Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
This paper considers mermaid spirits and a princess sex-worker spirit who impart shame and societal judgement upon their male-bodied mediums in northwestern Madagascar. While mermaid spirits enforced feminine self-presentation (and thus gender non-conformity) upon one particular male medium, the princess sex-worker spirit enforced provocative, feminine dancing and sex-positive talk on her many queer (sarimbavy) male mediums. Thinking alongside Michael Lambek’s work on the “ethical condition” of spirit mediumship, and critical theoretician Mari Ruti’s scholarship on “the ethics of opting out,” the paper refuses to see possession as a cover, strategy, or even therapeutic practice of “working-through.” Rather, I consider these human-spirit relationalities as acts of ethical engagement in their own right. The paper then places these shame-ridden religiosities alongside elderly queer men’s critique of their younger counterparts’ turn to reject the “shame” (menatra) of their sexual alterity and instead perform a prideful sexual selfhood. Older interlocutors’ embrace of shameful affects is perhaps best understood as an ethical act of humility towards self and kin, and a recognition of the limits of human agency in the face of divine circumstance rather than self-loathing, per se. Situating these ethnographic encounters in conversation with the “ethical condition” of fieldwork itself―a point that Lambek has returned to throughout his career―the paper reflexively engages with those shameful affects that I experienced as an ethnographer with competing ethical commitments and psychic attachments.