Jamaican novelist Marlon James opened up about undergoing exorcism to “drive out the gay” and eventually embracing his sexuality, while renouncing the church.
James appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday (March 17) and opened up about his desire to fit in Jamaican society even at the cost of undergoing “extreme ex-gay therapy.”
James, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2015 for his third novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, was the first Jamaican to win the prize, although he left the island in 2007 due to the climate of homophobia.
The 48-year-old novelist told the show’s host Lauren Laverne he went to church almost every day of the week, hoping he could change who he was.
“I wanted it more than anything,” he said, quoted in the Press Association. “That’s why I eventually had my sort of exorcism to drive out the gay.”
James had previously described the so-called gay conversion therapy as involving vomiting, prayer and exorcism.
“Then one day it hit me, ‘what if I got rid of the church?’ And that worked smashingly.”
— Marlon James
Speaking to Laverne, he described it as “extreme ex-gay therapy.”
James said: “Back then I thought they were just driving out demons. It’s a kind of mental control. It’s this relentless, everything you say, ‘that’s not you that’s a demon. Be gone Satan’. Back then I wanted to believe it really badly.”
The novelist eventually realised that it would be easier to change his beliefs on homosexuality than repressing his sexuality.
“Then one day it hit me, ‘what if I got rid of the church?’ And that worked smashingly,” he said, adding: “I’m too much of a wuss to be an atheist, but I don’t think I have faith anymore.”
The author also addressed how his novel would have been different if he had stayed in Jamaica: “I don’t think I would have written the queer parts.”
Marlon James has described growing up gay in Jamaica as ‘sitting on a timebomb’
James has not shied away from discussing the homophobia he faced while growing up in Jamaica.
“You might want to walk down the street and hold somebody’s hand one day,” he said in 2015, describing why he left in an interview with The Telegraph.
He added: “When you grow up in a homophobic country, you’re sitting on a timebomb.”
He wanted, however, to include gay characters in A Brief History of Seven Killing.
He explained: “It was very important to me that there were gay characters in the book – to reflect the gayness and hypocrisy in Jamaica.”
Ahead of winning the prestigious literary award, the author also described being labelled a “gay batty man.”
“Whether it was in a plane or a coffin, I knew I had to get out of Jamaica,” he said.