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The Wounded Body of Proletarian Homosexuality in Pedro Lemebel's Loco afan Author(s): Diana Palaversich and Paul Allatson

Source: Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 29, No. 2, Gender, Sexuality, and Same-Sex Desire in Latin America (Mar., 2002), pp. 99-118 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: Accessed: 16/11/2008 01:01
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The WoundedBody of Proletarian Homosexualityin PedroLemebel'sLoco afdn

by Diana Palaversich Translatedby Paul Allatson In his two collections of chronicles,La esquina es mi corazon (1995) and Loco afdn: Cronicasde Sidario (1996), PedroLemebel describesa Santiago not depictedin news bulletinsandin the discoursesof the Chileaneconomic "miracle,"a Santiago populatedby beings marginalizedas much by their socioeconomic position as by their sexual orientation.Fromhis perspective as the homosexual "other," Lemebel redrawsthe map of Santiago from its margins,revealingandredefiningsites andsubjectsthathavebeen neglected by both high cultureand the communicationsmedia:the buses, the football stadiums,the B-movie theaters,the parks,the lower-class suburbs,the locas (queens), the most vilified and disparagedgroup of Latin Americanhomosexuals, and those living with HIV and AIDS.' In La esquina es mi corazon, Lemebel's gaze sensualizes the city it observes and colors it with a homoerotictextuality:
Despite the tickling heat that sends drops of sweat sliding from theirburning crotches, despite the stickiness of bared torsos, excitedly wet, the boys embrace,squeezing tremblinglytogetherafter the forward'scannonballshot rips throughthe hymen of the anus-goal. (1995: 27) La cueca is a dance, a reenactment the Spanishconquest,performedby the of queenly-mannered peasant in his flamenco outfit, a two-piece, button-laden suit which goes so well with the tassled, wide-heeled boots. A laboreron a latifundio,the peasantdolls himself up coquettishly,his jacket cinched at the waist the betterto display his little butt. (1995: 49)

Diana Palaversichteaches Latin Americanliteraturein the Departmentof Spanish and Latin American Studies at the University of New South Wales. She is the authorof Silencio, voz y escritura en Eduardo Galeano (1995) and articles on postmodernism,postcolonialism, and queertheory.PaulAllatsoncompletedhis Ph.D. at the Universityof New SouthWalesin 2000 in of the Department SpanishandLatinAmericanStudiesandthe School of English with a dissertationexaminingthe fate of the Americanimaginaryin Latinocounternarratives nation.The of authorthanksPaulAllatsonfor his always illuminatingcommentsandScott Butler,Steve Gregory, and MarkBergerfor readingearlierversions of this article.
LATINAMERICANPERSPECTIVES, Issue 123, Vol. 29 No. 2, March2002 99-118 ? 2002 Latin AmericanPerspectives




Lemebelalso exposes the existence of a culturalandpoliticaltransvestism thatmanifestsitself in an arrayof settings:a beauty salon in which the hair Latinomudinto Nordic gold... as if, with this con"dark, stylist transforms juringart,the lighteningrinsedissolved economic scarcityandthe sadnesses of race andclass" (1995: 55), a flea marketwherethe nouveauriche come to blow over the "paltry left-oversof the high bourgeoisie... and inventaristocraticpasts for themselves"(1995: 76), and a Christmasnight for poor children:"slumbratswho decoratea cart to resemble a sleigh. Dusty sparrows who wash theirfaces beforereceivinga plasticball at the neighborhood center. Prematurelyaged children swarming throughthe city, sucking in the shopwindowdisplays"(1995: 80). In Lemebel's Santiago,the streetcorner celebratedin his book's title functionsas a strategicsite from which he can observethe failuresof neoliberaltriumphalism thusbringinto view such and terrains as poverty, homosexuality, women, ethnicity" (Risco, "besieged that 1995: 16). ForLemebel,povertyis not the exotic andromanticterritory it is for the Chileanliteraryelite (Casas, 1995:35); rather, constitutesthe very it matterof lived experience (Mansilla, 1996: 22): in not but I wasborn Zanjon la Aguada, a suburb a slumin thesouthern de part of Santiago. firsthousewasa sectionof wallthatmy grandmother, Olga My a She Lemebel, bought. rigged somesheetmetal, fewpoles,a pieceof plasup her tic, andthereshe sheltered family. Loco afdn: Cronicas de Sidario also redeems and rescues subjects and neglects, but this collection is focused spaces thatthe neoliberalmainstream the mainlyon transvestites, locas, andeach of the vignettesdevotedto particularindividualsis writtenin the context of a differencethat shattersthe currency and existential coherence of a uniform,homosexual identity.In fact, Loco afdnis writtenas an homageto a dozen or so locas, most of whom have died of AIDS-relatedcauses. Lemebel not only evokes theirlives butin their to deathsaccordsthem the fame and grandeur which they aspired.Speaking of his concern for transvestites,Lemebel has said (Iiiguez, 1996: 42): AIDSis heart to thetransvestite onesocialreason. next for I locatemywriterly the groups,in the sameway that principally decimating most unprotected AIDShasinflicted its eliminated tuberculosis syphilis and primitive peoples. no in of where wounds theworld transvestite brothels, absolutely pregreatest measures beentaken. have ventive choice of topics has been receivedwith reticence, Lemebel'scontroversial if not coldness, by the Chilean culturalestablishment.This attitudeis best exemplifiedby the vitriolicattackof EnriqueLafourcade(1996: 25) not only

