Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Gully gays and other mysteries

Published:Sunday | September 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Daniel Thwaites

Daniel Thwaites

A number of cross-dressers, including a few known to be hardcore criminals, were evicted from their makeshift residence in a New Kingston gully a few Thursdays ago. The surrounding community thinks of them as a nuisance. From what I saw on the CVM report, the police were exercising restraint, even engaging in an extended conversation to persuade one fellow to emerge after stripping himself naked and hiding. I couldn't help reflecting that police work is not easy work.

Councillor Khari Douglas, who was interviewed, was careful to say that it was about arresting criminals, not suppressing a sexual minority. Police and Government had better be careful. Quite apart from the intense international interest and the fact that these girls have friends in high places, I hope we would want to treat the issue sensitively. But they can't be to left to run amok, colonise New Kingston, and just set up a hotel in the gully.

From what I could see, some of these chaps were very 'fabulous', with weaves flashing all about as the cops drove them off. At least one of them didn't have a problem with the camera.

I want a Dionne Jackson-Miller interview to find out what's going on in his mind. I had watched that BBC documentary, 'Unreported World: Jamaica's Underground Gays', by a disabled Rasta-guy in a wheelchair, but that interviewer needed to think things through a little more. He was too intent to portray the gully-dwellers as just victims of Jamaican homophobia, even when the facts called for a more nuanced understanding. For instance, at one part of it he drove one of the gully-dwellers into his old neighbourhood. The young man explained that he had a home and family, but that he had chosen to leave all that behind to pursue cross-dressing like some kind of career.

manic compulsion

I will say: It must be a manic compulsion that drives someone to leave house and home out of a conviction that it is fi him work in life to wear female clothes and behave like a gyal pickney. Even if the price of doing that is to live in a gully. In New Kingston. With people sometimes throwing rocks at you. That is a mystery to me.

A few months ago, I had accompanied my wife to a small supermarket in New York. While she shopped, because I am sometimes wutliss and have time on my hands, I counted the various brands and varieties of orange marmalade. No joke ... I was able to count more than 50 different kinds of orange marmalade on the shelf of a small supermarket, leading me to marvel at the stunningly energetic profligacy of capitalist production and distribution. How could socialism compete? Let's not even talk about the desirability of Western blue jeans which many credit for toppling the Berlin Wall. Just consider humble marmalade, in every conceivable mini-variety and subspecies, from the four corners of the earth - except Jamaica. But that's another story.

At some level, it seems to be so wasteful and unnecessary. Does the world really need another kind of marmalade? It leads to broader questions about how people choose to expend their energies in systems of liberty.

I think we are all mystified, and often appalled, by the choices of others. We don't think of freedom as an unalloyed good, at least because in our eyes, people use it to make disastrous choices. I get irrationally annoyed, for instance, to see people completely discolour themselves by tattooing juvenile scrawlings all over their bodies.

But I try not to forget that there are also pleasures to be had from the misuse and abuse of freedom. Who doesn't enjoy spying the 'tramp stamp' branded into the lower back of a pretty girl? And the 50 varieties of marmalade, although giving no particular pleasure to me, perhaps delight the gourmand. In a system of so much freedom, people explore hobbies, pastimes, manias, madnesses, and perversions, and we tend to allow them a lot of latitude to do that as part of the agreement that we have the same freedom.

I have wandered off, but come with me back to the supermarket aisle, where I look up from the shelf to see 'something' coming straight at me. Yes, there coming in my direction was an obvious transvestite, high heels, fishnet stockings, make-up, mascara, and wig. Frightening! Well, maybe he/she wasn't frightening, but I was frightened.

fight or flight options

Immediately, I started to consider fight or flight options. My first thought: "Run!" My second thought: "Why me mus' run? I have at least 50 different kinds of marmalade here to defend myself. Dis gwine be like Sting stage show in the '80s." My third thought: "Stand guard and gwaan like yuh nuh notice it".

As it happens, the man/woman passed by and went his/her merry way without incident. Him/She don't business at all wid me, and neither me wid him/she. My fear and apprehension were completely irrational.

My next thought: "What in the world would make a big old rusty man like that get up and decide to put on wig, makeup, skirt, high-heels, etc, and go out into the public to assault the world? WTF?" I don't know the answer, but I thank God I don't have that compulsion. Can you imagine having to go through life with people reacting to you the way I reacted to that poor man/woman?

I remember Terence, the ex-slave from North Africa: "I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me." So I want to have empathy and understanding for this fellow human being, however difficult.

It brings me back to the mystery - at least to me - of how many people dispose of their freedom. There are so many worthy and wonderful things out there in this vast world to explore: the inexhaustible riches of nature, adventure, books, art, movies, performance, history, politics, philosophy, gardening, and even marmalade. But still, a man will get up and decide that the thing for him is to put on a French cut, high heels, and to go and live in a gully.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to