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Queer Haitians: The ghosts they try to pray away. - Introducing OBTEA

For folks whose identity falls within the CIS heteronormative umbrella, discussions on identity do not start with questions of existence. Said groups’ advocacy is one of worthiness, respect, and basic human right entitlements, more than it is one of fundamental debates about existence. What this translates to, is that ultimately, their fight does not begin with proving, or convincing a queerphobic world that they in fact exist. In that way, their battles are slightly less fundamental in nature.

Identity is from within, labels are outside creations: but how does one learn the proper spelling of their name, when they’re only given the letters to one that doesn’t fit? Queer Haitian folks who have always been apart of our society, seem to still, in 2018 be creating their own alphabet, to spell out their name and existence to society. Struggling to even grasp the essence of their existence, no one bothers to ask, how the queer experience is navigated, as it is easier to abuse a group you know very little about. What are day to day experiences that require strength and perseverance, and what are the moments that make it all worth it?

What are the mentions of queer Haitians that go beyond an attribution to ungodliness and abominations, or surface level comedy? There is such a weighty silence about their existence , that some to try to call their queerness other things.

For a people who's culture seem to have not lost its connection to their roots, we have adopted a lot of colonial ways of thinking. Before slavery, in the African countries where religions like Voodoo originated, queerness was not an anomaly. In fact, in the vestiges that we have of these beliefs (i.e, Haitan Voodoo), gender and sexuality are quite fluid concepts and widely accepted by the people in that community. Outside of the Vodouisant community, there is really no safe space for queer Haitian people. But the queer Haitian population has always existed, and though they may not have a name as a collective, below is a comprehensive list of different queer terms and names.

Homosexuel/Omoseksyel: This is an umbrella term for both lesbians and gays, which means that one individual of one gender is attracted to other inidivudals of that same gender.

Lesbyen/Madivin: Lesbian – a woman attracted to other women. Madivin is a reclaimed derogatory term, which means “Dyke”.

Masisi: Masisi is a derogatory term used more to designate gay men, however, it may be used to designate (negatively) all members of the LGBTQ community. In that sense, it holds the same meaning as “Queer”.

Transsexuel/lle/Transeskyel: While Transsexual is an outed term in the United States, in Haiti, it it still used by both queer and non-queer people for transgender people.

Deux-manieres: This is a less common term, but it is the equivalent of non-binary, or gender queer. The word itself, refers to someone with both feminine and masculine attributes, or attitudes.

Trans-maskilen; Tans-maskilen designates is an identity for those who do not ONLY identify with their gender at birth, yet are not FTM (female to male). It is also used for some people who identify more with masculinity more than they do feminity. It can include trans men, demi-guys, genderfluid, or genderqueer people (amongst others).

Androjin: Androgyny in English, it encompasses people with combinations of feminine and masculine characteristics. This may also include people with no specific gender, or both, as it isn’t specific to one gender.

The queer vocabulary is ever-growing, as they build more platforms to express themselves and explore their identities.


We reached out to a few of them, to allow them the space that is so often denied to them. We hope that through the sharing of their stories, insights and perspective, that a queer Haitian kid somewhere resonates and trusts the self and identity that has been stolen from them, burnt, and consumed by oppression.




Name: Gigi

Age: 22

Queer identity: Lesbian


- Would you say that your fight is as much internal as it is external? As om, do you also feel you have to unlearn what misconceptions you have been taught about who you are? (Feel free to provide an example).

I would say that my struggle was largely internal at the beginning of my realization, that I was straight. I identify as a cisgender lesbian now but back when I first explored the thought of my sexuality, I thought I was bisexual. I was young, around 13 or 14, in the 8th grade. My attraction to woman came naturally and it was never a doubt in my mind after the initial realization. - But where to fit men in my sexuality always confused me. I couldn’t fathom the idea of solely liking women. It felt too final to me. Now I’ve come to realize that that line of thinking came from years and years of growing up in the Baptist church and internalizing that I couldn’t be with anyone but a man when I grew up.

- If you’re in a Christian (or of any other religious following) environment how has your identity conflicted with the beliefs, if you feel it has at all?

From the time I was a little to a freshman in college, I went to church every Sunday. As an impressionable little girl, I believed a lot of what my pastor told me about what God thought about certain things. I took everything in without questioning it because I was also taught that questioning your religion was wrong. The demonization of gay people created my misconceptions about them. How lived was entirely a choice, that it was sinful, that gay people weren’t religious, etc. I carried out this thinking because I thought that’s what I had to do. Now I know I’ve never believed it in the first place.

