man” or a “Batty Bwoy” is basically a man that engages in anal sex. The root term is offensive and derogatory because it stereotypes and reduces gay black men into sex objects and brands us as just being interested in sex.
Crichlow provides an account about his childhood growing up in Trinidad and how he struggled with his sexuality. He also discusses how he attempted to fit into the mainstream Canadian gay community and he encountered gay racism. Crichlow moved to Canada from his native Trinidad as a teenager in the year 1981.
The autobiographical elements in the book are a fascinating insights into Crichlow’s life and the misconceptions people have about Canada. I wish Crichlow had expanded more on this section of the book. I was curious I wanted to know more, about the real Wesley Crichlow? For instance, although white Canadian homosexuals are being praised for fighting for “gay rights”, there is still silence to the racism gay people of colour experience in Canada. For instance, some gay people of colour will not participate in Toronto’s annual Gay Pride event because they view the focus is too white and Eurocentric.
The Canadian homosexual press usually ignore gay people of colour, rarely ever have any black gay artists on the cover of their magazine unless its black history month or it relates to sex. Crichlow’s book explores the issue that in Canada to be “gay” essentially means to be “white.”
Another issue, Crichlow explores, is the binary concept of how black Canadian gay men are consistently framed. Black gay men are viewed as the “entertainment” whether its for “sex” or for a “drag performance”. Young black gay men are stereotyped as overlty muscular, dark skinned sex whores for advertisments for “gay male events”.
Often these young black men have extremely big black penises, or gay black men are stereotyped as the freaky drag queen in a bright fright blonde wig such as Ru Paul. Where does this leave the regular gay black man that isn’t a stud or a drag queen?
Crichlow book is powerful because the reader learns that gay black men we are multi dimensional people with complex lives. Crichlow also explores the fact for many black Canadian gay men to be “gay” is not the focus our “lives”. We struggle with other forms of oppression such as misandry, sexism, and racism. Gay rights is not the only battle gay black Canadian men worry about. We are just trying to survive in a racist, misandrist, and anti black male Canadian society. We have more concerns to deal with then just being gay.
Crichlow’s book “Buller men and Batty Bowys” asks the question, why are gay black men ignored not just by the mainstream white gay community but also by the heterosexist black and Caribbean culture? Crichlow’s book investigates the issue of “Caribbean culture”. In America, black gays are more organized they have their own “black gay communities” in major cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles. In Canada, there is no “black gay community.”
Crichlow’s book explores these “hidden men” by interviewing nineteen black men in Toronto and Halifax. The reader learns of the lengths black Caribbean/Canadian men endure to conceal their homosexuality. Yet unlike African American books published on homosexuality the reader will learn from one interview subject named “Bill” that many black Canadian gay men don’t use the “gay” label. Bill has a woman in Halifax, and two children yet he believes sex with men is fine because it’s just his personal business.
Another man Crichlow interviewed “Lennox”, he is also from Halifax is upset about the the virulent white gay racism against black gay men in his city. We learn from a young gay black man Neil that he hates the black community for it’s homophobia. According to Neil, black people are uncivilized and backwards. However, Laqueisha a transsexual receives love and support from her family despite the homophobia she encounters in the black community in Toronto. Crichlow peels beneath the surface about the social values and customs of the black Caribbean/African families. He explores how black Canadian gay men are often forced to conform to compulsory heterosexuality by marrying women and staying in the closet.
For many gay black men in Canada, it is not an option to “come out”, and to “move” to the mainstream white community, because this is also “foreign” and not “home.”
The interviews,and Crichlow’s personal accounts of his history are the core strength of the book. Crichlow says he chose to write the book in the tradition of the “biomythography” just like his heroine the late black lesbian writer Audre Lorde.
Crichlow claims in the conclusion of the book he wants “change” to occur in the black community. Yet how many black people of Caribbean heritage heard about Crichlow’s book? Also, I discern from the academic tone of the book unfortunately, the way Crichlow writes indicates he may have lost his voice. Crichlow’s “audience” is not the “general public”, this book appears to be for an academic audience.
Despite, the “academic” narrative though Crichlow succeeds in crafting a book that is very unique specifically because the book deals with gay black Canadian men a population that has consistently been ignored by the racist, misandrist, homophobic, and heterosexist, Canadian society.
It was unfortunate there simply wasn’t enough publicity for this book. Crichlow’s book is a brave attempt to provide some insight into the lives of gay black Canadian men.
I was shocked that the University of Toronto press charged such a high price for the book. When I first reviewed “Buller Men And Batty Bwoys” I was amazed at the price of the book it cost $50 dollars. Nobody is going to pay $50 dollars for a book. I understand the University of Toronto press is an academic and scholar press. My view is, this is a complete disservice to the general public to price the book out of the marketplace.
Who is the real audience for Crichlow’s book? Was Crichlow’s book intended for the university student, the scholar, or the general person?
Crichlow’s book is strong when he provides an account about his own personal experiences. Some people may yawn and say “not another black gay man coming out book.” My answer is the more the better, especially when its about being black and gay outside of the United States.
I find too often black Canadians we tie ourselves too much to American culture and society. I enjoyed this book because it related to Canada and the issues taking place right here in this country. However, to be black and gay in Canada you are invisible in so many ways. We are consistently displaced.
Go visit the Canadian libraries or bookstores where are the books about us? Don’t our lives matter? Although gay rights has advanced in Canada, there still is the issue of “othering” that often takes place. Black gay Canadian men are viewed as “something else”, not “really gay”, and certainly not “a part” of the Canadian gay communities.
For instance, the Gay and Lesbian Archives in Toronto is all white, there is nothing about the lives and experiences of gay black men in their archives. Go visit the Archives for yourself and you will see exactly what I am saying.
Crichlow’s book is important because books are knowledge, power, and a written history. I don’t need the Gay And Lesbian Archives to give me validation that’s for sure.
Crichlow’s book is a written account it is a “part” of black gay Canadian history and that’s crucial. Language is powerful it is a system of expression its a way for voices to be heard.
Crichlow is cognizant of the “impetus” to publish this book to advance black gay Canadian studies. Black gay Canadian men we need our own “identity” that is distinct from “African Americans”.
Far too often in Canadian bookstores the shelves are stocked with books about black Americans. What does it mean to be gay, black, and Canadian? How do we negotiate between these identities?
Crichlow’s book is not perfect, but then what book is? Crichlow should be praised for taking the time, effort, energy, to writing a book about us about black gay Canadian men. Our lives do matter and despite the ideology that Canada is a utopia paradise the covert racism in Canadian societies is very real and ugly.
Crichlow’s book is a form of emancipation the book is tangible, real, and so are our lives. Visit your local public library or university library and read this book. I think you will learn something.