Society’s Negative Influence on Black Female Identity in Michelle Cliff’s Works
The LGBTQ Struggle for Legal and Cultural Equality in Latin America
The female protagonists of Michelle Cliff’s literary works face obstacles that prevent them
from discovering and expressing their authentic identity. Her protagonists range in nationality, sexuality, and class, but they are bound together by their gender, their race, and
their desire to express themselves. In Into the Interior, the unnamed narrator speaks
about her university years in England as a Jamaican-born bisexual woman. In England, she feels
alienated from her white classmates who simultaneously hold the view that black people are
inferior while assuring her not to worry because she is “not like the rest.” They dismiss her
Jamaican identity because they feel that she is “civilized” according to their society’s
standards. The narrator searches for words to define her identity throughout the novel but can
never find the perfect word to match because it does not exist. The society in which she and
the other protagonists live does not value their identities that meet some white standards of
goodness or beauty while failing to meet others.
Similar to the struggle that Michelle Cliff’s queer Jamaican and American characters face, the
LGBTQ community struggled to overcome discrimination in Latin America throughout modern
history. Homosexuality was present in pre-colonial Latin America and was even celebrated in
some cultures. However, the conquistadors enforced Christianity upon the indigenous peoples,
instilling the negative view of homosexuality witnessed there today. In many countries,
homosexuality was decriminalized by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the culture had
yet to accept homosexuality as “normal.” As a result, the police harassed many members of the
LGBTQ community in order to uphold the “ethics” of society. Catholic presence in Latin America
also shaped anti-homosexual measures, such as conversion therapy, a practice still used by many
Latin American countries today. There’s been a growing movement for LGBTQ rights in Latin
America, and as a result, some countries have passed new legislation protecting the rights of
LGBTQ communities. Despite these advances, Latin American society has a long way to go in terms
of treating LGBTQ members with full equality and the respect they deserve.
Major Works Consulted:
Cliff, Michelle. Abeng. New York: Penguin, 1995.
Furie, Noel. “Michelle Cliff Sometime in the 1980s.” Books, The New York Times, Feb. 12,
---. Into the Interior. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.
Encarnación, Omar G. “Beyond Machismo.” Foreign Affairs. Last Modified Jan. 11, 2016.
Accessed Feb. 14, 2017. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-01-11/beyond-
Siker, Jeffrey S. Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood