I had to buy board-shorts. While I have a half dozen bathing suits, not a single one of them covers my whole ass. Each Speedo I own is skimpier and gayer than the last. My favorite is bursting with images of flowers and puppies.
But I was going to Jamaica, and I knew I couldn’t flaunt my queerness. I would have to “tone it down,” so to speak. I would have to leave the “Yasss queens,” booty popping, and heels at my New York apartment.
I never imagined I’d be going to Jamaica. Given its consistentatrocious treatment of gay, lesbian, and queer folks, it wasn’t high on my traveling bucket list. In 2006, Time Magazine went as far to call JamaicaThe Most Homophobic Place on Earth. Needless to say, I didn’t want to give my money to a country whose known to commit crimes against LGBTQ folks withlittle to no repercussions from Jamaican authorities.
But my best friend from Boston had moved there to work at a cancer research facility, and it was his 30th birthday. I had to go.
I roped my ex-boyfriend (still my best friend) to go with me. I didn’t want to be the only queer person there. I wanted to have a fellow proudly identifying faggot on my side. More as a favor to me, he promised to join. Beforehand, however, we discussed our reservations.
“I’m just doing so much gay shit these days, I don’t know if I can ‘act straight’ anymore. I’m afraid something I don’t even know what will slip out,” He said.
“Trust me, I know. But we can do this. We acted straight for years before coming out, and you acted a lot longer than me. Besides, we both present traditionally masculine. We’ll be fine,” I replied.
So we went, and for the first time in years, I wore one of those bathing suits with netting that went past my knees.
At first, we fit right in. When I’m around straight people, I tend to act more traditionally “straight” and masculine, simply because that’s how they’re acting. If no one else is snapping and hollering “Werk bitch,” but rather saying, “Nice, man,” then it’s less likely that I’m going to be shouting the former.
But then came the alcohol. And with just two drinks in my system, my more effeminate mannerisms appeared. My wrists went limp, my voice shot up an octave, and my vernacular changed. My “Yassss” just couldn’t be stopped. You wouldn’t need a gaydar to recognize that in my lifetime, I’ve probably had a penis or two in my mouth.
While I knew it was happening, I couldn’t stop it. The more I drank, the worse it got. At first, I was surprised by how unable I was to keep my more stereotypically gay mannerisms in check. I was surprised how second nature they’d become. After attempting to act straight for many years, I thought the ability to conceal to lie would come back instantly. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
But then, drunkenly, I saw the beauty in that truth. I am out. I am queer. I’ve felt comfortable being myself now for so long that I can’t recloset myself, even if just for a short period of time. There’s something powerful and uplifting in how much I’ve learned to accept and be my true self.
While undoubtedly an enlightening realization, it was a very unhelpful one at the present moment. I needed to be acting straighter, and I simply couldn’t. I was getting looks, and not the good kind. I was getting the “What the fuck is this cocksucker doing here?” kind.
So I stopped dancing and only spoke to the guys I came there with. I didn’t want to stir the pot any more than I already had. After partying for a few hours, the boys wanted to end the night at a (straight) strip club. Off to Scrub a Dub we went.
The moment we entered, we saw topless women shaking their best assets in a large metal cage eerily reminiscent of the Thunderdome. They were dancing to pop and hip hop songs from the mid-2000’s (think T.I. and Akon).
Well, I simply had no choice. I started dancing. Dropping my ass low. Snapping my fingers. Shimmying like you wouldn’t believe. Seeing how much fun I was having, the strippers came off stage. They started grinding up on me, and then I started grinding up on them. I took off my shirt. The strippers invited me into the Thunderdome to dance, which, obviously, I did. Dancing my heart out for strippers and a bunch of older straight Jamaican men. I whipped out all the moves I learned from go-go dancing in Provincetown the summer before.
When I exited the Thunderdome, a stripper called me over. She mentioned how nice it was having “someone like me” in the club. Someone who dances, has fun, and is clearly “different from the other guys.”
Without saying it, she said it.
You’re not straight, but you’re welcome here.
There was a sense of safety and community I felt among the strippers in Jamaica. Our similarities far outweighed our differences. We’re both stigmatized for aspects of our sexuality. We’re both at high risk for violence. We both can’t go around flaunting who we are or what we do.
This led to an unconditional acceptance and understanding almost immediately. Even though I’m a man, and they’re women. Even though I’m queer and they’re straight. Even though our lives are seemingly nothing alike, we still found common ground.
So it was there, in the most unlikely of places, dancing shirtless with straight strippers in a Thunderdome, that I found acceptance in one of the most homophobic places on Earth.