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Madrid En Tránsito
Travelers, Visibility, and Gay Identity
Indeed, contemporary Spain is among the most progressive societies on the planet, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the flowering of gay life.
--David Andrusia et al., Frommer's Gay and Lesbian Europe
In the tourist's snapshot quoted above, Spain--surrounded by superlatives--moves ahead on a global map of advances toward progressiveness. In this map, the "flowering of gay life" is perceived as evidence of historical progress; through the eyes of a gay tourist, Spain proves to be, finally, contemporary.
The figure of gay and lesbian tourists "coming out" to the world combines travel and politics in an explicit way. Gays and lesbians traveling around the world as gays and lesbians reveal a map of democracies where it is increasingly conceivable to claim gayness as a way to move across spaces and borders. Gay tourism functions, in this sense, as an articulation between discourses of political rights and transnational displacements in a landscape where national borders are currently being reformulated in both their symbolic and their practical effects. In this context, the gay tourist emerges as a cultural role, a persona that combines travel, social progress, and politics in new ways.
"The tourist is one of the best models available of modern man in general," Dean MacCannell pointed out in the opening pages of his classic text, The Tourist. 1 For MacCannell, the tourist represented one of the purest specimens of industrial society, a figure who allegorized the tension between the present of modern society and its touristic outsides. This pure representation is no longer a totalizing figure: in recent decades the tourist as the "modern man in general" has been persistently challenged by alternative narratives and gazes, one of them that [End Page 57] of the gay tourist. Tourism increasingly reflects different positionalities and subjectivities: ecological, educational, sexual, identitarian, and religious. It retains, however, its force on the definition of the present, since it always needs to construct shared temporalities as well as distances and differences, and similarities as well as otherness between home and destination. Gay tourism thus grounds itself in a temporal imagination in which images of gay life help formulate a perspective, perhaps a diagnosis, of the times. As the epigraph exemplifies, gay tourism evaluates the state of a gay community and its visibility across nations, thereby testing the state of democracy abroad. A moment of crisis of the "modern man in general" but allegorical in its own way, gay tourism functions as a discourse of authority and witnessing that validates political progress, historical advances, and dimensions of the visible in foreign lands. A figure made possible by contemporary articulations between sexuality, free market, and democracy, the gay tourist becomes a carrier of gay identity in its mobility across nations. 2
Spain, traditionally a hot spot for tourists, represents quite an exceptional example of the repositioning of a nation on the map of modernity. In the last three decades it has experienced radical social and political changes that transformed a country generally regarded as backward and conservative into a modern democratic nation and a metropolitan power. It was also, as the guidebooks for gay and lesbian travel promise, transformed into a society highly tolerant of homosexual life. Spain is said to have made a "historical leapfrog" after the death of Franco, in view of the unexpected extent of the country's modernizing impulse. The trope condenses the doubts it fosters in some critics, who regard Spain's bright modernity as illusory or weak. 3
In analyzing how Madrid is constructed as a sight for the gay touristóor, better, how the figure of the gay tourist and Madrid meet and mirror each other in the discursive scenes of the gay travelogues--I aspire to illustrate the position of the Spanish capital in a new geopolitical landscape. Less an attempt to describe contemporary gay life in actual Madrid than an exploration of some aspects...