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Eroticism and Sexual Transgression in "Dos mujeres and Amora": Shaping the Voice of Lesbian

Fiction in Mexico
Author(s): Cynthia Duncan
Source: Confluencia, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Spring 2011), pp. 72-84
Published by: University of Northern Colorado
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41351017
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Eroticism
and

and

Amora

Sexual

: Shaping

in Dos

Transgression
the

Voice

of

Lesbian

mujeres
Fiction

in Mexico

Universityof Washington Tacoma


Sara Levi Calderns novel, Dos mujeres(1990), is arguablyone of the most erotic
worksof fictioneverproducedby a woman writerin Latin America,and it is also one
of the most openlylesbian in nature.It relatesthe coming out storyof a middle-aged,
upper-classJewishwoman in Mexico City who leaves a traditionalfamilystructureand
witha much youngerwoman artist.Most of the novelfocuseson
developsa relationship
the difficulties
encounteredby the women as theyattemptto forma relationshipin a
that
does
not recognizethelegitimacyof same-sexunions. Ultimately,
it becomes
society
a struggleforpersonalidentityas the women begin to realizethattheycannot continue
to live in Mexico and definethemselvesthroughthe rolestraditionally
assignedto them.
In orderto live openlyas lesbians,theymustexile themselvesfromtheircountryand its
('9), by RosamaraRoffiel,is quite anotherstory.Although
patriarchalculture.1
it is generallyregardedas the firstlesbiannovel in Mexico, it made a quieterdebut. It is
'
also a powerfullove storybetweenwomen,but it lacks Dos mujeresgraphicdescriptions
of lesbian sex. Instead,it is firmlygroundedin Mexico City'sfeministsubcultureand
takeson a collectivenatureas it tracesthe interconnectedness
of a groupof women who
are searchingforlove, friendship,
and a strongersense of self.The protagonist-narrator
of beinga woman in a patriarchalculture,but takesa militant
acknowledgesthedifficulty
stance
about
the
need
to remainin Mexico and fightforchange.2Both novelsdeal
political
withthenotionofsexualtransgression,
but theydiffer
markedlyin theirconceptualization
ofthefeminineerotic.This leads us to questiontheroleeroticismplaysin each ofthetexts
of femininedesire.It
and how it engagesthe readerin issuesrelatedto the representation
also inducesus to look at how thebooksaremarketedin Mexico,and whatrolesexplaysin
thesellingof books to mainstreamreaders.These two areasof inquiryare interconnected
in the case of Dos mujeresand Amorabecause theycall attentionto the problemslesbian
writersface in a countrywhose literarymarketplaceis so deeply rooted in patriarchal
fromthedominantculture,butDos mujeres
values.Bothnovelsseekto separatethemselves
createsa senseofprivatespace sharedbytwowomen,whereasAmorais narratedin a more
Both novelsexplorenotionsof
publicspace groundedin thenotionoflesbiancommunity.

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, bymakinglesbiansexualityvisiblethrough
space,languageand thebody,but Dos mujeres
theuse offetishesand theillusionof masquerade,invitesvoyeuristic
participationbymale
will belongto an
that
readers
Amoraoperateswiththeunderstanding
readers.In contrast,
"insider"groupof lesbianswho alreadyknowwhatwomen do in bed together;thus,the
mechanismsof lesbiansex do not need to be explainedto "outsiders."How much can or
should be said about the femalebody and its relationshipto femininedesirebecomes a
or not, to a free-market
centralissue in both works,and it is tied,intentionally
economy
thatmeasuresa books successby thenumberof readersit can attract.
On a theoreticallevel, the discussionof femininedesireevokes a long-standing
debate surroundingthe problemof publishingtruthsabout women'slivesthatcould be
appropriatedand objectifiedby voyeuristicmasculine readers.While some argue that
women not only have the rightbut the imperativeto writeabout theirbodies and their
sexualexperiencesin open and authenticterms,othersclaim thatlanguagecannotescape
a phallocentriclogic thatpositionsthe femininein binaryoppositionto the masculine
with lesbian fiction,we
and subordinatesit to male desire.3When dealing specifically
textcan speak as a woman who desiresanotherwoman
mustask how the "I" in a literary
withoutslippinginto the "mans role"as it is prescribedthrougha heterosexualparadigm.
Is the rhetoricof male desirethe only languagewe have to describeeroticencounters
withwomen?As JudithRoof notes,"Attemptsto depictor explainlesbiansexualityspur
of lesbiansexualityundo
anxietiesabout knowledgeand identity"because "configurations
discursiveclaims to masteryand wholenessand occupy positionsof penultimateness,
and incompletenessthat existalongsideof, but not in opposition to, neat
immaturity,
closure"
(5). While bothAmoraand Dos mujeresresistthe kind of closureRoof
systemic
of feminine
describes,theydo so in verydifferent
ways. By studyingthe representation
desirein thesetwo novels,we can gain insightinto the powerand the limitsof language
it has
women'sexperiences.At thesame time,we can appreciatehow difficult
to represent
been forlesbianwritingto finda place in Mexico'sMasterNarrativeand whyit is so often
relegatedto themarginsof nationaldiscourse.
Unlike the traditionalBildungsromanor autobiographicalnovel,Dos mujeresdoes
not begin with Valeria'schildhood and followin chronologicalorderher psychological
developmentintoadulthood.Instead,it takesas itspointof departureValeria'sdecisionto
come out of the closetas a lesbian.As partof the comingout process,she feelsshe must
rejectmen and the traditionalroles theyhave assignedher,come to termswith herself
as a lesbian,and develop an identitythatwill giveher the strengthto deal withsociety's
condemnation.Roof has pointedout thatin mainstreamfilmsabout lesbians,"The male
are not
charactersfunctionas a partof thevoice of normal'culture...Thus the narratives
of
social
dilemma
the
but
also
romances
or
same-sex
out
stories
exemplify
just coming
but
women's
the
endorses
in
that
a
not
lesbian
a
choice,
preference, in
clearly
way
making
wreakon nuclear
a
choice
can
such
the
features
a way thatsubtlyand insistently
damage
families,rejectedboyfriends,careers,communities,etc."(56). By establishingValeria's
thesexualprowessof herex-husbandand
forlesbianismearlyin thenarrative,
propensity
male loverscannot be called into question because her "deviant"preferenceforfemales
has alreadybeen made clear.Roof identifiesthisas a line of defensein lesbiannarratives,
"somethingthat alwaysbringsthe women'schoice into question"(56). Valeria'sneed to
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73

