Global Circuits: Transnational Sexualities and Trinidad
Jasbir Kaur Puar
In 1998, from January to March, I was in Trinidad for the entire length of the
Carnival season. The purpose of my presence as an "ethnographer-tourist" in Trinidad
was to evaluate the relationships between globalization, gender, and sexuality.1
Specifically, my aim was to query how globalization could be defined in terms of gay and
lesbian identities and what, in turn, was shaping gay and lesbian identities in Trinidad in
the wake of contemporary processes of globalization. Certainly, palpable effects of
globalization on gay and lesbian communities seemed to be surfacing in Trinidad at every
moment.2 Gay and lesbian activists were taking part in national, regional, and
international networks even as the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean had generated a
tremendous amount of funding and research support from former colonizing countries in
the last fifteen years,3 and the Internet had enabled global connections that were formerly
impossible. An increasing number of gay and lesbian tourists, both "diasporic expatriates"
and otherwise, were learning about gay and lesbian community meetings and fetes as well
as gay-friendly Carnival masquerades specifically through new Web sites and e-mail lists
created in 1998 for Trinidadian gays and lesbians.4 Furthermore, a tremendous amount of
Internet activity, diasporic familial scatterings, and educational ventures had enabled a
relatively small but privileged and prominent segment of the gay and lesbian community in
Trinidad to experience what they called "gay life" not only in other parts of the Caribbean
but also in Miami, New York, Toronto, and London. Finally, Carnival the world over was
becoming increasingly coded and identified as a gay and lesbian affair, especially by the
gay and lesbian tourist industry, and the case was no different in Trinidad.5
These developments suggested to me several overlapping and diverging circuits of
globalization that illuminated certain conundrums intrinsic to the relationships between
globalization and sexuality. What were the connections between local "indigenous" and
globalized sexual identities? Were they distinct and separable, and, if so, how? Questions about
nomenclature and the categorization of sexual identities were crucial, as local terms such as
buller-a reclaimed derogatory term for men, its nearest equivalent being "faggot"-and the
phrase "she goes with a woman" were circulating in tandem with the terms gay, drag, and more
recently, lesbian and transsexual. The circuits also highlighted that, at varied moments in
different locations and circuits, different sexual namings were relevant and tenable, especially in
terms of ethnic divisions between Africans and Indians in Trinidad. As a South Asian queer
academic based in the United States, I located myself as part of these multiple circuits: complicit
with the production of queer theory in the United States and often unable to resist this location as
my reference point, yet still attempting to comprehend the specificities of sexual identities in
In order to elaborate the complexities of these circuits, I interviewed gay and lesbian
activists who live in Trinidad as well as in other parts of the Caribbean and attended gay and
lesbian fetes and theater productions. I spoke with participants in the urban Port-of-Spain
Trinidadian gay and lesbian scene, including local residents, Trinidadians from other areas who
traveled to the capital frequently to attend community events, and tourists. Most importantly, I
attended a series of drag contests, concentrating on a production titled "Diva" that had taken
place every year in Trinidad's capital, Port-of-Spain, since 1992.6 While annual gay parties, or
"fetes," during the holidays and Carnival had become routine, and public events for International
AIDS Day and even gay pride had previously been staged in Trinidad, during the time of my
visits "Diva" was still considered among the most established and widely recognized public
arenas of gay and lesbian interaction. During this time, I was also following an emerging debate
about gay and lesbian tourism that intersected with the preparations for "Diva." These were the
layers of ethnographic inquiry that informed my sense of global circuits in Trinidad.
Circuit one: Tourism, globalization, and sexuality
While I was in Trinidad in February 1998, a curious incident set off a series of
conversations about the often tense relationships between the interests and effects of
globalization and postcolonial gay and lesbian identities. After the Cayman Islands refused
docking privileges to a so-called gay cruise originating in the United States, several other
Caribbean governments expressed the intention of refusing the same cruise ship and any that
might follow. The local Caribbean media engaged in no editorial discussion or debate about the
cruises but rather printed press releases from Reuters and other global wire services. Caribbean
Cana-Reuters Press reported that in the Bahamas, a cruise with nine hundred gay and lesbian
passengers, arranged by California-based Atlantis Events Inc., had become a "test for the tourist-
dependent Caribbean islands after the Cayman Islands refused the ship landing rights" in
December (Trinidad Express 1998, 29). Officials from the Cayman Islands, a British territory in
the western Caribbean, said gay vacationers could not be counted on to "uphold standards of
appropriate behavior" (Trinidad Express 1998, 29). Islanders were apparently offended ten years
earlier when a gay tour landed and men were seen kissing and holding hands in the streets.7 A
U.S.-based gay rights organization called on the British government to intervene. British Prime
Minister Tony Blair did so and determined, in the case of the Cayman Islands (dubbed by Out
andAbout the "Isle of Shame") that codes outlawing gays and lesbians, many of are a legacy of
colonial legislation, violated the International Covenant of Human Rights and must be
rescinded.8 United States officials followed suit, insisting that human rights had been violated.9
While the controversy focused predominantly on the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands,
Trinidadian activists from the Caribbean Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (C-FLAG),
the Gay Enhancement Advocates of Trinidad and Tobago (GEATT), and Artists Against Aids
were outraged that gay and lesbian cruises could be denied docking privileges.10 Interestingly
enough, no gay and lesbian cruises had yet ventured to Trinidad, although it had one of the most
active gay and lesbian movements in the Caribbean and the largest (and "parent") Carnival in the
Caribbean (Nurse 1999, 677).11 One explanation for this, perhaps, is that in Trinidad tourism
makes up only about 3 percent of the gross domestic product, most of which is generated during
the Carnival period. (The beaches of Tobago are the other main attraction.) While the numbers
vary widely, some estimate that at least one hundred thousand visitors come to Trinidad for
Carnival every year (Mason 1998). This influx constitutes almost a 10 percent increase in the
population and makes up about 25 percent of Carnival street participants. It is also estimated
that nearly 40 percent of the tourists at Carnival are expatriates. Thus, the impact of tourism on
Carnival, while growing, still appears to be minimal since the demands of expatriates are "less
intrusive," according to Peter Mason (125). He writes: "This phenomenon, plus the fact that most
tourists still come from English-speaking parts of the world with fairly close links to Trinidad,
has so far kept the demands of tourism to a manageable level" (125).
Interest in Trinidad as a gay and lesbian tourist site is growing, however, due to the
growth of Carnival as a gay and lesbian tourist event, the increasing promotion of cruises and
other forms of tourism by the Trinidadian government, and the overall expansion of the global
gay and lesbian tourism market 12 Highlighted in a "Carnival Around the World" special issue,
the editors of Out andAbout (the leading gay and lesbian travel newsletter) write that
"Trinidad's Carnival is the biggest gay event in the region" and claim "The gay community here
is relatively uncloseted .... Gays play an important role in the social fabric of the country,
especially in the arts and in Carnival .... The islands are at their gayest, figuratively and
literally, during the weeks prior to Ash Wednesday" (December 1996, 147). While many
diasporic Trinidadian gays and lesbians express reluctance about coming "back home" because
of the dearth of gay life in Trinidad, Out andAbout, Odysseus: The International Gay Travel
Planner, and A Man's Guide to the Caribbean 98/99 all list party and dining spots and bars for
gay, and mostly male, travelers to Trinidad. (Damron Men's Travel 2000 and Damron
Accomodations list spots in Jamaica and Tobago, but not Trinidad.)
