Caribbean Queer: Desire, dissidence and the constructions of literary subjectivity.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: English Literature

Abstract

In the Anglophone Caribbean the question of same-sex loving is socially explosive. Consequently, there has been a focus in both academic and activist work on contesting homophobia. Such a project has an urgency that must not be denied given that the buggery laws remain widely intact and every day stories of harassment, violence and fear are reported. Indeed, Faith Smith asserts that 'the taboo of homosexuality would seem to define the present moment in the region' in her 2011 collection of essays Sex and the Citizen (2011b: 6). However, it is my perception that unless there is a more thoroughgoing challenge to what is knowable and livable in terms of sexual lives then decriminalizing homosexuality and extending sexual citizenship to LGBT peoples will not be sufficiently transformative.

As a literary critic what strikes me is how a whole range of Caribbean writers repeatedly represent queer possibilities and suggest a much more flexible understanding of what is sexually and amorously available for description. In the face of continual assumptions about the impossibility of non-heteronormative lives, my project highlights stories of sexual relations, encounters and behaviours that do not necessarily correspond to the dominant framework of 'gay liberation' but that nevertheless collectively assert the realities of queer Caribbean lives. My monograph, Caribbean Queer: Desire, dissidence and literary constructions of Caribbean subjectivity, will make an original intervention in the field of Caribbean sexuality studies by contesting heteronormativity, rather than contesting homophobia.

Because the persuasiveness of my argument lies in revealing the persistent literary disruption of sexual normativities, my book examines early works alongside contemporary ones, works that have been critically acclaimed alongside those that have received almost no attention; works by so-called LGBT writers and so-called straight writers; works that clearly articulate a guiding preoccupation with questions of sexual identification and those in which the words gay, homosexual or queer are never mentioned but which nevertheless represent the social density of Caribbean queer lives. What emerges from reading all these different works alongside each other is their collective capacity to undo the sufficiency of our inherited but invented categories of sexual description, mainly queering heterosexuality but also perhaps asking us to pause before we invest further in homosexuality and a schema of stable binaries. This work will help to shape more creative thinking among new and early career researchers as it empowers them to think in much more expansive and pliant ways. Taking these observations into conversation with other researchers in the UK and the Anglophone Caribbean, as well as with groups advocating for LGBT rights, will enable a fruitful and challenging dialogue to emerge in which the question of traditions and translations of cultural meaning will need to be addressed very directly. Public engagement with these issues is also vital and the project will use literature as a tool for opening up questions of sexual categorisation and understanding.

Planned Impact

The fact that Caribbean sexualities is a subject of heated exchange among the media, political arenas, healthcare providers and the church, as well as the general public, means that the potential non-academic beneficiaries of this fellowship are remarkably diverse and likely to be significant in numbers.

One of the central objectives of the fellowship is to communicate the world of diverse and unruly sexual identities and imaginings as it is described in Caribbean literary works within a more general conversation about how people have been defined historically and how these definitions and understandings may need to be revised in order to give due weight and affirmation to non-heteronormative people and communities who have been excluded and stigmatized. The public-facing elements of this conversation will generate public engagement with academic research as well as with a heated and urgent societal issue. The panel discussions allow for very direct engagement and conversation between different stakeholders that will be filmed for open access via the International Resource Network. The literary readings exploit the empathetic capacity that literature evokes as a tool for bridging difference and opening up new possibilities for representing and receiving ideas around sexuality. In this way, the project contributes to the cultural enrichment of all its participants.

My work during this fellowship aims to contest narrow and exclusionary ideas of Caribbean sexual normativities and to foster visibility of a diversity of voices and perspectives on this issue. In this way it aims to create the conditions for a more equal, just and positive social fabric in the Caribbean and the diaspora and therefore is beneficial to the health and culture of these locations. The collective and collaborative aspects of the fellowship aim to foster a transformative understanding of sexual diversity that makes exclusion seem unwarranted and therefore have the potential to improve social cohesion.

