Celebrating 50 Sunday Guardian columns

Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith
December 2013 – January 2016


Perhaps our most urgent problems are…the crisis of each other…I’d always remarked about people who stand in line at the bank behind you or ride in the maxi seat next to yours, normel-normel, and go home to kill their wives, children and selves. Their deep sense that the taking of life is both an act of despair and a way to punish everyone who never listened or heard or noticed, lash back against every injustice or hurt…I do not think these people had never asked for help. The crisis of each other – 24/1/16

Dr Rowley…all that wasted energy maybe adds up to seven percent of the human resource bill. I just wanted someone who was accessible by e-mail, answered a phone, and treated me like I deserved service. It’s 2016, after all. Getting through in 2016 – 10/1/16

Labour Day here commemorates riots that immolated a police officer…an official holiday to celebrate the violence, contradictions and messiness of our history of change-making and justice-seeking, which get erased daily by postcolonial amnesia…openings for social change are never ideal, always messy, and opportunities random Shannon Gomes & Aria: missing the boat – 27/12/15

out of place in the high-powered room…a world apart from lawyers posing questions as if the purpose of law was to withhold rights, not enable them…The panel…made me wonder whether…for many of us, our sense of rights is that they ought to be hoarded, not widely shared I’m volunteering to serve, Mr AG – 13/12/15

I hope to God Copa doesn’t devolve into screaming Spanish only during in-flight emergencies…Paying Trinbagonian customers…who speak Hindi and Creole, but perhaps understand English, ought to understand their entire crew…including those in the exit row Communication crucial in case of emergency: English please – 29/11/15

[on] Kevin Baldeosingh[’s]…unrelenting sequence of broadsides…I…want to…say how important and generative feminism is to me as a man, as a set of values, and the basis of kinship with…women and men who want to change the societies we have inherited into ones that serve young men better.…what is the duty of columnists like us and newspapers like ours on issues like feminism, Islam or race Championing a bank, feminism and difficult race talk – 15/11/15

I have one set of issues with Wayne Sturge…His Superman picture? Absolutely not my brief!…And not only because I have a weakness for big boys…a heaping dose of the performance of distaste over Sturge is about fatness…Showing off fat bodies counters cultural shaming of difference—just as men like Barry Padarath occupying high office does My brief with Wayne Sturge – 1/11/15

punishing girls and poor women for our nation’s spectacular policy failures at both sex education and…gender-based violence seems to still make political sense…Neither major party, whose leaders both lost control of their sex lives during the campaign, shows any appetite for allowing pregnant women greater control over theirs. Camille, Kamla and Keith’s personal vulnerabilities make them precisely leaders smart enough to stop kicking poor women in the stomach with a political football Taking campaigning to an old low 20/9/15

What distinguishes the main parties—whose 60-to-70-something-year-old leaders’ all refuse to champion LGBTI equality for a future generation—is not policy. LGBTI people visibly active in the UNC and COP have had leaders send tacit signals of inclusion… cautiousness on LGBTI issues seems more political expediency than values. But LGBTI PNMites seem ineffectual in moving their party…Both parties understand it’s not in their interest to promote homophobia. The PNM, though, seems happy to profit from it. What do LGBTI voters have to vote for? – 6/9/15

letter writers…mock the idea Trinbagonians could travel to America and access HIV care. That’s precisely what happened before…2002. Those who could get visitors’ visas stayed in New York homes like mine…registered for the state’s HIV drug assistance programme…Such policies are why several friends are alive today. Others died trying. A Diamond Vale media worker I grew up with didn’t make it from Kennedy airport to my apartment. I shipped his cremains back to his family. ‘But I am the Minister of Health’ – 19/7/15

Growing up I learned what it means to hide your birth certificate…I know no long-term relationship, straight or gay, that’s been faithful…So forgive me if I’m a marriage sceptic. I want to fight for the right to not be married. For the law to promote single fathers’ fullest roles in their children’s lives. To outlaw girls being wedded off at 14 by pundits, 12 by imams and 16 by babalawos. For expectant schoolgirls to be entitled to a full education. The right not to marry – 5/7/15

I found a regional gay/lesbian movement firmly focused on the idea of foreigners shaking a big stick at our political leaders to rescue us from their abuse and neglect…I invested in building a local gay movement around a core sense of nationalism…that, however much foreigners might help push or fuel the car, it’s we who ought to be driving it…I’ve always understood the project and vision of nation to include me—that it was meant to include everyone Mrs Joyce Pierre’s daughter – 21/6/15

I spent my twenties and thirties at funerals—mostly friends from Aids…fascinating places to witness the range of contending yet legitimate selves a dead person’s memories leave behind…contests…between chosen and birth family and faith community over…what should be buried in silence…I’ve witnessed…dishonesty, spiritual violence and just plain carelessness done to people we love so those bereft can make…themselves…respectable… Arlene…put her lips to my ear from the other side of the casket, hair brushing my cheek… “‘I was your father’s lover’”…it never occurred to me that she was no less brazen and out-of-place than any of the aching lovers whose hand I had held at so many burials Doing death – 7/6/15

I…spend a chunk of each day at a…new…Hospital unit…It was a complicated decision. Caura is a place of childhood trauma. From the roadway where I now park, I helplessly witnessed my grandmother’s 1960s deterioration from cancer, and its emotional wreckage on the mother I now visit. Trinidad on fire…Tobago on fire – 24/5/15

the…saccharine American song we all learned to parrot as children…does profound injustice to real-world Caribbean mothers I know—a group of complicated, flawed, resilient women who were both victims and challengers of the times in which they grew up…raised children…with inadequate and obsolete parenting tools, while battling their own demons;…a generous enough dose of caring, but moreover a firm sense of duty…produced reasonable results, not the various tools of emotional violence so many of them believed were good for children Making motherhood real – 10/5/15

what I spontaneously termed the “baselessness” of…Alleyne-Toppin’s bacchanalistically rape-shaming comments about the Opposition Leader and family…didn’t mean the lack of evidentiary merit in Vernella’s commesse and assignation. I meant the political strategy they embody shatters the floor to the depth to which we can reach in 2015’s political propaganda campaign…Erasing it from Hansard would only instantiate the madness; historians ought to be able to find artefacts of the insanity of this hour. Two ways to tell a rape story – 26/4/15

international activists make too much of a fetish out of Caribbean laws against homosexuality…But there is something profoundly kilkitay about a legislative system where laws go unproclaimed for years, after Parliament passes them exhausted in the wee hours…where we hold tight to constitutional “savings clauses” that render courts unable to review any law enacted prior to the…document…and live with a string of Kafkaesque provisions on our lawbooks about flying kites…bathing in the Maraval River, and loitering …SC Jairam told the Court twice we’re keeping our homosexualism laws for the terrorists The fetish of law – 12/4/15

Watching young Trinbagonians exercise nation-building passion and skill is magical… Cydelle Crosby…21-year-old spoken-word artist brought special flavour to a formal… Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [hearing]…her…performance bringing alive [how]…young people…“deserve an education about our rights”…It was a breathtaking moment…the first [hearing]…in 15 years…second in history…[by] Trinbagonians…But the table opposite…sat empty. No one from the Trinidad & Tobago Government had shown up. It was heartbreaking. Flying injustice – 29/3/15

Mine was the generation of 20-somethings barely started on our adult lives as gay men when the HIV epidemic began…“Because half my generation is dead,” I usually pipe up when asked why I am single. “And who eh dead, badly wounded…dating them becomes the process of discovering that”…there was no time to heal before the next death. So we simply learned to stuff the grief up somewhere, where it stayed, unmourned…now, it seeps out into my dreams—the only place I cry…The capacity to write, to joke and to organize is what has kept me alive…when people ask how I keep going in the face of the frustration and cynicism they experience at politicians’ abject cowardice…my unhesitant answer is about my optimism…It stuns me that youth, with so much less fear than my peers…think of leaving Trinidad & Tobago instead of building this tiny, malleable place… I’ve suddenly become important to someone the age I was when HIV hit…Write about me, he urged, when I struggled with this week’s column. And grief seems to vanish. Grief, hope, love and activism – 8/3/15

