July 7, 2014

Thinking through sex, genderfucks, and the urban space: What is queer Mexicanidad?

I've attended many Pride parades in the United States, each year seeing the same firetrucks with the same go-go boys, the same businesses expressing their "support for diversity" so as to tap into the gay consumer market. Over the years I've wrestled with feeling like Pride in the U.S. has lost it's grassroots radical legacy of presence and subversion of the status quo, and has instead defaulted for a more capitalist White homonormative image. Most recently, however, I had the unique opportunity to be present in Mexico City during their annual Marcha.

After beating my face with my friends Ché and Howl, we got on the crowded Metrobús in club-kid butch drag and headed for the Ángel de Independencia. We dove into the largest crowd of queer people I have ever seen (larger than New York Pride by comparison). As I was enveloped by the city, the fashion, the barely contained hostility for censorship, I felt alive and I felt proud.

Mexico's relationship with censorship and homosexuality is a bit more complicated than other countries in Latin American countries in which homosexuality was criminalized under dictatorships and sexual dissidents would be sent to camps, prisons, or disappeared entirely. The burden of a cultural history with machismo and homophobia, however places the specters of censorship and shame into a larger cultural context that I see younger generations of queers in Mexico responding to a problematizing in creative and provocative ways. The relationship between the urban landscape of Mexico City and the sexual freedom being celebrated got me to thinking...

In many ways the urban dwelling of the city attempts to regulate a privatization of sexuality and sexual cultures. The normative flows of time and space do not create natural sexual spaces or sexual time. Capitalist and nation time construct what Americans subscribe to as the work day and then forces them into ‘family time’ and the end of the work day shift. This regulation of the time and space reinforces the normative sexuality around certain constructions of what ‘family’ means and what family actually looks like. And in any case, it is a privatizing of sexuality and does not allow for queer sexuality to be a part of either family, or work time, or to participate in the public spheres of the urban dwelling. But there is a unique relationship between these forms of queer sexual cultures and urban spaces that is worth exploring.

Queer sexuality at its foundational core refers to any form of sex or sexual behavior that is non-procreative sex. However, in other conceptualizations of the queer sex, queerness describes same-sex sexual behavior, and any other variation of sexuality that is not within the confines of one man/one woman marriage. I employ the use of ‘queer’ to describe the resistance to any normative trajectories of sexuality, including describing sexual practices that are extramarital, group oriented, and outside of the bedroom—such as bathhouses, public cruising sites, parks, churches, etc. But to take queerness and the act of queering beyond the realm of sexuality is a rhetorical move. To describe the queering of something means to reject the normative trajectories and linear ways of operating that are in place in order to produce a new knowledge about that something, which in this case would be urban spaces. The queering of urban spaces describes the resistance of constructed norms that are shaped by urban existence: which I describe to be spheres of private vs. public and regimented time and space.

So can urban spaces be queered? I would argue, yes. Both in the traditional and expanded non-traditional definitions that I described. I also use the category of ‘queer’ beyond just the colloquial sense of its meaning. In other words, it is not solely about gender relations and constructions of sexuality. Rather, I believe these spaces and figures I explore are subverting all forms of normativity, thereby not only “reordering the relations among sexual behaviours, erotic identities, constructions of gender,” as David Halperin describes, but at the same time, “forms of knowledge, regimes of enunciation, logics of representation, modes of self-constitution, and practices of community.”  This project speaks to a queering of hierarchies and binaries presented in urban spaces that attempt to regulate bodies within the normative trajectories of sexual time and space.

As a theological category, ‘queer’ operates to help to explain and interpret the world around us through the traditions, narratives, and experiences of queer persons. If theology is “talk about the divine,” then, following the trajectory of the definitions of ‘queer’ that I described, queer theology offers a way of speaking about the divine in normative terms, or as Patrick Cheng describes,
In light of the definition of ‘queer’ as transgression, queer theology can be understood as a theological method that is self-consciously transgressive, especially by challenging societal norms about sexuality and gender. Thus queer theology refers to a way of doing theology that, in the words of the Magnificat, brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. In particular, this theology seeks to unearth silenced voices or hidden perspectives. 
Spaces and bodies that represent public sexuality remain at the margins of popular society. I put these representations of public sexuality from these pieces in conversation with a theological lens to consider the ways in which their relationship with urban landscapes presents a space or moment for an experience with the divine. As Cheng reminds us that “queer theology draws upon experience as a source for theology.” As is the case for other contextual forms of theological reflection, “queer theology is premised upon the belief that God acts within the specific contexts of our lives and experiences, despite the fact that LGBT lives and experiences have been excluded from traditional theological discourse.”

