Lyndon K. Gill: Author mines queer Afro-Caribbean heritage

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[Many thanks to Veerle Poupeye (Critical.Caribbean.Art) for bringing this item to our attention.] Suzi Nash interviews Lyndon K. Gill for the Philadelphia Gay News, explaining that, in his book Erotic Islands (see our previous post Erotic Islands: Art and Activism in the Queer Caribbean) the author “maps a long, queer presence in the Caribbean.”

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Here are excerpts from Philadelphia Gay News:

[. . .] Born in Queens, N.Y., with the flavor of the islands at home, Gill found a way to navigate his identities as a queer man, the child of immigrants and a black man in America. Determined to bring some understanding and preserve the history and his love of his heritage, Gill has crafted a book that reveals the queer histories of Carnival, Calypso and HIV/AIDS in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Inspired by poet and activist Audre Lorde, Gill mined the heroes of his childhood and present day to explore queer Afro-Caribbean heritage. An associate professor in the Department of Africa & African Diaspora Studies, the Department of Anthropology and the Center for Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and with degrees from Stanford, Princeton and Harvard, the man knows his way around a pencil.

PGN: Describe your childhood.

LG: I grew up with my mom and my grandmother in Jamaica, Queens, in New York. I always say that I grew up with as much of the Caribbean as my mother and grandmother could impart on us. My mother came to the States when she was 9. My grandmother was a professional limbo dancer! So I got a bit of Trinidadian culture growing up. We grew up in a lower- to working-class neighborhood, mostly African American. I went from one black world to another — different registers of blackness. [Laughing] I was an only child until I was 13, then my little brother came along. So I admit I was spoiled. It was a fun existence. My grandmother was very charismatic. There were always people at her house. There were tons of friends. People who I just called Auntie Rose and Uncle so-and-so, people I later learned were actually well known [in the Calypso music world]. Touring around the world, she met a lot of people and introduced me to many of them. [. . .] I appreciated moving between the two worlds. It was beautiful, except for lunchtime as a kid. I remember dreading those conversations bringing in fried shark, which is very Trinidadian, or macaroni pie or different curries and hearing, “What is that, shark? YOU’RE EATING A SHARK?’ I remember that clearly as I learned how to navigate between worlds. [. . .]

PGN: Well, you’re not doing too shabby right now. Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University, a Ph.D. from Harvard, Princeton … Are you just trying to make the rest of us look bad?

LG: [Laughs] [. . .] I didn’t even plan on being a professor. It just sort of flowed. I think, in part, due to having a queer community that appreciated intellectual engagement from a young age and allowed me to be as gay and as fantastic as I hoped I could be. [. . .] Along the way, I started to work on my project on queer Caribbean people and went to Trinidad to find the queer community and all its different facets. It was in part a journey to find myself and it just led me to all these different places.

PGN: And now you have a finished work to talk about.

LG: Yes. The baby has been born. It came out in June and now I’m traveling around the country with my child. It has all sorts of stories in it, from a Carnival masquerade designer, Peter Minshall, to a lesbian Calypso singer Rose, and all sorts of characters.

PGN: Is that the same Rose who came to your house as a kid?

LG: Yes! Auntie Rose was a lesbian and I didn’t know it! And when I came out, she brought me a bundle of LGBT newspapers from around the country, including the PGN! It was the first time I realized there was such a big LGBT community all across the country. [. . .]

For full interview, see http://www.epgn.com/arts-and-culture/portraits/14400-lyndon-k-gill-author-mines-queer-afro-caribbean-heritage

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