Performance of fluid identities and black liminal displacements by threshold women
MetadataShow full item record
Many scholars in the field believe that identities are fluid without question. Butler’s “fluidity of identities,” for instance, describes the numerous variations in gender identities that denaturalize gender, but not consider its racial dimensions (179). Butler analyzes drag performance as a model to show how gender identities are fluid, suggesting agency and social mobility in everyday life. But what is most striking to me about fluidity of identities is the assumption that everyone has fluid identities with scarcely any regard for how racialized stereotypes fix identities (Hall 1997, 258). Fixity is the repetition of colonial power over racialized subjects rendering them without agency and access (Bhabha 94). Fixity uses stereotyping, which is a process of constructing “composite images” about groups of people, and that hold certain identities within “symbolic boundaries” (Brantlinger 306). As a result, this dissertation challenges the universality in a fluidity of identities by examining three case studies in Caribbean racialized gender identities, often thought to be fluid because of multi-ethnicity, but discriminate against, and erase blackness or “Africanness,” in race theories of “whitening” (blanquemiento), “darkening” (negreado), color-casting, and colonial stereotypes of “miscegenation” throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Through performance analyses of three black and "miscegenated" Anglophone Caribbean performers Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon in Trinidad carnival crossdressing, Carlene “The Dancehall Queen” Smith in Jamaican dancehall transvestism, and Staceyann Chin in American performance poetry with racialized “androgyny,” I examine the figures of Creole, La Mulata, Dougla and “half-Chiney” by these women in their performance genres in order to investigate whether identities are as fluid as Butler suggests, and to chart their fixities. Focusing on fluidity alone risks denying inequalities and the lack of social mobility restricting access to marginalized people. Belfon, Smith and Chin manipulate racialized “drag” by simultaneously crossing race and gender in masquerade traditions of Trinidad carnival, Jamaican dancehall, and in the orality and embodiment in American performance poetry in performances I call black liminal displacements, defined as self-stereotyping and self-caricaturing. However fluid racialized gender identities may appear to be, I argue that racialized gender identities are not definitively fluid because racial stereotypes fix identities.