top2.gif - 6.71 K

Delroy Constantine-Simms &
The Greatest Taboo

Interview by Raj Ayyar

Raj Ayyar: Delroy, tell us bits and pieces of your story---the highlights and the little irrelevancies that add sparkle to the process of living. What is your background? I notice that you are a Long Island-based Brit, shuttling back and forth between Toronto and London, with pit stops in New York City.

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I have homes in New York and London, a very big family in Canada. Most of my family lives outside the United Kingdom. My parents were born in Jamaica, therefore I consider myself to be Jamaican.
Delroy Constantine-Simms: Editor of The Greatest Taboo

Even though I was born and bred in Britain, I don't feel comfortable with the being called English, British, or any of terms. I just don't feel that way inclined. I know the younger generation have a different sort of sentiments to Britain, and even some of my own generation.

However, it's interesting how travel broadens the mind. I know that some of my other literary colleagues may adopt a different view. At the same time I am practical, especially when it comes to immigration and claiming certain benefits. However, I certainly will not be celebrating the Jubilee celebrations. Elizabeth II is not my queen. That right goes to my mother.

Raj Ayyar: You are quoted as saying that you are heterosexual. What is the source of your interest in homophobia in Black communities?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I am heterosexual and have never had any type of homosexual experience. Voluntary or involuntary!!! I am not afraid of gay or lesbian people. I know who I am. I am comfortable with my sexuality and so I don't have to defend it to any one. Hopefully, neither should the gay and lesbian community.

My interest is simple. I wanted to and so I did. Besides, would you have an issue if I decided to look at homosexuality in Asian communities because I was Black and heterosexual ? Why should my sexuality stop me from investigating the issue? I don't see too many people complaining about Jewish people investigating Black issues in the USA. I don't see why any social construct should limit my academic interest.

Raj Ayyar: Were you surprised at winning the prestigious Lambda award for your book? How do you feel about it?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I am surprised that the book won, I am even surprised that the book was nominated. But it must be understood that the contributors are the real winners. I am only helped to co-ordinate what need to be put across. I hope that point is emphasized to the readers.

Raj Ayyar: Can you share some of the highlights of The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: The whole experience has been a highlight. The best thing during all this is the people that I have met on the way who have been extremely supportive. Especially, Kheven Lagrone, Michelle Escumbise, Washington, Steven Fullwood New York City, and CC Carter from Chicago, They have been great personally, and professionally. I am proud

Raj Ayyar: Are there different sources, causes and sites of homophobia in different Black communities? Or, is there a Grand Homophobic Narrative common to all Black communities from rural Alabama to Eritrean villages?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: Of course there is !! But I don't want to adopt an anthropological approach to all this. I'll leave that to people like Stephen O Murray. However, if you are saying is Black homophobia universal, I would respond by arguing that homophobia is universal. With respect to the so-called Black community, the narrative may be different but there are similarities as well as differences, just is the case with other communities.

I can't see how the Black community is that different is so different to, say Muslims, Hindu's, Buddhists etc, and those fundamentalist white folks in Montana, Iowa, Minnesota and those white folks who live in the Bible belt of the deep South.

Raj Ayyar: How does the "greatest taboo" differ from homophobic prohibitions and moralities in non-Black communities?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: The greatest taboo is different because unlike other books on homosexuality, there is this great emphasis on masculinity and it's definition. That sort of pontification really is intellectualism at it's worst. I tend to avoid getting involved in those type of debates.

In response to the real question, wider communities especially Europeans are seen a lot more willing to accept it's existence. This doesn't mean they like the issue of homosexuality more so than Blacks.

At the same time it has to be understood, that homosexuality is accepted but it is done under very strict cultural rules: "If you say nothing, nothing will be said." With respect to moralities and prohibitions they are not really that different from Europeans until it comes to the issue of blatant and out homosexuality.

With respect to lesbians, things are seen differently, because of the final solution thesis: "One Penis and It's Gone" That is, the lesbianism. However the community has been caught up in it's own heterosexual hype in that we are assuming that homosexuality is a white thang etc. But let me tell you this: looking at some of the rap music videos there appears to be a different attitude towards lesbianism than gays.

When looking at other non-white communities, there is certainly a lot of homosexuality going on. In fact, I would argue that these communities take a harder line than black communities on the issue of homosexuality, yet they have not been painted as negatively as the black community in terms of being homophobic.

Related Stories from the GayToday Archive:
Sistah Talk: An Interview with Summer Blanding

Reclaiming Gay India with Ruth Vanita

Arthur Evans and the Politics of Celebration

Related Sites:
Alyson Books: The Greatest Taboo
GayToday does not endorse related sites.

