This island hosts a cross-dressing parade every Carnival season

Unlike other Carnival festivals, where images of Rihanna bejeweled in feather goddess like bra outfits flood Instagram during Valentine’s Day, Martinique’s traditional celebrations are a bit different.

This year I clocked out of the anxiety of Valentine’s Day, trading hearts for sweeter red devils on the island of Martinique. It was the relief I’ve been searching for since third grade when I wrote angry messages in my class valentine’s day cards to all the naughty boys.

Martinique’s festival is defined by gender cross-dressing. Girls are supposed to dress as dudes and vice versa. Of course, I felt weird putting on a jumpsuit to march in a parade. Apparently the feather outfits are a Brazilian tradition, but in the end, I felt a part of the culture and empowered enough to not give a f*ck about what I looked like even if it was for a day.

There isn’t a red heart in sight on or leading up to February 14 in the downtown areas of Fort de France, the capital of the Caribbean island of Martinique. While the island iconically celebrates the season of change by partying off everything in one’s life that no longer serves a purpose, the rest of the world during this time is being struck with cupid’s arrow of single alone time. This is why I had to escape the “love trauma” digital vomit session and go to a place that ignores it.

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Martinique’s Carnival is a tradition that dates back to times of slavery, when this was the most fun to have all year, starting at the end of January and lasting a few weeks to make sure all of your cares and worries were completely washed away. To island people, this consists of group takeovers of the entire downtown area, dressed in some serious gender-bending, Instagram-worthy, masculine drag-like outfits.

My experience started out with partaking in The Mock Weddings which marks day one of the last days to party. The colorful uniform of the day calls for men to dress like women. There’s really no history as to when it started, but the same time each year people get creative. Men are literally eager to parade around town in tutus and fishnets, beads and other provocative accessories.

On day two, everyone shows out their finest Red Devil costumes for Fat Tuesday or The Red Devils Parade. As an initiation to walk in the parade with Spot Evasion, I went through hours of preparation guided by a dude in a red tutu who was working. It started with getting my makeup down like a little island girl devil which took like an hour. Then the grandpa of the parade spit some solid knowledge about the history of the parade and how it traces back to Africa.

Just to make it clear, the “red devil” theme has nothing to do with religion. Red Devils mean abundance, richness, and change. Red Devils have a connection to Senegal, where the famous poet Aime Cesaire once visited and witnessed an entire village celebrate the red devils with adorned animal skin masks and horns like in Martinique.

After hearing about the deep history, I still wasn’t sold on rocking a baggy red jumpsuit. I looked like a character from Mario Kart. The oversized jumpsuit wasn’t sexy at all. In fact, there were men dressed more seductive than me. After two hours in the costume, I felt empowered marching along the street, carrying my homemade pitchfork. Days before,  I had this idea I needed to be half naked and chosen hours before Valentine’s day to get the perfect ‘gram, but in reality, I was just as happy dancing in the rain alongside Young Thug lookalikes.

Finally, on day three, the Martinique community is supposed to mourn the burning of VAVAL, in black and white, when the bridegrooms from day one hysterically march in tears. This is when I got to wear my all white, which I like to think I channeled black beach Barbie.

The town kept in character as droves of people flooded the streets one last time. By nightfall, the streets were filled with marching bands, trucks blasting dancehall music as girls dutty whined so casually and decorative cars carrying super ghetto fabulous gangs, the kind that look gangsta in tutus and fishnets and ski masks.

Carnival brings out some pretty trippy personalities and keeping to the mourning of VAVAL (the king of carnival), people marched on in serious faces, even the kids! It’s like a colorful day party that doesn’t stop until the morning, and to be honest, this is the only way to escape the buzz kill of Valentine’s day. Men in tutus gave me a new perspective on what it means to be attractive and confident. The amount of cross-body Nine West purses, fishnet tights worn by shirtless guys wearing ski masks was enough to keep staring at the fashion and join them. Check out scenes from Martinique 2018 Carnival.

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