Amid ongoing political instability, sarimbavy — same-sex-desiring and/or gender-expansive male-bodied persons — are increasingly rendered opportune subjects ripe for intervention across Madagascar by HIV prevention industries, homonationalist LGBT rights projects backed by the United States Embassy, and many Christian institutions. This article diverges from these biomedical and moral panics by attending to the shifting temporal allegiances of sarimbavy spirit medium-activists. Interlocutors’ roles as mediums to spirits of former reigning monarchs (tromba) necessitated an onerous dedication to Malagasy history (tantara) and tradition (fombandrazana); simultaneously, many sarimbavy mediums were also men who have sex with men (MSM) activists, and thus deeply committed to moving beyond what they saw as the stigma-ridden past and present. These activist engagements and the sarimbavy counterpublics that they produced were uncannily facilitated by mediumship social networks. Through these practices of monarchic veneration, sarimbavy medium-activists implicitly challenged Western expectations that queer social movements must emerge through the subversion of social norms and secular, liberal, democratic reform. In surrendering to the seemingly antidemocratic weight of divine queen-kingship, sarimbavy mediums became “possessed” by political organizations irreducible to the modern nation-state and its colonial genealogies and, furthermore, produced human-spirit relationalities that thwarted Western juridicolegal visions of a bounded, rights-bearing subject.
Divine Monarchy, Spirited Sovereignties, and the Timely Malagasy MSM Medium-Activist Subject
Seth Palmer is an assistant professor of anthropology at Christopher Newport University. His historical-ethnographic scholarship engages religious publics, human-spirit relationalities, transnational rights regimes, and emergent political imaginaries in Madagascar and the broader Western Indian Ocean world. Seth is currently completing a book manuscript that considers the multiscalar entanglements between queer social worldings and spirit mediumship networks both within and beyond the Malagasy northwest.
Seth Palmer; Divine Monarchy, Spirited Sovereignties, and the Timely Malagasy MSM Medium-Activist Subject. GLQ 1 January 2021; 27 (1): 61–84. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8776862
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