Publications

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Title Wall mural at Bohemia Night Gallery. Art Gallery. 33 Murray Street, Woodbrook, Trinidad and Tobago. 
Description The wall mural was the closing event of the Sexualities in the Tent workshop and was an entirely unscripted act of artistic co-production. The wall in Bohemia had been prepared and bowls of paint and brushes were scattered around. The event was advertised in the local newspapers and attended by activists, teachers, students, artists and members of the public. The mural took shape spontaneously and included personal testimonies, a memorial to those who had passed from AIDS, hand prints, quotations by Caribbean writers and artists, inspiring words, and a bookshelf of authors' names who write about sexuality. - See more at: http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2013/08/advancing-perspectives-on-caribbean-sexualities/#sthash.AhS7qq7I.dpuf 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Many of the individuals who took part in the mural project reported the positive impact of feeling part of a community activity that valued them as whole people and that encouraged [rather than disciplined] an expression of their sexuality. One participant described the event as 'a powerful and beautiful evening of celebrating our uniqueness and sharing perspectives about sexuality and identity'. The impact of this event for the tutors and students on the Sexualities Short Course was to offer an opportunity to get to know each other and to share and collaborate in the creation of knowledge that can otherwise be censored and silenced. The mural is now used an as a visual signifier of the community expression of LGBTIQ expression on the website of the Caribbean IRN. 
URL http://www.irnweb.org/regions/caribbean/
 
Description The fellowship grant enabled me to develop collaborations with Caribbean academics and activists engaged in LGBTQI research and advocacy and thereby to enrich my own work arguing for more expansive locally-defined conceptualisations of sexual behaviours and erotic attractions than those framed by a gay rights agenda based in/on the global north.

The project provided insight into the experiences and stories of many of the diverse groups within Jamaica and Trinidad's LGBT communities and thereby developed a broader context in which to read the many Caribbean literary works that represent a continuum of sexual attachments (rather than the hetero/homo binary promoted by state discourses).

The research developed a strong argument based primarily on the literary sources that the Anglophone Caribbean is a queer place as well as a homophobic one.
Exploitation Route Recognising that there is an alternative local context for understanding diverse sexualities in Anglophone Caribbean societies that exists alongside the acute homophobia that is so widely reported in the global media affords an important challenge to assumptions concerning the realities of both LGBTQI individuals and the social contexts in which they live.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://translatingcultures.org.uk/awards/fellowship-awards/caribbean-queer-desire-dissidence-and-the-constructions-of-literary-subjectivity/
 
Description The project findings led to a wall mural at Bohemia Night Gallery, an Art Gallery in Woodbrook, Trinidad and Tobago, affirming and commemorating the lives of LGBTQI citizens. The findings contributed to a short course for public servants - including teachers, healthcare workers and policemen - 'Introduction to Advancing Sexuality Studies.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Development and delivery of short course on "Critical Sexuality Studies - Theory and Practice" at IGDS, Trinidad 
Organisation International Resource Network
Department Caribbean IRN
Country Guyana, Co-operative Republic of 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I developed and delivered materials for a four hour class on biopower and sexuality on 11th July. I also participated in the introductory session.
Collaborator Contribution This four-week short course was created by 5 tutors for the Caribbean IRN (International Resource Network) in collaboration with the UWI IGDS St. Augustine Unit; and supported by The Ford Foundation and the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS). - See more at: http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2013/07/exploring-caribbean-sexualities/#sthash.bMoIfVDL.dpuf The course offered an intensive overview of the field of Sexuality Studies and addressed topics such as Research
Impact The course materials are a significant output and now freely available to any tutors who wish to teach this course. They are hosted on the Caribbean IRN website http://www.irnweb.org/regions/caribbean/. The outcomes for individuals who took the course can be assessed by their video interviews accessible at the website above. Key outcomes included a much richer and deeper understanding of the social and cultural constructions of sexual normativities and the historical pressures around colonialism and nationalism that have informed these constructions within the Caribbean. The disciplines involved were literature, history, education, law, gender and sexuality studies, cultural and social theory.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Development and delivery of short course on "Critical Sexuality Studies - Theory and Practice" at IGDS, Trinidad 
Organisation University of West Indies
Department Institute for Gender and Development (IGDS)
Country Trinidad and Tobago, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I developed and delivered materials for a four hour class on biopower and sexuality on 11th July. I also participated in the introductory session.
Collaborator Contribution This four-week short course was created by 5 tutors for the Caribbean IRN (International Resource Network) in collaboration with the UWI IGDS St. Augustine Unit; and supported by The Ford Foundation and the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS). - See more at: http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2013/07/exploring-caribbean-sexualities/#sthash.bMoIfVDL.dpuf The course offered an intensive overview of the field of Sexuality Studies and addressed topics such as Research
Impact The course materials are a significant output and now freely available to any tutors who wish to teach this course. They are hosted on the Caribbean IRN website http://www.irnweb.org/regions/caribbean/. The outcomes for individuals who took the course can be assessed by their video interviews accessible at the website above. Key outcomes included a much richer and deeper understanding of the social and cultural constructions of sexual normativities and the historical pressures around colonialism and nationalism that have informed these constructions within the Caribbean. The disciplines involved were literature, history, education, law, gender and sexuality studies, cultural and social theory.
Start Year 2013
 