Therefore, Trinidadian gay and lesbian activists had good reason to anticipate that the gay
cruises would eventually become an issue in Trinidad as well.13 I watched in confusion, hopeful
on the one hand that the former British colonies would tell Blair and the United States to mind
their own business but also aware on the other of my ambivalent solidarity with Caribbean
activists.14 Some activists, attempting to generate support of the cruise ships through an appeal
to the profit motive, did comment that "anti-gay protests could be costly to the tourist economies
of the Caribbean, a favorite playground for affluent gays" (Trinidad Express 1998, 29).
However, most organizations decided against issuing an official response, fearing local exposure
and backlash against individuals as well as nascent NGOs that were just barely surviving.
It seemed ironic to me that the United Kingdom and the United States advocated
protection for cruise ships in the Caribbean while granting no such absolute rights for the
passengers upon their return home. Even so, the official actions and statements of the two
nations may well allow European-American cruise goers to leave the Caribbean with a sense of
liberal belonging and only a surface understanding-intact as a concrete reality-of the deeply
entrenched homophobia of local governments, local cultural assumptions about modes of sexual
repression and liberation, and the supposed internalized homophobia of local gays and lesbians,
rather than with any knowledge of the specific postcolonial struggles at issue in the region.
In the meantime, the debates stimulated by the arrival and presence of these ships
produced complicated and ambivalent responses from local gay and lesbian populations who
feared greater local backlash as a result of the increasing discussion and their more marked
visibility. In this particular instance, globalization of gay and lesbian identities suggests the
questionable political efficacy of identity politics, especially its reliance on strategies of "queer
visibility." The political rhetoric of queer visibility has been mapped out at length by theorists
such as Rosemary Henessey, Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Freeman, and Jose Mufioz, and has
been utilized as a foundational strategy in gay and lesbian activist projects in the West (and
increasingly so in those projects with a global scope). On the one hand, the cruise lines appeal to
global gay and lesbian identity politics in order to bring about international intervention so that
they may dock; in the use of this strategy, the partial or different visibility of gays and lesbians in
the Caribbean enables the visibility of the cruise passengers' plight. On the other hand, the
visibility of the ships creates a need to "lay low"-that is, for decreased visibility or invisibility
-for Caribbean gay and lesbian activists; the case may be even more urgent for those not
involved in identity politics. Here, gay and lesbian populations are caught in an oppositional
conflict between postcolonial and former colonizing governments, and in a sense are used as
examples or pawns in conflicts that may or may not be about sexuality.
The final irony here, of course, is the presence of a mainstream "globalizing" signifier of
gay and lesbian identities, namely, of a cruise ship with self-proclaimed (professional) gays and
lesbians aboard whose presence can be justified not only in humanitarian or in human rights
terms, but also in economic terms as contributors to the local economy. A fairly narrow, and
perhaps even conservative, segment of gay and lesbian tourists thus winds up triggering among
the most contentious political discussions on homosexuality in the Caribbean, in effect becoming
a "radical" symbol of Caribbean gay and lesbian activism. Distinctions drawn around
mainstream, normative, or corporate homosexuality (Mufioz 1997, 98) cannot fully absorb the
irony of how certain forms of "corporate gayness" are fueling the supposedly radical agenda of
liberationist human rights projects through gay and lesbian tourism.
Circuit two: Globalization, gender, sexuality, and drag in Trinidad
My attention, and the attention of many of my informants, flipped-flopped back and forth
between the debates about the cruise ships and the preparations for "Diva" (and Carnival).15
"Diva" started in 1992 as an "artistic production" for professional actors, a strategic approach
used to circumvent the reluctance of theater owners to host the show, according to the producer,
a Chinese-Trinidadian man in his fifties. Over the years it has become increasingly identified as a
gay and lesbian community event, drawing increasing numbers of amateur participants as well as
expatriates and overseas visitors. Since 1998, it has been advertised on several Web sites created
by and for gay and lesbian Trinidadians, and it appears only a matter of time before "Diva" will
be listed in mainstream gay and lesbian tourism publications as a cruising spot for gay men.
"Diva" illustrates another circuit of globalization, one that highlights different regimes of gay
and lesbian identities and the attendant concerns of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and
nation as they occur in Trinidad. Colonial histories of cross-dressing and transvestism compete
with contemporary globalizing understandings of drag to create debates among producers as well
as spectators about whether "Diva" is, or should be, a "gay show."
Over the years, the performers have tended to be working class Afro-Trinidadian men.
The audience is usually largely middle-class, surprisingly even in terms of gender, and racially
very mixed. It also includes many diasporic expatriates who are home for Carnival as well as
tourists and well-traveled Trinidadians. The show is not inexpensive by Trinidadian standards; in
1998 both evenings cost a total of 100 TT, the equivalent of $18 U.S. According to the
organizers, who claim to know who is in and out of the "community," the audience is always at
least half "straight". One organizer, an Afro-Trinidadian man, explained the audience
composition to me like this:
What I found interesting was how many people, because, there are people there known to
be heterosexual, how many people .... I don't call them closet cases you know, but
they're not open about their preference-how many people felt more comfortable to go
because they could say, 'well they have other heterosexuals here' and therefore they
would not immediately be lumped with the rest of the bullers.
The reviews of the contest for the past six years have followed nearly the same format,
regardless of author and whether published in the Trinidad Express or the Trinidad Guardian,
both mainstream daily newspapers. Focused on the comedic moments of the performance and
dismissing much of the serious content of the scenes of death and the AIDS epidemic, sexual
assault and gay bashing, and the hazards of sex work, the commentaries mostly ridicule the
visuality of drag. As with the advertisements, no mention of sexuality or gender is ever made.
Explained the producer:
Last year when we were at the Central Bank, we got a review from someone that wrote
from the news... .~,,ini rime Magazine. And she loved everything. She was surprised at the
standard, she loved the acts, the lights, everything. But she started talking about the show
as it being a gay show. And I had to write back, you know, and say, this is not a gay
show. Because she had the conception that it was.
A newspaper reviewer who is considered part of the community also displayed ambivalence
about characterizing "Diva" as a gay event:
But we don't get a lot of reviews ... I was disappointed this year by a gay guy who wrote
... He thought of it in the way that I've been trying to get away from-a bunch of gay
guys running around, putting on a dress. Made a stupid remark like 'leave your
bitchiness at the door, that nonsense.16 (Boodram 1997)
In 1998, ironically and yet appropriately enough, "Diva" was held in Queens Hall, a
central and prominent theater in Port-of-Spain.17 The performances ranged from spectacularizing
of glamour, to comedic parodies, to tragic depictions of HIV/AIDS, poverty, and sex workers.
