Does deconstructing the gender system rock the foundations of nation and state? What might deheterosexualising the state look like? Héctor Domínguez Ruvalcaba takes a look at the Latin American context.
Inscribing the queer in the national community is one of the main topics we find in a series of national histories of nonhegemonic sexualities: Emilio Bejel’s Gay Cuban Nation (2001), Osvaldo Bazán’s Historia de la homosexualidad en Argentina (2004), and James Green’s Beyond Carnival (1999), to name a few. Historiography provides evidence of a proscribed bodily culture. It is a form of writing whose main endeavor is the compilation of stories, images, places, practices, and symbols that pertain to underground excluded communities. To depict the life of the excluded is to expose those images and sexual practices that have been covered, denied, and punished. They make visible what is considered obscene (i.e., what is not proper to be shown in public). The politics of the history of sexual diversity is to incorporate the marginalized sexuality into the realm of citizenship. Then, queer historiography proposes a reconfiguration of the national subject, overcoming the patriarchal and heterosexual basis of the modern liberal state.
This inscription places the queer subject as a symptom of the modernization of Latin American culture. I use the word symptom on purpose to underline medicalization as one of the mechanisms of exclusion and control of sexual dissidence undertaken by modern institutions. The second strategy of exclusion and control of sexual dissidence is criminalization. When homoeroticism becomes an illness to be treated and a vice to be corrected, it stops being an unspeakable practice and instead becomes a topic of body knowledge. The first approaches to sexual differences were the medical and criminalist treatises written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These scientific works aimed toward the establishment of public policies regarding sexual and gender dissidence and are now one of the main materials used by historians of homosexuality in Latin America. This disciplinary archive offers a unique compendium of bodily accounts that allows historians to understand how subjects were excluded, the mechanisms of exclusion, and the formation of cultural imaginaries that would provide elements for the remaking of national demarcations and inclusions.
The nationalization of the queer is a trope we can find performed in a substantial number of artistic projects all around the continent. In 1994 the Chilean artist Juan Dávila triggered one of the most significant controversies regarding nationalism and queerness with his painting of a transvestite Simón Bolívar, the most fatherly image in the South American national imaginary (Long 1994). As carnival has become one of the central sites of representations of Brazilian nationalism, the figure of the transvestite has become prominent in the image of Brazilianness. The Neomexicanist School is an artistic movement in Mexico whose major proposal is to include queer subjects in the inventory of national subjects. These are some of the most visible interventions of the queer artistic production and they clearly deal with the national contention of the queer subject. The queer criticism of the nation has been one of the most important interventions intended to open the doors of citizenship to queer bodies.
This process of inclusion not only affects the queer population itself but also consists of a deep transformation in the framework of gender and sexuality that sustains patriarchy. This brings us to the political struggle for the legalization of practices and the assignation of rights traditionally reserved for heterosexual population. This deheterosexualizing of the law conveys a process of deheterosexualizing the state as well, and, in the long term, it sets out the path to removing the endemic relationship between patriarchy and the state. Nationalizing queer subjectivities, then, has an effect that goes beyond the minority rights field to a structural reconfiguration of patriarchy-ruled politics and culture. In E. K. Sedgwick’s (1990) terms, the presumed sexual minority tends to be universalized. This does not mean that the increasing visibility of sexual diversity in Latin American media and the approval of important law reforms that recognize equal rights for nonheterosexual populations have reduced homophobic violence in the region. The efforts to achieve rights and inclusion have clashed with the naturalized oppression of patriarchy. In my analysis of this political unrest between citizenship aspirations and heterosexist reaction, the project of inclusion of dissident sexual and gender expressions is also conceived as an antihomophobic agenda that is concomitant with the general politics of human rights.
In spite of its Westernizing status, LGBT politics is experienced as a liberation saga. Nevertheless, recent scholarship and activism have turned to local systems of knowledge and practice, as they offer other categories that problematize the universal assumption of the modern Western sex–gender system. Queer Western politics tends to conceive bodies from a liberal and universalist perspective. In a different direction from this civilizatory narrative, scholarship on native sexualities opens up the discussion of non-Western sexualities and aims to decolonize questions of gender, sexuality, and uses of the body. At the same time, native queer politics challenges the notion of nation to prioritize the notion of community, and it also challenges the notion of universalizing the Western sex–gender system, instead prioritizing multicultural practices of sexuality. The utopia of universal liberation promises to lead to a global continuum of LGBT culture, which for various critics corresponds to the global expansion of the neoliberal economic system. On the other hand, the utopia of multiculturalism and decolonization looks for practices and conceptions of non-Western cultures as a way to escape the coloniality of gender and sex. Out of utopian constructions, an increasingly critical community has focused its interest on finding the place of sexuality in subaltern cultures in times of neoliberalism.
This is an extract from Translating the Queer by Héctor Domínguez Ruvalcaba.