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 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.

September 7, 2012

A Jot@'s Credo

This week I attended a talk by Jack Halberstam as part of the "What Matters to Me and Why" speakers series through the Office of Religious Life at USC, which was particularly exciting since Halberstam identifies as pretty areligious. Halberstam opened the talk with how he was asked by a colleague to write a credo, which we were blessed with reading of it. Many of the things Jack Halberstam believes are close to my own beliefs and resonated deep with my heart as I heard him speak them aloud. Inspired, he challenged us to write our own credo, which I found to be the perfect exercise for exploring what I believe as I move forward with understanding the category I call jot(e)ología. I draw on some of my shared beliefs with Halberstam, but also voice the things important to me that give meaning to the ways I understand and interpret the world around me:

A Jot@'s Credo
I believe in the queers, jot@s, and freaks, who are marred and painfully living through lives of incompatibility; I believe in sex education. I believe that the Southwest was stolen from México; I believe in open borders. I believe in justice, love, and good and that Jesus isn't the only excellent teacher of that. I believe that Yolanda Saldívar killed Selena. I believe that the push for gay marriage and gay service in the armed forces is a slap in the face to those who walked the streets for liberation before us. I believe in family dinners, hot showers, cheap wine and fideo; I believe that single parents are saints. I believe that Juan Rulfo is the greatest writer of all time. I believe in livable wages and that access to education is a human right. I believe in disruption and anarchy; I believe both are necessary and possible. I believe that if more people did drag then the world would be a happier place. I believe in speaking multiple languages, reading novels, and writing our own histories. I believe that pasivos fuck back; I believe in the queers, jot@s and freaks.

I challenge everyone to try out this exercise of writing your own credo and not trying to use broad generalities. What makes you make sense of the world around you? If we are to make our own space and language for how we talk about same-sex desire it starts with writing out own legacies, beliefs, and credos for the temporal spaces we want.

August 21, 2012

Puta Mother for Queer Hijos de la Chingada

Consider this an exercise in put@esthetics working toward new epistemologies in jotería theological perspectives. The idea of put@ readings in jotería and theological studies has been an on-going discussion between myself and others, so consider this a rehearsal of the put@ performance jot(e)ología that I hope to continue unpacking through future posts.

Where do we locate same-sex desire in the postcolony? We are considered in many ways el otro entre los otros, negotiating this liminal space between race and sexuality that traps us into a space where our experiences remain silent and our existence remains invisible—deviant bodies on all accounts because our embodied realities resist normative trajectories of queerness and Latinidad.

Mexicans have an expression to describe those we consider the "others" and the deviants that resist what's normative: they are hijos de la chingada. They are strangers, enemies, rivals, and bad Mexicans. And these "others" are not defined other than just being sons of a mother as vague and indeterminate as themselves. It is a category of erasure that eliminates the existence of all the invisibles and incompatibles.

Who is la Chingada? She is the Mother. A mythical figure in Mexican culture that has been forgotten and erased almost just as much as the name implies. Chingar has many meanings in Mexico, it's sort of a catch-all phrase depending on the context. The word, most importantly, is loaded with sexual meaning: to fuck. The chingón is the macho and he rips open the chingada. The chingada is passive, penetrated, and open. The power dynamics associated with being la chingada reflect the masculinist impulses in place that make being la jotería a death-dealing category. Homosexuality in Latin America is based on sexual positionality, thus the only 'gay one' is the receptive anal partner. However, through the development of jotería studies we push back against the dichotomy of activo/pasivo and claim a sexual identity on our own terms. But in normative contexts, we remain to be the fucked.

La Chingada in it's mythical form, however, refers to La Malinche, the Mayan translator for Hernán Cortés, who has become one of the most condemned figures in Chicano culture. Although she is a historical figure, historians know little about the details of Malinche’s life. Instead, as her story has been mythologized, her name has come to stand primarily for the betrayal of the Mexican race and the danger of female sexuality. In his seminal essay on Malinche, Octavio Paz articulates what has become the most common interpretation of Malinche: "Her passivity is abject: she does not resist violence, but is an inert heap of bones, blood and dust. Her taint is constitutional and resides... in her sex. This passivity, open to the outside world, causes her to lose her identity: she is the Chingada. She loses her name; she is no one; she disappears into nothing-ness; she is Nothingness. And yet she is the cruel incarnation of the feminine condition."

I would consider Malinche to be a deeply queer figure through the ways in which she has been marginalized, erased, and how her sexualized body is a negative image. She is called La Chingada, but she also carries the label of a 'puta'—the whore, bitch, libertine, but also a verb to signal fucking. Put@ also refers to anyone whose sexual activities and gender performance transgresses normative trajectories. As la jotería we share in this liminal space with Malinche. She is a transitional being that brings us into an ideological communitas.