Lip-syncing to Diana Ross's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," three performers in shiny
yellow latex bodysuits, sporting huge feathered headdresses and sequined capes, echoed
carnivalesque costumes and glamour.18 In several scenes, participants emphasized similar tropes
of beauty and glamour, with heavily sequined ballgowns and cocktail dresses, as was the case in
a James Bond Goldfingers skit and in an Annie Lenox impersonation; Patti LaBelle was the
figure most often impersonated. In contrast, the more dramatic performances dealing with social
issues included a remake of Queen's "Mama," in which a "Diva" performer snatched his wig off
his head and threw it out to the audience while lip-syncing the words "Sometimes wish I'd never
been born at all ... nothing really matters to me." The dramatic performances also included
somber depictions of a patient dying of AIDS in front of an AIDS quilt as well as scenes of
domestic abuse and a sex worker being kicked around by her pimp.
While the judging still favors conventional glamour drag over pointed social
commentary, the show has always been heavily dominated by references to the HIV/AIDS
epidemic. "Diva" has been called the "Carnival of Death" by the producer since so many of the
original contestants have since died of AIDS-related illnesses. The winner of last year's
competition, a working-class Afro-Trinidadian man, explained that he entered as a "practical
situation to make money" and called "Diva" "entertainment for the general public. It's not really
a political or community event." But he described his own performance as being:
About HIV. The piece that actually probably made me win-not probably, did-was a
piece on AIDS. It was very profound .. stark and frightening. I don't know if it was
above their heads. It was a different space for me too, because for me, it was about the
person with HIV having to go through all of this, making all of these decisions, dealing
with religion, and dealing with . lots of different issues and having to make choices and
In 1998, the first show actually began with the emcee announcing the opening number as
one that "celebrates the Dame Lorraine and tracks that historical event." On stage appeared three
Afro-Trinidadian "women" dressed in brown army uniforms with stuffed breasts and behinds. In
this slapstick parody of the American military, they pranced around and tap-danced to "Boogie
Woogie Bugle Boy," waving their behinds as the stuffed pillows nearly tumbled out. This was
my first introduction to the Dame Lorraine, a character who is defined as:
A traditional Carnival character who originally mocked French plantation wives.
Formerly this character was played by cross-dressing men as well as women, but now it
is primarily a female masquerade. The all-over floral print dress of this mas is augmented
with a padded posterior and breasts, and sometimes a pregnant belly. (Martin 1998, 225)
Errol Hill states that the Dame Lorraine is meant to mean "fashionable lady" and represents a
common form of "mockery of their master's dancing eccentricities [that] had been a common
form of private entertainment among estate slaves" (1972, 40). The Dame Lorraine, a highly
performative form of "colonial mimicry" of French Creole whiteness, became a part of carnival
processions in 1884 (Bhabha 1984, 125-33).19 Though transvestite masqueraders were banned
from Carnival in 1895, the Dame Lorraine remained a common figure until the beginning of
World War II (Hill 1972, 108-9). Although the Dame Lorraine was a popular masquerade and
frequently mentioned in the literature on Trinidad's Carnival, there are surprisingly few
references to cross-dressing and transvestism, and, furthermore, there is nothing documenting
how transvestism emerged in relation to the character of the Dame Lorraine.
Since the show has never been advertised as a gay show or even a drag show-it has
simply been announced as "Diva," a performance guided primarily by a serious artistic and
competitive agenda-the history of the Dame Lorraine in Carnival is key to accounting for its
complexity. Explained one of the 1998 judges, an Afro-Trinidadian gay man:
I don't even know if it is a strategy. I would imagine if you wanted to promote Diva you
would want to promote it as good entertainment that harked to a long-standing tradition
in Trinidad that is about female impersonation that would claim it is about the Dame
Lorraine. They are lying, but it is all right, because of the difficulties taking any other
angle would produce. It is still one of the best entertainments in town. And I surmise,
since it is now in Queens Hall, that it is entering the mainstream. I feel that somehow
drag shows will be more tolerated than faggot shows. If this is not made an issue, then it
will not become an issue.
The Dame Lorraine can be seen as a covert figure of legitimization, one which functions as a
marker of Carnival masquerading and, hence, of a national tradition of cross-dressing and female
impersonation. It also mediates the distinctions between drag shows and "faggot" shows, despite
that such a characterization would be "lying." The producer explained this further:
We know what it is we. ... we know exactly what it is, but these things we do not
project. What we do project, here we have a production, of a certain type, a unique one,
built on a lot of lip-syncing, gender illusion, performance art, we say that, and that's what
it is. If people come in and say we know this is a gay show and a homosexuality cover for
then the onus is on them to prove that.
This history of cross-dressing and drag in Trinidad's Carnival is characterized heavily,
but not exclusively, by the figure of the Dame Lorraine, and described by one of the Afro-
Trinidadian "Diva" performers: 20
Dame Lorraine remains as an echo. It is seldom portrayed anymore in the road, and it has
survived in theatrical presentations. Certainly it found a home in "Diva," because it is
what they legitimize the effort with. I would more want to refer to the transvestitism
rather than the Dame Lorraine. To me the Dame Lorraine seems to be a mas, rather than
an attempt to be a transvestite. Because it was not about being a woman, it was about
being a ridiculously over the top female. No attempt at beauty would take place. But
there were guys who you'd see in bras and panties, who would look like one and you
realize that was their kick. You don't see a lot of it anymore.
In making distinctions between the figure of the Dame Lorraine in Carnival and other forms of
transvestism in mas, the Carnival procession, a range of masquerading emerges. Stated an Afro-
Trinidadian male "Diva" judge:
The nightie was allowed because it was Carnival. So all of these alleged bisexuals would
be tramping out in their girlfriend's lingerie, bold and brazen on the j ouvert morning.
That was mas. That was a "jouvert" thing to do. I thought it was quite significant to work
out their fetish like that.
The availability of such gendered spaces in Carnival has all but died out given that now, as a
"Diva" contestant explained, "One would be seen for what he is, a buller."
Despite the prominence of the Dame Lorraine and transvestism in Carnival, most of the
seven drag performers I interviewed actually had little to say about the history of gendered roles
in carnival traditions or the overtly political performances and references to the AIDS epidemic.
Rather, they all talked about contemporary "Divas", ranging from Barbara Streisand and Marilyn
Monroe, who were parodied in the early shows, to Patti La Belle, Tina Turner, and Toni Braxton.
Said a working-class Afro-Trinidadian male who has performed in nearly every "Diva" show:
"The first two years, the older actors involved were very aware of the female icons of the cinema
... Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich. Now, because they are younger and also blacker, they
tend to follow Patti La Belle, Toni Braxton."21
Comments from early "Diva" participants suggest the applicability of the concept of
"interior passing" where white women were portrayed to be ridiculed yet worshiped, and
indicated the ways in which whiteness could never be attained as opposed to merely marking the
desire for it.22 Another longtime "Diva" performer, also an Afro-Trinidadian male, explained:
In the early days, speaking to a friend who won one of the first competitions was the
absence of recognizability. In that there were maybe two or three people who portrayed
recognizable entities. In this case it was Judy Garland and Liza Minelli, another case was
Marilyn Monroe. And that was an extraordinary manifestation because in this case
Marilyn Monroe was six foot three, and black as the ace of spades. But Marilyn. I
thought wow! No black queen is in any way seriously trying to portray her.
