Memories from the Dykeaspora | Sophonie Bazile

Memories of a Queer Haitian Girl

          I was born in Aquin, Haiti but spent the early parts of my childhood in the Caribbean island St. Maarten/St. Martin. I do not have many recollections of Haiti, but my mother tells me it is where I first learned to speak Kréyol as a toddler. I have a vague memory of a dog who I am told I named Gason (Man). I was quite attached to the dog, which belonged to my maternal grandfather. This rare memory anchors me to Haiti and reminds me of where I come from. It is a task that requires much effort as someone who grew up in the diaspora, or as Haitians on the island say, dyaspora. An indescribable longing for this island that I do not remember haunts me; an island that I have come to know through the texts, stories, and eyes of others.

           Unlike my recollections of Haiti, those of growing up in St. Martin/St. Maarten are much clearer. The countries, colonized by the French and the Dutch, share one island like Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We lived on the Dutch side in St. Peters, Philipsburg in a white, one-bedroom house that my late father helped to build. The neighborhood was located towards the bottom of a hill and consisted of small, bright and colorful single-family houses. My neighbors were mostly Haitians, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans.

           I remember simple joys: the beauty of being surrounded by mountains, the excitement of chasing and catching butterflies, picking hibiscus flowers and wearing them in my hair, and being taught to play dominoes. I could not wait for weekends because my mother would often give me $1 to purchase an ice-cream cone at the neighborhood parlor. I savored every cool lick during the hot, Caribbean days. My mother worked as a housekeeper for a white, middle-class couple who lived up the hill. On several occasions, I happily accompanied her to her employers’ house, which was like the ones I only saw on television. The spacious two-story home and pool screamed wealth to me.

          My father was usually traveling. Whenever he came back from his trips he would bring me presents. The perfumes were my favorite. At six and seven years old, they made me feel mature and sophisticated. I think this is why I developed a strong inclination towards scents, especially when it comes to people. Bodily scent, whether natural or from fragrances and lotions, is the first thing I noticed about others.

          I was six years old the first time I kissed a girl. In St. Maarten, I paid more attention to the girls than I did to boys. I noticed what they wore, how their moms styled their hair, how they smelled. I always wanted to be near them. Her name was Julie and she was about one to two years older than me. She was Puerto Rican and lived with her mother several houses up from mine. I do not remember a father figure being around, which did not seem strange since my father was usually gone as well. Julie and I were not close friends, though, as she tended to play with the Latino children from the neighborhood while I played with the Haitian children. One day, we somehow managed to sneak away together on our own. I was caught by surprise when she began kissing me and even more surprised when I kissed her back. Our inexperienced hands fumbled, our lips awkwardly pursed, and our little tongues darted nervously. We had no idea what we were doing, but it did not take long before we discovered that grinding our groins together was immensely pleasurable. It was head-spinning and delicious.

           It all happened quickly because we knew the moment could soon be shattered by the voice of one or both of our mothers calling out our names, curious where we were and what we were up to. We could not stay hidden for too long. When we finally did pull away from each other, Julie left quickly and avoided eye contact while I stood there unable to speak. I think she may have felt embarrassed or ashamed. After our encounter, we talked even less than we had before. I felt that she went out of her way to avoid from me, which stung. Instead of becoming best friends like I was expecting, our amicable acquaintance became strained. I still wonder what made her kiss me that day. Was it just opportunity? Did she like me? Was it just an experimentation gone wrong on her end? Did she feel like she had made a mistake? Had I made a mistake? While I did not dwell on it for too long and was soon carrying on with my friends again in a matter of days, kissing another girl did make me realize that not only were they pretty, but that they also felt good.

          It would be 23 years before I would share a kiss with another girl, but my interest was piqued. One day, I accidentally came across several porn magazines while I was at my neighbor’s house. They were a young, married and childless Haitian couple in their late 20s with little need to conceal their pornographic magazines besides keeping them out of reach of neighborhood children who stopped by. I was there often because the wife, Francine, helped me memorize my multiplication tables for school. I was struggling with the material and could barely complete my homework. I do not know how, but Francine was able to help me grasp the information quickly. I was reciting my 2x and 3x multiplication tables in class in a couple of weeks.

           When we were done memorizing for the day, I usually stayed and watched television or sat on the upstairs balcony that overlooked the rest of the neighborhood. For the most part, I was left unsupervised as Francine completed duties around the house. I was quiet and well-behaved, which I suppose made her feel confident that she did not have to watch me constantly. However, I was a curious child. I would touch and look through her belongings always making sure to return them exactly as they were before. I spent most of my time perusing the magazines. I was enthralled by the beautiful fashion models, the lavish homes, and the breathtaking photographs of foreign landscapes. The only magazines I had at my house were a couple of issues of The Watchtower, distributed by Jehovah’s witnesses, which I found boring. The magazines at Francine’s house, on the other hand, showed me a different world that was much more interesting.

          Gradually, I perused through all of the magazines until I came upon several that seemed to be hidden. I wondered why. The women on these covers were even more beautiful than the fashion models and wore less clothes than I would have thought possible. I had been taught that Christian women and girls covered their bodies. After flipping a couple of pages, I understood why the magazines had been hidden. They were filled with women who were always completely naked and men who were partially clothed at times unless they were performing a sexual act with the women. I cared little for the men and was much more captivated by the naked women with their coiffed hair and slightly parted, glossy lips. I was particularly fond of bare breasts. My heart would race when I saw two women together. The same thrill and excitement I had experienced with Julie was returning. I tried to be discreet. Whenever I heard Francine’s footsteps, I would swiftly hide the porn and pretend I was looking at one of the other magazines, my heart threatening to jump out of my chest. Of course, it was always a false alarm. Other times, I would slip a porn magazine in between the pages of a fashion magazine making it easier to hide. In those instances, Francine did come into the room to ask if I needed anything, like food or a beverage. My breathing would literally stop. I could barely speak as I uttered a meek “Non, mesi” (“No, thank you”).

          Eventually, Francine caught me. I had become so obsessed with women in the magazines that I became careless. I was no longer paying attention to the sound of Francine’s footsteps as she went about her day. As I turned another page, I suddenly realized how quiet the house was and that I could not hear Francine at all. When I looked up, there she was standing in the entryway, staring at me as I sat there frozen with a porn magazine in my hands. I think I started crying before any words were even spoken because I knew I was in trouble. My mother was going to be angry when she found out and she would then tell my father what I had done. I would be punished twice.

          Surprisingly, Francine was not upset. She was amused. She even told her husband, and they both teased me about it. I was utterly relieved that they did not mention anything to my parents. However, they did move the porn stash and I was left with the fashion and travel magazines. I was disheartened and a bit frustrated, but I did not dare ask about the porn. When my friend Lubee came to see me at Francine’s house, I decided that since I was no longer able to look at the pornographic images, the next best thing was to act out some of the scenes. With my Barbie doll and Lubee’s Ken doll we could recreate the sexual acts that I had seen. I must have taken the lead because I explained to Lubee what positions the dolls should be in and where and how they should kiss. I was so busy being an expert that once again I did not notice Francine in the room. This time, she was not amused. She was upset, which was puzzling to me because she had not been upset about me going through her porn stash. I suppose it may have been my transition from observation to action. Francine told our parents and Lubee and I were beaten with belts as punishment. I was no longer allowed to go to Francine’s house and Lubee and I were not allowed to see each other for a couple of weeks.

           At this time, I did not realize the changes that awaited me. A couple of years later in 1996, my mother and I moved to Orlando, Florida. My father would follow us later. We moved primarily for my medical needs. My vision had worsened as I grew older and my prescribed glasses were not helping much. My parents had never mentioned that they were considering moving to another country or perhaps they did and I did not understand. I felt uprooted. Even before I moved it felt as if everything around me was changing. Julie had moved from the neighborhood and Lubee had moved with her mom to St. Thomas several months before. Additionally, some of my other friends had moved to Europe or the U.S. with their families. I felt like I was losing control but expected that all would eventually return to normal: my mom and I would return to St. Maarten, Lubee and I would be playing together again, and I would see Julie walking home from school and hope she would acknowledge me with a smile or wave. Of course, none of those things happened. I had to acclimate to my new surroundings.