101 / PROLETARIAN HOMOSEXUALITY Palaversich artistand memon Lemebel the writerbut also on Lemebel the performance ber of the performancegroup known as Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis (The Mares of the Apocalypse): to committed aesthetic Theywerea group provocations....Theyinterrupted and theirtrousers order display in to solemneventsby screaming dropping academics and theirrather undernourished buttocks, generating panicamong chastewomen-until someone to explained themthatthis sortof thingwas in a States thatimitating Yankees and the constituted verycommon theUnited formof colonialism....Now,atleastoneof these"horsey mares" taken has up thepen.... Lemebel us of plunges intothequagmire AIDS,a diseasethatis settingof thirstandlamentation. dispensed nightlyin a grandiose Santiago this his bear to Fortunately, is a minority problem...[and chronicles] witness a in and proseof hatchings putrefactions unparalleled ourliterature. Lafourcade'sreaction, besides betrayingan obvious homophobia,confirms that the literary establishmentcontinues to cultivate the difference between high and low art forms, between "true"literarythemes and styles and those other concerns that allegedly plunge us into the quagmireof the of political. Lemebel himself anticipatesa certainmarginalization his books when, referringto Loco afdn, he claims: "Thebook is going to have its own but readership, I am not going to enterthe GreatAcademy of ChileanLiterature. In high heels they wouldn't let me in!" (Gajardo,1995: 15). With this statement,Lemebel alludesto the fact thatdespitethe significantcirculation of his books, publishedby the reputableCuartoPropio and Lom Ediciones, and despite the recent translationof some of his chronicles into English, he continuesto occupy a problematicplace in the world of Chileanletters. Lemebel's left political leanings, his sexual orientation,andhis solidarity with "the last locas of the world's south"(Ifiiguez, 1996: 22) make him a writerwho is barelyacceptablein a culturalclimatethathas preferred euloto the young writersof the publishinghouse Planetaknownas "Loschicos gize del Planeta," whose postmodern texts sit comfortablywith neoliberalism.For AlbertoFuguet,the most celebratedwriterin this group,constructs example, his own mapof Santiagowhose boundariescoincide with those of the upperclass suburbs.He creates a world isolated from the radicallydifferentrealities experiencedby the majorityof Santiago's, and indeed Chile's, inhabitants. Lemebel's texts dispute and dispense with these privileged which not only eraseLatinAmericandifferencesbutrepresent cartographies, as partof a prosperous,postmoder global village. Santiago This predilectionfor marginalsubjects,the use of a pluralityof interpretive codes, andthe fragmentednatureof the narratives undoubtedlylead will some critics to identify these texts as typical examples of postmoderngay



writing. However, it is precisely the politicization of Lemebel's writingundertaken only as a homosexual but also as a leftist-that preventsit not from being neutralized within the ideologically laissez-faire frame of postmoderism. Indeed,Lemebelis a writerwhose affinitiesarebetterlinked to the testimonialand contestatoryliteratureof the 1970s and 1980s, given his preoccupation with uncoveringthe hiddenside of official reality and his As need to denouncethe amnesiaof the Chileanpostdictatorship.2 he says, "a withoutmemory is like a blank slate on which one can write whatcountry everone wants,reinventing historyin agreementwith andat the discretionof the powers currentlyin vogue" (Novoa, 1996: 29). This political stance has two implications for attempts to position his causes of the left eviwork. On one hand,the commitmentto the traditional dent throughoutLemebel's work impedes that work's absorption into a postmodernistframework.On the other hand, Lemebel's opposition to the globalizing and normativegay model importedfrom the United States also of impedesany simplisticsubsumption his workunderan essentiallyconserhis mainstreamgay culture. Furthermore, insistence on examining vative, in relationto concepts such as social class, exploitation,and homosexuality colonization-concepts proclaimed to be obsolete in the celebrated discoursesof postmodernism neoliberalism-makes it also unlikelythathis and texts will be co-opted by the increasinglypopularfield of gay and lesbian studies.3 In this analysis, I propose to examine some of the key features of Lemebel's position that form the basis for a Latin American homosexual manifesto in clear opposition to the influential North American gay discourse. That is, my focus is on how Lemebel articulateswhat is, in effect, a LatinAmeridouble manifesto.The firstis sexual and advocatesa particular can homosexual identity characterizedby resistance to the growing hegeof monyof an importedmasternarrative gayness. This gay model is currently adoptedby middle-classgays in LatinAmericaas the only acceptableform of homosexualidentity.The secondmanifestois politicalandconsists of both a social critiqueand a proclamationof Lemebel's own ideological position. He insists on relatinghomosexualityboth to the problemsof social class and to a culturalimperialismmanifestedas the imposition of a hegemonic gay identityover local sexual identities.In oppositionto NorthAmericancritics who tend to treathomosexualityin isolation from othersocial determinants, Lemebel rejectsdisciplinarian ghettos. At the same time, he emphasizesthe the necessity of seeing the homosexual,particularly poorhomosexual,in the context of otherexperiencesof marginality, exploitation,and abandonment that afflict all social groupspressed to the marginsof the capitalistsystem.



LEMEBEL'S LOCALIZED ASSAULT ON "GAY" GLOBALISM The stance taken by Lemebel with regard to homosexuality could be culture.Yet his defined as anticolonialist,given its defense of local "queer" because he also defends the Latino stance could be regardedas retrograde, as and model of homosexuality,which is widely regarded hierarchical anachronistic. This Latino model is characterized what is perceived to be an by unequalrelationshipbetween the macho (active, virile, unstigmatized)and the marica or loca (passive, effeminate, stigmatized).4 Nonetheless, Lemebel's endorsementof this working-class model of homosexuality,in tandemwith his cultivationof the feminine in the image of the locas, signals an act of resistance against the increasingimposition of a North American gay ideal. This ideal privileges the masculine side of identityand proclaims the sexual and social equality of two partners. Lemebel is criticalof the fact that in the climate of gay political correctness, the North Americanhomosexualhas purgedhis image of all traces of the feminine,convertinghimself into a faithfulcopy of the machoheterosexual, therebyerasinghis transgressivedifferenceand potential.For Lemebel, the ultramachogay man, exemplified by the images peddled by the Village People, is a mere "truck-loadof muscles, chains, moustaches, and heavy boots thatcarriesto the extremethe masculinizationof the 'gay' man manu" facturedin 'Yankeeland' (1996: 100).5He completelyrejectsNorthAmerican and WesternEuropeantheorists'reading of the masculinizationof the of homosexualas a subversivereconstruction a new, ironic gay masculinity. (JeffreyWeeks, for example, speaksof the macho style as an example of the semiotic war waged against the prevailingmasculine order,while Richard of Dyer suggests thatthe appropriation eroticizedmasculinesigns in homosexual contexts underminesthe bases for defining the male in heterosexual the societies [in Weeks, 1985: 191].) Instead,Lemebel understands display of ultramasculine signifiersin termsof an inclinationtowardmachismothat, rather thandestabilizingthe heterosexualideal, pays homageto it andbetrays to an amorousidentificationwith the "enemy." Contrary this macho ideal, in his own personal appearanceas much as in his portrayalof the locas, Lemebel celebratesthe feminine as an expression of the most sensitive and caring aspects of being. Lemebel's rejectionof the impositionof a unitarygay identityas another example of the culturalimperialismemanatingfrom the United States has provokedthe angerof middle-class Chileangays, who have accused him of perpetuatingthe stereotypeof the effeminate homosexual, a figure disparaged by heterosexualsociety. To the accusationthat"on concerninghimself



with nothing more than caricatures, he perpetuates the grotesque, Manichean image of the homo," Lemebel responds (Mansilla, 1996: 23): The caricatureof the homo is also the "clone"in New York:the masculine ideal, with shorthair and a little earring,in white T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. The shops sell this masculine homo. I did not see locas in New York. It unnerved to come acrossthis Olympianman,with his leathers,his muscles. me I reject this ideological construction,and I ask myself to what extent homos have been co-opted by the system. I believe that to liberateoneself from the macho ideal that fills one's head is to affirm[a truer]identity. He laments the gradual disappearance of the diversity of homosexual identities in the face of the increasing imposition of the gay model, which he perceives as another aspect of the globalization that is economically, politically, and culturally homogenizing the world (Mansilla, 1996: 23): Gay discos have existed in Chile since the '70s, but only in the '80s were they institutionalizedas stage sets for the gay cause that reproducesthe Travolta unite the [gay] model for men only. In this way, the temples of "homo-dance" ghettomoresuccessfullythandoes politicalmilitancy-by imposinglifestyles anda philosophyof virile camouflage,so thatby means of a fashionthe diversity of local homosexualitiesis homogenized. For Lemebel, the increasing commercialization of gayness and its conversion into a style that can be emulated and bought leads to the disappearance of the homosexual within the heterosexual mainstream, thereby rendering ineffectual any subversive gay potential. This is particularly evident in rock music, where the performers flirt with gay imagery but fail to inscribe any subversive content within the music's favored macho codes (Mansilla, 1996: 99): [Rock music made use of] an intersexualimagerythat on being exploited by the marketwas transformedinto a recipe for success, a seductive marketing ploy for millions of fanatics ... The sheer excess of its montagesprovideda means of erasing those first outlines of homosexuality in rock music. The retouched plagiarism of a minority difference, the articulationof a macho transvestismthroughmakeup ... in the end becomes a mere mask, a mere . "makeup". . . a purely theatrical"queerification" . . like Mick Jagger's sodomitic pose, sucking off the microphoneas if it were a prick. ... A body homosexualizedby supply and demand. On exposing the complicity of gay culture with the capitalist system and its rampant consumerism, Lemebel sees the history of gay culture to be a problematic trajectory that, from radical beginnings, became a marketing strategy that has failed to challenge unjust social structures. Indeed, he asserts that gay


creculturehas become placidly complicitwith inequitablesocial structures, what Nestor Perlonguer would call a "parallel normality" (see ating Perlonguer,1997: 33) as gay men and lesbians increasinglypresentthemselves as "ordinarypeople" (workersand consumers) who want the same rights as everybodyelse, thus leading to such demandsas acceptancein the militaryand gay marriage. Thereis no doubtthatmanyNorthAmericangay activistswould disagree with Lemebel's rathermonolithicpictureof U.S. gays, which disregards the existence of more radical,nonmainstream such as QueerNation and groups ACT UP.ForLemebel,the self-processedradicalismof these groupsis dubious, as he sees them as politically ineffective and ultimately implicatedin both consumerism and U.S. patriotic jingoism.6 The negative positions regardingthe concept of gayness adoptedby Lemebel and Perlonguercoincide with those takenby certaindissident gay voices in North America and WesternEurope, who have also attackedthe new alliance between market forces and homosexuals (Weir, 1996: 26-27):7
Homosexualityis being repackagedand resold to Americansas a traditional value. And homosexualsare emergingas the yuppies of the 1990s. They are a new class of urbanprofessionalswith money to spend and aggressively marketed productsto choose from.

Nevertheless,the greatmajorityof gay theoristshaverejectedthis critiqueof in gay participation the marketeconomy-one that underlinesclass differences andconfirmsthe privilegedeconomic position of manygay men in the United States as part of the new right's superfluousdisseminationof "the myth of economic advantage[that]countersany claim thatlesbians and gay men are discriminatedagainst"(Robson, 1997: 172). However,it is necessaryto point out thatthe criticismthatrecognizes the existence of a chasm between class and homosexualityoriginatesless from the new rightthanit does fromhomosexualswho arealso membersof the less privilegedethnicgroupsin the United States.It is these homosexuals,in fact, who havequestionedthe tendencyon the partof white, middle-classgay men to proposetheirexperiencesandidentitiesas universals.This is exactly what the AfricanAmericanwriterJosephBeam drawsattentionto when he states, "Weain't family. Veryclearly,gay male means:white, middle-class,youthful, Nautilized, and probablybutch, there is no room for Black gay men within the confines of this gay pentagon"(Seidman, 1993: 119). A similar opinion has been expressedby Essex Hemphill,for whom "gay signifies the experienceof a white, middle-class,urbancultureorganizedaroundsex, consumerism, and civil rights" (Seidman, 1993: 120). Such statementsfrom



African American gay men align with the position adopted by Lemebel, accordingto which the gay identity becomes an unattainableluxury for a poor homosexualwho cannoteven hope to satisfy his most basic needs in a distinctly class-differentiated society. Only from a position of social privilege is it possible to makeMichaelDenneny'sclaim that"beinggay is a more elemental aspect of who I am than my profession, my class, or my race" (Altman, 1982: 73-74).

HOMOSEXUALITY AND CLASSED IDENTITY: A CRITICAL AXIS The axis of Lemebel's criticismof the NorthAmericangay model is constructed,therefore,aroundthe problemof social class, a considerationoften glossed over in the theoreticaldiscourses about gay identity because of a NorthAmericanresistanceto dealing with the categoryof "class"as a social determinant.8 Lemebel underlinesthe inherentclassism and Anglocentrism of the "gay"concept, which is widely thought to transcendany considerationsof class or race,by pointingout the extentto which social class in Latin America determinesthe type of homosexual identity that can, in fact, be adopted.Accordingto Lemebel, the gay ideal can only be faithfullyimitated by individualsfromthe wealthierclasses, in whathe calls the "newconquest of the blond image thatwas takingroot in the pretentionsand treacheriesof the most well-traveledqueens, the beautiful,chic ones who aped the little it New Yorkeanmodel and transported to this end of the world"(1996: 22). As a consequence, the loca identity is almost exclusively reservedfor the homosexualpoor. It must also be recognizedthatthe NorthAmericangay ideal has become the only acceptable model of homosexual identity in the gay bars of the upper-classsuburbsof Santiagoandof LatinAmericain general.Indeed,in the 1990s there has been a notable and increasing gulf in status between homosexualbarsaccordingto the districtof the city in which they arelocated and their clientele. Young middle-class men who project a masculine gay image do not visit the same bars as eithertransvestitesor the young men of the lowest socioeconomic levels who do not definethemselvesas homosexuals. The gay bars in which masculinity is valorized do not admit locas because,in the wordsof CarlosMuioz, "beingseen as effeminatebeganto be equatedwith being ugly or poor"(1996: 115). With regardto the difference between the types of homosexuality that of exist in Chile, Lemebelalso describesa "Mafia" upper-class,closet homosexuals whose sexualityis knownbut spokenof by no one: "Nowadaysthere


is a largehomo Mafiain the highestechelons:high-court judges pressured by the CNI [CentralNacional de Informacion]not to become involvedin political crimes;bankers,economists,bourgeoisshits, married women, cruising to in theirluxurycarsfor poor adolescents"(Salas, 1989: 27). As an exampleof a closet homosexual, the servantand accomplice of whateverregime is in power, Lemebel names the celebrated Chilean fashion stylist Gonzalo Caceres, who today hosts his own television program.In one vignette from Loco afdn, he portrays Gonzalo as a symbol of political and sexual chameleonismand transvestism(1996: 123-124): As if nobody couldremember elephantine his silhouette to makeup applying
the face of dictatorship, coveringthatcrack,thatcrease, thatdirtin the corer of the tyrant'smouth, when, on television, he spoke ironically of the exact numbersof the disappeared.... No one knew how Gonzalo, takingadvantage of local amnesia,... switchedhis allegiancesby clutchingat the buttof democ-

in. how himself as racyasit waswelcomed Notto mention he insisted, making that homosexual rather but for snow, he wasn't asexual, thatis pureas Andean to whyhe hadno problems adapting political changes.

ForLemebel, it is preciselythis distinctionbetween social class andideological affiliation that militates against the formationof a gay group with sharedinterestsandgoals, particularly given thatthe firstloyalty of the Latin Americanhomosexualis to his social class. The priorityof class identityover sexual identity and the impossibility of creatingalliances based exclusively on the sexual is well illustratedin the first chronicle of Loco afdn, titled Here "Night of the Mink Coats (or The Last Partyof the UnidadPopular)." the authorrecountsan incident involving a group of shabbyqueens (rotas)
and a group of regias, "the chic queens, the famous, cultural snobs ... the

'hai'-society queens who hatedAllende and his bean-eatingcrowds"(1996: 13). The two groupsmeet at a partyand,despitetheirsexual affinity,aresoon in conflict because of the irreconcilableideological differences between them.When one of the rotasplaces the Chileanflag on an ominous sculpture constructedfrom the bones of a recentlyconsumedturkey-a sculpturethat and anticipatesthe deathsthatwill occurunderthe militarydictatorship in the AIDS era-the regiasbecome hysterical,defending"themilitarywho did so much for the fatherland" (1996: 14). The ensuing fight, in which the rotas steal or "disappear" chic queens' mink coats, is transformed the into a symbolic conflict:the turkeybones andthe furcoats functionas potentmetaphors for the conflict thatwas to eruptbetweenthe two social classes in the yearsof the militarydictatorship. Reacting against the disparitiesof class, Lemebel refuses to defend the universalhomosexualcause promotedby the NorthAmericangay movement



andnow adoptedin LatinAmerica.He is not overtlycriticalof the homosexual liberationmovements in Chile and Latin America, but because of his identification with transvestites-whose interests are excluded from the demandsof the gay movement-his workcontainsan implicitcritiqueof the ratherelitist character such organizations. of The militantmembersof these like to regard themselves as a sophisticatedvanguardthat scorns groups The homosexualpopularculture.9 demandsof LatinAmericangay liberation movementsdo not differ greatlyfrom those of gay movementsin the United States. They both lobby for the recognitionof humanrights, the promulgation of laws specifically designed to counterdiscriminationon the basis of same-sex desire, the rightto marry,the rightto adoptchildren,and so on. In short,they principallyappealto mattersof concernfor the middle-classgay into men andlesbianswhose mainaim is to be integrated mainstream society, not to question other social injustices or broadersocioeconomic structures. These factors make it difficult for a figure like Lemebel, quadruply for marginalized being, as he himself says with a certainirony,"homosexual, poor, Indian,and badly dressed"(Ifiiguez, 1996: 42), to defend a universal homosexualcause. And even when Lemebel recognizes the difficultiesthat him had the left has traditionally in acceptinghomosexuals,it does notprevent causes or from claiming fromcontinuingto identifywith the left's traditional thathis primaryloyalty is to his own social class (Ifiiguez,1996: 42): and and will be Myheart always ontheleft,besidethehumble thepoor, thereof in the foreI amnotinterested defending homosexuals theright. Theyhave as and in their public own camouflaged hairdressers theyappear spaces which with But fashion and,withtheir rights, gurus. theyarenotconcerned human in to to status made comfortable proximity power, prefer dance discos, they by locas. and to useFrench perfumes, to putdownthepoorest The text that explicitly explores the tenuous relation between Lemebel andthe Chileanleft is a poem called "Manifesto(I Speakin the Name of My The Difference)."'? poem functionsas a political manifestothat, while confirmingLemebel's ideological affinity with the socialist cause, also attacks the left's traditional rejectionand distrustof homosexuals.The addresseeof the manifesto is the Chilean left, which Lemebel regards as traditionally machista, sexist, and homophobic. The Chilean left rejects homosexuals because it conceives of homosexualityas a sign of bourgeois decadence or of the effeminized degradation the male and is thereforeincompatiblewith the revolutionand its (ultra)masculine signifiers. advocatedby Lemebelmodifies the narrowdefinitionof the marginalized the left in order to acknowledge the poor homosexual as a doubly



to marginalizedbeing: "Butdon't speakto me aboutthe proletariat/Because be queer and poor is worse" (1996: 83). He articulatesthe silenced experiand ences of the homosexual "other" questionsthe validity of the collective formulapromisedby the Marxistrevolution.This is liberty-and-happiness why he asks:"Whatwill you do with us, comrades/Will shackleus by our you plaitsen routeto a CubanAIDS camp?/... won't therebe a fag standingon a street corer/who will endangerthe futureof your New Man?"(1996: 85). Lemebel attacks the hypocritical attitudeof the macho heterosexual who monopolizes the expression of desire but reacts violently if another man regardshim as the objectof desire:"IfI speakto you andlook at yourcrotch/I am not a hypocrite./Isn'tit true that women's breastsmake you lower your sights?" (1996: 86). Lemebel also disputes the key leftist allegation that homosexualsembody a lack of masculinity,a claim thathas been used to jusor tify the rejectionof homosexualsas possible revolutionaries guerrillas.He does so by highlightingthe "manliness" the homosexualwho, from day to of and of day,deals with thejokes, discriminations, opprobrium society in general (1996: 87-88): I learnt manliness night/behind post... /I didn'treceivemy manliness at a
in the party/ because they rejected me with sneers/... the gibes bit into my

in manliness/I reined myrageto stopmyselffrom manlikilling everybody/my nessis accepting difference/to acoward much be is do the my tougher/I notturn other cheek/I mybutt,comrade,/and is my revenge. turn that Disillusioned by the projectsof a stagnant,unimaginativeleft and by the conservativegay movement,Lemebel finds a potentialpolitical ideal in the Zapatistasand in SubcomandanteMarcos, exemplars of a revolution that diverges from strict Marxist models-one in which discriminationon the basis of ethnicityor class is regarded one amongmanyinjusticesto be recas tified. Lemebel's affinitywith the "cross-dressed" guerrillaalso owes much to the fact thatthe two men sharean unorthodoxattitudewith respectto the social movements in which they are involved. Both Marcos and Lemebel of practicea perpetual"queering" sociopolitical space and possess a broad vision of revolutionaryagency.' LEMEBEL'S LOCAS: NOMADIC IDENTITIES The fact thatsocial class shattersthe mythof the unitarygay subjectis best illustratedby the locas who are the central charactersof the chronicles in Loco afdn.In this text, the NorthAmericanideal of the musculargay Apollo,



dressedinjeans anda white T-shirt,who spendshis pinkdollarson consumer Latin goods is counteredby the image of the malnourished, poverty-stricken Americanloca strugglingto survivejust like any othermarginalizedperson on the continent. Indeed, Lemebel's use of the loca's very name has two highly chargedeffects: the loca is depictedas a subversiveidentitycategory in which genderfixities havebecome unintelligibleandconnotesa challenge to the notion of an irreduciblegay identity.Lemebel focuses on the loca not because she is representative the homosexual in generalbut because she of not the greatestrejectionand discrimination only from heterosexprovokes ual society but also from homosexualswho adhereto a Westerngay model. Forthe latter,the effeminatequeen signifies botha violationof the masculinity cultivatedby gays and a loss of status. The loca, with her falsetto voice and paintedface, representsa challenge to culturalhomogenization.This is evidentin the pages of Loco afdn, where locas paradein a chain of nomadicidentities in constantflux and displaceand ment,none of which can be absorbedinto the fixed, "hygienic," domesticated terrainsof a gay identity: La Regine and her soldier Sergio, who, in despitebeing inseparable,areneversurprised the sexual act;La Madonna of being a friend of her famous namesake;La Loba mapuche,who dreams Lamar,who in her moribundqueeniness imagines herself as the vessel of a her baby incubatedin her anus;the blond, armlessLa Lorenza,transforming naked self into a constantlychanging work of art;Miguel Angel, who, by becomes a flesh-and-bloodwoman;La meansof the Virgin's"intervention," Berenice, doubly "transvestized"as a woman and as a domestic servant, who in orderto satisfy her maternaldesires steals the child she is employed to care for. If the act of consumptionand adherenceto a unitaryanduniformidentity then the loca-with her outlandish confirm a homosexual "normality," appearanceand her marginaleconomic status-remains excluded from the circuits of privilege announced by "gay."On this point, Perlonguerhas of arguedthatthe currentnormativization gay enacts the exclusion of other homosexual identities, especially those associated with the lowest classes: functionsby casting into society's edges the new marginals, "Normalization those excluded from the party: transvestites,locas, chongos, gronchosthose who, in general, are poor and who representthe very prototypesof underclasssexualities" (1997: 33). The loca, the unintegratedsubject par excellence, exists in clear oppositionto the gay subjectwho has been tamed to such a degree that he has become acceptable even in a society as antihomosexualas Cuba.There,accordingto Perlonguer,"theextinctionor 'invisibilization'of the classic and scandalousCubanloca and the replacement of age-old lewdness by modern, 'gay' discretion, has made a viable


meticulouslypresented,aseptic,andwellprototypeof the less transgressive, educatedhomosexual"(1997: 124). In Loco afdn, Lemebelpays homage to the homosexualityof the loca and presentsher as an identityin dangerof extinction.He revivesthis proletarian homosexualdifference,whose radicalitiesare evident, as we have seen, in a rangeof oppositions:to an importedgay paradigm,to a gay militancypreoccupiedwith middle-classproblems,to the respectablehomosexualin his suit and tie, and to the obligatorymasculinizationof the homosexual. The loca codes and,as such, serves sexualityrepresentsan escape fromnormativizing as a symbol of the freed sexuality that the dominantgay model attemptsto exclude. In this sense, the Latin Americanloca with her "folklore"and her local queenculture,definedby gay men as kitschor retrograde, representsan of a revolutionary, thanreactionary, rather expression identity( 1996:153):12 If it weren't the factthe queen'sfolklorestill survives decoration for as for homoculture; thedeliria thelocasflapping of theirwingsin thedisco's [for] the mirrors; thatLastDancestarring finalsighsof a loca shadowed [for] by AIDS.If it weren't that, thequeen's for for that incendiary parties thegaymarket consumes in its sweaty-muscledtransactions,... [for]thatlife sparkle,that humor,andthatslang, [therewouldn'tbe] a differencethatcanbe politicized.

homoAccordingto Lemebel,the loca does not simply define a particular sexualidentity,for the termalso has currencyas a metaphor describesthe that the ways of thinkingof otherminoritygroups,those thatdefy andundermine codes of "normal" society from the margins.As he says of the loca (Risco, 1995: 16):
[She possesses] a brilliantmeans of perceiving,and of perceiving herself, of her constantlyreaffirming imaginaryas a strategyfor survival.The loca is continually zigzagging in her political-becoming, she is always thinking about how to endure,how to pass, with a bit of luck without being obvious, or too

And obvious. sheis a typeof nomadic she thinking; is notthefixed,solidform of macho The a about herself. Women reasoning. locais ahypothesis, question andchildren practice also suchzigzaggings.

Lemebel pays homage to the loca as the only remainingnonconformist andradicalhomosexualidentity,one thatremainsoutsidethe negotiablecircle of gay identity.Nonetheless,for Lemebel,the defiantandsubversiveloca not sexualityand identityis threatened only "bythe importedmodel of 'gay' status,so fashionable,so penetrating [becauseof] its dealingswith the power of the new homosexual masculinity" (1996: 22), but also by AIDS. He approachesthe problemof AIDS with a particular political agendain mind: to representthe disease as the lateststage in U.S. colonizationandas a potent



symbol of the decadenceof capitalistsociety.'3By locating the centerof the infectionin the most powerfulcountryof the FirstWorld,Lemebelinvertsthe of in narrative AIDS current the UnitedStates,which regardsAIDS as a contaminant introduced an externalagent,Africanor Haitian.In his treatment by of this topic it is evidentthatLemebel is less interestedin analyzingthe conAIDS in the two Americasthanhe is in concretecircumstancessurrounding an "AIDSmythology"thatwill fit his emplotmentof LatinAmeristructing can historyas a storyof pillage, exploitation,and"contamination" foreign by of powers. Lemebel mergeshis story of AIDS-a narrative colonizationvia body fluids-with the "black legend" of Europeanconquest, but here the Spanish are replaced by North Americans, the native population by the homosexual poor. As a result of this conceptualization,Lemebel relegates pre-AIDS Latin America to an idealized virgin territory,free of the latest plaguethatwas broughtby the colonizers. Similarly,the homosexualinhabitantsof this pre-AIDSparadiseareconceivedas beings who enjoy an authentic identity uncontaminatedby an imported model. This is the paradise revealedby Lemebel's descriptionof a photographthat captureslocas at a partycelebratingAllende's victory (1996: 22): still still Thephoto farewells erawiththelocasin frayed an plumage twisting, an friezein which in resembles archaic folkloric their illegalposes.Thephoto has its and theintruding model notyetmade mark native has territory not "gay" a achieved the through body yet received plague's contagion, recolonization fluids. But Lemebel also confrontsthe theme of AIDS with defianthumoras he describes those courageous moments in which "the zero-positive queen (1996: 58). The paleness of a laughs at herself, mockingher own dramatics" loca sick with AIDS is greeted with: "Youlook great in that sarcoma,darfrivoling!"(1996: 69). The dramaof the sicknessis challengedandrendered all concernedendurethe virus: lous with a series of names designed to help "La Maria Sarcoma, La Mosca Sida, La Frun-Sida,La Lusida, La Zoila Kapposi,La Sui-Sida,La Insecti-Sida,La Depre-Sida,La Ven-Sida"(1996: the 61). Furthermore, funeralsof those lost to AIDS have been drastically altered.While in the 1980s the coffin was accompaniedby a few tolerantrelatives and "some loca camouflaged in a three-piece suit,"in the 1990s the same locas makeof the funerala "tablaoflamenco... a fashioncatwalkthat ritual"(1996: 75-76). This changehas occurred, sends up the sordidfunerary because "noteverybodycan bid farewellto the worldwith the says Lemebel, same Hollywood glamour that carriedoff Hudson, Perkins, Nureyev, and



