April 10, 2014

NEW ARTICLE: Traces of Transgressive Traditions: Shifting Liberation Theologies through Jotería Studies

In this recent number of Aztlán: Journal of Chicano Studies there is a special dossier section on jotería studies with essays from a variety of scholars and artists engaged in this bourgeoning field. Included in those essays is my take on a genealogy for a jotería theology in which I turn to liberation theology and mujerista thought as predecessors that have opened up theological spaces and temporalities to talk about the body and race in theological terms.

Read the article here.

March 20, 2013

Habemus Papam, No Homo

In a letter sent to monasteries in Buenos Aires about Argentina’s now-approved marriage equality legislation, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio wrote: “Let's not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” The announcement of Cardinal Bergoglio as the newly elected Pope, now Pope Francis I, was matched by resounding thoughts on his Jesuit background and of course, the celebration of the first non-European pope. However, for LGBT persons, Pope Francis’ reputation for very strong thoughts on sexuality and same-sex parent adoption is not easily overlooked.

Like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis is a complicated figure with a mixed bag of histories, theologies, and practices that both set him apart and yet align him with past and present Catholic leaders. Aside from his very orthodox views on sexuality and same-sex parent adoption, there is a lot of controversy over his role and relationship to the military junta during The Dirty War in Argentina. Already Pope Francis’ history is preceding him with allegations about not protecting two of his fellow priests that were kidnapped during this period. It is also rumored that he helped to conceal political prisoners during the dictatorship. However, these charges were not substantiated, but we'll continue to hear more about the world becomes more acquainted with the new head of the Catholic Church.

A lot of attention has been brought to Pope Francis’ intentional work with poverty and the AIDS community. As a Jesuit and like many prelates of the Catholic Church, this work is notable and an important part of their ministry. Naturally, with a figure elected from Latin America, with an intentional focus on work with the poor, conversations around liberation theology have been foregrounded. A “preferential option for the poor” is at the heart of liberation theology and during many of the Latin American dictatorships we saw liberation theology take an important and subversive role. However, not unlike his predecessor Benedict, Francis has openly criticized liberation theology, even as other Latin American religious leaders embraced this necessary move for social justice in the Americas and the developing world.

With this very heavy background, it easy to understand the hesitation among LGBT persons to not be in celebration of yet another religious leader who has a history of rejecting gay and lesbian children of God. However, as a queer Latin American theologian, it is not that easy for me to make such a conclusion. His resistance and intentional moves to distinguish himself from liberation theology does not concern me. Liberation theology has opened the discussion for the ways in which oppressed bodies relate to the divine and each other and has raised issues of racial and class difference, which I see at the heart of queer theologies of color. The liberationist emphasis on the “preferential option for the poor” speaks to a universality of God’s love, which excludes no one. However, queer voices have never been at the foreground of liberationist literature, no were sexual minorities and other gender deviants a priority for early liberation thinkers.  Early liberation theologians failed to see the shared experiences of oppression of queers and our own spiritual journeys as minorities. So for Pope Francis to distinguish himself from liberationists, I am neither worried nor excited, since in many situations as a queer person I am even distinguished from liberation theologians.

So does Pope Francis have it out for the gays? It is far more complicated than just a yes or no, especially if we think about it within a Latin American context. Traditionally, within Latin America sexuality is based on sexual positionality; that is, homosexuality was defined only by what position a man assumes during sexual encounters with another man (lesbians were usually exempt from this taxonomy). In other words, homosexual men were only receptive partners during same-sex intercourse, while the other partner was able to retain a masculine, heterosexual marker of identity. This is a cultural context that needs to be considered when thinking about the relationships between race, sexuality, and religion. I argue that current progressive theologies neglect to develop and imagine understandings of marginalized bodies by considering race, class, and sexuality as categories that shape one another.

What I see in Pope Francis’ complicated and messy background is the potential and hope for a new form of progressive theology and ministry that can emerge within the Catholic Church. Taking his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the papacy is already setting a new tone for his ministry. One of Pope Francis’ most vocal supporters has been Leonardo Boff, one of the founders of liberation theology, a man silenced by the Vatican in 1985 because of his criticism of the church in his book The Church, Charisma and Power. With regard to the new Pope, Boff writes:
Francis isn’t a name; it’s a plan for a Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power. It’s a Church that walks the way together with the least and last, that creates the first communities of brothers and sisters who recite the breviary under the trees with the birds. It’s an ecological Church that calls all beings those sweet words “brothers and sisters”. Francis was obedient to the Church and the popes and at the same time he followed his own path with the gospel of poverty in hand…
This is a beautiful vision for the church for queer people and it is the same vision I share. As queer people, our history is messy and complicated, but we have traversed the wilderness in meaningful ways that have taken us out of Stonewall, into the streets, into the voting booths, and hopefully now back into the pews of the church to write our own church history for how Christ’s gospel of radical love and justice can be acted out in our contemporary context.

