SIN PULSO/no pulse
By Mariana Ortega
Forty nine hearts beating in a space of defiant joy, being who they were or who they wanted to be, a being-with others in glorious, sonorous denunciation of homo-hate. Brutality and terror storm in—and pulses cede to straight lines. Many words uttered: sanctuary, prayers, peace, unity, sorrow, solidarity, safety, “love conquers all,” “we are all Orlando.”
But love does not conquer all, and we are not all Orlando. Even if love could conquer, pulses would still suddenly and cruelly stop as a ravenous hate finds its way around our schools, jobs, streets, homes—this hate being fed continuously, even by those who profess to love. We are not all Orlando. Not all of us are persecuted, undermined, mocked, bullied, beaten or killed for whom we love or desire or lust. If in the past we have followed the instant solidarity recipe, “We are all [those who have been victimized fiercely and ferociously],” today, not everyone adheres to the recipe. To say “We are all Orlando,” is to risk being thought a queer, a fag, a freak, unnatural. It is to lose the honorable shield of hetero-love.
So, no, this time not everyone is united. Not everyone mourns. The brutal massacre of Latinx bodies in the midst of pleasure has not happened here. Where is the outrage and non-stop news coverage? In social media, in the news that lives off tragedy and tears when good American citizens and children die senselessly of gun violence in middle class, white communities—in those towns where “nothing like that ever happens”? Basketball and soccer scores, the meal at the fancy restaurant, the ubiquitous selfies, political chatter about an almost absurd but too real and sad election, day-to-day misfortunes about news that are supposedly worth our time—those remain. For many life will be as it has always been. Not for queer Latinxs, whose lives are too often questioned and disregarded even within queer spaces and within queer theory whose words still reveal absences of bodies of color.
And after forty nine hearts have stopped and so many others have been broken from unspeakable sorrow—when the Latinx community llora y grita, because it was our community that was targeted, because the dead are its dead—then the sorrow mingles with anger and despair. The anger grows tall, so tall that there is no room for it in the boundaries of the skin. It sprouts many branches, infusing our breathing with fire when we hear that government employees find it unbearable to see the rainbow flag flying half mast in their building, when hateful followers of some pitiable but horrendous marginal church will desecrate the dead and pierce their loved ones with their hateful speech and their miserable signs and voices, because they all think they are loved by some made-up god of hate. How very small those hearts must be, if there is anything there beyond contractions bringing blood to and from a tainted, soulless body that has not found meaning and joy in a world that despite its horror does harbor love, compassion, kindness, and understanding for those who can get a glimpse of it, for those who can still smile with hope and gratefulness, and even with humor and defiance—for those whose commitment to love, justice, and fairness remains in the face of heartache.
Mariana Ortega is a Professor of Philosophy at John Carroll University. She is the author of In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self (SUNY Press, 2016). Her areas of research are 20th Continental Philosophy, specifically Heideggerian Phenomenology; Latina Feminism; and Woman of Color Feminism. She also writes and teaches about Existentialism, Critical Race Theory, Latin American Feminism, Aesthetics and Philosophy and Literature.
Queer Puerto Ricans and the Burden of Violence
By Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes
This essay was first published on June 21, 2016 on Latino USA and also appeared in Spanish on 80grados.net on June 24, 2016.
In the light of the recent Orlando massacre, where a large number of LGBT Puerto Ricans and Latinas/os lost their lives, it becomes self-evident that to be queer and Puerto Rican or Latina/o in the United States is strange and at times profoundly dangerous. Strange because many people do not understand who we are and seem not to care, and we live lives marked by invisibility, as demonstrated in the ways that many journalists minimize the specificity of our experience, except perhaps for unusual cases such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper and the New York Times’s Lizette Alvarez and Nick Madigan. Dangerous, because we are at risk of multiple prejudices and aggressions, whether they are racism, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, or a combination of the above. What’s worse, these challenges come along with the general risks of life in the U.S., given the prevalence of weapons, profound social inequalities, lack of comprehensive mental health care (and in some cases, basic health care), and the rise in xenophobic, ultranationalist and extremist discourses that we face.
Many Puerto Ricans in the archipelago of Puerto Rico and many Americans in the United States have been slow to acknowledge and accept queer persons, or more specifically, to allow queer-identified ones to live openly and embrace their identities publicly, as a political act, demanding full social, political, and cultural recognition. A case in point: it was only this year that the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City recognized LGBT leaders, in spite of decades of activism. Another example: when I started the research for my Ph.D. dissertation on queer Puerto Rican migration and culture, many people were bewildered by the topic and asked me if there was really enough material to carry out such a project.
Common thinking has it that it is preferable to do things in silence or in secrecy, while allowing comedians, politicians, religious clergy, and others to make fun of, ridicule, or condemn our experiences. Many want us to pretend that we are just like them. In their minds, everything is alright as long as you follow social conventions that require heterosexuality, marriage and gender compliance, including masculine behavior for men and feminine behavior for women.
Yet, more than forty years of lesbian, gay and trans activism and radical cultural productions in Puerto Rico and the United States and in other countries in Latin America have had a profound impact, and now things are decidedly better. But better does not mean ideal, particularly in Puerto Rico, a territory that has been subjected to colonial rule by the United States since 1898, where the economy has been in a recession for over a decade and the government is banned from declaring bankruptcy by the United States legislature and Supreme Court. The U.S. colony has been profoundly affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, by drug violence and by the collapse of the social contract. The constant social, political, and economic crises in Puerto Rico throughout the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries have generated major migration to the United States, facilitated by the fact that all Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship since 1917, which means that we can travel freely between the two locations. And millions of Puerto Ricans have left the island, many of them LGBT. Thousands have gone to Orlando, Florida, because of the poverty, violence, lack of opportunities, and in some cases the homophobia they face back home.
Orlando might have 600,000 Puerto Ricans, but as Steven Thrasher has observed, many mainstream news sources in the United States have ignored or minimized the specificity of the murder victims at Pulse nightclub in Orlando: the fact that 23 of the 49 persons who were killed by Omar Mateen were Puerto Rican; that 90% of those killed were Latinas/os, mostly LGBT Latinas/os and their relatives and friends; that their faces were black, white, and brown, the children of the African diaspora; that most of them were working class and extremely young; that, as Juana María Rodríguez has pointed out, they were at Pulse on Latin night, celebrating the life-affirming practices of music and dance and shared culture among friends.
What can LGBT liberation offer us, when leaders, journalists, and regular people ignore the multiplicity of oppressions and fail to see these in an intersectional framework? Or when well-meaning LGBT white persons systematically exclude the voices of queer people of color, maintaining spaces of white hegemony?
Radical thinkers such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Sylvia Rivera, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde demand that we reflect critically on these exclusions. Sadly, Orlando is not the only case of recent homophobic violence: a large number of persons where shot and killed on May 22, 2016 at the Madame nightclub in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, as Javier Laureano has observed. While love, understanding, and forgiveness are powerful tools that help us to heal and honor our victims and our dead, anger, fury and rage are also useful and at times absolutely necessary emotions that we must tap into to address the profound violence we suffer at the hands of bigoted individuals, antidemocratic governments, and repressive states. Tapping into these emotions means channeling our energies to demand social change: speaking out against racism, homophobia, lesbophobia, and transphobia; demanding stricter gun control laws; addressing the social and economic crisis in Puerto Rico by focusing on the needs of its people and not those of Wall Street vulture funds. Perhaps, to survive as queer, feminist, radical persons of color, we need to embrace the paradox of love and rage, and use these in a transformative way.
Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is the Director of the Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the author of Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
Toxic Masculinity and the Orlando Pulse Shooting
By Marcia Ochoa
That Sunday morning we all woke to the news of yet another tragic mass shooting in the United States. These shootings have become routine at this point – too numerous to count any more. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Charleston, UCLA… we all know the names, the long lists of fatalities. Immediately news and social media started buzzing with reports: the biggest mass shooting in American history… an ISIS operative… a gay nightclub… 20 dead, then 50, then 49.
These shootings happen, for the most part, in institutional settings: schools and churches. What distinguished the Pulse Orlando shooting was not that it was the biggest mass shooting in American history – that dubious honor goes to Wounded Knee (1890) and Tulsa (1921). The Pulse Orlando shooting has the highest body count for a single-shooter event, we might say, but it’s also different because it was in a different kind of space: the Latin night of a gay bar.
When we react to these shootings, we express a sense of horror that a space that was supposed to be safe – a place to worship or learn – that space too has been violated by the act, and along with it, our sense of innocence or safety. The difference was that many people don’t consider a bar a sacred space – but this is what it is to queer/trans Latinx communities throughout the Americas. Our sacred space on the dance floor is not an innocent place, nor is it necessarily free of drama or violence. It’s an imperfect space, but it is beautiful for us and just as much of a violation.
In San Francisco, we’ve lost these spaces – La India Bonita, Esta Noche, even el Tin Tan. We are, like the ambiente of Orlando, relegated to one-night stands: pop-up clubs at venues that aren’t open to our communities every day. But these places create a rich social life for queer/trans Latinxs: Pan Dulce, Club Papi, Colors, Mango, Backstreet, ABLUNT, Queer Qumbia. And the DJs and club promoters who work to make these spaces come alive: the late Chantal Salikey, Diane “Chili D” Felix, Carol Hill, Rosa La Rumorosa, DJ Black, Edaj, Olga T, all the bouncers and go-go dancers. The children of the night. These are the people whose work goes unappreciated, who don’t get retirement plans or a regular paycheck, but who do it out of love for creating queer/trans of color spaces.
When I heard about Orlando, I remembered these places, tried to imagine the carnage with people and places familiar to me. Too much to bear. But then I remembered another bar.
As a young anthropology undergrad in 1991, I went to Colombia to see if I could find a trace of queerness in this place that was supposed to be home. A 20-year-old, newly-minted baby queer, I wanted to connect with my roots. It didn’t seem possible. I fell in with a squat, mohawked lesbian and a tall, skinny gay man. We went all around Bogotá, tromping about in our combat boots. We ended up in a strip mall at a place without a sign. The HIV prevention campaign that was plastered on the walls said “coca + cola = SIDA.” Coke + tail = AIDS. No signs of hope for queer life.
It was that summer I heard that no one was going to the clubs anymore. Paramilitaries, during campaigns of “social cleansing,” would raid these bars, lining everyone up and shooting them down with machine guns. In Colombia, there is a word for shooting a bunch of people down with machine guns: amatrallar. This targetting of LGBTQ communities in Colombia is long standing and well-documented – reports in the late 90s by both Amnesty International and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Committee (IGLHRC) led me to develop my ethnographic work in neighboring Venezuela. This kind of violence was happening throughout Colombian society at the time – not exclusive to LGBTQ communities – but it took a special form when it came to us. Just like labor leaders, campesinos, indigenous communities, sex workers and political dissidents, queer and trans people were seen as people in the way of achieving an ideal society – so much human garbage to be disposed of, targeted in those spaces that were supposed to be our refuge.
Colombians at the time had incredible access to arms – there were no controls on access to military weapons, or at least none that were enforceable. Private security guards and military personnel carried M16s and other assault rifles regularly at shopping malls or just on the street corner. I remember playing in the cul-de-sac where we lived in Bogotá alongside young men bearing these arms and old men bearing machetes as a child.
The countless killings of Colombian people during this time were part of a conflict about the power of the state rooted in toxic masculinity, impunity, and the wide availability (and fetishization) of weapons. We in the United States are also steeped in this culture of masculinity, militarization, and violence. I trace this back to deep patterns of colonial violence that allow and empower men to terrorize everyone. When 98% of mass shooters are men, we cannot ignore the connections between violence and masculinity.
In 1513, in a place called Quarequa, the conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa set his dogs on 40-60 people who existed in a gender category he had no name for. Later, they were called “putos” and “sodomites.” They were torn to pieces, terrifying all who heard of this act. Killings of this size have been happening for over 500 years throughout the Americas. This terror is what has created our societies.
The Orlando Pulse shooting is a manifestation of colonial terror, not the epidermal “terrorism” the US constructs as its Other. For whatever his confusion or motive, Omar Mateen worked in private security. He purchased his assault weapons legally and was licensed to carry them. He chose his target, the nightclub, apparently out of rancor for issues he himself may have been struggling with. And he unleashed his fury in the Church of the Jotería to chilling effect.
We (in the US) cannot see ourselves as exceptional in this moment. We (queer/trans people) cannot take this moment as one of martyrdom without understanding it as part of a line of events that have created the societies of the Americas. We (queer/trans Latinas and Latinos) must continue to survive and heal from this violence, and connect it to toxic masculinity all over this hemisphere, in Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and yes, Orlando.
Dr. Marcia Ochoa is Associate Professor and Chair of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz. An anthropologist specializing in media, gender and sexuality in Venezuela, Ochoa is author of Queen for a Day: Transformistas, Beauty Queens, and the Performance of Femininity in Venezuela (Duke University Press, 2014) and co-founder and Advisory Board member of El/La Para TransLatinas, a social justice and anti-violence project for transgender Latinas in San Francisco’s Mission District. Ochoa is Co-Editor of GLQ: a Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies and co-convener of the Queer Hemisphere research group at the University of California – Irvine Humanities Research Institute in Fall 2016.