The Novels of Patricia Powell: Negotiating Gender and Sexuality Across the Disjunctures of the Caribbean Diaspora
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The Novels of Patricia Powell:
Negotiating Gender and Sexuality Across the Disjunctures of the Caribbean Diaspora

The fate of Caribbean people living in the UK, the US or Canada is no more 'external' to Caribbean history than the Empire was 'external' to the so-called domestic history of Britain, though that is, indeed how contemporary historiography constructs them.

Stuart Hall, "Thinking the Diaspora: Home-Thoughts from Abroad"

Sexuality is not only not essence, not timeless, it is also not fixed in place; sexuality is on the move.

Benigno Sanchez-Eppler and Cindy Patton, Queer Diasporas

Nation, Diaspora, Sexuality

If questions of sexuality—particularly "non-normative" sexualities—have either been absent from Caribbean discourse or else fraught with tensions and controversy, it is not only because questions of sexuality are inevitably tied to concerns about gender and morality but also because they are inextricably linked to concerns about national identity. M. Jacqui Alexander's groundbreaking essay, "Redrafting Morality: The Postcolonial State and the Sexual Offences Bill of Trinidad and Tobago," exposed this linkage between dominant constructions of nation and the erasure of certain forms of sexuality.2 Alexander's essay traced the legal categories through which certain bodies—and the sexual practices and desires they enact—are constituted as "other" to and, thereby, effectively excluded from the nation. This erasure or occlusion of non hetero-normative sexualities in the name of the nation prevails in the realm of popular culture as well.3 Consequently, breaking the silence that surrounds issues of sexuality in Caribbean discourse necessitates a simultaneous interrogation of prevailing constructs of nation and national identity. In this regard, the usefulness of a diasporic perspective—whether embodied as a critical framework and/or reflected in the constitutive features of a literary text—might be especially salient for the articulation of gay, lesbian, and other non-normative sexualities. [End Page 533]

Insofar as the transnational circuits and border zones generated by the contemporary diaspora experience are, as George Lipsitz and Roger Rouse remind us, linked to wider historical forces—for example, corporate globalization, post-Fordist accumulation strategies, etc.—the relations that structure the movement of populations, goods and services, information, ideas, and cultural products are often extremely uneven, to say the least.4 Transnational movement and diaspora might mean one thing for the Jamaican migrant worker who picks fruit or works in a logging camp in rural Maine, another for the Barbadian women who process data in an "off-shore" office, and yet another for the Caribbean scholar or writer who holds a series of "visiting" appointments at prestigious U.S. academic institutions.5 Similarly, the accessibility and popularity of reggae and dancehall music within U.S. consumer culture might mean one thing, while the impact of a largely U.S.-based global media culture on Jamaican youth living in the slums of Kingston means another.6

Nevertheless, the unevenness of the terrain on which globalization is currently taking place is also, paradoxically perhaps, what allows the possibility of resistance or strategic intervention, the possibility of "room for maneuver," to borrow a phrase from Ross Chambers. As the forces of global capital continue to create new markets and to find new sources of cheap labor, new "flows and circuits" are also created. The transnational spaces generated by these flows and circuits are by no means always liberating ones. But these spaces sometimes enable new perspectives, discursive positionings, and material possibilities that can be strategically exploited. As Benigno Sanchez-Eppler suggests, movement "provokes or enables refocusing" ("Reinaldo Arenas" 166). The border zones of the diaspora can, thus, become sites in which subjectivity is re-worked and reimagined. Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg refer to this strategic working of the border zones as a "guerrilla warfare of the interstices, where minorities rupture categories of race, gender, sexuality, class, nation, and empire in the center as well as on the margins" (13).

Patricia Powell and the "Border Zones" of the Caribbean Diaspora

Patricia Powell is a gifted and already prolific young writer who has emerged in the context of the contemporary Caribbean diaspora. Powell was born in Jamaica in 1966, and lived there until 1982, when she emigrated to the United...


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