Tuesday, January 26, 2010

on documentation and giving honor

Last year, I was invited by a dear friend and absolute favorite writer, Marvin K. White, to participate in a reading by queer men of color. The reading, which took place at the San Francisco Public Library, included Marvin, Jaime Cortez and Joël Barraquiel Tan. As I prepared to read, in my introduction I made reference to Jaime Cortez as one of my heroes and one of the primary reasons I was, period.

In retrospect, I doubt I did justice to the moment to honor Jaime or to what he has truly meant in my life. Many people have shaped my life, my identity and many intimate aspects of who I am in the world, including politics, values and desire. Jaime, however, was there in the very beginning of my becoming a queer xicano.

Being a good nerd, most of my coming out happened in theory. Certainly, there was a lot of practice… a lot of practice. But the bulk of it took place in books. I would frequently visit Barnes & Noble and visit the Gay & Lesbian “shelf.” I bought many books on a series of topics.. how to come out, how to tell others, finding spirituality as a gay man, the joys of gay sex, etc. Having no context whatsoever, the books were helpful.

However, the deeper I dove into the world of literary gayness, I further I drifted from the core of my brownness. As much as I dug, I found it nearly impossible to find any reflection of myself in these books. As far as I could tell, men like me: brown and desiring of other men, had not yet been invented.

Months later, having learned the theoretical ins and outs of certain sexual practices I still haven’t mustered up the courage to attempt, I found, on that random shelf, a book with the image of a brown man with what seemed to be a wedding dress. There it was, for the first time in months, the Gay & Lesbian “shelf” had a book with what seemed to be the invention of men like me.

The book, “Virgins, Guerrillas, and Locas: Gay Latinos Writing about Love,” was the first artifact I had ever found that documented the experiences of other queer brown men. I don’t recall how many times I read through the entire book in a single night. I remember Lito Sandoval’s “I Love You Alto” and the sweet descriptions of Raúl Coronado. It has been several years since I have revisited the book and trying to describe it or pieces by its contributors (many of which are now dear friends), would be weak. However, having left Pentecost only months before, this book became my new bible.

I am profoundly grateful to Jaime Cortez and the contributors in this book for their offering and their documenting of the experiences of queer brown men. Not only did Jaime bring together a wonderful selection of queer brown men and their stories, he built a tool capable of doing what I thought impossible: inventing men like me.

The critical role this book has played in my life has served as an inspiration for my writing and for my insistence that we document our stories, in all our messiness. Being a child of a generation that followed a silenced generation of queer brown men, I am desperate to see more of us documenting our lives, our stories, and our mess. Having this experience has convinced me of the urgency to create codices, artifacts, tools that we might leave behind so that generations to come may know we were here.

Today I see the emergence of brilliant young writers and place myself in the category of aging and bitter queens who came of age without a daddy and without a big brother. It is my hope that these young queer brown men might know that in their preaching of their desire on street corners they are standing in the high heels of a generation brutalized by disease, by fear, by violence and by family.

Thank you, Jaime Cortez, for leaving an artifact for me to find on the Gay & Lesbian “shelf.” Thank you for documenting. Thank you, for making me possible.

Friday, January 15, 2010

justice, for the morally justified... only.

I have spent the last few days refreshing a number of websites trying to find the latest news on Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the repercussions of foreign policy on the country. Among the many articles I have read, I ran across one that triggered traumatic memories of a Christianity I ran from over a decade ago. A Christianity that would have me believe my ancestors are rotting in hell as they did not follow the rigid instructions of the biblical Acts 2:38.

The triggering article was on Pat Robertson’s vile and consistently institutional-Christian white supremacist statement about Haiti and its pact with the devil. Obviously the man is sick and the brown woman standing next to him should have stabbed him in the eye or, at a minimum, given him ojo. At this point, little can be said by disgusting ministers such as Robertson that would shock me. For years I saw how evangelicals and pentecostals lit crosses on fire from the pulpit. Robertson’s comments, albeit revolting, were hardly shocking given what I know ministers like him are capable of. Therefore, I paid little attention and moved on to other articles.

This evening, however, in watching clips on DemocracyNow.org’s website, I came to a rather disturbing realization. As two white people (yes, their race matters, particularly given the context) discussed and condemned Robertson’s comments, I noticed how their condemning statements were quick and they promptly moved on to provide a rationale for their condemnation.

The rest of the conversation between the two was dedicated to explaining how the Haitian people are, in fact, (Christian) god-fearing people who are not all entrenched in voodoo practices and are, fundamentally, good people. I was ready to fast forward and dismiss the dialogue as a typical white liberal approach to emphasize how people of color are virtuous, brave and majestic people. Just as I was ready to toss the comments aside, I realized how profoundly disturbing this dynamic actually was.