While figures of white womanhood are prominent in earlier "Diva" shows but somewhat absent
in more recent ones, the competing definitions of black womanhood reflect the distinctions made
between African American, Afro-Trinidadian, as well as Indo-Trinidadian femininities (which I
discuss later).23 Performers also commented on the availability of images:
My friend and I would've gotten all these ideas from looking at Greta Garbo and Harlow
and all these ... in the ancient movies. By the time we got cable-those choices are not
available in Trinidad. So when Tina Turner is viewed as an old-time Diva ... and Tina
Turner, well she just reached! You had a whole body of work before that. It has to do too
with availability of material. When you're going to be selecting you're not going to be
selecting Billie Holiday, you're going to be selecting Whitney Houston. You're not going
to be selecting Edith Piaf. You're going to select Patti LaBelle. What I think happened, is
that our paradigm is beauty queen, not screen idol. It is the need for glamour not as
portrayed by Hollywood, but as imagined through the magazines that you see and the
queen's gowns that you see, and the desire to be Miss Trinidad and Tobago more then
In this particular circuit, globalization entails the negotiation of contemporary
understandings of drag performances, via the impersonation of white and black figures of diva,
with a colonial figure of mimicry, the Dame Lorraine. One obvious effect of globalization is that
such colonial mimicry has become foregrounded as an indicator of sexual transgression. It is
precisely these contesting genealogies of the performances in "Diva" that question whether the
show is or is not a gay one. Furthermore, the significance of making this qualification becomes
even clearer in the face of the globalization of gay and lesbian identities that demands, as with
the cruise ships, a clearer articulation of an explicitly out gay identity.
Circuit three: When is drag not drag? Indo-Trinidadian sexualities and globalization
"Diva" is also an event where questions of racial performativity and Indian-African
relations are highlighted. Trinidad's decolonization in 1962 is ironic in that it left two groups of
color of nearly equal proportion (Indians at 40.7 percent and Africans at 40.percent) pitted
against each other as economic and cultural rivals. The impression of growing racial antagonisms
has been termed the "war of cultures" by the media. While Afro-Trinidadians have historically
dominated the political arena and are culturally associated with the Caribbean, Indo-Trinidadians
have recently emerged as powerful challengers to both the political and cultural space of the
nation, signaled by the prominence of a growing Indian bourgeoisie with access to greater
resources as well as the election ofBasdeo Panday, the first Indian Prime Minister, in 1995.25 As
Daniel Miller notes, much scholarship on Trinidad reiterates the problematic of ethnicity and
race as the main social cleavages fracturing Trinidadian nationalism (1994). Currently, however,
attention is being drawn to the globalization of Indian ethnicity occurring throughout the
Caribbean through the dissemination of Hindi film and the increasing circulation of aspects of
Indo-Trinidadian popular culture, such as chutney music (Niranjana 1999; see also Khan 1995).
In this context, the categorization of who is and is not in "drag" is an important reflection of the
relationships between African and Indian ethnicities.
Despite the increasing Indianization of Trinidad, however, "Diva" continues to be
dominated by Afro-Trinidadians. Every year has seen an Indian act, and 1998 was no different.
As the producer comments:
I've always had an East Indian act. Always had one. I nearly did not have one this year. I
always wanted one, I like variety. The gay community in Trinidad has a lot of class and
racial differences, and you would find the Chinese, whites the lighter-skinned Trinis
would not be eager to participate in something like "Diva." They would come and look at
About halfway through the first show, the "Indian" act was announced, first, by the
emcee's comments on the problems he was having pronouncing the Indian names and secondly,
by the distinct introductory notes of Indian film music that was quite different from the more
contemporary "Top 40" pop tunes used in the rest of the acts. A pair of Indo-Trinidadians
mimicked the motif of seduction so common in Hindi films. The male figure, dressed in an
Indian kurta and pajamas, pranced after his flighty, pouting partner, who was dressed in a bright
pink top and long silk skirt, around trees and through fields. The female figure was barefoot,
with long braided hair, an exposed belly, and gold earrings and wrist bangles. One could even
imagine the rain so typical of Bollywood films. At the end of the scene, the male figure hoisted
the female figure into his arms.
One of the Indo-Trinidadian performers, Sasha, described their first act like this:
The first one on "Diva" night was a sampling [from the] movie "Kamuchi" in which the
girl was imagining . she saw a boy a few days before and she feels in love with him at
first sight, you know these Indian pictures. She was singing this song, and she was
imagining, while she was doing her homework and all that, she was imagining this is her
knight in shining armor who will hopefully one day come and sweep her off her feet.
While she was dancing ... he was right there now checking her out, she realizes her
dreams do come true and eventually they did get married.
On the second night, the Indian pair performed another song from a recent Hindi film.
The flirtation and seduction involved a similar wiggling of hips and "wining," interspersed with
a few dance movements. This was the only coupling in any performance of "Diva," and the only
performance of desire expressed through heterosexual partnering in the two shows as well.
Generally, throughout both acts, the audience was appreciative, but not overly
enthusiastic. An undercurrent of chattering increased as the performance continued, and the final
applause was lukewarm. During the most comedic moments, the audience did hoot with laughter.
These acts were part dance, part acting, part parody. The familiarity of Hindi films to Trinidadian
audiences is enabled by regular screenings in theaters as well as by the availability of Indian
cable channels and Indian MTV, not to mention the by the exposure to the rich culture of dance
and music made possible through contests held in the south and central areas of Trinidad. 26
The question remains: were the performances drag? The various answers to this question
may illuminate the differences between the visibilities of race and sexuality versus the visibilities
of race or sexuality. The differences between Afro-femininity and how it "gets dragged" versus
the dragging of Indian femininity is striking.27 In the audience response surveys that I conducted
after the shows, many comments indicated that the Indian performers were regarded as closeted
and thus not "really" in drag; rather, they were simply performing an "ethnic" dance. One Afro-
Trinidadian male interviewee claimed: "This is an Indian drag queen who is inhibited by fears of
people discovering who she really is." An Indo-Trinidadian female judge, lamenting the dearth
of Indo-Trinidadian performers, noted: "This is marked as ethnic dance, as Indian dance, while
the African is not marked." Another judge, an Afro-Trinidadian man, commented: "It's just a
dance. It's a dance to me, to you. The judges don't know what the movements mean. It's not
like a Hindi film-there are no subtitles." During my questioning of audience members, I asked
repeatedly whether the Indian dance, in the context of the "Diva" contest, was considered to be
drag. "He was pretending to be a woman but he does Indian dance anyway," said an Afro-
Trinidadian female. "It's an Indian dance because we can classify it like that-it's easy to
classify. It's not drag though."
