I found an article this week that tells the story of Jorge Gutierrez, who has been working to establish communication between undocumented immigrants and the LGBTQ community (a link to the article is at the bottom. There’s also a great video interview with Gutierrez in the link). His interest in the matter arose when he was told by other undocumented activists that his identity as a homosexual was completely separate from his identity as an undocumented citizen, and had nothing to do with seeking undocumented rights. He noticed that when he protested or met with other activists, his “identity as being queer took a back seat.” He says that he would have to think, “Today I’m wearing my undocumented hat only, not my queer hat.”
This got me interested in the idea of a person being able to take their identity and separate it so every piece can be examined individually. Is it valid to look only at only one part of a person’s identity, or even possible? Could Gutierrez’s identity as a homosexual actually have no impact on his identity as undocumented?
Gutierrez faced this same question, and he found his homosexual and undocumented identities to be inextricably linked. After attempting to separate his homosexuality from his undocumented status, he says he realized, “that couldn’t happen. That I could not negotiate, that I had to be both every time, in front of everyone, at every rally, at every press conference, at every meeting.”
In her book, Queer Latinidad, Juana Maria Rodriguez discusses how the same problem arises in the discursive space of US law (and how it creates just as many problems for people there)–only the portion of a person’s identity that is relevant to the case on trial is needed or wanted in the courtroom. Rodriguez uses the example of Marcelo Tenorio, a black man who sought political asylum in the United States because of the homosexual persecution he faced in Brazil. The US court refused to consider Tenorio’s race, class, or any other facet of his identity when judging his need of asylum. But Rodriguez points out the impossibility of separating one aspect of identity, such as homosexuality, from the others: “The dictates of the law require an erasure of the way Tenorio’s life is impacted by the enmeshed particularities of nationality, color, class, age, voice, and positionality, or what the legal critic Kimberle Crenshaw terms ‘multiple intersectionality.’ [….] viewing Tenorio’s petition solely based on sexual persecution may fit the court’s desire for a singular claim for asylum, but it does not reflect Tenorio’s reality in Rio de Janeiro” (pg. 95).
Much as Tenorio’s race and class influenced his persecution, Gutierrez’s experiences as undocumented definitely influenced his experiences as a homosexual. In fact, it was supporting the undocumented community that gave him the courage to support the gay community. Gutierrez says he was originally in awe of undocumented people who publicly embraced their undocumented identity, and it was their bravery that encouraged him to also become active in the undocumented community. This is a community of people who are unaccepted by large portions of the American public, but who decide to publicly embrace their taboo identity anyway. The gay community can be described in much the same way. The article explains: “But for Jorge and others who are also gay, the experience of working in an organization fighting for the DREAM Act and which openly challenges current laws may have opened the path to express themselves. For many, this has been a liberating experience because they see it as one struggle: Undocumented and Unafraid; Queer and Unashamed.”
I think it’s a lot easier to think about extracting part of your identity than it is to do it in practice. For instance, you can think about your national identity without thinking of how it influences other parts of your life, but could you live for a week without once exercising that part of yourself? Or would you find that it, mixed with everything else about you, is a necessary component of who you are? I think this is the problem that Gutierrez and the legal system faced when they tried to break people down into separate pieces of identity. Rather than building blocks of identity that fit nicely together and can be removed, Jenga-style, when needed, there are webs of identity all tangled up together.
So I think it makes sense that Gutierrez and others like him connect their homosexual and undocumented identities, as both are countercultural and both are fighting to be accepted in the dominant culture. In effect, they are fighting for only one thing–the right to express their whole identity in public. The joining of these two communities can make a stronger, louder community. That is why Gutierrez has established and taken part in multiple movements to ally the LGBTQ and Immigrant Rights communities, particularly for youths who may be feeling alone.
After thinking about this article for a while, I feel like discourse around identity could be facilitated by having better identity-centered vocabulary. Specifically, I’m thinking that there should be a word that means one facet of a person’s identity–a single component of a whole identity. For Gutierrez, for instance, being homosexual would be one of these identity-components, being undocumented another, being Mexican another, being duolingual another. Together, these and many other identity-components would create his identity. It seems to me that referring to a person’s “homosexual identity” disincludes the rest of their identity just as much as the proceedings of a courtroom do. It makes it sounds as though that person’s identity can be boiled down to one word–homosexual. Referring to a homosexual identity-component, however, makes plain that homosexuality is only one facet of that person’s whole, larger identity. A proper term for this probably already exists in some field of study, and I just don’t know what it is. But if not, I’ve come to the conclusion that it should be created.