Transgender Day of Visibility

(This blog has been quiet because I have been posting a lot over on my Tumblr. I will be rectifying this going forward.)

Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, so here I am continuing to be trans. I have mixed feelings about days like this, but I also feel it’s important as a transgender priest in a minority religion to be open and upfront. As far as anyone can tell or knows, I am one of two transgender priests in Haitian vodou, period, and, again as far as anyone can tell or knows, the only trans man. There are some classifications in Haiti that denote gender expression as it is tied to sexuality, but as for transgender people…it seems like, right now, me and this other person are it.

There is a lot of talk about LGBTQ+ and, as of late, trans people specifically being involved in Diasporic or African continental religions. The hard fact is that temples and gathering places in these religions have always been a home for the folks who the majority society rejects. Peristyles in Haiti are full of folks who would be considered part of the LGBTQ+ community in other places (sexuality is different and complex in Haiti, and people consider things in ways that we often do not in the US and other US-like countries). Largely, sexuality and gender are non-issues in vodou–there are almost zero proscriptions around gender in vodou, and what are often conceived of as gendered proscriptions are really practicalities, ritual and otherwise, that reflect the groups of people most often affected by them.

If specific houses or lineages impose rules regarding gender/gender expression, that is entirely an individual determination–there is no liturgical basis to support those attitudes.

Specifically, there is no difference between houngans and manbos beyond the title. We all kanzo the same way, we all have the same ritual licenses, and we all do the same work. My bodily configuration and my gender has no bearing on what I am able to do as a priest. Further, despite unpleasant rumblings in some pockets of the larger community in Diaspora, I do not need to be re-baptized or re-made when I complete what my medical transition will be. A competent and knowledgeable priest knows this, and anyone who has been in the djevo of a competent and knowledgeable priest knows why.

Even bigger than all of that is the fact that the spirits don’t care about your gender and/or bodily configuration. They are spirits. They don’t have bodies. They are concerned with who we are, which can concern our bodies but does not rely solely on them. They care that our bodies work the best that they are able to, and that, if we are used as a chwal/horse for them to mount in possession, that we can physically do what they need. Spirits of whatever gender use whatever chwal makes sense to them, regardless of that chwal’s gender–I have seen feminine spirits mount men (of all sorts) and gender-nonconforming people, I have seen masculine spirits mount women (of all sorts) and gender non-conforming people, and I have watched spirits grab the head of whomever will be the best fit for them (really, the secret to possession in vodou right there..) and get to work.

It’s true that the concept of transgender and transsexual is very new for Haiti–it doesn’t really exist there, even though people keep confusing sexuality terms for terms denoting gender difference, and there is not (yet) a social ‘bucket’ for it. There is also no medical treatment available. As when anyone learns something that is literally completely foreign to them, there are growing pains but, at the end of the day, folks shrug it off and get to work. I had zero problems in Haiti with being trans–I expected to be read as female, which happened and I was fine with that since it was not meant as an insult (see above about people learning new things), folks had to get used to someone with what they saw as a female body wearing pants during ceremony, and there was a brief collective pause when I was baptized as a houngan, but the end result overall was a shrug and moving on. My mother had zero issues with my gender and how I was to be made, so no one else had any issues with my gender and how I was to be made.

So, if you are a trans person or a person who is gender non-conforming or otherwise does not fit in a neat gender box and you are interested in vodou, the religion welcomes you as you are. Vodou embraces us as whole people and gives us space to exist without insistence we be one thing or another at any given time. There is a beacon up here in Boston (where our US temple is) and it shines bright.

Come out, come out wherever you are…


~ by Alex on March 31, 2017.

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