In my decade of making Carnival hajj home, there was always a moment—usually as my band wound itself around Cipriani Statue in the slow afternoon sweetness after the South Quay stage—when all ambivalence about the hassle of the trip and the disorganization and inefficiency of the Carnival disappeared—and the transcendent meaning of the mas made itself manifest through the rum. A new Carnival mentality needed – 22/2/15

Patrick Manning is disabled. Can we say that out loud?…It’s not his “health”…The delicacy with which media reporting had until last week sidestepped the fact that the sharp-tongued Prime Minister couldn’t talk for himself has been insufferable…at the centre of the debate…is…whether someone who cannot speak can represent. Patrick Manning never defended my bodily rights…I’d never vote for him. But I am willing to fight for his rights. And he and his disability have every right to run. People with disabilities like Mr. Manning’s can serve – 8/2/15

As I looked into my uniformed officer’s screwface…I realised that we have no idea what to do with our power—and that is so much of what is wrong with everything…We just don’t have tools to manage a complex world of relationships. Or we don’t know that we have them. All we know how to do is tap, hang, cut tail, bully, chop, shoot. All we know to do is tap, hang, bully, chop, shoot – 25/1/15

If we aren’t solving HIV risk for girls, we certainly won’t solve it for gay men. Because it has the same root. We seek affirmation and meaning through intimacy in parallel ways, make similar mistakes, get hoodwinked by masculinity in shared ways. Gender is what puts almost everyone in the Caribbean who is at risk for HIV…the unholy international alliance among churches to make the idea of gender and any public policy related to it a bad word is…not just combating the abortionists and feminists and homosexual liberationists, it’s harming the young girls in California, Couva and Brooklyn, Laventille Why are women, girls falling out of our HIV response? – 11/1/15

My French teacher Mr Lilla told a true story about a man, as iconic as any Taffy or Mrs Bhakcu, in the East Port-of-Spain plannings where he grew up. He wanted to end his life and jumped from the top floor of the building. Nothing happened. Determined, he picked himself up, went back up the stairs and threw himself off again. This time, he succeeded in breaking a foot and could not climb back up to try again. Leaping into 2015 – 28/12/14

“Blocking the road and preventing hundreds of other drivers is not the answer,” [Min. Gary] Griffith lectured. Just what is? Certainly not starving yourself to death. Voting out the last party? Nope. Justice and a speedy trial with alive witnesses? Mm, mm. Go to the Ombudsman? Sorry if you fell off your chair. With Jack Warner gone, I can think of no simpler, more straightforward and effective form of democracy Death, wrecking, Immigration, and blocking the road – 14/12/14

calypso is the kingdom of the jammette. Its currency is illegitimacy, its role is to narrate the margins…homosexuality…is…one of the topics to which calypso has brought some of its subtlest imagination and sweetest ingenuity…in sharp contrast to the reputation of intolerance of sexual difference the intersecting internationalisms of the recording industry, human rights imperialism and world religion are producing and circulating for the Caribbean and our music Bunji and calypso’s historical imagination – 16/11/14

entitlement to dignity does not attach to office. Dignity of the person should be the right of everyone. The very notion of dignity of office is grounded on the indignity of unimportant people…who suffer the insecurity of our wealthy, violent nation, who wipe their backsides on the benches of the bandit factory of our magistrates’ courts and health facilities every day, being dispensed injustice and inequality…our robust and precious political traditions instead protect the most irreverent picong about our highest officials… Every time I think of the defence of Mrs. Carmona’s midsection from defamation, I imagine the Prime Minister defending the dignity of Mr. Bissessar’s pipe. The dignity of office – 2/11/14

A member of the COP National Executive observed that we’ve been debating sexual orientation and the Equal Opportunity Act…since last century…But politicians are already on the record with clear conclusions on these matters…Barry Sinanan, then San Fernando West MP…in May 2000…House Leader of Government Business [Roodal Moonilal], and heir-apparent of prime ministerial term limits…in April 2007…Not to be outdone, Fuad Khan…a month earlier COP founder Winston Dookeran…If we can term-limit prime ministers, we can end this 18-year debate. End 18-year debate on sexual orientation – 19/10/14

Last week I called my Prime Minister a political coward who’d embarrassed the nation internationally…Joining the bobolee-thumping were the Guardian’s editors, several letter-to-the editor-writers, columnists in every paper, Family Planning president Gerry Brooks and Archbishop HarrisThe IRO head also spoke out…How did the Prime Minister, surrounded by gay people—in her family, office, even her Cabinet—so badly misjudge this?…she hasn’t listened, or respected local gay…people interested in building the nation she’s leading…she has occasionally flashed real heart on gay inclusion. For some reason—on this particular issue—her liver won’t follow. Why Kamla and I agree – 5/10/14

we are left with the film’s repeated message…“Either you stay and die or you run away with your life.” Except the majority of LGBT Jamaicans do neither…even in the face of… complexity, the film relies on a single story of extraordinary anti-gay violence and homophobia…The Abominable Crime locates itself within a genre of human-rights filmmaking, which often plays a problematic role in firming up a troubling and essentialist imagery [imaginary] in western human rights of victims and heroes—some on account of their victimhood. Missing…is the nuanced nature of most real-world rights violations, and how human rights gains come through unglamorous, messy, everyday work The Abominable Crime – 21/9/14

In March 1997, special reserve police officer Eric George arrested her…then he had her strip-searched. De Souza sued…won, and made history. In March 1999, George shot and killed his wife Tara, before taking his own life. Last Sunday De Souza received a national award, the bronze Hummingbird Medal. What I admire about Jowelle…is that she’s not a “gay activist”…The work she has done to change social attitudes toward sexual and gender diversity has been by living her life and engaging in nation-building in other ways: as a successful businesswoman, a champion of animals, and an outspoken critic of governance. Representative government – 7/9/14

Neither makes a claim of horrifying violence or unimaginable mistreatment and discrimination…Each tells an everyday story of being gay or trans in T&T…of being harassed over and over at work, with employers failing to address the hostility, such that work becomes unbearable…of people deciding to make their lives difficult and threatening, of not being safe on the street or being able to just keep to themselves and be left alone…of other people, often in the name of some God, deciding to heap moral judgments on them. Each determined that the enduring experience of harassment, indignity and threats, which no authorities took meaningful measures to stop—and the notion of being second class citizens—were something they were not prepared to just grin and bear. They got tired of there being nothing to do about it Forging the liberty to love – 24/8/14

the 20-minute act of staining your finger isn’t a sufficient exercise of citizenship to make any meaningful difference…But if (at least for the Muslimeen moment) it’s political parties that are going to form governments, then maybe the only way to get good government is to…recast… our political parties into political movements…the suicide of the Grenada Revolution…and money in the Treasury to buy patronage…have forced us into a meaningless, neoliberal, Left-averse politics that has lacked any big ideas or creativity other than get in power, and take care of those who got you in power…Our politics have become imbued with a laziness and short-sightedness all round Ensure there’s never an Anil Roberts again – 10/8/14

a certain “acting” Police Commissioner would comment…about the brazenness of criminals: “Is like a movie.” But despite our recurrent sense of powerlessness about crime and blurring lines between politicians, police and criminals, there was a moral certainty about bandits…some framework of accountability, however bungling, for…bobolists, even drug kingpins…When soldiers with high-tech weapons appear to go on manhunts across borders…media houses and busy Port-of-Spain streets are shut down…National Security officials waffle…and…Kamla and Spiderman are off having tea with Dilma and Putin, I think I’m living inside a Karene Asche calypso. Soldiers in Wonderland – 27/7/14

