A Queer Mother For The Nation
Latino/a Sexuality and the Heteronormative
In his novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz examines Latino identities and sexuality, and the ways in which both are affected and informed by violence. This violence is enacted through institutions like the state, through representation and misrepresentation, and by the very nature of sex and sexuality. Díaz gives an analysis of identity and sexuality, pointing to the way in which it is not only formed and generated by oneself, but also put on and impressed, through violence or with violent repercussions.Reinaldo Arenas’s autobiography Before Night Falls conveys similar themes as Díaz’s novel about the way in which sexuality is policed through violence from the state–particularly in the form of dictatorships. Arenas depicts life in Cuba at the time of Castro, discussing how Castro, and the state, presented homosexuality as evidence of being unpatriotic and against nationalism, as well as grounds for torture and imprisonment. Many of the men who engage in homosexual acts are not homosexual themselves, and it is in fact such policing that causes more sex acts to occur. This environment of violence and sexuality, then, also carries over to all other aspects of life. Similarly, Díaz discusses the way sexuality comes into play in the Dominican Republic, during the time of Trujillo. Oscar’s mother Belí falls prey to the violence of the state in the form of an attack sanctioned by Trujillo’s sister, who does not agree with her relationship with her husband, the Gangster. In this way Díaz, like Arenas, dismantles the idea of the state as a noble protector and enforcer of just laws, illustrating the ways in which it in fact carries out injustices, and performs its own agenda. Both authors also describe how such violent enforcement does not garner success–Belí continues to have an amorous relationship with the Gangster, even after the attack, and Arenas continues to have sex with men, in fact gaining more opportunities for sex acts due to state oppression.Foucault, in his The History of Sexuality, discusses the idea of the repressive hypothesis, talking about how sexuality is thought of as having a history of repression, and discussions of sexuality have been withheld since the Victorian era. Foucault points to the inaccuracy of this claim, stating that silence itself performs a certain kind of discourse, and the repression of discourses on sexuality are instrumental in their formation. Díaz, too, discusses a similar idea regarding the withholding of information–he relates a story in which Abelard, Oscar’s grandfather, is imprisoned and violently tortured by Trujillo for hiding away his daughter and wife from his rapacious sexual appetite. He then contrasts this narrative with mention of another possible reason for his imprisonment, relaying information about a possible book that Abelard could have written about Trujillo, displaying the supernatural qualities of Trujillo and his regime. In doing so, Díaz gives mentions la pagina blanca, the information that is missing or unknown from such narratives, and the ways in which it can speak louder than any words can. The erasure of violence from public knowledge, as well as the erasure for the reasons for its production, does not remove knowledge of its existence or its effects. In this way, sexuality and violence, even when being given the illusion of being silenced, emerge and are spoken about even through its absence from public discourse.Ricardo L. Ortíz, in his article “Cultural Erotics of Cuban America” analyses the impact of Arenas’s life and death. As a homosexual, Arenas was placed outside of the context of Cuban nationalism, even being categorized as a terrorist subject in regards to his homosexuality, and through his death, Arenas simultaneously reaffirmed his identity as a Cuban in spite of being outside of Castro’s nationalist project, and attacked him as the cause of his death. Ortíz discusses Arena’s death in a pro-life context of protest through calling attention to the flaws and injustices of the Cuban government, while claiming sexuality as an element necessary for sustaining life. Similarly, Díaz constructs a similar understanding of Oscar’s death in his novel. Oscar essentially commits suicide by choosing to stay with Ybón, in spite of knowing that her violently angry boyfriend will come after him. As Ybón’s boyfriend is employed by the state, he can be seen as a manifestation of its violence, as well as a re-embodying of the violence of state enacted in past times, to Belí. Oscar’s sexuality comes to be the cause of his death, and he comes to fulfill his Dominican identity through its expression. As such, both authors point to the nature of protest through death and beyond life, and Latino sexuality as crucial to understandings of Latino identity.Further, the state can be evidenced as manipulating representations of sexuality for its own aims. In A Queer Mother For a Nation, Licia Fiol-Matta analyzes how the state became encapsulated in the image of Gabriela Mistral, and why she became a symbol for the