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    Words: Author Helen Klonaris Sparks Dialogue Concerning Intersecting Issues Like Queerness and Racism

    By Michele Karlsberg

    Michele Karlsberg: Your short stories tackle colonialism, religious fundamentalism, homophobia and sexism. Tell me more about your writing, which addresses what is important to many of us now.

    Helen Klonaris: When I was a child, I once heard a relative refer to Black people enjoying themselves on the beach as “flies.” It was a reference and an association that I never forgot; I felt so ashamed. The image, the association, continued to haunt me as an adult, and I needed to find a way to wrestle with it, understand and maybe even transform it.

    The first story of my collection, “Flies,” is what emerged from that wrestling. It is the story I was most afraid of, because it exposed what I had kept secret about (my feelings). I was asking myself, if white people project our fears and desires onto the brown and black bodies of people of color, what happens when we bring those projections home? For Marjorie St. George—a white English woman living in the Bahamas at the time of decolonization and majority rule in 1973—the invasion of her home and body by flies is a metaphor for bringing white fear home to its logical, metaphorical, and symbolic conclusion.

    We know what happens when white people’s projections run their course over black and brown bodies, but we don’t often imagine what bringing them home to white bodies looks like. The dissolution of Marjorie’s body is a beginning of that imagining for me. What we know from the language of mythos, the language of the symbolic and of alchemy, is that death, particularly dissolution, is the beginning of a process of reconfiguring consciousness. As a queer white Bahamian writer, I am very interested in not just talking back to whiteness—to the consciousness of white supremacy (out there and in myself)—but in transforming it.

    All of my stories make use of the language and structures of myth. But I hope in a way that also roots them in the everyday lives of contemporary island people.

    In “The Dreamers,” I drew upon African, African Bahamian, and Greek mythos when I imagined the character Dionysos aka Dee aka Dionne. This bird child transitions from male to female over the course of the story, and through the telling of their story, I attempt to call into question the ongoing clash between indigenous Greek and African worldviews and a fundamentalist Christian worldview, which I argue has little room for a non-binary awareness, much less a queer, black divinity.

    In the Caribbean, I don’t think it is possible to talk about colonization without also talking about the Church’s role in that colonization. They were two interdependent parts of a brutal plantation system. You cannot talk about queer or LGBT liberation in the Caribbean without also interrogating colonization and the Church. I find that here in the U.S., perhaps because the LGBT rights movement is often defined by mainstream white values, there isn’t always an interrogation of the roles of colonization and white supremacy in the demonization and erasure of queer and trans people, except by activists of color.

    My hope is that these stories will help to spark dialogue about these intersecting issues: queerness and colonization, and racism and religious fundamentalism, here in the U.S. and in the Caribbean. The U.S. and the Caribbean have always been connected by our histories as colonized spaces. While the U.S. may have a much longer history of organizing around LGBT rights, I think Caribbean LGBT communities and organizations have important ways of articulating agendas that put the need for decolonization at the center. I also think we need this kind of focus at this particular historical moment in the U.S. 

    Helen Klonaris is a Greek Bahamian writer and energy medicine practitioner. She teaches mythology at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and lives in the East Bay with her wife and dog. She will be reading from her new book at an event hosted by Hazel Reading Series and Radar Productions on August 10, 6 pm, at the San Francisco Public Library.

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBT community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates twenty-eight years of successful book campaigns.