          Girls still caught my attention. That was a constant. However, I was apprehensive to talk about it with anyone since I had learned that topics of attraction and sexuality were met with rejection or harsh consequences. I kept my feelings for other girls to myself, especially if I happened to like a friend. In middle school, I became close friends with a girl named Candice. She was African-American with tawny beige skin and her hair was always styled in braids. She had the sweetest smile. Her lips curled to reveal small, white teeth and a dimple appeared in her left cheek. Boys were always trying to get her attention. I looked forward to the moments when we would walk or take the bus home alone together without our other friends. She was all mine then. I still picture her very clearly in one ensemble that I loved:  black overalls, a fitted white crop top, and black wedges. The overalls were form fitting and showed off her developing figure. On our walks home, we would purchase slushies at the nearby convenience store and stroll through Lake Eola Park, stopping to take a break on the park benches if we needed to and visit the public library downtown if it was not too late.

          The transition from middle school to high school was difficult. Candice attended a different school from me along with some of our other friends, and I began to feel as if I was being uprooted from everything and everyone I had known once again. As I grew older, I began to feel the pressures of heterosexual coupling. In high school, students were pairing up into couples more frequently than I remembered in middle school. They were pairing up, breaking up, fighting with, and fighting over each other. The thought was unappealing to me, but I felt it was imperative for me to have a boyfriend, too. I had to prove to myself and to my peers that I was desirable even as a overweight nerd. During my junior year, I finally achieved my goal. His name was Marcus and we first met when I joined the concert choir as a sophomore. We were friends before our relationship turned romantic and he had been involved with a fellow choir member who I considered to be a friend. It certainly made everything awkward in the beginning. The relationship with Marcus fizzled by our senior year and, honestly, I was relieved. He was a sweet person but I was not at all invested. I was more upset that I had failed at a relationship than I was about losing him. In college, I had a couple of intimate relationships with men, including with someone I thought was my first love. For a short time, I was able to suppress my attraction to women and convince myself that I was interested in men only. I did not admit to myself that I put minimal effort in paying attention to or trying to attract men. The men I was with served as a means to an end. They were a goal that needed to be accomplished. I lost interest in them rather quickly once we were in a relationship. Still, I tried to tell myself that I liked men and that I would soon find a man who I genuinely wanted to be with.

          That is until I met Ashley. Ironically, I met her through a boyfriend. At the time we were only acquaintances, but a year after our first meeting we reconnected through a mutual friend. Ashley was a queer tomboy and a member of the university’s marching band. All of my caged-up feelings towards women rushed back to me. Our relationship was platonic, but I was secretly infatuated with everything about her. She was a foot shorter than my 5’9”, which made her even more endearing. She wore her hair neatly in shoulder length locs. Her voice was a smooth alto-tenor that was pleasing to my ears. I loved listening to her speak. Her androgynous gender presentation was appealing. I found her ambiguous, androgynous gender presentation appealing and rather tempting. Her natural scent was never overshadowed by perfume or cologne. It was a subtle crisp earthy scent that I noticed had permeated the inside of her car whenever she drove me to campus. If I were to smell it right now, I would know immediately that it was her. Ashley graduated a year before me and moved back home to South Carolina. To this day she does not know how I felt about her.

