Gender and Journeys in Jamaica

Bags were packed for adventure. Fetish wear and flip flops. Rope and swim suits. High heels and body paint. BeachBind here we come.

In its second year, BeachBind is a week-long bondage-themed vacation experience. You could go from novice tying to doing various suspension work over the course of the week if you went to all of the classes, or sunbathe naked and go to the shows each night on the main stage. If you wanted to tie someone from a tree next to the sea or have a massage with a cool breeze blowing over you, you can do it.

Held at Hedonism II in Jamaica, Butterfly and I were excited to go. Both of us had had Hedonism on our erotic bucket list for years, separately. A nudist and swinger hotel/experience, each night had themed parties, and nudity and sex were an option everywhere except at the restaurants. There is a health code after all. As sex-positive and sex-enthusiastic individuals, how could this not sound delicious?

Jamaica View

Chilling out at a beverage shop next to the beach.

Our flights were delayed. What was supposed to be 24 hours of travel turned out to be 31, including having one of our bags getting lost… the one that held the first copies of Essence of Shibari: Japanese Rope Bondage and Kinbaku by Shin Nawakiri that I had speed-shipped to have in time. We missed our first full day, which when the per-day fee at the all-inclusive resort costs more than my apartment in Phoenix did… it was frustrating. But after a full night of sleep, we bounced back. This turned out to be an impressive feat on other nights, as the cost of Hedonism is certainly not based on great mattresses, high thread-count, or thick walls.

Since we’d come in a few days early before the event, we spent a day exploring Negril. We visited the craft market buying local artwork and jewelry, before wandering down the beach were local kids splashed and a mama washed her child. The blue-green shone clear and beautiful, and we cooled down a bit to Jamaica time, sitting down at a Rasta man’s shop on the beach having ginger beer and juice that was pointed out to us by another guy who was proudly showing off his hemp plants.

Eventually, we made our way back to the road where we caught a cab to Rick’s Cafe, a local tourist trap where people can cliff dive while being sold over-priced drinks and greasy fried treats. We indulged in all three, to varying levels of success. Fried conch fritters – greasy but tasty, had to stop after one. Overpriced drink – we enjoyed both the papaya daiquiri and whatever else it was that we had. Cliff diving? Um… yeah.

Impromptu Swimwear

Butterfly and I wore impromptu swimwear.

We hadn’t brought swimsuits on our wanders, so we stripped down to underpants and a scarf tied precariously around Butterfly’s chest. Nervously, she talked me into diving – but I chickened out of the 35ft or the 25ft, and eventually did the 10ft. It was terrifying as I’m somewhat afraid of heights. Yup, suspension guy is afraid of heights… but I trust my rigging and those who I play with. Feet first I jumped out and dove into the water with a splash, swearing and laughing in the cool water. However, Butterfly went off the 25ft one, and the guy coaching her through it forgot to say to go in with straight legs first. With a cannonball, she got spanked in a non-consensual scene with Mama Ocean. A broken tailbone is no way to start a vacation.

Off we head to a grocery store because grocery stores are a fascinating way to learn about a local culture. How much do vegetables cost? What is the first thing you see coming into a store, and what are the tempting items in the checkout lane? Jamaica, for example, had a lot of vegan protein options in a special section (Rastafarian folks are often vegetarian or vegan), and canned cheese product. Lots of products from the US, and you have to walk through the alcohol section to get into the store itself. While there, a guy decided to “help” us around the shopping complex. “Help” in

While there, a guy decided to “help” us around the shopping complex. “Help” in this context is where a person specifically takes you around to certain stores, entertains you, finds you a cabbie and more in exchange for the expectation of a fee. This is a common practice many places, and he was a charming guy. But here comes the first gender speedbump – the sunburn.

He sees I am sunburnt and against my protests runs off to break off a bunch of aloe leaves to help. He helps me take my tank top off while I am reluctant. Eventually, while rubbing me down, he asks about my scars. Luckily, I have a simple non-transgender reason for them that I give – I had gynecomastia. It’s amazing how many guys have sympathy for someone who once had “bitch tits.” First hurdle crossed, because no matter how often I say that answer, it still feels awkward. As if I’m lying through omission. Yes, I had extra tissue on my chest – but having been assigned female at birth is not what most guys when giving that answer.

Back at the hotel, with that out of the way and in the safety of a nude resort, I stripped down. I love being nude. Cool breeze on my skin, a lack of tan lines, and just being in my flesh feels great. Usually, at events like Dark Odyssey, where I am nude, this feels fairly easy. Yes, I’m often the first “alt bodied” to strip down, I feel like it also opens a gateway. With a flat-chested, furry, man with no visible genitalia going naked, it creates an unspoken permission for people of varied gender journeys, body sizes, state of ability, and body modification to be nude too. Being nude is a form of activism.

Hedonism Sunset

The beautiful sunset from the beach.

I wish I’d had a sign I could carry over my head that read “Yes, I have a vagina.” I don’t really care about people looking. Hell, looking at nude bodies with a consumer’s eye is part of swinger culture. People consciously or unconsciously reduce people to how their bodies can be interacted with by the viewer. Seeing a furry man with no visible penis is outside the cisgender experience for many people. Having him hold a blended “Dirty Banana” beverage doesn’t help in either direction… it’s just who I was because those drinks were really tasty.

1 banana
1/2 shot coffee liquor
1 shot rum cream
half-cup milk
crushed ice
Blend and enjoy

Two major responses happened (to my body, not the Dirty Banana). One was that folks would just stare, including one guy who literally walked by while staring the entire time he approached and walked past. The other was to look, look away, and turn to someone else to say something. Only one person ever asked what was going on, a bartender who asked Butterfly if I was a boy born without a penis.

