“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
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