Monday, March 29, 2010

Livin' the Vida, Loca

Well, how about that -- Ricky Martin has come out. In a blog post on his website, even, posted in Spanish and in English. GLAAD (that's the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is excited, but decorously. The Wall Street Journal's blogger is reassuring about the economic effects of this decision on his career. And while digging around for more information, I found a post at the Bilerico Project from last December, linking to an op-ed (for ign'ant gabachos that don't understand plain Spanish, it's in English here) that Martin wrote for the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia, calling for acceptance (not just tolerance) and citing by name various victims of hate crimes, including Matthew Shepard. It's quite a good piece; I'm impressed. (Unfortunately the poster, or someone, titled his post "Ricky Martin comes out for acceptance" -- Martin hadn't quite come out yet. But what a clever play on words!)

The headlines everywhere quote Martin as saying, "I am a fortunate homosexual man." That's what he says in the English version of his statement. The Spanish is somewhat different, and makes more sense to me: "Hoy ACEPTO MI HOMOSEXUALIDAD como un regalo que me da la vida" - "Today I ACCEPT MY HOMOSEXUALITY as a gift which life gives me." I like that much better. Martin's coming out is long overdue, as he himself admits; I just hope he doesn't turn out to be a major asshole on gay issues like, say, Rosie O'Donnell.

But reading this news sent me back to a book I read a couple of years ago, after having seen it cited by numerous other writers in queer and postcolonial theory: Tropics of desire: interventions from queer Latino America (NYU Press, 2000), by Jose Quiroga. I had a lot of complaints about Tropics of Desire, similar to those I've had about other queer postcolonial works. It didn't help that the word "intervention" is one of those terms which, in my view, ought to be banned from academic discourse because they pretend that writing a journal article or a monograph is some kind of political, even revolutionary act. But there was so much more wrong with the book than that, epitomized by Quiroga's discussion of Ricky Martin's refusal to come out.

For example, "Still, his [Ricky Martin's] refusal of the coming-out narrative must be engaged on its own terms" (185). Would those be the same terms as other closet cases? And what, I wondered at the time, would happen to this assertion if Martin ever does come out? "Ricky's sexuality may be disturbing for a culture that needs to define it as fast as it can" (ibid.). Erm, are we talking about Puerto Rican culture here? Or does Quiroga think that only the US wants to define people's "sexuality"? I think he does, and that's demonstrably false.

Quiroga went on:

The constant demands for Ricky to "come out," to proclaim his sexuality out in the open, are clearest examples how queer subjectivity can become an oppressive category that is always seeking validation to the extent of oppressing other choices and consigning the subtleties of sexual choice and play to a secondary status [188]...

That Ricky chooses not to become the latest Latino doll for the already constituted moneyed gay and lesbian [!] nomenklatura is something I applaud. There is much to be admired in his merchandising himself for the best and brightest capitalists rather than for the ones who gloss their financial stakes with the received pieties of a noble cause that is not noble, with humanitarian gestures that keep the prison walls intact [189f].
The "best and brightest capitalists"? Oh my. Is Martin really "merchandising himself," or is he being marketed by international capital? Is it really somehow more admirable that Sony/CBS kept him in the closet for the sake of his (or rather, its) "image"? Martin is explicit that such considerations kept him silent longer than he would have chosen to be otherwise:

Many people told me: "Ricky it's not important", "it's not worth it", "all the years you've worked and everything you've built will collapse", "many people in the world are not ready to accept your truth, your reality, your nature". Because all this advice came from people who I love dearly, I decided to move on with my life not sharing with the world my entire truth. Allowing myself to be seduced by fear and insecurity became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sabotage. Today I take full responsibility for my decisions and my actions.
As I read Quiroga I very much doubted that Martin was closeted (and I noticed that Quiroga seemed to assume that he was gay and closeted) because of a sophisticated social constructionist understanding of "sexual choice and play." Martin's coming-out statement confirms my doubts, though perhaps Quiroga would now claim that Martin has sold out to the gay and lesbian nomenklatura -- one only listens to gay Latinos, apparently, when they can be used to further one's reactionary political agenda. As for the "already constituted gay and lesbian nomenklatura," there are not only unmoneyed Anglos but moneyed and unmoneyed Latino queers who might have something to say about that.

Quiroga then denounced "the global reach of a movement that started in New York" (191), and claimed, "The homosexual rights movement critiqued generalized homophobia and claimed Stonewall as its originary moment, but it soon forgot that these events were initiated mostly by people of color -- including Latino transvestites and poor lesbians and gays" (199). So poor people are all "of color"? All people "of color" are poor? First, though, the global gay movement did not start in New York, it started in Germany over a century ago and had some small influence in the US. It was destroyed by the Nazis but re-emerged elsewhere in Europe after the end of World War II. The "homosexual rights movement" started in California at around the same time, and only gradually spread east. The Stonewall Riots and especially the formation of the Gay Liberation Movement were in many ways a rejection of the accomodationist movement exemplified by Mattachine (after the founding leftists like Harry Hay were purged). Quiroga's historical ignorance is quite remarkable.

Bernardo Garcia has remarked that "[a] better way of understanding the identity development process for Latino gay men is to view it as the management of multiple identities" [199]
Duh! as though, say, Anglo gay men don't have to manage multiple identities too: gay and Republican, gay and Roman Catholic, gay and stupid. Quiroga also mentioned "internal colonizations" (212), which reminds me that he completely ignores the fact that "Latino" or "Hispanic" cultures in America are themselves colonial. You'd never guess from this book, or from the way that Spanish-speaking Americans like to call themselves "colonized", that "colonialism" south and north of the Rio Grande involved Spanish speakers displacing and conquering and murdering and enslaving Indians. And Quiroga's construction of "Latino" simply ignores First Nations indigenous people throughout the Americas, even those who also speak Spanish.

But hell, all that's blood under the bridge now. Ricky Martin's intervention retroactively deconstructs Jose Quiroga's apologetics for the closet, and quite neatly too.