Original post at The Bilerico Project on March 20, 2013

November 29, 2012

Un abstracto abstracto del joto, el subalterno y la subjetividad queer en Latinoamérica

Al discutir la homosexualidad en términos discursivos, la palabra “queer” no existe en español. Históricamente, la homosexualidad sigue siendo descrita y definida en términos de posicionalidad sexual—un producto del binario de “activos” y “pasivos.” Sostengo que este binario borra la identidad sexual y la autoafirmación de personas “queer.” Así, yo pregunto, ¿Cómo podemos hablar sobre el deseo entre personas del mismo sexo en la poscolonia? En este proyecto, empleo el término “jotería” no sólo como una categoría de identidad sexual, sino también como un marco teórico para hablar sobre el deseo homosexual en Latinoamérica. Teniendo en cuenta la ausencia de un término nativo para discutir los latinos queer, creo que “jotería” reclama una categoría de una identidad que se ha utilizado para borrar y hablar por el sujeto queer. Me interesa cómo los pensadores queer utilizan estructuras teóricas que ya existen en los discursos latinoamericanos para hablar de jotería como una categoría dentro de las conversaciones que ya están ocurriendo sobre el poder y la subjetividad en relación al cuerpo y la sexualidad. Por consiguiente, este ensayo considera los debates subalternos para situar el sujeto joto dentro de estos marcos para abordar y escenificar las conversaciones sobre quién es el subalterno, quién es el joto y si ambos pueden hablar o definir su propia encarnación en sus propios términos. A través de estas conversaciones, argumento que los estudios subalternos y los estudios jotería exponen los límites y las desventajas de cada uno, mientras trabajan para identificar una manera de hablar de los cuerpos en los márgenes.

November 25, 2012

Fragments of the Body, Queer Memory, and the Latin American Avant-Garde

CADA (Colectivo Acciones de Arte), "No +" (No más)

This semester I have been engaging some very exciting and thoughtful conversations about theoretical and cultural development in Latin America with my colleagues in a seminar. Our focus on subaltern studies, (post)dictatorship, and (post)hegemony have really provided a bit of a theoretical foundation for the queer readings I want to bring to a Latin American theological representation of jotería subjects. As a result I have a few projects in the works that will tease out the relationship between these themes and queer theological studies.

I have been particularly struck by the development of the Latin American avant-garde. I believe the avant-garde opened a space for the inversion of signs and a moment of resistance to the normative trajectories and political systems in place that created an innumerable amount of marginal subjects. These historias remain in fragments though, and thus questions of memory are at the forefront of these conversations. In my recent reading of The Insubordination of Signs by Nelly Richard, I was drawn to the fact that the memory lost as a result of the military regime in Chile remains suppressed, if only because it would threaten the very fabric of political reconciliation whose entire premise was to put the past in the past. For Richard, all that remains are residues, “fragments of experience…no longer speakable in the language that survived the catastrophe of meaning” (5). I am interested in this idea of fragmentation as the after-effects of erasure and trauma. Richard describes how the military regime banished dissident voices and identities and prevented their representation, leaving them nameless and inexpressible. Those banished identities and narratives remain excluded in the post-dictatorship.

I am really interested in locating this within queer studies, where conversations about erasure and recovery of fragments of experience are key to many queer narratives and theory. I’m thinking of An Archive of Feelings by Ann Cvetokovich in particular, where she discusses a queer approach to trauma that examines the recovery of those experiences already embedded in an archive—an “archive of feelings” that she defines as “an exploration of cultural texts as repositories of feelings and emotions, which are encoded not only in the content of the texts themselves but in the practices that surround their production and reception” (7). Needless to say, in Latin America during many of these moments of dictatorship and military regimes, queer bodies were equally erased and became part of an invisible institution of other dissident bodies and voices. I am thus interested in the process of recovery and how that relates to the body: Does the body remember?

