Jamaica Yes Problem

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Maintaining these covert lives isn't without hazards. Battered by conflicted and uncertain emotions, many gay Jamaicans collapse under the weight of the secret they're hiding. They burn with anger at being labeled sodomites, at being equated with thieves, killers, and drug addicts. They live in dread of abandonment by family, harassment from employers, scorn from friends. There's denial, and plenty of guilt, but it's tempered by occasional rushes from the illicit pleasure of living clandestinely.

It's too stiflingly hot and muggy near Fisher's pool for commiserating. The air conditioning and the Olympics offer a refined contrast to the brutality outside. Retreating into the kitchen feels like returning to civilization's base camp after a slog through the rain forest. But the civility is short-lived: before the afternoon is old, Fisher gets a nasty taste of homophobia from an unlikely source. An old friend, a woman from Jamaica who served as both protector and playmate when he was a child, has been trying to contact him. Forty-eight-year-old Beverly has lived in New York for years now, but she capably illustrates how hard those old habits die. In fact, she makes it clear they don't die at all.

They grow fangs.

After playing phone tag for a few days, Beverly has had a chance to absorb Fisher's outgoing message, which reveals that two men live there. When she puts two and two together, she calls back to allow her incredulous brother to hear the damning outgoing message for himself. Except, unbeknownst to them, they fail to hang up the phone when they're finished, and Fisher's machine records their "private" conversation.

"How could two men live in the same house?" Beverly is heard asking, her voice rising to an alarmed, angry pitch. "Two men should have different phones in these technological times." Fisher is labeled everything from a battyman to a bumboclaat. "I'm sick in my ras brain!" she cries. "All these years, the way he would talk an' carry on," she continued, "I should have known!"

"That was a very vitriolic message," whispers Fisher, brow creased with concern. Always jovial and quick with good-natured insults and comebacks, the laugh's been knocked out of him, and even though the subject matter has been serious all day, he's careful never to misplace his perma-grin. For those not versed in pissy, long-distance patois, Fisher translates the gist of her feelings: "You motherfucking faggot. You have all this money but no kids to leave it to, and that's disgusting."

Fisher suddenly looks like he's taken a punch to the gut, realizing his friendship with someone he's known nearly all of his 42 years is in ashes essentially because of the person he is. Of course, he can't change that.

"I've ripped my clothes for her," Fisher says. "She's dead to me." If Beverly ever does call back, he says, he'll simply play back the message she doesn't know she inadvertently left and let that speak for itself.

On second thought, Fisher concedes, maybe it will take longer for the island to change. "We won't see it my lifetime," he now thinks. "But I haven't given up on Jamaica."

Keith Hollar contributed to this article.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton