by CJG Ghanny
CJG Ghanny is a nameless nobody of Indo-Caribbean heritage via Trinidad who is currently living in Boston. He is a co-founder of coolie collective, a digital space for exploring Indo-Caribbean identity through the lenses of social justice and postcolonialism. He is allergic to social media, but welcomes feedback and camaraderievia e-mail.
His début novel NMQP is forthcoming, inshallah.
Carnival is this weekend in my city, and like many metropolitan Caribbean kids I’m stoked beyond belief. I’m not really a crowds person and I don’t like being drunk in public, but Carnival to me is about unity with my people, Caribbean people, bonding through shared music and culture and foodstuffs with a touch of j’ouvert oil and feathers for good measure. I’ll be linking up with my Indo-Caribbean sisters for brunch in the morning and then roll up looking my absolute cutest in red and black all over.
At the same time, I’m scared. I’m scared because I am very gay and in a relationship with a man, and I don’t know if Carnival is the space for me, or any gender non-conforming people for that matter. We hear the horror stories about genderbending folk on the Islands being chased down and strung up from trees, but surely it can’t be that bad in our liberal big city way north of the West Indies, where Carnival is a sponsored and corporate event with plenty of PD on sight, right?
I’m not convinced. Caribbean-Americans can be just as violent in perpetuating homophobia and transmisogyny as anyone else, and it’s up to us as a community to recognize this and address it, so we can truly dwell together in unity like we’re supposed to.
After all, if you don’t live in the deepest part of Queens or Midtown Miami, the notion of a Caribbean American community may be an abstract one to grasp. Growing up I knew plenty of Caribbean people, mostly Dominicans and Puerto Ricans on the block and family friends and former lovers from all over the Antilles, but I didn’t have a sense of what our shared identity was. My coming out somewhere in my teens pushed me further away from embracing any identity other than my orientation; above all else, I could be safe among the ranks of the flamboyant and flaming rather than shave a slit in my brow and fake machismo. Seemingly overnight I traded in the Capleton and Sizzla records of my youth for Bad Romance and Britney Spears’ Blackout and accepted my place as another wayward gay in the metropolitan mix.
Caribbean music, after all, is notorious for its strict enforcement of gender roles. Yeah, we may have Spice, Destra, and J Capri (RIP) to show us that ladies can spit bad as de mandem, but Caribbean music which truly preaches a message of gender equality is hard to find. Patriarchy and transmisogyny go hand in hand as a result. Consider even the “clean” edit of Konshens’s 2012 dancehall anthem, “Pull Up to Mi Bumper”, when he makes it clear that first on his priorities with a whining vixen is to “make sure dem parts dem genuine”. A while back, the Stop Murder Music campaign aimed to curtail blatantly violent anti-gay lyrics, with limited success aside from a few cancelled visas. Some artists are coming around — I refuse to believe that Nadia Batson’s soca banger “Cyah Change” is anything but an anthem of tolerance made palatable for island audiences. But for many LGBTQ West Indians including myself, feteing often means putting aside parts of ourselves, tailoring down our appearance, falling prey to gender roles so as not to attract unwanted attention.
On the surface there are many Caribbean Americans whose music can be a more accepting substitute for shanties from the island. Take Nicki Minaj’s recent odes to her Trinidadian heritage, “Pound The Alarm” and “Trini Dem Girls”. On the underground, LGBTQ-identified rapper Hoodcelebrityy is out here making diasporic dancehall where she directs the gyaldem wining in front of her, herself playing the role of the stud, the bumper bully. In major cities like New York and Boston groups like Chutney Pride and IslandPride respectively are representing for LGBTQ West Indians and putting on gay-friendly fetes featuring DJs within the community. From chaos we are forging friendship, camaraderie, and a shared sense of belonging behind the DJ booth.At the same time, members of our community repeatedly bash LGBTQ folks publicly and violently, replicating the same attitudes that have caused many LGBTQ folks to leave the islands for “safer” shores. I am putting aside my own anxieties specifically about being gay bashed to turn attention to the related and increasingly more acute phenomenon of violence against trans women. We are experiencing a severe wave of anti-transgender violence across the country, and our Caribbean communities are not exempt from contributing to these atrocities. Worst of all, it’s not just our men who are largely committing the acts of violence, but also our women who are inciting violence in their statements and actions.
