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For Us There Is Only The Living

Sunday, March 26, 2017

It was the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking week on Trinidad’s killing fields. A week to despair, to give up. I had wanted to write about Kevin Baldeosingh making fun of a state institution trying to take sexual harassment seriously.

I had wanted to write about the opinion column, its enormous role and importance, and where ours locally stack up against the general state of our journalism.

I’d wanted to write, too, about Derek Walcott and why his salty reading of The Mongoose, that jawdropping poem about Naipaul, is how I will much more remember him than “the Hallmark one”—as some have dubbed Love After Love—the work appearing everywhere that risks becoming his popular signature.

Instead, I’m going to write—not quite on violence and murder—but about it.

Walcott’s mongoose “cursed its first breath for being Trinidadian.” And, like it, so many of us find ourselves committed to a performance of the pathology of this place we call home. We are in a competition for who can be most hopeless or cynical or sneering.

This week, a manager at St Christopher’s gas station on Wrightson Road surprised me, in responding to my Facebook post about his cashier’s “hoggishness” with action: not just an apology; but gratitude for the complaint; follow-up that the employee was counselled; and a commitment to my customer loyalty. He’d won new customers in minutes. One person in my feed dismissed his post as corporate speak. Another friend was wittier: “Colin, what country are you in?”

My bright spot of customer service could not salve how especially unliveable and helpless, the country felt last week. A place where our children’s dreams would reflect the death of ours, to paraphrase another towering poet of Caribbean origin, Audre Lorde. But the idea that where we live is unliveable is itself unliveable.

Colonialism’s strategy—to teach us the psychic feat of living with impossible contradictions, to value rules over justice—is unsustainable. Simply because the rules no longer work. And the fruit of that immunity to brutality we swallowed daily long past Independence is the killing and killing and killing that was irredeemably everywhere last week.

The Prime Minister, too, with more a steelness than his common irascibility, told the nation that he too wants to kill. Not because he believes killing will lead to less killing. But because it is the only currency of justice that we know.

Lesbian/gay/bi/trans/intersex people are just as inextricably bound up in this killing as we are in the nation’s destiny and the failing faith in it.

In a space of just one month this year, we heard reports of three gay men murdered, all Caribbean migrants; and rumours of more. Though no evidence has been put forth that the motivation was bias, LGBTI people are specially vulnerable to victimisation and violence, simply because our lives aren’t seen as terribly worthy.

“We kiss in the shadows”: the very act of finding each other makes us unsafe. Many of us have a history of being mocked or dismissed by police when we follow Minister Dillon’s injunction to report crimes and name our abusers. Much of the violence against us remains unmeasured, even by community groups, who can offer no incentives to outweigh reporting’s cost: being named as gay to family, neighbours, co-workers or church members. Rape victims have declined medical attention.

Sohan Badall (a well-known creative industry maven who also performs Indian dance in female roles) set an important example earlier this month, going to the police and media after a street attack. But our privacy, isolation and shame themselves, without the protection of frameworks like the Equal Opportunity Act, make it hard to investigate crime.

Last week included us, too, in its madness, with new allegations swirling online that risked whipping up fear and panic and victimhood. But we need exactly the opposite.

So LGBTI organisations used the crazy to launch #KeepSafe, a modest empowerment campaign, calling for community members to be more vigilant in protecting each other. Taking simple measures like texting destinations. Contributing ideas to collective solutions. Reporting. Seeking help.

Few of us feel we have any real power—or even the will—to fix the big political—or geopolitical—problems behind crime. But in moments like the week gone by it is critical to contemplate, as Lorde says elsewhere in her Litany for Survival—“this instant and this triumph/We were never meant to survive.”

For those LGBTI communities internationally whose histories of struggle are better known, like many other groups under siege, how people came together and took care of each other was a powerful tool of resilience. That and the ability to imagine a different world, as Lorde asks: “What are the words you do not yet have?” Sadly, though, current Caribbean LGBTI narratives have tended to a kind of global inferiority, an embrace of Naipaulianness.

“For us there is only the living/That is all that we have left” my own small poem urges.

Narratives of unliveability have no use for any of us who have to live here. In weeks like the past one, our power and hope lie in the little things we do to hold each other tighter and ensure each other’s vigilance.

If you’re an LGBTI survivor of crime, or the survivor of a victim, and you want to heal or help, contact [email protected] or 681-4150.


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