Queering Latinidad and the Barriers of Repression

“Queer is not simply an umbrella term that encompasses lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, two-spirited people, and transsexuals; it is a challenge to constructions of heteronormativity. It need not subsume the particularities of these other definitions of identity; instead it creates an opportunity to call into question the systems of categorization that have served to define sexuality,” (Rodriguez 24).

I guess what I have been mulling over for quite some time is the definition of queer as discussed by Juana Maria Rodriguez. I can’t help but keeping thinking about the many barriers to “queerness” that are present within the Latino community. Growing up, my father would say “I would almost prefer you to be gay than ever to (insert very detestable thing here). Note the emphasis on the almost. It makes me wonder if it is harder to perform queerness and be Latino? I think there is something extra difficult in queering latino speech, clothing and culture. There are impressive barriers to repression that not only make it harder for men and women to perform what are outside of the established gender norms, sometimes it is outright dangerous. Now I don’t want to generalize an entire group of people. My classmates and I have seen how Latinidad is not a static thing and it means different things to different people in regions all across the U.S. as well as Latin America. However, that being said I think that there are enough factors common among the Latino experience that I can identify repressive barriers to performing queerness within Latino culture.

The largest and most impressive barrier of repression that is present in the life of many Latinos is the Catholic Church. Although religiosity tends to become less important the more generations a family spends in the US, for recent immigrants there are few institutions more important or that wield more influence than the Church. This leads to a precarious play of power that makes it more difficult for queerness to be accepted within the Latino community. The Catholic Church is an impressive machine when it comes to talking about issues of sexuality and has not budged on the importance of the nuclear family and the “natural order” that they believe exists in heterosexual sex. The Church puts barriers, (physical and metaphorical) that push conversations about queer performance and sexuality into the shadows. By relegating certain sexual acts and performances of gender as sins that go against the natural order of the world, the church has been able to regulate and in essence even silence certain kinds of dialogue from even taking place. In addition, by including a sacrament of confession that makes its necessary to confess your sins, this can lead to feelings of guilt. With this repressive machine that stamps out sexual acts outside of what it defines as normal wielding so much influence among Latinos, how does this affect the performance of queer Latinos in the U.S.? Is it more subtle, is it more radical due to the pressures that it must work against?

Closely tied to the Catholic Church and their definitions of what kinds of sex is alright and not alright to engage in, there are also the culturally defined performances of gender that are more broken down in the U.S. but still have a rigid hold on many Latin American communities. But, what most interested me from Queer Latinidad is the fact that not only did these performances of gender exist in the in the real world, but they also existed online in the lesbian chat-rooms. Rodriguez writes that “Aside from homophobic anxiety, it also seemed that seducing una mujer decente, or at least one who performed “hard to get,” posed more of a challenge and was therefore  more desirable, mirroring the values in the outside world.,” ( Rodriguez 139).  Isn’t this an interesting phenomena? I would think that the cultural rules online wouldn’t matter as much, but I guess even though the physical body isn’t being used in a sex act, the mind still is. And in that mind there are still the cultural and societal expectations of how to perform one’s gender. Rodriguez continues to elaborate by saying, “In #espanol, female gender had to conform to a regulated heteronormative performance: Latinas aren’t supposed to advertise for sex, even when they want it,” (Rodriguez 139). A queer Latina can’t even escape the heternormative constructions on the internet in an anonymous chat room?! What does this say about trying to break down these institutions in the physical real world?

I think it is safe to say that queering latinidad is a difficult thing to do. The person who identifies as Latino must work against deep religious and cultural norms that are entrenched within the Latino experience. Queering anything, clothing, gender performance, or sexuality is in and of itself and countercultural act; it is going against the norm, taking what is expected and turning that expectation upside down. However, I argue that queering latinidad is particularly difficult because of the institutions, cultural and religious, that are constantly working to “restore order.”

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2 thoughts on “Queering Latinidad and the Barriers of Repression

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful interrogation. I wonder sometimes if Latin@ cultures are perceived as more defined by, or embattled with, Catholicism than white cultures. When Prop 8 passed in California against gay marriage, many white LGBT folks online blamed the conservative black vote. It turned out that the numbers didn’t corroborate this theory. I wonder if and why people of color are characterized as more socially conservative than Anglo-European culture.

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