          It never occurred to me that I could live my life as a queer woman despite knowing one personally. Better yet, I did not realize that I was already living as a queer woman and had been doing so for some time. I have been queer since I was a little girl although I lacked the vocabulary to articulate this part of my identity. Heterosexuality always seemed like the only option that I had. My mother raised me in a Christian home and was overly protective. The only places I was allowed to frequent were home, school, and church in order to protect me from negative external influences, such as getting involved with the wrong crowd. Her rules were meant to serve as strategic forms of birth control. Like a proper Haitian woman, I was taught to cook and clean from a young age in order to help around the house as well as prepare for a suitor. If I did not cook a meal or clean the house to my mother’s standards, she would tell me that I would not be able to properly care for my future family and that my husband would to “return” me to her as if I were merely spoiled goods. In my young mind, the thought did scare me. I would be an embarrassment. Naturally, I tried to improve my cooking and cleaning skills. The family’s honor and respectability depended on how I carried myself at home and in public. Creating a home with another woman was not even a conceivable topic in my mother’s tirades. In fact, the idea was so inconceivable that I was never taught that homosexuality was sinful or evil. I did not view my queer desires as feelings that I needed to repent, because homosexuality was never uttered. Instead, queerness appeared to be impossible.

          I did not begin to acknowledge the full richness of my queer sexuality until the first year of my graduate research in women’s studies. The first time my cohort came together to discuss our different identities, an exercise that helped to foster a safe space, I identified myself as a heterosexual. It was the first time I had spoken the word aloud and I almost choked on the sheer dishonesty of it. In that moment, I did not know what I was but it certainly was not heterosexual. The exposure to feminist, queer, and transnational writers in the graduate program helped me feel less out of place. Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence” caused me to not only question the dynamics of heterosexuality but to understand its role in maintaining a specific social order. Compulsory heterosexuality renders lesbianism invisible which ensures men’s access to women’s bodies for sexual gratification and production.[1] I understood that compulsory heterosexuality was why I felt I needed a boyfriend in high school. All around me were the pressures of entering a heterosexual relationship rather than pursuing my true desires. No doubt other students felt the same pressures.

          In my second semester, I came across the world of independent Black lesbian web series and films on YouTube. While the production of these web series and films were often subpar due to low budgets and lack of proper equipment, the plots were centered solely around the lives and experiences of Black and other queer women of color, who were queer both on and off screen. A number of these series have an advantage over mainstream television and film, which regularly exclude queer characters, particularly queer women, queer people of color, and transgender men and women.[2] For television and film that are inclusive of queer characters, it is affluent, white, gay men, often reinforcing heteronormativity through traditional roles and values, who receive visibility.[3] Not to mention that Hollywood has a habit of hiring heterosexual or cisgender actors to portray queer and transgender characters, leading to issues of representation.[4] Probably the most frustrating aspect of television and film for queer viewers is the harsh disposability of queer characters, especially queer women, in the form of inexcusable deaths, perhaps furtively warning of the societal consequences of deviating from heterosexuality.[5] There is a quite literally a hunger for diverse queer representation and independent Black lesbian web series satiates this hunger for its viewership, which spans continents.

          My favorite was a drama series, The Lovers and Friends Show (L&F), which aired from 2008 to 2012, that chronicled the lives of a group of queer women living in Miami, Florida. The location of the show had great significance considering its proximity to my hometown. It made the characters that more tangible. One of the characters, Sasha Reynolds, was a closeted lesbian who pretends to be the “perfect” daughter unlike her rival sister Yasmin Reynolds, an out lesbian activist and a source of shame for their family. Sasha is engaged to a successful man but has been secretly having an affair with a woman, Diedra Riviera. She denies her attraction to women and considers her affair with Diedra as being frivolous and temporary. Her world falls apart when her fiancé discovers her kissing Diedra in her dressing room on their wedding day and she is left at the altar. As the show progresses, viewers watch as Sasha slowly begins to accept her queer sexuality and even mend her relationship with Yasmin.

