restricted access Resignifying Shame and Abjection: A Queer Cultural Sovereignty in Manuel Ramos Otero's Short Stories
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Resignifying Shame and Abjection:
A Queer Cultural Sovereignty in Manuel Ramos Otero's Short Stories

For colonial, non-sovereign nations, such as Puerto Rico, nationalist literature plays a key role in forging what could be considered a cultural sovereignty. Yet, the nation that this literature constructs must be questioned, especially considering how, in this artistic iteration, the nation and heteronormativity become bounded. I'm interested in exploring how Manuel Ramos Otero writes short stories that work through and against the nationalist literature, that is, stories in which queer sexuality functions as a space of creative refuge where the abject discover alternative narratives of their country and of their ancestors. This effort can be further understood by taking into consideration Ramos Otero's biography. Many critics, such as Juan Gelpí, Jossiana Arroyo, and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes have discussed how Ramos Otero's biography and writing reflect the issue of "sexile" or sexual exile, that is, an individual's need to leave their country in order to fully express themselves and their sexual identity or to protect themselves from being targeted because of their sexual preferences. Ramos Otero, who left Puerto Rico in 1968 because of the discrimination he faced, uses his writing to look critically at Caribbean culture, focusing particularly on the white, patriarchal and homophobic bourgeoisie. His writing style and the topics he chooses position him overtly outside the tendencies of the national literature. Furthermore, he expresses discomfort and suspicion of Puerto Rico's national imaginary. Gender and sexuality, as literary tools, provide Ramos Otero with a fluidity that allows him to move past national constraints. Arnaldo Cruz Malavé attributes Ramos Otero's rejection of foundational national poetics and its aesthetics with his use of the abject: "nobody like him insisted on founding his writing on what could destroy it, on abjection" ("What a Tangled Web!" 377).1 According to Malavé, Ramos Otero does not merely try to find ways for the abject—the homosexual—to articulate identity or to resist abjection, but he uses abjection itself as a form of expression. From the position of the abject, Ramos Otero is able to critically study not only Puerto Rico, but also the city, in particular New York. Not always a space of jubilant diversity, the city is also a place of ruins, solitude, and disconnection. Even though the Caribbean may be unmentioned or only alluded to as a faraway land, in some instances it is invoked through symbols of abjection, mainly [End Page 64] women and the sea (as a metaphor of female eroticism). Although critics have discussed Ramos Otero's privileging of the female in isolated cases, it is useful to see this tendency unfolding across multiple works and, more importantly, how these evocations provide a path for the protagonists' queer sexual expression. In other words, although Ramos Otero's protagonists are living in cities far from the Caribbean, different women (who enact Puerto Rican history and culture) and frequent images of the sea (which represent the Caribbean landscape), are essential to the protagonists' sexual pleasure. Taking this into consideration, Ramos Otero's writing challenges the traditional discourse of sexile in which his writing is usually framed by critics. Furthermore, by working outside the confines of nationalist literature, Ramos Otero is re-writing the nation as a place where there is an alignment of Puerto Rico's "queer", in between, political status, of subversive sexualities, and of the abject.

Frances Negrón-Muntaner, in her book Boricua Pop, provides a useful background to Puerto Rico's nationalist literature, whose aesthetics and topics Ramos Otero conspicuously contests. As she explains, an essential aspect of this nationalist literature is its effort to combat the shame from which Puerto Rican identity has emerged. The source of this shame is the historical and current colonial domination and the ways boricuas have negotiated it. For instance, unlike many subordinated groups, Puerto Ricans have not organized and taken up arms, neither in the form of military insurgency nor through the destruction of infrastructure, in order to gain freedom. The ELA (Estado Libre Asociado, 'Commonwealth') has been the closest Puerto Rico has gotten to the founding of a nation, but Negrón...