Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ricky Martin's MAS Tour: Por esto, y tanto más, gracias.

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a huge Ricky Martin fan. I’ve been a lover of his music since the longhair days of “Fuego Contra Fuego.” In the early 90’s, I’d rush home to catch him as “Pablo” in Alcanzar una Estrella II, and Sundays I would be glued to the tv waiting for Ricky to make an appearance on Siempre en Domingo.

Years later, the very thought of Ricky’s music takes me back to my pre-teen years of crushes on boys in Secundaria, and the silence that stood between us. Having collected all of his albums and holding “Las Almas del Silencio” as his most artistic effort yet, I couldn’t help but (literally) jump out of bed when a cousin sent a text offering me tickets to Ricky’s MAS concert in San José.

After inviting and coordinating with a few friends, we were on the road from San Francisco to my hometown of San José. On the way, I played a number of Ricky’s songs ranging from “Dime Que Me Quieres,” stopping at the infamous “Livin’ la Vida Loca” crossover days, cruising through his tattooed reggaetón days of LIFE, and landing with the music video for “Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tú.” I was ready.

Although much of my time thinking and writing about Ricky this past year has been less about his music and more about his coming out and what it means for our communities, I wasn’t expecting anything overtly queer at the concert. Well, except for the sea of brown gay & bi men, of course.

As we arrived at the venue, I was happy to see my fellow jotos and patos representing with fierce rhinestone shirts and enough sharp eyebrows to cut a Luis Miguel fan. What I didn’t expect were the Christian protestors holding up the “Gay Sex is Sin” signs I’m used to seeing at Gay Pride.

I felt terrible thinking I had underestimated Ricky and that the Christians knew him better than I did. Never had I imagined a Ricky Martin concert would be worthy of warnings of a burning Sodom and Gomorra. The Christians did. And they were right.

Ricky’s MAS tour delivered on each letter of its acronym. He brought the música, he gave the alma, and baby, he delivered on the sexo.

I realize this is sacrilegious, but Ricky’s concert was gayer than any of the seven Juan Gabriel concerts I’ve been to. Yes, Juanga prances about, says things like “Si me caigo me cogen,” and has grown mustache-sporting men crying like Sanjaya’s preteen fan on American Idol. However, for all of Juan Gabriel’s beautiful femme fierceness and the lovemaking that goes on between him and his audience, it all remains masked under the clout of the unspeakable.

Ricky, on the other hand, left me speechless when he held one of his male dancer’s head as the dancer slid his hands down Ricky’s thighs. I’ve been gay long enough to know, that there is a gay move. And he didn’t stop there. The electrifying erotically sensual bi-gendered orgy-like performance that took place on a long sofa while he sang “I Am,” was enough to have the gays fanning ourselves and clutching our pearls (pay attention at 0:24 and on):

Still, for those who thought they had room to dismiss the (not-so)subtle sensual man-on-man moments in the concert, Ricky made the queerness explicit. In what reminded me of Madonna’s “Confessions” moment in the Confessions Tour, one of Ricky’s dancers performed solo as his coming out experience was narrated overhead. Beginning with the struggles of growing up with a father who insisted he learn to box and arriving with his libratory moment of discovering his love for dance and his revelation as a gay man. The screaming of the crowd erased all remaining ambiguity: This was a queer Latino concert.

Topping off what was a surprisingly gay and expectedly delicious concert, was Ricky’s encore performance ofLo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tú.” The feel-good song that brought us the queer and different-affirming video, was brought to a close by Ricky offering the following words:

“Lo único que necesitamos en este momento son los mismos derechos para todo el mundo. Lo único que queremos es igualdad, ni más ni menos… I’m talking about equality, ladies and gentlemen, not more, not less, just equality.”

Now all you bitter gays who dismissed Ricky Martin’s coming out as inconsequential and cowardly too late, imagine an arena of Latinas and Latinos, many of whom speak Spanish as their primary (perhaps only) language, applauding an openly gay, culturally rooted and historically present artist delivering words that many queer Latino men like myself could never say to our own families.

Early on, I saw Ricky Martin’s coming out as an important opportunity for queer boys in the U.S. and Latino América who, in their isolation, would now have the opportunity to bear witness to a Latin superstar move openly in his public’s eyes as gay. Months after his coming out, I hailed Ricky’s appearance on the front cover of People en Español’s Father’s Day issue as an important historical moment for our communities. With a readership of 6.4 million people, Ricky, with his two children (Valentino and Matteo) in arms, would be on Supermercado stands and coffee tables across the country.

And yet, it took Christian protestors to make me realize that even I, in all my pro-Ricky arguments, had underestimated just how important he has become. I only hope that in the future I am not blindsided by my own limited capacity to imagine what Ricky Martin has in store for the future.

As the poet, Marvin K. White, recently said, “As with Don Lemon, Ricky Martin is one of the few who came out with his ethnicity intact.” 

Por esto, y tanto más, Ricky, gracias.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What’s with all the straight jokes?

If you’ve read my blog once or twice, you’ve figured out that I’m avidly sarcastic and fervently irreverent. Having inherited much of these traits from my beautifully fierce abuela’s, I make no apologies. From religion to politics, pop culture to food, if it’s within my reach, it’s fodder.

