Queer Identity and Litmus Tests

“The term ‘sexual orientation itself encompasses several aspects of human identity: 1) sexual conduct with partners of a particular gender; 2) enduring psychological attraction to partners of a particular gender; and 3) private identity based on sexual orientation (thinking of one’s self as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual.) In addition, one may claim or be assigned a public identity based on sexual orientation and identity with a community based on sexual orientation”- Queer Latinidad by Juana Maria Rodriguez, pg. 90

Before I begin talking about the news item I encountered this week, I wanted to offer up this quote to you all from “The Subject on Trial”. It was a real point of clarity in the text for me about how to understand sexual orientation as identity. Identity, in the way that I have been increasingly coming understand it, is both public and private. It is something that an individual creates, but at the same time is simultaneously inscribed upon them. Often, identity is used to create a community. At the same time, identity is almost entirely individual because no two people experience a communal identity in the same way. Identity (both individual and communal identities) is fluid. It constantly changes based on time, language, class, location, religion ect.

“The Subject on Trial” made clear that based on its fluid nature, it is nearly impossible to understand law on the basis of identity (in the case of the trial they present, the identity being that of an immigrant fearing persecution based on his sexual identity). Legislation does not lend itself to the fluidity of identity, and therefore laws require one to prove or disprove an identity are far more complex that the static state of the law allows.

This is kind of an extreme example I found in while perusing the internet this week. (Links to the story are provided at the end of the post).
In the summer of 2011, Father Andrés García Torres was relieved of his positions at the in the parish of Our Lady of Fatima Fuenlabrada because of rumors that he was in a homosexual relationships with his 28 year old Cuban seminarian student. The only evidence of these relations was this photo:

After the allegations came out, he was asked to leave the Parish by the Bishop of the Diocese of Getafe. He was told that he could return to his position if he would undergo a “psychological cure” and take an HIV test.

As you can imagine, there are lot of ways that my reading of this story have changed based on my changing understanding of identity. What does it say about masculine identities that a mere picture of two shirtless men embracing automatically has people jumping to accuse them of having a sexual relationship? Does their race and age play into this projected identity—as the sexual object is younger, darker-skinned, and Cuban and the accusers older, lighter-skinned, and Spanish? Also, the fact that Torres is asked to undergo an HIV test, when a priest suspected of (or even caught in) a heterosexual relationship would not be submitted to such a thing? Also, how does the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church play into this power relation and how does that change identity?

This thing I would most like to respond to is not the accusation, but on Father Torres response. He publicly said to the Bishops on his firing “Let them measure my anus and see if it is dilated.”

Which brings me back to “The Subject on Trial.”

I’m pretty sure that Father Torres worlds were said glibly, out of anger against the identity that was being projected onto him that had cost him his job—but that also have an implication: that there is a single way to enact a gay identity (specifically that in order for the homosexual identity to be performed there needs to be an act of penetration).

There is no litmus test for sexual identity (or any identity). While the act of sex (as well as the act of desire) certainly plays a role, the actions themselves do not the identities make. While identity is interactive (both projected and prescribed) it is not based on the number of partners that a person has had or who those partners were. It does not even need to involve a partner—voyeurism, exhibitionism, and even the voluntary abstention from sex are all legitimate expressions of sexual identities. And even if two people share the same sexual identity, it is almost certain that they will not perform this identity in the same way (honestly, thinking about it…it would be kind of creepy if we did.)

So, as Father Torres rather indelicately put it, measuring his anus would not be proof that he was not a homosexual. However, I think the greater point should be that it’s not constructive to view sexuality itself as a binary of two identities. There is no way to definitively test someone’s identity, as identity is constantly changing (both for the individual and the world around them).

How this case plays into the greater conversation of religion, sexual identity, race intersecting in the creation of identity is something I would be really curious to continue exploring and hear your insights on.

Here are some links to the story if you’d like to take a look:





One thought on “Queer Identity and Litmus Tests

  1. Such a sophisticated interrogation! It’s so important, too, not to read Torres’s response as internalized homophobia. As you frame it here, it doesn’t deny homosexuality so much as jeer at the logic of sexual inquisition (to use an apt term).

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