In stark comparison, the convention was lovely. The moment that I saw met Mattress_Kitten, my heart exploded with joy at her purple hair and tattoos, awkward wave and loving smile. Finding out that she is the housemate of an old friend made my heart elate with a feeling of home that Butterfly and I could feel safe in the vicinity of, and a number of the other attendees and teachers had me feeling that way. In the kink, BDSM, and rope communities, there is exposure to transgender people (whose assigned gender at birth does not correspond with their gender identity in some way) for folks who are cisgender (whose assigned gender at birth corresponds with their gender identity). They may not have deep awareness of transgender issues, but my body is not strange. It’s just another shape of body.

My classes were delicious. Opening night the hotel was still building the suspension frames under the outdoor class tent, so Butterfly and I moved my class out onto the sand under the stars, speaking on how people connect in history and in practice with rope, on magic, mystery, and a lot of practical concepts for the week.

One example is the notion of consent. In BDSM culture, this can end up as complex as multi-page checklists, extensive conversations, check in before the scene, during the scene, post-scene processing, and more (though this is not universal). At any time, consent can be revoked using a safeword, if it is heard and understood. In swinger culture, if someone pushes their knee against yours and you push back, that is often permission for a hand to follow (though this is not universal). At any time, consent can be revoked by pulling away, unless you are doing role-playing or rough sex. These two different styles were really important for folks to know if you’re going to spend a week around swingers. And the specific group of swingers there that week felt a lot like a frat party 25 years later… so it was important that folks needed to speak their no’s and have clear boundaries at the event. The con even ended up offering walking single ladies back to their rooms.

Complete with snorkel and fins, I was a terrifying sea monster.

One of my favorite things at the conference was the mermaid snorkeling trip. We loaded into two boats and took off for the open water. People with mermaid tails flipped around in the ocean while people with waterproof cameras had fun. Some people just came along for fun. I got to tie up my mermaid… as a sea monster. Because sea monsters are a serious concern for mermaids and mermen, but this one happens to be in love with a specific mermaid.

Suspending Butterfly on the nude beach in lotus position looking out to sea – amazing. We breathed in the sea breaking in our new Hempex rope (artificial fiber rope that looks and feels like hemp and floats) was delicious. The only thing that interrupted us was a woman who… brought us water when Butterfly was on the ground. How loving.

Having to fight for two straight days to be able to get clean sheets? Horrid. They change the sheets on the outdoor covered beds ever four hours, and if that bed is used when staff come by, the sheets don’t get changed. We wanted a clean sheet when we lay down, it didn’t seem like a strange request, especially if we just saw someone fuck on that bed. But no, clearly we were strange for wanting one so badly. Butterfly finally laid down the line after talking to the 6th person and now at the manager level by saying “If I don’t have clean sheets available, you can give us a free night.”

That night, they put one spare sheet in our room. We held tight to that sheet and carried it everywhere. All we wanted to do was lounge about and read our books on a clean sheet.

Hanging out by the pool that had been the home of a lot of water bondage by us and the entire conference, I ended up talking to a woman who had been coming to Hedonism for years. She told me that there were a lot of bi guys, but they get serious flack if they do any form of physical affection or guy to guy flirting in public. When we talked trans issues though, it was heartbreaking. A few years back there had apparently been a pre-op or non-op transwoman (had her phallus) who got nude in the nude pool. She had been shouted at using such language of  “fag get out of the pool” and even spat at. The person who told me talked with the trans woman that night, and told her that “not everyone here is like that.”

Butterfly stopped feeling I was safe. It wasn’t an unreasonable feeling, and my bubble of it all being in my head was burst.

God/dess by knot_head

God/dess by knot_head

In the face of all of the negative gender adventures, I ended up connecting with the fetish photographer knot_head. He had hosted a few of the sunset photo shoots, and said that my back tattoo of the Star Goddess, who dances when I dance, was beautiful in contrast to my full beard. Could he document it? The next evening we did just that. She rose from the waves as I rose from the waves. Holy Mother, in you we live, move, and have our being. From you all things emerge, and unto you all things return.

If I went again, I would go only the days of the con. I would take advantage of getting my scuba certification at a steep discount and diving. I’d kayak to the island a few more times, to eat fresh-caught local fish (make sure to bring money for the guys, but ask for only food in season so they aren’t breaking the environmental laws). I’d get another AMAZING massage out under the open-air huts. I’d spend more time in the “playroom” being naughty with my partner. I’d go to the foam party. I’d splash around more on the giant inflatable unicorn. I’d bring my own fun. I’d pack less clothing.

Seriously, kayaking was a blast – especially when I got to paddle solo while Butterfly lounged. I love being a work-horse.

Funny enough, the sex laws in Jamaica are horrid in various points. What we were doing, being nude on beaches, is technically illegal because the water and strip of beach where the water comes and goes is public property. Drugs were being sold by local folks on property and enjoyed, but drugs are illegal.

But more so, Jamaica has been described as the most homophobic country in the world because of the high amount of violence against LGBT people. Discrimination based on sexual orientation may not be specifically legalized, but it’s common, and the laws about sexual behavior don’t help. Sodomy/buggery can result in 10 years in prison, as is same-sex sexual interaction between women, making gay rights a serious issue. It’s only a drop in the water, but I’m glad that BeachBind raised $1,062 for JFLAG, the main LGBT rights organization on the island… and if you go, you should too.

I’m glad I had quality time with my partner. I’m glad for some happy memories of pool bondage and kayaks, classes and relaxation, conversations and costumes, making new friends and having a great massage (even if the gender dance there was awkward). I have sorrow that Hedonism wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it made me appreciate my various kink tribes all the more.

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Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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