Latin American Research Review 39.1 (2004) 238-253
[Access article in PDF]
Approaches to Sexuality in Latin America:
Recent Scholarship on Gay and Lesbian Studies
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, [End Page 238] 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. 1 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. 2 Recently, books have appeared that address more directly the imbrications of canonical queer writers with the national project. 3
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 [End Page 239] 1990. 4 Francisco Soto's Reinaldo Arenas: The Pentagonía has the merit of concentrating entirely and in depth on Arenas' pentalogy. 5 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...