The prevailing opinion was that "East Indian performers want to be judged solely as an
East Indian dance." One last observation by a mixed-race Afro-Trinidadian woman seemed to
sum up a general sentiment: "Oh, I just knew. I said, 'Boy, these guys are brave.' I knew they
weren't going to win. You could just tell some of those contestants were staring, thinking 'What
are you doing here?' An Indian contestant could never be a Diva." A reviewer concurred in an
article titled "Divas Come Out":
Then brace! I thought I was at the Chutney Soca finals when I witnessed a typical scene
from an Indian movie: a "girl" (and I use the term loosely) in a red sari meets her knight
in shining armor, plays games of fun, and realizes dreams sometimes do come true. A
heckler in the audience bawled "Yeah, right." (Farah 1998, 19-20) 28
These varied reactions point to several connections between performances of drag and the
moments of cultural, racial, and national strategies utilized in them. In relation to the highly
visible use of Indian tradition, the signification of the Dame Lorraine as the national, and by
default, African tradition is only momentarily or marginally acknowledged, if at all. The
characterization of this performance as an Indian one erases Indo-Trinidadians in drag even as it
simultaneously enables participation in a Trinidadian national space of drag. The connections
between drag and the reterritorializing of national spaces are located when African traditions are
hailed as national traditions, or inversely when national traditions are erased as African ones, as
in the Dame Lorraine. When is the specter of tradition just barely referenced or not, and who is
able to avoid that reference?
I met Sasha and Vik at the cast party after the second night of the "Diva" contest.29 I
congratulated them on their performance and introduced myself as a researcher working on
gender and sexuality in Trinidad. They were standing at the side of the dance area at a party at
"Bohemia," a venue known for attracting "rough crowd," (a euphemism for working class and
African). They were still in drag, or in costume, or neither, depending on one's reading of their
subject positioning. I asked if they would be interested in being interviewed for my project.
They readily agreed and I promised to call them after the weekend. Later, when I spoke to Vik
on the phone, we arranged a meeting spot at the Grand Bazaar, a relatively new mall. The Grand
Bazaar is located at the entrance to the freeway considered the gateway to the "South," a
demarcation commonly alluding to the rural, the Indian, the backward spaces of Trinidad from
the vantage point of cosmopolitan Port-of-Spain.30
We sat in Pizza Hut. Sasha was still in drag. She/He had long painted nails, wore
lipstick, and had pinned up his/her long dark hair into a high ponytail.31 Vik hovered over both
of us, getting us drinks and winking at Sasha. We started by talking about the performance and
how they felt about the rehearsals and the show. Both Vik and Sasha were excited about having
had the opportunity to perform, and had not felt marginalized by the African-dominated spaces
of the show, saying that the audience really appreciated Indian dance. Sasha commented:
It's not really classical, it's more like a love story, modern film style. It had a lot of
classical movements in it. To do when you're doing dancing you have to get the basic
classical movements in it. But well, we couldn't do a classical dance anyway in "Diva,"
it wouldn't be appreciated as much as a film song. You have to relate to the crowd and
the modern people now so we do something with all the origins of a real pure classical
Indian dance with the new modem.
We spent hours talking about dance in general, about different types of Indian dance, and
about the development of Vik's and Sasha's dance school, their business partnership, and the
kinds of reactions their families and residential community had about their interest in an
alternative career which was not conventional for Indo-Trinidadian men. They had established
their dance school nearly six years earlier, and had performed all over Trinidad at Indian
weddings and community events, as well as at Trinidadian cultural shows. They had also
performed overseas in Guyana, New York, and Miami. The point is that for the first two hours
of the interview, we never once talked about drag, sexuality, homosexuality, gays, lesbians, or
gendered roles. I hesitantly read my own assumptions of their sexual relationship through
certain moments of affection between the two of them and their narration of a long joint history
of living and working together. Having a partnership routed through material business
arrangements is a common phenomenon for same-sex liaisons, especially in Indian circles in
Trinidad, and may even be facilitated by the concept of arranged marriage that is seen purely as a
familial and financial arrangement that benefits everyone. The one fleeting reference to anything
remotely related to "Diva" as a space of gender illusion was made when Vikram commented
about the Port-of-Spain "community parties" being pleasant though somewhat alienating. My
one entry into issues of sexuality, aside from the show, was the party that took place at Bohemia
following the second and final night of the contest. When I asked what they thought of the cast
party, Sasha responded by saying:
Yeah, what happened was we didn't stay too long because I had to go dance in a wedding
way down in Rio Claro and that was about one, that we left and we reached about three
and I had to get up wash and all that and get down to the wedding for nine o'clock in the
morning. But I wish I could've stayed a bit longer and experienced what the party was
like, I haven't been to a party like that. So it would've been a nice experience.
Unlike with the other drag performers I interviewed who were Afro-Trinidadian, I simply
could not bring up the question of sexuality with Vikram and Sasha, largely because they did not
appear gay to me in any intelligible way. That they were "closeted" is easy to assume here,
except that Vikram and Sasha exist in Chaguanas as "openly" as any gay couple ever could, in a
somewhat accepted/tolerated/negotiated trangendered partnering. And given my struggles to
respect their privacy and interpretation on the one hand, and to access the meaning of their
relationship in terms I could comprehend on the other, the impact of my own closeting of them is
indeed hard to assess. I was also unable to gain any insight into what Sasha and Vik were
thinking about me or if they read me as a lesbian; they asked me only about my family in the
United States, my knowledge of Indian dance, and my connections to Indian musicians and
In fact, towards the end of our second hour together, Sasha and Vik started pressing what
seemed to me at that time their real agenda-they wanted to know if I had any business contacts
on the West Coast who could set them up with a show. In this moment, in which they indicated
that their shows were quite successful in New York and Miami, their emphasis on institutional
and economic constraints and opportunities served to foreground the materiality of bodies in a
way that could not be accounted for by strictly defining that materiality in relation to other
bodies. They wanted to know what California was like. What may well have been most enabling
for Sasha and Vik were the economic networks they mobilized and within which they moved.
This is what I find so interesting, that Sasha and Vik had no investment whatsoever in the
process of queer liberation. It is precisely their refusal of a politics around sexuality that was
most striking; they appeared completely uninterested in the politicized project of gender bending
that often occupies center stage in U.S.-based queer theory. Sasha and Vik, and arguably many
of the other drag contestants who yearn to be awarded the prize money at "Diva," linked their
sexual subjectivity to their work status.
I do not intend here to reductively position the wide range of different kinds of gender,
racial, class, and national identifications in such examples. Rather, I want to suggest this: if it is
visible, is it queer visibility in the ways queer liberation in the United States might define it? It
may be invisible, but is it in/visibility? Not every invisibility involves an assimilationist
narrative. Sasha and Vik were more visible in "Diva" as ethnic Indian dancers than as drag
performers, or rather invisible as gay. Yet they were more visible in their hometown of
Chaguanas as a male/female couple than as a gay couple; or rather, they were invisible as a gay
couple. I will not go so far as to say that the possibilities of Vikram and Sasha as a couple, or of
Sasha in drag or as transgendered, are completely invisible and accepted without repercussions
by a largely Indian community in Central Trinidad. In fact, Sasha and Vik performed the very
same acts in "Diva" as they did for Indian weddings and other community functions in South and
Central Trinidad. Given the history of female impersonation and cross-dressing in Indian dance
as well as in contemporary Bollywood films, the framework of drag may well be irrelevant in
these contexts.32 When I asked about the tradition of Indian cross-dressing in Indian dance, and
how it was received at these predominantly heterosexual functions, Sasha stated:
The culture here, what I know outside ... In Trinidad, a lot of people used to heckle me
and they smirk at me. But now um ... I would say I'm very much well accepted.
