by Angelique V. Nixon
Love | Hope | Community: Sexualities & Social Justice
Special Collection by the Caribbean IRN & Sargasso
Rosamond S. King, Lawrence La Fountain Stokes,
Katherine Miranda, and Angelique V. Nixon
Background & Purpose
Movements for sexual citizenship and equal rights for sexual minorities across the region (particularly in the Anglophone but also in the Dutch, French, and Spanish Caribbean) are growing and have garnered local and international media attention. Scholarship and cultural representations on these topics are also greatly expanding, including works that seek to make comparisons across enormously varied experiences, encompassing a variety of languages, colonial traditions, forms of political sovereignty, and relationships with diasporic populations. With recent court cases challenging discriminatory laws and the backlash and frenzy over a so-called “gay lobby” in the region, we are at a crucial juncture of visibility, misrepresentation, anti-sexual minority violence, increased activism, lawsuits, and ongoing survival. It is a vital time to respond to recent events critically and from myriad perspectives, as well as to reflect on these movements, make interventions, fight against misrepresentation and violence, and share strategies for community building and solidarity.
This special collection by Sargasso and the Caribbean International Resource Network (IRN) offers different reflections and perspectives on these issues. The editors posited these questions for contributors to consider: What is the landscape of sexual minority activism across the region? Who are the regional activists and what are the most recent developments? How are these issues being represented in the media, popular culture, and cultural productions? How do we build community, forge resistance to violence and discrimination, and at the same time, demand equal rights and treatment under the law? Where is our hope and love in building community? We envisioned a diverse, multilingual, expansive collection of critical essays, activist reports, interviews and profiles, creative writing, and other works that would reflect on the struggle and movements for sexual justice in the Caribbean. As with the Caribbean IRN’s first collection Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire, and Belonging (2012), we seek to disrupt the divide between academia and community, while locating theories and knowledge in multiple sites, discourses, and local voices.
We see this issue of Sargasso building on and expanding the rich bibliography that is already available, including pioneering works by M. Jacqui Alexander, Carlos Decena, Thomas Glave, Kamala Kempadoo, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Mark Padilla, Omise’eke Tinsley, Gloria Wekker, and this volume’s coeditors. We follow the spirit of edited volumes such as Rosamund Elwin’s Tongues on Fire: Caribbean Lesbian Lives and Stories (Women’s Press, 1998), Thomas Glave’s Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles (Duke University Press, 2008), special issue of Caribbean Review of Gender Studies on Sexual Desires, Rights, and Regulations (2009), and Kofi Campbell’s The Queer Caribbean Speaks: Interviews with Writers, Artists, and Activists (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). And we build on comparative analyses such as Omise’eke Tinsley’s Thiefing Sugar: Eroticism between Women in Caribbean Literature (Duke University Press, 2010) and Rosamond S. King’s Island Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination (2014), which see the value of placing a diversity of authors (and languages, cultures, and traditions) in conversation across the Caribbean.
At the same time, this volume includes an important number of contributions focusing on the Puerto Rican experience, reflecting Sargasso’s location of publication. As such, this volume also comes into dialogue with pioneering Puerto Rican queer studies anthologies and edited volumes such as Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora coedited by David Caleb Acevedo, Moisés Agosto, and Luis Negrón (San Juan: Editorial Tiempo Nuevo, 2007) and the special issue of CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (19.1, Spring 2007) coedited by Luis Aponte-Parés, Jossianna Arroyo, Elizabeth Crespo-Kebler, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, and Frances Negrón-Muntaner. We very much hope that this issue will be of interest and value in Puerto Rico as much as in the rest of the Caribbean.
The contributions in this issue offer rich reflections, particularly on select locations (Dominican Republic, Grenada, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago). While no single publication can do justice to the rich and complex diversity of the Caribbean and its diasporas, we hope this issue inspires others to present publications that expand on the topics we have included, as well as focus on other areas in need of attention. The editors encourage readers to explore important publications focusing on Cuba and its diaspora (explored in detail in books by Jafari Allen, Emilio Bejel, Susana Peña, Abel Sierra Madero, and Noelle Stout, to only mention a few); Jamaica (the focus of Thomas Glave’s work); and the French and Dutch Caribbean (discussed by Mimi Sheller, Omise’eke Tinsley, Vanessa Agard-Jones, and Gloria Wekker, among others).