I just get the feeling that it's as if we, the Black community, endorse homosexuality it validates white homosexuality. In that, the black community tends to follow all that white folks do. So when all of a sudden they don't comply in the manner that is expected, the community is vilified.

I would be fine with this if it was universally applied. When was the last time you heard any one call other non-white communities highly homophobic? How many documentaries articles, discussions have you seen that have looked at Islam, Hinduism? Homophobes should be exposed. But I do feel uncomfortable with certain campaigns that target the Caribbean.

Raj Ayyar: When you speak of 'Black communities' are you referring exclusively to communities of African origin? After all, I gather that in the UK, it is not uncommon to lump together Asians, Africans, and assorted non-white 'others' as Black Britons.

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I must make it absolutely clear. I do not accept the British version of what Black is meant to be. Sadly, that term was conceptualized by the Black political left of the British Labour party. The term has been so misused to the point that any one who sees them selves as oppressed is now calling them Black.

When you get crap like this it is no one the young black kids in Britain have no respect for their political elders because they see them selves as fools. Especially, when it is clear that Asian and black barely like each other and are only seen as being Black when it suits.

I also have a problem when Black folks and every one else for that matter calling all South Asians India or Pakistani's or worse still (Paki), a derogatory term for all South Asians commonly used in the UK. Apparently, President Bush used the same term to describe people from Pakistan. He got confused with the way people from Iraq are called Iraqis. In the case of Pakistan he got that shit wrong!

Going back to the question. This Lumpen identity shit worked but the younger generation of Asians doesn't want to be associated with Black for political and personal reasons. They see themselves as proud Asians. That I like!

Tariqu Modood However, it has been argued by Tariq Modood at Bristol University in England that there is not much power when one talks about Asian power compared to Black power. Also when it comes to taking matters to the streets it has always been the Black, meaning the African community, that has taken the battle to the streets to obtain political advantages in Britain. Asians have been reluctant to do so. In many cases they are often the victims of looting and white racism.

In terms of Blacks attempting to re-claim the term Black to Mean African and Caribbean, things are that bad in Britain that we can't even have a Black history month without every other group trying to muscle in.

But when Blacks try to participate in other arenas they are excluded. I don't think the Asians would allow Blacks to set up stall and sell rice and peas and chicken and Devali, Ede etc. even, Chinese in Britain wouldn't allow Blacks to participate in Chinese New Year celebration.

Yet the Black community has no issue with this. But it has to be understood that Black History Month is government led. That's why all and sundry take part. The Black community in general do there own thing. Personally, I support the American, Canadian, and German Black history celebrations. Because they are celebrating Black people in the African sense.

The debate is complex and is not part of this debate. But I do not accept that political bullshit espoused by those political fools claiming to represent the Black community. The young ones, Black and South Asian, have seen right through that crap on both sides.

Given that we have so much info about America, I can't see any Asian going to America, Africa, Canada, and calling himself Black. Others as well as his own would ostracize him.

Put it this way when my Asian girlfriend and I went to Jamaica, they didn't refer to her as Black they called her Asian. It's exactly, the same, as when I went to India with some Indian Friends, they didn't refer to them as Black. They certainly didn't refer to me as British even though it was in my passport. Everywhere I went I was called an African.

However, some of my Black colleagues who are so proud to be Black and British hated this experience. I just told them, that's the way it is no matter where you go. No one gives a shit what you have in your passport. Especially, in parts of the world where Blacks are treated worse than they are in the USA or Europe.

Interviewer Raj Ayyar Raj Ayyar: You are quoted as praising the co-operation, efficiency and support you received from the African-American community, as contrasted with the relative sluggishness of Black British. Any comments?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I stand by the press release. I can understand that the "British" black gay literati want their voices to be heard. But they also need to get over this anti-American rubbish. That is, stop expecting that shared language means shared interest in all things English. Whether my colleagues understand it or not, Britain no longer rules the intellectual waves or anything else for that matter except the commonwealth (Mean equally poor except the white countries)

My question to these whining British folks is simple, when have they ever given any one from other Black countries the time of day in their literary circles?

I did a book tour at Borders in London, and all I got was complaints that I didn't make a concerted enough effort. As far as I am concerned I waited two years for responses that never materialized for UK participants. This does not of course include, Kobena Mercer, Stuart Hall, or Paul Gilroy, Courttia Newland, Kadija George, Alex Wheatley, they are all on the ball they all understand what is needed to get Black British Literature out there. Sadly we need more Africans to join the crew.

Many wanted to contribute poetry, coming out stories, and fiction etc. It's not what I am about, I don't think they would have added to the book. If the truth be said, I did get a lot of praise from gay non-writers who told me that they while they were squabbling to be the next Alice Walker etc., I was just getting on with it. Which is what I did. I make no apologies for the stance I took. I will certainly take on anyone who wants to attack the book because of the lack of UK content. The book has contributors from all five continents and all sexualities.

