BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
THEY are anything but subtle, the group of about 30 males who gather regularly by the side of the road in the heart of New Kingston on Friday and Saturday nights, their voices as loud as their thick make-up, wigs, tight jeans, 'belly-skin' baby tees and body suits.
Ignoring the stares from shocked and, in some cases, disgusted passersby, the 'girls' — as they call themselves — are playfully affectionate, laughing as they make frequent, lewd references. Vehicles slow as drivers try to get a closer look, while passing pedestrians fix their gazes on the odd gathering until they move out of sight.
Some of these men are cross-dressers — commonly referred to as drag queens. They are homosexuals and they are prostitutes, and this — the capital city's economic hub — is their stomping ground.
Their presence has aroused fear, rage and disgust among some residents of the upscale community.
"Over the last 12 months, the number of men and young boys gathering at the park across from the former SuperPlus store on Trafalgar Road has grown. We believe that certain elements of the society are taking a stand to exercise their rights to be naked and carry on with other activities in public," wrote one such resident on August 1, who asked that his name not be used for this publication.
The writer said that the males were engaging in lewd sexual activity in public and that his entreaties to the police to put an end to it had borne no fruit. He reported that he and others had been harassed by these men.
"This morning (August 1), upon driving with my sons (past the area), we were flagged down by these men and boys. Ten minutes ago, I called the police who informed me that since 8:00 am (it is now 10:06 am) they have been receiving calls about these activities. Since it is a holiday, the police officer explained that it is just an extension of the activities that take place every month-end weekend over the last year."
"Apparently, there are a number of abandoned homes in New Kingston/Trafalgar Park where these men have captured and live. They then simply walk down the street and frolic naked in the park," he complained.
The Sunday Observer recently made several Friday night trips to this popular haunt where we found these societal outcasts surprisingly willing to talk about their lifestyles and how they wound up on the streets.
While the only names we were given were pseudonyms, such as 'Nicky' and 'Angel', they had no problem preening for this reporter's benefit as they transformed themselves from male to pseudo-female right there on the side of the street.
Their dainty gestures defied the traditional definition of masculinity as they applied each others' make-up. Most of them said they were hairstylists and manicurists and had obviously thought out their wardrobes, down to the handbags swinging from their arms, giving the impression, certainly from a distance, that they were females.
While the Sunday Observer watched, the 'girls' waited for willing buyers — eager to make a 'sale'.
They claimed their clientele was wide and varied, and included "the same policeman dem who come a run wi dung and a beat wi".
"You have all sort a big people — lawyer, doctor, all sort of man who come here. Nuff married man come, too," one of them, dressed in a close-fitting T-shirt and super-tight jeans, said.
One teenage boy told of his experience of being picked up one night by a man and his wife, who took him to the couple's uptown home.
Another interjected, "Listen carefully! A lot of thugs are homosexuals and a lot of (con)ductor boy a gay. Them come up here and deh wid the whole a di boy dem and then you see when dem same one see wi on the road, dem start shout out 'bullet, bullet!' and we can't open our mouth and say anything."
While some said they were just out to hang out with their friends of like persuasion, this was no social gathering for others; it was a place of work. For some of these male prostitutes, the 'clients' they picked up on this corner were their only means of survival, and the streets, in some cases, a home for the homeless among them.
"They have been chased from their homes, chased from their communities and so they see no way to eat," volunteered one man, who was appointed group spokesperson, when asked why they chose to live this way.
"Hungry not easy, and some will do anything to eat. They can't get any work 'cause nobody not employing them and they don't have any family, so what they going to do? Some just see the 'b' business as their only way out."
They said for days some members of the group are on the street without food, unless they make a 'sale' or have a friend willing to share with them.
"Some 'gyal' out here prostitute themselves fi all $30. Some for $100 or for $200. Some, is not want they want to do it, but dem family put dem out an' dem have to do it," one of them declared.
They said not everyone among them benefits from the illicit trade.
"Some of us out here have it hard, hard, hard. Some persons might get to stay with friends and so forth, but some of the friends dem, if they not having sex with you, or if you not cleaning their house or do things like those, you can't stay with them. So, for you (some males) now who use to live wid you mother and (then) come on the road, you not going to agree with the lifestyle, you understand? So certain people not going to stoop to that. So it very struggling," said one of them.
Pointing towards the large group chatting gaily and laughing raucously nearby, one young man said that most were living on the streets and had nowhere to go. Some of them were under the legal age of consent.
