The personal struggles of two gay men, living in homophobic Saint Lucia
By Sammie Altius
On this Monday morning, as Michael makes his way to the coffee stand at the Baywalk Mall in Saint Lucia, the shoppers are disrupted. His clothing is subdued and out of character for an infamously effeminate homosexual, yet, he still manages to capture not-so-discrete stares.
He waves hello as he joins Jason at the table. Lifting his left brow skeptically, Jason greets him with, “You seem… different!”
With a smile that barely reaches his eyes, Michael responds, “I’ve decided to try to change the way people see me.”
Declining a drink, he fidgets with his shirtsleeves. Today, he seems anxious and oozes a sort of restless energy that is fighting to escape.
Jason’s disposition is calm as he orders a caramel latte and almost admonishes Michael for his statement. “If you had asked me if I wanted to change five years ago, the answer would’ve been yes, but today the answer is no. My sexual orientation does not make me less of a person.”
Michael and Jason, both in their early twenties are living as gay men. Jason has migrated to the US to continue his education. It is his last day of vacation. Michael, however, lives and works in Saint Lucia. Both young men have faced prejudices because of their sexual orientation. However, by their own admission, their biggest challenge is internal.
Jason’s story begins tragically. “My first homosexual encounter was not by choice.” There’s a brief pause before he continues. “At nine, I was sexually molested.” He delivers his truth stoically, sipping his latte and immediately waves away any sympathy. “It was a long time ago.”
Wide-eyed and rapt, Michael listens on before sharing, “I don’t remember my first time. It was way back when I was 16… met this older guy…” A moment of understanding passes between them.
Sadly, these stories of molestation are very common in Saint Lucia and often times go unheard. Some even attribute sexual abuse as a cause for homosexuality. Yet, both young men maintain that they knew they were ‘different’ at a very early age.
Judgmental, closed-minded, religious—these are some of the words used to describe the Saint Lucian society. Jason remembers battling feelings of guilt and worthlessness when he first came out.
Casting his head down whilst massaging his temples, he reveals, “Coming out to my mother was the worst!” He continues quietly, like he is reliving the experience, “It took every ounce of strength and conviction in my body. I’m an only child and to this day, almost ten years later, we still don’t speak.” He chokes up on the last statement.
Traces of that young boy still linger in his sad eyes suddenly gone too bright.
Michael picks up the story, lending support, through his experience. “My mom tried to deny it. My dad never said anything, although I think there was a little disappointment. You see, he was a very famous sportsman and wanted me to carry that torch.” He confesses softly, “I’m sorry
. . . I feel very bad.”
Somewhat recomposed, Jason recalls, “It was very difficult coming out in Saint Lucia. Our generation was not hiding and as a result society was not very receptive.”
Over the years, United and Strong—a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group of Saint Lucia—has reported a few crimes against gays in Saint Lucia. Four men have been murdered and at least two visitors attacked.
As a victim himself, Jason discloses, “One of the persons who was murdered was my best friend and roommate. I received calls threatening me. People on the streets who knew us would say I was next.
I absolutely went through a long period of fear and anxiety.”
Michael’s journey, is not as violent, but is charged with another kind of anxiety. “My biggest façade is pretending that I’m not lonely. Guys don’t want to be seen with me. They don’t want the price tag.” Smacking his palm on the table, he rattles the mug and continues heatedly, “Sometimes I wish I could jump back in the closet! I’m too open, too popular!”
He attributes his loneliness to his early years as the loud gay teenager who deliberately flaunted his sexuality. “Never having a partner to come home to can be lonely. I watch gay romance films and wonder, ‘why can’t I have that?’”
Moments later, glancing at his watch, Michael instantly returns to his reality. Break is over. He reaches over and hugs Jason goodbye, who in turn pays the bill and stands to make his exit.
As he turns to leave, Michael pauses, “I keep the faith that somebody out there will be happy with me.”
He tugs on his shirtsleeves and dashes away quickly, once again catching glances from the Monday shoppers.
(Names have been changed for privacy purposes)