In Jaime Manrique’s Latin Moon in Manhattan, there are many confusing representations of sex and sexuality, including instances of prostitution, incest, and bestiality. Even more confounding is how almost all of these sites of sexual “perversion” (to varying degrees) seem to intersect with themes of childhood and child sexuality, as well as sex-negativity. Taking the book in its proper context, Manrique seems to explore these areas of contestation throughout Latin Moon in psychological or psychoanalytic terms, creating a narrative of sexual self that moves from repressive sexual desires and expressions to a healthy practice of sexuality (In psychoanalytic phrasing, a somewhat late overcoming of the Oedipal complex). Although it would be easy to make a shallow reading of such a narrative as progressive (in that it rejects the (former?) psychological notion of homosexual practice being pathological), he does so by casting other sexual practices that are now considered perverse in a light that could easily be considered homonormative, pathologizing, and regressive.
Oft-cited queer theorist Gayle Rubin speaks to this particular kind of pathologization in her essay Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. She writes, “Sexuality in western societies has been structured within an extremely punitive social framework, and has been subjected to very real formal and informal controls.” (Rubin, 10) She denounces what she calls sexual essentialism, or a notion that sexuality exists as a biological or chemical drive. Rather, sexuality is created by social interaction (sexual practices and kinship) and subsequent responses (policing, violence, rejection). Those practices that are considered normal or natural are rewarded positively, and practices that transgress “are considered utterly repulsive and devoid of all emotional nuance.” (Rubin, 15)
The flattening of sexual practices considered morally repugnant seems to be a preferred literary exercise for Manrique. I would like to challenge the reader of Latin Moon in Manhattan to problematize some of these instances in the text.
“…I spotted a tiny hooker standing in front of the door of my building. She looked about seven years old, maybe seven and a half. I had seen teenage hookers and hustlers, but this was a child. This was real depravity and decadence – no doubt a product of the crack epidemic.” (Manrique, 88)
This passage is followed by a description of this “child” in an objectifying style just short of blason, and he seems to conflate the presence of a child in such an unsettling position with the contextual particularities of his neighborhood. It seems to say, “because of this child’s socioeconomic status, they must perform sex work, and this is a problem.” His attitude changes as soon as he realizes the sex worker in question is not a child but in fact is a little person, “She was not a child—she was a midget hooker. I breathed a sigh of relief. […]” (Manrique, 89) I found this quantum moral leap astounding. In his relief, one may read that he does not care whether an adult is driven to sex work because of socioeconomics. From this the reader can draw two conclusions: the character (or Manrique?) considers all sex work perverse/pathological, and he considers expressions of child sexuality equally repugnant.
Here I would like to problematize my own argument. Do children have sexual desires and expressions, or are such actions and feelings only placed or imagined on them? Are these inherently pathological, or do they only become so when in relation to adults? ARE BOTH OF THOSE STATEMENTS INHERENTLY AGEIST??? I certainly don’t claim to know the answer. Rubin states that, “Virtually all erotic behavior is considered bad unless a specific reason to exempt it has been established.” Could the question simply be reduced to the fact that all sexual acts are “burdened with an excess of significance”?
Whatever Manrique seems to be implying here about adolescent sexuality, he doesn’t seem to have a problem representing such themes in relation to the narrator (or himself???)
“At night, when he and Mother closed the door of their bedroom, I would sneak out of my room […] to watch them make love through the windows that opened onto the patio. Night after night I watched, discovering my own sexual appetites…” (Manrique, 138)
I suppose it will have to remain to be seen whether this particular arena with become a desired site for sexual liberation, or something. I only wish I could remind Manrique that homosexual practices were once pathologized and stigmatized in this way. But the reader still must consider the time in which this book was written, the intended slant of the narrator, the social context that Manrique wishes to present here, and all of that. But I would like the reader of this blog to think harder about where the (in)distinctions between kinship and sexuality lie, especially within the family.