Kismet

I don’t usually don’t focus my writing on particular people, for many reasons. Most of all, this blog has always been about me and my experiences because, when I started it, I couldn’t find anyone who reflected what I was going through and I ended up feeling pretty lonely. So, I decided to write with the desire to share what was happening to/for me and to provide sort of a signal flare for other people like me—queer transmasculine types who find themselves being dragged along a spiritual pathway—so no one would feel alone like I did. Since then, my life has sort of blown open in a lot of ways and I have ended up in places I had NO IDEA my feet would carry me to.

It would be silly and painfully false to say that I have been a spiritual island unto myself all this time, and people have always played a part in me learning and finding my way be it through casual conversation or more formalized interactions. I’ve been a student many times over and each teacher has been instrumental in me being who I am and have been over the years, with many iterations of my Self and the knowledge I hold in my head and in my heart. This blog post is about that, sort of, and about how I am who I am right now, kind of. Mostly, though, it’s about a person who is not me.

Way back when dinosaurs walked the earth and my cell phone flipped open (also known as 2005), I worked at a leather bar in Boston, where I lived. I spent just about every Friday and Saturday night there, and it was a really formative experience where I learned a lot that has benefited me spiritually—how to be invisible and unobtrusive, mostly, and how to talk to people. I was (and am, in a lot of ways) a very shy person, and I didn’t know a whole lot about myself except that I liked where I was and what I was doing.

One night, a friend of mine came into the bar with the guy he was dating. I don’t have a ton of super Polaroid-clear memories of working at the bar, but this one is crystal clear. My friend came over to introduce me to his new guy, and New Guy was super sweet—a big, friendly smile and he seemed genuinely happy to meet me, with a wave and a big hug. I was not used to a super warm reception at the bar from guys I didn’t know (leather bars are super masculine, male-dominated environment, and I was the only obviously not-cisgender man there) and so I was pleasantly surprised by how nice he was, for someone meeting a complete stranger. In retrospect, I know now why I remember him so clearly—I was supposed to, and he had the bright, shiny sort of shimmer around him that clings to people that I am being maneuvered into meeting for future important reasons.

He and I saw each other now and then while he was dating my friend, but eventually our lives went in different directions—he and my friend stopped dating, and I unexpectedly began what would end up being a several year spiritual process of my life being shredded. I was basically lifted out of everything I had been doing, and that included essentially disappearing from the bar I had worked at.

I never really ended up back in those same circles since some things from my life then never really returned. A little over three years ago, I was messing around on Facebook and decided to join a discussion group focused on conjure work and folk magic. I started to participate and posted on a few threads, and not too long after got a Facebook message from someone I didn’t appear to know. My immediate reaction was sort of privately surly—when you join Facebook groups around esoteric topics, it’s not unusual to get messages from people asking to do work for you or whatever, and I had already had a handful of those right off the bat. I had already had a few of those, and was sort of Done With That. I opened the message and it was essentially ‘HOLY SHIT ALEX, I haven’t seen you in so long. How are you?’. I squinted at it for a minute and looked at the profile and fuck me if it wasn’t New Guy, better known as Houngan Matt/Bozanfe Bo Oungan. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in about seven years or so, and it was weird as hell to get that sort of message from him.

I didn’t know anything about vodou, but was interested in the sort of way most people are interested in vodou—it sounds exotic to outsiders and gets a lot of play with pop culture, so I kind of wanted to see what all the hype was about. When he mentioned a fete for Gede, the only spirit I was really familiar with, I perked up a bit and ended up going. This was the fete that sealed my involvement in vodou, and Gede opened the door for me to get involved with the sosyete. Matt and I regularly talk about how our 11-years-with-a-hiatus friendship is part of some cosmic long game that our collective spirits play.

