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Cross-dressers not deserving of sympathy?

Published:Monday | March 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The controversial property at the intersection of Hopefield Avenue and Lady Musgrave Road in St Andrew. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

By Robert Lalah

People living in the Golden Triangle area of St Andrew have been complaining about a rowdy band of gay men who congregate at an unoccupied house near Hopefield Avenue after hours and raise ruckus.

The police have had a hard time dealing with the noisy trespassers and struggle with balancing their duty to enforce the law, with their responsibility to protect offenders from being harmed in lock-up. After all, men who behave effeminately might not fare well among other detainees who tend to believe that lawbreaking should be done in a more manly way.

Recently, some unruly men had to be rescued by police when they were pounced upon by a group of people who were fed up with their girly gallivanting. Both The Gleaner and STAR ran striking photos the next day of the men dressed in women's wear.

Many people were shocked by these photos. It's not every day we see men dressed like this. And that they showed no embarrassment, even though this happened in the middle of the day in a heavily populated area, was alarming.

I wondered what would become of the men after the police took them away. It didn't appear that they were trespassing on property or breaking any other laws when they were cornered by the group, so they wouldn't be charged with anything. They apparently have no home, so taking them there wasn't an option. What were the police to do? Take them to Cross Roads and let them off? That would be a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

I guess the police know how to handle these situations.

Last week, I was out for a morning run in the area and passed by the house where the men used to gather. I noticed about five security guards with mean-looking dogs there. Not even the most emphatic heterosexual would dare trespass. Problem solved, I thought to myself.

But a few chains down the road, I was confronted with stark proof that the problem was, in fact, far from being solved. There's an empty lot near Vale Royal that's fenced off, even though there's nothing there but bush. As I passed by in the early morning, I glanced over, and, to my surprise, saw one of the men I'd seen in those photos. He had on the same clothes he did then and was walking through the bushes looking at the ground. I would have just continued running if the sheer sadness of the scene hadn't stilled my legs.

No difference

There was this man, this human being no different from you and I, walking around like a hungry dog searching for food. He looked more like a wild beast than a man. As the sun rose above him, he looked up and saw me staring. He stuck out his hand as if to ask for money and I gestured that I had none to give. With that, he shrugged and went back to walking around looking at the ground.

I've been bothered by that moment since then. Why didn't I help him? I had a few hundred dollars with me and could have spared it. I felt ashamed when I got back home because I knew that my own selfish pride got in my way of helping someone desperately in need.

I didn't want to engage with this man dressed in women's clothes or risk being seen giving him money, and that stunted my instinct to help. I know that if he hadn't been dressed in women's clothes, I'd have given him the money. The fact that I didn't, because of his appearance, is wrong.

In that moment, I had the opportunity to be the change all of us want to see in Jamaica. Every day people write letters to the editor and phone call-in programmes saying they want a better country. Aside from grand economic and social strategies, the way we achieve this is by changing the way we relate to each other in our everyday interactions. I let pride and selfishness influence my conduct with a fellow Jamaican, and that will get us nowhere.

I've been back to the area, seeking to right this wrong, but now there's a sign on the fence stating that the property is protected by a guard and attack dog. Another 'problem solved' for a landowner.

The man I saw there has moved on and will face discrimination and hatred from all corners. My hope is that somewhere along the line, he'll meet up with someone whose willingness to help won't be compromised by selfish concerns. People like that have the power to make this country better.

Robert Lalah, associate editor - features, is author of the popular Tuesday feature, 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and robert.lalah@gleanerjm.com.