Coming into my queer identity, I searched for books that would simultaneously affirm my queerness and my rightful identity as Jamaican. It was hard to find books that mirrored my reality, ones in which I could see myself. And for the longest time I didn’t even know books like these existed. But then I found them: books that explored the lasting impacts of a lesbian mother running off with her lover. Of the role of the open secret in queer Caribbean homes. Of non-fiction narratives about lived experiences. Books by Makeda Silvera, Marlon James Michelle Cliff. These narratives were important and this is only a small portion of the list of queer Caribbean authors that have given me life.
Some assume that the Caribbean doesn’t have a queer culture. That homophobia is the stand-in for queer culture in the Caribbean. I assumed that for a while too. When no one stands up in that space, you don’t know it’s a thing. Which is why I’m thankful for these books. It’s hard to imagine a world where people in the Caribbean live their lives, and their queerness isn’t otherized, but integrated as part of the story. Getting more stories about queer experiences into the world goes a long way into normalizing the experience.
Below is my booklist list of fiction that feature a queer protagonist from a Caribbean country. This list is by no means exhaustive, but definitely one of my favorites.
Here Comes the Sun
Dennis-Benn outdoes herself in her debut novel about 3 generations of Jamaican women trying to thrive in a Jamaican society, using the means they have at their disposal: their bodies. think best, whether skin tone, status, beauty, or money. The book’s central character, Margot, navigates her relationship with another woman and her ability to use her body to get what she wants. The book does not dissect and/or zoom in on Margot’s relationship with her girlfriend, but rather treats it as an ordinary part of the plot with its sociopolitical effects of being looked down upon in society. This novel doesn’t say “this is a gay book!” but rather the queer experience is normalized as part of the narrative.
Cereus Blooms at Night
Mootoo pens a dark narrative of a woman who, when her mother ran off with her lesbian lover, has punishment meted out on her by her father, essentially having her take the place of his missing wife. This book involved emotional abuse and sexual assault.
Abeng / No Telephone to Heaven
Cliff’s semi-biographical tale of Clare Savage, a high yellow Jamaican girl who is figuring out her sexuality in a post-colonial Jamaica, then in America when she migrates.
The Heart Does Not Bend
Silvera, equally gifted in fiction and non-fiction, presents a dope story about a family coping with death, immigration, and the impact of the open secret of gay family members. The boy, I forget his name, wears his sexuality on his body, and is supported by his mother, until he meets a young man that seems to take advantage of him. The protagonist, whose name I also forget because I read this a good few years ago, is also a lesbian, but is able to hide it because she doesn’t wear it on her body. But the toll of keeping her relationship a secret culminates in a fracture between lovers and family members.
Brief History of Seven Killings
Even though this story doesn’t feature a gay character as a protagonist, the role of Weeper is interesting to witness in James’ masterpiece about the social and political upheaval in Jamaica in the 1970s. Weeper is a bad man, one who in Jamaican culture, upholds the badman image. While everyone knows he’s gay, no one talks about it. This book presents an interesting though fictional case study of upholding both tenets of masculinity and queerness in the Jamaican man.
(Cover photo by Alejandro Garrido Navarro)