Posts Tagged ‘caribbean women’

Queer Dancing at CWSDC (Revelations of a Sort)

October 14, 2017

West Indian Day Parade x Labor Day 2014

This year’s 2017 Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference (CWSDC) found me in Saint Lucia aboard the Black Pearl boat lulled by rum, dancing and working up a sweat despite the cool ocean breeze, and I have thinking a lot about it and in particular, about queering spaces and what that means and feels like. Before I launch into these observations, a few things: these are just a few thoughts I have mulling around; nothing claims to be empirical. Different people will have varying thoughts about these experiences from that night and that’s okay. And lastly, not all of these thoughts have been well wrung out. Some are still soaking and marinating.

This experience was really important for me because even though I reside in the states, the opportunity for experiencing queer Caribbean spaces in my city is non-existent. Collectives throwing queer dance parties specifically for people of colour like New York’s Papi Juice and Fake Accent or Toronto’s Yes Yes Y’all don’t occur in here. There are gay clubs, then there are Caribbean spots, and there isn’t overlap between the two. While I have enjoyed gay clubs, I really can’t take house music in my head all night long (not even trap all night, sorry), but I deal with it when I have to, whereas the West Indian parties, I can hear all my soca, old kaiso, Afrobeats, dancehall etc. but the space is not queer.

Most of my Caribbean local partying in Florida (and I have done a lot) has been inside heteronormative places (shout-out to Élysse for unpacking the term “heteronormative” at the conference). Like compulsory heterosexuality, social spaces can and are heteronormative because that’s the presumption and expectation: that men will only dance with women, that everyone who looks like a man is and everyone who looks like a woman is. Plus, people can be homophobic assholes and get angry when they feel “visibly” gay people are “pushing their lifestyle” in their faces when they are simply doing the exact same thing as straight people: going out, getting turnt and having a good time with each other.

Queerness as verb: people can and do identify as queer as in the noun and queer can also refer to a verb, the action of queering a space. Is that possible? Yes, I would say so. What does it take to actively queer a space?

Safety is a must. The Black Pearl was a safe space because it felt like a space where you could be safely queer in. I have no idea what the boat is like for other events, but for this party on this night, that’s what it felt like. This is supported by the interaction of other gay, trans and queer individuals. Secondly, queer people of colour simply being in a space doesn’t make it queered though. The space is queered when the queer people inside are actively engaged with each other and using and interacting with the physical space: so yuh wining, can approach someone to dance, can navigate the space and not shirk who you are; you claim and take up space and and are unapologetic for it. If you are in a party and queer and you cannot freely take up space or wine on your preferred dance partner, and you have to stand up whole night for example, the space is not queered. You are just there existing. However, that’s understandable and happens. Sometimes we attend events because we really want to go, but the space is not safe to be queer in.

Ideally, a queered experience is interactive. So there was a Florida soca party I used to attend all the time and there was this one lesbian couple who would show up: a girl with a ras and her girlfriend.  I did not know either of them personally, but I knew through mutual connections that one of them was a Trini; the other girl may have been too. Anyway, so when they showed (which they did often), wining up on each other, being affectionate, very unambiguous about what was taking place and freely moving inside and participating in the party space, even dancing with other people: the space is queered a bit.

Having company in numbers helps with queering any space, and you really can’t do it alone. The other example that comes to mind is during last year’s CWSDC conference in St. Croix in the karaoke bar. That space was likely not normally a queer space by any stretch of the imagination but once we saturated the area with our presence, dancing and interactions — even shout-outs from the resident local lesbian DJ, we were actively queering the space; we also rolled deep. Of course, it is not always safe to do so, and it’s possible also that some people there did not like it either.

Likewise, at the street party in Gros Islet, wherever we were and engaging with the energy of the event and each other, that space was queered. At one point during the night as we walked by, a St. Lucian man addressed me and said, “You’re pretty.” He was polite enough and made no attempt to touch me or move closer, and I graciously told him thank-you. He then said to me, “If yuh was a flower, I woulda pick yuh” or something to that effect, and it is at the point that another woman at the conference who was walking in front of me, interjects, takes my hand and leads me away. With no semblance of possession, she strategically shuts the conversation down.

There were other similar occurrences; effectively, times when we queered a space for ourselves within the open street and the loud music, then men attempted to insert themselves to disrupt what we had created. Some men felt because they wanted to engage us, they were entitled to and they did. When our queerness bucks up against the presumed heteronormativity of a particular space, tension can be created. When men’s access is flagrantly denied by other femme and femme-presenting people, assumptions are challenged. This can also be dangerous in certain instances.

Navigating wines was interesting. As someone who has primarily feted in majority heteronormative party spaces, this was actually my first time like, deeply submerged in a whole queer dancing soca session (among other musical genres) with people I did not know well. Not counting a queer dance party in New York a couple years ago where level vintage reggae and some soca was played or being home earlier this year, and my friends taking me to a club around the corner from where my parents live in St. Augustine, but in both instances I only danced with really good friends of mine. On the Black Pearl, I really break away.

I also learnt that it’s different bracing to receive wines and I definitely have to work on that (ha!). I recognize that my understanding of wining dynamics is couched in the heteronormative, and in that context I am usually always “giving” the wine and throwing it back on someone. In a heteronormative dance space, cishet men pretty much receive the wines all the time which is to say, put ah woman in front and ah man behind is the general guideline. The differences are really subtle inside a queer dance space and I know this sounds like some quasi-essentialist ting: men wine this way vs. women — but at least I’m aware that it’s all constructed.

