Global Circuits: Transnational Sexualities and Trinidad


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Global Circuits: Transnational Sexualities and Trinidad
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Jasbir Kaur Puar
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26, no. 4 (2001): 1039-1065.
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Caribbean, trinidad, tobago   ( lcsh )


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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

anything else.24

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

performers overseas.

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.

Vik added:

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

acceptable dances.

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

; Trinipride On-line, at

; Artists Against

Aids, at ; Gay Enhancement Advocates of Trinidad and Tobago

(GEATT), at . The e-mail lists include 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

; also travel information on PlanetOut, at

, Gay.Com at , and,

at among other sites. Regarding the "gay Caribbean," the

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

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.

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