Our Queer Breath

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I see myself reflected in the window, with those fluorescent letters in red. I am kissing my boyfriend. His skin, his scent, remind me of what I came for, of what I’m here for. That desire. And that desire is a revolutionary act. That search. That breath.

Our queer breath is a revolutionary act. To breathe as a fugitive, delinquent body, as a body that exists in spite of this violence.

I had woken up a bit late and I didn’t realize it until later. Until I opened Facebook. I didn’t think I would cry. And I didn’t, until I saw a video of a mother receiving text messages from her son, her son who had been kidnapped in the bathroom at Pulse. Her son who did not make it out alive.

I saw the news that 49 people had been killed in Orlando, Florida. In a gay bar. Latino Night.

Latino Night. Bodies entangled. Sweat. Brown bodies, Black bodies. Dance. Bodies dancing lost in the night.

I went to Stonewall because places have their history, their memory. I thought that that place would give me something of that fight, that defiance. I thought that those copper bricks, that darkness, that dirty floor, would give me something. Would make me feel something that I had lost.

Stonewall. That place which, after a police raid in 1969, inspired a series of violent, explosive protests. Travestis, Negras, drag queens, Puerto Ricans, fags, butch-dykes. The beginning of the gay liberation movement in the United States. A place where our dissident bodies started to feel free.

Latino night. When you exist as a brown body, when you love, survive, as a brown body, when your body is always subject to the various modes of violence that threaten your very existence. When you are a body that should never have existed. That was never meant to survive. To thrive. What does it matter if you can dance? If you have that space to dance? What value can that dance floor have on Latino Night?

Or, what happens when dancing is the only thing that makes you human? What happens when your body only becomes a body when it dances, when it articulates, when it shimmies, when it sweats, when it sways? Is that why a gay bar matters? Latino Night? When that space allows you to be, to move, to breathe, to become.

What do those Latinx bodies dancing at Pulse on its Latino Night say? What air, what space, what environment do they change with their black-brown bodies?

What changes when you move the air with those beautiful brown legs? What arabesques, what wake do you leave?

That Sunday at the Stonewall a spontaneous vigil after the massacre at Pulse. Around two hundred people gathered on Christopher Street. It was strange. Anti-terror police next to those brown bodies trickling in after the Puerto Rican Pride Parade. A historic irony. The police ‘protect us’ against the terrorism that they themselves created. A multitude. Anti-islamaphobia signs. Signs in favor of gun control. Outside the bar activists and comrades spoke about resistance. About love. We echoed their calls to not lose ourselves. To not fall into the facile categorization of the massacre as simple ‘terrorism’. Members of Black Lives Matter. The critique cannot be tautological.

We cannot stop dancing. We cannot stop sweating, swishing, desiring. We cannot stop insisting on the complexity of this issue, insisting on a critique of misogyny, racism, homophobia, islamophobia, toxic masculinity, in constant crisis.

Journalists who asked the typical: How do you feel? Do you feel safe? Why did you come to Stonewall?

Why go to Stonewall? To be with those bodies, bodies that we love, that we desire, that move us, that we caress, that we yearn for. Bodies given in to the night. Bodies that will not return. Bodies that come undone. Bodies that break. Bodies whose sweat, whose glimmer, we will never inhale again. Bodies that matter. Bodies whose matter, whose becoming, will save us from oblivion.

To breathe that desire, that breath, that intransigence that the queer body stages with its terrible incommensurability. To see, feel, touch, kiss, dance.

(This essay was originally published in Revista Anfibia as “Travestis, Negras, Boricuas, Maricas” and will be reprinted in English in QED).

Orlando, NYC

In the wake of the devastating attack in Orlando, the persistence of homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia, structural racism. It seems incomprehensible. It seems devastatingly impossible to think. To think through and propose alternatives to this hate.

I don’t know. But I tried to think through in this piece, in Spanish, published in Revista Anfibia today. But I also want to note a couple articles in which I was quoted:

  1. The New York Times detailed some of the feelings at stake.
  2. The AP on the complexity of the current debate.
  3. The Tampa Bay Times on not losing sight of context.

IN ENGLISH

Vincent Cervantes for Religion Dispatches, on the theological dimensions.

And Richard Kim for The Nation, on why we can’t stop the music.

John P. Sundholm on why praying is not and has never been enough.

Alexander Chee for The Nation, an excellent reflection on the Courage of Being Queer.

Yezmin Villarreal on why Existing is Resisting.

Alan Paez Lopez on why we are not all Orlando. (which I wholeheartedly agree with).

Charlie Vázquez on Puerto Rican resilience and memory.

Tony Varona for HuffPo, on not erasing the Latino histories and bodies.

Another collection of 10 articles on #Orlando #PulseOrlando from the American Friends Service Committee.

NPR on the Latino voices.

Salvador Vidal-Ortiz for Feminist Reflections, on rethinking Orlando as América.

Ramón Rivera-Servera for The Atlantic, on the space of the queer Latino dance club.

Juana María Rodríguez for NBC, on embracing queer latinidad.

J. Jack Halberstam for Bully Bloggers, on who are ‘we’ after Orlando.

Eng-Beng Lim for Bully Bloggers, on the #OrlandoSyllabus.

José Quiroga for Bully Bloggers, on the nostalgia, complexity, and colonialism of Orlando.

Christopher Soto on Literary Hub, a poem on self and the unanswerable.

IN SPANISH/EN CASTELLANO

A fierce ally and colleague, Juliana Martínez on why the shooter is not a monster.

Hugo Córdova Quero for Pulse, on intersections and violence.

Liliana Viola for Página/12, on hate and reactions.

Santiago Castellanos for El Comercio, an interview on difference.

Larry La Fountain-Stokes for 80 grados, on the weight of violence.

Conversaciones del Cono Sur (Dossier)

Just a quick note to announce that the Dossier, Amor, sexualidad y género: Políticas del Cono Sur, which I edited with Fernando A. Blanco, has been published in the online journal of the Southern Cone Studies Section of LASA, Conversaciones del Cono Sur. 

It includes 4 essays that are condensed versions of papers presented at the 2014 LASA Congress in Chicago, and an introduction by the editors.

https://conosurconversaciones.wordpress.com/

Upcoming: All the Conferencing!

A quick plug for upcoming events:

  1. The Queer/Cuir Americas Working Group, of which I’m a member, will hold a symposium at Fordham University (Lincoln Center) on Wednesday, May 25th.
  2. The LASA Sexualities Studies Section will host a Pre-Conference at Stony Brook University-Manhattan, on Thursday, May 26th.
  3. The Latin American Studies Asociation (LASA) Annual Conference will be held in Midtown Manhattan from Friday-Monday. I’ll be presenting new work on Sunday along with some really awesome people.

Ecuador Earthquake

I have been involved in community-based arts programs in Bahía de Caráquez for six years now. Bahía de Caráquez, its community, its family, was devastated by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit last Saturday. More than 400 people in Ecuador have died, tens of thousands have lost their homes. The community still has no electricity and no water. Please consider supporting our efforts to collect financial and material donations for those families, our family.

Read more here.

Or at the video below:

 

Here is My Face: Native Erasure in Argentina

In 1903 Argentine intellectual Carlos Octavio Bunge published an audacious book, Nuestra América: Ensayo de Psicología social, in which he attempted to account for the dysfunction of Argentine politics at the turn of the century by tracing the continent’s history of racial mixing. His proto-eugenic text migrates from the Iberian Peninsula to the Americas, from 700AD to 1900, attributing determinist views of race and culture to Native peoples, Africans, and Europeans, and all the mixes in between.

About the indigenous population, Bunge writes, “El indio puro que vive oculto en sus bosques, tiende hoy a desaparecer, avergonzado, corrido, ofuscado, aniquilado por la civilización,” as he describes the two fundamental characteristics of the psychology of the indio as fatalism and vengeance.

Bunge, as with most of his positivist colleagues at the turn of the century, was overtly and wholeheartedly racist. The project of racial whitening, of ‘progress’, was never as strong or so pervasive as it was in Bunge’s day. From explicit policies of Indian extermination, known as La conquista del desierto, to the attempts to ‘repopulate’ the land stolen during that ‘conquest’ with ‘desirable’ immigrants (read Northern Europeans), the history of Argentina is based fundamentally, centrally, on land dispossession and native erasure.

So it was no surprise when this week, on the television program Intratables, the host, Santiago del Moro, was himself surprised to learn that a woman he had invited to comment on the situation of drug trafficking in her neighborhood, was not, as he assumed an immigrant from a “país limítrofe”.

It is no surprise that White immigration to Argentina has lost the ability to see the Native faces that, it remains assumed, were “annihilated by civilization”.

It is no surprise because civilization and indigeneity are antithetical in Argentina, as elsewhere.

It is no surprise because the legacies of genocide and cultural assimilation, in Argentina as elsewhere, are consistently reenacted with such phrases as “you, what country are you from?”

And yet, there is her face. For all to see. Filling a room shocked to silence by the realization of the weight of that question.