Really, it’s not so much the wining but the mechanisms of it, surrounding it and some of the assumptions that I am making depending on the “role” I am in, which I am not going to go into much detail at this time. Nevertheless, West Indian women (speaking from a lived Trini experience here) have an existing history of women wining up on each other (see blog pic and maybe your own personal experiences too), that is dancing that may have had nothing to do with anyone’s attractions and orientation/s and was sometimes used as a convenient tool to block nearby annoying dance partners and also, I think, simply as an expression of a kind of camaraderie and vibes among you and your crew.  All of this has given me a lot to think about while making me feel all the feels. There aren’t many things more beautiful than the resilience of queer Caribbean women dancing, thriving and living out loud. My life’s goals include experiencing so much more of that.


*I do not personally know the women in the blog pic or how they identify (but it’s a great pic). Photo credit: Demar Watson via Tumblr. Used under a creative commons license.

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Gathering Healing

November 23, 2016

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Several days before embarking for the 4th Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference in St. Croix, I was perched on my haunches around parts of my apartment sweet-talking to my pum pum; over bedroom carpet and bathroom floor, trying to coax a medium-sized yoni egg down. What would TSA think if their scanners picked up something dark and ominously egg-shaped tucked beyond my vaginal canal? This was more than a small worry. In perfect timing though, my yoni answers my breath and directives. Working with a yoni egg is (among other things) an exercise in patience, in tuning in, surrender and understanding your own fears.

Next thing is I leave and I reach. Two days into arrival, my waist beads break after the return from dipping them by hand into the ocean’s morning warmth. I take this as a sign they have probably completed the work they were meant to do, or I have worn them the hell out. Attempting to pick up small beads of mauve, rose and gunmental gray feel like a kind of penance. Conference agenda beckons, so with no time fuh dat, I abandon the goal. When I return to my hotel room, seeing the floor clear, the Ziploc bag on the bathroom counter top crowded with what I didn’t do — by the women who clean rooms, undoubtedly black or brown and Caribbean; I am grateful for their hands, their deft sweeping, their attentive eyes missing nothing. I miss my beads’ snug embrace above my hips though, the way the stones press into my skin beyond my belly’s jiggle.

Earlier this year, a wise Jamaican woman informed me that healing also happens on an energetic level and because energy flows, you can start small in one area of your life and this will invariably flow into other areas of your life. A crucial aspect of that is being mindful and intentional about what your energetic flow is like. What thoughts am I feeding myself with? Where are those instances where I can pivot from that energetic shift to another one that nourishes me better? Can I treat myself with compassion in these instances?

Meeting new people can test my projections: the things I ricochet internally and outward and back; the endlessly seeping wound. The conference gave me many opportunities to reflect on these. It goes without saying that though wonderful, this was hardly strictly utopia either; we were not all people who think the same way about everything. There were moments of dark antagonism, both real and perceived. But in there too, flashes of necessary illumination. I am still mastering how to take ownership of my projections and handle myself with the same care I allow for others.

What does healing look like to you? To me, it might look like three Caribbean women frankly talking desire and sex and consent, buffeted by sea breeze. It might look like another conversation, ripe with honesty about vulvas and revelation, the mush and the wet want of sex. Sexual conversation is a really good place to lay yourself bare with folks (pun intended). What better place to throw off the shackles of societal conventions around respectability and nuzzle down inside declarations of our own desires, and what better place than a pussy or an anus? Though Caribbean sex talk is plentiful in our societies: kaiso and picong and comedy sketch and dancehall and rum shop and street corner and “gyal, sit down like a lady,” whose sex is acceptable and whose isn’t?

How often do I get to freely indulge in  ribald expression with other women whom I have newly met? Not nearly often enough for me, apparently. I told a friend afterwards, “I have never had a discussion like that with women who aren’t all straight (or mostly straight).” I have never held community with diverse West Indian sexualities before to know how much I needed it. In resisting, or attempting to resist, the cultural narratives so many societies have thrust onto us as black and brown women, transmen, gender non-conforming folx and queer women, you make breathing room possible for someone else who is not there yet.

Of course, people’s lives are also much more than just the “issues” they represent and/or embody. It’s messy and beautiful and resilience and plenty more. Being a West Indian activist of the diaspora and living outside the home region means confronting issues of accessibility and privilege and above all, it means listening to those who live and fight and do the hard work on the ground in the region day in and out as the authority on their own lives. I am reminded that moving forward, I need to remember to ask how and in what ways I can be of service to the friends I’ve built connections with.

What do you need that I can assist with, either through mobilizing or emotional support? What are you crowdfunding, who needs clapback back-up, signal boosting or someone to bounce around some ideas with? I am reminded that the culture that grew me and I lovingly theorise on from afar is consistently growing and thriving (or regressing) in ways and I am not there to intimately know, but I need to make more time to engage with that through the regional people that I know and not just the articles that I read.

Twice at different airports, I became leaky, a certifiable basket case of tearful emotions with all of my raging, sensitive Cancer moon. How am I so moved by this gathering of activists, the photographic art and the poetry, space-making, knowledge sharing, the weirdness of being and feeling? In Puerto-Rico, I spill most of what I am carrying and another conference attendee helps me gather, hold space and honour what I am bumbling through with care and without judgement.

Knowing yuhself only gets messier the further you dig, but that isn’t always such a bad thing after all. Thank-you CWSDC 2016 for being a space to help me unearth more of who I am and who I am working towards being.

For other perspectives on the conference, please check out Freedom House and Arc International.

Big shout-outs to Earth & Alkemy for the body beads and for offering to fix them for me; I’ll be taking you up on that offer soon. Gave her a link if you want any; trust meh, they will change yuh life.

My conference Prezi probably makes way less sense without the talking points but feel free to get into it if anyone’s interested.