‘Depressing but hopeful’: Living while gay in Jamaica

I was on a JUTC bus this morning, heading to work. Nothing out of the ordinary happening until a woman began “preaching”.

“These homosexuals are destroying our country. Dem sick stomach! Fire and brimstone fi dem nasty lifestyle”.

Now usually, I wouldn’t care less what some random stranger has to say. I’m out because I’ve chosen to live my life on my terms. While that doesn’t mean I go around ‘throwing it’ in people’s faces, as they’d argue, I was struck by the crushing responses in favour of the comments.

Stuck between bigotry and denial…

Always a topic of discussion even when Jamaica’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community makes a concerted effort just to exist – life in this country can be such a draining, overwhelming routine.

Even in the “uptown” circles, where you see a few gay couples holding hands, living while gay in Jamaica is far from easy. Spare me the condescending remarks, you’re still here reading.

It can be such a frustrating ordeal. On one hand, you’re vilified and labelled as “confused, disgusting, demonic, opportunistic”; and on the flip side, the same people in your ‘community’ remain in their closets, indifferent and uncaring.

Trust me, it’s totally understandable. If you can pass for normal, then your life is that less difficult. If you’re committed enough, you throw a girlfriend or wife and kids into the mix and everyone is happy. Well, everyone but you. You ache quietly inside.

Relief that your secret is still safe, but it doesn’t stop those “urges” you deny. Those desires burn ever so strong, to the point that you start taking stupid risks. Like a drug addict, you get a fix, go back to your duplicitous routine until another ‘itch’ comes gnawing at you.

Spare me your pity

Please don’t misconstrue this article, it’s not a cry for help – I’m not basking in a pity party. This is me calling out the country I’ve lived in all my life for rejecting me because of my sexuality. Gay and Jamaican. I’m hurt but unapologetic.  

I guess, in retrospect, I’ve always known I was gay. If I had to put an age to it, I’d say I was nine-years-old. It was more than just wanting to be around other boys. I didn’t see girls in any capacity other than as friends.

Things took a turn at 11 when I started high school. The world moved on, but time seemed to slow down, leaving me behind. Being at an all-boys’ institution didn’t make things any easier. Gay jokes were a part of the culture, you smile (or laugh) but seethe when you face yourself. Alone, even when you’re surrounded by people. It can get so lonely sometimes…

But to my point, being gay is just a part of who I am. I’m flawed, yes, but I’m far from the ‘monster’ I’m painted out to be. I have dreams, unrealistic albeit, but they’re what keeps many of us going. The covert and overt hate can be so discouraging.

We’re just as “Jamaican” as you, maybe more (since we’re still here)

We’re your sons and daughters, Jamaica. You raised us. As the warm Caribbean sun rises and bestows its rays on us all, whether we reside behind zinc fences or in upscale apartments, the LGBT community just seeks acceptance.

That’s it. That’s the agenda; screw tolerance, we’d rather have acceptance.

You hear it all the time, a mother or father declaring, “They’d kill you before you ‘turn gay’,” – casting out your own flesh and blood out of shame. YOU should be ashamed. With every fibre of your bigotry.

Even if you find some common ground, they ‘hold a candle out you might change’. You’re given multiple opportunities to “do the right thing”. Be straight. Fit in. And sure, some of us, give in but at what cost?

In some twisted way, I understand it. It must be terrible watching your child choose a harder path in a country that’s trying to hold itself afloat – tethered to a past that cripples us in religion and prejudice. I guess, maybe if you change, they reckon, you’ll have less pain and discomfort.

I’m not disillusioned either, I’m aware there are Jamaicans living in their truth with little to no opposition or animosity. I’m truly happy for you but forgive me if that joy is clouded with intense jealousy.  

#Live&LetLive

I’m not asking for too much. It’s not an unattainable dream. The LGBT community is not trying to sabotage “family values”. Living one’s truth shouldn’t come as a sacrifice to your comfort, Jamaica.

Everybody’s got an opinion on us. If we’re flying on a path with no ending, you put us on it.

With so very few safe spaces and wanton disregard for the future, it’s a beautiful thing we even have a community.

If you ask me, it shows we’re as Jamaican as anyone alive on our shared island paradise, despite her flaws.

I hate the fact that in my late 20s I can’t live how I want, without getting the stink eye of disdain. There’s only so many times I can ignore the not-so-subtle ‘you’re not wanted here’ cues one gets. Make no mistake, for every person who minds their business, there are 20 who are visually displeased with your very existence.

How dare I offend their sensibilities and ruin their perfectly good day?! Me and my ‘nasty’ agenda. If only my prayers could make me straight!

God (when I still believed in him) knows I’ve tried. Who in their right minds would want to be gay in Jamaica? The unnecessary tears I’ve shed; the guilt I could have avoided.

Maybe, for now, a life in the obscure safety of the shadows is the best I can hope for. Still, no matter how small, I’ll hold on to the promise of equality with everything inside of me.

Perhaps one day.