Internally Christianity, the religion I’ve always known versus my sexuality, something that was new and exciting were at war with each other. It wasn’t until I finished high school that I realized it was perfectly fine to believe in God and be of the LGBT+ community.

- At what time did your “awakening” happen? – When would you say you began to want to word what you felt?

I believe I had two awakenings. The initial one in the 8th grade when I realized that I had an attraction to girls after a few dreams I’d had where I imagined myself with a girl. I simply brushed it off as me being bi. But like I said before, I thought I had to fit men into my sexuality.

It wasn’t until my junior year of college, as a few experiences with woman, I realized that I didn’t want to be with a man at all. I wasn’t interested in experiencing a man sexually, physically, romantically, or any of the “allies.” I just wanted women. So I took on the label lesbian and I felt so much happier. I felt comfortable and I felt like it fit me more.

- What are moments in your queer experience that made it all worth it?

Being confident in myself and what a want in a relationship. Learning how to love a woman and receiving that same love.

- Most Haitians are nationalists, very proud of their culture; but how is navigating Haitian circles? Do you feel you have to bargain and tuck in, or cut out part of you to feel/be at home?

I love being Haitian. I love our culture, our language, our people. But as I’ve grown up, I find it really hard to fit into these spaces because of my sexuality. That’s a part I have to hide because of it’s sigma in our community. Especially being around family and now there being a lot of talk about weddings and significant others. Hiding that part of myself has been something I’ve gotten used too but I wish it wasn’t a mandatory way to avoid judgement.

- What is a quote/affirmation that you can come up with right, or that you know that tell yourself every day for survival? Mine is – and unfortunately I didn’t make this one up “ Violence with no cause is brutality (…) but beating back against those trying to kill you, that’s hope“

“When you’re at your lowest point, you’re open to your greatest change”




Name: Leïla Lherisson Age: 27 Queer identity: Bisexual (today)


- Having grown up in a Haitian household, did you know that your

identity did not have to be “limited” to being a CIS-gendered,

heterosexual person?

In my household, the subject of sexuality was never brought up, thankfully because both my parents were busy being activists and borderline atheists to bombard us with concepts such as marriage.

I wasn't brought up with a fixed idea of sexual identity or what it should/should not be. I was taught to be respectful, to educate myself and to clean up after myself, never to dress or act a certain way due to my sex, never to love a certain other sex/gender.

I will say however, that having grown up sort of tomboy-ish, my parents somewhat expected my orientation to be different than hetero, and I had not felt any judgement on their end when it came to it.

- Would you say that your fight is as much internal as it is

external? As om, do you also feel you have to unlearn what

misconceptions you have been taught about who you are? (Feel free to

provide an example).

The fight was more within myself than with anyone from the outside world. I didn’t understand how I felt around same gendered people, I couldn’t pin it (or rather wouldn’t) to love, because socially all I saw was different genderunions and couples, but I knew there was something there.

But because I was also attracted to men, I didn’t question it too much, I didn’t address it either, but again, since in my close surroundings it was never really seen as a problem (I do mean in my home, with my mother and father) I had no real misconceptions about who I was sexually.


At what time did your “awakening” happen? – When would you say you

began to want to word what you felt?

I believe I was 13 years old when I began assessing my attraction for the female body. It wasn’t until I turned 16 that I was fully assured of that attraction and that it went beyond aesthetics. My mother was very helpful during that time.


- If you’ve come out to your parents or family, how did it all go?

What do you wish had gone differently – and if not a pleasant

experience, what did it all leave you with?


I mouthed my sexuality to my mother when I turned 20, but she was aware since my teen years. I didn’t have to come out to her, she was the one who calmly explained to me that I was always different, that I had different taste when it came to who I was attracted to.

She was somewhat uneasy with me coming out to her (because a theory is a theory until it becomes a fact and well...) but I believe that she's not entirely uncomfortable because I am still attracted to men and that eases things... in a... sad way.


- If you did come out- what was easier for you? Being in and out the closet?

Out the closet is most definitely better than in because you suffocate in a closed closet.


- Most Haitians are nationalists, very proud of their culture; but

how is navigating Haitian circles? Do you feel you have to bargain and

tuck in, or cut out part of you to feel/be at home?


I cannot speak for others, so I will say that I’ve never felt I had to do any tucking in or hiding of any sort, but I am aware that that is because A) I am a woman and sadly, in Haitian machist society, same sex relations between women is to a certain fetishized and B) I am an artist so people were more lenient because "you know artists.. They’re out there".

