To reject or to negar: Latino and Queer identity issues

A friend of mine thought it was time for me to watch my first lesbian movie. What better movie than Bound, a movie about a queer woman who is dating a man in the mob but has a love affair with her stereotypical lesbian neighbor. While it had some pretty intense sex scenes, it didn’t concentrate on the subject of a queer relationship. This movie though, made me and a group of friends try to name mainstream queer movies that had Latinas, or in that matter any woman of color in it. I think they only named one or two.

This made me want to explore more on the internet. Are there Spanish songs out there that talk about queer relationships? Fortunately I did find a song ( lucky for us it came with a pretty decent English translation and a video of the L word).

Interestingly enough this song was written by Mecano, a Spanish pop band during a countercultural movement that took place in Spain in the 1980s (La Movida Madrileña). The song talks about a lesbian relationship, seen through the eyes of an outsider. This was one of the first songs to talk openly about homosexuality. Yet it was most popular in countries like France and Italy. It was certainly popular in Latin America, hitting number one in the top charts in countries like Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua. However these aforementioned countries had Penal codes that stated that homosexuality was wrong. The song and/or its video clip were censured in countries like Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The Catholic Church even tried to excommunicate the individuals of Mecano for talking about a subject that was considered immoral.  Yet Mecano publicly stood for what they believed in, that a lesbian relationship is what it is and that’s it.

The point of this song was to eliminate homophobia, especially in Latin America. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for everyone. This was 30 years ago, if this song debuted in present day it wouldn’t have had any problems but many Latinos would still disapprove of it. This is mainly because the Church (Catholic and some protestant denominations) teaches that homosexuality is wrong.  Sometimes even having lots of queer friends is looked down upon in Latino families. No quiero juzgar pero, my mother and grandmother feel uneasy every time I mention that I have been hanging out with my friends from rugby outside of practices and games or put up a fight when I told them I was going to Pride last summer (which I ended up not going because it would have been hell in the house if I did). They tell me that they don’t have anything against homosexuals and everyone should do as they please but inside they are afraid that I will become one of ‘them’.

How am I as a Latina living in the United States with a familia that has strong religious values supposed to confront them about this issue? So what if I have a lot of queer friends and so what if I am or am not attracted to females. I can’t even necessarily ‘come out’ and say that I do support LGBT causes without feeling guilty later of letting my family down. Why is that? I struggle every day with this; it is something I’m still trying to figure out for myself.

Anzaldua says that a lesbian of color’s (or anyone who identifies as non-heterosexual) ultimate rebellion is through her sexual behavior.  But why do we have to rebel? I don’t want to be one.  Yet if I don’t rebel I will just be rejecting myself, but if I do I will be rejecting my culture, my family. She also says

“To avoid rejection, some of us conform to the values of the culture, push the unacceptable parts into the shadows. Which leaves only one fear – that we will be found out and that the Shadow-Beast will break out of its cage”

If I ever find myself in a Mujer contra Mujer situation, I don’t want to be that woman who says ‘¿que se le va hacer?’ but I still find it hard to let go of my Latina family values. And even if I don’t find myself in that situation I still feel like I’m losing parts of the latinidad that my family has because we have different opinions on queer issues.

This post is filled with a lot of issues, mostly personal and unresolved and others not, but I just want to leave you with a couple of verses from this song:

Y lo que opinen los demas esta demas

Quein detiene palomas al vuelo

Volando a ras del suelo

Mujer contra mujer.

(And other’s opinions don’t count. Who stops doves from flying? Flying over the ground. Woman on woman.)

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7 thoughts on “To reject or to negar: Latino and Queer identity issues

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! It really is rare to see any examples of homosexuality in Latina or Latin American media. I thought this song and the response to it was particularly interesting, especially since it came out almost 30 years ago and did make it into the mainstream.

