Redefining queer sexualities and masculinities: a case study

As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to classify Chicano masculinities within the “marginal” category (Connell 1995) because Chicano male identities are multidimensional. Since the early 1990s, there is a significant body of literature (Almaguer 1991; Cantil 2001,2009; Carrillo 2017; Carrillo and Fontdevilla 2014; Cuevas 2018; Pérez 2011; Rodríguez 2011;Thing 2009, 2010; Viego 1999) focusing on non-heteronormative Chicano identities in the United States. Although attention has been paid principally on gay, bisexual and queer men, Cuevas (2018) recently provided an interesting analysis of Chicana female masculinities. Thus, this section provides further insight on gay and queer Chicano masculinities.Various scholars working on Mexican queer immigrants in the United States (Cantil 2009; Carrillo 2017; Carrillo and Fontdevila 2014) have argued that gender and sexual identities are negotiated after relocation.

Changing same-sex sexualities, changing masculinities

Chicano/Mexican male same-sex sexualities have often been theorized as hybridized between a traditional definition of homosexuality, linked to the Mexican/Latino culture, and the American/ Western model of gay sexuality. In Mexico, as in most Latin American countries (Vasquez del Aguila 2014), male same-sex sexuality has been perceived through a “gender-stratified activo/ passivo model of homosexuality” (Thing 2010, 809) in which only the pasivo (passive, bottom, sexually penetrated) partner was considered as gay—and often repressed for this reason—whereas the activo (active, top, sexually penetrating) partner was usually not affected by the homosexual stigma.This model exists in contrast to the “object-choice gay model of homosexuality” (Thing 2010, 809), as is effective in most “Western countries.”The “object-choice” model implies that only the sex of the partner matters, regardless of sexual roles.

Since the 1990s, it has been argued (Almaguer 1991; Cantú 2009; Carrillo 1999;Thing, 2009, 2010) that Mexican understanding of homosexuality is shifting from the traditional definition to the American gay model. In this regard, Cantú (2009) highlighted the tensions around the existence of a supposed Mexican gay identity that would distinguish itself from “Western”—more specifically American—gay identity and construct itself as authentically “Mexican.” Furthermore, by the late 1990s, Carrillo (1999) pointed out the role played by the spread of the American culture and media in Mexico regarding this issue. The strong influence of the United States has stimulated new considerations about the gay subculture and LGBTQ people. Carrillo observed the emergence of a new model of homosexuality in Mexico, which is in his view the result of hybridization between both definitions (“object-choice” and “gender-stratified”). More recently, Thing (2009, 2010) pointed out a similar trend in the way queer Mexican men self-identify during their post-migration experience in the United States. Thus, rather than a direct shift from the traditional gender-stratified concept to the “modern” object-choice concept, the dominant perception of male homosexuality would now be a complex combination of both models. Finally, as Thing (2009, 2010) demonstrated, these influences impact queer Mexican men in different ways depending on their social class and geographical background.

Internacional: the Mexican American gay sexuality?

Therefore, the conflict around these two Mexican perceptions of male homosexuality also impacts the way queer men self-identify The symbolic dichotomy of the “active/passive axis” (Almaguer 1991) marks a strong social boundary between activos and pasivos in the context of male same-sex intercourse. The following insight highlights the primacy of these categories within the Mexican gay subculture: while often referring to the terms activo and pasivo to specify one’s sexual role, versatile gay men (those who perform both roles) are usually called and define themselves as internacionales (internationals).The use of this term (often shortened as inter) is quite telling. It underlines the supposed incompatibility of“performing both roles” with the Mexican traditional view of sexual dichotomy (penetrating or being penetrated). So-called internacionales are not necessarily foreigners as their label would suggest, but they are classified in a category located outside the normative system used by most Mexican gay and bisexual men. It could also be argued that this is now a third category that has emerged in the last decades.

Yet the term internacional designates gay men whose sexual practices have been reshaped by intercultural and/or international experiences, as they are viewed by many gay and bisexual men in Mexico (Carrier 1995). According to Cantú (2009), these supposedly new practices could partly be attributed to the rise of gay tourism (mainly from the United States) in Mexico since the 1980s. Consequently, the use of the word internacional to refer to sexual versatility reflects that the normative Mexican dichotomy between activos and pasivos has been blurred by the American experience. Finally, beyond queer Chicano masculinities, these tensions around the definition of homosexuality within the Mexican and Chicano culture also challenge the definition of masculinity itself. Indeed, behind the meaning of homosexuality for Mexicans who have been confronted with the American culture lies the definition of the male sexual role as well. Therefore, Chicano queer masculinities cannot be examined without paying attention to this confrontation with the American gay subculture.

Gay masculinities and the specter of borderland identity

The latter reflections on the meaning of male homosexuality in the Chicano culture are the continuity of Gloria Anzaldúa’s (1987) theory on borderland identity: the hybrid and self-conscious identity embodied by the Chicanos living on both sides of the border. The mestiza1 writer theorized cultural hybridity—more precisely what she calls mestizaje—as a major element of Chicano/a identity. As a queer Chicana researcher, Anzaldúa analyzes how this borderland identity affects Chicanos/as not only as people of color, but also as gendered and sexual beings. The Anzalduan concept of cross-border identity largely echoes the tensions around the elusive sexual identities that queer Chicanos/as constantly have to face. The difficulty of coming to terms with one’s own identity while navigating two, sometimes contradictory, cultural paradigms or national frameworks, of which neither accommodate the embodied subjectivities and trajectories of queer Chicano men is another aspect of what Anzaldúa has referred to as borderland identity. Likewise, the academic debate surrounding the supposed emergence of internacional sexual versatility or the two opposed models of homosexuality—always through the comparative lens of the United States—is reminiscent of the borderland thinking. Anzaldúa addresses this issue with what she called the mestizo consciousness (la conciencia de la mestizo, in Spanish), which is an identity construction that goes beyond Western binary thinking of race, language, gender, and sexuality.

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