"The youngest one out here is 15 years old. She (he) go school, but because is holiday now she just come out here. She have her family. You see because she small in body, them (family) don't really pay it nuh mind, but you see as she grow up now and so forth, she soon have to leave the community.
"Her family don't really know about her lifestyle yet because she little bit and real (masculine) and so, they still look at her as a child. And you see because she can't express herself at her home, she really come out and hang out with her friends dem," the young man said.
While some said they had been forced out of their homes by disapproving families and communities for being gay, others told stories of being indoctrinated into the lifestyle by 'dons' and thugs from their inner-city neighbourhoods.
Others said they ended up prostituting themselves on the streets of Kingston because they had no one to turn to for financial support. Some said they had been involved in gay unions but had to flee their homes for fear of their lives after violent break-ups with their partners. Some of them claimed to be high school graduates with passes in a number of subjects, and some even had jobs at one time.
"You have people out here who have to leave them good, good job. You have nuff teenage gays, 19 and 20 years old with them subjects and can't get nuh work because of the (gay) lifestyle. You know how much people up dere so have six and seven subjects?" one member of the group said.
Their trade is a growing one.
"Me new to the business," one teenager declared, laughing. "Ah just April me come in it." His laughter belied his painful past. He explained that he was put out by his family when they found out he was gay.
"Being on the road is not nice," another declared.
"Being homeless in Jamaica, an anti-gay country, puts a whole lot of pressure on us. Some of them stress out," he said, pointing towards the gradually expanding group of young men who had gathered that Friday night.
Another, who said he was 27 years old, told the newspaper: "We stress out, 'cause sometimes when we haffi walk from here so to downtown, (when) man run wi down."
In fact, this was later said to be the reason that they often acted boisterously and lashed out at strangers and passersby; because they feel that anyone who stares at them is a potential threat, so they strike first and take comfort in strength in numbers.
They admitted that they were often chased, not just because they were gay prostitutes, but because they had taken to dressing as women; some with the deliberate intention of fooling their 'clients' into thinking they are of the feminine sex.
"We haffi a drag and a dress up like girls fi ketch man fi get money to eat. We haffi a do a lot of things," one cross-dresser said. Another very outspoken drag queen who was skilfully applying make-up explained that on a good night he can make up to $16,000.
During the interview, a heavily tinted vehicle pulled up alongside a group of the cross-dressers who were standing a short distance away.
"You see what a telling you 'bout the lifestyle, now?" asked one of the young men in the group who consented to speak with the Sunday Observer.
"The car come pick them up, them go do prostitution and then come back. Sometimes, they will stop and eat on the road, and so forth."
Senior Superintendent Derrick Knight, who is in charge of the Half-Way-Tree police, told the Sunday Observer that he has received complaints about the men and their behaviour and his team is actively pursuing the matter. "We keep running them away from the location but they keep returning," he said.
"We have made arrests and we are using our moral persuasion to get them to comply (with the law). But if they are not committing an offence there is nothing that the police can do," he added.
He said some have been arrested for loitering, causing public disturbances, and disorderly conduct. He urged that any assault on a citizen by these men be reported as this would allow the offenders to be prosecuted.
However, he was very aware that the matter is a very sensitive one, given that many of these males are street people.
The fact that they squat in abandoned buildings in the commercial and residential district does nothing to dampen one New Kingston resident's fury. He complained that petty theft is on the rise in the communities surrounding the area and linked it to them.
"Anything that can be sold is removed. Plants, male undergarments left on the clothes line, construction materials, garden furniture, etc," the Sunday Observer reader said.
He said he, his family and his neighbours are angry that they are made to contend with these males and their lifestyle.
"The way I see it is a matter of rights. When you choose to take drugs or engage in an alternative lifestyle, why must others suffer? These people are human, yes. So are the hard-working people who live in the areas. So are the helpers, gardeners, children, students of Ardenne High School, patients of the doctors on Trafalgar Road, workers of JMMB, NCB, RBC, New Kingston Shopping Centre. So are the people who walk to Emancipation Park," he argued.
"J-FLAG and all the others are doing their job to speak out about abuse. Yet, no one speaks for the innocent victims of drug addicts and of persons who want to carry on naked in public. If it were men and women or men and young girls in the parks and gullies of New Kingston, you would see everyone speaking out about loose morals," he wrote.