That said, sarcasm and irreverence aren’t without context. For instance, my piece about her Holiest Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” song was less about Gaga or the biological pre-determination of sexuality, and more about offering a critique of a gay movement’s de-queerifying of our bodies as part of a strategy to gain legislative ground. Similarly, my piece about Mexican Americans not being in the Mexican diaspora, but being integral members of Mexicanidad in all its/our complexities, was to challenge the ways in which our relationship(s) with México and other people of Mexican descent, might collude with and reinforce the fictitious borders created by and to sustain the invasion-birthed and fueled invention some like to call the United States of America.

Often, my statements are so far fetched they are actually beyond my own beliefs. I make the statements, however, to illicit thought, to encourage dialogue, and to challenge any sense of normativity that might pervade our consciousness and thus stand in the way of others’ (and our own) freedom.

Along the lines of sarcasm and irreverence, I've recently taken to Twitter and Facebook to make a series of statements that take a jab at heterosexuality. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a straight couple kissing in the Castro by tweeting:

“I don’t appreciate straight people flaunting their sexual preferences in public. #SanFrancisco #Castro”

And yesterday, upon discussing the complexities of Republican Latinas and Latinos with a friend, I posted what I thought was a harmless, albeit sarcastic, tweet that was followed by an apparently disgusted self-identified non-republican (read from bottom to top):

Apologizing for the comment would disregard my initial intent. While my comment came across as crass, it was intended to be irreverent. My irreverence: the sanctity of heterosexuality.

Obviously, I will love my children regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and their relationship to the fluid and ever-expanding gender continuum. I haven't dedicated my life to queer liberation to revert to a backwards sex-negative moralist idiot. And while we will have hours of political discussions over their republicanism, I will certainly love them still. Now that those ridiculously obvious points have been made, I’d like to get back to my irreverent intentions.

I understand that the majority of people on this planet practice some version of heterosexuality. I understand that most of these people might believe they were born heterosexual. I also understand that it is possible that their heterosexuality is biological. What I don’t understand is how heterosexuality continues to be the norm.

It’s 2011, non-heterosexual practicing and/or identifying people have been around for a very long time. We’re everywhere. We’re on tv. We’re on the radio. We hold political offices. We're in universities. We're delivering your mail. We're teaching your children. And more importantly, we’re in your family.

Nonetheless, non-heterosexuality is not the first possibility that comes to mind. Think of the mother who takes her toddler-aged boy to play with her friend’s toddler-aged girl, and the cute comments that follow in which the little girl is said to be the little boy’s girlfriend. Adorable, right? Sure. But what if the toddler-aged boy had a play date with another toddler-aged boy? Where are the cute comments then?

One might say that calling two toddler-aged boys “boyfriends” uncomfortably suggests a sexuality or romanticism in children. And, while we could have long conversations about our societies’ hesitance to talk about sexuality as part of early stages of human development (not that we’re that good at talking about it as part of adult-aged stages of human development), saying that the toddler-aged boy and toddler-aged girl are boyfriend and girlfriend remains cute. I believe the uncomfortable feelings evoked by calling two toddler-aged boys “boyfriends” is strictly about the identifying of the "helpless and innocent" boys as anything but heterosexual. After all, heterosexuality is the norm, right?

The reason I insist that my homosexuality is a choice is because it defiantly suggests that those around me who are heterosexual-practicing and/or identifying also made the choice to be heterosexual (suggesting they could have also chosen to be queer). Honestly, I couldn't care less about what choices or biological pre-disposition straight people make or have in relationship to their sexuality. It’s technically none of my business. But when my rights, my family, my livelihood, and my very life are put in the moral, cultural and legal hands of heterosexuals, their sexuality becomes my business.

My first tweet about a straight couple in the Castro was in contrast to the dangerous repercussions queer people face when they dare demonstrate public displays of affection in most parts of this planet. (For as long as my partner and I risk our lives each time we kiss outside of a queer-friendly or affirming location, I will continue to growl each time I see a straight couple obliviously kissing in the Castro.) In the same tweet, I criticize them for "flaunting their sexual preferences in public," which is a mere play on ignorant statements made by allegedly heterosexual practicing and/or identified people who allegedly tolerate queer folk. Similarly, when I say I will accept my children’s choice to be heterosexual, it is a jab at the insulting notion that any parent would ever have to “accept” their child’s sexuality. [Note to parents: We, your children, are better off when you affirm and celebrate all of who we are, rather than just accepting parts of who we are.]

Heteronormativity is dangerous and pervasive. As long as it exists and is manifested (especially by my loved ones), I will continue to be irreverent toward it and those who choose to live such a lifestyle while remaining oblivious to the fact that their privilege is built on (among other things) the suffering of those whose ways of loving and desiring are far more expansive than the limited construction of heterosexuality allows.