Love | Hope | Community has been edited collaboratively by representatives of the Caribbean IRN and the Sargasso editorial board. Rosamond S. King is a creative and critical writer and artist who teaches at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York. Her book Island Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination (University of Florida Press, 2014) received the Caribbean Studies Association Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Prize for the best Caribbean Studies Book. Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is a scholar, writer and performer and directs the Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His book Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) addresses Puerto Rican queer culture and migration. Angelique V. Nixon is a writer, scholar, and activist, born and raised in The Bahamas, who teaches at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago. Her book Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture (University Press of Mississippi, 2015) investigates the sexual-cultural politics of tourism. Katherine Miranda studied and currently works in the English Department at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, and is a contributing editor of Sargasso.
A number of the editors had known each other previously and interacted in a variety of contexts (for example, at LGBTQI events at the Audre Lorde Project in New York City and at the University of Puerto Rico). A key moment for us was coming together to participate in a roundtable moderated by Kamala Kempadoo at the 2015 American Studies Association conference in Toronto. That rich conversation (which spilled over into food and drink) deepened our professional and personal connections. The audience’s enthusiastic engagement with our presentations and the lively debate that ensued signaled the vitality and crucial need for these exchanges, particularly for discussions that highlight positive strategies of resistance and showcase the significant gains achieved across the region in the midst of at times bleaker journalistic coverage.
Collaboration: Caribbean IRN & Sargasso
The Caribbean’s expansive and complex specificity, entailing a variety of European and creole languages, cultural experiences, and diasporic populations, results in challenges and limitations in communication and at times limited knowledge about what occurs throughout the region. Collaborations between different organizations is one way to try to address these complexities in a productive fashion. This is the guiding spirit of this issue.
The Caribbean Region of the International Resource Network (Caribbean IRN) connects academic and community-based researchers, artists, and activists around the Caribbean and in the diaspora in areas related to diverse sexualities and genders. The IRN was an internet-based project located on the web, originally created by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY). The Caribbean IRN’s projects and archive can be found on our blog: http://caribbeanirn.blogspot.com/.
The Caribbean IRN published its first collection Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire and Belonging – at www.caribbeanhomophobias.org – in June 2012. This online multimedia collection of activist reports, creative writing, critical essays, film, interviews, music, and visual and performance art offered ways to define and reflect on the complexities of homophobias in the Caribbean, while also expanding awareness about Caribbean sexual minority lives, experiences, and activism in the region and its diaspora. The collection received strong attention and positive feedback, and it remains a great resource for artists, activists, teachers, scholars, and community-based researchers.
For this second collection, titled Love | Hope | Community: Sexualities and Social Justice in the Caribbean, the Caribbean IRN and Sargasso collaborated in order to have both a printed and online regional journal as well as a multimedia online space to continue and expand the conversations about LGBTI communities and voices in the region. The editors from the Caribbean IRN were particularly interested in collaborating with Sargasso given its long and well-recognized history as a peer-reviewed journal of literature, language, and culture edited at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, featuring critical essays, interviews, and reviews, as well as poems and short stories. Published for more than thirty years, Sargasso is affiliated with the PhD program in the Department of English of the College of Humanities. We were also interested in this collaboration because Sargasso is a print journal that also features open online access at http://humanidades.uprrp.edu/ingles/pubs/sargasso.htm, which enables many more people to read its publications. The Caribbean IRN’s partnership with Sargasso is a way to bridge different readerships with the goal of expanding knowledge about these crucial and timely issues. This special issue would not have been possible without the tireless dedication of Katherine Miranda, Sargasso’s Contributing Editor, and the leadership of Sargasso’s Editor, Don E. Walicek. We also give special thanks to Eduardo Rodríguez Santiago, who provided support in the translating and editing of various parts of this volume.
Overview/Highlights of the Collection
Love | Hope | Community: Sexualities and Social Justice in the Caribbean represents a wide range of responses to our call. The issue includes activist reports; creative non-fiction; critical essays; poetry, and a love letter. We are thrilled to include pieces by a wide variety of authors who live across the globe and who represent a variety of perspectives, professions, interests, and institutional locations. The online multimedia collection will feature related content, including visual art, audio interviews, and an interactive map of Caribbean LGBTI organizations and advocacy.