          Sasha was portrayed by actress Kissa Jo, a native of Miami. I discovered she was Haitian-American during a promotional interview for L&F where fans of the show submit questions that the actors then answer.[6] I nearly fell out of my seat as she described her mother’s disbelief when she revealed that she was a lesbian. It happened quickly and I would have missed the part about her mother being the “Haitian that she is” if I was not paying close attention.[7] This was the turning point for me. I kept replaying those few seconds of the video as my mind tried to make sense of Jo’s revelation. Here was a Haitian woman talking about coming out to her mother. She was a queer Haitian. It dawned on me that I was also a queer. I was a queer Haitian! Sitting alone at home in front of my computer, I repeated this to myself several times. Before I knew it, I was searching for anything I could find about queer Haitians in the U.S. and in Haiti: websites, blogs, news articles, art, films, and journal articles. There had to be others. L&F became the impetus for my future research interests in the experiences of queer Haitian women in the diaspora.

Resisting Black Figurative Death: Giving Voice to Unspoken Memories

          These memories, particularly those of an evolving queerness since childhood, have helped me to make sense of the person I am today. Robyn Fivush suggests that as we share our past with others, we simultaneously (re)construct and (re)define ourselves and our experiences.[8] I question whether the memory of Gason is actually mine or if it was implanted in my mind from the number of times my mother would tell the story. After a while, this memory seemed as if it were my own. I say this because I do not remember what Gason looked like but I do remember feeling a fondness for a dog. I should note here that the name Gason and the fondness I felt may very well have reflected a longing for my illusive father. I am also aware of the connection to the absentee father figures in the lives of both Julie and Lubee, two important people from my childhood. Furthermore, there is a link between the imagery of Gason as a beloved childhood pet as well as the disparagement that “all men are dogs,” in that they are incapable of remaining faithful, which can be exemplified by my father’s extramarital affairs. However, such considerations will have to be pursued in a future project.

          I would like to return to the conversation on the fallibility of memory. I cannot be certain of the precise details of the aforementioned events of my childhood in St. Maarten but I have no doubts as to what I felt in those moments. Mark L. Howe says that memories are not static and can continue to change over time with new experiences and knowledges throughout our lives.[9] What lingers are the emotions, sounds, tastes, and smells we experienced during a past event. For instance, in the process of writing my childhood memories, I often lead with an emotion or even a smell to help me clearly recall an event.

          Additionally, memories are influenced by a number of factors including culture, location and gender. The “household apprenticeship,” as Marie-Jose N’Zengou-Tayo calls it, of young Haitian girls is a cultural memory that is passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter.[10] This cultural memory is also evident in Haitian society’s class dynamics. Girls who were members of the lower classes often had to forego an education in order to care for siblings and the household.[11]  Likewise, such cultural memories can become reinscribed across transnational borders as studies on young Haitian immigrant women have shown.[12] Robin Cooper, J.P. Linstroth, and Julia Chaitin refers to this process as the “transnationality of social control” in which dominant cultural practices are transmitted across national boundaries.[13] In other words, immigrant families carry with them traditions and values that they continue to inculcate in future generations in the host society under the guise of protection. The repetitive performance can lead to a sense of cultural preservation against the onslaught of the new environment. Nevertheless, I know from personal experience that cultural memories can also be used as mechanisms for controlling certain groups, such as women. My body was under constant surveillance and my mobility restricted to school, church, and the household. While I had to learn how to cook, clean, and care for a household, my male relatives who were my age had no such responsibilities. For the most part, they were allowed to be children.

          Equally important, is giving voice to memories that would otherwise be left unspoken. According to Fivush, people are socialized to privilege certain memories over others.[14] The silenced memories may be sources of trauma or shame for an individual or group. Historically, Black queers have been silenced and essentially erased from the collective memory of the Black diaspora. Matt Richardson compares this silence to a figurative death because to remember Black queers is to acknowledge their humanity.[15] Since Black queers are not afforded their humanity and are often disassociated with Blackness and Africanness, they are (dis)remembered.[16] One cannot miss or remember what never was. Blackness represented, and still does, sexual and racial deviance making the violence against Africans all the more justifiable. The erasure of Black queers protects the collective against the painful memory of the presumptive aberration of Blackness in the colonial past.[17] Black queers then become inconceivable in the Black imaginary. Similarly, Gayatri Gopinath notes the “deep investment” of national and diasporic ideologies in rendering the queer female subject as unimaginable.[18] Rendering queerness as unimaginable enforces “proper femininity” among women.

