The pieces I write for this column can sometimes stir strong feelings here, and that’s fine by me.
In the first place, it would be a pretty dull world if we all agreed with each other on everything; indeed people like Brian Uzzell and Desmond Seales would be out of a job if that were the case.
Secondly, it is often the case that out of seemingly contentious discussions an original thought will emerge, or a compromise never achieved before will be reached. The Chinese motto of ‘letting a thousand flowers bloom’ (although they often ignore it themselves) remains useful.
Among those ‘strong feelings’ pieces was one I did on culture that laid out some of the signposts for the Caymanian version of that. Many people called me about that piece – even a few folks from overseas – and Bernie Bush even stopped counting turtle patties to give me a high five; that’s unusual. As we say in the Eastern Caribbean, I had touched some wires with that one.
I was reminded of that column during the recent furore over the ‘gay kissing’ incident in Cayman, because one of the points in that piece was that cultures – all cultures – change over time by adapting or rejecting or, sometimes, modifying influences from other cultures into which they come into contact.
These alterations take place, or don’t take place, in a rather mysterious way, and while the process is virtually invisible, it’s going on all the time, right under our noses.
The other unique aspect to this process is how firmly these cultural decisions are held; once made, they are virtually unshakable and both of those ingredients – the invisibility and the conviction – were on display in the recent gay incident.
No overt campaign had been bubbling on this issue, nobody had been in the streets holding up placards, but clearly over time, Caymanians had made up their cultural mind on the homosexual issue, and, as the reaction to the Royal Palms incident showed, they had been considering this issue over the years, they had come away with a position, and they were not about to change it.
Although the fat was in the fire, despite the headlines and official apologies at home, despite the swift negative press abroad, the position generally (cultural stands are not always unanimous) was clear – ‘That’s not Caymanian.’ To sum it up: controversial position, gradually formed, strongly held = culture.
Of course, in this multi-national, even multi-cultural society, the debate is likely to continue. The case will be made that Cayman is out of step with modern social thinking; that a puritanical streak exits here; that tourism businesses will be negatively impacted, and so on, but when the dust settles, or even if it continues to hover, to live in Cayman, and watch the indigenous culture, is to notice that homosexual matters cause discomfiture here.
You can argue about the factors behind that, but there can be no argument that this culture takes a negative view toward homosexual practices.
They may not hold demonstrations and get into physical attacks over it, as some do, but the Caymanian is unequivocal on this issue – not here, thank you.
Even in the ongoing Constitutional Review process that discomfort keeps cropping up and all the erudite arguments don’t have any effect. ‘Not here’ remains the local mantra.
Certainly, those critical of the Caymanian position are themselves persistent, too, but they need to begin considering that, however strongly they condemn it, what they are up against here is a cultural position, honed over time, and taken very seriously. As an analogy: ‘You can say my turban is ridiculous, but I’m not taking it off.’
Mind you, time is a critical factor in change, and future generations here may indeed produce the position toward homosexuals that protesters are saying should be in place in Cayman, but that’s in the unforeseeable future.
For now, in the very visible present, this generation, in this time, is saying ‘Not here.’
Finally, there is a salient lesson buried in the heated reaction to this gay kissing incident: For those among us who loudly contend that ‘Cayman has no culture’, allow me to tap you gently on your shoulder and say, ‘You may not have noticed, but that culture you say Cayman doesn’t have? It just jumped up in your face.’