One of the things that always made most sense to me about moving back home was the manageable scale of things. The group of young men looming toward me, who made me flinch my New York flinch, until one politely started up the chorus of “Good Night.” Nationhood, in my experience, connected everyone to everyone—even the clerk at the Tobago ferry, who made life difficult for no good reason, was my people. I’ve always delighted in sharing with visitors how driving here is a feast of nonverbal communication, merging into traffic is all about a reading of the body language of the other cars…I ridicule visiting sociologists about their theories of the draconian Caribbean state, pointing out how I run into the minister in the supermarket. Losing faith – 13/7/14

children who grow up without active fathers are not by definition damaged or incomplete. And we have to stop starting our conversations about revitalising fatherhood from that point, hush this re-emerging chorus about…oh, let’s admit it, AfroTrinbagonian family pathology…how come the nennen and godfathers who raised so many of us have all of a sudden become so bad for us?…This isn’t academic for me. My father left when I was five. So I’ve wrestled with all this stuff of fatherlessness and anger and longing and regret…And I don’t want other young people to grow up feeling “fatherless”…the way to foster greater male parenting and nurturing isn’t by stigmatising and devaluing the families that are living up to the responsibility of raising children in whatever form they can, and the children who are being lovingly parented within them, in favour of some ideal…They are the Caribbean families we have. And they are valuable families, each of them…Fathering is good for children. Absolutely. But just like kids can grow up whole without having laptops or trips abroad or private school education and the best of everything, they can grow up whole without fathers. Or with two. Fatherless and broken – 29/6/14

Capital punishment, its humanity or deterrence become academic when police kill as many civilians as they solve murders…If citizens felt the police were out there putting their lives on the line for us while they killed our children, the minister’s words might hurt less. For even law-abiding, middle-class people, our experience of policing is not one of protection and confidence, but unresponsiveness and abuse. Young people learn not to expect justice – 15/6/14

Many of us run NGOs that are strategic…effective…platforms for vision and leadership. But we’ve shunned engagement of those groups with real power and statecraft…bought into a North American good nonprofit governance model of nonpartisanship, when all across the rest of the Americas NGOs are highly politically engaged, because politics is about the power to govern, set policy and build a nation…Our churches, too, as much as they clamour about political roles and relevance, aren’t fighting the Government for justice and health and things that matter…we…have to start with the radical but simple idea that voting is not productive politics. Imagine a politics that’s not about voting – 1/6/14

the much-lampooned Therese Baptiste Cornelis…on a snap tour of a hospital as health minister…a young nurse…told…a piece of equipment had been out of service for weeks. “Is that okay with you?” she asked. Those have become my watchwords for public-sector transformation. It shouldn’t be okay that things don’t work Is that okay with you? 18/5/14

in the Caribbean…we have two huge failings—to commit to everyone’s equality and opportunity, regardless to our moral measure of them, or how respectable we think they are, and to commit to everyone having ownership over their own body. Ironic, because bodily rights are at the core of our successive struggles to forge a society. Not just over enslaved and indentured bodies…when it comes to our children’s…we still beat them as if we own them…When it comes to sexuality and reproduction, our embrace of the freedom of bodies shrivels up entirely. Freedom to take mine away – 4/5/14

Media houses report claims by an articulate 27-year-old man…that, in a four-year friendship, on at least three occasions in times of need he visited the home of the now 37-year-old MP, who touched him sexually or intimately. The accuser is described as “vulnerable”…What about… MPs…who are lesbian, gay or bisexual? Who is “vulnerable” when they make sexual advances? Does our culture of scandal and stigma around same-sex desire make such office holders especially susceptible to sexual blackmail?… Does the forced secrecy around such desire drive powerful people to seek sex from the vulnerable? Who is vulnerable? – 20/4/14