justifyherchoicesand, in theprocess,make herdesireforGenovesavisiblebecomesone


of novels mostimportantnarrativethreads.
Levi Caldernexplorestheproblemsinherentin lesbianself-representation
through
a metafictional
device thatpositionsValeriaas the "author"of the book we are reading.
When Valeriaannouncesneartheend of PartOne," me propuseescribirla historiade dos
mujeres:Valeriay Genovesa"(107), Levi Caldern encouragesus to repositionourselves
vis-a-visthe text and accept it as the autobiographicalstoryof one of her fictional
characters.This narrativestrategygives the novel an additionallevel of complexity,
for
it makes Valeria both the subject and the object of her own discourse.She offersher
body up forconsumption,while at the same timeshe laysclaim to the discursivepower
of the narrative.She withholdsor givesinformation
forthe pleasureof her readers,and
takesownershipof the eroticpassageswhereher desireforGenovesa is most graphically
on display.Significantly,
Valeriarevealsthatshe is the creativeforcebehind the textwe
are readingonlyonce her identityas a lesbiancharacterhas been firmly
established.Her
out
a
as
lesbian
allows
her
to
come
out
as
an
free
to
narrate
herstoryany
author,
coming
she
chooses.
way
On thediegeticlevel,Dos mujeresis indeed a subversiveand potentiallyunnerving
book. Valeria rages againsta societythat conditionswomen to accept theirstatusas
inferiorbeings and discouragesthem fromchallengingthe system.Still, she has lived
most of her adult lifeaccordingto the social normsshe claims to despise,allowingher
husband and fatherto supporther and dictateher code of conduct. She particularly
wantsto distanceherselffromthepressuresof marriageand familylife,whichhas proven
less than satisfactory
to her,and fromthe demands of the closed, conservativeJewish
in
Mexico
and backbitinggrindon hernerves.Through
community
City,whosehypocrisy
her relationshipwith Genovesa,Valeriafinallybreaksfreeof theircontroland createsa
privatespace forherselfand her lover,whereotherpeople play no role. She cuts all ties
withherfamilywhentheyrefuseto acceptherlesbianism;she goes intoself-imposed
exile
fromMexico; and she becomesa writer,apparentlycapable of earninga livingfromher
work.Her beliefthatshe can neverhave an openlylesbianrelationshipin Mexico is not
groundedin factbut, rather,on an assumptionshe has made about the culturebased on
her personalexperience.Because her familyhas treatedher badly,Valeriatransfers
that
experienceto the nationas a whole,eschewingthe possibilityof a lesbiancommunityin
Mexico. Instead,she transforms
the geographyof her lovers body into her entireworld.
herself
from
the
familiar
(her family,her house in Mexico, her country,
By removing
and her religion)and situatingherselfin a private,isolatedspace sharedwith her lover
herselfthroughher
(theirnew home in Greece),Valeriaputsaside herangerand reinvents
novel.In thefinalpages,thetextsplitsin two,echoingValeriasambivalentfeelingsabout
thelesbianexperience.Her fictionalselfcommitssuicide,referencing
indirectly
Radclyffe
Halls WellofLoneliness
and theself-destructive,
lesbiancharacterin so much
self-loathing
of earlytwentieth-century
lesbianwriting.But, we are also givento understandthatthe
"real"Valeria,the one who has writtenthe book, is alive and well. The metafictional
doublingof Valeriaas author/characterallows Levi Caldern to make a self-conscious
traditionand showthatlesbianscan havea happyending.Valerias
departurefromliterary
deathin thetextis followedbyherrebirthas a successfulwriter,
whileGenovesasfictional
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abandonmentand returnto heterosexuality