Description 'CARIBBEAN SEXUALITIES' A workshop exploring desire and dissidence in the Anglophone Caribbean, 27 November 2013, University of Reading. Organised by PI. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The results of the workshop were to raise awareness about recent representations of diverse Caribbean sexualities across different disciplines and to facilitate conversations between literary critics, a social scientist, creative writers and a student audience on the topic of how best to understand and to challenge homophobia of the Caribbean and how to build alternative understandings of sexuality that are more regionally specific and do not rely on an imposed hetero/homo binary. The results of hearing Lawrence Scott and Bernadine Evaristo read was to inspire a lot of the audience to think about the impact that creative writing can have in shifting social perceptions and normative values.


The academics at this event have formed a successful but informal network for supporting activities, lectures and teaching opportunities in the field of Caribbean sexualities studies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Jamaican Cultural Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact My talk on 'Embracing Jamaican Sexualities' was part of an event was established by the artist Rachael Minott, a Jamaican born Art and History of Art finalist student at the University of Reading, as a part of her final degree show, GINDEAR 2014. The event was a forum for a number of academics from across the UK whose field of research is based on Jamaica, to speak about their work. The conference is being used as a means of educating those who might otherwise have remained ignorant to aspects

After my talk, Rachel and I discussed the topic of Jamaican sexualities more broadly and I have spoken to a colleague in History at Reading, Dr Emily West, about including Rachel's work in a planned AHRC network on Enslaved Motherhood which I am also assisting with. A film of my talk was posted on the conference website - see below - but I am not certain of any feedback sent to the conference organiser.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.jamaicanculturalconference.co.uk/#!alison-donnell-embracing-jamaican-sexua/ckev
 
Description Keynote at 'Configuring Madness in Caribbean Literature' Lie`ge, Belgium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Around 60 academics and students attended my keynote lecture for the conference 'Configuring Madness in Caribbean Literature' Lie`ge, Belgium in April 2015. My presentation was entitled 'Queer States of Mind' and, with a particular focus on Jamaica, this talk explored how the history of laws governing Anglophone Caribbean sexualities normalize the heteropatriarchal politics of church and state decrees and de-naturalize consenting human desires outside this paradigm. Reading Thomas Glave's 2013 prose meditation, 'Jamaican, Octopus' alongside Shani Mootoo's 2014 novel Walking Sideways Like a Crab I explored the potential of non-realist, non-rationalist literary works to re-engage discourses of the natural in a creative way so as to re-imagine how a queer state of mind - post-gender and even post-species - might issue a distinctive and positive challenge to models of erotic citizenship in the region.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.madness.ulg.ac.be/
 
Description Participation in Jamaica Rising Festival in Bristol. Participating in panel discussion chaired by Roger Griffin with Glave, Keon West [Goldsmiths] about homophobia and LGBTIQ rights after screening of 'The Abominable Crime' at Arnolfini on 11 October 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The panel discussion focused on the subject of homophobia in Jamaica - its often spectacular nature and how it might be combatted through awareness and education. There was a long discussion period during which the audience explored how the diasporic nature of the Jamaican community might influence these issues and there was a lively debate about the intersections of nationalism, dominant versions of masculinity, domestic violence and homophobia.

none to date but there may have been feedback after the radio programme which I am not aware of.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.ujimaradio.com/2014/10/jamaica-rising/
 
Description Talk at Long Island University, Brooklyn on Monday, Oct. 27 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact There was a very lively and highly-charged discussion after the talk concerning whose responsibility it is to bring about a change in attitudes towards LGBTIQ people and how to achieve this. Some members of the audience had grown up in Jamaica and spoke about the difficulty of challenging homophobia when it appears to be normalised and other members of the audience disputed any acceptance of this 'cultural' explanation and advocated an urgent need for young people to stand against discrimination and address the problem of homophobia directly.

