- Thiefing Sugar: Eroticism between Women in Caribbean Literature
Thiefing Sugar: Eroticism between Women in Caribbean Literature is a major contribution to Caribbean gender studies, which has gained much momentum over the last decade. Exploring the eroticism derived from same-sex relationships between women in Caribbean literature, Thiefing Sugar analyzes the work of notable and noteworthy Caribbean queer theorists and activists Elliot Bliss (Jamaica), Ida Faubert (Haiti), Mayotte Capécia (Martinique), Michelle Cliff (Jamaica), and Dionne Brand (Trinidad). Moving from the lesser known (or lesser studied) women writers to the more prominent ones, Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley charts both the fictional and personal journeys of the authors and their protagonists, revealing the homoerotic subplots in the novels, songs, and poems. Although the inclusion of Lorde's biomythography, Zami: A New Spelling of my Name, as a primary text would have been better suited for comparison of the female body/land desirability, Tinsley nevertheless offers a substantive and compelling analysis of the chosen texts.
The coinage "thiefing sugar" is voiced by Trinidadian-born poet and novelist Dionne Brand's protagonist, Elizete, a cane cutter, to describe her first sexual encounter with another woman, Verlia. Even as the phrase conjures up images of the canefield, the locus of sexual violence and exploited labor, it also embodies transgression and forbidden pleasure. Furthermore, "thiefing sugar" is denotative of queer black women reclaiming and reinterpreting their stolen sexuality as they re-produce "sugar, the syrup of figurative language" for their own use (3). Tinsley challenges the belief that homoeroticism is a modern invention in the black diaspora, demonstrating that during the Middle Passage captive African women created erotic bonds with other women, an act facilitated by the sex-segregated [End Page 146] holds of the slave ships. Drawing on sociologist Oyèrónké Oyewùmí's theory of "ungendering" in Yoruba tradition as a means to challenge controlled European gender formation, Tinsley contests the heteropatriarchal term "woman," opting instead for "femme." That notwithstanding, Tinsley does not sufficiently explain how Yoruba gender relations correlates to same-sex female eroticism.
In the introduction, "The Spring of her Look," Tinsley details her use of the term "thiefing sugar," illuminating the various ways that black women subvert fixed gender norms by challenging heterosexualization. Tinsley also provides a valuable road map to understanding the various terms used in specific Caribbean countries to characterize women loving women. These definitions are helpful for a deeper understanding of the study.
Chapter 1, "Rose is my mama, stanfaste is my papa," examines how working-class Surinamese women perform their sexuality via songs, poems, birthday parties, and dances. Mati performances or poetics are realized via flowers that function as vehicle for Creole's women sexuality. Due to the public, noncloseted nature of these performances, Tinsley argues that female same-sex relationships are normalized in Suriname becoming the fabric of the women's daily lives. Even so, one does not get a clear sense of how, when and where racial transgression occurs, if at all. Do middle-class or elite women access or participate in these ritualized performances?
Chapter 2, "Darkening the Lily," offers an interesting close reading of Luminous Isle, the autobiographical novel by the white Jamaican novelist Eliot Bliss. Despite her initial plan to specifically examine same-sex relationships between women of African Caribbean descent as a means to challenge the idea that queer is a foreign, freakish construct, Tinsley nevertheless justifies Bliss's inclusion, reasoning that the site of her same-sex desire is local, not foreign, located in the Jamaican mountains where her love interest Rebekkah resides. While it is true that the self-remaking and -reimagining of the white creole woman does not involuntarily intimate colonial domination, it equally does not completely and seamlessly transcend race and class differences. The questions that linger: is the black Creole woman provided with the same opportunity of seeking "the pleasure of producing herself differently" (79)? Is she equally poised to articulate her anticolonial sentiments? This deracialization of the Creole (black) woman...