Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how justice movements inevitably fall into the trap of respectability. In particular, the Jotería Movement, to which my heart is strongly tied. Fueled by a recent conversation with my friend Michael Hames-García (one of our greatest contemporary thinkers), I started thinking about the ways in which the movement to reclaim the word "Joto" has fallen into the realm of respectability.
In our conversation, I talked about how I thought the word "Joto" in its pejorative context was the same as "Faggot" (also in its pejorative context). Living in México between the ages of 10 and 16 and being easily targeted as a faggot, I heard the word joto a lot. It was an effective weapon, used against other gay boys and myself. It was a way to shut us down, force us to either retreat coyly and embarrassed, or retaliate physically. I found no empowerment in the word then.
It wasn't until my early 20s that I began thinking of the word as a sign of pride. I was in my defiant years, ready to resist and force the world to contend with this brown boy's loves and desires. Calling myself a joto in public gave me strength and certainly got people's attention.
The movement to claim the word joto, and for those identifying other than male, jota, has grown significantly over the years. There is now an Association for Jotería Arts, Activism, and Scholarship, and a burgeoning realm of scholarship, which folks are calling Jotería Studies. The books I publish through Kórima Press now say Jotería Studies in the list of categories on their back covers. We begin to walk the streets and the halls of the academy proudly calling ourselves jotos and jotas, and our straight allies (some more confused than others) stand by our side. We are on a journey forging an identity that is truer to those of us who are queer and brown, certainly truer than "queer" alone.
All of this makes me very happy and very proud to have been a part of efforts (although this movement certainly predates my coming out-- perhaps even my birth) to (re)claim a word meant to cause us harm, a word wielded at us while being attacked verbally, emotionally, and physically. And while the journey is not over (will it ever be?), I have concerns about our collusion with normalization and the politics of respectability.
I love the word "Faggot." In English, it is the word that best describes the revolution I wish to be a part of. What it means pejoratively is precisely what I believe revolution should insist on elevating. When people call us faggots, they are conjuring images of our pervasive and perverted ways. Faggots are not normal. Faggots aren't theoretical outlaws. Faggots are the physical incarnation of sin, that is, the ones who deviate from Catholic and Victorian (both tools of capitalism) sex and sexuality.
Faggots are perverts and deviants. Faggots are revolutionaries. What we pervert and what we deviate from are structures and systems of loving and desiring that have long served to control human possibility. Faggots assert their agency. Faggots embody self-determination. Faggots are among those standing at the forefront of sexual revolutions, revolutions striving to create a world where all people hold the freedom of choice in their own hands. Faggots are the antithesis of the Gay and Lesbian Movement-- inherently and necessarily so.
I said earlier that faggot and joto are the same thing in their most pejorative form. Jotos are perverts, are sexual deviants in the eyes of our culturas. However, faggot, in its (re)claiming has held those things it describes pejoratively as the crux of our pride and defiance. Joto, on the other hand, has not.
Joto and Faggot in the realm of reclamation are not synonymous. The Joto movement I have been a part of and am helping shape with my own writing, is not a movement of perverts and sexual deviants. We are becoming respectable. We are professionalizing and mainstreaming our identity, making ourselves palatable to others, perhaps to attract and retain allies. (But aren't true allies those who stand by us in our most radical state?) Sure, we scandalize our families and non-joto communities by calling ourselves this, and these moments are beautiful, albeit painful, reminders of who we continue to be in the context of our culturas. And this is beautiful.
This is not meant as an admonishment, but an invitation to pause, to think about what we mean when we call ourselves jotas and jotos. There is no revolution in respectability. We have the opportunity to push and dismantle boundaries and barriers. Ours is the task of imagining new, greater, broader, freer ways of loving and desiring. We are the perverts we have been waiting for. The deviants our culturas need, those who defiantly walk the streets and the halls of the academy with our head held high, the scent of our lover's (or lovers') bodies on our lips. If we are to be the body politic, let the body be political. Let our lovemaking be an explicit act of resistance, a forging of a larger world. Let us bask in the power of knowing that we are a threat to society, to our own culturas. Let us return to our defiled state and re-root our pride and our wisdom recognizing what it fully means to be inheritors of untamed wild tongues and theories of the flesh.