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IntoleranceandLoveinJamaica
Lives
ByBRYANWASHINGTON JULY15,2016

Iwenttotheislandforafamilyreunion.AndwhileIdalreadyhithighschool,Id
neverseenJamaica,soIflinchedattheshoutsoncetheairportcameintoview,
andthenagainatalltheclappingoncewefinallyhitthetarmac,andIthought,So
thehellwhat.Wevelanded.Bigdeal.Buttheladysittingbesidemesqueezedmy
arm,asiftosay,Isntthismarvelous.Shetoldmeshewashome.ShetoldmeI
washome.
IdheardstoriesaboutthesituationforqueerfolksinJamaica,buttheywere
hardtoputinperspectiveIhadnothingtocomparethemwith.Ilivedina
smalltowninTexas.Idhavesoonersetmyselfonfirethancomeout.Idnever
seenapairofgaypeople,andIhadyettofindtheminbooks,sothenotionofa
happyendingfeltprettyamorphous.Likesomepotattheendofthiscamouflage
rainbow.
Myfamilymetupatanauntshousetuckedinthehills.Iknewmostoftheir
facesthewayyouknowBenjaminFranklinsorFridaKahlos.Theyaskedallthe
questions,theypokedatmystomach.Theygotonmeforstayingawayforso
long.
Werodeabusfromonecoasttotheother.Idneverseensomanyblack
peopleinmylife,andbeachesyouwouldntbelieve.Bythemiddleofthetrip,
wedreachedthecountryseasterntip,andourridepulleduptosomeshantieson
theshore.Anunclehadbeenbraggingaboutsomeplaceheknew:perfectlyclear
water,sandthatwouldknocklikefouryearsoffyourface.Sowewereunloading
thebus,rentingtheraftstotakeusoutthere,whenIsawthetwomendragginga

boatinthesand.
Onehadsandyhair.Theotherguywasblack.Theyhadthesefatsmileson
theirfaces.Anoldermantrailedbehindwiththerope.Theyoungerdudes
saunteredrightbyus,chatteringaway,andthenpaddledintothesea.
Iknewtheyweretogether.Dontevenaskmehow.Therewerentany
obvioustellstheyjustlookedtoohappy.Andoutintheworld.Itwaswarmto
watch,likeelectricity,asifIdseenthelastdinosaurs.
Myfamilysplitintorafts,kickingatthestonesscatteredonthefloorofthe
boatbeneathus,andwedmadeitmaybehalfwaytothespotwhenthethreemen
caughtuptous.Theoldestoneheldtheoar,andtheblackguyheldthewhiteguy
betweenhisarms.Theywereontheirownlittleplanet.Ikeptmyeyesonthem,
willingthemonward,andthatswhenthesmilingunclebesidemethrewtherock.
Itwasfollowedbyasecond.Whichwasfollowedbyathird.Anauntbehind
mebooed.Someonecalledoutforthebattyboysshiptosink.Thepairinthe
boatdidntevenlookup,buttheoldmantookthecueandsteeredthemaway.
Whenwemadeittotheoppositeshore,thesandwasbleachwhite.They
wererightaboutthewateryousawthepebbles,fishandall.IfiguredIdmake
themostofit,dunkmyselfwhileIcould,becausenowaywasIcomingbackto
theisland,asitclearlyhadnouseforme.
ExceptIchangedmymind,eventually.ItwasntsomethingIplannedon.But
whoreallycutsthecordontheirorigins?Andso,whenIwasincollege,Iflewto
Jamaicacheap,undertheguiseofayouthvolunteerracket.BythetimeI
wonderedwhatIwasdoing,wedlandedinMontegoBay,andIwaslostinthat
applause.OnlynowIwasready.IknewwhatIwaslookingfor.Thequestionwas
whetherIcouldbelonghere.Ineededsomethingtoprovemewrong.
InKingston,Isawskinnywomenandskinniermenlinkedatthehip.In
OchoRios,localsthrewthemselvesattheheelsofwhitetourists.Ilookedfor
misgivingsinpattyshackssprinkledalloverthecity,andinstallsliningthe
markets.Buttherewerenohornstuckedincaps.Nodeviltailspeekingfrom
skirts.Wesleptwellandatebetter.Welaughedforwholedays.Andfinally,one
night,wespenttheeveningplayingdominoes,watchingthelocalssinkintothe
foldsofthebeach,whenIspottedthemonlythesecondpairofoutgaymenId

seeninmylife,lopingalongtheendofalonglineofsunbathers.
Oneguyjuggledaplatefuloffish.Theotherdudewastalking,gesticulating
wildly.Somebystandersgavethemlooks,andIcurledmytoesfortheshoutsto
come,theasskickingsuretobefallthem.
Butnothinghappened.Onewomaninastringbikinismiledatthetwoof
them.Ourshuttledrivershruggedandslappedadominoacrosstheboard,having
noopinioneitherway.Mostpeoplejustdidntcare,andthemenpassedinpeace.
Theywereonewiththecrowd.
Lightningdidntstrikethem.Thesundidntimplode.Themenmadetheir
waytothebar,navigatingtheedgeofthepier.AndIwatchedthemtrekupthe
beach,untiltheypassedusontherampart,andtheguybesidemenudgedmy
shoulder.Itwasmyturntomove.
BryanWashington,23,divideshistimebetweenHoustonandNewOrleans.Heis
workingonacollectionofshortstories.
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AversionofthisarticleappearsinprintonJuly17,2016,onpageMM28oftheSundayMagazinewith
theheadline:CouldYouBeLoved?.

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