In January 2008, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Roberto Francisco Santiago, a junior-level scholar at Sarah Lawrence College. The subject of his study involved LGBT/Queer Latin@s, and I am extremely honored to be included as a voice among other brilliant herman@s in this important project. Below is the transcript of the interview. If you are interested in Roberto’s project, please feel free to contact me and I will connect you with him (he not only happens to be an amazing scholar, he is also my long-time partner).
Too often do we view social stratification within binary confines; black-white, male-female, us-them…but what happens to the people that do not/cannot fit these categories? In academia there is an absence of these people and the stories that they can offer, specifically with regards to Latin@ LGBT transnational communities. Race is not a sole entity; issues of gender, sexuality, class and the many aspects that further parse our society affect and in turn become informed/inform it. How is sexuality affected by race and vice versa in Latin@ transnational communities? How can these communities negotiate these multiple identities, or do/can they at all? Within the strict interpretations of masculinity/femininity seen through the lens of “machismo y marianismo” that seem ingrained into Latin@ culture this negotiation is not an easy task.
RFS: How do you identify or within which groups do you identify? (race, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation etc.) If applicable, briefly describe why you identify as such and since when?
GPRAJ: It is difficult to specify how I identify or to which groups I identify as I believe this process is highly contingent upon a number of variables, space and place being one of the most salient—Identification is a truly ambivalent process. At this moment, I most comfortably situate myself within a context(s) of a Queer Latino Feminist of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent and heterodox spirituality to fit within the parameters of your study, but I also see my economic class as being highly-educated and working-poor as also informing the way in which I engage with spaces around me. Yet, I also have various issues that I am working through with my gender identification. As a socially defined male, I am prescribed copious privileges that I am working to acknowledge in order to avoid practicing these privileges. I identify in the specific manner that I prescribed due to my engagement with activism and the academe. I am heavily influenced by social theory produced through histories of radical social resistance. So, in response, locating enabling epistemologies that speak strongly to affirm and challenge my social realities has shaped my identities. Also, given that I am the first in my family to reach higher education, much of my identity was developed in a context separate to my family, but I have learned to live with this.
RFS: Transnational communities are communities made up of individuals that have strong national ties to more than one nation in some instances incurring more deference for their “homeland” rather than their current home. Given this rough definition of Transnational communities would you consider yourself transnational? Why or Why not? what would you add or take away from this definition if anything?
GPRAJ: I consider myself as a transnational citizen. I constantly locate myself in a series of borders even when I am way from that geo-political space. My close family descent is one that encompasses Cuban and Puerto Rican genealogies, and I have a close relation to these histories despite my family’s thorough acclimation within a white American context. Until 14 years old, I always considered myself American—this was all that I really knew. I heard histories of living on the island, but they did not make any sense to me. It was when I was given the opportunity to travel abroad, I began to really think about myself in a transnational context. I lived in Canada for a number of months during my early years of high school, and from then on I have forged a connection with Quebec. I also feel a connection with various other places I’ve lived in my lifetime.
RFS: In your schooling, before college did you learn about Latin@ history?
GPRAJ: Yes, I attended a specialized high school focused on global studies, so I had the opportunity to learn some Latin American history while in high school.
RFS: What was it you learned? Wow did that make you feel then and now?
GPRAJ: I learned mostly colonial era Latin American history. I felt mostly detached from this history, as it did not really connect with my experience as a US Latin@.
RFS: Have you had a chance to discuss Latinidad and Latin@ history and issues in an academic setting?
GPRAJ: Yes. During my first semester in college, I immediately pulled myself into studying MYSELF. At that point, I was sick of not being able to find myself represented in history, literature or any other scholarship, but I had the immense luck of being able to come under the guidance of some amazing queer, feminist and Latin@ scholars. While I have moved on to other social groups in my studies, I also attempt to maintain a connection with Latinidad and Latin@ history. This often is accomplished through attempting to introduce Latinidad and Latin@ history whenever I feel that it is being over looked in a discussion or any other forum of inquiry. I attempt to exercise this behavior when queer, feminist and other marginalized topics come into play. Also, as an educator, I ALWAYS incorporate Latinidad and Latin@ history into my curriculum.
RFS: How about queer/LGBT history?
GPRAJ: When I began learning about Latinidad and Latin@ history in college, I also began learning about queer history. I have a personal and intellectual connection to queer and Latin@ history and I find them to be completely inextricable—queer and latin@ histories are part and parcel of lived social experiences and cultural memory—I don’t think you can have one without the other.
