Dr Glenville Ashby reviews Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles for Trinidad’s Guardian.
Our Caribbean: A gathering of Lesbian and Gay writing from Antilles is an eclectic compendium of abstract poetry, artistic tales and academic commentaries on the state of the gay and lesbian community in the Caribbean. Each story is telling, poignant. The writers bang against walls that have imprisoned them—shutting them off from the rest of the community.
The academic depth of Wesley Chrichlow, in particular, is near faultless. In Charting a Buller Man’s Trinidadian Past, he chronicles life as a young man nurtured in an anti-gay climate. He employs the sociological theories of notable luminaries—W E B Dubois, Henry Louis Gates and Marlon Riggs; and notable gay writer Audre Lorde. In many ways Chrichlow’s work forms the crux of this fascinating and novel undertaking, encapsulating the writers’ resentments and frustration in a world alien, even hostile. His work offers a disturbing snapshot—a psychological and sociological overview of life as a gay youth. It is a binary existence—one of near paranoia that the writer calls, “double consciousness,” or looking at oneself through the eyes of others.
Chrichlow’s pain rings through. He observes, if not reviles the effeminate homosexual, the queer—the village clown who serves up gossip and comedic antics. He recalls playing his cards right—to mask his sexuality: “During my teenage life, in an effort to temporarily secure my masculinity…I participated in events such as stealing (sugar cane, cocoa, mangoes…) breaking bottles with slingshots or stones…, engaging in physical fights, and hanging out on the block with the boys late at night.” He even cavorted with women, if only to probe into his sexuality. Chrichlow, like so many of the writers is up against a society that is entrenched in homophobia. It is promulgated by the every institution and sanctioned by religious edicts. But lesbians and gays make up a sector that should not be silenced. Unfortunately, in post colonial societies, identity crises have formulated a cultural zeitgeist based on machismo, political strongmen and the virility of the black man. While the Caribbean has sought, through revolutions, to combat racism, sexism and classism, it has failed to dismantle heterosexist views. As Chrichlow argues, the Black Power movement—while effecting positive change on one hand—has served to reinforce the stigmatisation of the homosexual. In revolutionary Cuba, as Mabel Cuesta articulates in Other islanders on Lesbos: A Retrospective Look at History of Lesbians in Cuba, garzonismo (lesbianism) is a ghostly subject, divorced or unwelcome in any discourse on women of the revolution as the writings of famed activist Mariblanca Sabas Aloma sadly indicate.
But Our Caribbean is not all laden with sociological findings. Tales of uninhibited libido race through its pages, courtesy of Pedro Jesus. His The Portrait, is a hauntingly provocative exhibit of raw sex that pours from the imagination of the protagonist onto her canvas, and into her bed. It is a sexual contagion that destroys friendships and sadly plays into the stereotypical view of the prurient, lascivious homosexual. Arguably, it goes against the overall thematic grain—but at the same time provides the most cinematographic and literary artistic undertaking. Throughout, there is an acute sense of pessimism and distrust of the so-called heterosexist establishment. Non gays and lesbians are scrutinised, even subject to reverse “discrimination.” This is best exemplified in Cuesta’s work that describes male attentiveness as suspicious. She writes of her experience building a small house with her partner: “Young men blossomed from every corner, handsome, very strong…..macho, probably promiscuous, probably abusers too.”
Maybe, they fantasised about girl on girl sex, she surmised. Admittedly, her tone is far less crestfallen at the end.
Of course, the skittish, timorous attitude of some gay and lesbians is understandable, but, as Aldo Alavarez proves in Property Values, for every venomous homophobe, there are many heterosexuals willing to fight for social equanimity—or all. Our Caribbean—although partly contextual, is an essential resource for lay and academic communities. It is offers a panorama of raging bio-psychological forces, while conjuring questions on creation and man’s proclivity to violate, injure, and even kill another solely because of sexual orientation.
A gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing From the Antilles
• Edited with an Introduction by Thomas Glave
• Duke University Press
• Durham and London 2008
• Available: Amazon.com
• Ratings: *** (recommended)
For the original report go to http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2012-07-19/book-breaks-silence-gay-and-lesbians-caribbean