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?

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