“I argue that Proyecto is involved in forging a new type of identity project based on ideas, affiliation, and alignment rather than on static categories of race, gender, culture, or sexuality” (Rodríguez 48).
Like Octaviano in his post “Queer Latinidad and Static Categories (?)”, I found myself challenging the idea found in Juana María Rodríguez’s Queer Latinidad that identity can in any way be static or fixed. As I believe Rodríguez’s argument throughout the book is that identity is fluid and constantly being redefined, and I agree with this sentiment, this raised the question for me: where is this notion of static categories coming from?
The quote above references Proyecto, short for Proyecto ContraSIDA por Vida, a community-based and -oriented project working against AIDS and for life (48). Rather than focus on death and the negative stigma attached to individuals living with HIV/AIDS, prior to its closing in 2005 Proyecto worked to create a Latin@ community “dedicated to living, to fighting the spread of the HIV disease,” and to the creation of a sex-positive environment (50). In its mission statement, Proyecto reaches out to a multiplicity of identities, aiming to embrace a diverse group of people and not shut out anyone who may be in need of the type of community Proyecto offers. Yet Proyecto is funded by the state, an entity that functions by putting people in boxes, classifying and labeling and categorizing until an individual or group is nothing but a series of checked boxes on a page. The state creates a string of labels to be (more or less) permanently attached to an individual or group; with these labels the individual is reduced to a number, constant and unchanging over time, though in reality the labels defined by the state may only have been accurate to the individual in question at the point in time at which they were created, if even then.
Can the state operate in the knowledge that identity is both dynamic and plural? That from moment to moment a person’s identity changes depending on context? I argue otherwise. The policies born of and enacted by the state are grounded in the concept of identity being static and singular for a given individual or group, and as such the state is ill-equipped to deal with the fluidity proposed by Rodríguez and lived by Proyecto and those whom it serves. If the state’s definition and understanding of identity are in sync with that of the “dominant” culture, whatever that term might encompass, then Proyecto takes this definition and reworks it, changing “identity” into a multi-faceted living thing no longer capable of being enclosed by a checked box. “Identity” becomes “identities,” incompatible with the state’s system of categories and boxes, queered to fit a reality that itself defies a single static understanding.
In allowing for and even encouraging individuals to claim a multiplicity of identities, whether the claim be simultaneous or over the course of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, Proyecto is actively queering the dominant concept of identity. This in turn allows for the creation of a community which is dynamic and constantly able to shift, expand, or change its own identity to fit the constantly-changing needs of its members.
I think this is where Rodríguez is coming from, framing Proyecto as a space in which identity is actively queered to suit the community it serves rather than a space catering only to certain of the “static categories” established by the state which funds it. Yet despite this queering embrace of identity multiplicity, Proyecto is still tied to the state and in order to receive funding must therefore participate in some level in the essentialism of its community into a few broad but not necessarily all-encompassing categories, such as LGBTQ or Latin@. These categories are highly politicized, holding different meanings for different people in different parts of the country (and they are therefore dynamic and multiplicitous in their own way), yet they are accepted by the state as legitimate identities to be found somewhere among the boxes to be checked.
Somewhere there is a balance between the queer and the norm, some connection linking the two; however tenuous that connection may be, however ambiguous the space in which that connection exists, Proyecto somehow lives within that balance, pushing the boundaries of what it means to be queer and living in the margins of society while simultaneously working from within the system.