Rather than dismiss Robertson’s insane comments and speak to the lack of humanity in them, and center their counter argument by speaking to the humanity of Haitians, the commentators focused on emphasizing the moral virtue of the Haitian people. For Haitians to be human seems to not be sufficient to make the outlandish “pact with the devil” comments worthy of condemnation. That would be absurd. Instead, it seems that we (yes, you and I) must be convinced that Haitians have the moral integrity to merit our compassion and, perhaps more importantly, our insistence that they receive justice. Somehow, the argument that people of color are virtuous, brave and majestic people is not only about the appeasing of white liberals, but possibly the very reason why people of color are worthy of justice.

I then realized I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen pro-immigrant advocates focus much of their speeches on talking about how wonderful immigrants are, how much they give us while asking little to nothing in return. I’ve seen how gay rights groups insist on portraying couples that are “committed,” “monogamous” and “Jesus’ law-abiding ‘citizens.’” And, now, I am being convinced that Haitians, too, are good people, for they cry out to god rather than perform voodoo rituals.

But, what if all immigrants were not 100% selfless and at our service? Would they deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and honored as humans?

What if all queers were polyamorous and committed to multi-partner relationships and sought two-person marriages only as a legal means of protection? What would THAT do to “traditional” “marriage?”

What if Haitians were not crying to god but crying for help? What if they were crying to another god or to multiple gods? Would we be as concerned with condemning Robertson?

Clearly my rhetorical approach is simplistic. Of course, all people deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and honored as humans. Of course, all people deserve justice.

Yet, we continue to create morally acceptable images of people suffering the wrath of injustice. Why? Who are we trying to convince? How is this not about a need to find someone morally acceptable in order for us to demand justice for them?

I have long believed that justice is a fundamental right of all peoples. Apparently it is reserved only for those considered morally acceptable and worthy.

Monday, January 11, 2010

giving up choice in the name of marriage

Today marks the beginning of a 2 – 3 week hearing on the constitutionality of Prop 8. I am hopeful that this step will take us closer to a Supreme Court hearing that might lead to a sweeping demise of marriage inequality in the country. However, we might be paying a high price for such a victory.

In reading what the judge has asked both sides to speak to, I saw the opening for the exploration as to whether gayness is a choice.

I haven’t a clue what scientific, psychological or sociological arguments will be presented. Although, in 2010 I imagine the argument as to whether sexual orientation is a matter of choice or biology will be answered rather easily. With a number of respected and well-regarded associations, institutions, organizations and experts agreeing that sexual orientation is not a disease or a result of a series of unfortunate circumstances, the question might be answered with some ease.

My concerns do not stem from the argument of biology versus lack-of-a-father-figure. I am concerned, however, with basing an argument about sexual orientation based on biological predetermination and removing any semblance of choice, preference (god forbid) or desire (yikes!).

I understand the strategic argument for god (the Christian god, of course) and/or biology making us this way. After all, if I were born this way it would be unconscionable to deny me the basic rights that others (born the other way) have. While I get this, I don’t get how being a biological error (to quote Dr. Laura) or blessing (to quote queer revolutionaries) should be the primary reason(s) why I must be afforded the right to marry, to access health care or to stay alive.

I am not naïve; I know what country I live in, what decade I am in and what generation I was born into. Still, I can’t help but mourn the fact that I deserve these fundamental rights, not because I was born a certain way, but because I was born, period. I would much prefer to witness the realization of rights based on my humanity and not on the possibility that some divine being or mix matching of chromosomes or elongated index fingers “made me this way.”

I’m a little old school when it comes to sex and gender. I am an adamant believer in the fundamental right and necessity for choice. When I hold my partner in my arms, I am reminded not of how my mother’s womb made me gay, but how from the deep, sacred and evolving parts of my humanity I have come to desire, adore and build a life with another brown man. In the end, choice might be the one thing that keeps me queer.

I bow my hat to those working tirelessly to make marriage equality a reality. I only hope that our trade-off does not send us so far back that we cease to be queer and become normal.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

los taxes

I had a feeling Uncle Sam was going to be unkind to me this year, so I did my taxes early to get a sense of how much I needed to save by April, and how many painkillers to seek on the street corner. Turns out I owe the government more than my earnings during my first year in a paid job. Strike the painkillers, I can’t afford them any more.

But, on a related note, since Republicans are so anti-taxes/government, I’m guessing that as a non-Republican I should be happy to have the opportunity to pay my taxes. Although, for some reason it doesn’t sound as exciting from where I’m standing at the moment. Perhaps if I knew my taxes were only paying for good services and a truly representative government, and not multiple wars and the perpetuation of prisons and a bad public education system.

No wonder Republicans are hooked on prescription drugs.