prove to be untrue.The novels alternate
makes
it
see
novel
to
the
easy
why
appeals to lesbian readers,forit carvesout
ending
a space forpositiveself-representation
in Mexicos predominantlyheterosexualliterary
canon and suggeststhatsame-sexrelationships
can be successful.But, it also raisessome
the
novel
has
two
about
why
stickyquestions
endingsand what contradictory
messages
theyconveyto readers.4
statusin theearly1990s in Mexico, we mustassume
Given the novels "best-seller"
werelesbian.5The novelwas publishedby a prestigious
thatnot all readersof Dos mujeres
mainstreamliterarypress (Diana) and was distributednot so much throughfeminist
bookstoresand coffeehouses as throughmajor bookstoreslike Librera Cristal and
Sanborns',both in the capitaland in provincialcitiesaround the country.Ridingon the
wave of popularityassociatedwithnovelslike Laura Esquivels Comoagua para chocolate
(Planeta, 1989) and AngelesMastrettasArrncamela vida (Oceano, 1988), Dos mujeres
capitalizedon readerinterestin "literaturalight,"a termcoined by criticsto describe
literatureby women thatdealt withsexualityin open and unabashedterms.6Curiously,
Amoradid not seem to benefitfromthis same trend,althoughit was initially
Roffiel's
publishedbyPlanetaas partofthe"Coleccin Fbula" seriesand had nationaldistribution
in Mexico.7It receivedscantattentionoutsideof Mexicos feministlesbiancommunities.
The inevitablequestionwe must ask, then,is why has the receptionof the novelsbeen
In literaryterms,both novels are well written,have convincinglydrawn
so different?
and engagingplots.Both engagein feministrhetoricand critiquemachismoin
characters,
Mexicansocietybut,forsome reason,Dos mujeres
appearsto be moreappealingto straight
readersthanAmora.One possibleexplanationmay be thatDos mujereslends itselfbetter
to the notionof "lesbianchic," a termculturaltheoristshave coined to describepopular
fascinationwith lesbians in the media in the early1990s. As Ellen Levy has observed,
"Insteadof challengingfemalesubordinance,imagesof fashionablelesbiansin the media
re-create
sexualpoliticsas usual in theguiseofsamesexlove"(par.8). Imagesofwomenare
used to prop up male fantasiesabout lesbianismand are appropriatedby males to satisfy
this insider
heterosexualdesire.Levy claims that lesbian chic in the media "transforms
with
an explicit,
lesbian
a
it
into
reading
public spectacle; replaces subjective
privilege
a basis for
it
"becomes
love"
hetereosexualized
(par. 10). Ultimately,
inscriptionof lesbian
women to bond withmen overbabes"(par. 11).
It is worthnotingthatbothValeriaand Genovesaas characterscould be described
as "babes." Both are youthfulin appearance,slim, extremelyattractive;theydelightin
feminineritualssuch as bubble baths,shopping,and lunchingwith the girls.In terms
of appearanceand behavior,at least in the public sphere,thereis nothingabout them
thatthe outsidercan identifyas lesbian.They do not belong to a feministcommunity
withotherlesbians.They existverymuch in isolationas an anomaly,and this
or identify
by the factthatboth are upper class Jewishwomen
perceptionof themis strengthened
of recentimmigrantbackgrounds.Althoughtheylive in Mexico City and much of the
noveltakesplace in a recognizableMexican space, it is easyforreadersto dismissthemas
thattakes
lifestyle
atypicalMexican women.Their othernessis confirmedby a jet-setting
themfrequently
to theUnitedStatesand Europe and bytheireventualexilefromMexico.
asks "whetherLevi Calderns narratoris permittedto speak
Claudia Schaefer-Rodriguez
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75

ofherdesireforanotherwoman because,afterall, thisis thestoryofonlytwowomenwho


occupya space of permitted-somehow legalized-oppositionand who have the rightto
a certainamountof indulgenceand tolerancesince,in Valeriaswords,'las mujeresde mi
clase social podemos hacerde todo, siemprey cuando no sea en serio'"(234). We might
also ask ifthenarrator
is permittedto speakofherdesireforanotherwoman becauseshe is
a "babe" who is equallyattractive
to lesbiansand heterosexualmen. As Teresade Lauretis
has pointedout, "to desirea woman does not necessarily
withher
implyan identification
femalegender"(24).
Amorasfirst-person
narrator,Lupe, is also a writerbut Roffielshies away from
metafictional
elementsin the text.She writesin the prefaceto the novel,"S, en efecto,
sta es una novela muy autobiogrfica.
Casi todas las personajas[sic] existen.Casi todos
los nombresfueroncambiados.Y casi todo ocurrirealmente."A photographand short
biographicalsketchof the authorappears on the back cover,connectingRoffielto her
literarycreation.While one mightassume that Levi Calderns novel is also somewhat
the factthatshe chooses to writeundera pseudonymcreatesa layerof
autobiographical,
the
around
textthatis missinginAmora. Roffielsinvolvement
withfernmagazine
mystery
and her activismin the lesbian communityin Mexico mean that she is well-knownin
the circlesshe writesabout in Amora. In contrast,Dos mujeresappearsto situateitselfin
an ambiguous"no-mansland" thatis secretand hidden fromview.Presentedthrougha
metafictional
filterthatfurther
distancesthe realauthorfromthe textshe has produced,
Dos mujeresalignsitselfwiththe longstandingtraditionof anonymouseroticwritingby
womenwhereinfemininesexualityis inextricably
linkedto forbiddenpleasure.
the
of
Amora
is
also
built
around
a love affairbetweentwo women,
Although plot
the sexual relationshipbetweenthem is only part of the story.The novel embracesthe
livesof manywomen,some lesbian,some straight,
and some bisexual.What bringsthem
is
a
commitment
to
feminist
and
together
principles practicesand theknowledgethatthey
findstrengthin each other.Only one shortchapterofAmoradeals specifically
withsex,
and it does so in a waythatis radicallydifferent
fromDos mujeres.Roffielsidestepsrealistic
ofwhatwomen do in bed togetherby usingpoeticlanguagethatconveysthe
descriptions
eroticexperiencewithoutallowingit to become a public spectacle:"Aguade Luna, fresca,
con puntos de plata. Sbana de encaje. Sudario de luz. Lecho de ncar. Dos mujeres.
Dos" (8 5). She echoesthelinguistictheoriesofLuce Irigaray,
who remindsus, "don'tworry
about the 'right'word.There isn'tany....How can I say it?The languagewe know is so
limited"(87-88). Roffieluses specificlanguageto make it clear that the charactersare
engagingin sex-"Tu sexotiernome invita.Lo mismotu pelo.Tuspezonesme retan.Cmo
the act remainsprivate:"Bajo
quisierallenarmela boca con ellos!"(85)- but, ultimately,
las sbanas...dos mujeresse aman con un lenguaje secreto,alejadas del mundo"(86). In
reference
to theindirectrepresentation
of lesbianeroticismin film,Roof concludes,"The
of
lesbian sexuality...
lies not in whetheror not such desireexists
difficulty representing
or whetherit is ultimatelyrepresentable
at all, but in an inabilityto recognizecontinual
indirection
or a failureoflanguageas representation"
to thisas "thestrategic
(75). She refers
of
a
lack
of
direct
which
allows
filmmakers
to
deployment
image,"
sidestepthe necessity
of representing
lesbiandesirein phallocentricterms.The same strategy
describesRoffiels
treatmentof sexual scenes in her novel. As Roof says,the decision to detach narrative
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and image"is neitheran antivisionnor the makingvisibleof something"


(84). It is seeing
This is one of the ways in whichAmoradiffersmost radicallyfromDos
made different.
The novels
, and it informsthewaywe see (and thinkabout) thelesbiancharacters.
mujeres
"sex scene" comes at the halfwaymark,afterwe have come to know Lupe and Claudia
what
it reflects
and it encompassesless thantwo pages of text.Structurally,
as characters,
la
conocencia
se
da
between
women:
love
Claudia
about
has
told
profunda,
"primero
Lupe
y lo sexualviene luego, como una consecuencialgica"(77). In Amora, the experienceof
being a lesbian is relatedto strongsexual desirefora woman but, because most of the
charactersalreadyknow what that feelslike, thereis relativelylittleneed to describeit
in physicalterms.Much of the novels weightis carriedby conversationbetweenwomen
ofthewomenand theirbodies.While it is clearthatLupe
ratherthanthroughdescriptions
thereis almostno physicaldescriptionofthem;how
and Claudia findeach otherattractive,
otherssee themis onlysuggestedin passingby the remarksof a man who harassesthem
on thestreet,"Qu onda, geritas?Porqu tan abrazaditas?Apoco son lesbianas?Qu
desperdicio,si estn rebuenas...!"(97). If Lupe and Claudia are "babes" like Valeriaand
Genovesain Dos mujeres
, it is an irrelevant
point in Amora.It does not seem to matterto
as
or
desirable
themifmen findthem
not, long as theydesireeach other.This exclusionary
in thenarrative
undoesthepotentialappeal of"lesbianchic,"makingthenovel
perspective
lessopen to outsiderslookingfora thrill.
when lesbian sex is
As Andrea Dworkin has shown in her studyof pornography,
"the
male definesand
at
portrayedthrougha visual image and a male viewerlooks it,
controlsthe idea of the lesbian in the compositionof the photograph.In viewingit, he
possessesher"(47). One of the standardimagesof pornographicfilmand photography
involvesthe girl-on-girlshot, the enactmentof a lesbian sex act, but with the clear
thatit is beingcarriedout forthevoyeuristic
pleasureof the male viewer.
understanding
a play conductedbeforean audience, in which the actorspretend
It is a performance,
to
the spectators.Film criticsgroundedin psychoanalytic
are
oblivious
theoryhave
they
the fear
evokes
female
of
the
unclothed
body
conjecturedforsome time thatthe image
of castrationin the male viewerdue to the femaleslack of a male sex organ. In order
to assuage the fear,the male has two options which oftenoverlap and feed into one
the image into an icon thatcan be
another:he can fetishizethe femalebody,flattening
and/or he can assume the positionof
worshippedas somethingunrealin its perfection,
thefemalebodyintoan objectto be
thephallicgaze and converting
voyeur,appropriating
controlledby his decisionto look/not look at any givenpartof it. While thistheoretical
ofanydiscussion
stancehas been contestedin recentyears,it continuesto be a cornerstone
and viewedbecauseitproblematizes
ofhow thefemalebodyis represented
existingsystems
and narrativemastery.JudithButler,for
in termsof sexual difference
of representation
example,in her essay"The Lesbian Phallus and the MorphologicalImaginary,"suggests
thatthe phallus can symbolizeotherbody partsbesides the penis. Accordingto Butler,
"The viabilityof the lesbian phallus depends on this displacement.Or, to put it more
the displacementof the phallus,its capacityto symbolizein relationto other
accurately,
body partsor otherbody-likethings,opens theway forthe lesbianphallus,an otherwise
formulation(84). Fetishismpermitsa kind of sexualityconstructedand
contradictory
experiencedthroughthe body,whose imaginaryrelationto the phallusis not determined
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77

by anatomy.But, even whilewe acknowledgethatthe notion of a genderedspectatoris


thanLacanian-basedreadingswould have us think,
morecomplexand self-contradictory
we cannot escape the factthatcertainnarrativestrategiesconnectedto the pleasureof a
male spectatorare stillat workin manyculturaltexts,and theyinfluencehow we read
a femalebody througha close-up
or view things.For example,the cameracan fragment
shot,dehumanizeit by removingit fromnarrativecontent,and assertcontroloverit by
turnsimagesintoa fetish,
whichMaryAnne
assumingthevoyeurrole.Such fragmentation
Doane describesas "a phallic defensewhich allows the subjectto distancehimselffrom
fromits implicationsin relationto castration)
the object of desire(or, more accurately,
throughthe overvaluationof a mediatingsubstituteobject"(32). Female sexualityis thus
containedand defused,makingit less dangerousand, at the same time,morethrillingto
themale becausehis gaze has establishedhim as masterof thegame.
In a textwrittenby a lesbianabout lesbiancharactersand, mostprobablyintended
the positiontraditionally
to attracta lesbianreadership,
occupied by the male is in some
him
wrested
from
and
over
to
a
turned
female-sexed
reader.Nevertheless,
it is
ways
away
if
not
to
the
locked
into
a
feminine
verydifficult,
impossible, keep
purely
viewingposition
spacewhentheveryact oflooking(or in thiscase,reading)has forso long been prescribed
bya masculineeconomy.As Irigaraypointsout in ThisSex WhichisNot One, theeconomy
of masculinedesireis based on the exchangeof women betweenmen. Since masculine
desire has traditionallydominated in westernculture,the "interplayof desire among
women'sbodies,women'sorgans,women'slanguageis inconceivable"(196). Despite the
factthatfemalehomosexuality
does exist,Irigaraybelievesthatit tendsto be prostituted
to men'sfantasies,
it
making impossiblefor"femalecommodities"to go to marketthrough
their own agency,free from the control of seller-buyer-consumer
relationships.The
difference
betweeneroticaand pornography,
a heatedsubjectfordebate among scholars,
is of secondaryconcernifwe acknowledgethatbothproblematizethedepictionof female
or cinematictext.
sexualityand femaledesirein a literary
Levi Calderon struggleswith the problemof findingan appropriatediscoursefor
femininedesirethroughouther novel as her characterscontinuallymove back and forth
fromsubjectto objectpositions.Valeriagazes at Genovesawithdesirebut,becauseshe is
awareof herselfas a desiringsubject,she cannotresistthetemptation
almostimmediately
in the mirrorand become theobject of herown admiringgaze.
to seekout herreflection
She wishesboth to controland attractthegaze of herlover;however,sinceshe cannotdo
thesethingssimultaneously,
she must shiftin and out of the subjector object position
almost as soon as she occupies it. Looking and being looked at become centralto the
women'srelationship,
as bothactsfueltheirdesireforeach other.Valeriabecomesaroused
when she noticesthatshe has attractedGenovesa'sgaze: she remarks,"La sentmirarme
con un deseo que no lograbacontrolar"
(5 5). The Spanishverbending(aba) is conveniently
ambiguoushere,makingit possible to read the statementtwo ways: I/ she could not
controlthe desirebroughton by being looked at/looking.This structurepermitstwo
nature
distinctbut interconnected
meaningsthatcontributeto the shiftingand arbitrary
of objectand subjectpositionsin thenovel.When thetwowomen makelove forthefirst
time,theydo so in frontofa mirrorso thattheyfunctionas boththeactorsin theplayand
as theirown audience;but,as theywatchthespectacleunfold,theyopen a space in thetext
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thatwe, as readers,can comfortable


occupyas we watchthemperform.Valeriarelatesthe
encounteras one chargedbyvoyeuristic
pleasure,bothforthosebeinglooked at and those
se
"Nuestras
miradas
desprendieroncomo dos pjaros en fuga. Nos perdimos
looking:
frente
a
la
cama.
Alrededor
de nosotrasmilesde ojos rellenosde azul y mar,
:n el espejo
gusanosy despojos. En medio dos mujeres,una hincadafrentea la otra;alrededorde ellas
un pantende ojos"(59). When Valeriaand Genovesaattemptto occupybothsubjectand
of theirown bodies,
by desiringthe mirroredreflections
objectpositionssimultaneously
reveals
itself,invitingcritique,but
it resultsin "an impossibledouble-positioningthat
also distancingand disimplicatingus fromit, makingsafeour investmentin it. It is not
us or our folly;it is someone else's"(Roof,73). While Dos mujeresfunctions,at least on
some levels,as a Utopianfantasyabout a worldwherewomen can live independentlyof
men,it also playsinto male fantasiesabout womenwho are pretendingto be men in order
to pleasurea woman by introducingfetishesthatstand in forthe penis (hands,tongue,
in the
nipples,clitoris,etc.) The possibilityof voyeurismas a reading/viewingposition
fetishes
of
contextualized
"series
textpermitsthe narrativeto functionas a masquerade,a
an otherwiseincomprehensible
(Roof,68).
thatheterosexualize
activity"
masculinist
worldin themidstofa predominandy
Amorapresentsa woman-centered
in
other
each
rub
disagreeableways but
up against
society,wherethe two groupsoften
but
nevertheless
manageto co-exist.Lesbianismis discussednot onlyas a sexualpractice,
also a social one. Lupe definesherselfin termsof her relationshipswith friends,lovers,
and throughherworkas a journalistand volunteerin a rape crisiscenter.Her
herfamily,
as a markerofstrongMexican nationalidentity,
name,Guadalupe,functionssymbolically
and theuse of Mexican colloquial languageand frequentdescriptionsof Mexican food in
the novel reinforcehow much Lupe's identityis tied to being a Mexican woman. In the
sense thatAmoradeeplyrootslesbianismin Mexican societyand insistson carvingout
a space forfemaledesirealongside traditionalheterosexualrelationships,it potentially
which relegateslesbiansto the
poses a greaterthreatto the statusquo than Dos mujeres,
forreadersto assume
more
difficult
It
is
Other.
albeit
veryattractive,
positionofalienated,
themselvesup as
not
hold
do
characters
role in Amorabecause the female
a voyeuristic
behind closed doors, between
spectaclesforpublic consumption.The erotictakesplace
thesheets,and is expressed"con un lenguajesecreto"thatlimitsit to a privatespace owned
ofhowAmorawas packaged
bylesbians.This readingof thenovelreturnsus to thematter
a greaterthreatto the
we mustask ifthebook represented
and sold in Mexico. Specifically,
controlawayfrom
normthanDos mujeres
, and ifitsabilityto wrestnarrative
heterosexual
success.Was it
commercial
the
novels
worked
the gaze of "outsiders"ultimately
against
literatura
with
its
association
light,
relegatedto themarginsof nationaldiscoursethrough
order?
or becauseit dealswithlesbianismin a way thatthreatensto underminepatriarchal
MarinaPrezde Mendiola notesthatalthoughAmorapreachestolerancefordifferent
in essencethe"onlydescriptionofheterosexualactivityis characterized
formsof sexuality,
and rape,[while]the lesbian encounteris synonymous
violence,monstrosity,
by cruelty,
and plenitudeboth moraland physical.It
withecstasy,raptureof the senses,excitement,
prevent
joyous,whileheterosexualrelationships
impliesthatlesbiansexualityis necessarily
to
seems
Amora
she
In
concludes,
fact,
from
theirparticipants
findingpleasure"(136).
been
of
virtue
it
know
repressedin
having
by
suggestthatall womenare lesbiansbut don't
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79

thecourseoftheireroticand sexualjourney"(136). One could arguethatthesamemessage


comesacrossto readersin Dos mujeres
, but because thenovelfocusesonlyon two isolated
women,it is fairlyeasyto dismisstheirstoryas somethingthathappenson the extreme
marginsof Mexican society.Amoraspolysmieformmakeslesbianismappear to be more
centralto anydiscussionof nationand selfhoodin Mexico, preciselybecauseLupe s story
is intertwined
with discussionsof political,economic, and social concernsthat impact
societyat largeand numerousfemalecharacterssharetheirexperiencesand opinions in
the text.Eroticpleasureis onlya smallpartof Lupe s identity,
and one she onlyexplores
in privatewith her lovers.When her teenageniece asks her,"Oye, ta, y cmo son las
lesbianas?"Lupe completelysidestepstheissueof sex: "las lesbianasson mujerescomunes
de todos los colores,edades, nacionalidadesy profesionesque simplemente
y silvestres,
aman a otrasmujeresen lugarde amar a los hombres"(1 19). Lupe bringslesbianismout
into the open and situatesit firmly
withina broadersocial framework
by insistingthat
lesbiansareeverywhere
aroundus. Ifwe do not recognizethemas such,itis simplybecause
difference
is not alwaysvisible. In responseto more explicitquestionsfromher niece
about "qu se meten?"when two women engagein sex, Lupe exclaimsin exasperation,
"Ave Mara Pursima!Ustedes creen que el amor sexual se reduce a que te metan un
pene y ya"(121). Lupe refusesto eroticizelesbianismto satisfythe prurientcuriosityof
someonewho is not a lesbian;instead,she closesthe conversationby saying,"Cuando t
amas a otroserhumano,lo sexualno es lo nico. Es slo un ladrilloms de esa relacin
que vas construyendocomo una casa"(121). The femalecharactersin Amora explore
eroticpossibilitieswith theirlovers,but what constituteseroticpleasureforthem does
not become a public performance
or spectacleforsomeone elses enjoyment.As feminist
criticshave noted,silenceimposedon women bypatriarchalsocietyis oftenappropriated
by women writersas a tool of subversion.Amoradoes not tell readerseverything
they
maywantto know;in thisway,it privilegesa subjectivelesbianreading(availableto those
with "insideinformation")
overan explicit,hetereosexualized
inscriptionof lesbianlove
(a readingimposedby "outsiders")and dismantlesanypossibilityof thereaderoccupying
a voyeuristic
rolein thenovelby cloakingfeminineeroticismin a "secretlanguage."This
narrativestrategyis more in line with what Roof calls the deploymentof decoys,"the
constantdenial of an overtand directimagingof lesbiansexuality"thatis accomplished
"bysuccessfully
(81).
detachingimagefromnarrative
expectation"
the
element
which
makes
Dos
a
novel
thattransgresses
social and
Ironically,
mujeres
sexualboundariesin orderto createa space forlesbianeroticismis thesameelementwhich
affordsmale readersa comfortablepositionfromwhich to read the textas one aimed at
theirown pleasure.The detailedand explicitlove scenesin the novelare at once a daring
ventureintounexploredterritory
in Mexicanfictionand,at thesametime,a familiarcliche
to anyonewho has reador seenpornography.
WheneverValeriaand Genovesaremovetheir
clothesand make love, theycease to be individualwomen withnames and personalities
and theybecome, instead,fragmented
body partsthat fetishizethe femaleform.They
are not women but senos,pezonesinflamados,
caderas
, muslos,vientres
lisos,vulvas,nalgas,
and clitorises
framedin close up, a techniquethatbreaksthe narrative
whichcontainsthe
women'slives and freezesthe words into imageswhich the readercan manipulateand
controlthrougha voyeuristic
gaze. The possibilitythata female-sexed,
desiringsubject
80

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can develop and respondto a purelyfeminineformof desirecreatedindependentlyof


male modelsis one of thenovels mostrevolutionary
and potentiallythreatening
messages.
feminine
erotic
to
contain
the
need
undermined
it
is
almost
Nevertheless,
by
immediately
men
the
love
The
absence
of
order.
a
tied
to
male-dictated
during
pleasurein a language
scenes does not alienatethe male readerfromthe text,but rather,by providinghim a
place fromwhichto viewtheactionunbeknownsttheactorsin thescene,encourageshim
to believethathe is "seeingwomen as theyreallyare, in private,witheach other-a pure
femalesexuality,a basic carnalityusuallyhidden by the dull conventionsof civilization,
the tamerof the female"(Dworkin, 132). For heterosexualwomen, the same beliefmay
come into play,allowingthemto indulgein fantasiesof theirown about lesbiansex, or
merelyto satisfycuriosityabout what sex betweentwo women is like. It is a safeway to
whileat thesame time,
playwithsomethingthatis potentiallydangerousand threatening,
at
our
aimed
it
to
a
its
enjoyment.
spectacle
defusing powerby reducing
As Norma Mogrovejo tells us, "Analyzingthe historyof the Mexican lesbian
movementis no simpletask,"in partbecause of "thelack of opportunityto publishand
thevirtualabsenceofarchives"
(308). She claims,"It has been preservedin an oraltradition
or denied.The fewthatmanagedto organizethemselves
thatis lost when it is forgotten
and developa politicalconsciousnesswithrespectto theiridentitylead a semiclandestine
existenceforfrearof reprisalsfromfamilyand colleagues"(308). Throughoutthe 1980s,
in relationto homosexualmenand on theconstruction
"lesbiansfocusedon theirdifference
collective
and
of an individual
identitywhere the phallus is absent"(Mogrovejo 319).
who did not share
Lesbiansalso foundthemsevesdistancedfromheterosexualfeminists,
caused the lesbian
theiragenda; accordingto Mogrovejo,such divisionsand in-fighting
neurotic
and
a
movementin Mexico to be "characterized
practice,which
by contradictory
internalized
an
double
lives,
was probablythe resultof leading
lesbophobia,and/ora lack
to situate
ofsocialand politicalsecurityto come out ofthecloset"(332). When attempting
contextin which theywereproduced,we must
worksof fictioninto the socio-historical
what lifewas like forreal lesbiansin Mexico
about
make
not
to
be careful
assumptions
based on the experiencesof fictionalcharacters.Roof remindsus that "Configurations,
have verylittleto do withany factsabout thewide rangeof lesbian
like representations,
oftheirlivedexperienceor as accurateaccountsof
as
authentic
either
women,
descriptions
thedivisionswithinthelesbianmovement
developmentor cause"(6). Still,understanding
in Mexico and the alienationsome feltfromit mayhelp explainthe different
approaches
of lesbiandesirein theirnovels.The
Roffieland Levi Caldern taketo the representation
notionsabout whatit meansto be a lesbianin
narrative
differing
theyuse reflect
strategies
Mexico,whatthe relationshipof an individualto thecommunitymightbe, how lesbians
bodies.
negotiatepublicand privatespaces,and howwomenrelateto theirown (and other)
Few people would arguewith the maximthatsex sells books and, while financial
it does influencethewaypublishinghousesmake
gain maynot be whatmotivateswriters,
In Mexico, wheretherewas
decisionsabout which books theywill buy and distribute.8
littleor no lesbian literatureon the bookshelvesin the 1980s, the marketwas ripe for
Women'swriting,in general,was experiencinga kind
novelslikeAmoraand Dos mujeres.
an eroticcharge,and the women'smovement
carried
that
novels
of "boom," especially
For lesbianwriterslike Roffieland Levi
vibrant.
in Mexicos urbansectorwas strongand
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81

Caldern, it became possible at last to insertthemselvesinto Mexicos literarycurrent


and have a relatively
broad distribution
theirwork.Schaefer-Rodriguez
has convincingly
that
the
of
works
like
Dos
in
Mexico
apparentacceptance
argued
mayjust be part
mujeres
of the mythof modernizationand social progressfomentedby the crumblingPRI "that
masksthe miserybehindthe splendors"(219), and thatit should not be read literallyas
"a signalof somethingto be 'takenseriouslyas faras thelivedexperiencesof gaywomen
in Mexico are concerned"(23 5). We can extendthisobservationto explainhow lesbian
novelslikeDos mujeres
can be appropriatedbystraightreadersto experiencea sensationof
sexual transgression
withoutdestabilizingheterosexualmodels of behavior.These works
illustrate
and conformto thenotionof lesbianchic as a conceptbornout of thedesireto
appropriatethe space of the sexual Other withoutgivingup one s toehold in the male/
femalebinarythatstraightmen and women use to definethemselvesand each other.It
allowssexbetweenwomento masqueradeas heterosexual
sex,wherewomenpretendto be
men but,nevertheless,
as
of
desire
that
can
be co-optedby themale gaze.
perform objects
On theotherhand,workslikeAmorathatsteerclearof graphicdescriptionsof lesbiansex
resistthe idea thatwomen'sbodies as objectsof desireare fairgame forall and make it
moredifficult
fornon-lesbianreadersto feelthattheyarebeinggivenan insiders privilege.
does
the
absence
of eroticlanguagein a lesbiantextsuggestthatsex is not important
But,
to lesbianwomen?How can lesbianwritersexpresssexualdesirein theirwritingwithout
openingit up to thosewho would usurpthefeminineeroticand make it theirown?Must
lesbian writersfindtheirown languagewith which to speak and createa new subject
thatevadespatriarchalnotionsof thefeminine?Or, is lesbian
positionfortheircharacters
desirebetterexpressedthroughobliqueness?There are no clearand easyanswersto these
questions,but it is importantto acknowledgethe questionsas ones we mustcontinueto
ask, fortheyalertus to the difficulties
the norms
facinga writerwho seeksto transgress
and endsup instead,oftenagainstherwill,cateringto thefantasiesofmainstreamreaders.
It remainsto be seenwhatlong-termeffects
Amoraand Dos mujeresmayhave on women's
in
Mexico
or
on
the
lives
of
real
women
there,but as pioneerworksin thefieldof
writing
lesbianfiction,bothworksclearlymeritmorecriticalattention.
Notes
'Forother
discussions
ofDosmujeres
ClaudiaSchaefer-Rodriguez,
, seeSaraE. Cooper,
andJos
Villalobos.
Villalobos
Dosmujeres
andAmora
interms
ofhowthey
treat
thetheme
oflesbians
inMexico.
compares
2David
William
Foster
Amora
asthefirst
lesbian
novelinMexico.
Fordiscussions
oAmora,
see
recognizes
Marina
PrezdeMendiola,
ElenaMartnez,
CarolClarkD'Lugo,Bladimir
Villalobos.
The
Ruiz,andJos
Planeta
edition
wasoutofprint
fornearly
a decade
whenSentido
Contrario
outa second
original
brought
edition
in1999.1haveworked
from
thesecond
edition
because
itisstillinprint
andmoreaccessible
to
readers.
3Itisbeyond
thescopeofthisstudy
toexamine
indepth
thetheoretical
ofthecritics
whohave
positions
written
onthistopic,
butforanexcellent
of
the
therepresentation
offeminine
summary debate
surrounding
seeChapter
OneinJudith
RoofsA LureofKnowledge.
desire,
Lesbian
andTheory.
Sexuality
4Death
isonewayofmaking
thelesbian
invisible
orabsent
ina literary
butexileisanother.
Itisworth
text,
thatevenwhenValeria
andGenovesa
arepermitted
tolivehappily
everafter,
cannot
remain
in
noting
they
Mexico.
Thenovel
endswiththequestion
ofwhether
ornotconditions
inMexico
willeverchange
tomake
a placeforlesbians,
butthetextsuggests
noanswers.
Thisopen-endedness
allows
readers
toseethewomen's
exileastheprice
onepaystoliveina lesbian
orasa form
ofpunishment
forsexual
Utopia,
transgression,
onhowthereader
feels
aboutthecharacters.
depending
82

CONFLUENCIA,SPRING201 1

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5ClaudiaSchaefer-Rodrguez
in
identifies
Dosmujeres
as"abestseller
inMexicosinceitsappearance,
"
American
ofherfamily's
tothwart
andstoring
salesbypurchasing
copiesofthebook(Latin
spite
attempts
as"theEnglish
TheTwoMujeres
describes
Writers
onGayandLesbian
Themes
, 1991).AuntLutescatalogue
list
Ten
BestSellers
s
on
Mexico
remained
Mexican
novel
that
oftheextraordinarily
translation
Top
popular
itsinitial
<http://www.auntlute.com/two_mujeres.htm>.
publication."
longafter
5Sergio
as'literatura
critics
coinedthisbest-seller
"Mexican
dela Moraexplains,
light,'
phenomenon
areconsidered
therefore
and
novels
romantic
works
of
these
because
are,
speaking,
generally
many
ostensibly
El
novels
norhighliterature"
works
serious
neither
(147).Best-selling
bymen(suchasGarcaMrquez's
more
elaborate
For
a
into
this
are
not
orFuentes'
declera
amor
enlostiempos
category.
put
Viejo)
Gringo
inMexicointhe1980s,seeDannyJ.Anderson.
trends
andpublishing
ofliteratura
discussion
light
inthe
ofwomen's
forms
inpromoting
invested
housestrongly
wasa publishing
7Planeta
writing
popular
translations
as
such
Diana
classics,
Editorial
whereas
language
Spanish
1980s,
literary
publishes
generally
ofTirsodeMolina
andtheplays
likeDonQuijote
classics
andBronte;
ofTolstoy,
Stendhal,
peninsular
The
andFuentes.
likeGarca
novelists
ofmajor
andLopedeVega;andtheworks
Mrquez
contemporary
have
which
withliteratura
associated
,
wasparticularly
Fbulaseries
Coleccin
initially
may
stigmatized
light
inprint
Amora
Because
forwomen.
meant
entertainment
novelas"lowbrow"
onlya year
Roffiel's
appeared
onLeviCaldern's
work
hadanyimpact
thatRoffiel's
ofDosmujeres
thepublication
before
, itisunlikely
atthetimeDos
novelinMexico,
lesbian
thefirst
forproducing
isnowcredited
Roffiel
Although
writing.
in
Lesbianism
Mexican
traced
has
Irwin
McKee
Robert
known.
well
was
not
Amora
appeared,
mujeres
"Until
he
but
20th
and
notes,
late
the
from
centuries,
texts
19th
male-authored
literature
early
through
willremain
its'Sapphists'
twentieth
from
Mexico,
areunearthed
ofevidence
someother
century
early
types
elusive
as
but
(109).
national
in
the
visible
Although
shadowy,
figures"
blurry,
only
landscape,
apparition,
thatbesttothe1980s,itislikely
fiction
lesbian-centered
werenotproducing
women
Mexican
prior
los
veranos
todos
mar
de
mismo
, 1978)
Esther
writers
stories
(El
short
and
novels
Tusquets
bySpanish
selling
inMexicoandmayhave
la marcoma penyora
, 1975)werecirculating
amor,
andCarmeRieras{Tedeix,
abouttheir
moreopenly
towrite
there
lesbians
experiences.
prompted
artforherbooksas
ascover
ofherself
hasuseda nudephotograph
LucaEtxebarria,
8TheSpanish
novelist,
sales.SeeChristine
sextoincrease
ofusing
common
aboutthemarketplace's
statement
a parodie
strategy
sales
toMexico's
contrast
inSpainasaninteresting
oftheliterary
fora discussion
Henseler
marketplace
in
Film
and
Narrative
Women's
in
Akiko
and
Bermdez
Silvia
Also
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