"Identity is from within, and the labels we choose to embody it are outsiders, trying to box in, organize our wide and chaotic nature. As the years go, we must seek to capture with words, and art, our identities in its rawest forms. This applies to womanhood, Haitian womanhood specifically in the way each day, Haitian women express it, shifting its definition, forcing it to adhere to their standards. We will not be bound by the mediums of our oppressors, but we will use all of the tools available to express the things we have defined of ourselves, from within. "
Haiti, tends to simplify humanity...women are here to birth babies, and cook. Men are there to be strong and give you money. Everything is always explained through God, or the mystical, the devil, or spirits. That [simplification] is an overall prevalent attitude in our country. And queerness does not escape that. Mostly you’ll find people attribute everything related to queerness to demonic possession...if your [great] grandparents served certain spirits..[they’ll say] that you’re possessed by Erzulie if you’re “male-bodied’ and you’re queer, and if you’re queer and “female-bodied” [they’ll say] it’s Ogou. It’s not so much that you’re not human, but you’re not taken serious. Dehumanization, but in the sense that you’re not a full citizen in our society. So, yes education is the key, it’s important, [but it makes it easier when I’m] educating myself, redefining myself - not by their standards, but by my own understanding of self; the support of family, having people, does help - it makes a world of difference. “
- Yaisah Val
The ladies and the gentleman were lively, laughing as they introduced themselves and their stories, as painful as they were. The common denominator between their lives was, of course, that they were misunderstood purposely and had to quiet down who they were to people in general, may it be both their parents, just one, and if not them, neighbors, strangers in the streets, or they'd risk abuse, may it be mental or physical.
Some had even had to endure methods of “fixing” applied by their families, - methods such as exorcisms, from both christian and voodoo priests. The first question (silly) was of course how long they knew they were themselves and not this person society was telling them they were, and the answer was obvious : they had known all their lives.
It's always so easy for the hetero normative brain to associate people's gender to their appearance, and so for the ladies and the one lad present, it had always been a hassle to have the world see them for who they were, and accept them for the who they were. For humans to even slightly understand the many facades of gender, critical thinking and questioning are needed. Sadly, knowing the state of the majority of the Haitian population, if a person isn't savvy enough about themselves to stand tall against mis-education and disdain, they could lose themselves in anger, not because they had doubts regarding themselves but rather because they didn't have the vocabulary or the knowledge necessary to.
Yaisah made sure to encourage them to use proper terms as they spoke, and for a good reason: she argues (rightfully) that when you are assured in your way of speaking of and about yourself, when you know who you are and can express that with assurance, that no one could ever tell you who you are or make you doubt it.
The second thing i noticed everyone had in common was that they were all… smiling.
Imagine hearing stories filled with disregard, pain, abuse, misunderstanding from smiling mouths, laughing voices, bubbly attitudes. The side note to this part is that i am always amazed at how people process trauma and go beyond it.
Having found Yaisah and her home/haven meant that they could exist and be themselves without any need to diminish or dim down, and honestly, they laughed and smiled, even when describing the most vile acts they have had to endure from loved ones and strangers.
Lastly, they all argued that meeting Yaisah was probably what saved their lives and answered the question most of them had : am I alone? Finding a community of people who felt just like they felt, who had the same questions, close to same experience, is what they said saved them. having found a mother in Yaisah and siblings in each other had immensely helped them not turn to drastic measures and in educating themselves.
Yaisah's will to become the face of the transgender movement in Haïti has contributed a lot to educating people on the existence of transgender people but also to more transgender people “coming out”.
In one final note, I will say that meeting them all was enlightening and answered a couple of questions I had, although being part of the LGBT+ myself.
It has also helped me understand the importance of visibility of LGBT+ communities, educating oneself on proper terminology concerning gender identification, but mostly, how we as people still have a long way to go when it comes to acceptance.
- Leila Lherisson
Walking into her house, I was welcomed by Kiana, dressed in a very colorful and flattering dress, standing tall on her high heels.
Yaisah, from what I understood, holds seminars at her home for trans women and men once a week, ever since her coming out as the face of trans people in Haïti, and I was about to step in on one of her sessions with a group of them.
She urged me to take a seat and introduce myself, which I did rather shakily, as I felt I might say the wrong thing at any moment, but the group put me at ease, Yaisah helping.
From there, I was introduced to Latifa (26), Francesca (24), Leanne (24), Rosa (25), Catalina (underage), Kiana (22), and the only trans man of the assembly, Dave (21).
Speak! Don't leave
We need the voices of Haitian women