Alison Donnell (Professor of Modern Literatures in English and Head of School of Literature and Languages at the University of Reading) shares her impressions of the two-day series of event: Sexualities in the Tent in Trinidad.
Two days of events in Trinidad, Sexualities in the Tent, 12-13 July, offered a gathering point for writers, academics, activists, students and interested members of the public to explore issues around Caribbean sexual pluralism. The events, held at the National Library in Port of Spain, were a collaboration between Colin Robinson of CAISO (the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation), Rosamond S. King, Vidya Kissoon and Angelique Nixon of the Caribbean International Research Network, Gabrielle Hosein of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, St Augustine, and Alison Donnell of the University of Reading, UK whose Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship incubated and sponsored the workshop series.
The events began on Friday 12 July with a wonderful line-up of Caribbean literary readings and musical presentations on calypso and chutney music. From ‘Patricia Gone with Millicent’ to ‘VS Naipaul, the Queer Trinidadian’, the evening showed how both local and diasporic voices have rendered sexual diversity and difference as part of a Caribbean social world in ways that allow it to be unremarkable, everyday and on the inside of the Caribbean’s rich cultural and social fabric. While it is important to acknowledge the very real barriers and prejudices that face people in relation to sexual freedoms and the urgent struggles and challenges that are on-going, this event showed that it is also important to recognize and affirm that Caribbean expressive cultural forms have—for a long time—given life and voice to a whole range of ways of living and loving.
The programme for Saturday’s workshop was exceptionally content-rich and generated a day of active dialogue amongst a diverse audience. Local activist groups including CAISO, The Women’s Caucus and I am One were able to share their perspectives on the current challenges and opportunities for advocacy and change. Academics and students spoke to issues of safe spaces in the Caribbean and the diaspora, the ways in which the politics of race and class inflect sexual freedoms and the role that expressive cultural forms have in transforming attitudes. Organisations and projects that seek to coordinate developments and news across the region presented their work, including the wonderful open access resource, Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire and Belonging [http://www.caribbeanhomophobias.org/].
Saturday evening culminated in the painting of a wall mural at Bohemia. Personal testimonies, a memorial to those who died from AIDS, a bookshelf of Caribbean writings on sexuality and inspirational quotations and words created a remarkable ‘archive of feelings’.
The mix of creativity, theory and activism enabled imaginative and purposeful conversations to develop. Krystal Ghisyawan, an MPhil student at UWI, commented how “The events were great for me to share my work and share the work of others. I felt moved, inspired, excited. Having only recently come out as queer myself, this event allowed me to inhabit a space that I was still adjusting to and to engage on numerous levels. The memories of this weekend, I will carry with me for all my life.” In allowing for formal and informal encounters to unfold across two days, the events created possibilities for social exchange and it was particularly heartening that the people who were working around the workshop (on sound systems, catering and security) who might not have chosen to come as guests made a point of telling us how much they had enjoyed the poetry and what a difference this event had made to them.
The events were timed to coincide with a short course on Critical Sexuality Studies designed by the Caribbean International Research Network and delivered by the workshop organisers at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, St Augustine. [See https://www.facebook.com/events/267727086698083/?fref=ts.]
Excerpts from the workshops can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/user/igdsuwistaugustine
For a full report, see Trinidad Guardian at http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2013-07-21/gays-making-strides-quest-equality