Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Weisong Gao reviews Nature′s Wild

Andil Gosine. Nature′s Wild: Love, Sex, and Law in the Caribbean. Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 2021. 192 pp.

Review by Weisong Gao

23 March 2022

“We are animal; so what?”

This statement from Andil Gosine’s beautiful yet provocative Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex, and Law in the Caribbean precisely illuminates the headway that recent queer scholarship is making, particularly when it comes to thinking through minoritarian, queer people of color, indigenous, and Global South lived experiences. While queer scholarship remains largely politically driven, this new wave of thinking has heeded minoritarian selfhoods, divergent feelings, and different modes of self-care for the oppressed. It reflects the looming sentiment in queer communities that is akin to a sense of fatigue: queers of color are tired of the constant need to come out in order to validate their gender and sexuality and to participate in politics for coalitional solidarities at the expense of their own emotional wellbeing. Although such queer exhaustion may veer toward the dangerous for political engagement, queer scholars show how such seemingly “wild” queer lifeworlds can be, in fact, empowering. In showing how European colonizers’ anxiety over the human/animal split drove their racialized and sexualized violence against the Caribbean people that continues to this day, Gosine’s book argues that the recognition of human animality gestures toward the “truthfulness” and “fullness” of queer Caribbean lived experience (pp. 124, 126).

In Nature’s Wild, Gosine carefully threads together five chapters to articulate two major aspects of his main argument, namely, the logic of human/animal separation in the colonial dynamic in the Caribbean and the artistic practice that embraces “human animality” as the adequate manifestation of contemporary Caribbean people’s lifeworlds. He does so by working through a wide range of materials including the long process of legal battles against the criminalization of sodomy in Trinidad and Tobago, a legal case on gender-based dress code in Guyana, and Guadeloupean artist Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s visual artworks on human animality. In the first three chapters, for example, Gosine shows how the human/animal binary centers in the European colonialism to regulate homosexuality in the Americas. Specifically, he argues that the act of sodomy was considered “animalistic,” which in turn provided the moral justification for the colonizers’ control and abuse of the Caribbean people. He writes, “Throughout the European colonization of the Global South, invasion of occupied lands was premised on the demarcation of Indigenous peoples as less than human. Evidence of participation in sodomy was presented as evidence of their animality and identified as a rationale for their extermination” (p. 17).

To further illustrate his point, Gosine shows that the colonial logic of the human/animal divide persists in the postcolonial Caribbean, seeping through various cultural and sociopolitical dimensions. For example, chapter 2 draws attention to clothing as a contested site to suggest that the colonial anxieties over Caribbean people’s animality have transformed into the compulsory demonstration of humanness through following particular rules for clothing in the postcolonial era. As Gosine writes, the dress code functions by “‘civilizing’ the formerly colonized subject into humans and also invoking the divisions of class, effectively defining the poor as more animal, less human” (pp. 51, 53). Similarly, in chapter 3, Gosine turns to LGBTQ+ activism in the Caribbean and lays bare the ways in which North-South LGBTQ+ solidarity activism, or rather the “gay international” project, operates on the assumption that “nonwhite people cannot govern themselves” (p. 75). Analysis of the Colin Robinson’s history of activism reveals that it is a critical effort to dispel the lingering colonial illusion of turning people towards European civility.

What I find the most valuable and timely contribution to queer scholarship lies in the book’s final two chapters. Here Gosine turns to Caribbean creative artists (including himself) to demonstrate their lack of concern about being marked “animal” and how human animality in their artworks captures the lived experiences of the Caribbean people. The significance of the claim is multifaceted. For one, it invites us to rethink human-animal relations in the moment of global ecological crisis. For another, to acknowledge human animality is to undo the persistent burden within colonized communities to prove their worth as human and to participate in the European pursuit of being “Man.” In still another meaning, Gosine shows how the embrace of human animality is a form of resistance against unjust laws and the violence to selfhoods. The rejoinder of the artists he explores, “We are animal, so what?” thus can also be read as an invitation to think about other forms of living that parallel Western civilization, which may offer different narratives of being that are “operating further out from the center, stripped from their classist attachments to civilizing projects” (p. 150). Nature’s Wild is a prototype of this important scholarship.