Gifts: On Queerness, CXCs, English B and Caribbean Society (by Linzey Corridon)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Our guest blogger this week, Linzey Corridon, is a Vincentian guy, an emerging writer, teacher and activist who drifted northwards to Canada. His critical and creative work can be found in publications such as The Puritan, Montreal Writes, Insight Journal, and Emotional Magazine. A PhD student in the department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, his current research navigates literature, queer theory, cultural and policy studies, and the digital humanities to think critically about the new and generative ways in which queer West Indian and diasporic writing may be used to reform CARICOM notions of citizenship and policy-making. 

Origins
 
There are no real words
only some culpable emotions
and funny bodies made into magic.
 
These pilgrims have no homeland
their ancestors were vagabonds
until now.

I have decided to time travel, to dredge up the past in the most discomforting of ways. There is a pit in my stomach from sitting down to write this piece. It is an emptiness that I forgot existed since moving to North America. My return to a place that is simultaneously distant and ever-present.

First day of high school at the St. Vincent Boys Grammar School. Linzey Corridon

I am sitting in my 2nd form (8th grade) classroom reading Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John. I jump back and forth between Annie (the protagonist) and Gwen’s (her latest female obsession) seemingly complicated friendship. I am enthralled by the love and support and the care that they display for one another, as if they were two lovers destined to straddle the platonic fence. Over several pages I see, smell, taste, recognize the potential for queerness (at the time this word was not available to me) within the text in front of me. My then English B (literature) teacher would shake me back to reality with discussions about Annie’s ongoing hunt for outside maternal figures. This was the lesson to be taken away from the reading and not the one that continues to haunt me.

My queer education began and prematurely died in that English B class.

I would finish Annie John and never return to the text ever again. Today the text sits on one of my many bookshelves behind me in a colourful sea of queer Caribbean and diaspora (hi)stories.

Annie John on one of my bookshelves. Linzey Corridon 

I often ask myself how life would have been had I the opportunity to read queerly and openly during my West Indian high school education. Why is it that much of the Anglophone Caribbean education system continues to deprive our young ones of such a diverse range in the documentation of human condition and experience? How is it that we continue to let queer Caribbean kids be sucked up by the ever hostile formation system when we have the tools readily available to valorize these bodies and minds? The region’s education system is in desperate need of the life-sustaining properties that queer West Indian literature possesses.

The Caribbean needs to read more queerly and more efficiently.

Some of my favorite texts by, for, &/ about the queer Caribbean and diaspora experience. Linzey Corridon 

Every year thousands of islanders set the CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) exams across multiple disciplines. From Math, to Home Economics, to English Literature and Office Administration, students attempt multiple examinations in the hopes of obtaining passes in all of their subjects. These passing grades signify the successful completion of a high school course of study, the ability to then pursue higher education, or perhaps they represent the opportunity for a student to then integrate into the workforce. What seems less enforced, and perhaps what I have come to understand from my Caribbean educational experiences, is that of maturing and solidifying of key personal attributes which passively and unwillingly contribute to the sociopolitical and cultural fabric of each island nation. When we ignore the most basic educational modules of the queer West Indian experience, this is a lasting institutional harm that is enacted against me and people like me.

I am cheated out of an opportunity to see myself in the curriculum positively. And my non-LGBTQIA+ peers internalize these social habits of negligence and oversight– many continue to nurture them long after classes come to a close. So where is the queer fiction, poetry, non-fiction in our classrooms?

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Coalition protests against recent legal challenges to decriminalize local anti-queer laws, November 2019. SVG Christian Coalition

I am a student and teacher of Literatures in English. Now in the early stages of my PhD, I am forced to consider even more the value of my work to Caribbean Studies. Why am I labouring away at unearthing, curating, and maintaining queer West Indian literary genealogies and neo-epistemologies if the sources of my research never make it onto the syllabus of my less-than-favorite high school instructors?

I dissected the current state of the prescribed English Literature reading list for exams in the 16 participating Caribbean nations, a list that will determine the contents of examinations between 2018 to 2023. Divided across the sections of drama, poetry, and prose fiction, the common thread across all 4th and 5th form (11 and 12th grade) literature classes is the competency of reading broadly and across genres. This entails reading about the human experience as depicted from different geographical, cultural, and economical perspectives. And yet…no trace of queerness in the English B classroom.

No Queer Literature! Phil Ashley / Getty Images 

Shakespeare commands fifty percent of the drama category, poetry accommodates the likes of Wordsworth, Stephen Spender, Wilfred Owen and Gerard Manley Hopkins. It has been almost 400 years since the British brought the English language and its inevitable violence to our Vincentian shores in 1627. Many of the islands now boast of their independence, so why is it that the British remains overly represented on our reading lists? Prose fiction offers up two options for students to delve into: Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (thank goodness!) and Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. I must make it clear that in the midst of all of this Whiteness in the Caribbean classroom, there exists a reasonable selection of heteronormative, West Indian literary works for students to indulge in. The lack of queer Caribbean and diaspora writing? That leaves much to be desired.

Why continue to offer up lucrative and limited learning space to dead white men?

Why should we continue to let the living, that one queer kid trying to survive the heteropatriarchy that is a colonial island education, suffer?

Last day of high school (graduation). Linzey Corridon 

How can I comfortably identify as Caribbean with an education system that actively dissociates from all of the rich and generative local and diaspora writings about the queer West Indian experience? I, like many before me, have taken flight to a place that allows me to sit with the gift of queerness and the gift of Caribbeaneity.

The requests I now ask of the education system that birthed me make up a humble and potentially radical list of practices:

We must read the queer as a people, as an individual, as a part of our recent and haunting histories.

We must not do our children the disservice of failing to challenge them to learn and grow in ways that might upset the status quo.

We must begin to acknowledge the presence of those with gifts in our classrooms. Those kids with contributions not quite like the others around them.

We must remember as teachers to think about those most likely to be left out of our syllabi construction habits.

We must feed them Shani Mootoo, and Faizal Deen, and H. Nigel Thomas, and Patricia Powell, and Dionne Brand, and Michelle Cliff, and Audre Lorde, and Oonya Kempadoo, and Kei Miller, and Lawrence Scott, and more Kincaid–this is not an exhaustive list by any means!

We all have a role to play in cultivating and expanding ideas of queerness as local in the classroom, and by extension in our island societies. These habits are steeped in a new language, one that potentially holds the key to revolutionizing our regional relationship to queerness.

Exulansis
 
Breathe.
when the villagers come for you
tell them you are not alone
sing to them our legacy
I am with you.
 
-       History 

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