Jamaica’s dangerous down-low closet

“The Interruption of Everything,” the title of Terry McMillan’s latest book, happened when this best-selling author of “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” not only filed for divorce, but also sued her Jamaican boyfriend-turned-husband, Jonathan Plummer, who inspired the blockbuster hit of the same title.

Plummer, as it turned out, is gay.

Refuting allegations that her act is a vengeful homophobic tirade for being duped into marrying a young stud on the down low 23 years her junior, McMillian states she is suing her ex for $40 million citing deceit, extortion and leaving her exposed to HIV/AIDS. And with African-American heterosexual women being the new face of the epidemic, McMillian undoubtedly needs to be concerned.

But in a Jan. 14, 2005 letter filed with the Contra Costa County Superior Court, McMillian wrote to Plummer: “The reason you’re going to make a great fag is that most of you guys are just like dogs anyway. … You do whatever with whomever pleases you and don’t seem to care about the consequences.”

Plummer, however, swears that when he met McMillian in 1995 on a beach in Negril, he did not know he was gay.

“Nonsense. He knew he was gay,” J.L. King told the Washington Post in 2005. King became a national phenomenon by exposing certain behaviors in his bestseller, “On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of ‘Straight’ Black Men Who Sleep With Men.”

“Many DL men want to stop their duplicitous behavior and seek help, but they don’t. They fear the ridicule and isolation commonly hurled their way by those who look upon them through a spirit of condemnation rather than through a spirit of compassion,” King wrote in his book.

But Plummer has sound reason for concealing his sexual orientation. Being gay in Jamaica, the most homophobic place on earth, according to Time Magazine, you fear more than just ridicule and isolation, you fear for your life.

Case in point. When Jamaica’s leading gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, was murdered in his home in June 2004, his body was savagely mutilated by multiple knife wounds. A Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed the crime, reporting a crowd gathered after the killing, rejoicing and saying, “Battyman [Jamaican slang for homosexual], he get killed!” Others celebrated Williamson’s murder, laughing and calling out, “Let’s get them one at a time,” “That’s what you get for sin,” and “Let’s kill all of them.” Some sang, “Boom bye bye,” a line from Jamaican recording artist Buju Banton’s popular song about killing and burning gay men.

But the attacks against gay men are not only done by outsiders. They are also done by members in their family. Amnesty International reported in February 2004 that a father encouraged students to attack his son after he discovered a picture of a nude man in his son’s backpack.

Those gay men who now speak about their abuses at the hands of family, friends and strangers only do so in hidden, safe, and supportive environments.

“My experience as a gay man living in Jamaica is one which is marked by periodic incidences of abuse, both verbal and physical. I have lost count of the number of times I have been verbally abused, called ‘battyman,’ ‘chi-chi,’ ‘sodomite,’ ‘dirty battybwoy,’” an unnamed gay man shares on the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-Flag) in 2003.

Article 76 of the Jamaican Offences Against the Person Act punishes the “abominable crime of buggery” with up to 10 years of imprisonment with hard labor. And Article 79 of the same act punishes any act of physical intimacy between men in public or private by a term of imprisonment up to two years with the possibility of hard labor.

Human rights advocates around the world have spoken out against the violence. British pop star Elton John, a supporter of Amnesty International, has criticized the criminalization of same-gender loving in Jamaica. “It is precisely because homosexuality is a criminal offense ¦ that ordinary people feel it is OK to hate and exclude gay people. It does not take long for this hate to turn to violence.”

Jamaica, however, is not the only homophobic country in the Caribbean that has laws criminalizing consensual sex between adults of the same sex. And in Jamaica and other countries, criminalization and homophobic violence drive the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

But also fuelling the violence is the sex industry’s demand for gay sex. According to the 2004 “Knowledge, Attitude, Practice and Behaviour Survey,” commissioned by Jamaica’s Ministry of Health, there has been an increased demand for male sex workers. In 2000, males between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for only 2 percent of the sex-worker population. By 2004, the increase jumped to 6 percent, with males ages 25-49 increasing from 1.2 percent in 2000 to 15 percent by 2004. But what the report doesn’t say is that the increase in male sex workers is due to demand for gay sex from both tourists and islanders.

With Jamaica’s increased demand for both heterosexual and homosexual sex workers, women like McMillian who meet Plummer working at the hotel where she stayed often don’t know the hidden lives of their suitors.

While McMillian will not be getting her groove back with Plummer, there is no need for McMillian to now pummel Plummer for disclosing he’s gay – the very thing that closeted him in the first place.

Published in In Newsweekly, March 29, 2007. 

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