I don’t know if @mary8078 was offended because she’s a heterosexual-practicing and/or identifying person, or if she’s an ally of those who choose the heterosexual lifestyle. What I do know is that my tweet was a sacrilegious jab at heterosexuality and straight privilege. And for this, @mary8078 and the rest of those who are offended by my “straight jokes,” I say:

You're welcome.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gay white-centricity: HRC & It Gets Better Campaign

I can’t remember the first time I went off on a gay* organization or effort for not being inclusive of people of color. I don’t remember if it was an AIDS-services organization, a statewide LGBT lobbying group, a queer youth organization, or the infamous Human Rights Campaign. Perhaps the reason I can’t remember is because they eventually began to blur in my mind.

After 10 years either working within or paying attention to queer organizing, the arts, or social services, I have found that most (yup, most) gay groups and efforts have one thing in common: a doleful absence of people of color.

Whether it’s an underrepresentation in its staff and/or board, the priorities of its efforts, the language it deploys, or its constituency, people of color values or bodies are rarely found. It would seem that the one characteristic these groups share (aside from being gay groups) is the overt neglect or indifference for inclusion.

Queer communities of color and allies across the country have spent years demanding gay groups and efforts address their white-centricity. Some gay groups sought to address these critiques by doing such things as HRC’s Friendsraiser in Austin, where HRC hosted the “hotdog & beer” version of their annual gala. The purpose of the tailgate-like event was to attract people of color. Because, really, the only reason folks of color weren’t attending HRC’s gala was the ticket price and 3.5-star hotel meals and champagne, right?

As with the Friendsraiser, most of these efforts fall flat.

Several years ago, I attended a roundtable meeting of LGBT leaders in Austin to discuss strategies for including people of color. At the meeting, a well-known and respected white lesbian leader turned to me (the only person of color in the room) and said, “People of color don’t come to our events. Tell us why.” After successfully holding in a monstrous laugh, I responded by inviting those in the room to return to their respective offices and pay attention to the whiteness in their organizations, rather than the absence of people of color.

Of course, the group was offended. One participant threw his arms in the air saying, “You don’t understand how much we’ve done for you people.” When I responded, “I think you already have your answer,” said leader walked out the door.

I didn’t ask the group to look to the whiteness in their organizations simply to offend them. I asked because the initial question assumed that the problem with under-representation fell on the shoulders of people of color. If this is an organization’s point of departure, it will never be able to address its underrepresentation. In fact, blaming people of color for not “showing up” is itself a product gay white-centricity (dare I say, racism).

Inclusion, however, isn’t about making people of color feel good. It’s about making gay groups and efforts relevant. In 2007, HRC spent a good chunk of money on a national initiative titled Equality Forward, which was meant “to better understand what’s important to LGBT people of color.” With years of people of color demanding they address the issues that are actually priorities for our communities, the survey mostly added insult to injury. That they weren't (aren't) paying attention is hardly a result of our communities' silence. Nonetheless, the report was issued.

The year is now 2011. I've turned purple holding my breath waiting to see the report translate into organizational transformation. That said, HRC is always an easy target. So let's look at another example:

Lately, I rely on Hulu to satisfy my thirst for bad tv. As a result, I completely missed the Google Chrome It Gets Better ad that appeared during an episode of Glee (and apparently during American Idol). Thanks to YouTube, I was able to watch it… again, and again, and again. And, well, I have a lil’ something to say about it…

Personally, I cringed the first time I saw
Dan Savage and his partner, Terry, go on and on about attaining the homonormative dream and strolling through the streets of Paris with a child. I cringed, not because I take issue with their life story or way of life (that’s none of my business), but because of the assumed (or affirmed) suggestion that it getting better is directly proportionate to the privilege one has access to.

I don’t mean to be crass and dismiss the tragedies that birthed this project. With the suicides of queer youth receiving media attention (although queer youth suicides sadly did not begin last summer), our community was grieving and seeking solutions. Somehow, It Gets Better was baptized as the one.

There are a number of critiques floating around about the campaign and its strategy. Whether it’s the criticism over the fact that the campaign was not youth-led or informed, or outrage over the race, class and gender assumptions embedded in the message. No doubt, It Gets Better has some serious problems (not least is the people seeming to believe it’s our best solution).

With as much criticism as the campaign has received, the Google ad does little to make the campaign any more relevant to queer youth of color. Although the messages spoken by those featured in the clip are inspiring and have the potential to resonate with some youth, the sheer whiteness of the ad speaks volumes. After watching the ad multiple times, I was –somehow–shocked by the fact that only one dark-skinned person of color appeared in the ad.

Yet again, a gay effort seamlessly illustrates gay white-centricity, revealing that:

1)    “Gay” is in fact a white construct;
2)    Google, Savage and the thinkers behind the ad were too busy to do some quick googling and learn that people of color represent far more than .04 percent of the population as the demographics in the ad might suggest;
3)    Gay is to Inclusion what Water is to Oil; or,
4)    All of the above.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I first started asking myself why gay groups consistently and clearly intentionally exclude people of color. When whiteness dominates gay discourse, widely publicized values, and organizational strategies, I am left to wonder if inclusion is harder than rocket science or if racism is as sacredly gay as a rainbow flag.

See for yourself:

[NOTE: The use of the word "gay" over LGBT or queer is not a misstatement]