by De Bajan Feminist in QTIPOC INTERNATIONAL
To any visitors to the Caribbean who are interested in the gender and sexual political atmosphere of the Caribbean, please do not use our countries as case studies.
And yes, quite possibly you may come from a country that advocates principles more focused on acceptance. You may have some ideas on how to promote societal tolerance but please, check yourself before you speak out.
Instead of using the queer Caribbean struggle as a wrung in your ladder of academic achievements or to win a badge of activist excellence - take a step away from the ladder, put the badge down.
Even if you see outward signs of aggression to the LGBTQ+ community in newspaper articles, or in song lyrics.
Even if you experience homophobia or transphobia yourself.
Even if you begin to feel entitled to the issue - web searching and reading the antiquated legislations that leave you to consider the Caribbean as a hot-bed of case studies for your doctorate thesis.
Be mindful before you interject your own ideologies on the matter. Your intentions may be well placed but too often it is riddled with Eurocentric biases and I am here to ask you, not to interfere.
You see, as queer caribbean people we already know how far we have left to go on the road to progression. It is 2016, same-sex intimacy in Barbados is criminalized. It is not just looked down on. Not just socially unacceptable. Section 9 of the country’s Sexual Offences Act of 2002 states the possibility of a sentence of up to life imprisonment for what is known as “buggery” or anal intercourse. Section 12 of the Act has a law against “serious indecency,” which has been used in the past to describe all forms of same-gender intimacy including lesbian love.
Now it’s all well and good knowing that, but cultural relativity is important when considering where these laws came from.
As a Commonwealth country, Barbados is a territory that was previously colonized by Britain. One of the legacies of that particular stain in history’s sheets was the enforcement of imperial governance in the legal and judicial systems. Laws policing sexual practices were chosen in the time of slavery and one cannot neglect their use as a tool to enforce societal division and population control.
In the process of making this diaspora into a subjugated work force white slave owners ensured that tribes men and women were separated. This resulted in the loss of language and histories, including various African cultural responses to same-gendered intimacy.
White slave owners needed slaves to procreate so that there would be more slaves.
White slave owners used sexual violence as a means of imposing subordination over the bodies and minds of male and female slaves. Homosexuality was used as a punishment and a contention was created.
This contention inspired those who are anti-colonial to misinterpret these cases of same-sex violence as the introduction of homosexuality to Africans by the Europeans. It is only now, with accessibility to alternative histories that veer away from colonial acceptance that we can see that homosexuality is not inherently anti-African, homophobia is.
Another contributing factor to the resentment of alternative sexualities and gender representation can be traced to the use of Christianity...
...as a method to entrap the black psyche into behaving “respectably” for fear of spiritual repercussions. Respectable meant to present in very specific ways: to obey unquestionably, to adhere to strict gender assigned behaviors and to communally police thoughts and actions. These more harmful interpretations of the Christian faith reinforced anti-LGBT sentiments. That, accompanied with the trauma of sexual violence, meant that with 95% of the country identifying as Christian, a covert oppression of those who are of gender and sexual minorities occurred and is still perpetuated.
But contrary to popular belief, we are not all intolerant.
Despite having the harshest punishment throughout the Western hemisphere, the LGBT community are still protected by Section 23 of Barbados Constitution which states “that no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner”. There are a lot of tolerant and accepting people in Barbados, and the same goes for the whole Caribbean region.
I’m not saying that life imprisonment for loving your guy (or girl or anybody in-between) right doesn’t deserve flack. It does. It deserves to be dragged by it’s cornrows and marched right back to the shop to return that outdated, obsolete, colonial ideal. But not by some researcher looking for some validation from an ivy-league, imperialist institution. It needs to come from people in the Caribbean who live and experience their oppression first-hand and understand the nuances of that oppression.
There is far too much at risk when someone who has no context or connection begins to take centre stage on these issues.
First of all they can accidentally perpetuate the notion that aggressive homophobia is inherent as opposed to systemic.
Secondly the Caribbean public is resentful and dismissive of another neo-colonial voice. That dismissal can result in them not only dismissing you, but those who are speaking on behalf of the queer Caribbean community as well.
To counter, even if you are acknowledged and propelled to the forefront of this issue you can end up spreading misunderstandings especially since expressions of sexuality and gender in the Caribbean do not always sit comfortably within the confines of Western gayness. It is it’s own thing. It has it’s own struggles. It doesn’t belong to you. So put it down.
You do not want to be responsible for queer Caribbean people not hearing the voices of their own queer Caribbean community simply because you were speaking too loudly.
Instead use your voice as a platform. Raise the profile of those advocates who are making statements and changes (like BGLAAD in Barbados). Let someone else handle this fire. Someone who knows where the flames have come from and maybe even felt it’s destruction a little more deeply than you have. They have more reason to fight and understand the battle field a little better.
*image from 76crimes.com