I will however add that unlike some, I've never felt the need to claim my sexual orientation loudly, because I’ve had enough backlash from choosing to live how I do to not have religious conformists come for my peace. I claim my orientation proudly but only if asked or if a necessity.


- Your existence is a revolution in of itself, what are ways you feel

you embody that? – No measurements or comparisons here – simply ways

in which you feel fierce in your queerness; what are battles of your

queer existence you’ve won?


I can’t say I’ve won battles, because I don’t feel I’ve ever had to fight with my close environment regarding this. Sadly, I don’t feel fierce about anything, so I can’t really answer here.


If this platform (UBU Magazine) could become anything for queer

Haitian folks, what would you want it to be?

A place to learn about the community, to learn about the fights and the rights, to learn about all these subjects that society deemed taboo and crude (read SEX AND SEX EDUCATION) to be discussed at the dinner table, to learn about the existence of others, their strive. A Voice.


- What is a quote/affirmation that you can come up with right, or

that you know that tell yourself every day for survival? Mine is – and

unfortunately I didn’t make this one up “Violence with no cause is

brutality (…) but beating back against those trying to kill you,

that’s hope“

“You will never influence the world if you try to be like it.”


- Aside from affirming self, and others like you, what are ways you

think we can carve our place in this world so that our kids do not

have to start from trauma or scratch as a lot of us did?

I believe in the power of education and communication. The youth needs to see that we exist, that we are, and needs to have access to us. It is dangerous, I am aware, especially in a closed minded machist society such as ours, but it is necessary if we want the next generations to grow into more accepting people than our parents and theirs.


- What are day to day emotions that you navigate through because of

queerphobia?

Anger of course, Disgust (towards those who hate), Despair (because I sometimes feel the evil in humans is rooted in their soul and there’s nothing we can do about that), Fright…


- What are moments in your queer experience that made it all worth

it?

A neighbor of mine had a cousin of his move from the states, and she came over to visit and introduce herself. My grandmother was at the table with my mother and I and the neighbor was telling a story about a lover of hers. She was trying really hard to keep calling her lover "a person/they", but she slipped and said "she" at some point, put her hand over her mouth and I feel was expecting some sort of loud dramatic expression of disgust. Instead she got us, all three, smiling and telling her to keep going with the story. No one made her feel uncomfortable and till this day she comes over to spend afternoons because she feels no one, not even my grandmother and her extra religious self, is judging her.

I like to think it had something to do with me, but it could also be that my family just isn’t narrow minded.



Name: Sam

Age: 24

Queer identity: bi/queer

- Having grown up in a Haitian household, did you know that your identity did not have to be “limited” to being a CIS gendered, heterosexual person?


I did not know that growing up. In my family, we rarely even mentioned LGBTQ+ people unless somehow the topic of religion came up. This sounds silly saying this now, but it wasn’t until my teen years that I became aware that Haitian people could also be queer. It wasn’t until my adult years that I embraced that queerness and Haitian identity could coexist.


5) At what time did your “awakening” happen? – When would you say you began to want to word what you felt?


I will do my best to keep this short, because I feel like my awakening happened across a span of years and different life changes. If I’m counting the first time that I saw someone [of the same gender] and felt attracted to them, it was in 9th grade, literally the first day of school. However, I’d say it was college where I truly was “awakened.” I realized that I wasn’t straight around the same time that I embraced black feminism and coincidentally around the same time that I fell hard for someone. This happened around my sophomore year of college, but it wasn’t until junior/senior year that I found the word that I felt truly described me [bisexual].


- What is a quote/affirmation that you can come up with right, or that you know that tell yourself every day for survival? Mine is – and unfortunately I didn’t make this one up “Violence with no cause is brutality (…) but beating back against those trying to kill you, that’s hope”


The one affirmation that comes to my mind is not one that I created. It’s actually a line from Janelle Monáe’s song Q.U.E.E.N.: “even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.” On days where I struggled to love my queerness, I repeated this quote to affirm myself and all my queer glory. On days when people try to make me feel smaller –to make me feel shame or feel uncomfortable about myself because they’re uncomfortable with my queerness –I repeat this line to myself, to remind me that my own approval is what matters.


- If you’re in a Christian (or of any other religious following) environment how has your identity conflicted with the beliefs, if you feel it has at all?


