Here’s an article about transsexuality, transgenderism and Haitian Vodou minus the negativity. Here’s how it actually is, no bias, no hate, no agenda.
It really comes down to this issue: it doesn’t matter if you’re transgendered/transsexual or not, you can practice Vodou either way. The reason not a lot of information is out there on the subject is because it really is a non-issue. The lwa themselves tell us, “Vodou is for everyone, but not everyone is for Vodou.” Well, ‘everyone’ includes those who are black, white, gay, straight, both, neither, something else, and those who are transsexual/transgendered. If you are called to Vodou, it simply doesn’t matter. Your gender, whether it matches your sex or not, has no impact upon your ability to serve the lwa.
Trannsexuality/transgenderism does in fact occur in Haiti. The fact that the treatment for the condition isn’t available there does not mean that the condition itself doesn’t exist. There are those with male bodies who serve the lwa as women, in dresses and headwraps. I don’t know if there are those with female bodies who serve the lwa as men, as the female-to-male condition is rarer than the male-to-female, but there probably are. I don’t know of anyone who has seen it, so I can’t say for certain.
The Haitian transgendered, intersexed and homosexual community have taken steps to assert their human rights, and to make a stand against the violence that they suffer within the Haitian community. They have adopted the term ‘masisi’, a derogatory term in the same vein as ‘queer’, as a name for their community, and have created the organisation Kouraj to further their purpose. So not only do transgendered/transsexual persons exist in Haiti, they are taking active steps towards acceptance and appropriate medical care.
So how do the lwa react to transgendered/transsexual people? For the most part, they will react to you the way you present yourself. If a male-to-female transgendered/transsexual person presents as a female, the lwa will react to them that way. Same goes for those who present as male. The exception to this is if the lwa feel the need to help by addressing the transsexual/transgender aspect of your life. I have personally seen Ogou Feray teach a female-to-male person how to walk and salute in a more masculine fashion. I see no reason why one of the female and very feminine lwa, such as Filomez, wouldn’t help a male-to-female woman act in a more feminine manner. The lwa are here to help us, after all. That means helping us be more who we are, and live up to our potential.
Furthermore, Houngan and Mambo have the ability to help transgendered/transsexual individuals with their transition. We all know they can do work to help someone get more money. This means they can help someone get the money for the medication or surgery that they need. They can help speed up an appointment, getting you in to see a specialist where there might be a long waiting list. They can even do work to increase the effectiveness of hormone medication.
Transgendered/transsexual people can initiate into Vodou just like anyone else. They will hold the title Houngan or Mambo according to the gender they present as, not the sex they were born with. It might vary according to society and the degree to which gender reassignment has taken place, but in Hounfo Racine Deesse Dereyale, initiates are put through the djevo as the gender they present as. A female-to-male person will kouche as a man, a male-to-female person as a woman. They will wear clothing appropriate to the gender they present as, and their physical sex won’t matter.
In the end, if the lwa accept someone as being a man or a woman, regardless of the sex they were born with, then so can everyone else. If a lwa accepts you as a man, Vodou society will accept you as a man. If a lwa accepts you as a woman, Vodou society will accept you as a woman. Taking this further, if the lwa accept you and call you to serve them, you will be accepted into Vodou society. Sexuality, gender, these things have nothing to do with it.
The place of transsexual/transgendered people in Vodou has been made an issue by people who have an issue with it. At the end of the day, most Vodouisant do not have issues with those who are transgendered/transsexual. The lwa certainly do not. Ultimately, we should all be concerned with the person who is inside, not the body that is outside.
Vodou is for everyone. Vodou is about love and healing. Vodou is in a unique position as a religion to be open and welcoming to those who are transgendered/transsexual. There is nothing which prevents these people from serving the lwa, and there are no Vodou teachings which would cause anyone within the faith to condemn those who are transgendered/transsexual.
So here it is, without bias or agenda: no matter who you are, if you are called to serve the lwa, you are welcome in Vodou. If the lwa accept you, Vodou accepts you. Transgender/transsexual or otherwise: you are welcome. Who you are matters more than what you are, and who you are is no better or worse than anyone else in the eyes of God, the ancestors and the lwa.