According to Amnesty International, in Jamaica gay men and women have been “beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality; lesbians are subjected to corrective rape; once a person’s homosexuality becomes known they are at risk”. Diana King is Jamaican!
Few days ago she proclaimed: “Yes, I am a lesbian.” That takes a lot of courage. But then, Diana is soaked in it.
She talks to Mirror about ‘coming out’ and how she reclaimed her life after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
• Jamaica is extremely homophobic. What gave you the courage to ‘come out’?
The harsh reality that people like me are persecuted, beaten, jailed, raped and murdered every day just for being who they are… I have respect and admiration for all those (dead or alive) who have ‘come out’ before me. I have stood on the sidelines coveting their bravery.
They and ‘love’ have given me the courage. Honestly speaking, I have always been afraid to admit it openly, because of the negative impact it might have on me, my career, family and loved ones.
I saw people being victimised (for being gay) while growing up and it scared me to death. The deep fear that I’ve had, especially that my own Jamaican people will not accept me because of their homophobia, has been a heavy burden.
But I realised that it is not my job to make others comfortable; I am only responsible for my life. I could have stayed safe and hidden, but that would have meant that all those who have died for being like me died in vain.
Just like black people who died for me so that I could have the opportunities and rights I now have; they would’ve died in vain if I do not take advantage of the freedom they have given me and do my part by living a life that would make them proud; if I don’t do that it would be like spitting in their faces.
Sometimes, one has to step outside one’s comfort zone to GROW. In about 10 years, I will be older than both my parents before they died. My personal need to be 100 per cent authentic and true to myself and to make sure my children learn not to be afraid, to be who they are is stronger than any insecurities that I may have had over the years.
At this point in my life I do not care about the things that frighten me anymore. My biggest regret is that I didn’t ‘come out’ earlier; being silent has held me back from being all that I was born to be.
• Your life was turned upside down when you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Can you recall that moment? In 2006, I had completed
In 2006, I had completed a five-week tour of Japan when I began feeling a shocking sensation, like electricity, in the back of my neck. My doctor thought it was a pinched nerve; medication didn’t help. Two days later, I woke up and couldn’t feel my legs; the numbness seemed to be rising up to my chest area.
It took months of tests and MRI scans to figure out the problem. The doctors suspected MS but the symptoms mimicked many other diseases, like a stroke or Lime Disease so they were not sure. Soon, I had another attack with different symptoms. In 2007, I was officially diagnosed with MS.
To be honest, I didn’t believe the doctor; I didn’t want to. Anyone can imagine the feeling after being told you may never walk again. You almost wanna say, ‘Excuse me!’ because you think you heard wrong. You think of all the things you didn’t do and all the things you want to do and you feel hopeless in that moment.
You just cannot believe this is how it ends because it feels like the end. It has only been recently that I started talking about my illness because I have never allowed myself to say the words, which would mean that I ‘own’ this disease and I didn’t want to ‘have it’ or ‘own it’.
|No more la la la lies...
• What made you say to yourself ‘I am going to beat this one’ and jump back onto the wagon of life?
I was bedridden for months after my first attack. I had to be fed, bathed and dressed. I was depressed. After a while I started to dislike feeling down and negative all the time because the real me is an optimist, so one day I decided to just get up and walk. It wasn’t perfect but each day I got better at it.
On my next doctor’s visit, he was impressed with me, but it was what he said that really inspired me. He said the reason I could walk was because I knew I could. To me that meant I had to use my mind to overcome what I was feeling. That was all I needed to hear and I took that and ran with it. Since that day I have never been back to another doctor about MS.
• MS is known to be in remission for years and later come back with a vengeance. Do you fear that?
I cannot lie. There is always that fear but I have learnt to keep it in check and stay positive. We all know of stories where people die shortly after being told they are sick. I won’t be that person so I don’t let my mind linger on the ‘what ifs’ because they can keep you frozen. For me I am healthy and well today. All we really have is NOW.
• Was music your ally in the darkest moments of your life?
Those days I was looking for words and music to motivate me, to give me hope because I felt like giving up. I didn’t think about taking my own life but I was wallowing in grief. I couldn’t see Diana in a wheelchair.
So I wanted to be reminded of all the positive things I knew but can be so easily forgotten at times when you need it most. I couldn’t find any songs that motivated me, so I wrote one –Warrior Girl; it made me feel strong and fearless.
Music was my main therapy. I also watched a lot of comedy and surrounded myself with good vibes. After my last doctor’s visit I still was not walking perfectly but I decided that I wanted to learn how to produce my own music since I could not yet be out and about yet. So I got certified as a Pro-Tools operator because that would allow me to experiment in a studio that I had set up at home.
I noticed that whenever I was in the studio writing or singing my own songs, I didn’t feel anything but perfect, no symptoms of MS, but when I came out of the studio, I felt it. So I put all my energy into these songs because it was like a miracle knowing that I couldn’t even play any instruments, but I was doing it. It was as if something had taken over my body.
I know this sounds strange but that’s what happened. I don’t question these things, I just accept them. That’s how I ended up writing and producing seven albums worth of songs and decided to share 13 of them on my new album AgirLnaMe- KING (Warriour Gurl in Japan). This album is my most special achievement simply because of how it came to be and the fact that I did it alone.
• Closer (the single) is your first video in ten years..
Yes, it’s also my first video as an indie artist. The song itself is about two types of closeness: Getting closer to someone in an intimate way and getting closer to each other as citizens of the world regardless of our differences. I am getting ready to release my next single, Jeanz N T-Shirt, which is about being true to yourself no matter who you are.
• Did MS come in the way of making this video?
I shot three videos in two days so it was demanding. There were times I couldn’t feel my feet, or maybe some numbness on my left side... but I have learnt to block it and occupy my mind with other thoughts.
That’s what I did and it works 95 per cent of the time. I have been fortunate to not have any pain, that would be hard to ignore but sometimes I wonder what is worse, to feel pain or to feel nothing.
• How have these experiences changed your music?
I think my music has matured as it should, I’m no longer 20. But I always sing about love and whatever is on my mind and I always make my beats danceable so in those ways I think it’s the same.
• What would you tell your 15- year-old self?
I’d say, “Girl, don’t waste your precious time worrying about anything. Love yourself, be yourself and don’t you be afraid.”
► I know not but just believe that if I leap off this ledge into the darkness of what is uncertain, I will either land on my feet on something strong or I will grow wings and fly.
- Diana King