I will never step foot in Jamaica! There are plenty of beautiful places in the Caribbean that will not only embrace me, but also love me the way I love them. This was my travel declaration towards a country that for many years, I had absolutely no desire to allow my weary feet to touch its beautiful shores. If you’re asking yourself why, it’s because of all the horrible things I’ve heard happening to some of its citizens who were shamed, beaten, and even killed simply for whom they loved. To put it bluntly, I believed that Jamaica did not like gay people and I wanted no parts of it, ever! Despite having such strong feelings against one of the largest islands in the Caribbean, there I was in Montego Bay having a few too many Bob Marley’s and surprisingly, loving Jamaica.
What did it take for me go against what I thought I stood for? It was my childhood friend’s birthday celebration. Did I sell out? You bet I did but I thought if there was any time to do so, it was to celebrate someone with whom I’ve shared many life experiences, many of them abroad. I would force myself to enjoy the country I had given much side eye to, and to be honest, I was happy to get my passport stamped with yet a new destination. I also wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about and come to my own conclusions based on a critical, yet open observation.
When people talk about how beautiful Jamaica is, believe them. The mountains, the greenery, and the water are intoxicating enough to lure you in immediately. That wasn’t however, what I found to be the most amazing. It was the people. They were friendly, strikingly beautiful, and unapologetically BLACK! I saw so many women rocking their own natural hair in a multitude of styles, proud men who were ardent in speaking of the joys of being Jamaican and the importance and relevance of their culture. I drank the Kool-Aid and found myself falling in love with the one place in the world I vowed would never be a check off on my bucket list of countries to visit.
It was such a sexy sight to see them dance, and smile with the spirit of the ancestors and all the beauty that was passed down to them.
Prior to my trip, I had gone through one of the most hellish summers of my life to date. Although this was my third international trip of the year, it was the one I felt was the most needed. My whole life was in transition so in some odd way, it felt necessary to add an out of my comfort zone experience to the mix. I put my troubles aside and for five days, left my world behind and treated the country as a dare. Ok Jamaica, I said to myself upon arrival while waiting for my room to be ready and overlooking the white sand and blue waters, prove me wrong! It did, but I could not get rid of this nagging feeling deep down in my soul that something was off. Despite my buzz, and breathtaking views that surrounded me, I soon found out why that feeling was there. I found myself returning to ways of being that was not only familiar, but also necessary to exist.
As I became accustomed to the resort I discovered how amazing the food was especially for an all-inclusive resort. The drinks were never watered down, and each bartender had their own unique drink that never disappoints (try a liquid marijuana and thank me later). Now I wouldn’t authentically be me if I did not speak of the men of Jamaica. Let’s see where do I begin? Well for starters, I always love to notice the physical likeness of men of the African diaspora that landed where they are due to their enslaved African ancestors being imported for free labor. To say we are all cousins is an understatement.
Jamaican men are a sight to behold. The pronounced cheekbones, broad backs and slender waists, with strong torsos supported by stallion legs marched with a natural cadence. It was such a sexy sight to see them dance and smile with the spirit of those who came before them. They embodied the beauty and strength that was passed down and I found myself wondering, where else have I seen such likeness? I then thought of Santo Domingo, my Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilians friends and of course, the black men of the good old’ USA. Something still wasn’t quite right and then it dawned on me. Where were my same gender loving brothers?
I did notice after a few days on the resort that the overall feel of the place was brazenly heterosexual and quite frankly, a straight, single man’s paradise. No problem I thought. I can adapt to different circumstances. I did however, wonder if the cultural stigma that often finds itself attached to Jamaica was responsible for the invisibility of the local men and travelers who were opting for discretion. My answer to that would be yes and no.
I can only speak from a place of personal experience and what I do know is that my same gender loving brothers and sisters were present on the resort. I eventually ran into them and felt a connectedness even when we all knew we weren’t comfortable openly expressing it. Not that we wanted to march by the pool with rainbow flags but there were moments where I felt very much in the closet. That was unacceptable to me but if I’m being honest, it also felt necessary.
For the time I spent there, I was too engulfed in the oxtails; curry goat, culturally based entertainment, and the sexiness of it all.
My days living in South Carolina came to mind as I continued to encounter smiling faces on the island. My two years spent in Charleston and dating in nearby Charlotte,NC introduced me to a secret society of like minded men. I experienced that same secrecy in Jamaica. The freeness of New York City, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Los Angeles was not a luxury I felt was afforded to gay Jamaicans nor in some cities in the American Bible Belt.
With the men I met that were discrete, they did not possess a sadness in their eyes that told the stories of pain. They were far to busy going about their lives. Whether they were working, or relaxing with friends drinking Red Stripe at Pier One, they much like their cousins from America and other Caribbean countries known for being gay friendly, are built for endurance and the ability to seek joy even in the face of adversity.
I loved Jamaica despite what I’ve heard but did it love me? Yes it did but I do believe that love comes with conditions. These conditions may require me to be a version of myself that is the antithesis of who I am and what my platform represents. The tourist areas appeared to be more accepting of those from all walks of life because let’s face it, not doing so would be economically irresponsible.
Gay men of color travel extensively, and we have no problem taking our hard earned money elsewhere when we are not feeling the love. That wasn’t my experience in Jamaica though. Did I feel as if I needed to shrink myself to make others comfortable? Yes I did but I could always explore Jamaica again and continue to prove myself wrong.
It didnt matter if Jamaica wasn’t introduced to all aspects of me. Regardless of where I was, I knew that I loved me, and although I don’t ever like feeling invisible, there are a multitude of ways I can be myself outside of my sexual orientation. It’s important to note that I don’t ever feel the need to exist anywhere, not even on the beautiful shores of Jamaica, just to make others comfortable. Jamaica loved me and for the parts of myself that may be controversial to some of its inhabitants, is not my concern. I’m too busy creating a narrative for myself where I win, regardless of the sandy shores my feet set upon.