2.19.2008

Queer and white and "Fuck!"

In the short years since the Western world began to recognize the humanity and basic human rights of its queerer citizens, the homophobia of the "developing" world has become a focal point, reifying notions of difference constantly challenged in an increasingly linked world. One area particularly scrutinized is the Caribbean. While these assessments are flawed in their ahistorical analysis of contemporary trends (e.g. What is the role of religious traditions imposed as a means of social control?), there is a level of homophobia that permeates many areas of the Caribbean that is not radically unlike rampant homophobia of more conservative cultures of the United States and which manifests in physical violence that goes unpunished far more often than it does here in the US.

Surprising then, that my visual introduction to gay culture (unless you count pornography) would be through public television in Antigua, an island in the Lesser Antilles, "home" to most of my family. Antigua has two public television channels which carry public broadcasts as well as the news and other cultural programming. In off hours, they transmit programming from American channels, often Showtime, HBO and Cinemax.

Programming was predetermined and advertised at fairly regular intervals on both channels, so I was nothing less than shocked one night to find myself before the image of two men fucking passionately--something I would not have imagined finding on cable television in the states, much less on public television in Antigua. Over the course of the next weeks I was in Antigua, the show, Queer as Folk, appeared regularly on channel two.

Whether or not the broadcast was planned, an oversight or a deliberate and politically minded act carried out by an activist employee, I have no idea. I do know that, for the first time, I had access to images of queer lifestyles that were not pornographic or negative. Queer as Folk is, of course, no queer utopia: the show made no effort, in its five years on television, to challenge dominant notions of exclusively white queerness or gendered notions of family, to mention a few oversights.

The fact that I accessed these images in a space positioned very firmly in the western imagination as universally homophobic is interesting. As Staceyann Chin remarked during her performance here at Yale a few days ago, she left the Caribbean to escape homophobia, got to the US, and "Fuck!" there was homophobia and more blatant racism.

Perhaps I'm taking a singular incident too far in my analysis of complex relationships between the Caribbean (and the rest of the "developing" world) and the US, but it has been--if nothing else--an interesting launching point in my thoughts about one specific and extremely pertinent aspect of these relationships: capitalism.

The Caribbean, as we know it today, knew it a hundred years ago, will know it until significant changes take place, exists only because of capitalism. Bodies were moved, landscapes were altered, markets were built solely to produce profit and capital. Now we've moved from sugar to tourism, but the principal remains the same.

Homophobia in the Caribbean is not a "natural" phenomenon. It's completely and undeniably tied to Christianity, which was imported into the region and spread among slave and, later, free populations once it had been identified as an effective means of deploying social controls--ensuring a relatively passive source of labor.

Capitalism has also been instrumental in the erasure of people of color from popular imaginations of queer culture. Queer as Folk is not alone in its whitewashing of a diverse queer constituency.

I can't help but draw links between the fact that brown people have come to represent the (in)human face of homophobia and violence against a (seemingly white) queer population. The one I saw I saw on Antiguan TV.


Attacks Show Easygoing Jamaica Is Dire Place for Gays
Published: February 24, 2008
Being gay in Jamaica is not easy. For years, human rights groups have denounced the harassment, beating and even killing of gays in the country, to little avail.
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