          For instance, queerness was so unimaginable to my parents that they never mentioned a word about homosexuality when I was younger, disparaging or otherwise. I was not ashamed of my queer desires but I also did not have the language to articulate them. Being queer was an impossibility. Naturally, when I came home from college with a pierced tongue and my mother made the only reference to queerness she had ever made, I was stunned. I thought I could hide the piercing as long as I did not talk to my mother much, which was the norm for us, but she eventually caught sight of it. She angrily demanded to know if “they” were making me have sex with other women at school. I suppose “they” referred to friends she thought were influencing me to make what she considered to be inappropriate choices. She could not accept that her quiet, well-behaved daughter would make the autonomous decision to get her tongue pierced without some form of external coercion, an act that was instantaneously read as queer. I was stunned because I had naively assumed that she was not aware of same-sex sexualities. I had no choice except to remove the tongue ring but it was weeks before my mother could even stand the sight of me. In one act, I had lost my status as the proverbial good daughter.

          In giving voice to my queerness, I have resisted my own figurative Black queer death. Books such as Rosamund Elwin’s Tongues on Fire: Caribbean Lesbian Lives and Stories and Lisa C. Moore’s Does Your Mama Know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, among countless others, disrupt the elimination of queerness from Black consciousness with personal accounts from queer women of the diaspora. These accounts destabilize the notion that queerness is inherently anti-Black or un-African. The answer to Moore’s question is no, my mama does not know that I am queer. She has accepted that I chose to pursue my graduate studies out-of-state where she has little or no access to me and she has accepted that I am 29 years old and do not seem at all interested in marriage and children. It is unlikely that she will accept a queer daughter. I would be the ultimate disappointment in the eyes of our family members, both in the U.S. as well as in Haiti, and I would be an embarrassment to her. She may even disown me. For the time being, I have chosen not to disclose my sexuality. Giving “voice” to my queerness comes in the form of a written autobiographical testimony that will most likely not be accessed by relatives or friends. I have to constantly navigate and negotiate the ways that I think certain relatives and friends may read me as queer and whether I feel safe. Navigating and negotiating the terms of one’s queerness is a continual part of the lives of queer diasporics who cannot or do not want to disclose their sexuality to others, especially those who may live outside of the parameters of Western notions of queerness.

          To illustrate, Shana Calixte argues that queer diasporic women are situated “both inside and outside of a Western-centric recognizable ‘gay identity.’”[19] Queer diasporic women who engage in same-sex relationships may continue having sexual relationships with men, whether for economic, procreative, or carnal purposes without inherently considering themselves to be bisexuals.[20] Likewise, Tonia Bryan uses poetry to highlight the frustrations with Black American lesbian politics:

please do tell me i need instruction is there a class i can take, a
correspondence course i can send away for to become a pure
one? a super one? a proper one? you know like …

“Pure” represents the ways in which the strictures of Western LGBTQ identities can ostracize queer diasporics who do not abide by similar limits, if at all. Throughout “Pure,” Bryan reveals having to hide her sexual attraction to men to avoid being branded as “not a real lezzy”[22] or being admonished by Black lesbians for dressing too scantily.[23] Not only do diasporic queers subvert dominant national and diasporic ideologies but they also destabilize dominant queer ideologies. My journey to the acknowledgment of my sexuality does not fit within dominant “coming out” narratives. Essentially, I am still “in the closet” since my family do not know. My negotiations of disclosure challenge popular narratives of progress and visibility. My gendered, racialized, and classed immigrant body makes it nearly impossible to follow such scripts.

