Queer culture and discourse emerged as the other’s tongue in their culture of origin. They had to be translated into the hegemonic discourse of metropolitan academia. Now, in Latin America, ‘the queer’ has come to be translated into another cultural system, one that already has its own contradictions and political dynamics. This translation of queer occurs as a countercultural intervention into the culture in which it arrives as a translated concept. But this intervention does not come without controversy: as a theory coming from the so-called global north, queerness has been under suspicion of being another expression of colonialism, as it is considered a distinctive mark of modernity. Nevertheless, it is arguable that queerness is, in fact, an instrument of decolonization, in which translation plays a key role as a linguistic process where meaning is put into crisis.
In Latin America, colonial anxiety contextualizes several phenomena: the arrival of queer modernity in the period of modernismo (a Hispanic aesthetic movement that arose at the turn of the twentieth century); the controversies of revolutionaries and queer intellectuals in Mexico and Cuba; the military persecution of sexual dissidents (deemed antinational bodies) in the Southern Cone’s Dirty War; and even the sexual tourism and human trafficking of the neoliberal system. These are some instances in which queer thought and representations have gone and still go through multiple processes of resistance that end up constituting alternative identities and undertaking a politics of recognition, of liberation, and of the establishment of rights.
Moreover, queer modernization foments an economy and a wide range of aesthetic expressions and forms of social participation. This troubling moment of cultural translation of liberating discourses on gender and sexuality and their contestations in Latin American culture contextualized the emergence of alternative identities that would be recognized as modern.
The modern history of sexual dissidence departs, then, from the state’s strategies of exclusion and advances toward inclusion of gender and sexual dissidence within citizenship. In this process, we can observe the constitution of queer modern myths: queer is the avant-garde of modernization; queer represents foreign and colonialist influences; an important sector of creative and intellectual elite places the queer topic in the public scene as part of cosmopolitan and universal culture; and queer politics, like feminism, places the body on the agenda of public concerns and constitutes one of the largest civil movements of our time.
This meaning formation of the queer as an expression of modernity describes a traveling culture that takes the route of modern Western civilization, the route of sexual knowledge, as described by Foucault (1990) in his History of Sexuality: from its status of nefarious sin to criminalization, medicalization, and finally a politics of identity and of inclusion in citizenship. For the historiographical works discussing the incorporation of the queer into the national imaginaries, this narrative of modernization as the incorporation of sexual dissidence transgresses the traditional gender structure, identified as Catholic and patriarchal, and advances toward the paradise of freedom, where nonhegemonic desires finally enjoy legitimacy. Both colonial and liberation agendas coincide in this queer modernity.
The movement’s exogenous character has been one of the main points of rejection from nationalistic discourses, such as the revolutionary ideology in Mexico and Cuba and in Southern Cone twentieth-century dictatorships. It seems like the main struggle queer modernity has to face is this rejection from the national identity, which leads to one of the main subjects of conversation in queer Latin Americanist scholarship: Queer is a methodology of critical thinking that by deconstructing the gender system questions the foundations of the nation and the state.
This is an extract from Translating the Queer by Héctor Domínguez Ruvalcaba.