Raj Ayyar: Playing devil's advocate, couldn't one argue that some of the positive African-American response could have come from what I call 'mere archival tolerance' that wants to see all aspects of the African-American experience researched and therefore 'allows' gay studies research as a minor ghetto of the overall structure? Could your being straight have helped? In that many of your supporters in the straight American press, Black and White, may have been less threatened?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I would argue that the same applies to European academic ghettoes. It just so happens that the African-American is not as highly developed. In fact I would argue that it African-American gay studies will have to move to a white academic neighborhood to be acknowledged let alone researched.

With respect to my so-called straight supporters you are wrong. Many have supported the book not because of my heterosexuality. In fact many thought that I was actually gay. So in that sense your question doesn't stand, neither does your assertion that the book has only been supported because of my sexuality.

It is clear that the theme of the book is on homosexuality. Just because I am heterosexual, doesn't mean that it makes it more palatable to other heterosexuals. Far from it! The amount of rubbish that I have experienced especially from people in Canada has been disgusting to say the least. When a member of your partner's family has to be issued a restraining order because of harassment because of my alleged homosexuality based on a book. It's really frightening.

Raj Ayyar: Tell us a little about your new project--Hitler's Forgotten Victims: The Black Experience in Nazi Germany. Is Kheven Lagrone collaborating with you on that book as he did with The Greatest Taboo?

Cover photo from Hans J. Massaquoi's Destined to Witness about Blacks in Nazi Germany, a topic Constantine-Simms will explore in his upcoming book, Hitler's Forgotten Victims Delroy Constantine-Simms: All I can say about the book on Hitler's Forgotten Victims is that Black Folks were there too!!! It's a story that will be told. Not biographical but factual. Kheven will be helping me with Greatest Taboo 2 only.

Raj Ayyar: Do you have any comments about the new ultra-marginalization of the Brown person in the U.S. and, to a lesser degree in Europe (whether Muslim or not), post-9/11? Has the axis of oppression tilted away from Blacks to Browns somewhat as a result? If so, how does this impact diasporic writing/analysis?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: With respect to the Axis moving to Browns, no it hasn't. Its just that Brown can no longer stand on the side lines. They are certainly targets. I hate that kind of bullshit but they will pay because of a few religious fanatics. I hope this situation will Black and Brown closer together.

In terms of writing and analysis, it all depends on who is doing the writing and from what socio-political perspective. It's been tried in Britain, but some how it lacks authenticity, while I like diversity, I also want difference not rigid difference but the right to move in and have intellectual debate on any cultural or racial issue. At the same time I don't want people watering down who they are to suit some sort of politically correct agenda.

Raj Ayyar: What are the connections between the fragile defensiveness of the diasporic family, threatened and marginalized by mainstream culture, and a certain kind of homophobia and sex-phobia?

In many diasporic Indian families, for example, there is an almost hysterical shrillness about hanging onto the old culture's ways and resisting the perceived inroads of the 'dangerous' promiscuity and sexual experimentation of the 'West.' The diasporic family often has a schizoid bi-cultural double standard in that it wants 'success', even 'mega-success' for its children while jealously shielding them from lifestyle cultural erosion. In this context, homosexuality/(ies) is the ultimate bogeyman. Any comments?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I can't see why you have chosen to use the term schizoid or shrillness as if there is something wrong with cultures wanting to hold on to cultural nuances that make them who they are?

As a Jamaican, I just about have a culture to hang on. Sadly, there are those who have a culture who are too quick to trade it in for success or perceived success. We have a name for those in Britain. For Blacks we call them Coconuts. For Indians we call them Apples, and for Orientals we call them Bananas. All are white on the inside.

One only has to look at the Jewish community to see how well they have navigated both cultures successfully. Moreover, I strongly reject the assertion that homosexuality is considered a bogeyman. Sex outside marriage is a bogeyman, under age sex is a bogeyman, Incest is a bogeyman. The statement you make, well the question is very provocative indeed. Hence my response.

Raj Ayyar: Is there anything else that you want to share with readers of Gay Today?

Delroy Constantine-Simms: I hope the need to talk about anyone's sexuality will no longer exist. I would like to think that my book would be seen as archaic, in that years from now readers would think, did people really have those silly homophobic tendencies? Didn't they have better things to think about?

I stand by my comments and will be more than welcome to accept contributions from anyone. I am an equal opportunities Editor. I am only interested in what you have to say and how you say it. The rest is not my problem as long as you can back up what you say and cite real sources.

I can be contacted on or

© 1997-2002 BEI