Del Moro did not forget that Argentina was once indigenous. His very being, his existence, requires that history be erased, subsumed under the national narrative of racial whitening. “Forgetting” the Indian is the condition of possibility for the Argentine nation.

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The interaction from to left to right:

Del Moro (l): Are you an immigrant? Where are you from?

Woman: Me? I am from Salta

Del Moro: ah, no…pffff…I thought you were from another country.

Woman: Thank God I am Argentine. –Why?

Woman: Because you forget that Argentines are also Coyas. Did you forget what Argentines looked like?  We are Coyas and this is the face we have.

On the sounds and the furies (of gayness)

An article posted on the gaily grind the other day asked a rather standard question: “Should the LGBT community stop using phrases like ‘Gurl’, ‘She’ and ‘Sister’ in an attempt to combat stereotypes and homophobia?”

The assumption is that sounds matter. That vernacular, tone, lisp, pitch, etc., all function to mark a gay as subject—and as subject to (subjected by) stereotypes and the discriminatory attitudes that manifest as homophobia. That to rid the gays of these stereotypes and combat homophobia, we should be careful of what and how we speak. This is nothing new, of course, and has been the subject of much scholarship, from William Leap’s path breaking Word’s out: Gay men’s English, for example, to more popular interrogations, such as David Thorpe’s 2014 documentary Do I Sound Gay? (self-loathing and disastrously problematic).

The gaily grind article depends on, traffics in, the abs of blogger, Instagram celebrity, fitness guru, and ‘motivational’ quote quipper, Barret Pall. The post links through to Pall’s website, to a short piece that he wrote, a manifesto, in which he answers this question with a resounding yes (just one ‘s’. Definitely not yassssssss). The gaily grind site is an echo of Pall’s original, in which he opens with the following statement:

“Gurl, She, Sister, etc are all things that I totally get as playful and fun, but I feel as if they’re detracting away from our community being taken seriously, and furthermore makes outsiders think these are appropriate things to say to us.”

Just what community is Pall referring to? And secondly, who is outside of it?

What I think he means, actually, is that the gays have a code, a form of speaking (lexicon, inflection, references, etc.) that when spoken to outsiders (i.e. nongays) it can be misinterpreted, misheard, mistaken, and that that incongruence then authorizes those outsiders (the nongays) to appropriate the code and speak it back to the gays—an effort that they will inevitably fail at, and which will end up hurting the actual gays. The gays will be hurt, the logic goes, because the nongays will be taking our playful and fun words and misusing them. Employing them contretemps.

Where have we heard this before?

Pall’s post takes sounds as if they were entirely disembodied, as if the lisp, tone, pitch, were all markers of gayness that can be divorced from the actual person who is making those sounds. Sounds have bodies. Bodies make those sounds. And that means that when you are listening to someone’s gayness, you are also looking at their gayness, or their straightness, but, and this is really the point here, their physical body is also a raced, gendered, classed, regionalized, body. Those voices and those bodies are marked by race and regional history, by class inflection (middle class New Yorkers are losing their accent!), and by nationality (Where is your accent from?).

Pall may not have noticed, but he is white. And he’s repeating ad nauseam the very same critique that queer people of color have been making against people just like him for ages. All together now: cultural appropriation.

So, even for him, if words like kiki and ratchet are “fun” as he calls them, he is actually admitting to his entertainment by way of channeling his inner black woman (you’ve heard this before, right?) and the thing is…nobody wants their words taken and used against them…but you can’t be so hypocritical, or unaware, as to realize that you are doing just that.

Pall must have received some push back. I’m sure. And he notes in an addendum to his original post:

“If you read any of my other written pieces, watch my youtube videos, or know me in real life, you know that I am a fan of diversity, being yourself and living your truth.”

[That was my eyes rolling]

Two final notes:

  1. I am amazed at the way this language has infiltrated what seems like an attempt at contrition: to be a ‘fan’ of diversity? A FAN! Yes, you may think diversity is fun, entertaining, you may support it, you may actually think that what you are doing with your writing, youtubing, and real life, is working toward diversity, but you are woefully tone deaf to the reality of your own language. To be a fan of diversity is to capitulate to its cooptation.
  1. “Living your truth” seems more like burying your head in the sand, pretending not to notice your privilege, your racism, your homophobia, homonormativity, transphobia, etc. Living your truth. A tautology of epic neoliberal proportions. Carte blanche to willful ignorance and the denial of one’s own position in the world.

Coda: Language is pliable. It has histories. It is neither static nor fixed to any particular group. We can learn other people’s languages—we should learn other people’s languages! Learn more languages! But this does not mean that we should be so naïve, or so blatantly ignorant, as to imagine that languages exist without bodies or histories or politics.