Masisi. The short, three syllable word has always provided me with a deep-rooted sense of discomfort and self-hate. It is a word I’ve heard roll off the tongues of so many family members time and time again, one that I learned to associate with shame. When I think of this word I see my grandmother sitting with a condemnatory look on her face, spewing out a list of slurs about a same-sex couple on TV. I see my older cousin teaching her 6-year-old son that a man loving another man is disgusting. Most significantly, I see a conversation I had with my older sister, one where she told me that if I told our family I’m gay, our grandmother would never be able to live with it and our mother would never be able to accept it. Hearing my sister validate the thoughts that constantly raced through my mind horrified me. It is for this reason I still haven’t told them. Though my family doesn’t realize it, their thoughts and actions push me further away from them every day. One of the key reasons I’ve worked so hard in school is so that one day, I may find myself in an environment where I can be genuine with myself. Being Haitian and gay is innate, but my culture has dictated that who I am is wrong. It’s only now that I see that these two aspects of me do not have to be at odds with each other.
Masisi. The first time, in a long time, I let this word impact me was just a few months ago. Sitting in the passenger seat of my father’s brown 1996 Toyota Camry, we drove in silence — with the exception of the Haitian radio station that played intermittently in the background. It was quiet in the car, not because of the weariness that came with these early morning drives to work, but because for a majority of my life my father lived in a different country and spoke a different language. While I can vaguely speak and understand Creole, there was a language barrier between us, so our conversations were usually him making a general statement followed by my “oh” or a simple head nod. As we drove down a narrow and winding downhill road, we passed two men holding hands. He spewed out the word “Masisi”, criticizing the way the two men walked and dressed. He ranted about gay people as if the small display of affection between these two men negatively impacted his life. After a while, I tuned him out, and when his prolonged soliloquy ended, I exited the car and went to work. Though the word wasn’t directed at me in this instance, it applied to me. Regardless of the purpose the word served at the moment, it was a reminder that I couldn’t be myself. If that man holding another man’s hand had been me, I would’ve been lucky my father had such a mild response. Being gay in a Haitian household means constantly carrying an internal hostility. It’s learning to hate yourself before learning to love yourself and even then, that home-grown internalized homophobia is still there.
Masisi. I am learning to love this word. In its simplest form, masisi means gay. It’s not derogatory and it’s not offensive, though its connotation has caused me to feel that way. This word is a self-identifier and it gives me strength. Owning and loving the word “Masisi” is my way of showing pride. Even if the reclamation is internal it is, has been, and will be pivotal to my growth as a person. Masisi represents the intersectionality of two important and inherent aspects of my being and no person's words or actions can take that identity away from me.