Ulelli: Hi, how are you?
James: I am good.
Ulelli: So, tell me your name?
James: My name is James Dupraj.
Ulelli: And you are from?
James: I am from Trinidad and Tobago and I am 26-years-old and I am a queer man… what else is there?
Ulelli: What do you do in Trinidad?
James: I am a writer... but I haven’t written for myself in a long time. I have been lacking some inspiration, hopefully soon.
Ulelli: Oh, you were in “Buss De Mark” (I Am One’s Caribbean Musical, premiered 2016). How was it for you?
James: Oh, that was so great… you know, as queer people we have grown up with so much outside influence and the popular media we take in is always so heterosexual, and even when there is gay representation it is created by heterosexual people or if it is created by queer people, it is not queer people of colour. Being in “Buss De Mark” was us being able to tell our stories as queer people of colour and queer trans people of colour in this space and in this cultural context, which is very different than anywhere else in the world. I think that it is very important for our community to have that support within ourselves, to say that we came together and we created this for you because we want you to be able to see yourself and your stories through what we are bringing to the stage.
Ulelli: Tell me what it is like being a queer man in Trinidad?
James: Ummm… (chuckles). It’s always interesting. I mean, I am very open about who I am, I try to put on no airs and at the same time, I do surround myself with a lot of queer people and queer community. I also don’t work in an office environment so I don’t have to or I don’t normally put myself in situations where I would have to necessarily face negative backlash. So, I would say it is comfortable for me as a queer man in Trinidad and Tobago. But “comfortable” is not where we need to be as a community, you know, and I think that our complacency is really what just seals all these structures together and continues our collective oppression, in that we are just comfortable or our ways of life are normalized to us, which is just hiding or understanding that when we go out we may just be attacked verbally or physically. So as a queer man I am comfortable personally but I think that for my community and for the wider Trini Community, we have a very long way to go and there are a lot of steps that we need to make, a lot of inclusion, a lot of intersections that need to go on because the oppression is all linked and there is not one that can be divorced from the other across any of the groups. All the marginalized groups. So… yeah, as a queer man I am frustrated and angry about legislature and about the ways that we keep indoctrinating young men and young women, but more so our young men, into homophobia and into repression; repression of your self-expression and the repression of others’ self-expressions and it’s a cycle that we really need to pull ourselves out of. To me, like, my generation’s time has come already and it’s here but the place we need to make better is for those generations who are going to come; for the kids who will be like we were and we can’t, in 20 years, have those kids facing the same injustices. To me that would be heartbreaking to witness, for those kids face the exact same oppression, the exact same hurt as I did. I think queer community organisation can really come about through us understanding our oppression and understanding how it is a collective oppression and coming together and our voices being raised and us being militant and saying that we can’t, that we will not take it anymore. I think that is how we can see some change and not necessarily militant as in violent, I mean like militantly organised, disciplined in that fight for change and the changes that we need to see and we know we need.
Ulelli: Tell me about your gender expression.
James: You know, it must be the same for so many young people, young kids. I remember growing up and I would love to wear my mom’s nighties, I used to love to wear her high heel shoes. There is actually a time I wore her high heel shoes and tried to walk down the stairs and I tripped and I tumbled down the entire staircase. I would always try on my stepmom’s shoes, and to me that was so much fun; that was me being able to express myself as someone outside of who I was at that age, you know, express myself in a feminine way as a woman possibly. I was always intrigued with that line between male and female and I never felt like I was, you know, 100% any of it. And while I do identify as a man, I cannot get onboard with any of the tenets of masculinity. I cannot get onboard with it and in that way I don’t consider myself manly. I don’t ever want to be manly. I don’t want to try to portray that, so my gender expression is actually very anti-masculine, like those heteronormative expressions that we get used to and it’s not even like I try to go against it. I think it is just natural for me because that’s how I always was. I was never comfortable just being a manly boy. I was always more effeminate, I connected more with my feminine side. I grew up with a single mother and my stepmother was also like my mother, so I grew up with very strong women in my life. I always emulated those women in my life, and not just their expressions but the ways that they thought and the things that they would do and that’s why I say that I emulated a womanly thing. Those were the women in my life who were there and present who I took from. So I also think that lends to my gender expression where I feel less about policing myself in that way and I am not trying to be less womanly or less feminine or more feminine you know, I just want to be who I want to be whenever I want to be and my gender expression really takes different forms everyday. Of course in a Trini context, it depends on where I am going, who I am going to be seeing, it depends on if I am walking or if I am gonna be in a car. These are the things that you have to think about when you express yourself differently and outside of the gender binary in our region. So my gender expression changes every day. You know, it so crazy that something that you put on, the armour that you wear everyday, can empower you but in an instant that power can be taken away from you, by the thoughts of someone or verbal assaults or violent acts towards you. And so my gender expression is not totally free. I am guarded with it because it does matter how you express yourself, where you express yourself, who you express yourself to.
Ulelli: What would you like to tell people who don’t understand much about gender expression, something very simple so that they can understand what gender expression is in short, how can you help them to understand?
James: No good can come out of any of us propagating that expression and self-expression can be boxed in and can be just like, this one thing; a one-size-fits-all. That is so damaging. Even for people who do not understand different gender expressions, I think you need to think about when people try to limit you. A lot of times, heterosexual people don’t think about these things because they are so unlimited in so many ways, especially socially and in the eyes of the law. So they don’t have to take those thoughts on, or they don’t have to think, “What if I was robbed of my freedom to do certain things, what if it was potentially deadly for me to hold hands or to kiss in public? What if my persona and who I am and my humanity came under attack because I chose to dress a certain way or for the way I already dress?” They don’t think about those things. For queer people, we think about that every single day, like it is constantly there and it will not go away. We have to think about the way that we portray ourselves and our safety all of the time. So, I would say to people who don’t understand: you need to try to put yourself in our shoes in the sense that if somebody told you that you cannot express yourself the way that you normally do every single day and the way that makes you feel whole and human and happy, I mean it would be debilitating to them as it is debilitating to us. And there are definitely times where I feel completely robbed, like if I want to wear something and worse if I do wear it and I am attacked, you know, I feel robbed. It feels like a piece of me is being taken, a piece of me that does not want to hurt anyone, a piece of me that isn’t trying to hurt anyone, a piece of me that just comes from within and if people can really try to understand what it’s like to be robbed of pieces of yourself maybe they might understand why gender expression and self expression and just anything that flows from you cannot be policed because even when we don’t wear it, it’s still there. We may not be able to wear it and express it but it doesn’t go away, so when you repress yourself like that, those things can have really damaging impacts on your mental health, your physical safety, like you can turn on yourself, you can turn on others because it all can wrangle inside of you and can become this ugly, dirty thing that even you may resent, which is unfair.
Ulelli: Ok, thanks, anything else you wanna add?
James: No, I think I am good, I spoke a lot.
Ulelli: Ok, thank you.