JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Of Men and Gods (Directors: Xavier Daniel, Mpumi Nijinge, Paulo Alberton, Anne Lescot, Laurence Magloire) - May 19, 2003

Of Men and Gods

Three Documentaries on Homosexuality and Spiritual Life

No rating No rating
83 min.

Reviewed at the 2003 Inside Out Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival
The spiritual rationalization of self

“If the loas (spirits) can’t help me, I don’t see who will.”
—gay Haitian on pilgrimage to Saint-Yves Falls

Why we are “this way” has been the quest since time began for all human beings—gay or straight. But in the minority world of homosexuality, the need to have a reason for our same-sex attraction that makes sense both to ourselves and our families is vital to having self-esteem and inner peace.

In these documentaries, we are provided with a personal look into three different countries and cultures and their contemporary answers to the question. In varying ways, it was spiritual belief and traditional healers that became the common thread.

In South Africa (Everything Must Come To Light), three women were directed by their male ancestors to become healers (sangomas) and take wives. Using herbs, bones, and the fresh meat and blood of chickens, the health and spiritual needs of Soweto’s community at large are attended to by these born-again lesbians whose moral authority to do so stems from their difference to traditional females.

In Jamba’s case, she left her husband of fifteen years (“We don’t fight—we just got separated”). Soon after, when she accepted her call to become a healer, “my illness stopped.” Proof positive.

Mpumi Nijinge has cobbled together a fascinating insider’s view through his choice of subjects, easy-going interview style and obvious affection for these exceptional lesbians. “I just love them,” he says with passion in the closing frames. And so the outcasts have found a special place in their community and must truly believe the message contained in an English poster, displayed prominently on the wall: “I wish long life to my enemies so that they will live to see my successes.”

Santero Carlos takes place in Cuba and looks into the life of a Santeria healer who places his unshakeable faith in the Yoruba religion, cruises the streets, and bemoans the “hidden cocks” who daily take advantage of quick sex, turning the act more into a business transaction than special love.

Carlos, at thirty-nine, still lives with many family members making his opportunities to express his sexuality dependent on the generosity of his tricks. He’s not optimistic about his chances for a long-term partner, but since becoming a healer has acquired self-respect from the many people who come to him for protective remedies and advice. Music and dancing (as in all three videos) form an integral part of healing, the carrying on of traditions and uninhibited self-expression.

He states uncategorically that being a homosexual is “the best way of living,” but also decries “human values are vanishing,” even as his religion loses its prestige.

Haiti is the setting for Of Men and Gods, where homosexuality is taboo and organized religion competes/exists side by side with the spirits and practices of voodoo.

Most of the gay men interviewed believe their homosexuality came to them through the god of love and fertility: Erzuli Dantor. They dress as they wish and endure the insults “from people dirtier than me,” but, to a person, they have no shame because the spirits have made them “want to be women.”

Innocente’s family “tried to change me” but finally gave up and accepted him. “That’s the way God made him,” said his father, who also assured the camera that none of his relatives or ancestors was gay.

These masisi, like their Cuban counterparts, are very popular with closeted and married men. “90% of Haitian men are homosexual,” insisted Madsen. “They see us in secret and like us because we’re much tighter than girls,” said a colleague.

Similar to their South African sisters, some gay men become hougans (voodoo priests) where their sexuality is far less important than their ability to help and guide others. With four children and a place in the voodoo priesthood, Fritzner, has it both ways, sleeping with a lot of men “for the fun.”

Ceremony and pilgrimages play important roles in the lives of Haitian masisis. Music and dancing are used to allow the spirits to enter the body directly, producing reactions that are common to other religions’ witnessing or speaking in tongues. It is believed that “you can’t choose who will possess you,” and that “the proof of possession is doing things you wouldn’t normally do.”

However, with AIDS running riot throughout the country, it was dispiriting to hear 24-year-old Blondine state, “You risk your life because I can’t stand condoms.” Does the virus have its own evil spirit?

The documentary closes with a pilgrimage to Saint-Yves where travellers must visit the church before attending the falls. They return to say thanks for wishes granted, ask new ones and bathe in the mystical waters opening themselves to the possibility of another possession and cleansing of their souls.

Throughout these glimpses of homosexuality belief and tradition, the notion of ancestral intervention or spiritual possession as its cause provided much needed rationalization and relief for those who crave same-sex relationships. But, like all beliefs or religions, if there are so many answers to the same condition, is any one more correct than another? JWR

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