nation. Mistral’s masculine, gender-queer identity and demeanor allowed her to be taken seriously in spite of being female, and still encompass desired state-sanctioned feminine traits like motherhood. Mistral followed in the state’s racist rhetoric, maintaining an “othering” gaze against blacks and pushing for racial cleansing through producing more white-mixed offspring. This racist rhetoric provided the state with a language in which to “other” black populations through the passive violence of exclusion and negative representation. Similarly, Díaz presents the figure of Oscar Wao in an interestingly contradictory light. He does not possess any of the traits of a stereotypical Dominican, and throughout his life finds it extremely difficult to flirt, date, or have sex with any girls because of his extremely nerdy and socially awkward personality–eventually coming to do violence to himself in part because of his inability to perform this aspect of his identity and sexuality. In spite of this, he eventually fulfills the saying that no Dominican man dies a virgin, by having sex with his prostitute girlfriend–and in doing so comes to exemplify the idea that even as an exception to the rule, he can perform his “Dominican-ness” to the fullest. As such, Díaz examines in a tongue-in-cheek manner the way Latino bodies are stereotyped, even inside of the Latino community, and the violence of this type of representation, as well as the affect it can have on identity. In this way, both authors discuss the politics of representation and the contradictory and performative nature of identity and sexuality.Philippe Bourgois, in his anthropological analysis of Puerto Rican street life depicted in In Search of Respect: Selling Crack en El Barrio performs a similar violence through his representation of Latino bodies. As an outsider to this community, Bourgois casts an “othering” gaze on Puerto Rican crack dealers and creates a culture of difference between readers (as well as himself) and the members of the community he depicts. One of the aspects of this distance comes from an eroticisation of violence in the name of providing unadulterated truth (and of course, for consumer marketability)–which brings to mind questions of, when is it okay to reproduce structures of violence, when doing so produces the same violence? Díaz asks a similar question in his reproduction of stereotypes of oversexed, hypersexual Dominicans in the figures of Yunior and Oscar–what is authorial responsibility, especially in regards to the understandings of readerships? How can this violence be avoided? Díaz himself constructs problematic depictions of females and female sexuality, describing women in a somewhat chauvinistic light–many of the female figures are represented as objects for the males to conquer through sexual pursuit. For both authors, the replication of such structures supports and reproduces racist and sexist ideas through consumerism. Such ideas then become part of a system of capitalism, providing interesting implications regarding the “selling” of problematic constructions of identity and sexuality. And as sexuality plays a large part in understandings of the formation of identity, these types of representations can have the effect of creating an environment in which violence becomes normalized in everyday consciousness.In his theoretical work Disidentifications, José Esteban Muñoz discusses his theory of disidentification, stating the ways in which categorization through sexuality and race, among other things, allows for a dismissal of or limiting understandings of identity. Disidentification, then, becomes a survival strategy, a way of avoiding the way in which representation can be unrelatable, or reproduced through the systemic violence of rearticulation. Much as Muñoz examines the work of Carmelita Tropicana or Marga Gomez, and how they reclaim possibly harmful representations through camp, Díaz reproduces tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of Dominican identity and sexuality, and provides alternative representations of Latino identity and sexuality through his characters. Lola, for example, is represented as having a very present sense of sexuality, but is costumed in the role of a “goth.” Both writers point to the importance of the multiplicity of identity, and find ways to articulate Latino identity and sexuality that do not conform with the violence of heteronormative ideals. Junot Díaz examines the nature of identity and sexuality in regards to Latino bodies, and the ways in which they are impressed, manipulated, or reproduced through violence. Disidentification, perhaps, provides a necessary step towards providing an alternative consciousness and understanding of identity that does not become enmeshed in the culture of difference–and asks further questions about the way hegemonic society, institutions, and normalized violence enforces and regulates these ideas. How, then, can we use disidentification to further remove ourselves from the violent and harmful heteronormative? And what are the ways we can imagine ourselves in a more broad, inclusive sense of being?