- Bailando“We Would Have Been There”
In the months following the Orlando massacre, we have been consumed by outcries of anguish and sadness as well as poignant articulations of anger and frustration. Countless statements poured out across social media venues declaring collective iterations of mourning. One of the most common sentiments expressed was, “We send our prayers to those affected by what happened in Orlando.” Reading these public declarations of reverence, I found myself compelled to add “and we send our thoughts.” And I opine “thoughts” in the most literal sense. We collectively process the loss of so many people who—from the point on—I will refer to as dancers and not victims. Although it is critical that we take the time to mourn and weep in each other’s embraces over this horrific act of violence, it is also imperative that we critically unpack the layered framings of how sexuality operates in direct conversation with discourses of race, gender, class, and coloniality. Our dancers deserve these incisive elucidations. I have found solace in the brilliant words of my colleagues, who have synthesized the complex and intersectional layers of the Orlando tragedy. For example, it is absolutely necessary that we talk about the fact that the majority of the dancers present that night were not only Latino/a1 but from Puerto Rico. Many of those who lost their lives that night were/are bailadorxs (Latino/a dancers) from a generation who have been forced to leave the island due to the current economic crisis (of which the United States is a propelling force).
And, yes, these conversations are work. They require exhaustive intellectual labor. It is also critical to acknowledge that this labor is often initiated by queer folks of color, whose very lives depend on it. For us, it also operates as emotional and invisible labor without institutional acknowledgement. I am reminded of [End Page 154] Audre Lorde, whose multiple subjectivities drove her groundbreaking writing, “Because I am a Black, lesbian, feminist, warrior, poet, mother doing my work come to ask you, are you doing yours?”2
This rigorous labor manifests itself as the unrelenting articulation of our oppressions as intersectional. So that fighting against homophobic and transphobic legislation (like House Bill 2 in North Carolina, which mandates that individuals only use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates) is absolutely a feminist and anti-racist issue. So that fighting against the abuses of undocumented communities in ICE detention centers is also an issue for GLBTQ activists because anti-immigrant racism is inextricably linked to homophobia and transphobia given that trans-identified people are victims of particularly violent abuse while being detained in these centers. And—that at a time when the racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic rhetoric of Trump dangerously circulates across many sectors of society—our work is more critical than ever.
As friends and colleagues reached out to each other after the June 12 massacre, many of us could not help but express, “we would have been there that night.” Had we been in Orlando that night we would have been at Pulse bailando. We would have been there bachateando3 or spinning in each other’s arms to a classic Celia Cruz song or dancing taquachito4 style to conjunto or perreando5 to some good ole reggaeton as we had during so many nights before at “Mango” or “Pan Dulce” or “La Bota Loca.” And yes, these gatherings were specific nights because at many queer bars we get that one “Latin” night a month. But we would have been there … bailando. As Juana María Rodríguez so eloquently writes, “Dancing is often the first way we learn how to conform to the culturally defined rules around heterosexuality, to move our bodies in appropriately gendered ways. So there is a special significance to being able to dance Latin music in a queer nightclub, pecho a pecho (chest to chest), corazón a corazón (heart to heart), with whomever you want.”6 We would have been on that dance floor because, as Rodríguez continues, “For queer Latinos, and those...