As my friend at "THE-OLOGIES" describes, "'Put@,' not unlike 'woman,' is a category that, politically mobilized, can only performatively identify in the presence of difference." These are deeply sexualized differences and markers of identity and it is this sexualization that cannot be overlooked. As sexual minorities and deviants, la jotería inherits the put@ marker of Malinche. We inherit the same erasure due to our sexual transgressions. I, however, call us to take ownership of that transgression in our theological development.

Through the performance of my queerness in academia and my cultural celebration of it, I believe that I engaging something deeply political, which some find to be very disturbing. But there is a power in that disturbance that shouldn't go overlooked. The crossing of sexual borders makes us the writers of our theologies. Marcella Althaus-Reid writes that, "Transgressions have always been with us. Sexual theologies are the opposite of idealistic processes. They are materialist theologies which have their starting points in people’s actions, or sexual acts without polarising the social from the symbolic. It is from human sexuality that theology starts to search and understand the sacred, and not vice versa. Indecent theologies are sexual theologies without pages cut from the books of our sexual experiences."

I believe that through engaging our sexualized histories, and the legacy Malinche passes onto us, we can begin to uncover something inherently sacred about our experiences. We create beauty and sacred meaning out of a put@/jot@ identity that has already been assigned to us, but no longer is that label a death sentence, it is my hope that it can function as a life-giving category.

Paintings: “Malinche: Lost in Translation” by Gilbert Reyes and "Cortés y la Malinche" by José Clemente Orozco

August 19, 2012

Spirit of Culture: "Hecho en México"

Spirituality is woven into the cultural fabric of Latin America. The cosmovision and ceremonial centers of Mesoamerican religious histories, practices, and theologies are very much a part of Latin American cultural production and is something that cannot be overlooked in our discussions. Davíd Carrasco, writes, "It is a special gift of the religious imagination that allows a people, after five hundred years of colonialism, dependency, oppression, and resistance, to turn to the ancient Mesoamerican past for symbols of a cosmovision to help make a world meaningful, give it a standing center, and provide for a social and spiritual renewal." So in what ways can we draw on a history already given to us to find a space to describe and untangle the complexities of being la jotería.

"La espiritualidad está por encima de la religión. La religión nos separa, la espiritualidad nos une."

This new and upcoming film, Hecho en México, looks into multiplicity of Mexican identity, culture, and history. I can't help but notice the immense amount religious imagery and themes. Spirituality remains engrained in our culture. In that sense I think it's important to theorize and imagine race within the context of religion, but also religion within the context race, considering and understanding how both inform one another.

August 18, 2012

Jotería and the Postcolonial

How do we categorize same-sex desire in the postcolony? Where do we locate it? What vocabulary are we to use when talking about same-sex desire in contexts where 'homosexuality' is an invisible institution? It is through these questions that I approach this blog, that is, a blog interested in examining how we complicate and wrestle over these questions through queer, feminist, Chicana/o, Latina/o, postcolonial, and theological perspectives.

As a Chicano activist-theologian, I am frustrated by the lack of attention to theological conversations around racialized queerness. I find the same neglect in ethnic studies in engaging theology as a way of understanding the embodied experiences of queer people of color. Accordingly, I am interested in producing a conversation at the intersections of all of these areas. In doing so, I employ and claim the ideologies of jotería as an identity and way of thought. Looking into my own contexts where the term 'homosexuality' simply cannot exist in language, I push back against the derogative nature of the term and instead embrace the identity already given to me and think about how to further extend and complicate the idea within the frameworks of cultural studies, literature, theology, etc.

Gloria Anzaldúa writes, "Chicanos need to acknowledge the political and artistic contributions of their queer. People listen to what your jotería is saying." It is in this spirit that I approach this project, to draw attention to what we do say, experience, and embody as la jotería and to bring in my own background in theology and question how this all operates on a spiritual and theological level.

Why theology? Because I believe that these discourses deal with ultimate questions about how we understand and interpret the world around us, which I believe to be fundamentally religious. I am interested in what a jotería theology does for queer and liberation theologies, and what it does for cultural studies. I use all these categories aware of their histories, tensions with one another, and power dynamics. But it is through these areas that I am interested in countering hegemonic pedagogies and instead construct pedagogies that deal with oppositional circumstances.

Why postcolonial? I recognize the ways in which queer studies and ethnic studies remain to be under the stricture of power dynamics informed by normative identities. The reality is, we have all been touched by the colonial project at one point or another in our lives and experiences, and it is thus the goal of my discussion to go at the class that's interested in keeping the colonized exactly where they are.

It is my intent to engage the intersectionality, intertextuality, intersexuality, and multiplicities that this new category of identity and thought introduces. I look forward to discussion that emerges on my part and through those willing to contribute.