           Thus, I imagine a dykeaspora as the movement of queer Haitian women across transnational borders. Here, I am reappropriating the terms dyke and dyaspora. In the past, dyke has been hurled at queer women in order to dehumanize them for transgressing societal norms.[24] The term dyaspora is meant to describe Haitians who live abroad, such as in the U.S., Canada, and I would even argue in other parts of the Caribbean.[25] Geography is used to mark the inauthenticity of diasporic Haitians compared to those who live on the island.[26] Both terms refer to an inauthenticity in terms of sexual identity (real women are attracted to and have sex with men) and national identity (real Haitians live in Haiti). Linked by the letter “Y”, dyke and dyaspora signify a reclamation and reconciliation of conflicting identities.

           It includes queer women who become part of the Haitian diaspora through immigration as well as those who are born into the diaspora from immigrant parents. As immigrants or the children of immigrants, queer women find themselves at the intersections of race, gender, nation, and sexuality. The dykeaspora is also a positionality which allows for a space of resistance to Western constructions of gay identity.[27] In this space, queer Haitian women can form their own “hybridized diasporic understandings of queer self.”[28] In other words, queer Haitian women are able to define their queerness on their own terms, which may or may not incorporate Western and Haitian conceptions of queer identity. This should not be confused with Karen Tongson’s version of dykeaspora, which she describes as the “translocal and interregional queerness made legible by the movements within the United States…”[29] While we are both concerned with queer place-making, Tongson is more focused on the local migration of queer immigrants from the suburbs to urban cities within U.S. borders whereas I am more interested in the ways that hybrid identities are affected by transnational mobility.

          Part of acknowledging myself as a queer Haitian woman has been through recollections of my past where I had not noticed before an evolving queerness. In the middle of writing this essay, I remembered that when I was a member of my high school choir, I knew of several members who were queer. One of them was a fellow choir member in the soprano section with me. Her name was Lynn and she was an out lesbian. One day as we were taking a break during practice, she sat next to me and was told me a story, probably about an ex-partner. She gestured with her hands as she talked and for a few seconds her left hand rested on my thigh. When the other Haitian girls in my section noticed this, they giggled loudly and warned me in Kréyol that Lynn was flirting and if I was not careful she would have me in her bed before I knew it. First, I did not reveal that I liked when Lynn’s hand rested on my thigh. When she removed it, I still felt the sensation on my skin. Second, I did not immediately register her hand on my thigh as a sign of flirtation. I had grown up around Haitian women who were very affectionate towards one another. They were always hugging, kissing each other’s cheeks, rubbing each other’s backs, and holding each other’s hands. Lynn’s gesture was not out of the ordinary for me. However, my friend’s reactions showed me that they probably would not accept me if I were to reveal that I was attracted to girls. They would no longer see me as human, like they already saw Lynn. Rather, I would be reduced to my sexuality. A disgusting creature to be laughed at from a distance. A dyke.

          The first time I wrote about being queer was in a reflection paper for one of my classes in the women’s studies graduate program. During the second week of classes, we were assigned Dorothy Allison’s “Survival is the Least of My Desires,” from her book Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature. In the essay, Allison urges us to not settle for mere survival, but to seek out the truth for the possibility of a remade life. As a lesbian writer born into poverty and a survivor of incest, she sought the truth in her stories: “I believe, absolutely, that if you do not break out in that sweat of fear when you write, then you have not gone far enough…I know that until I started pushing on my own fears, telling the stories that were hardest for me, writing about exactly the things I was most afraid of and unsure about, I wasn’t writing worth a damn.”[30]  I was so moved by the essay that in my reflection of the reading I admitted that I had been attracted to girls since childhood. The thought of submitting the reflection to the online discussion board actually did terrify me. What if my classmates read it? I thought back to that awkward moment where I had publicly claimed a heterosexuality that was not my own. What would they think? I mulled it over for a couple of days before I finally decided to submit the reflection instead of writing a new one. I did it quickly so that I would not have time to change my mind. Afterward, I felt such relief. It was more than disclosing my sexuality to others. It was about breaking silence and voicing my queerness, which had always been unimaginable.