The issue opens with two poems by Puerto Rican poet, activist and community educator Zulma Oliveras Vega, a well-known figure in island lesbian literary circles. In the first, “Gargantas que gritan/Screaming Throats,” the poet traces parallels between the experiences of Palestinians and Puerto Ricans, encouraging the Middle Eastern population to find inspiration in the legacy of strong Puerto Rican women such as Lolita Lebrón; in the history of nationalist revolts such as the 1868 Lares uprising; and in the people’s resistance movement which successfully expelled the U.S. Navy from the island-municipality of Vieques in 2003. Meanwhile, in “Historia escrita de otros/Written History of Others,” the poet envisions multiple generations of women: at first, the sensuous exchanges of the Taína, the Mulatta, and la Africana, who resist Christian repression; later, the violent exchanges experienced by Borikén and Vieke and their resistance to Spanish and American colonization, culminating in a liberated embrace between mother and daughter.
The other creative works in this collection disrupt the boundaries of genre. “The Heresy of Wings” by Bahamian writer Helen Klonaris examines the connections between homophobia, racism, and the failure of imagination through a fascinating creative non-fiction essay/memoir. She chronicles a public “coming out” to her community in the Bahamas and her subsequent flight from home to San Francisco, California in the USA. She also shares her beginning attempts at fiction and illuminates the ways in which colonization and white supremacy have led to the marginalization of the imagination itself. Similar to Klonaris’s experimentation with form, in “Sincerely Yours: Love Letters for Audre Lorde,” scholar and artist Lyndon K. Gill (University of Texas, Austin) offers a poetic engagement with the legacy of the pioneering diasporic author, poet, and activist Audre Lorde, envisioning a conversation with her through letters. Soca artist Cherise Charleswell offers a unique, first-person reflection on the genre’s relationship to feminism in “De Soca Feminist.”
In their coauthored conference report “Activismo académico-político en Puerto Rico: el Coloquio ¿Del otro lao?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer” [Academic-Political Activism in Puerto Rico: The ¿Del Otro Lao? Colloquium: Perspectives on Queer Sexualities], Beatriz Llenín Figueroa and her collaborators Néstor Rodríguez and Lissette Rolón Collazo discuss the impact of a leading academic conference that has been held six times since 2006 at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, where the three of them work, and the particular challenges they have faced. This grassroots event has grown markedly since its origins and now includes a healthy national and international participation. It is particularly notable for its regularity (held every two years) and for the online, free access to the edited proceedings.
Various forms of activism across the region are critically engaged and studied through essays and reports. In “Politics of Visibility and Sexual Minorities in Public Spaces,” Krystal Ghisyawan (University of the West Indies, St Augustine) examines more traditional social justice movements in Trinidad and Tobago through a comparison of two recent mobilizations in 2014. She considers a specific moment when movements overlapped and analyzes the ways sexual minorities participated in two very different ways – in an environmental justice coalition calling for government accountability and through LGBTI advocacy groups online campaigns calling for equal rights and protection for sexual minorities. Addressing a different form of activism, in her piece “‘Hay que tener una fortaleza fuerte’: Catholic Coloniality, Sexual Terror and Trans Sobrevivencia in the Dominican Republic,” leading novelist and scholar Ana-Maurine Lara (University of Oregon) analyzes ethnographic interviews with transgender activists, focusing on the systemic violence trans individuals experience in the Dominican Republic. Some of the positive effects of recent activism can be seen in “Attitudes towards Homosexuals in Trinidad and Tobago and the Southern Caribbean” by Alana D. D. Griffith and Peter W. Wickham (Caribbean Development Research Services, Barbados). These authors present important analysis of the first major study of attitudes towards homosexuality in the Anglophone Caribbean.
Finally, in “Esa postura de visibilidad: en entrevista con Aixa Ardín” [That Posture of Visibility: An Interview with Aixa Ardín], Consuelo Martínez Reyes (Australian National University) engages in a dialogue with leading Puerto Rican lesbian activist, poet and filmmaker Aixa Ardín. They discuss Ardin’s pioneering undergraduate thesis “Elyíbiti: Historia del activismo LGBTT en Puerto Rico desde los 70 hasta mediados de los 90” [Elyíbiti: The History of LGBTT Activism in Puerto Rico from the 70s to the mid 90s] (2001), which was accompanied by a documentary film by the same name (playing with the Hispanic English pronunciation of the acronym LGBT, which becomes elyíbiti), the history of the Puerto Rican gay parade, Ardín’s poetry, and more recent activism on the island.
