Notes on Pride

Queer Metaphors: Vanessa Agard-Jones, "What the Sands Remember"

June 11th, 2021
"One of the Southernisms I grew up with is that the “absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” I am struck by how often this phrase rolls of my tongue in uncomfortable exchanges with well meaning white LGBTQ+ folks in the US who look for their queer siblings in the global south and “cannot find them.” Africa (yes it’s a monolith) must be “homophobic” because there are no laws or protections. Middle East queers need to be “saved” from themselves. And things must be hard where there are no prides or bars and clubs. I have been held hostage in awkward conversation with well meaning white gay men (in particular) lamenting the invisibility, non-existence, or tragedies of their global queer siblings. But these conversations often forget that the history (past, present, and future) of queerness is ephemera; that it appears and disappears in glances, plays on words, touch, and other impermanent modes. Rather than take invisibility as absence, what might it mean to look differently, to shift the ga(y)ze?

Juhu Beach, 2016

"Sand emerges as a compelling metaphor here, as a repository from which we might read traces of gender and sexual alterity on the landscape. Ever in motion, yet connected to particular places, sand both holds geological memories in its elemental structure and calls forth referential memories through its color, feel between the fingers, and quality of grain. Today’s sands are yesterday’s mountains, coral reefs, and outcroppings of stone. Each grain possesses a geological lineage that links sand to a place and to its history, and each grain also carries a symbolic association that indexes that history as well" (Agard-Jones, 2012, p.326)
"This essay asks what it might mean to refute the idea that queerness does not and cannot exist, or must somehow remain invisible, in the Caribbean, and that it is only through diasporic movement that people gain their capacity to be legible, visible, and politically viable subjects. Rather than reject studies of movement and migration as both analytic frames and material experiences for Caribbean subjects, I ask what it can mean to pay equal attention to the rooted, to those Caribbean people who build lives for themselves right where they are, under conditions of both intense contradiction and sometimes, too, intense joy. Spatial stabilities often profoundly mark the lives of same-sex desiring and gendertransgressing subjects in the region, and this essay demonstrates that considering genders and sexualities in quotidian, place-specific terms can function as a critical dimension of how we join Caribbean to queer analyses." ( Agard-Jones, 2012, p. 327)
"So what, then, does or can it mean to think about queerness on France’s Caribbean periphery? This essay seeks to unite a scattered archive of same-sex desire in Martinique, and, following José Muñoz’s work in performance theory, it focuses on ephemera, on the traces left behind from moments of queer relation. I use both popular literature and ethnography to track fleeting references to same- sex desire and gender transgression on the island, drawing a through-line between nonnormative practices across both space and time." (Agard-Jones, 2012, p. 328)
"While the sand’s referents are far from concrete, they provide a model for one way to understand the memory of same-sex desire and gender transgression on the island—as diffuse yet somehow omnipresent. “Queerness,” then, retains a kind of oblique permanence in Martinique that has resonance both in the structure of the sand and in the connections made on the island’s shores. Rather than invoke ideas about absence and invisibility as the condition of same-sex desiring and gender-transgressing people, turning to sand as a metaphor for the repository of memory may help our analyses engage with more fine-grained and ephemeral presences than our usual archives would allow. " (Agard-Jones, 2012, p.340)

How do we talk about place and queerness? Specifically, how do we talk about queer places outside of America and Europe? Vanessa Agard-Jones’ “What the Sands Remember,” sits in a productive tension between refusing the universalizing of white, Western histories of queerness while also refusing to disappear queerness from the Caribbean. By offering us the metaphor of sand, which is ubiquitous in her field sites in Martinique, she models ways of thinking about same-sex desire and gender transgression as “diffuse yet omnipresent.” Agard-Jones reminds us to think about queerenss in the language of ephemera (impermanent gestures, words, spaces, places, and even people). Like sand slipping through our fingers, Agard-Jones shows us ways of engaging gender and sexual difference cross-culturally, as complicated, hard to pin down, and evasive. These qualities should compel us to not think of queerness in its different locations around the world as “absent” or “missing:” but as necessitating different vocabularies, metaphors, and ways of seeing. Again, to shift our ga(y)ze…