I’m Dimitry Etienne. I’m from Carrefour Marin in Haiti.
Growing up there, being in school, there were words that people would use that I had no concept of because we lived so far away from the city. And one of those words is “masisi”, which means gay.
On a drive home, I was probably around 10, My mom stopped to buy something from one of the many street vendors. And the one that happened to come up to her was this big burly guy, but he was so effeminate. She bought some things and after she rolled up the window, was driving away, she goes, “Oh, look at that masisi.”
I had probably some feminine tendencies, so I was always bullied in school and I was called masisi here and there. And I didn’t think much of it.
One day, my dad was taking me to school. And he was a military man. Captain of the army of Haiti at the time. He would push for me and ask me questions. “Do you have a girlfriend? Where’s your girlfriend? Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” And it was always very aggressive the way he would ask. And that particular day, I remember, he grabbed a handful of condoms and just threw them at me in the backseat. And says, “You need to… you need to have sex with a woman so that you can become a man.”And that was the end of that. Made the car rides very uncomfortable.
One day we had recess and, for some reason, I got bullied extra that day because I fought back. They didn’t hurt me physically, but it’s just poking me with sticks, pretending there were penises, saying – calling me masisi the whole time. I remember just everybody turning their heads away from me, didn’t want to be associated with me.
And I climbed up to the top of the building and I kept looking down and wanting to jump. One of my friends finally came up, saw me, grabbed me, pulled me off the edge and told me it’s going to be okay. And I started crying. Went back to class. And I got picked up from school by my mother. She took me home. I didn’t want to eat, went to bed, closed the door and just stayed there.
The phone rang and it was my friend that took – that saved me that day, who called to check up on me. So my mom screamed at him and I could hear her asking him what happened in school. And he told her.
My mom ended up being the one to go to the school and almost had every one of those kids expelled. And that was the end of that episode. We never talked about it. That word was never really mentioned after. My dad would make comments here and there, but not really. Because at that point, after that, the abusive behavior he had came to an end because he ended up getting cancer. And I ended up moving to the US a few years later when I was 16 years old, where I truly learned what being gay was.
My mother bought a house in Miami, and she would come to visit regularly, but I lived in the house with my aunt. It was just the two of us for a while and then my sister came.
When I was taken to or invited to my first gay club, of course I was 18, I came in and I remember specifically seeing this other kid probably my age sitting on one of the booths with a huge mohawk. Come to find out that they had lived in the US alone for the past two years. He was from the Bahamas and his parents found out he was gay and kicked him out. My first time in a gay club in the US, I see these things that I’ve always never knew about and I was happy to experience, and at the same time, I got a stark reminder of the consequences of being gay.
One of the occasions that my mother happens to be visiting, I got mail from a testing center of my HIV results. And my mother is standing right there in the kitchen in her house in Miami, looking at the mail and looking right at me as I opened the door.
She asked me, “Why are you getting tested?” And I wonder why she asking me this, even though the results are negative. I somehow dodged that. Told her some story about anybody in the US needs to get tested. It’s just something everybody does. And just ran to my room.
One day I come home and my sisters are there, my mother’s not there. She’s not visiting this time from Haiti. I found out from my sister in the kitchen, ”Hey, you need to know this.”
And I said, “What’s going on?”
“You need to stop doing this gay stuff in front of Mom. She’s taking calming pills every time she gets a hint that you’re… you may or may not be gay. And I need you to stop. You’re killing mom.”
One of my best friends invited me to a house party in Tallahassee. As I was drinking, I was laughing and having a great time. And I remember going to my best friend and I don’t know what I said and he says, “I’m not your mother.” And when he said that I froze and I just started crying. His friends and himself, they took turns talking to me. And they all came to find out that my mother doesn’t know, I’m being blamed for my mother taking calming pills, that my sisters are telling me that I’m killing my mother.
So the next day on the drive home, my best friend and I are talking about everything that happened at the party. When I got there, my mother wasn’t home. She happened to be out with my aunt, her sister. So I said, you know, I’m going to do it today. I’m going to get it over with. And I started packing my bags.I put some of my favorite clothes in a bag and figured, you know, if I am going to get kicked out, I might as well take the things that I like because I don’t know if I’ll have time, if there’s going to be any screaming involved, or how this is going to happen.
My aunt came home with my mom. My mom went to do something in the house. So I went to talk to my aunt outside. So I told her that I’m gay and she immediately turned away and started crying and told me that she is scared of how people and the world would treat me, knowing that I’m gay. And I looked at her and I said my family has treated me worse than anybody. I hug her and I tell her I’m going to tell my mom and she tells me good luck.
I walk inside, go upstairs, find my mom. And I tell her, “I need to talk to you in my room.” She looks at me a little suspicious, like, I mean, she could see that I’ve been crying. And finally got around to telling her that I’m gay.
I don’t remember the expression, but I do remember her saying that “You are my son and I will love you no matter what.” And then she hugged me. I already had my… my bags packed. I was ready to just say, Okay, I’m not going to have a family anymore. And this is what she says.
After I came out to my mom, there were little things that happened. I introduced her to two of my boyfriends. You could tell that it was… there were points of time, like points in time that it was a little uncomfortable for her.
I was going on a trip to Alaska and I was taking one of my older gay friends there. And my mom stands there and goes, “So are you guys going to sleep in the same bed?”
And I said, “Yeah, we are. We are going to hold each other and tell each other how much we care about each other. Naked.” There were little moments like that where I would lash out.
Fast forward a few years later, I moved to Philadelphia. Now I’m walking from something in the city and I’m talking to her on the phone about my experience with some guy. I don’t remember exactly what I was saying to her, but I do remember pushing for a type of response. Like I wanted some type of attention. And finally she told me to stop. “Dimitry, I grew up and I was taught my whole life to hate gay men. I need you to be patient with me. I am trying. And I need… I need you to give me some time.”
I remember just the silence that I had and I told her I’m sorry. And it made me realize just how unfair I’ve been to her. From that point, I… I stopped. I respected her. I learned that I cannot expect anybody to… I cannot push or expect anybody to catch up to where I am in my life. And I just have to accept where they are in their lives and make my adjustments.
We would want them to love us the way that we want to be loved, but they only know how to love the way they were taught to love. And they are learning to love differently, so we have to have that patience to teach them how to love us. And not expect them to just know how to do that.