    I think a lot about the problematic attitudes of Latinos toward homosexuality, and I do believe that the incredibly strong influence of the Catholic Church has a huge role to play in shaping these attitudes. I hope that with our generation they are progressing, but I still can’t help but feel that we have a long way to go towards even the level of acceptance that much of mainstream American culture has (and obviously that isn’t without its problematic aspects).

    Just a few months ago, my mom was telling me about a cousin of mine in Mexico and how now she “thinks she’s a lesbian now” (her words, not mine). Upon hearing those words, I naturally sprang to the offensive. My mom is typically pretty progressive in her views, despite growing up in a very traditional, conservative, Catholic Mexican household. I was surprised to hear her say this and immediately criticized her for it. “What do you mean she THINKS she is? If she says she is, then she is” or something along those lines was my response. She went on about how “it’s not the same in Mexico as it is here” and that she would be encountered with too much prejudice. All the while as though this was something she could choose or avoid. I tried to educate her on the fact that it was not, and she ultimately gave in (or just didn’t feel like arguing). These sorts of mentalities, however, are incredibly difficult for me to escape when I’m around my relatives. Though I identify as straight, I know I think a lot about the difficulties I would face with my family should that change ever (it was difficult enough for them to deal with my dating outside of my race). It’s just a difficult situation, and one I feel like most of my non-Latino friends do not have to deal with (though that’s likely a product of most of them coming from liberal environments overall).

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this video! I too am always looking for mainstream media containing Latinos and queerness. It definitely isn’t easy to find.

    • I totally understand what you mean. My parents, who are loving nurturing parents, but definitely not progressive, have made comments about how being gay means you’d be a target. Basically saying that it’s better not to be (or hide it) because society will attack you if you are. I’m not out to my parents, as a bisexual (or better yet: queer) man married to a woman I guess I never felt like I wanted to deal with all the drama it would bring up. Also, I don’t even think they’d understand bisexuality. Gay and straight are very specific, but being bi I’m guessing they would just say “well can’t you just be straight?” (like I can shed my “gay” side or something). But it’s been weighing on my mind to come out to them. More because I want them to see the world in a different light and realize their comments hit closer to home. Of course I don’t expect a great change from them, they are old-fashioned y religioso… actually I don’t know how I expect them to react. Maybe it’s just more for myself and to to be honest with them as I get older.

  2. Hey Stephanie 🙂
    I also really enjoyed your post. I totally agree with what was said above in that this a topic that is not really discussed in Latino culture often. It seems that it is often brushed to the side and not addressed. I feel like this was really an issue in Latin Moon in Manhattan. The reaction of Bobby’s mother when he dies, that his boyfriend is the one who made him gay because her son is not a “maricon.” She also blames the city and her boyfriend for the AIDS that Bobby died of. Additionally, there is Santiago’s mom who is trying to force him to marry Claudia and also tries to perform some sort of exorcism on him. I think this really shows how there is often this perception in the Latino community (and probably in others as well) of homosexuality being a choice and also its association with AIDS. Latin Moon in Manhattan showed many manifestations of these assumptions and how people coped with them, by ignoring it, being angry, etc. Unfortunately as Jess said, many of these mentalities are still very present in the Latino community and they are incredibly difficult to deal with.
    I also think the song is so rad. I haven’t heard anything like this before, in Spanish or English. I love that it really just puts these issues out there in a society that tends to try to ignore many of these topics.

  3. I love the transnational scope and multimedia contents of this post! I’m thinking a lot about the relationship between Madrid and Latin America here. Can we agree that in the mainstream imaginary of Hispanophone countries, society looks to the metropole–in this case, Madrid–as a site of exemplary modernity, intellectual life, cultural progress, etc. etc.? So how does this metropolitan countercultural moment in 1980s Madrid, called La Movida, hail the rest of the Latin@ hemisphere? It seems that the cultural short-circuiting this causes on a global scale is what provokes the Vatican to take a stand. Really interesting–what happens when the mother country goes radical.