That’s interesting enough on it’s own, but that is really only the tip of the iceberg. Right around the time the earthquake hit Haiti, a non-vodou spirit I am involved with casually mentioned that I should go to Haiti. I side-eyed the hell out of them for that, especially after the earthquake, and sort of threw that in the ‘ain’t gonna happen’ pile. What was I going to go to Haiti for? Vacation? Come on. And yet, the idea wouldn’t die and people around me suggested that maybe Haiti was really a stand-in for ‘vodou’. I had the same ‘yeah right’ reaction to that, but with a little more to go on that ‘go to Haiti’ and with the knowledge that people practiced vodou in the US, I reached out to an acquaintance who I knew did stuff with vodou. They in turn told me I should talk to Houngan Matt in Boston and gave me his email, but I never followed through for whatever reason and I never put two and two together and realized that New Guy was Houngan Matt.

One step weirder, Matt and I were talking this past weekend and realized that he and I likely came in contact somehow when we were much, much younger. He mentioned remembering me with curly hair, but I have not had curly hair since a terrible perm experiment when I was in grade school. That got us talking about where we grew up in Massachusetts and come to find out his mom used to live down the street from the house I grew up in. It’s entirely plausible we ran into each other when we were kids. Cosmic long game.

Despite how I come off sometimes, I am a super sentimental person and contain a lot of squishy emotions. When I decided to show up to Gede’s fete and go see what vodou was like, I packed a lot of that sentimental and squishy stuff away because I was pretty convinced that who I was would not be welcome where I was going. I mean, Matt is gay (like, really gay), but he’s a cisgender dude and I am not, and I am big and queer and bald which means there are a lot of people who don’t like me or who take offense at my presence. I was fully prepared for that and hardened my heart to go where I had been directed and then stay there for a bit. I was pretty wrong about not being accepted, and Matt, and by extension our spiritual mother, had a part to play in that. This has been a lot of background to essentially say that how I know Matt is significant, but he makes me feel is so much more important. In my own flawed and fumbling way, I suppose this is sort of a mushy love letter because, in a lot of ways, my heart is very full as of late and it has a lot to do with Matt.

I was very nervous and guarded when I showed up for that first fete, and I stayed that way for awhile. I didn’t know anyone that first night, and I had essentially dropped myself into another world where I didn’t speak the predominant language and didn’t really know what to expect. I was scared that if anyone knew me as who I am, I would be uninvited or asked to leave or otherwise be treated in an unkind way. I didn’t say much about myself for awhile, even when Matt was around, and stayed quiet about the parts of me that I was most sensitive about (read: my gender and sexuality) for quite awhile. In fact, I stayed quiet until Matt directly asked me what pronouns I preferred and I had a now-or-never moment. I don’t remember how I answered, but I remember that I felt super awkward through no fault of Matt’s—I wasn’t out at work since it probably would have cost me the job I had at the time, and Matt is one of the few people in my life who has known me since before I got dumped in the spiritual pool. I was afraid that if I told him I wasn’t the same person I had been when we met, he wouldn’t like me any more. Silly, I know, but that’s sort of how it went for me.

But Matt was perfect with it and that sort of set the tone for how I have come to be really, really comfortable in my manmi’s house. He both inadvertently and directly challenged all my assumptions about how vodou would receive people like me, and he has never been wrong about that, ever. Before I even talked with our spiritual mother about gender things, he smoothed the road for me in that he reassured me over and over that it would not be a Thing and answered all the questions I was too timid to ask of a woman I (at the time) barely knew and thus did not trust.

In a very short time, Matt has been someone I have come to chase after in the sort of way a younger child stumbles after an older one. I don’t think he wakes up in the morning and thinks about how he is going to be an example to me but he really has become someone I look up to a lot and who, in some ways, I model myself after. He is an incredible person and an incredible priest, and he embodies a lot that I want to cultivate in my life. He is beyond patient with my constant questions and babbling, and puts up with my ceaseless enthusiasm for the things I am learning and experiencing. I look at his patience and marvel at how much he puts up with from me alone, and I think about him often when I am at the end of my own (very short in comparison) rope with my dayjob clients and, at times, with my spirits. In a lot of ways, he is who I want to be when I grow up across the board—the sort of man I want to evolve to be, and the sort of priest that I hope I can learn to be. I imagine there will be a part of him that is horrified with me saying this, but I hope a larger part of him will be pleased and not weirded out when I say that I love him in my own way.

