Centring LGBTQ Experiences in the Anglophone Caribbean
- Published: June 2020
Beyond Homophobia: Centring LGBTQ Experiences in the Anglophone Caribbean aims to disrupt the conventional rendering of the Caribbean as uniquely and deeply homophobic by focusing on the experiences and agency of LGBTQ people in the region.
Presenting a wide range of perspectives and approaches, this book grew out of presentations at two groundbreaking events on the Jamaican campus of the University of the West Indies: a symposium discussing LGBTQ experiences and research in Jamaica, and a conference that expanded the focus to provide a regional scope. Activists, artists and academics came together to challenge and change the narratives about LGBTQ issues in the Caribbean, exploring sexualities, gender identities and queer practices beyond the discourse of violence, as well as the stereotypes, assumptions and limitations presented by conventional norms around gender and sexuality.
Beyond Homophobia combines a variety of academic disciplines with poetry and prose. Its contributions move from cyberspace to the dancehall, from literary analysis to ethnographic research, from pedagogical to methodological concerns, and from thoughts on the past to ideas about the future. The collection presents a range of perspectives on and techniques with which to interrogate notions of identity, sexualities, victimhood, agency, activism, fluidity, fixity, visibility, invisibility, class, homophobia, coming out, belonging and spirituality.
By illuminating the lives, experiences, and research of and about the queer anglophone Caribbean, this volume represents a concerted attempt to move Beyond Homophobia.
Moji Anderson and Erin C. MacLeod
Part 1. Centring Praxis
Tales from the Field: Myths and Methodologies for Researching Same Sex–Desiring People in the Caribbean
Nikoli Attai, K. Nandini Ghisyawan, Rajanie Preity Kumar and Carla Moore
Inclusion of LGBTQ Students in Jamaican Teacher Education: Religiosity, Respectability and Resistance
Carol Hordatt Gentles and Vileitha Davis-Morrison
Level 5: Betwixt and Between “Homophobia” in Trinidad and Tobago
Keith E. McNeal
Part 2. Queering the Spiritual, Queering the Artistic
I Am a Messenger: Spiritual Baptism and the Queer Afterlife of Faith
Lyndon K. Gill
A Symphony in Four Movements: Religion, Syphilis and Homosexuality in Marlon James’s John Crow’s Devil
Anna Kasafi Perkins
The Sodom of the New World: A Queer Claim to Historical Belonging
Iconicity and Eroticism in the Photography of Archie Lindo
Brave “Battymen” and the (Im)Possibilities of a Straight Dancehall
Part 3. Telling Stories, Finding Self
In Search of the Dead: (Un)Marked Graves and the Sea of We
“What a Writer Is”: A Presentation Given at the Beyond Homophobia Conference
Part 4. Activism and Action
Toward a Working-Class Queer Agenda and Leadership in Jamaica
Adwoa Onuora and Ajamu Nangwaya
Pride, Vulgarity and Imagination
So: Queer Life Beyond and Against Homophobia
- 2021, Choice Outstanding Academic Title
- 2021, Bronze prize, LGBTQ+ NON-FICTION category, Independent Publisher Book Awards
- Award-Winning Finalist in the LGBTQ Non-Fiction category of the 2021 International Book Awards
Perhaps, nigh on twenty-odd years ago when, on a quiet afternoon in Kingston, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) was formed, it wasn’t possible, at least for those of us in J-FLAG’s small but determined and dedicated founding group, to envisage an anthology like this one, centred on the ideal of moving – literally, intellectually, artistically and politically – beyond the grim and grinding realities of anti-queer bigotry that many of us had come to know (and sometimes chosen to ignore or forget about but very often chosen to resist fiercely) in our varying parts of the Caribbean region and beyond, including our many diasporas and even beyond them, far out across this ever vaster-than-vast world.
Perhaps, concerned as we were in those days with what one might call “triage” work in Jamaica’s hostile environment (and any honest person scornful of revisionist, blissful nostalgia, especially any who lived in Jamaica at that time or worked with J-FLAG or our then-host, the manna-from-heaven Jamaica AIDS Support organization, will know and recall exactly what I mean), we couldn’t even begin to think of such future possibilities, although preoccupied as we were with the daunting business of clearing more Jamaican and Caribbean space in which we and future generations could simply breathe, become and (blessedly or otherwise) be, we may well have been dreaming of what then might have seemed unenvisionable. And so it may also have been, dream-wise, for the redoubtable (and always unflappable) Larry Chang twenty years before us, when he, virtually on his own, founded Jamaica’s first-ever queer organization, the Gay Freedom Movement, in 1978, a mere sixteen years after Jamaica’s 1962 independence from Great Britain: the colonial power that, apart from its ongoing obsession with rawhide whips, genocide and rape, was also largely responsible for the Christian-based cruelty and ignorance, including hatred and fear of gender nonconformity and sexual difference, that had long throttled its colonized realms. In the late twentieth century, but still twenty years before our turn-of-the-century J-FLAG time, Larry Chang may indeed have been dreaming with the intention of bequeathing his dreams to us and those who came after. But how could any of us know? For here we are now, at the annunciated birth of this anthology Beyond Homophobia. And so it is.