My exploration and growth in my queer identity happened while I was deeply surrounded –immersed even –in a conservative Caribbean Christian environment. In that environment, I was taught that queer pride was” disobedience to God’s plans” and that queerness was wrong (while at the same time hearing how “God makes no mistakes”). I was raised to believe in abstinence only, with marriage being the ultimate goal and symbol of love and should only happen between a monogamous cis man and cis woman. I was taught that one could be ‘committed to social justice’ (re: race issues only) and argue about bible passages that were no longer relevant to current times, EXCEPT when it came down to LGBTQIA issues. Needless to say, what I was hearing in church was not in alignment with what I was learning about myself. I quickly found that my that views on relationships, sexuality, and love were in constant conflict with the cisheteronormative views on relationships espoused within and by the church. I could not thrive in such an environment –one that wanted me to constantly feel bad about who I am. Due to this, I have since distanced myself from Christianity. I know there are queer folks who have found affirming churches, but as for me, I have found sanctuary in queer friendships and community.




Name: Dominique Dazilme

Age: 20

Queer identity: Queer, Lesbian, Gender-non-conforming

- If you’ve come out to your parents or family, how did it all go?

What do you wish had gone differently – and if not a pleasant

experience, what did it all leave you with?

Coming out to my parents was terrible to be completely honest. I told them what was up in hopes of keeping open communication and because they told me multiple times that they want me to trust them with anything, and so i did. I got the evil eye when i came out. They asked me a series of invalidating and degrading questions that I don't even want to revisit. They made me feel worthless and unloved. And after that we stopped talking about it. Before my first semester of college, I re-came out to them because they were in great denial and they'd have to come to terms with it eventually and i regret that to this day. After that they harassed me about it daily over text, telling me i was damned and disgusting and many other things. This went on for months and contributed to the worst depressive episode I have ever experienced and I even had to go inpatient. There is more to this story but that’s all i really have the strength to share.


- If you did come out- what was easier for you? Being in and out the closet?

Being in the closet was easier but it also ate me up inside constantly lying about my identity and being set up with guys and pretending to be what I wasn't. Id say both being in the closet and being out are equally difficult to me, each with their own set of challenges, but I only get to be this person once so I want to live authentically by any means necessary.


- What are day to day emotions that you navigate through because of

queerphobia?

Honestly just anger. Sometimes inferiority and a little bit of fear but I have a lot of fire in my birth chart and I’m a hot spirit in general so anger is my main emotion.

- Your existence is a revolution in of itself, what are ways you feel

you embody that? – No measurements or comparisons here – simply ways

in which you feel fierce in your queerness; what are battles of your

queer existence you’ve won?

Voguing with a bunch of black and latinx youth at the attic youth center, we really have the time of our lives for those two hours a week, and we just forget about all the bullshit we encounter. Another is when I met ballroom legends and got a LSS shoutout at a school function. My school’s lgbt affairs hired some ballroom legends and icons. I told them that i was in the house of Juicy Couture and they all introduced themselves to me and let me showcase my vogue on stage and everyone was so hype. The last one ill share was meeting the girl i like for the first time. We clicked instantly, showed so much affection, had a good time, and had passionate relations. I never felt that way before even aside from the sex. And that would never have happened if I didn't come out and accept my own identity and start living a lifestyle that affirms that

- What is a quote/affirmation that you can come up with right, or that you know that tell yourself every day for survival? Mine is – and unfortunately I didn’t make this one up “Violence with no cause is brutality (…) but beating back against those trying to kill you, that’s hope”

“My main mantra is “I create my own destiny.”




Queer stories, usually share a similar quest for home, or rightful place to exist, - whether that means said individual has to be comfortable with self, or comfortable being themselves amongst others, or both. Never hearing of who you are, or having no one to feel connected to, can feel like you are making things or feelings up, further stunting your growth and self-acceptance. And so, what life they could have lived initially, had the chance been given to them, they often taste bits of much later, when not preoccupied by recover or the processing of trauma. That is however, never discussed, because in Haiti, the discussion does not go any further than violent invalidation. There's never really been a narrative for queer Haitian people; simply muffles from being suffocated, and whispers about how they deserve it.

It's important that queer people lead the narrative, because though others may sometimes sympathize, the freedom of queer folks is not as necessary to outsiders as it is to queer folks themselves, and so ultimately, the will and effort is not the same. That disconnect, takes away from the telling of their stories, - we tend to overlook their actual experiences, for bigoted perspective that further oppress them. As of late, there have been uprisings, and more light shed on them, and more and more queer Haitians are starting to see that they aren't alone in their identity. Those stories are necessary. They're the ray of light, that despite all precaution, shines in the isolated dark cell, and the bit of strength left after the torture. They're as much an act of resistance as anything else, and truthfully, unless the queerest black Haitian is free, Haiti as a whole isn't, so their fight, should be ours as well.

Written by Daisha Dorsainvil


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