I can’t write about him and how important he is without writing about our spiritual mother, who made him as a priest. There really isn’t a priest who is alone in vodou—all priests are born from another priest—and children are a product of their parent(s), in one way or another. I have complicated relationships with parental figures, and so really kept Manbo Maude at a distance until the lwa very clearly handed me over to her. It’s one thing for them to do that, and another thing for me to go along with it. I not only had to choose to have faith in the spirits, but to have faith in her, and that was a tall order for me. But, there was Matt, and Matt was okay and wasn’t a raging egomaniac who didn’t know their ass from their head and so I figured she must be okay, too.

She, like Matt, has never failed me, not once. She has consistently turned my assumptions on their head and shown me, over and over, that my fear is just fear and doesn’t have any real footing in reality. I will never, ever forget the first time she and I talked about the possibility of kanzo. We sat at her kitchen table and I was utterly terrified when I said that, if I were to consider doing kanzo, I would not be able to do it as a manbo. She looked at me for a moment and asked why, and I explained that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing anything that designated me as a woman. The half second before she responded was possibly the longest moment of my life, and I was really scared that she was going to tell me that she couldn’t help me and that I didn’t belong there.

Instead, she shrugged and said ‘then I’ll make you a houngan’ before sipping her tea like it was no big thing, because it really wasn’t. I’m pretty sure I looked like I had been hit by a truck, but that was the moment that I knew I was going to be okay with her and that I knew she was a good person for me. The spirits could have promised me she was Jesus come for the second time, but none of what they said really mattered until I knew for myself that I was where I belonged without any doubt. I’m not sure she knows what a pivotal moment that was for me, but it was really a stay-or-go situation for me entirely dependent on what she said right then and there. I asked her two more times after that if she would make me as a houngan, and she said the same thing each time—yes, and she didn’t care one bit what anyone else’s opinion on the topic was.

That’s the kind of person she is, and that is directly related to the kind of person Matt is, since a child reflects their mother. When I have moments of doubt about the things I have decided to do, I think about how she and Matt see me and how fear is just fear without any roots. I am by nature and past experience a skittish and untrusting person, but vodou—and specifically Matt and Manbo Maude—has undone that without really trying hard. It’s just been sort of how things grow. When I talk about how vodou has transformed my life, that’s what I mean. That isn’t even entirely accurate, though, because there is a lot of vodou in the world and a lot of other priests who would have not treated me or received me in the same caring and unassuming way. More accurately, vodou as Manbo Maude embodies it has transformed my life.

I also say a lot that vodou has saved my life, and that is also a true statement but is not entirely accurate either. Vodou has presented me with the choice of whether I wanted to save my life, and, upon deciding that I did, begun to arm me with the tools to do so. Those tools have not just materialized out of thin air, but have come from the hearts, hands, and heads of Matt and Manbo Maude into mine. They are my examples that I use as a compass in a lot of ways, together and through Matt as Manbo Maude’s child. I honestly have no idea where I would be without both of them. I decided that I needed to live and have saved my own life, but it would not have even been an option if I hadn’t had examples of what could be in front of me. I have roots that I have grown of my own volition, and I can’t begin to really explain how important that two of them have been to making those roots grow. I joke a lot that my involvement with vodou is Matt’s fault and that all of the things that have happened between that first fete and now lay at his feet, but it’s not really a joke. Eleven years of the universe deciding to squeeze us together repeatedly is not a joke or coincidence, and I will never be able to express my gratitude for what has found me or pay back the deep debt I owe the both of them, alongside what I owe my spirits.

I read this and realize how much language fails me—I can’t really write how I actually feel in words, because there are no words to explain how much love I have in my heart for Matt and for Manbo Maude. I am woefully inadequate in expressing it, but this is my imperfect love letter to them both with my imperfect words, because they deserve unending credit for who I am right now and who I am becoming, whoever that may be. I am blessed beyond belief that the forces that turn the earth saw fit to throw me and Matt together and then deliver me to Manbo Maude’s doorstep. If I can be even the tiniest sliver of who they both are when I grow up, I will be satisfied.

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~ by Alex on March 19, 2016.

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