Recent celebutante Cardi B has done the most (as is her style) in regards to spreading transmisogyny to the masses. Consider this vine, where she plots a threesome with a transgender woman to “get even” with a cheating boyfriend. The vine is not only, uh, gross and violent, but relegates the trans woman in question to a subhuman position; the hypothetical she only exists to spite the “valid” man, her boyfriend. Honestly, you don’t even need me to elaborate on her remarks; just listen to “Foreva” where she literally says that men with vaginas are “disgraceful”, or reference this tweet where she calls a detractor a “sensitive bitch” and “soft” for being offended at the above controversy.Part of this callousness can surely be found in Cardi B’s no-nonsense, banji girl aesthetic, the one she honed in order to turn an Instagram account into a multi-million dollar TV contract and music career. She was a stripper before that, and in that role she probably met plenty a trans woman or two, maybe even befriended a couple as she claims in the tweet above. And Cardi B is a certified baddie anyway; there’s no way a trans woman could ever make her feel threatened. So let’s dig deeper.Cardi B is biracial and multiethnic; “Triniminican” (Trinidadian and Dominican), as she self-identifies on her verse on best friend Hoodcelebrityy’s “Island Girls”. The two islands are about as far apart as two islands can be in the Caribbean, Trinidad skirting the coast of South America and the DR sitting atop the Antilles like a crown. They share neither language nor culture for the most part. One key mutuality: they were both colonized, by England and Spain respectively; their native and enslaved black populations were stripped of their origin cultures and indoctrinated into oppressive and violent mentalities entwined in religion. Now, we don’t know very much about pre-colonial systems of gender in the Spanish Caribbean, as Taina trans woman Alyssa Gonzalez might tell you. But the colonial man/woman binary that was imposed on both societies is inextricable from the violent enforcement of gender roles across the Caribbean. This isn’t to say the Caribbean is unique in its level or intensity of patriarchy — pretty much all regions and cultures are affected by it at this point — but it does make for a particular landscape onto which gender can be mapped.But the colonial man/woman binary that was imposed on both societies is inextricable from the violent enforcement of gender roles across the Caribbean. This isn’t to say the Caribbean is unique in its level or intensity of patriarchy — pretty much all regions and cultures are affected by it at this point — but it does make for a particular landscape onto which gender can be mapped.Jamaica has made the most headlines in recent years for many violent incidents of homophobia and transmisogyny. Vice, for whatever reason, has been the foremost purveyor of the stories of Jamaica’sgully queens, the gender-nonconforming youth who live in the sewers of Kingston. These stories followed the well-publicized murder of Dwayne Jones, a youth who went to a house party dressed in woman’s clothing, and run in tandem with gay Jamaican author Marlon James’s quiet exile to the United States after winning the Booker Prize. But are Jamaicans in the States any different? Let’s ask Junglepussy, Brooklyn-based rapper and fashion icon of Jamaican and Trinidadian descent:“Every time I go to sleep, I could be on my deathbed, so I always confess my sins. Actually, some people think I’m a tranny, but they are stupid. Do they really think I’ve got money to be getting a new pussy? I’m definitely not a tranny. Don’t you see my throwback Thursday pictures of me when I was a baby on Instagram?”
This is one of many instances where JP has used the t-slur, to describe either herself or others. Now, JP might not be slinging the same island invective as Cardi B, but the message is the same. Only real women have vaginas, and how dare some hater confuse her — a real woman — with a lesser example of femininity, a bitch with a dick? Normally this would only be run-of-the-mill transmisogyny, except for the fact that for a moment in 2013 JunglePussy and her crew were praised for bringing feminism and queer-positivity to the mic. What does it say when even those who are “progressive” or “woke” or whatever the buzzword is these days still don’t take trans women into account?This is hardly even confined to Caribbean Americans in the diaspora either. Kittitian-British rapper Lady Leshurr caught heat upon her release of her viral single “Queen’s Speech”, where she microaggressively demeaned and deadnamed American trans woman Caitlyn Jenner. Now, we’re not gonna sit here and pretend that a black female Youtube rapper is capable of oppressing a rich white Republican former Olympic athlete. At the same time, Leshurr’s lyric was low-hanging fruit and just plain rude aside from dehumanizing of trans women and disrespectful of one of the most important transgender coming-outs in world history. On the other side of the equation you have folks like Guyanese-British Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange, whose avowed love for fucking trans girls has led to him being branded as a fetishizer by the trans women of the tumblrverse. It goes without saying that just as interracial marriage hasn’t ended racism literally anywhere, a few odd of our men taking walks on the wild side won’t magically turn our spaces safe.
This is what allows folks like Jamaican-American Kareem Ruddock to stab a gay man on a subway train while yelling homophobic slurs. This is what allows members of an Indo-Caribbean tasa group to brawl with fellow coolies in a bar in Richmond Hill because some of those coolies happen to be gender-nonconforming. This is what allows LGBTQ Caribbean youth of all colors to become homeless upon their coming out. So long as we are haunted by the colonial ills of our homelands, we can never know peace no matter where we go.This doesn’t mean, like many white gay leaders would like you to believe, that the Caribbean is a unilaterally homophobic or transphobic place devoid of any compassion. Caribbean-American womanist Audre Lorde famously said in “The Uses of Anger” that“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” It’s a bit unclear if that statement, published in 1981, was truly said with trans women in mind, but it’s a good paradigm to work off of and one that resonates with contemporary feminists West Indian and otherwise.One of those contemporary West Indian feminists is Eriche, the Saint Lucian-born editor of The West Indian Critic. Eriche considers the battle against homophobia and transphobia to be paramount in the priorities of West Indian feminism and speaks about it at length on her YouTube channel. Jamaican-American feminist, mother, and slam poet Staceyann Chin has also been vocal in the need for respect for the LGBTQ community from Jamaica across the diaspora.The rest starts with us. Those of us in the North Indies are part of communities too, whether it’s among family, friends, cousins, cookout-cohorts, social clubs, or nightlife fetes. My main Caribbean connection is the Indo-Caribbean Facebook collective I started, where we confront the expectations of our traditions and histories with our multifaceted realities. I also have Tumblr, where I follow the feeds of beautiful coolie girls and dougla dudes living between Richmond Hill and Laventille, the majority of whom are rad individuals committed to social change. For those of us with family back home, it’s imperative that we start conversations with them as much as our own safeties and mental healths will allow. We can also materially support organizations likeSpectrum Human Rights that work with Caribbean LGBTQ folks seeking asylum. Taking a step back to music and cultural expression, don’t pretend like your problematic faves aren’t all over Twitter and Soundcloud — let them know how you feel!
We should not aim for a world of tolerant cores and intolerant peripheries. We must strive for interlocking communities within and beyond our day-to-day interactions which all seek to protect the vulnerable and marginalized among us. So even if we’re not all brave enough to wear rainbow feathers to Carnival, let’s do all we can to appreciate and pelt waist with those who do.
***DISCLAIMER: This work is not the intellectual property of Eriche or West Indian Critic but is being shared on my blog at the express permission of the author. However, all my copyright warnings STILL apply! Do not steal this work! Stay blessed.***