There is a collapsing of time and space when the image of the queer and the image of the urban space collide with one another. The City becomes a space of queer temporalities that operates within the non-normative structures of time and space. Queer temporality challenges the hallowed humanistic assumptions on time and life stages that posit the ‘responsible’ adult individual as emerging into maturity from the naïveté and confusion of adolescence, preparing for marriage and reproduction, with emphasis on inheritance and continuity from generation to the next. “Queer time” according to Jack Halberstam is time outside the framework of “reproductive time,” something thrown into focus at the end of the twentieth century by the AIDS epidemic that saw many lives telescoped into a few years of urgency and risk. People who live outside familial time often live outside capitalist (re)production and in marginalized or abandoned spaces—they are “ravers, club kids, HIV-positive barebackers, rent boys, sex workers, homeless people, drug dealers, and the unemployed.”  Although these are all ‘queer subjects’ in that they live outside the heteronormative organization of space and time, which is expressed and performed through the urban space. For Halberstam, the transgender body is the subcultural/queer subject par excellence because it is “within and between embodiment, place and practice.” Therefore, as a queered body in a space that holds onto a legacy of machista frameworks that do not know how to account for it's queer people, we as club-kids and genderfucks are eager to find creative ways of problematizing these spaces.

I am interested in the ways that urban spaces become restructured without the privatization or other spatial aspects. In other words, in what ways is public sexuality performed with the actual urban spaces and not just within the walls of the bedroom or the bathhouse? What does it mean for sex and the urban space to overlap one another?

July 6, 2014


An intertextual experiment with Queers Read This...

Life at its best is a space of utter chaos. Having no respect for those who traverse the margins.

Queers Read This: "How can I convey this reality? How can I convey that your life is in danger of seizing to exist? That everyday you wake up alive, relatively happy, and a functioning human being, you are committing a rebellious and deviant act. The very fact that you are alive, breathing, filling up space with your flesh and bones, and the reality that you feel emotions for another human being means that you are a revolutionary and you don’t exist."

There is nothing on this planet that validates, protects or encourages the existence of the borderland. Homosexuality is an invisible institution and the only reason you are spared is chance, intellect, or because machista rhetoric necessitates the presence of los otros—necesitan a alguien a ser la cogid@. Pero estamos los otros entre los otros: la jotería.

The jot@ is up and against a White heterosexist framework that imposes particular understandings of what it means to be a sexual body in this world. Within the Mexican@ and Chican@ cultural contexts, homosexuality does not exist. Sexual orientation is based solely on sexual positionality. Los activos pass through the machista framework and retain their privilege that is afforded to them—a privilege and power that is shaped and formed in schizophrenic response to White heterosexist hegemony. Los pasivos son de los otros. Son los cogidos, los maricones, los homosexuales. I employ the use of the category of la jotería to describe the sexual bodies that fuck back. To describe a consciousness that links our sexual bodies to queer temporalities that are rooted in our tradition from the spine of Frida, to the butchered Coyolxauhqui, to the rough tender voice of Chavela.

Where do we locate la jotería in the postcolony? La jotería functions as subversive intervention and a relentless critique of masculinist and colonial categories of body, space, and time. La jotería explores a sacred geography we are all too familiar with: the margins. As a category of sexual bodies that are absent from the conversation because of our embodied realities as brown and pink individuals, la jotería critiques the impositions of Western White hegemonic masculine discourses. It introduces a new language to talk about sexuality in the postcolony.

Queer and feminist theoretical frameworks have a long history of being, and often times continue to be, monolithic. Speaking in the language of White, Western, Christian hegemonic masculinist ideologies, that when imposed upon homosexuals and other gender deviants, morphs them into their own idealized image of sexual morality. Being that we are not all White, Western, Christian heterosexual men, certainly is of no importance in those particular narratives.

We are reminded, however, that as jot@s in the postcolony seek to challenge those constructions of sexual normalcy that define sexuality in own contexts. Our diversity is our strength in the face of the familiar, tyrannical colonial project to impose the monolithic, all-enveloping truths.

This is our manifesto como la jotería.

Es nuestro (mari)festo.

Those in the margins remain erased and excluded within the composition of the imagined nation called America. These groups think to overthrow the government, with such racist legislation as the SB 1070 bill and, and defy those who identity within the majority of America: The White heterosexist.

It is somewhat possible to theorize ways retaliate against a colonizing and racist system of government that imposes such legislation, however only through the assistance and adoption of those who are willing to resist and subvert societal ‘norms.’ But there’s still something at work preventing them form achieving their goals; that is, the invisibility of white privilege. Now, however, is the time to reveal and deconstruct the invisibility of white privilege and its monstrous creations. Expose to the world the constructed narratives that operate through the filters of White heterosexism—a product of the colonial encounter.