    I also loved the comments above and can certainly relate to the conversations you all describe having with your families. As a queer teen/college students, I simply stopped talking to my family about these things. This came with a serious degree of alienation that I’m only now, in my 30s, repairing. Most recently Larry La Fountain-Stokes (“Queer RIcans”) and Gayatri Gopinath (“Impossible Desires”) have written about what it means to be queer and stay within the family, to create change within the domestic fear and make it a queer-positive household. I think shows like Ugly Betty and Glee are working on this, too. Why does coming out have to equal getting out (of the family)? Note: we should, as queers, still get out of the family, I think, when there’s harm there. Not all families are nurturing.

  4. Stephanie! To tell you the truth you are not alone! I deal with the same thing at home. I am very straight forward with my parents as you are. My mother always told me whatever you decided your sexual preference will be i will accept you but i see the ways that like she’ll sometimes make a face when we pass by a lesbian couple. Her excuse is always that of religion: man and woman were made for each other and thats the way it has to be. Clearly, we don’t see eye to eye on those things. The video added a lot of visual aid to your post and a visual description of the emotional fight that many queers have when deciding whether to keep who they are hidden and not feeling that they are able to be themselves. Anzalduas quote was perfect for this!

  5. It is very interesting that this song had such a high success rate in Latin America considering how religious conservative most Latin American countries are. However, this is not the first controversial song to do so. I remember a few years back, when La Camisa Negra by Juanes was all the rave, the Dominican Republic (of course) and some other Latin American countries banned the song from radio stations because of “sexual content.”

    What interests me even more though is the conflict that you present between just being yourself and how that works with the Latin@ identity that has been so heavily influenced by your upbringing. I also constantly find myself arguing with my family members about race, gender and sexuality and preconceived notions that they hold to be “true.” Sometimes, though, I think it’s best to hold my tongue and remember that as long as I understand and know myself, everything will be okay. Moreover, I am really frustrated at the idea that my Latin@ identity for some reason must be in conflict with my intellectual thoughts. However, over time I have realize that the previous statement is also a hindering one. To think of latinidad as a bounded and defined entity is a mistake that many us of have made, make and will continue to make in the future. What I, and we, should strive for is not to think that latinidad and queerness are separate entities but that latinidad and queerness are dynamic entities which shift, change, evolve and transform over time. Once this is understood, our relationships to our multiple identities become much more fluid.

  6. Thank you for sharing this with us Stephanie. I was really interested to hear about the ways in which another Latina women would deal with issues of sexuality in a Latin@ home. When I was growing up I was always told that being with a man was my only option. I was young and naïve and never even considered questioning my mother’s authority. I would heard the quote “you are the friends you keep” all too often when I was growing up. Since my mom considered my sexuality to be a “family matter” I was always afraid to even mention having friends that were queer. However, my passive role in my family changed when my best friend came out. We were friends since we were two years old and I refused to give up what I still consider the best friendship I’ve ever had. My family treated my best friend as if she was part of the family, but when she came out I did not know how they would react. My friend is the daughter of an extremely active Catholic mother so when her mom found out she asked her to leave her house and has not spoken to her since. This was especially hard for me to watch because I cared about my friend so much. I immediately spoke to my mother about what had happened and she agreed to allow my friend to live with us.

    This all came as a surprise to me, but it helped me to realize how easily things could change. At times I thought that growing up in a Catholic family was what made my mom so closed minded, but in talking to her I realized that a lot of the issues she felt strongly about involved her own fear. She saw so many different things occurring while growing up in a Latin@ neighborhood that she wanted my sisters to avoid the hurt that she saw. She told me about how one of her close friends killed himself instead of coming out to his family because it seemed like a better solution. It is this fear that is still very common and still very prevalent in Latin@ communities today. People are afraid to be progressive and separate themselves from the past that they still carry the load of generations before them.

    I can completely relate to how you feel because a lot of times I feel as if I am being judged solely on my friends and their actions rather than on my own individual personality. I am not really sure what the ideal solution to this would be, but I think that we should try to educate our family members and eventually end this chain of ignorance.

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