None but our wine can free our minds

Last Sunday my adopted godfather wrote here about Vincentian road march king Luta’s warning in Lehgo Ting that “man dressing just like woman in the band.”

Luta was absolutely right. They were in my Notting Hill carnival band in London the next day. And they looked stunning! Instead of “run the chichiman them,” they were photographed, applauded and celebrated for being trailblazers and jamettes. My own sweetest moment Monday was having a man wine on me while Patrice Roberts sang “a little wine never hurt nobody” from our truck.

A member on IslandMix, a popular Caribbean bulletin board, I think we called them in mid-2005, took plenty picong for a post asking advice for making his a-- smaller for London’s carnival.

Days later he’d started another thread, asking questions about homosexuality. I reached out with what we now call a DM. Initially startled, he quickly shared that perhaps he was just “bicurious,” being a teenager and all.

Like Luta, I felt panic. I’d never imagined anyone on IslandMix wasn’t an adult.

I didn’t run. I’m still surprised at my solution: we’d have to re-start the conversation. With ground rules.

Over the decade and a half since, I’ve listened and counselled online through questionable activity and embarrassing awkwardness, watching that 16-year-old grow up, come out, chair his campus LGBTI group, fall in love, prepare to graduate medical school.

I’ve witnessed the bond between him and his mum, and her transformation from that Caribbean ease with which you threaten queerish children with homophobia to the understanding that loving someone gay means challenging that culture. He’d initially resisted my pressure to introduce us, but by the time I finally met him in London in 2011, she dressed up to welcome me to her home. But I missed my train stop.

I’m enthralled by this British step-Trinidadian soca peong, who’s my go-to on tunes and artists.

“This is for all them J-A-M-M-E-T-T-E out there. Not just woman. Man too!” In 2002, Denise Belfon sent out a call to those on the periphery of acceptable sexual conduct, to embrace and celebrate their difference.

I have been playing mas at Notting Hill carnival from the age of 11. I have had the privilege to jump up in Trinidad Carnival twice – 2014 and 2015 – with my godfather. As a lifelong socaholic I was enthralled by the way carnival was all encompassing. It was like living in a dream, walking down streets whose names I knew from songs, and feeling awed by how a simple lime in a panyard can captivate the soul in ways I never expected.

Of the many fetes I attended, the pre-J'Ouvert gay party was my favourite: in the half-light, bodies of all genders pressing against each other in provocative ways, feminine and masculine voices declaring their bumper was “too real, it dangerous.” It wasn’t until its 2018 repeal that I even realised a buggery law existed in sweet sweet TnT.

This year my Notting Hill carnival band, which proudly advertises being inclusive regardless of sexuality, had two very popular artists from Grenada cancel at the last minute. I heard they had been informed the band was LGBT+ friendly, and they shouldn’t be seen supporting such. Thankfully one did perform, to a sea of adoring fans, including two effeminate men sprinting along the pavement waving tree branches and “running wid it.”

Your column was interesting.

Interesting is an avoidant adjective. Did you enjoy yourself?

Reading your article? Yes I suppose so.

No, at Carnival.

It was different. I definitely enjoyed myself but not in the way I originally expected.

Different how?

Carnival isn’t staged, it’s about transience and spontaneity. He’s a stay in your band in the ropes kinda guy. I’m a the whole road is my band, a wine on spectators on the pavement kinda guy.

I have this big smile about your jamette mas values.

First time playing jab molassie, I spent Sunday acutely aware of being black and the challenges and difficulties I have faced since last carnival because of it. I also saw carnival through a non-Caribbean lens for the first time in my life. Like, my friend asked: Why did you wine on him? He was ugly. Me: Who? Friend: That guy there (points). Me: Oh, I didn’t even look back (goes off to wine on him again).

So there’s same-sex wining in the road?

Yup. Openly.

Not even a tiefwine in darkness.

The women surround you and cheer you on.

Okay, we have to write a column about that. You have to write my column about that.

We got called faggots as we left the road by some kids. A stranger reprimanded the kids. We just kept walking. Another stranger, a guy with a flag — can’t remember what island — saw and came up and asked if we were ok.

I’d thought to ponder 57 years of Caribbean independence today. Perhaps I have.

* Ash Allman co-wrote this week’s column


"None but our wine can free our minds"

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