Fassbinder.Imagine it, not everybodycan show off that leopard-spotlook, that AIDS tattoo that never fades!" (1996: 76). In language adornedwith feathers and linguistic sequins that in themselves signal a loca style andaesthetic,one thatPerlonguer would classify as neobarroso,Lemebel says his farewellsto a dozen locas, a groupcomprising both the sick and those alreadylost to AIDS.'4 Perlonguer'sneobarroso is into transformed "slumbaroque" This is a style of writ(barroquismopobla). thatdeploys excessive flourishesin orderto transvestizethe materialpoving erty of the locas and of a vast stratumof marginalbeings-in short,all those whose existences shatterthe myth of the Chileaneconomic miracle and the conversionof Chile into a FirstWorldnation,its backturnedon the restof the continent. Lemebel's brandof political commitment,his analysisof the relationship between class and sexual identity,andhis full-frontalclash with both the left andthe rightdistinguishhim fromthe majorityof NorthAmericangay writers, whose conceptof the politicalis often limitedto the sexualandto the personal. In today's sociopolitical climate, in which ancient Marxistsare converted into postmodernistsand homosexuals are reborn as gays, Lemebel daresto writefroma positionthatcould be designated"politicallyincorrect." Againstthe dominantstrainof gay politics, his writingpointsout the limits of an identitypolitics exclusively rootedin sexuality.Lemebelreactsagainstthe prevailingattitudeof NorthAmericangays, accordingto whom theirvisibility as homosexuals automaticallygrants them a certain radical aura. He rejects this simplistic equationbetween sexual and political transgression, arguing that transgressionis ineffectual unless it is accompanied by the capacity"toquestionthe rootsof social injusticewith respectto the poor and to minorities,whoever they may be" (Valdivieso, 1996: 23). Lemebel assertsthatwhattodaypasses for a distinctgay identityand sensibility is really a clutch of white middle-class values and tastes that have been naturalized into an authenticgayness. The impositionof a unitaryidenhe argues, has contributedto the marginalizationand annihilationof tity, otherhomosexual identities in Latin America and elsewhere. In the context of LatinAmericancultures,he pointsto the necessity of makinga distinction between a discrete gay culture that operates with few obstacles within neoliberal systems and the transgressivecultureof the locas outside mainstreamsociety. As portrayed Lemebel, loca culturenot only rejectsmainby streamsociety's moralitybutreturnsto thatvery mainstream parodiedvera sion of its own paradigmatic values and tastes, therebycarryingkitschiness and theatricalityto new, politicized extremes.



Thereis no doubtthatLoco afdn containsa good dose of nostalgiafor the times when a pre-gay, pre-AIDS, and supposedly authentic homosexual identity existed, a time when "the darlingChilean queen [maricada] wove her future and daydreamed of her emancipation alongside other social causes" (1996: 22). However, it is importantto note that Lemebel locates these "happy times"for lower-classChileanhomosexualsnot in an imprecise andromanticpast but in the concretehistoricalmomentof Allende's revolution. This does not mean that he is unawareof the fact that the Chilean maricadafaced exactly the same discrimination ostracismin the Allende and era as before and afterit. However,this deliberateglossing over of the specific problemsfaced by homosexualsbecause of their sexuality once again confirms that for Lemebel class identity takes precedence over sexual identity. Beyond the nostalgic, Lemebel's defiantbook politicizes homosexuality LatinAmeriwhile simultaneouslychampioningand defendinga particular can homosexualidentity.Loco afdn serves to confirmthe realitiesof difference in an increasinglyhomogenized,uniformworld.Whetherthis authentic identity,uncontaminated externalpressuresand influences, constitutesa by viable response to an ever more hybrid world remains a matterfor future debate.

in 1. Speakingof the chronicleas a genre thatin the 1990s replacedtestimonialnarratives termsof its rangeandcriticalattentionto surrounding reality,JeanFrancowrites(on thejacket of La esquina es mi coraz6n): "Itis interestingthat a literarygenre that capturesthe spiritof the itself to those times, is the 'chronicle,'which also appearsto be times, without subordinating capableof escapingfromthe neoliberalnet. CarlosMonsivais,EdgardoRodriguezJulia,andthe Lemebelexplainshis prefChileanPedroLemebel areamongits most devastating proponents." erencefor this genre:"Iwork,in part,with materialsdrawnfromrealitythathave been manipulated by the communicationsmedia;I rescue and recycle them.... The chronicleallows me to politicize my writing, to give it an existential weight in keeping with my literaryobsession" (Ifiiguez, 1996: 42). when appliedto those worksof 2. I am not opposedto the use of the term"postmodernism" LatinAmericanliterature display strongmetafictionalcharacteristics, that questionall ideologireferents.However,I find it inappropriate cal constructions,andrejectthe notionof extraliterary when appliedto testimonialandpseudo-testimonial narratives createtheirown masternarthat rativesandvindicatethe notionsof subject,historicalreferent,andtruth-notions repudiated by postmodernists.ArgumentsthatI have appliedelsewhere to the positions of EduardoGaleano, RigobertaMenchd, and Domitila Barriosde Chungaraare also valid in the case of Lemebel's and (see Palaversich,1995). antigay,anti-imperialist, antineoliberalnarratives My intention here is not to assert that there is an inherent relationship between and postmodernism neoliberalism.I am establishingthis link specifically in the contextof Chil-