Because I'd be in Chaguanas and go around and they go .... "Hey Sasha, hey Sasha"
and stuff like that. Every weekend we'd be performing, just Wednesday night we were
performing for Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Show.
I do think maybe they do still have a few negative people, I'm not saying no. The
majority of people widely accepted the fact that we do dance together .... And they do
enjoy seeing boys dress up and dance, so we do the most popular ones, the most
In this circuit, the globalization of Indian ethnicity via Hindi films and popular culture as
well as diasporic cultural venues is in conversation with the moments of meaning about sexuality
and race that are traversed in the movement from the South to the North, from supposed
subalternized rural Indian territory to cosmopolitan, urban African territory. Qualifying Sasha
and Vik as a male/female couple is too reductive. Or, perhaps it is precisely this reductive
reading that allows them a certain degree of gender fluidity. Similarly ineffectual is the "third
gender" status often accorded to hijras in India and Native American berdaches.33 Despite my
lack of information or evidence about Sasha and Vik's sexual orientations or their sexual
relationship, what remains interesting here is the destabilizing of sex/gender binaries within
kinship structures, community events, and global labor/work networks.34
Globalization 2000: "Circuits of desire"
In closing, I want to return to the opening dilemma posed by the cruise ship with nine
hundred gays and lesbians from the United States, its presence intertwined with the performances
of "Diva" the Dame Lorraine, and Sasha and Vik. The three overlapping yet distinct circuits of
globalization that I have laid out above have one element in common: they are all part of my
circuit: my gaze as a feminist ethnographer, a tourist, and a South Asian queer academic based in
the United States. This circuit has altered significantly over the years of my research in Trinidad.
When I first came to Trinidad in 1994, the few contacts that I made in the gay and lesbian
community were located through word of mouth, primarily from Trinidadian friends in the
United States. Information was always cautiously dispensed-"Give the best friend of my
cousin's neighbor a call. I don't know if he's 'out' or what-we've never talked about it-but I
think he's gay." Now, fetes that were once invitation-only and known about strictly through
word-of-mouth are advertised on the worldwide Web. It is also less problematic for me to write
about specific places, events and even people in Trinidad because they have all been "outed" by
these Web sites as well as by the gay and lesbian tourism industry. Friends who visit Trinidad
no longer ask me to direct them to "the scene" because they no longer have to. There is no
longer just one gay event of the night; while I was in Trinidad for Carnival 2000 a multitude of
gay parties were taking place simultaneously. "Diva," which did not take place in 1999 because
the producer was ill, was taken over in 2000 by a new producer who attracted a new community
of performers, stage workers, and judges. "Diva" now had competition; it was held on nights
when several other gay events were taking place.
All of these shifts have occurred in the last two or three years. In addition to completely
altering the roles, methods, and writings of a feminist queer ethnographer like myself, what do
these circuits say about the uneven and contradictory situations enabled by globalization in terms
of gender and sexuality? Dennis Altman (1997) suggests that most approaches to theorizing
globalization and gay and lesbian identities involve some kind of hybridization of "indigenous"
and imported concepts of identity. Differences of opinion, then, just reflect how much emphasis
one wants to put on the hybridized. Altman (1996) also posits a recourse to "indigenous
sexualities" as a response and solution to Western globalization. Yukiko Hanawa (1996) offers a
more productive concept of "circuits of desire," noting that any recourse to origins through
appeals to indigenous structures is already framed by colonial mythologies (1996). Martin
Manalansan (1995) has untangled the often homogenizing tendencies of certain processes of
globalization, such as the positing of Stonewall as a universal moment of liberatory social
change. In her work on sexualities in Thailand, Rosalind Morris has argued that what could be
designated a "gay diaspora" functions to malign significations of sexual practices among men.
Further, she claims that the concept of a gay diaspora may actually redefine such practices in
ways that invite more policing of these very practices by the Thai state (1997). Thus, the use of
examples of gay and lesbian sexualities from postcolonial contexts in specific moments of queer
liberationist agendas may well do anything but actually advance liberation for those it purports to
While I want to insist on the refusal of an imported versus indigenous binary, mapping
my own circuits of desire has been a difficult and confusing task. It is precisely upon the erasure
of these circuits of globalization that my own desires, in the search for nameable and counter-
nameable subjects, has often hinged. My problematic enthrallment with Sasha and Vikram may
well reflect my desire to produce a "queerer than queer" counternarrative to the homogenizing
impulses of metropole-produced queer theory. In retrospect, it is hard for me to say whether the
"refusal of the subject" was indeed the denial of Sasha and Vik as the gay subjects that I could
most easily identify, or actually my refusal to allow Sasha and Vik to be the (gay?) subjects that
they are(Visweswaran, 1994). If the latter is the case, then I, too, colluded with Afro-Trinidadian
assessments that they were not in drag; I, too, viewed the specificity of Sasha and Vik's lives
through the lens of romanticized queerness, searching for some kind of sexual liminality that I
could not name or see, but still could somehow know. I have also, with ambivalence, used the
terms gay and lesbian as well as transgender to describe people in Trinidad while I used the term
queer for myself. I have done this in part because queer does not yet circulate as a descriptor in
Trinidad. However, I am well aware that for some readers this may be seen as a "withholding"
of sorts that reinscribes the centrality of queer theory (and myself as a queer theorist) that I have
attempted to trouble here. For other readers, using the term generically would have been
unforgivably neocolonialist. Though I have resisted offering definitions of these terms as a
preface to this material since the argument made in this discussion renders such definitions
counterproductive to my theoretical intent, I have recuperated namings at moments when there
appears to be no linguistic escape. All namings are underpinned by tensions between identity
positions around race, ethnicity, class, and gender in ways that mark subjects beyond genre and
sexual signification. In the context of theorizing about globalization, these namings are often
freighted with the difficulty of being untranslatable across social locations.
This article set out to look at some specific moments of the globalization of gender and
sexuality in the context of Trinidadian identities and the effects of globalization on sexuality.
The larger project from which this work derives is also concerned with the development of gay
and lesbian activism in Trinidad and its links to international organizing, the negotiation of
transsexual and transgender identities in Trinidad, the likes of which have not quite emerged yet,
and the practices of consumption, tourism, and cultural production which will continue to alter
the ways that gay and lesbian sexualities are understood in Trinidad. Does globalization entail a
predictable teleological march towards recognizably gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and
queer identities? This is the question that I, and others, continue to explore.
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My deep appreciation goes to the editors of this issue as well as two outside readers whose suggestions were
invaluable. I would especially like to thank Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan for so patiently guiding me through
the revision process. My gratitude also extends to Katherine Sugg, Tania Hammidi, Judy Gerson, Aim6e Sisco,
Paola Zamperini, Anand Pandian, and Gillian Harkins for their critical feedback on this article.
