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?

1 comment:

  1. ...so, I feel you wrestling with the constraints of subjectivity as they have arisen within colonial spaces and histories, which, ironically, are the same constraints that enable our positionality in the first place. The question I hear in your post is two-fold: 1) How can jot@ sexual practices contribute to its affirmation, its positivity in a ontological sense? How can, in fact, how do jot@s use their sexual and racial positionality to redefine our (ontological) relationship to whiteness and to white queerness? and 2) What is the role of "sextimonio" in this attempted redefinition? What particular risks and potential exchanges come with this political, indeed politicized tool?

    In considering (the writing of) sex as a site of power and, therefore, privilege, I wonder how language has been used to confront similar challenges of ontological deficit given subaltern positionality. Gloria Anzaldua's use of multiple languages in her writing come to mind as an example of how to weave race and sex into an effectively disruptive voice. However, we don't need to "speak in tongues," necessarily. I also wonder how class may affect our writing of sex and how, historically, race and sex have been proxies of class distinctions...

    Much to think about...Indeed, can the subaltern (speak her) fuck? Is her fucking a speaking? What would make her fucking a testimony? What are the racial, sexual, and class constraints of this her language? How much of it is colonially-mediated? How can her consciousness of these constraints on her body enable her to further reconfigure and redeploy her body for play, for survival, for disruption, for selfhood...