We expect this special issue to be useful to serious students and researchers of Caribbean sexualities and cultures. As a project, we also hope that is an example both of international institutional collaboration and hybrid print/online publication, as well a Pan-Caribbean engagement with the field of Caribbean sexuality studies and issues of social justice. Love | Hope | Community is our offering to enrich the important conversations about Caribbean sexual minority (LGBTI) lives and experiences inside and outside the region. It is also an archive of the vibrant activism, community organizing, creative work, and reflections of the movement building and advocacy work happening across the region. It is a space for people invested in creating change in our Caribbean societies to share ideas and learn from each other. This collection reflects the love, hope, and community of people with diverse genders and sexualities who live boldly, wildly, and sometimes quietly across the Caribbean.
Acevedo, David Caleb, Moisés Agosto, and Luis Negrón, eds. Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora. San Juan: Editorial Tiempo Nuevo, 2007. Print.
Agard-Jones, Vanessa. “Le Jeu de Qui? [Whose Game?]: Sexual Politics at Play in the French Caribbean.” The Caribbean Review of Gender Studies 3 (2009). Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
Alexander, M. Jacqui. “Not Just (Any) Body Can Be a Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality, and Postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas.” Feminist Review 48 (Autumn 1994): 5-23. Print.
——. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. Print.
Allen, Jafari. ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-Making in Cuba. Durham: Duke UP, 2011. Print.
Aponte-Parés, Luis, Jossianna Arroyo, Elizabeth Crespo-Kebler, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, and Frances Negrón-Muntaner, eds. Puerto Rican Queer Sexualities. CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies 19.1 (Spring 2007). Print.
Bejel, Emilio. Gay Cuban Nation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2001. Print.
Campbell, Kofi. The Queer Caribbean Speaks: Interviews with Writers, Artists, and Activists. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Print.
Caribbean IRN. Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire and Belonging. Jun. 2012. www.caribbeanhomophobias.org. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
Decena, Carlos. Tacit Subjects: Belonging and Same-Sex Desire among Dominican Immigrant Men. Durham: Duke UP, 2011. Print.
Elwin, Rosamund, ed. Tongues on Fire: Caribbean Lesbian Lives and Stories. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1998. Print.
Glave, Thomas. Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. Print.
Kempadoo, Kamala. Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
King, Rosamond S. Island Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2014. Print.
La Fountain-Stokes, Lawrence. Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora. Minneapolis: Un of Minnesota P, 2009. Print.
Negrón-Muntaner, Frances. Boricua Pop: Puerto Ricans and the Latinization of American Culture. New York: New York UP, 2004. Print.
Nixon, Angelique V. Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2015. Print.
Padilla, Mark. Caribbean Pleasure Industry: Tourism, Sexuality, and AIDS in the Dominican Republic. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. Print.
Pecic, Zoran. Queer Narratives of the Caribbean Diaspora: Exploring Tactics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.
Peña, Susana. Oye Loca: From the Mariel Boatlift to Gay Cuban Miami. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2013. Print.
Sheller, Mimi. Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom. Durham: Duke UP, 2012. Print.
Sierra Madero, Abel. Del otro lado del espejo: la sexualidad en la construcción de la nación cubana. La Habana: Fondo Editorial Casa de las Américas, 2006. Print.
Stout, Noelle M. After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba. Durham: Duke UP, 2014. Print.
Tinsley, Omise’eke. Thiefing Sugar: Eroticism between Women in Caribbean Literature. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. Print.
Wekker, Gloria. The Politics of Passion: Women’s Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. Print.
Rosamund S. King is a critical and creative writer and artist. Her scholarly work, including the award-winning Island Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination, focuses on Caribbean and African literature, sexuality and performance. Her poetry has appeared in more than two dozen journals and anthologies. King is Associate Professor at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York. For more on her work visit www.rosamondking.com.
Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is Associate Professor of American Culture, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Women’s Studies and Director of the Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is author of Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora (2009), Uñas pintadas de azul/Blue Fingernails (2009), and Abolición del pato (2013). He is currently working on a book titled Translocas: Trans Diasporic Puerto Rican Drag. He is a featured artist in the Feast of Fun YouTube series Cooking with drag Queens.
Katherine Miranda holds a PhD in English from UPR-Río Piedras with a specialty in Caribbean Literature. Her teaching and research explore contemporary alternative Caribbean literary forms and spaces. She is currently Director of Education Programs at Fundación Flamboyán.
Angelique V. Nixon is a writer, artist, teacher, scholar, activist, and poet. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Florida, where she specialized in Caribbean and postcolonial studies and women’s studies and gender research. Her award-winning book Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture (2015) investigates the sexual-cultural politics of tourism. Angelique is Lecturer and Graduate Studies Coordinator at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago.