Gays, Zombies and Queer Literature in Caribbean Culture

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

In an offering typical of the academic exotica on display at the Modern Language Association, and for that matter, in academia itself, a panel of profesors discussed what they called “queer (i.e. gay or homosexual) literature” and how it interacts with black magic, Caribbean culture, and black Canadian immigrant feminism.

Rahul Gairola, an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, spoke about a book that mixed Caribbean black magic, Jamaican ‘duppies’ and queer ideology. In making his observations, Gairola felt that “black magic is colloquially realized” and “malevolent supernatural manifestations” were appropriate represented by the author. This counters the “post-colonial literature” and the oft-used “practices of domination and subordination” due to colonization in Atlantic history.

In Jamaica, “duppies” are spiritual manifestations, spirits or ghosts, similar to voodoo among Haitians and other Caribbean cultures. Gairola highlighted how these “spectral figures” revealed “lots of strands in the narrative of magical realism.” This “queer supernaturality”, in Gairola’s mind, demonstrated the “queer sexuality and haunting” and exposed the “grisly bigotry of church and state” and the overarching “so-called natural order of heteronormative” society. “Queer characters must take refuge from the material world,” Gairola said, and go to the supernatural. He noted, “The haunted house…the haunting and the notion of the haunted house and queer figures and that place is…the transgressive home, the broken home, the illegitimate home.” Why? Because in Gairola’s mind, the non-heterosexual home “in the real world, it is illegitimate.”

Erin Fehskens, an English associate professor at Towson University, said that “queerness of family” is a reality of life. To combat materialism, “ecological relationships” can work with “the notion of combining”. In her words, it “suggest[s] this material point of view” can allow both human and non-human collaborators to coexist. In one novel, Fehskens pointed out how the main character is originally homophobic, “but reconciles herself with the queer members of her family”. What is the novel about? A slave ship is traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, but a sea goddess rescued the slaves by the “sacrifice of her menstrual blood” to turn the slaves into monk seals. She said that it “transmute[s]” human life into a “sea-based experience” to deprive slave owners of using their bodies “to create wealth.”

Rhonda Frederick, an associate professor of English at Boston College who specializes in “Anglophone Caribbean and African Diaspora literatures,” blasted “white privilege [and] Canadianist” mentalities in descriptions of Trinidadians in Canada. This type of literature, called “misogyn-noir” by Frederick, brings up the struggles of black feminism. In one novel, there is a Trinidadian-Canadian woman who goes and “downloads her consciousness” into a new “white body and blonde” to start a new life. Frederick alleged that “Trinidadian Canadian-ness” highlighted racism in Canada and how racism “extends to Caribbean immigrants and society.” She said, “Black femaleness as well as the diasporas’ Caribbean-ness” are issues that non-white Canadians face. She concluded, “The global that is personal work and national impact of one woman who embodies a damaged self.”