Richard writes,
Memories associated with the subaltern registers of the domestic and the popular, the urban, the feminine, and the biographical-erotic, entered as contraband into the upper regions of cultural representation, to contest the hierarchies of race, class, and gender fixing the scale of distinctions and privileges consecrated by traditional art (13).
Recovery is a form of disruption then, which is queer in nature. But how is fragmentation made whole again? Is the subaltern experience always a fragmented one? Richard is obviously not talking about queer discourses, but I think her work informs my own in terms of me thinking about how I locate the queer subject in Latin America. In a context where homosexuality is an invisible institution and only based on sexual positionality, where then do we locate same-sex desire in the postcolony? I wonder if Richard provides me with a historical context in which recovery of the fragments is happening. I just wonder if this recovery and remembrance reproduces violence in the body. And even then, who gets to recover? Which dissident voices get to rearticulate their voices? Do we get to speak to those who are permanently disappeared?

I think about the ways in which we rescue and rewrite the signs to make them inverted and subversive against the hegemonic systems in place. The ACT UP movement, for example, transformed the face and image of AIDS activism in the United States. "Silence = Death" and the pink triangle moved the body and mind in a way that incited individuals to have a conversation about AIDS and the impact it was having on populations. The recent documentary, "How to Survive a Plague" really reminded of the efforts of CADA in Chile, in terms of the same resistance to normative trajectories and their creative moments of relentless direct action. The documentary uses the original footage from the personal camcorders of the activists themselves.

More recently, the Occupy movements have also reminded me of the avant-garde movement we saw by CADA, which was a collective movement by artists, activists, and even scholars. Everyone had a different reason and agenda for why they were occupying, but they gathered under the same umbrella and tent, if you will, of the occupation. My question is then, what would it look like for a queer avant-garde in Latin America that foregrounds jotería bodies that are resisting the normative trajectories in place that continue to perpetuate their erasure and invisibility. What would their recovery look like?

Revised from my original post in "Latin America in Theory"on October 9, 2012

October 6, 2012

Can the Subaltern Fuck?

As my brown body laid next to his white skin, I only existed in a sexual context through my relation to him. My language, my name, my flesh, and my thoughts give him satisfaction. But it was still his voice, his pleasure, and his embodied reality that made me exist. As I think about the sexualized brown body of the jot@, I am overwhelmed by what feels like non-existent voice. Why can't our colored boys who speak softly be heard? Why can't we have the freedom to fuck on our own terms and not in relationship to the context of our colonizers?

According to Gayatri Spivak, postcolonial studies must push for postcolonial intellectuals to learn that their privilege is their loss. Within my postcolonial frameworks, we need to consider the queer subject and where we located it. So what about the sexual subaltern or the queer subaltern subject? For Latin American subaltern studies (if I may quote liberally from the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group),
The subaltern...is not only acted on, despite the tendency in traditional paradigms to see it as a passive or "absent" subject that can be mobilized only from above; it also acts to produce social effects that are visible, if not always predictable or understandable, by these paradigms or the state policies and research project they authorize. It is our recognition of this role of the subaltern, how it curves, alters, modifies our life strategies of learning, understanding, and research, that underlies the doubts besetting these traditional disciplinary and historiographic paradigms, paradigms that are themselves related to the social projects of national, regional, and international elites seeking to manage or control subject populations and that bring in their wake the danger of filtering cultural hegemonies all the way across the political spectrum, from the elites themselves to the epistemologies and discourses of revolutionary movements looking to subvert their power in the name of the "people."
For me, then, the subaltern is by nature a queering subject. In the construction of a jotería space, the jot@ subverts the theo-political boundaries of accepted sexual practice in light of a cultural context that erases homosexual identity on the basis of sexual positionality. In effect, the jot@ "curves, alters, modifies" and repositions jotería as a the@-erotics and has the agency to not only be fucked, but to fuck back. It is our sexual histories that enable the body to produce a response to these colonial sexual structures of oppression and undoes a death-dealing erasure of our identities.

I intentionally sexualize Spivak's rhetorical strategy of asking if the subaltern can speak, to ask if the queer subaltern subject can fuck. Reflecting on the ritual of sati, Spivak argues, "One never encounters the testimony of the women's voice-consciousness. Such a testimony would not be ideology-transcendent or 'fully' subjective, of course, but it would have constituted the ingredients for producing a counter sentence." For Latin American subaltern studies, the rise of the genre of testimonio was imperative to the field. As I lay bare and brown next to the milky skin of my lover, I can't help but where my voice and testimony is within that sexual encounter, and will it always be filtered through his positionality.

