Although there are female characters in the novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings is largely populated by men and is centrally concerned with the theme of masculinity. Where stereotypes about black Caribbean men (and gangsters in particular) indicate that their masculinity is defined by aggressive, promiscuous heterosexuality, the novel challenges such assumptions by featuring, instead, a much more complex and nuanced depiction of maleness and male sexuality. Some of the most mercilessly violent characters in the novel, such as Weeper, are also gay, and descriptions of Weeper’s desire for other men shows that masculinity and homosexuality can operate simultaneously, rather than necessarily opposing one another. At the same time, the novel shows how male characters are forced to suppress feelings and desires that are perceived as feminine in order to conform to a masculine ideal. For example, Weeper threatens to kill Bam-Bam for screaming in fear after the shooting at the Singer’s house.
Several of the book’s main characters have homosexual inclinations, even if far fewer of them identify as gay. One of the most prominent queer characters in the novel is Weeper, whose preference for gay sex and cocaine addiction are framed as twin attributes which both developed during his time in prison. Weeper explains that when he was in prison he started using cocaine in order to be able to bring himself to have sex with men. Although the homophobic culture of Jamaica prohibits voluntary sex between men, having sex with men in prison is tolerated because there are no women present and an insatiable sexual appetite is seen as being part of hypermasculine culture. However, Weeper’s explanation about his exploits in prison is only partly true; the reality is that Weeper simply prefers having sex with men, and there is even some indication that other characters in the novel accept this as an unspoken fact. For example, Josey points out that Weeper experiences the happiest time of his life in prison, implying that this is because it was the only time he was able to indulge his homosexual desires freely. Toward the end of the novel, Josey admits that he knows he “should” have killed Weeper for being gay, but that instead he turned a blind eye to Weeper’s sexuality, letting it exist as something of an open secret.
At the same time, this does not mean that gay sex is openly practiced or accepted within the world of the novel. One of the most frequent insults in the novel is “battyboy” (or “battyman”), Jamaican slang for gay man. Indeed, as Josey’s thoughts of killing Weeper indicate, the punishment for being perceived as gay is not simply condemnation or social shunning, but violence and death. Because of the extreme version of masculinity embodied by the characters in the novel, even the most minor deviations into perceived effeminateness or “weakness” are strictly punished. If a gang member so much as flinches while performing or witnessing an act of violence, they are labelled a battyboy or “pussyhole,” a term which similarly highlights the way in which femininity is associated with shame. Jamaica is often portrayed as one of the more dangerous places in the world to be a gay person, particularly for men. Although the novel contains several examples of Jamaican men who engage in gay sex, it also affirms the impression that being gay is highly dangerous in Jamaica.
Masculinity is presented as hindering the free and open expression of emotion even within queer contexts. For example, when Weeper is having sex, he stops himself from moaning because he thinks that making sounds turns him into the “woman” in the dynamic. Meanwhile the other major gay character, John-John, is more open about his sexual preferences than Weeper but berates himself for the attachment he has developed to his lover in Chicago, Rocky. This in turn connects John-John, a white gay American, to the to the black straight Jamaican men who also face the pressure to be promiscuous in order to live up to a masculine ideal. For example, the other characters find it odd that Josey is in a monogamous relationship with his girlfriend, Winifred, because part of embodying a masculine ideal involves demonstrating sexual aggression and virility. Masculinity is thus presented as a harmful norm to both gay and straight characters, even if gay characters suffer more severely under its demands.
Masculinity, Sexuality, and Homophobia ThemeTracker
Masculinity, Sexuality, and Homophobia Quotes in A Brief History of Seven Killings
I didn't want to fuck him, none of that nasty batty boy business, I just wanted to go inside him like a duppy and move when he move and buck when he buck and wind when he wind and feel myself pull out little by little by little and ram back in hard then soft, fast then slow. Then I wanted to be the woman. I just need to fucking breathe.
Bad man don’t take no cock. But me not bad, me worse. Bad man don’t make a man know he fucking him good, because then he will realize a man on the top. Better to stand up or bend over so he come from behind and invade. Moan a little, hiss, say work it harder, fucker, like a white girl getting black cock in a blue movie. But you really want to yell and scream and howl, yes I read Howl, fucking facety white boy you think just cause me black and from the ghetto me can’t read? But this is not about ignorant white boy, is about you wanting so bad to howl and bawl but you can’t howl and bawl because to howl and bawl is to give it up and you can't give it up, not to another man, not a white man, not any man, ever. As long as you don’t bawl out you not the girl. You not born for it.
Even my Rasta brethren laugh 'bout it, saying when the Black Star Liner finally come to take us to Africa, they going have to chop me in half. Man, what you know about the Jamaica runnings? Sometimes I think being a half coolie worse than being a battyman. This brown skin girl look 'pon me one time and say how it sad that after all God go through to give me pretty hair him curse me with that skin. The bitch say to me all my dark skin do is remind her that me forefather was a slave. So me say me have pity for you too. Because all your light skin do is remind me that your great-great-grandmother get rape.
Discernment. I could always look at a man and read him. Like Weeper. Is years now I know the man not only fucking man but is really the one getting
fuck, and no matter what he say, he still sorry to leave prison. Is years now I supposed to kill him for that, but why? It move my brain better to watch him fuck pussy after pussy as if battyman behaviour is something pool up in him sperm and if only he shoot out enough he will finally shoot out the need to put a cock in him battyhole. I don't know much 'bout them things and I don't read Bible. But if there is one thing I do know is when a man fooling himself. Is something to watch though.
- Like how your boy Weeper is a user.
- Weeper sniffing coke from as early as '75, that not nothing new.
- But new it is, Josey. Now him smoking crack and you and me know that crack is not coke. Can a man do good business even when him deh pon coke? Of course. Every man me know in the music biz a lick coke. Hookers and blow them call it, my youth. Back then the biz did even have a sort of class. But crack is different business. Every single dealer who switch from coke to crack mash up. You can’t hold a single thought on crack. You can't do no fucking business. Crack is you business.
Me don’t see Copenhagen City since '79 but me hear 'bout it. Brethren, is like them communist country you see 'pon the news. Poster and mural and painting of Papa-Lo and Josey all over the community. Woman naming them pickney Josey One and Josey Two, even though he not fucking nobody but him wife, no, they not married for real. In him own way, you could call him a classy brother. But still, you want to get Josey you have to mow down the entire Copenhagen City first, and even then. You also have to tear down this government too. What you mean, government? Come, man, Alex Pierce, who you think give this party the 1980 election?
It is a shit hole. It's hot like hell, traffic is always slow, and the people not all smiling and shit, and nobody waiting to tell you no problem, man. It is shitty, and sexy and dangerous and also really, really, really boring.