1 I use the term ethnographer-tourist not to minimize or compromise my activities as an
ethnographer and researcher but rather to highlight my overlapping positioning and
participation in tourist circuits in Trinidad. Much has been written on the ethnographer
as traveler. However, less has been discussed about how a hierarchical distinction
between traveler and tourist serves to obscure the ways in which ethnographers are
tourists in the field to varying degrees and are implicated in tourist economies.
22. For details on the economic processes of contemporary globalization in the Caribbean,
see Klak 1998.
3The most prominent example of such globalized organizations, the Caribbean
Epidemiology Centre (CAREC), is located in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and is funded by
various Caribbean islands as well as the Dutch and British governments.
4 See the following Web sites: GayTrinidad site, at
Caribbean Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (C-FLAG), at
firstname.lastname@example.org. The GayTrinidad site is the most extensive, featuring news and
events listings, an e-mail list, a guestbook, discussion postings, and a chatroom. For a
detailed and fascinating study of the use of the Internet in Trinidad, see Miller and Slater
5 Keith Nurse notes that the globalization of Carnival also generates a tremendous
amount of travel and work opportunities through an overseas Carnival circuit that spans
the Caribbean, North America, and Europe and involves some of the largest gatherings in
those locales (1999, 673).
6 The research in this article is based on fieldwork conducted in Trinidad during
intermittent trips from 1994 to 2000. The analysis herein is derived from participant-
observation in the field as well as from more than thirty interviews with activists from
Trinidad and other Caribbean countries, "Diva" performers, producers, and judges. I also
distributed forty-seven audience response surveys after the "Diva" shows, and organized
post-"Diva" discussion roundtables.
7 In the same article, Bahamian clergymen claimed it was the "power of prayer" that
steered the ship away from the island, a decision that was claimed to have been made due
to inclement weather. Clergy said the cancellation was due to "divine intervention"
(Trinidad Express 1998, 29).
8 The editors of Out andAbout, the leading gay and lesbian tourism newsletter, called for
a travel boycott against the Cayman Islands, encouraging letter writing campaigns to
American Airlines, American Express (the "official card" of the Cayman Islands), and
Norwegian Cruise Lines (the cruise line chartered by Atlantis Events, Inc.). "Our purpose
is to send a message to the Cayman Islands that discrimination based on sexual
orientation may still be legal in much of the world, but it is no longer acceptable in the
tourism industry. The message will resonate throughout the Caribbean, for the Caymans
are not alone in their homophobia, only in its unrepentant expression" See Out and
About, (March 1998, 27).
9 This was not the first time that such conflicts occurred in the Caribbean. In April 1996, a
cruise of eight hundred lesbians from the United States, Canada, England, Italy, and
Australia, organized by Olivia Cruises and Resorts of California (a lesbian cruise
company formed in 1990), for the first time "ventured to come down south." Previous
cruises had only visited northern Caribbean locations (Mirror 1996, 21). They did dock
in the Cayman Islands without any problems. A representative of Olivia Cruises stated
that the women on the cruise would patronize women-owned businesses during their
daily tours of the islands, which would help to dispel "preconceived ideas about
lesbians": "The visit to these parts will help dispel such inaccurate information . people
will become aware that lesbians are normal, everyday people .. many of whom are
professionals." Lesbians, she stated, traditionally spend quite a bit of money during their
vacations "and this is a significant contribution to the local economy" (Mirror 1996, 21).
10 See "Isle of Shame" in Out andAbout, vol. 7, no. 4, May 1998, for excerpts from the
statement of welcome to gay and lesbian travelers eventually issued by the Prime
Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert A. Ingraham. For contextualization of the tourist
industry in the Bahamas, see Alexander 1997.
11 Puerto Rico is the most commonly referenced Caribbean destination for European-
American gay and lesbian travelers; other frequently mentioned islands include the U.S.
Virgin Islands, St. Barts, Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, the Dominican
Republic, and most recently, Cuba. See MasterFiles of Out andAbout, at
editors of Out andAbout write: "Homophobia is rarely a problem for gay visitors, since
tourist dollars speak loudly and most gay men and women come here to escape city life,
including its gay trappings (1995, 1).
12 While the marketing of Carnival in the gay and lesbian tourism industry is geared
predominantly towards men, Carnival in Trinidad is increasingly seen as a "women's
spectacle." Selwyn Ryan estimates that as many as ten times the number of women play
mas (dress up in carnival masquerade) as men, and that Carnival provides women with
"an opportunity to free themselves up ... it's part of the whole liberation movement"
(quoted in Mason, 1998, 169). Consequently, the behavior of women during carnival
season is viewed as illicit, lewd, and offensive, becoming the subject of endless public
and media debates about proper womanly conduct. One reading of same-sex eroticism at
Carnival might point to the women who are "wining" (hipgrinding) up against each other,
suggesting covert lesbian spaces. The visual effect produced by these spectacles is, on the
one hand, sensual, suggestive, and generally expected and, on the other, remarked upon
as lewd and crude behavior. The acts are never publicly qualified as lesbian, so the
fluidity of definition makes invisibility possible in an otherwise highly visible space.
Yet, those who are most invested in the matrix of same-sex desire may be least able to
utilize and participate in these moments now precisely because of the increasing visibility
of gay and lesbian identity. The most interesting thing about same-sex wining for women
during Carnival is not, however, that lesbians can claim a space in Carnival for the
expression of same-sex sexuality, but rather exactly the inverse-that non-lesbian
identified women have unregulated, though commented upon, access to same-sex
13 Trinidad and Tobago has also recently taken a particular interest in promoting its cruise
industry. The Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATNT) wrote in 1998 that they
are "committed to making Trinidad and Tobago the cruise industry's preferred
destination in the Southern Caribbean." See the PATNT Web site, at www.patnt.com.
The Trinidad and Tobago Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) is developing
Trinidad as an ecotourist destination, in particular focusing on a national wetlands park
project in the Nariva Swamp (Sletto 1998). See also Fallon 1999 and Sengupta 1998 on
bird-watching and other tourism ventures.
14 Debates continued through the spring, preceded by prison riots in Jamaica over the
distribution of condoms and continuing pressure from the British to liberalize anti-gay
laws. Britain had previously abolished the death penalty in several British territories
(Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and Monserrat)
"despite public support for capital punishment in the colonies and throughout the
Caribbean." In response to Britain's insinuation that it would do the same with regard to
laws on homosexuality, Anguilla's chief minister, Hubert Hughes, stated: "We would like
Britain to understand that even though we are dependent on British aid, we will definitely
not compromise our principals when it comes to Christianity" (Trinidad Express 1998,
15 While I focus in this chapter on "Diva," there are several other notable spaces of drag
performance in Trinidad. Two examples are those created by drag performer Juana La
Cubana, a well-known figure in entertainment circles in Trinidad, and in the stage
production of "Mark, Maureen, and A Drag Queen" in October 1998.
16 The explicit reference to homosexuality in "Diva" is unusual.
17 A film by Richard Fung, discussed in Jose Munoz's article on autoethnography,
reminded me of this irony. Munoz notes that in Fung's film My Mother's Place (1991)
the scene which depicts the arrival of the British Queen signals that the "young Chinese
Trinidadian's identification with the Queen is extremely complicated" (1995, 83-84). In
light of this, the "occupation" of Queens Hall through Diva represents intersections of
racial and sexual defiance, suggesting connections between the former colonizing queen
and the contemporary queens of "Diva."