Testimonio is equally an important aspect of producing a jotería theology, but I challenge us to move one step further and consider how we can produce a sextimonio. A sextimonio, like testimonio, is a transcending voice that functions in a liminal space that empowers and produces solidarity among nuestra jotería. Alberto Moreiras argues that testimonio is extratextual; that is, it “suspends the literary at the very same time that it constitutes itself as a literary act: as literature, it is a liminal event opening onto a nonrepresentational, drastically indexical order of experience” (212). It already abandons the literary as part of its nature and is more political than it is literary. Moreiras seeks to put an end to the desire to see in testimonio a recuperation of the ‘real’ in the face of fiction or the literary.

I propose that not only should we consider if the subaltern can fuck, but if the subaltern has a voice in using that sexual experience to be a political move. Sextimonio is a genre of our queer subaltern experiences that brings to light the paradoxes in human experience, re-educates the body and the popular, but also affirms the jotería body as a sexual one that takes ownership of that sexuality beyond culturally categorizing markers.

As I think about locating the jotería subject in Latin American discourse, I am interested in how subaltern studies informs and speaks to the colonial experiences of queerness. Is the subaltern a useful category for deconstructing and making sense of same-sex desire in the postcolony? Some scholars have argued that we've exhausted subaltern studies and that we are in a post-subaltern discourse. What does that mean then for the queer subject? So again, I ask: Can the subaltern fuck?

October 4, 2012

Talking About the Bible and Sex!

This month I'll be giving a talk about what the Bible says and, most importantly, doesn't say about homosexuality. When I've given this talk in the past I've been interested in deconstructing how the Biblical tradition talks about sex and sin in order to challenge and inform our own theological understandings of spirituality and sexuality.

September 20, 2012

Inversions in a Queer Ministerial Dialectic

This past spring a short documentary produced by my good friend, Sierra Fleenor, introduced a dialogue between queer identities and ministry in a very unique way that questions and extends both the meaning of 'ministry' and 'queer'. Staking Ground follows the lives of two individuals that would both consider what they do to be deeply important to the LGBT and queer communities, but also something that is deeply religious and theological in nature.

Sierra takes us on a tour of queer ministry by following ministry in it's 'traditional' sense, by exploring the work of a minister that is a queer woman of color, who serves a congregation, and asks how her work is considered queer. Sierra contrasts that image of 'traditional' ministry with a representation of me and my work—as a drag queen. As a drag performer, my work and art form is not often considered a form a ministry, but through my lens, it is a deeply theological and ministerial presentation of the body.

 Ground produces a dialectic between the traditional and the non-traditional. The queer and seemingly non-queer. For me, drag is important because I feel like I'm engaging in something deeply political and deeply theological. As I describe in the video, there is a public theology linked to drag that ministers to the LGBT community in a special way. There is a witness that comes alive through the performance, through the representation, and through the queering (further queering) of the body. I admire la Virgen de Guadalupe as part of my story because I think she exemplifies this mixing of identities. She is in every way a queer figure that challenges any preconceived normative understandings of religion.

I look up to Elizabeth and the work she brings as a minister. From the pulpit she transforms the church into a queer space that opens the possibilities for producing a theology of sex and identity that is life giving for the congregations she serves. Her role as a queer woman of color is anything but normative/traditional when we think about ministry and religion. There are other denominations, several, that would never allow Elizabeth to pursue her calling as an ordained minister. But she transgresses those boundaries imposed by normative religious understandings.

Also this past Spring, I further complicated the dialogue between the queer and the minister. Along with my friends and colleagues, we organized a "queering the pulpit" sermon series that brought queer voices to the pulpit to challenge that space. To even further problematize and extend these categories, I preached in drag:

For many traditionalists, gay and straight alike, this ordeal is anything but sacred. It is perverse. It is insulting. It is incompatible. But there I am with my face painted, tits perked up, and my dick tucked tight, to deliver a sermon on John 3:16 from my drag perspective. Not only am the only drag queen in the sanctuary, I am one of few people of color, and the only Latin@. Yet all eyes are fixated on me in this moment. As the drag queen I even complicate the role of the audience: Do they give me a dollar or do they say "Amen"? At the end of my sermon I was greeted with the warmest compliments for my message and was told that I confused people in the best way possible.

There is a space for the inversion and complication of traditional categories like "ministry" and "religion." It is even possible to challenge our own perceptions and meanings of what is and what is not queer. We are the ministers on our terms. We write the message in order to give nuestra gente something that is life-giving and rewarding.