our first day, another student in my UWI creative writing programme shared his goal—write a book that gets on the CXC syllabus. For a Caribbean writer, is there any greater ambition? Who else reads Caribbean literature…Who is reading at all?…a 1994 Alta survey says almost a quarter of us are functionally illiterate…Another 1995 UWI survey suggests only 45% of us can read this column Readers wanted – 6/4/14

the city’s signature spectacle…founded by the immoral, obscene jamettes of the barrackyards of late 19th-century East Port-of-Spain…the history of Trinidad Carnival has been about the vulgarity of life, rooted in the brutality of colonialism, the expropriation of labour, race, colour, class and gender hierarchies—a festival of vulgar beauty and voluptuousness, of sheer virtuosity and creative riot, of bacchanal and outrageousness in kaiso picong and J’Ouvert transgression, in which we use our bodies—waists to wine, hands to pansticks, feet to mas boots, lips to sandemanite—to snub our noses at the world and fate and history. Respectability without dignity – 23/3/14

I’m one of a generation of AfroCaribbean men raised by single mothers on a diet of men are good for nothing. (Black ones at least.) Masculinity is delicious in bed, I hope we can all agree. But is it good for anything else?…if you listen to LeRoy, he is mourning a nurturing masculinity, which is something all men deserve Men are delicious, but are we good? – 9/3/14

The right to practise faith means the right to do or not do things with your body—shout, mortify your flesh, manifest spirits, fast, not eat beef or pork, be circumcised, not shave your beard, lock your hair, be chaste, cover yourself in a hijab, lie down before God—the same rights over their bodies others are asking for. Rights, child molesters and the Constitution – 23/2/14

Since our historic election of a woman as the nation’s Prime Minister, we’ve heard a lot of political talk about motherhood and grandmotherhood…I genuinely thought ovarian fortitude in the Office…was going to be good for the nation. But having Kamla…hasn’t resulted in courageous leadership on issues that matter to girls and boys…Motherhood has been turned into a political device, while doing little to shape…practice or policy…leadership takes courage; courage that often only women or mothers have. Courage to stand between the cultural tide of homophobia and the futures of a generation of boys and girls…Protecting vulnerable people ought to be the most motherly instinct.  Motherhood and courage – 9/2/14

fewer than 30 per cent of our currently elected Parliamentarians…live where they represent…in 12 constituencies no member of our elected Parliament lives…Do you care where the MP who represents your constituency lives? I do—deeply. Even if I’m voting for a party crapaud, I want it to be one known to local schoolboys…We can require MPs…drive on the same roads, fear the same floods, smell the same air Who represents you? Do you know where they live? – 26/1/14

I would have hoped the journey of the past months would take the wind out of the ill-conceived sails of the “right of recall” movement after the sobering sea-sickness of being consistently in election cycles…No politician will dare to be bold; every decision will pander to the lowest common denominator…Jumping up in elections more often than Carnival will ensure that work never gets done…Imagine the never-ending election economy right of recall would produce! One in which no goat or police file or sexual history would be safe, no street free of big trucks, no media free from goats and police files and big trucks and innuendo and tribalism…substantial economic productivity…at a debilitating emotional cost. Residency requirements; not right of recall—Strengthen governance with a different double R – 12/1/14

The University of the West Indies (TUWI, as some of us now joke, due to its senseless pedantry about sticking “The” in front of UWI) has one of the most evocative Latin mottos I’ve encountered: “Oriens ex occidente lux”…translated as: “A light rising from the West”…Although it dates to 1949…one can read a post-colonial mission—the idea of innovation, of transgressive scholarship, of a New World Of outrage and educational standards – 29/12/13

Plantation, colony and tribe are so woven through our lives it’s been hard for a culture of human rights to replace the urge to strive for that little edge of power or status over others…We see human rights as something esoteric and distant from our lives, the stuff of technocrats, idealists and activists, not as fundamental values that have practical application…everyday…the core idea of human rights is, simply, that every human being has “a right” to equality and dignity, to a free body and a free mind, by mere virtue of being human, and every state has an obligation to ensure this Does Human Rights Day matter? – 1/12/13


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