18 In a longer unpublished version of this paper I discuss Bakhtin and his
conceptualization of the carnivalesque to shed more light on the genealogies of the
costumes in these drag performances.
19 The configurations of whiteness in Trinidad are complex ones that fall in and out of
understandings of global white hegemonies. Whiteness in Trinidad refers to not only a
tiny French white creole population but also to lighter skinned and mixed-race
Trinidadians and "Syrians." Most of the "Syrians" in Trinidad emigrated from Lebanon
and are, in the racial taxonomy in Trinidad, considered "white." However, white North
American and Europeans are often hailed as "the real white people" by white and non-
white Trinidadians alike. See Brereton 1989.
20 Hill comments briefly on the "Baby Doll" masquerade that was a regular part of
European Carnivals and made an appearance in Trinidadian Carnival in the late 1800s
and may well have been banned in 1895 as one of the "transvestite masqueraders" (1972,
108-109). The exportation of Carnival to diasporic locales such as London, New York,
Toronto, and Notting Hill has and continues to influence significantly sexual and racial
traditions of masquerading. See Mason 1998 and Kasinitz 1992 (133-59). On Indian and
Chinese participation in Carnival also see Sankeralli 1998 and Chang 1998. More has
been written on the transformations of diasporic carnivals in terms of blackness, national
identities, class, and cultural configurations than on gender and sexuality.
21 The impersonation of white Hollywood starlets has been criticized by bell hooks in the
context of Jennie Livingston's film Paris is Burning. In her critique of this documentary,
hooks claims that the representations of black drag queens in the film tells us mostly
about the emulation of white femininity-how it is aspired to, glamorized, and idolized
(1992, 147). In hooks' reading, the aspiration to black roles models in drag performances
would be seen as more enabling than the modeling of white figures portrayed in Paris is
Burning, and yet such aspiring misses questions of cosmopolitanism and globalization
which engender the proliferation of these African American images in the first place.
22 Jose Mufioz defines "interior passing" as an act that attempts not so much to pass for a
particular position but rather parodies the act of passing itself, becoming a
"disidentification and tactical misrecognition of self" (1997, 90).
23 The only female-to-male impersonator in the 1998 show was a white Trinidadian
woman. On the first night of the contest, she depicted Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of
Queen, with charcoaled hair on her chest, armpits and upper lip. While Freddie Mercury
was born in Zanzibar and educated in Bombay, he is considered white in the racial
schematic in Trinidad by virtue of his fair skin. In this riff on Mercury, set to the Queen
song "Who Wants to Live Forever," white manhood and the whiteness of the West are
represented as diseased and tragic, yet simultaneously triumphant as the singer faces his
death with dignity.
24 Cable was introduced in Trinidad in the late 1980s and its influence as a media form is
vast. This comment also reflects the importance of pageants of all sorts in Trinidad,
including beauty contests, Carnival Kings and Queens, and Indian cultural competitions.
In May 1999 the Miss Universe contest was held in Trinidad and was also considered to
be such a significant event for Trinidad that there was discussion of postponing Carnival
or canceling it altogether.
25 Alexander's work (1994) on Trinidad demonstrates that the process of decolonization
happens through the shoring up of heteronormativity through the promotion of the "new"
and ever self-generating (that is, procreative) nation which must prove itself to the
colonial father in the face of destabilizing global trends. The Sexual Offenses Bill signed
into law in Trinidad and Tobago in 1986 borrowed its definitions of morality from British
legislation of 1954 (which antedated Trinidad's decolonization in 1962) and actually
recriminalized male homosexual sex, while lesbian sex became punishable for the first
time under a new offense called "serious indecency" (1991). Although homosexual acts
are illegal, there have been no arrests. Alexander's work outlines the process of
reheterosexualizing the state and actually naming-and hence producing-a political
constituency termed "lesbian," but she does not look at the differential effect of this
naming on subjects displaced across a number of social locations, race and ethnicity in
particular. The state is inherently African in her analysis, producing heterosexuality as a
racial as well as sexual norm.
26 These include, for example, Mastana Bahar, a televised Indian cultural contest which
takes place in San Fernando. Several Indo-Trinidadian radio stations also exist in
27 Kanhai has written on how the tensions of decolonization make African and Indian
divides more difficult for women as "cultural containers." Kanhai claims that the image
of the oppressed Indian "coolie woman" associated with indentureship has led to a
preponderance of work on violence against women in Indo-Trinidadian communities.
About the "gender control" of Indian women during indentureship and afterwards,
Kanhai writes: "Indeed the history of Indian presence in the Caribbean seems to be a
chronicle of abusive male control within the community" (1995, 9). She notes how the
feminist movement in Trinidad is complicit with, and responsible for, the perpetuation of
images that inscribe a "tradition"/"modernity" dichotomy between African and Indian
28 The very bright colorful photo accompanying this article is of a "Diva" performer in a
yellow sequined skin-tight bodysuit with huge wings made of feathers attached to the
29 These are pseudonyms. Vikram calls himself "Vik" for short, and Sasha is a female
version of a more masculine Indian name.
30 In everyday usage, "South" appears to indicate nearly everywhere south of the capital,
Port-of-Spain, which is in the northwestern part of the island. It also refers to the more
agricultural, canefield areas of Trinidad. Interestingly, San Fernando, the largest city
located in the southwestern part of Trinidad, is emerging as a competitor to cosmopolitan
Port-of-Spain. Daniel Miller also notes that the urban area of Chaguanas, located between
San Fernando and Port-of-Spain, and considered an "Indian" capital, is much more
racially diverse than common perceived (Miller 1994).
31 I use these double pronouns tentatively; the example will make clear why.
32 Due to space constraints here I can only mention this argument. Generally, I want to
caution against a decontextualization of histories of female impersonation in Indian dance
that often happen through a queer reading that privileges drag in these performances. See
Hansen 1993 on female impersonation in Indian dance.
33 The hijra in South Asian queer diasporic contexts has become a figure of transgressive
sexuality that largely effaces the often nontransgressive (though not "normal" either)
status of hijras in India. The Native American concepts of berdache and two-spirit have
also been applied to contemporary queer liberationist projects in a similar fashion. The
figures can be used by diasporic communities in a historically essentialist way as
evidence of homosexual traditions within the culture, but they are also used by more
mainstreamed gay, lesbian, and queer organizing in similar ways but i. iiltu,,t the requisite
attentiveness to issues of racism, immigration, and nationalism. On hijras, see the oft-
cited anthropological work of Serena Nanda (1993)detailing hijras as an "alternative
gender category." For an excellent exploration on hijras and how they already "live
inside the most pedestrian fantasies of what tends to be understood as central, normal, or
home" see Patel 1996.
34 For more detailed studies about these relationships in different contexts, see Prieur
1998 on homosexuality in Mexico and Kulick 1998 on "travestis" in Brazil.
35 For more recent work on the globalization of gay and lesbian identity, see the collection
of essays in Queer Diasporas edited by Patton and Sanchez-Eppler 2000 as well as an
especially astute article on queer Korean diaspora by Lee 1998.