Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

From Masisi to Activists: Same-Sex Relations and the Haitian Polity

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

From Masisi to Activists: Same-Sex Relations and the Haitian Polity

Article excerpt

While the inextricable connection between democracy and human rights has been well documented, it is also no coincidence that countries enjoying a high degree of socioeconomic stability and political liberalism are generally striving to achieve gender equality and, in some cases, have even legalized same-sex relationships. Indeed, the public ways in which bodies are represented, shaped, and disciplined undergird a complex interplay of social, political, and cultural ideologies that, in turn, reflect on the civic health of a nation or a community. Drawing on Michel Foucault and Julia Kristeva among others, Judith Butler notably shows that the constitution of bodily margins and boundaries through which sexual others are both produced and "abjected" is based on an arbitrary yet regulatory differentiation between the "inner" and "outer." This distinction undergirds homophobia as well as racism. As she puts it, "The boundary of the body as well as the distinction between internal and external is established through the ejection and transvaluation of something originally part of identity into a defiling otherness."1 Moreover, the strategies used by sexual minorities to become more visible in the civic space, to move from the outer social margins to the inner public realm, significantly point toward the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion that operate in any society, in regard not only to its sexual minorities but to disenfranchised groups in general. The margin, whether ethnic or sexual, is therefore a critical vantage point to observe the central functioning of power.

In the context of Haiti, the status of people who engage in samesex relations and the ways in which some organizations have recently begun to advocate more vocally for their rights are particularly significant in relation to ongoing efforts to build a sustainable democracy and to counter the pervasive anomy of the civic space. Although the integration of different sexual behaviors within Haitian Vodou has been highlighted, particularly in the 2002 documentary Of Men and Gods, people engaging in same-sex relations in Haiti are subjected to various forms of harassment and stigmatization. Homophobia in post-earthquake Haiti has been further reinforced by the popular belief that Masisi-a derogatory term used to designate "effeminate" men in Haitian Kreyól-provoke divine punishment in the form of natural disasters.

It is within such a discriminatory context that a "gay rights" movement has recently emerged in Haiti.2 In May 2012, an "LGBT Congress," which attracted over three hundred people and many nongovernmental organizations, took place in Port-au-Prince to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. In the words of one participating organization, Housing Works:

The 2010 earthquake further devastated the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, so issues of basic survival can seem to trump the need for other kinds of advocacy. But the work for cultural and national acceptance of LGBT people in Haiti remains a struggle, and this conference is proof that the rebuilding of Haiti means houses, hospitals and schools, and social justice for marginalized groups within the country.3

One newly formed organization, Kouraj, also participated in the May 2012 Congress. On its website, the organization presents itself as "a group of masisi activists, created to politicize other homosexuals and transgender persons in Haiti regarding their fundamental human rights."4 Interestingly, Kouraj decided to break away from the acronym LGBT in favor of the name "M Movement." This is based on the Kreyól terms Masisi, Madivin, Makomer, and Mix, which, the organization explains on its website, more accurately reflect the complex reality of same-sex practices in Haiti while resisting Western-imposed gender and sexual norms.5

This essay argues that the civic space that the "M community" is trying to carve out for itself constitutes a laboratory for the democratization of Haitian society. …

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