Jamaicans skillfully identify anything or anyone that deviates from cultural norms. The mere acknowledgment of difference, though, is never enough. Norms of gender and sexuality are made painstakingly clear in childhood, and as we age we confidently participate in the policing of gender and sexuality wherever the need arises.
I regularly have run-ins with this intransigent police force.
A few days ago, I was walking with my sister in town. Two teenage boys were walking toward us and just a few steps away, one of them stopped, turned to his friend and asked quite audibly, “Yuut man, a wich wan a dem ya a di uman?“ We stopped and stared at them blankly, but said nothing in retort. I refused to let on that he might have hurt my feelings or that I believe his remark was unnecessary and discourteous.
The following day, while striding purposefully through the streets of the same town, we happened upon a group of idle middle-aged men who were staring at us as we approached them. Their peculiar gaze assured us that they might have something to say. As soon as we passed, one of them uttered the word “Fish” slowly and resolutely, and again, I refused to acknowledge the insult.
It shouldn’t be offensive that he thinks I am gay. I AM gay. However, in Jamaica, one usually rebuts such an outrageous, emasculating accusation and challenges the accuser to a verbal duel in which one’s masculinity and heterosexuality are asserted. I’ve always refused to play this game. Still, the word stung like a poisoned dagger. This fish was impaled.
Two days later, I visited my hometown in a different parish. Everyone knows me there. While waiting for a friend, I sat on a bench in the park, far away from other patrons. As one young man headed toward the exit—he couldn’t be more than 14 years old—he shouted in my direction, “Yow.” I turned to face him standing about a hundred meters away. Out of nowhere he shouts, “Batiman!” Then, after a few moments of silence he continues, “Mi no hail no batiman!” I can’t imagine what I had done to suggest that I might be gay. I looked away, baffled.
I would consider myself lucky if that was the only encounter I had with the police that day.
A few hours later, I walked into the offices of a bank with my best friend from childhood, Karen, to say hi to Robert, our friend from high school who was working there for the summer. The offices were filled to capacity, so I stood by the door looking beyond the glass facade to find him. Disturbing the silence of the air-conditioned waiting area, a young man just next to us asks, “My girl, a wa kaina guo-guo bwai dat yaa paar wid?” We glanced in his direction, but dismissed his statement and continued with our search for Robert.
To my surprise, he repeats his question—this time more loudly— “My girl, a wa kaina guo-guo bwai dat yaa paar wid?” Everyone’s eyes were on me now. Unsatisfied with the level of attention he was attracting, he calls out a third time: “Karen, a wa kaina guo-guo bwai dat yaa paar wid!
I was mortified! I am used to people staring at me, but to have an entire group scrutinize my appearance, judging for themselves whether I could be a ‘go-go boy’, was embarrassing to say the least.
Alas, my adventurous day did not end there either. I spent the afternoon at the beach, and then headed in the direction of the bus station with Karen. This area is populated with unemployed men sitting idle, so I would never walk alone through the community; Jamaican men are particularly homophobic and aggressive when in groups. Apprehensive, I looked ahead and noticed there were about fifteen men sitting at the entrance of Machras Lane.
I tried my best to avoid their gaze as we passed. Not more than ten steps away the word “faiya“ was launched like a firebomb, overlapping and echoing throughout the street in a blazing cacophony. Faiya! Faiya! Faiya!
My heart beat rapidly as I imagined that mob-killings of LGBT Jamaicans probably start like this. I never looked back, because I was sure I would incite them further if I turned to see their faces.
It is not safe to walk the streets of my hometown. Every day I am reminded that I am not welcome in my own country. While not responding to their taunts is essentially an admission of culpability, I refuse to negate who I am and give credence to their ignorance and crassness. Sticks and stones may break my bones (as do the words they say behind my back), but through reflection, forgiveness, and perseverance, the broken bones will heal, and I will live to tell this story. Jamaicans don’t know any better. The police force is doing its job.
 Hey, I wonder which of them is a woman!
 Jamaican Creole slang for ‘homosexual’
 Derogotary term for ‘homosexual’; Akin to ‘faggot’.
 I don’t (greet/speak with/acknowledge) homosexuals!
 Hey, why are you hanging out with this go-go boy?
 Fire. Jamaicans burn a (supposedly) metaphorical fire for any behaviour, activity or thing that defies cultural understandings of what is morally right.