The White heterosexist is oblivious of their privilege trapped in their own world and incapable of empathizing with those who don’t share their power. They are isolated from reality and cannot relate to anything lacking assimilationist qualities. At best, they are lackluster beings trapped in little universes, constructed realities, feeling only positive emotions which can only be associated with people who look, think, and act like them. Homosocialism runs rampant in the construction of nation. Afraid to face the ‘real world’—whatever that is—they are only aware of what and who they are.

Overflowing with positive emotions and non-empathizing ways, the White heterosexist is only concerned about one thing: assimilation. They have no regret for destroying cultures and depleting people. SB 1070, HB 2281, Proposition 8: the blueprints for how to get rid of the ‘illegals,’ ‘incompatibles,’ deviant behaviors and ways of thinking. The disposing of our cultural histories and the celebration of our heritage como la jotería and the recognition of relationships, because all these cultural images of brown bodies and same-gender oriented bodies uniting are not the cultural images of what is American.

Since they lack the lens to see the world outside their imposed binaries of a ‘black and ‘white’ world, White heterosexist discourse seeks to eradicate any form of coloration seen in society because it is the only way they can deal with the endeavors of legislatively eliminating the those whose embodied realities resist the normative trajectories they hope to impost through said pieces of law. Living in a belief system to be rightfully theirs and seeking law enforcement to pave the path clear of any obstructions they might encounter in the purification of the nation.

La jotería no existe or at least will seize to exist within this imagined space we call nation. The nation allows the privilege of White heterosexist discourse to assume any position it wants in order to impose systems of assimilation and doctrines of erasure upon the society.

Until the nation can take responsibility for the invisibility of the privilege it possesses as a result of White heterosexism.

Try to understand their power.

Try to empathize with those who don’t share mutual access to power and those who dwell in the margins. Anzaldúa cries out for us to listen to what our jotería is saying. That’s when the queers of color can fight back and resist such heinous legislations and borders around what constitutes nation and citizen. To fight back against borders and normative boundaries that exterminate beautiful ways of living and people’s rich culture making our global context unique.

Where is our space and time? Where do we locate la jotería in the postcolony? Nation and family time dictates our urban spaces that force us into the bedroom así que nostros podemos coger como los otros. We are not white enough to be twinks, bears, daddies, etc. We are a commodity, a fetish, a genre of porn the White faggot jerks off to. We remain to be los otros entre los otros because we do not fit within the normative trajectories of what is LGBTQ in the American context. We are not Mexican@s or Chican@s because we are the pasivos that fuck back. Where is our time and space? We are entirely rejected and not brought into a shared experience in the queer temporalities already in place, nor are we participating in the brown temporalities and spaces because we belong to an institution that doesn’t exist.

Is our time and space a Queer Aztlán? Comadre — We cannot have a primitivist conception of time. Primitivism is characterized by returning to a natural state before corruption, a time to the best. Aztlán is still loaded with images of violence and homosexual degradation and humiliation, why do we still hold onto the romanticized image that this is our utopia? We remain betwixt and between, on the borderlands because we can’t go home. Anzaldúa talks about homophobia incorrectly being described as the fear of going home, but how appropriate of a concept. If we fear going back to our homeland and we fear living in this world, then what temporal space do we belong to?

We occupy the liminalities of sexuality. We need to traverse in the margins and only make them wide so that the content between them becomes smaller and smaller to the point that it doesn’t exist and all that’s left is blank space. The White (hetero)normative world attempts to eliminate us so why not eliminate it. I implore you to be the subversive entity that crosses the borders. Jump the fences of normative time and space and nation, and fill up the margins.

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 full article here.

Excerpt from article...

Conceptualizing the field of jotería studies within the queer Chicana/o imagination is a sacred act that not only liberates our jotería as a people and an identity but also gestures toward the theological development of sexual minorities within Chicana/o and Mexican contexts. As a queer Chicano activist-theologian, I find myself dissatisfied with current progressive theologies that do not speak to the experiences and embodiment of a jotería identity. My own experiences have left me frustrated by the ways in which conversations within current queer theological thought continue to be filtered through a white masculinist lens, loaded with privilege and levels of access, that does not lend itself to other global or cultural contexts. Likewise, while Latin American liberation theologies have foregrounded issues of race and class difference, these discourses have downplayed, or neglected altogether, the experiences of marginalization and oppression of queer persons, both in their own right and in relation to race and class. I believe, however, that the emergence of jotería studies enables a rethinking of the body and sex in light of Chicana/o experiences that informs and extends my own theological frameworks. 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. In effect, queer Chicana/os are left behind and out of the picture when queer embodied and collective experiences are discussed and interpreted.