RFS: Have you “come out” to your family? How important is being out to your family?
GPRAJ: I came out to my family when I was 15 years old. At that time I began dating an ex-boyfriend…and I finally felt some security in my nascent relationship…so he gave me the support to come out to my family. Also, at this point I had already been sneaking around for 2 years and I was becoming exhausted. This situation coupled with my the independence I developed while living in Canada during the summer before coming out put me in an ideal position to come out at in August 1999. Also, I scheduled my coming out just a few days before I departed to Germany for three weeks, so if things went bad at home, I would be thousands of miles away! While the above formed the foundation to my decision to come out, this decision was mostly catalyzed by my desire to be honest with myself, my boyfriend and my family. I knew that I could not live two separate lives with my boyfriend (or partner) and family because my family completes me in ways that I may never understand. In a way, I see my boyfriend/partner and family as two interlocking spheres that retain their subjectivity, but require each other to survive.
RFS: Are you familiar with “code-switching ”?
GPRAJ: Claro que yes! This happens when I speak to Latin@, queers, women, straight men..etc. I believe that language can be a reflection of your identity, so in order to connect with someone at substantial level, it is important to respect their codes of speech while also recognizing that it is important to not pretend in a disrespectful manner and retain your own sense of identity and politics.
RFS: Do you feel the need to “code-switch” between gay friends and straight friends? gay friends of color (specifically but not limited Latino) and white gay friends?
GPRAJ: Yes. Language has encoded into it a history of experience, knowledge, struggle and rebellion. So I find it important to have the information of these histories shape the politics of communication.
RFS: What is machismo? Has machismo shaped you or any of your decisions?
GPRAJ: Machismo is a colonized cult of male gender practices and orientation. It is completely oppressive as it is founded upon a history of domination of native peoples, women, queers..etc. It is all about locating power from a gender that is contingent upon robbing others of their agency. It had definitely shaped me at one point….but, I’ve given that up years ago.
RFS: Do you consider yourself masculine? Would others agree with you?
GPRAJ: No I don’t consider myself masculine…or feminine for that matter. And I’m not sure how others read my gender performance: some certainly can place it in either for the poles I’ve mentioned, but some may see it as a mixture of both. I don’t think gender is ever static.
RFS: Do you feel race and sexuality inform each other? why or why not?
GPRAJ: Yes! But it is also important to recognize the specificity of race and sexuality. These two social locations are distinct, but also work together to construct dynamic experiences.
RFS: Is it possible to negotiate multiple identities, even when they may seem contradictory? Do you feel that you ever have to do this being a Gay Latino Male?
GPRAJ: Yes. Life is all about paradoxes, and that is what makes things interesting. I definitely need to negotiate being Latin@ and Queer…because Latin@s can be heterosexist and Queers can be racist, but I surround myself with a community of politicized queer Latin@s to keep me more grounded. But I also feel like I constantly have to negotiate my position as a socially-defined male and feminist—its a lot of fucking work…but after a while you learn to live the shift and it becomes more unconscious.
RFS: How do you feel about discussing these issues?
GPRAJ: It’s orgasmic. I think it’s important to always discuss these issues.
RFS: What do you think of the little to no visibility of gay latino’s in shows like Queer as Folk and DL Chronicles? Is there no need for representation? Are we under-represented? Why might this be? Does this matter? Would you watch a show that had an all latino gay male cast? Why or why not?
GPRAJ: Gay/Queer Latin@ are not represented on conventional queer media. I always think there is a need for representation…but representation is not ever enough. Often if we see a representation of us, some find it to be inadequate or fallacious and others may find it as very authentic. I would always support a show that had an all latino gay male cast, because it debunks the racial binary, but I think we need to de-center the power of the image produced by representation as a method for constructing knowledge of our experiences. Representation is always a problematic process because at the center of the project, it assumes that there is a singular authentic presentation or reality and I don’t think that is the case.
RFS: In discussions of race do you often feel that it is usually black v. white?
GPRAJ: In the United States, ALWAYS! But this is really connected to a history of slavery in the US that constructed our racial discourse into a binary of black and white.
RFS: Do you have any stories to share that involve race and sexuality?
GPRAJ: We’ll chat later. Read my work: race and sexuality are written all over it ☺
RFS: What would you like to add to this study?
GPRAJ: Good Luck! I’m very proud of you for taking on this endeavor.