After my talk, lots of audience members came to ask me for names of authors and novels so that they could go and read the works that I had referred to for themselves. A number of people reported that they were shocked to hear about the homophobia in Jamaica and that they would research this further.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.liu.edu/Brooklyn/About/News/Campus-Press-Releases/2014/October/Contemporary-Issues-Caribb...
 
Description Workshop at University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica on 'Embracing Jamaican Sexualities' initiated and organised by PI. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This workshop, organised by the PI in collaboration with Dr Annecke Marshall of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies brought together a wide range of individuals and organisations working on the topic of LGBTIQ rights. The organisations who presented include: Caribbean Dawn; Eve for Life; J-FLAG; PRIDE in action; Quality of Citizenship Jamaica; National Anti-Discrimination Alliance and J-Flag. There were also individual presentations by Taitu Heron on Gender-based Violence and the LGBT Community In Jamaica, by Dean Ellen Grizzle from UTTech Kingston on Building Tolerance in Education and a recorded presentation by Javed Jaghai on Media & questions of representation.

There was a mixed audience of educators, academics, health workers, activist, students and the general public. Participants were very frank with each other and the workshop stimulated a great deal of discussion about who among the LGBTI communities has visibility and access to media representation and who is more invisible. The reasons behind this situation were also explored - e.g. how HIV/AIDS and the repeal of the buggery law has left lesbian and bi women behind in terms of research and visibility & how class and locational politics remain key obstacles to overcome in building solidarities. The different activist groups broadly agreed that there was a need for more collaboration and information sharing. The plight of trans people was highlighted and we were able to circulate the links to Dwayne's House more widely.

The event opened with the first screening in Jamaica of "The Abominable Crime", a documentary by Micah Fink/Common Good Productions. [Jamaica, 2013] that follows the lives of LGBT individuals both in Jamaica and in exile. The event closed with a stirring and provocative reading by Thomas Glave, the American-Jamaican writer and activist and with a theatre piece by Uoptis, '"WHO AM I? MAN? LETS TALK'.






As a result of the workshop LGBT activists - both groups and individuals - were able to contact each other and to act in fuller awareness of each other's experiences and beliefs. Several participants sent written feedback to suggest the value of workshopping across different organisations and interest groups and the uniqueness of the forum that the workshop provided.

After the workshop I was able to put the filmmakers of The Abominable Crime in touch with the Caribbean section of the International Research Network which resulted in screenings in Guyana and elsewhere. I was also able to connect with colleagues in Toronto and Barbados so that screenings could be arranged in those locations.

The need to preserve anonymity in the context of the acute homophobia of Jamaica means that it is hard to gather evidence for much of the impact of this event within Jamaica. News of this event has, however, led to further invitations to speak and engage in discussions in Reading, UK as part of the Jamaican Cultural Conference; in Bristol as part of the Jamaica Rising Festival and in Brooklyn, USA as part of a panel on Contemporary Issues in the Caribbean.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://pulitzercenter.org/event/the-abominable-crime-fink-documentary-homophobia-university-west-ind...
 
Description Workshop at University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad on 'Sexualities in the Tent', 12-13 July 2013, initiated and organised by PI. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The different activities of the two-day workshop generated different results. The evening session on Friday 12 July was open to the public and focused on creative expressions of plural sexualities with calypso, literature and performance poetry. This busy session resulted in increased awareness of the existing range of Trinidadian cultural outputs that have already articulated a range of sexual possibilities and help to contest the idea of queer impossibility within the Caribbean region. The Saturday day-time session was a closed session of invited participants and offered a forum to share thoughts and work with others through presentations by academics, researchers, activists, service providers and NGOS in the field of LGBT and sexualities study. The workshop had no pre-planned outcomes but it did lead to future collaborations and publications.


As a result of the events, lots of people commented on how valuable it had been to them in terms of raising awareness and improving understanding.

The presentations given at the workshop were all individually filmed and are archived on the IGDS website where they can be viewed on an open access basis- see below.

The events were discussed on the national tv show 'The G Spot' - see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a93LJovVZO4
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.youtube.com/user/igdsuwistaugustine/search?query=sexualities+in+the+tent