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Approaches to Sexuality in Latin America: Recent Scholarship on Gay and Lesbian Studies

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 39, Number 1, 2004
pp. 238-253 | 10.1353/lar.2004.0013

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Latin American Research Review 39.1 (2004) 238-253

Recent Scholarship on Gay and Lesbian Studies

Ignacio López-Vicuña

University of Pittsburgh
The Night is Young: Sexuality in Mexico in the Time of AIDS. By Héctor Carrillo. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. 371. $58.00 cloth, $20.00 paper.)
They Dream Not of Angels but of Men: Homoeroticism, Gender, and Race in Latin American Autobiography. By Robert Richmond Ellis. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002. Pp. 219. $55.00 cloth.)
Un amor que se atrevió a decir su nombre:la lucha de las lesbianas y su relación con los movimientos homo-sexuales y feministas en América Latina. By Norma Mogrovejo. (México D.F.: Centro de Documentación y Archivo Histórico Lésbico—CDAHL, 2000. Pp. 397.)
Lestimonios: voces de mujeres lesbianas, 1950-2000. By Norma Mogrovejo. (México D.F.: Plaza y Valdés, 2001. Pp. 136.)
Reinaldo Arenas: The Pentagonía. By Francisco Soto. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. Pp. 193. $24.95 cloth.)
The Bear and His Sons: Masculinity in Spanish and Mexican Folktales. By James M. Taggart. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997. Pp. 344. $40.00 cloth, $17.95 paper.)
Faking It: U.S. Hegemony in a 'Post-Phallic' Era. By Cynthia Weber. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Pp. 151. $37.95 cloth, $14.95 paper.)

The recent effervescence of Latin American gay and lesbian studies is quickly changing the face of the field. As it is impossible within the scope of this essay to attempt even a modest overview of this emerging subfield, I will simply offer a few preliminary comments. While there remains today some unity to queer literary studies, the growing number of gay and lesbian studies within the social sciences seems to augur an increasing diversification and complexity, rather than a confluence, within Latin American approaches to sexuality. The hegemony of traditional notions of heterosexist masculinity and femininity, as well as other forms of representation, including political representation, are being challenged from a number of directions. This essay will attempt to illustrate this diversity by reviewing first literary scholarship and then turning its attention to folklore and anthropology, political science, political activism, and health policy.

Queering the Literary Canon

The widespread popularity of writers like Manuel Puig and Reinaldo Arenas, among many others, appears to have been decisive in forcing literary studies to reflect more systematically on homoeroticism in Latin America. Critical efforts during the last decade contributed to making apparent the significance of homosexual desire in texts written by gay-identified as well as by ostensibly heterosexual authors. This 'queering' of the canon has contributed enormously to highlighting the importance of queer readings of Latin American literature. A related path of inquiry has involved itself with untangling the complex relationships between national discourses and discourses of sexuality in Latin America. These studies have helped to bring to the fore questions of national pedagogy and heterosexism, marginal voices and the state, and the relationship between gay and lesbian writers and discourses of national identity. Recently, books have appeared that address more directly the imbrications of canonical queer writers with the national project.

The publication of Arenas's five-book sequence, the pentagonía, intended as a secret history of contemporary Cuba as well as a personal autobiography, was completed two years after the author's suicide in 1990. Francisco Soto's Reinaldo Arenas: The Pentagonía has the merit of concentrating entirely and in depth on Arenas' pentalogy. It constitutes a systematic effort to show the coherence of Arenas' five novels and to demonstrate how Arenas' writing subverts the narrow tenets of socially committed writing that had become dominant in revolutionary Cuba. In the first part of the book, Soto traces how the Cuban documentary novel or novela-testimonio, a literary genre epitomized by Miguel Barnet's Biografía de un cimarrón (Biography of a runaway slave, 1966), became the kind of literary expression officially endorsed by Cuba's socialist regime. The testimonial novel, which privileged 'reality', eyewitness accounts, a linear conception of time, and politically committed writing, is discussed by Soto as the background against which Arenas rebelled and...

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