Professor Alison Donnell, University of Reading

 

In the Anglophone Caribbean the question of same-sex loving is socially explosive. Consequently, there has been a focus in both academic and activist work on contesting homophobia. Such a project has an urgency that must not be denied given that the buggery laws remain widely intact and every day stories of harassment, violence and fear are reported. Indeed, Faith Smith asserts that ‘the taboo of homosexuality would seem to define the present moment in the region’ in her 2011 collection of essays Sex and the Citizen (2011b: 6). However, it is my perception that unless there is a more thoroughgoing challenge to what is knowable and livable in terms of sexual lives then decriminalizing homosexuality and extending sexual citizenship to LGBT peoples will not be sufficiently transformative.

As a literary critic what strikes me is how a whole range of Caribbean writers repeatedly represent queer possibilities and suggest a much more flexible understanding of what is sexually and amorously available for description. In the face of continual assumptions about the impossibility of non-heteronormative lives, my project highlights stories of sexual relations, encounters and behaviours that do not necessarily correspond to the dominant framework of ‘gay liberation’ but that nevertheless collectively assert the realities of queer Caribbean lives. My monograph, Caribbean Queer: Desire, dissidence and literary constructions of Caribbean subjectivity, will make an original intervention in the field of Caribbean sexuality studies by contesting heteronormativity, rather than contesting homophobia.

Because the persuasiveness of my argument lies in revealing the persistent literary disruption of sexual normativities, my book examines early works alongside contemporary ones, works that have been critically acclaimed alongside those that have received almost no attention; works by so-called LGBT writers and so-called straight writers; works that clearly articulate a guiding preoccupation with questions of sexual identification and those in which the words gay, homosexual or queer are never mentioned but which nevertheless represent the social density of Caribbean queer lives. What emerges from reading all these different works alongside each other is their collective capacity to undo the sufficiency of our inherited but invented categories of sexual description, mainly queering heterosexuality but also perhaps asking us to pause before we invest further in homosexuality and a schema of stable binaries. This work will help to shape more creative thinking among new and early career researchers as it empowers them to think in much more expansive and pliant ways. Taking these observations into conversation with other researchers in the UK and the Anglophone Caribbean, as well as with groups advocating for LGBT rights, will enable a fruitful and challenging dialogue to emerge in which the question of traditions and translations of cultural meaning will need to be addressed very directly. Public engagement with these issues is also vital and the project will use literature as a tool for opening up questions of sexual categorisation and understanding.

 

Professor Alison Donnell

Wikipedia

Academia.edu page

RCUK Gateway to Research

 

Outputs and Publications

Journal article: “V S Naipaul, a Queer Trinidadian” in Wasafiri (vol. 28, No. 2), Pp. 58-65 (2013)

Book chapter: “Entanglements of Root and Branch: The queer relations of the Caribbean Irish” in Caribbean Irish Connections: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Ed. A. Donnell, E. O’Callaghan, and M. McGarrity), University of West Indies Press, pp. 103-118 (2013)

Wall mural at Bohemia Night Gallery. Art Gallery. 33 Murray Street, Woodbrook, Trinidad and Tobagocaribbean queer

Youtube Channel: “Sexualities in the Tent

 

Events and Keynotes

July 2013: Advancing Sexuality Studies – a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies

The course  ‘Introduction to Advancing Sexuality Studies: A short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies’ was developed by the Caribbean Region of the International Resource Network and presented through a partnership with the Institute of Gender & Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine (Trinidad & Tobago). I developed some course materials and taught on some sessions.

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12-13 July 2013: “Sexualities in the Tent” Workshop, Trinidad

Two days of events in Trinidad, Sexualities in the Tent, offered a gathering point for writers, academics, activists, students and interested members of the public to explore issues around Caribbean sexual pluralism. The events, held at the National Library in Port of Spain, were a collaboration between Colin Robinson of CAISO (the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation), Rosamond S. King, Vidya Kissoon and Angelique Nixon of the Caribbean International Research Network, Gabrielle Hosein of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, St Augustine, and Alison Donnell of the University of Reading. The Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship provided the support to develop and run this workshop.

YouTube videos

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5-9 August 2013: “Caribbean Queer: Culturequeer belonging, sexual subjectivity and the literary”

Keynote Address at the 16th Triennial ACLALS Conference—“‘The current unbroken/ the circuits kept open’: Connecting Cultures and the Commonwealth”, St. Lucia, West Indies

Repeating Islands report

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27 November 2013: “Caribbean Sexualities”: A workshop exploring desire and dissidence in the Anglophone Caribbean. University of Reading

caribbean queer6YouTube highlight video

 

5-6 December 2013: “Embracing Jamaican Sexualities” workshop, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica

This two-day workshop brought together academics, activists, artists and NGOs to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by the idea of ‘Embracing Jamaican Sexualities’.

The event included the first screening in Jamaica of ‘The Abominable Crime’, a documentary film exploring homophobia in Jamaica.

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17 May 2014: Jamaican Cultural Conference

The Jamaican Cultural Conference was established by the artist Rachael Minott, a Jamaican born Art and History of Art finalist student at the University of Reading, as a part of her final degree show, GINDEAR 2014. The event gave a forum for a number of academics from across the UK whose field of research is based on Jamaica, to speak about their work.

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13 June 2014: “Caribbean Queer: Impossibility or inevitability?”

Keynote address at Homophobia Rewritten Conference, Birkbeck, University of London.

The conference explored how attacks on queer lives and non-normative bodies are represented in fiction and other forms of cultural production? What forms of resistance and modes of being different are imagined in these texts? It explored representations of intimate lives lived with and against the threat of violence, and documents anti-homophobia and other forms of resistance, to ask new questions about the interlinked cultures, histories, experiences and politics of violence and sexuality across time and place.

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11 October 2014: Jamaica Rising Festival, Bristol

Panel discussion chaired by Roger Griffin with Glave, Keon West [Goldsmiths] about homophobia and LGBTIQ rights after screening of The Abominable Crime at Arnolfini

Ujima Radio website

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27 October 2014: “Contemporary Issues in the Caribbean”

Address at Long Island University, Brooklyn (NY), USA

The LIU Brooklyn School of Health Professions collaborated with the Gender Studies Board, Voices of the Rainbow, and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program to present an evening of talks about contemporary social issues in the Caribbean. The goal of this event was to provide the audience with the opportunity to learn about two major social issues in the Caribbean today: marijuana policy reform and LGBT rights.

 

March 2015: “Queer States of Mind: Carribean imaginings posthomophobia, posthuman”

Keynote address at Altered States Conference, University of Liège, Belgium.