ean literature,where, for example, the literary project of Planeta is in clear contrast with Lemebel's ideological position. Planetachallenges the stereotypicalimage of LatinAmericaas cultureof the land of magicalrealism,revolutions,andpoverty,claiming thatthe contemporary the continent can best be describedas defined by MTV, McDonald's, the Internet,and North Americanmovies. 3. JohnChampagne indicatesthatthe field of gay andlesbianstudiesis now runningthe risk of becomingentrenched an academicdiscipline,co-optedby the very same system it soughtto as contest. He points to the dangerof creatingand positing a unified gay subjectin the place of Westernman. This unified subject erases all cultural,racial, and class differencesamong gay to culturalclimate"inwhich a limitednumberof men andcontributes the creationof a particular privilegedcultureartefactscreatedby queersareimbibedwith authorityandvalue, the resultof which is the formationof a queer canon"(1993: 167). 4. CarlosMufiozpointsout thatwhen, in the 1980s, he intervieweda groupof homosexuals in Montevideo,they still describedthemselvesin termsof the ideal typology,thatis, in termsof their passive or active sexual roles. However, this is not to say that all of those individuals such roles as completelyrigid.Rather, men alwaysidentifiedthemselveswithinthe the regarded perimetersof the "Latino"schema of homosexualidentity(see Mufoz, 1996: 109). 5. Certainfeaturesof the deliberatekitschfavoredby this groupareto a greatdegreeculturally unintelligiblein Latin America. 6. Similarly,PaulAllatson(1999: 226) has remarked: "QueerNation'sactivitiesandironic, rhetoric-'I pledge allegiance to the f(l)ag'-are framed by a peculiarly icon-appropriating as Americandiscourseof transgression compulsive,excessive consumption.Thusthe suspicion arisesthatQueerNation'sagendahas been damagedby its failureto interrogate whateitherflag orfag might signify beyond the United States." 7. It is of note thatthe first gay clubs opened in Chile duringthe 1980s underthe military As of dictatorship. Robles has observed,the appearance these venues did not reflect official tolerancebut ratherreflectedthe impactof the free-market ideology, which tacitly recognizedthe homosexualas a potentialconsumer(1998: 37). 8. In the past few years a numberof publicationshave appearedin the United States that purportto deal with the relationbetween social class and homosexuality.Yet, although such titles as QueerlyClassed andHomo Economics:Capitalism,Community, Lesbianand Gay and Life promisedto discuss a problemglaringlyabsentfrom gay andlesbian studies,the authorsof these volumes in fact admitthe difficulty if not impossibilityof dealing with class in a society like thatof the United States,where, as StephenEdgell puts it, "classlessnessis congruentwith the basic tenet of the Americancreed, namely,civic equality,and with the defining values of Americansociety, notablyequality of opportunityand individualsuccess" (1993: 121). 9. For details of the internal conflicts in the Movimiento de Liberaci6n Homosexual (MOVILH)in Chile, which derived from the differentpositions taken with respect to AIDS, transvestites,and social class, see Robles (1998). See also Mufioz(1996: 99), who speaksof the Uruguayanexample, also valid for other Latin American countries, where there is a notable absenceof a unifiedhomosexualmovementandwheregay men, lesbians,andlocas tendto organize themselves separately.The limited representativeness the gay movementpoints to the of existence of a chasm between militantelites and otherhomosexuals. 10. Elsewhere,Lemebel has stated:"I don't like to speakof any social or political responsibility, or to speak for those who have no voice. In some ways, to do so seems to be a messianic to dream,butI do thinkit is important takeanotherlook atcertainsites obscuredby the triumphal economic splendorof the system today"(Novoa, 1996: 29). This refusalto speakin the name of the "other" marksthe maindifferencebetweenLoco afdnandthe testimonialgenrewith which it



sharesa passionfor denunciation for drawingattentionto experiencesdisregarded offical and by history. 11. Some scholarsview the heterogeneityof the Zapatistas' political platformas exemplifyform of political agency and mobilization(see Beverley, ing the emergenceof a postmodernist 1995: 12;Burbach,1994). Others,such as Harvey(1994), arguethatthe Zapatista uprisingis the latestroundin a cycle of ruralrebellionsthathavecharacterized historyof Mexico andLatin the America. Gosner and Ouweneel's (1996) collection representsZapatismo as an attempt to recoverindigenousideas andpractices.I see it as a movementinspiredby the indigenouscultural traditionsandthe revolutionary models of the 1960s thatwere championedby Che Guevaraand Mao. 12. Whetherthe transvestite of phenomenonsignals a subversiveappropriation the feminine constructedby patriarchal society or a mere imitationof the worstfeminine stereotypes,culminatingin ajoke on women, is a debatableissue. While some studies,for example,JudithButler's (1993), tend to emphasizethe parodicand subversivepotentialof transvestism,others, such as of Leo Bersani's (1995), argue that throughthe appropriation hegemonic norms transvestites simplyreidealizethe rulesof heterosexualsociety.As has been madeevidentin this analysis,the loca culturedescribedby Lemebelis not equivalentto dragculturein the UnitedStates,in which such manifestationshave for the most partceased to be a way of life andhave become, instead, mere commercialenterprises.However,as could be seen in JenniferLivingston'sfilm Paris Is idenBurning,dragcultureis still cultivatedas a way of life and as an expressionof a particular tity among lower-class AfricanAmericanand Latinogays in the United States. to 13. It is important note thatwhen LemebeltalksaboutAIDS as a symbol of capitalistdecaillness."Rather, sughe dence,this does not meanthathe considersthe disease to be a "bourgeois into gests thatAIDS was first"imported" Chile by local middle-classhomosexualswho traveled to the United States or by NorthAmericantouristswho purchasedcheap sex in LatinAmerica. From there it "traveled" into a lower socioeconomic stratum,where it is having a much more devastatingeffect. Ironically,the fact thatin the United States AIDS is now having the greatest impactamongethnicminoritiesof low economic statusandthatthe spreadof the disease among the white middleclasses appearsto havebeen to a largedegreecontainedwould seem to support Lemebel's argument. 14. Perlonguer that writing,particularly which emergedin Cuba,as an speaksof neobaroque eminently homosexual style. When such highly ornamentalwriting begins to "splash"in the mud of the River Plata, it confronts a hostile literarytraditionand transformsitself into the "neobarroso": "baroque[barroco]:irregular pearl, nodule of mud [barro]"(1997: 101).

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