Wednesday, January 23, 2013

From Haiti To New York: An Interview With Assotto Saint

At the age of 26, Yves Francois Lubin, known in the theatre as Assotto Saint, is a man blessed with many artistic gifts. He writes plays or what he prefers to call "theatre pieces," sculpts, paints, dances, and sings.

It's his belief that "art can transform people," that "art has to be political...that the artist has to be an activist, politician, preacher."

He has written, thus far, three plays. One of them, Risin' to the Love We Need was reviewed by the Amsterdam News critic Lionel Mitchell. "This is a play," wrote Mitchell, "about black gay men and aside from its obvious roughness, it pulls no punches." Another critic, Robert Chesley of the New York Native, had this to say: Lubin "uses language that is frequently very beautiful, and there are some very moving moments in the play."

Lubin came to this country in 1970 with his mother from his native Haiti. He is the product of a well-educated, upper middle class family. While his mother was living in Europe, Lubin was being raised by his grandparents and aunts. "From a very early age,"he says, "I liked boys. I was surrounded by macho men all over and nobody tried to change me.I don't know why. I have so many cousins. About 25, 26 cousins, and we used to play together. I used to always be the bride. I always wanted it. I give my family credit that they let me become who I was. [His family may have been tolerant of his effeminacy, but neighborhood kids were not. They would often call him "massici," the Creole word for "sissy." Even today, Lubin admits to having "effeminate ways."]

Lubin is light-skinned, has a small, well-trimmed mustache, and wears his hair moderately short. Despite his 13 years in America, he still speaks with a heavy Haitian accent.

Charles Michael Smith: You call your plays theatre pieces. What is the difference?
Yves Francois Lubin: They don't necessarily have a beginning, middle or ending. They don't have to have a structure. They're broader.

CMS: Do all of your plays--or theatre pieces--deal with being gay?
YFL: Especially with being black and gay in America in 1983. Certain people  in my family felt I was limiting my talent to work only with gay art.

CMS: Do you write for a specific audience?
YFL: I write for everybody. I deal with black gay issues because my art right now is an answer back. It's a reaction. The world is still fucked up and why not have it coming from a different perspective and see it from there?

CMS: What do you draw on for your characters?
YFL: From my fantasies, from people I've known. Mostly all my characters are composites of friends. My "Miss Thing" [an excerpt from Risin', published in Blackheart 1: Yemonja] was definitely based on a real person, Marcia Johnson, a [black] transvestite who used to be very active in the gay movement.

CMS: What writers influenced you?
YFL: James Baldwin used to be a big influence in my life. Pablo Neruda nurtured me, really nurtured me. Anne Sexton also. I'm one of those confessional [writers], letting it all out there, bleeding, very melodramatic. I wish I could restrain myself. I'm one of those people who are sometimes too open for their own good. Sometimes you have to leave a little bit for the imagination, a little bit for suspense.
One of the things I realize, especially from gay writers, is that we have to stop dealing with cock and cocksucking and deal with other issues that may not be fashionable for gay writers to deal with, like the nuclear issue. People feel that when a black leader like Jesse Jackson speaks, he has to deal only with civil rights. Bullshit. You're a human being, you're living in 1983, in the United States. You're paying taxes. You should involve yourself in all kinds of issues.

CMS: I am told that Haiti is a playground for American gay men. How much difference is there between Haitian gay life and American gay life?
YFL: It's night and day. Most Haitians you see who are gay in Haiti are prostitutes, though there is a Haitian gay life. There are celebrated artists who are gay. But gays have no power in Haiti--although I've been told that there are a few highly positioned gays in this present [Baby Doc's] government. I don't know. Whenever I go to Haiti, I go there to relax and to just lay down from all that's happening in New York.
If you're an American going to Haiti, you will not have problems. But if you're gay [and Haitian] in Haiti, you will have problems. American money is being sold in Haiti. Being an American is being a god; it means money. You can do whatever you want, whether you're gay or not. But if you're gay and Haitian, that's different: there's homophobia you have to deal with. You're a pariah in that society.

This article is an excerpt from an interview that was published in the New York Native in 1984. The interview took place in his apartment in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

No comments:

Post a Comment