Saint-Pierre and Sainte-Anne sit on opposite shores—both territorially and symbolically—of Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean Sea. During the nineteenth century, Saint-Pierre was known as the “Sodom” of the Antilles, as a cosmopolitan city where decadence and liberal sexual mores were at the heart of bourgeois and elite culture. In 1902 Mount Pelée, the volcano that sits just above the city, erupted—killing Saint-Pierre's population of over thirty thousand within five seconds. Today, the black, volcanic sand beaches that line the coast remind visitors to Saint-Pierre of the city that once was. Sainte-Anne is a town with a far different reputation. During the 1950s it was known as a refuge for rebels, for people who contested the continued dominance of white and mixed-race elites in the lives of ordinary (mostly black) Martinicans, and was the center of the island's small cultural nationalist movement. Nearly fifty years later, the town retains that reputation—but Sainte-Anne is known for another reason, too, for it is home to one of Martinique's few meeting spaces for men who have sex with men, a secluded section at the end of the commune's most popular beach, Les Salines. This essay seeks to cross temporal, scalar, and disciplinary boundaries while revisiting tropes of queer invisibility that mark representations of same-sex desire in the Caribbean. Cycling from the world described in the 1901 erotic novel Une nuit d'orgie à Saint-Pierre, Martinique to field notes taken in 2010 among men who frequent Les Salines, this essay unites, in a provisional way, a scattered archive of same-sex desire on the island, while relating these desires critically to place. These archives ask us to reconsider a narrative that insists on movement—away from Martinique, away from the Caribbean, away from the global South—as the grounding force for a radical queer (of color) politics. Instead of privileging diasporic subjectivities, these markers of local presence and emplacement offer an alternative framing of what it means to stay put. They give us access to modes of queer relationality that resist documentation, but are indicative of the kinds of lives that certain subjects live: shot through with ambiguity and grounded in a refusal of fixed identity politics. Sand emerges as a compelling metaphor for this kind of theoretical and ethnographic intervention, as its ability to be diffuse yet still irreducibly material provides a model for one way to understand the memory of same-sex desire and gender transgression. Making use of fragments, then, this essay thinks simultaneously through the sexual politics of memory and landscape, linking queer presence to the sands of both Saint-Pierre and Sainte-Anne.
Vanessa Agard-Jones; What the Sands Remember. GLQ 1 June 2012; 18 (2-3): 325–346. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-1472917
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