“Out of the closet” on Death’s deliverance or “In the footsteps of Diogène” | Jean Élie Gilles

Myron Beasley responds to “Out of the closet” on Death’s deliverance or “In the footsteps of Diogène,” a novel written by Jean Élie Gilles. Excerpts from the novel are presented here.

Diogène was born on a sunny day in November, under the sign of the Scorpion. His parents said that on that day, a drum beat very strongly in the vicinity of the hospital where the child was coming into the world, for it was the festival of “Guede N’BHO,” the emperor of the cemeteries, in the Haitian Pantheon [of Vodou], and that the nurse in charge of the [baby] remembers having the impression that the infant was dancing…At the same time people spoke very much of the coming of Lucifer to earth to take in hand the government of the world…This “Quack Hougan” (fake Vodou priest) [Joe the Terrible] had found some simpletons to believe him and “A Genuine Salvation Army.” They began to march into town...to render homage to this new born whom they took to be Master Mephisto. (190-91)


Reared in this atmosphere, the young man would soon prove to be surprisingly sensitive, his large eyes of a jay sparkling with intelligence at three years of age. As soon as he could say, “Ma Ma,” one saw him gamboling on the grass and watching the butterflies pass under the watchful eye of his nurse. When he was growing up, how many times did one [observe] him spiritedly conversing with a dragonfly or a snake that was slipping peacefully between his legs… Diogène’s mother was disquieted and sometimes concerned by his charm with the animals. She asked if she perhaps had given birth to the Antichrist of whom “Joe the Terrible” had announced the coming. (192)


Above all, a child remains and acts like a child…A child who seemed to dance at his birth will never be as yours and mine in the eyes of the majority of the people greedy for miracles and the supernatural. (192-94)


[On his sixth birthday, Diogène is found] snuggled tenderly in the arms of [the gardener’s son] Jean, in the act of touching his peaked penis outside of his pants.” The gardener dares not reveal such to Diogène’s parents but severely disciplines his son, Jean. Despite the corporal punishment inflicted on Jean, the boys often reenacted that which was forbidden. (196-97)


At ten, he had already consummated at least twenty boys his age; they all filed past in his memory. He saw again Gégé, the son of Aunt Dioune, his cousin, with whom he had “made love”… And then Rony, Frantzo, Jean, Frérot, Michel, Jacques…small friends of the neighborhood who come to play with him. And then Emmanuel, his other cousin for whom a particular love smoldered…And then, he saw again his companions gained at the same time he received the certificate: Guivard, Roméo, André and Jacky who made him smoke hashish at a dance… (206)


Raised far from the world, Diogène was a man about town, a thoroughbred and spoilt. The beautiful manners artistically executed which made the ladies fall in love, he had all of them. At the age of ten, he was a finished man with some mannerisms that would belie his age, but one could easily guess him fifteen because of his gait and resourcefulness. With mischievous eyes of blue, thick eyebrows, a tender mouth, a long face, slim stature, he was so feminine that one believed him a sylphid had it not been for the beautiful small moustache he wore. Diogène had everything which was necessary to conquer the Great Port-au-Prince Homosexual! (206-7)


Diogène was the perfect type “of good Haitian.” His only defect was his homosexuality, but he, himself, steadfastly believed that this could not hinder nor prevent him from leading a well ordered social life, of producing valuable work…he was a defiant man. (218)


Author Bio

JeanÉlie Gilles is an historian, poet, author, literature professor, and public intellectual. He has written a number of texts about Jacmel, Haiti, where he lives and works.