When regarding this collection and its preceding Jamaica-located queer gatherings, celebrations, ceremonies and conferences, we might well feel a range of emotions similar to those we register when we observe the progress of history and of humanity in general. For as we know, even at this time in the early twenty-first century, the emergence of an anthology such as this one and the political struggles and humanistic work that cleared innumerable paths and engendered – provoked and demanded – increasingly more broad-minded and imaginative Caribbean gender- and sexuality-related discourses exorcised of fundamentalist dogma and general narrowness, cannot and must not be taken for granted, any more than the incisive work contained in this volume can or should be taken for granted. This anthology braves more steps, in fact more leaps, in reminding us by way of its reflective contents that we must not risk dishonouring our present, our very selves and the (now more than ever) increased possibilities of our futures by disremembering, to invoke Toni Morrison’s piercing word, the fiercely engaged on-the-ground struggles of our past, during which a collection such as this one and the conferences that preceded it might well have been considered luxuries beyond imagining. Yet we also know that nearly everything that has not been entirely imagined, including human beings, can always be envisaged and breathed into existence, as when our own primordial sun, indifferent to millennia of grousing rumbles far beneath it, declined for its own reasons to imagine the formation of particular islands and even entire archipelagos of desire, until the fury of volcanoes blasted them (and to some degree us) out of the sea.
So it was no doubt remembering that flaming-but-aloof sun and the irate volcanoes, while also recalling the immortal sea out of which we each once crawled, either on two legs or four, and to which on similar legs we shall someday return, that on a cool January evening in 2017, on the campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Mona, while awaiting Rinaldo Walcott’s keynote address, attendees of the Beyond Homophobia conference and others sat together as an audience and listened. We listened to the university’s walrus-voiced Principal Archibald McDonald’s welcoming remarks, during which he stated that the UWI at Mona unequivocally “support[s] this conference . . . [that] drives home the idea that hate and discrimination do not belong within our society, especially within a learning institution that is aligned with global ideals of inclusion, diversity and understanding”. The gathered people listened as he insisted that “as an institution, we are committed to diversity and inclusion, and . . . [to] support[ing] our fellow scholars and colleagues regardless of how they identify their gender or sexuality”. We listened as he stressed that “the message that we wish to impart as a learning institution is that we are one community . . . [and that] sex, gender or sexual identity should not exclude anyone from our group”. We listened as he thanked several university departments and J-FLAG for their work that had made the conference (and now, by extension, this anthology) possible. Did any of us in the new-born J-FLAG twenty years ago ever dream that we would one day hear the esteemed principal publicly welcome the presence of a queer conference on Jamaican soil, convened at the exalted UWI, no less? UWI’s campus, less than a mile from the University of Technology on the campus of which only five years earlier, in 2012, two male students had been beaten almost to death by their enraged fellow students and by campus security guards (as can still, as of this writing, be viewed in online videos) who believed the two men were homosexuals who had been having sex in a public campus bathroom. Did some of us absorbing the walrus-voiced principal’s words, recalling the UTech violence and local reactions that had ranged from frank approval to outrage and condemnation of it, tremble slightly in both joy and sadness – and maybe with a little disbelief – as we listened to his warm welcome and wished, sometimes with tightly closed eyes, that those who we had known and loved, who one quiet night might have been machete-chopped up or shot dead, or who had taken their own lives during the long years of struggle, but also those who had celebrated and triumphed with us but weren’t present on that cool January evening, could have been there to hear for themselves? For surely the principal’s words brought to mind then, and conjure still, Jamaica’s much-quoted but often (sometimes brutally) disregarded motto, “out of many, one people”, applied in this regard to all of our Caribbean. Applied to everyone. To all of us. Everywhere.
In application to everyone everywhere, and especially to those most vulnerable, must the lofty Jamaican words be made flesh linked with spirit, solidified into and through the sacred terrains of safeguarded and honoured flesh. For it is and can only be through such honouring and safeguarding, as attested to and illustrated throughout this anthology’s pages and for which its presence and title claim fully deserved human space – the invaluable space of speaking and self-naming that undergird and are self-declaration – that the living, breathing bodies of the nation and the territory, the bodies that traverse daily life across and through the mountains and the cities and the rain forests and the villages, the bodies that are inimitably our own and those of innumerable others, are valued, brought into clear vision and actualized in the centring of LGBTQ experiences within and beyond the Caribbean: experiences lived and narratives recounted beyond gender binaries and the pitfalls of ignorance that make human stupidity and retrogression possible.Yet far beyond retrogression and ignorance beckon once more the words “honouring” and “safeguarding”: useful tools for the journey onward through our era and all those to follow.
In preparation for its own journey, regard how easily this book rises to its feet and, unrestrained by glares or glances or even raised eyebrows of the past, walks forward, all the while craning its neck upward as if seeking somewhere in the eternal firmament a shower of cooling stars, a rainfall of silver light or perhaps merely yet another shower of remarkably brazen flowers, their eyelids once more painted the outrageous gold that remains beloved by those who, similarly prepared, have always known the source of both the colour and the gleam. This book, all of its pages. Walking forward. Now walking faster. Now running –Thomas Glave