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Crossing through Chueca: Lesbian Literary Culture in Queer Madrid by Jill Robbins (review)

From: Revista de Estudios Hispánicos
Tomo XLVII, Número 1, Marzo 2013
pp. 206-208 | 10.1353/rvs.2013.0021

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Since the publication of Paul J. Smith and Emilie Bergman’s groundbreaking anthology, ¿Entiendes? Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings (1995), the field of queer readings of contemporary Hispanic culture, in general, and Spanish peninsular culture, in particular, has been enriched with important academic books published in Spain (Bellaterra, Melusina, Egales), the United Kingdom (Ashgate P, Liverpool UP), and the United States (SUNY P, Minnesota UP, Bucknell UP, Duke UP). To locate Jill Robbins’s excellent new book, Crossing through Chueca: Lesbian Literary Culture in Queer Madrid, in this field, one must distinguish between those works that specifically address gay or lesbian concerns from those that study “queer” (male, female or transgender) cultural issues more broadly. Robbins’s book bridges these trends and insists on enriching and nuancing the study of Spanish lesbian literature by including analyses of the economics and politics of publishing and by studying how the formation of queer urban spaces is imbricated with the emergence of LGTB bookstores, global neoliberal politics, and economics.

Important works that engage exclusively with gay male culture include Alberto Mira’s De Sodoma a Chueca: una historia cultural de la homosexualidad en España en el siglo XX (2004) and Robert Richmond Ellis’s The Hispanic Homograph: Gay Self-Representation in Contemporary Spanish Autobiography (1997). Prominent presses have not been as interested, so far, in publishing significant academic works on literature that either is written by or represents Spanish queer women, as they have been in publishing works on literature written by and on Spanish queer men. Important recent contributions on lesbian and queer women include Margaret G. Frohlich’s Framing the Margin: Nationality and Sexuality across Borders (2008), María Castrejón’s . . . Que me estoy muriendo de agua: Guía de narrativa lésbica española (2008), Raquel Platero Méndez’s anthology of essays, Lesbianas: Discursos y representaciones (2008), and Inmaculada Pertusa Seva’s La salida del armario: Lecturas desde la otra acera (2005). Recent works that attempt to address queer identities that may or may not overlap with more rigid categorizations of lesbianism, bisexuality or gayness, include David Vilaseca’s Queer Events: Post-Deconstructive Subjectivities in Spanish Writing and Film, 1960s–1990s (2010), Alfredo Martínez Expósito’s Escrituras torcidas: Ensayos de crítica “queer” (2004), and my own Queer Transitions in Contemporary Spanish Culture: From Franco to ‘la movida’ (2007). All these works have helped to define the field of inquiry by engaging both with Anglo-American and French queer theory and with autochthonous theorizations, thus developing Spanish-specific methodologies.

Within this already sizeable corpus, Robbins’s work makes several unique and innovative contributions, locating itself at the intersection of lesbian, gay, queer, and feminist analyses of literature and culture, yet prioritizing the visibility of queer women. Through a sustained exploration of a diverse multidisciplinary archive of literary texts, publishing practices in the global market, and the literal and conceptual transformation of queer urban space in Madrid, Robbins exposes both opportunities found and missed, and the ambivalences and contradictions inherent in the uneven project of LGBTQ cultural and political visibility in Spain from 1989 until the passing of the 2005 same-sex marriage law.

On the one hand, Robbins rightly exposes and denounces how women, in general, and lesbians and queer women, in particular, are usually rendered invisible, both in LGBTQ culture and spaces, but also in Spanish society at large. She is especially concerned with how lesbian and gay publishing houses (Egales and Odisea) might offer visibility to a limited array of lesbian identities, while simultaneously limiting the access of other queer women’s concerns, subjectivities or desires to the printed page and to market distribution. In this sense, Robbins’s work participates in recent scholarship concerned with lesbian in/visibility in Spain, represented in texts such as Nancy Vosburg and Jacky Collins’s edited collection, Lesbian Realities/Lesbian Fictions in Contemporary Spain (2011), Letras Femeninas’ special Summer 2010 issue, “Por la visibilidad lésbica: la expression del deseo lesbiano en la literatura, el arte, el cine y la cultura hispana en un nuevo milenio,” and Platero’s abovementioned work (inexplicably missing in Robbins’s bibliography). However, Crossing through Chueca achieves a much higher level of...

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