Gay & Lesbian Themes in Hispanic Literatures & Cultures
Guest Curators: Augustus C. Puleo, Assistant Professor, Spanish
& Portuguese, Columbia University;
James F. Crapotta, Lecturer, Spanish Dept., Barnard College
Hispanic Gay & Lesbian Issues
By James F. Crapotta
What we in the United States know as the Gay Movement
is not as visible in Spain or Latin America. Hispanics are much more reluctant
to self-identify as gay or lesbian. Gay liberation movements in the Hispanic
world are much less present and less well organized than here. Indeed,
many Hispanics perceive the gay liberation movement as an Anglo-American
phenomenon, something imported and grafted onto indigenous Hispanic cultures.
Hispanic cultures perceive sexuality as something
that is of the private and not of the public sphere. Homosexual acts and
inclinations may be privately acknowledged, but rarely spoken about. A
degree of closeting is endemic to these communities. Indeed, there is
no Hispanic equivalent for the term "to come out."
In all but the most modern, foreign-influenced,
trendy urban centers--Barcelona is the one with which I am most familiar--the
family and, particularly in smaller rural areas, the community, are the
groups with which the homosexual most clearly identifies.
I use "homosexual" advisedly, since what we consider
lesbian and gay identities are in many ways not applicable to many areas
of these cultures. The notion of one's sexuality as an essential marker
of identity is in many ways erased by the identification with a community
in which heterosexism rules.
Traditionally, those homosexual men who have publicly
assumed their homosexuality have tended to self-identify with and be identified
as women. The "marica," the "loca," the fairy, the pansy have, curiously,
been allowed a certain leeway in Hispanic societies because, as "women,"
they are seen as powerless and as nonthreatening to masculinity. Rural
villages in Andaluca have often accepted the equivalent of the village
fairy within the community--he/she is of use to the community, doing "women's
work" (sewing, mending, cooking) and serving as a sexual release for the
men in the fields. In Jose Donoso's "El lugar sin limites" ("Hell Has
No Limits") we find an example of the village fairy who identifies totally
as a woman and is tolerated because he/she is a source of entertainment
and ridicule when the men need to assert their machismo from time to time.
Molina in Manuel Puig's "El beso de la mujer arana" ("The Kiss of the
Spider Woman") is another example.
On the other hand, the masculine homosexual (the
"maricon" in Spain), is perceived as more of a threat and as more dangerous
to society because he is a "real man," could want sex from another "real
man," and disturbs the heterosexual man's notion of what it means to be
In the United States we tend to label anyone who
has a sexual encounter with someone of his or her own sex as gay, lesbian,
or homosexual. In the Hispanic world the marker is the role one takes
in the sexual act and not the gender of the sexual partner. That is, the
partner who takes the passive position and is penetrated, is deemed the
woman, the lesser partner, the one who is dominated. The active partner,
the one who takes charge and penetrates is deemed the man, the one in
control, the one who dominates. Thus, a man who penetrates another man
is still considered, and still considers himself, a man, and a heterosexual
The first gay march in Barcelona, in 1976, was
a movement led by maricas and transvestites. The macho clones, the "virile"
homosexuals who modeled themselves on the more masculine-acting United
States gays, stayed on the sidelines. Gay liberation has not necessarily
been a liberation for all and it has not totally liberated the minds of
Lesbianism in Hispanic societies is rarely acknowledged,
but lesbian theory can be found in some feminist tracts by authors such
as Lidia Falcon. We are including lesbian writers in the course I teach
at Barnard, "Reading for Difference: Lesbian and Gay Themes in Hispanic
Literature and Film." But, curiously enough, the writings rarely celebrate
lesbianism as a lifestyle or identity that is fully assumed in a native
Perhaps our movement is not the ideal one for the
Hispanic world. Perhaps, instead, its less-essentialist concept of homosexuality,
one in which 'being' gay or lesbian is replaced by the notion of a society
where sexuality is only part of one's identity--and not the defining factor
of that identity--might actually be more liberating for queer men and
women in this country.
-- Originally published in Community News. New York: GABLES-CU
(Gay, Bisexual and Lesbian Faculty Staff and Supporters at Columbia University),
(NB: Click thumbnail images for larger images.)
Ramos Otero, Manuel, b.1948. Pagina en blanco y staccato.
Madrid: Playor, 1987.
Trevisan, Joao Silverio, b. 1945. Devassos no paraiso.
Sao Paulo: Editora Max Limonad, 1986.
Puig, Manuel, b. 1932. Boquitas pintadas. 3. ed. Barcelona:
Seix Barral, 1982. Originally published, 1968.
Umpierre, Luz Maria. . . . Yotras desgracias: And other
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