[1] Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence,” in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent B. Leitch et al., 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 1602.

[2] GLAAD, Studio Responsibility Index 2016, accessed October 2, 2016, Access reports from 2015, 2014, and 2013 here:

[3] Guillermo Avila-Saavedra, “Nothing Queer about Queer Television: Televised Construction of Gay Masculinities,” Media Culture Society 31, no. 5 (2009): 18, doi: 10.1177/0163443708098243.

[4] Daniel Reynolds, “Is ‘Transface’ a Problem in Hollywood?” The Advocate, February 25, 2015,

[5] Nico Lang, “Stop Killing off TV’s Lesbians: This Depressing Trope Limits Storytelling about Queer Women,” Salon, March 30, 2016,

[6] “ASK KISSA final,” YouTube video, 14:44, posted by “luckycharms22j,” March 27, 2011,

[7] “ASK KISSA,” 7:46.

[8] Robyn Fivush, “The Silenced Self: Constructing Self from Memories Spoken and Unspoken,” in The Self and Memory, eds. Denise R. Beike, James M. Lampinen, and Douglas A. Behrend (New York: Psychology Press, 2004), 75.

[9] Mark L. Howe, “Early Memory, Early Self, and the Emergence of Autobiographical Memory,” in The Self and Memory, eds. Denise R. Beike, James M. Lampinen, and Douglas A. Behrend (New York: Psychology Press, 2004), 45-6.

[10] Marie-Jose N’Zengou-Tayo, “‘Fanm Se Poto Mitan’: Haitian Women, the Pillar of Society,” Feminist Review, no. 59 (1998): 120.

[11] N’Zengou-Tayo, “Haitian Women, the Pillar of Society,” 120.

[12] For example, see Jauffmick Michel, “Identity Development of Young Women from Haitian Immigrant Families in the United States: A Qualitative Exploratory Study,” (doctoral thesis, The State University of New Jersey, 2003), 137-160.

[13] Robin Cooper, J.P. Linstroth and Julia Chaitin, “Negotiating the Transnationality of Social Control: Stories of Immigrant Women in South Florida,” Forum: Qualitative Social Research 10, no. 3 (2009): 3.3.

[14] Fivush, “The Silenced Self,” 76-88.

[15] Matt Richardson, “Listening to the Archives: Black Lesbian Literature and Queer Memory,” in The Queer Limit of Black Memory: Black Lesbian Literature and Irresolution (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2013), 9.

[16] Richardson, “Listening to the Archives,” 9-11.

[17] Ibid., 10.

[18] Gayatri Gopinath, “Impossible Desires: An Introduction,” in Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Cultures (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 16.

[19] Shana L. Calixte, “Things Which Aren’t To Be Given Names: Afro-Caribbean and Diasporic Negotiations of Same Gender Desire and Sexual Relations,” Canadian Women Studies 24, no. 2–3 (2005): 128.

[20] Calixte, “Things Which Aren’t To be Given Names,” 130.

[21] Tonia Bryan, “Pure,” in Does Your Mama Know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, ed. Lisa C. Moore (Decatur: Red Bone Press, 1997), 218, emphasis in original.

[22] Bryan, “Pure,” 214.

[23] Ibid, 214-215.

[24] Barbara Raab, “Sticks & Stones and Dykes,” In These Times, June 23, 2006,

[25] Ulysse, “Papa, Patriarchy, and Power,” 38.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Calixte, “Things Which Arent’t To be Given Names,” 134.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Karen Tongson, “Relocating Queer Critiques: Lynne Chan’s JJ Chinois,” in Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 54.

[30] Dorothy Allison, “Survival is the Least of My Desires,” in Skin: Talking Sex, Class & Literature (Ann Harbor: Firebrand Books, 1994), 217.


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Author Bio:

Sophonie Bazile earned her B.A. in International Studies in 2011 from Bethune-Cookman University and her M.A. in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies in 2016 from the University of Cincinnati. She is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography at the University of Kentucky.