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“What Queer Iberians Have to Say…”
Gregory S. Hutcheson, University of Louisville

During a trip to Spain in the summer of 2000, I stumbled across a blurb in Zero, a glitzy Spanish monthly that touts itself as “la primera revista gay de información y estilos de vida en español”. Its readership is young, affluent, caught up in all of the obsessions of the American urban gay community (especially the cult to the male physique). Zero’s take on Queer Iberia is grudging at best, acknowledging as it does the import of the volume while taking exception to the colonization of Iberian materials by American interlopers. It makes bald reference to what it perceives to be a gay Anglo-Saxon agenda (“cierto monolitismo del pensamiento gay anglosajón”), one informed primarily by Foucault and reduced in essence to the drive to “entender el centro a través del margen”. (Sour grapes, I thought, especially in a magazine that looks every bit the clone of Out or Genre or The Advocate when it was still in its “crashing-out” phase....)

If truth be told, however, the “queer” of Queer Iberia is the extent of our gay Anglo-Saxon posturing. Joe Blackmore and I had certainly intended the title as an activist act, one we aimed at the American academy in hopes of destabilizing the rigid academic discourse inherent in medieval studies (and in Luso-Hispanic medieval studies in particular). But few are the contributions that subscribe to queer theory a secas, fewer still those that draw deliberately on Foucault. The bulk of us engage in readings informed by the terms of feminism or new historicism. And some of us are decidedly (although perhaps not deliberately) counter-Foucauldian in our efforts to salvage a gay history in much the same way as John Boswell did in his now classic Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century.

What’s more, Joe and I for our part had attempted in our introduction to define “queerness” in terms informed less by Foucault than by Américo Castro,1 a critical move that cost us credibility in some quarters, but earned us accolades from the likes of Juan Goytisolo. On a lark I’d sent Goytisolo a copy of the volume shortly after it came out in July 1999. His support was immediate and uncompromising. In a review essay entitled “Contra una lectura anémica de nuestra literatura: a propósito de Queer Iberia” (which he read at both NYU and the University of Illinois at Chicago in April of 2000 and finally published as the first of his regular contributions to ABC Cultural in February of this year), he argues for endeavors such as Queer Iberia as a vital antidote to those “sterilized and dogmatic” readings of medieval literature plaguing the classrooms and lecture halls of the modern Spanish university. He understands “queer” as precisely that which the Spanish academy, still mired in Franco’s national Catholic discourse, refuses to acknowledge in medieval Spanish society, a society that was “hetero-génea y abigarrada, formada por grupos muy diversos y de fronteras mudables e indecisas” (8). It’s not difficult to see Castro lurking in formulations such as these, or in the particular attention Goytisolo pays to essays that tease out the relationship between sodomitic discourse and constructions of ethnic difference. “A no dudar”, he concludes, “la sodomía, como sinécdoque, se convierte en la mejor y más eficaz arma arrojadiza de la casta cristiana vieja” (10). What’s new here is the insertion of sodomy into Castro’s reading of the so-called edad conflictiva, but the discourse remains entirely castrista, and Goytisolo’s admiration for the volume contingent on the degree to which Castro is palpably present.2

Back to Zero. Again, whence the notion of an Anglo-Saxon agenda if, in the final analysis, Castro’s is by far the more deliberate presence? A third review, this one appearing in the premiere issue of Reverso, Spain’s first academic journal devoted to queer studies, provides at least a partial answer. Penned by Alfredo Martínez-Expósito, author of Los escribas furiosos: Configuraciones homoeróticas en la narrativa española, it is given the rather oblique title “Hispanismos queery la Iberia medieval”. Martínez-Expósito demonstates little if any antipathy toward so-called gay Anglo-Saxon theory, citing as he does not only Teresa de Lauretis, whom he considers the doyenne of queer theory, but also the two other volumes to come out of Duke on the matter of Hispanic sexualities: Bergmann and Smith’s ¿Entiendes?: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings (1995) and Molloy and Irwin’s Hispanisms and Homosexualities (1998). With respect to Queer Iberia in particular, he admits without compunction that “[l]os medievalistas se beneficiarán sin duda de un volumen que, en conjunto, demuestra que los estudios queer tienen mucho que aportar a nuestro conocimiento de ese período” (106). What intrigues me is the following assertion: “En su introducción, los editores abundan en la idea, lugar común ya del hispanismo anglosajón, de que la historia de los pueblos peninsulares es un rico compendio de hetero-doxias (razas, religiones y lenguas con muy distintos entendimientos de la sexualidad) que parecen estar reclamando un estudio desde la perspectiva queer” (105, emphasis mine). Castro emerges again, in this quotation by allusion, in the gloss that follows on its heels by name:

La historia de la sexualidad pone de nuevo sobre la mesa las disputas históricas entre los seguidores de Menéndez y Pelayo y los de Américo Castro, es decir, entre una esencia, la hispanidad -precedente de la España eterna- y una práctica, la convivencia (si bien violenta) de gentes diferentes. La historia de los sodomitas, de las travestidas, de los hermafroditas incluso, se nos va dibujando poco a poco en trabajos que comienzan a ofrecer una silueta de nuestra historia de perfiles insospe-chados: esas historias largamente silenciadas, olvidadas, esclarecen los avatares de la difícil convivencia peninsular. Están en el centro de nuestra historia, no en sus márgenes; al menos eso es lo que este queering pretende sugerir, con no pocas ni nimias razones. (105-106)

Martínez-Expósito reads our queering project in much the same way as Zero, as an effort to reach the center through the margins, only he understands that project to be informed by Castro, not Foucault (this very much in line with the paradigms of Joe’s and my Introduction to the volume). Nonetheless -and this is what made the lightbulb click on for me- he perceives our particular strain of queer theory, even if informed by Castro, to be just as much an Anglo-American innovation. Castro may have founded a school of Spanish historicism, but it was the Americans (and Spanish ex-patriots living in the US) who were his most zealous disciples, and what’s more, hell-bent on dropping Castro’s historical vision back on Spain’s doorstep.

While attending “The Future of the Queer Past” conference at the University of Chicago in Fall of 2000, I was struck by Argentinian activist Alejandra Sardá’s intervention in the closing plenary session. She warned against what she called “American gay cultural imperialism”, that is, the deliberate forging of a global gay culture and the presumption of a common sociopolitical agenda. The Stonewall model, she pointed out in what came surely as a shock to many of the American activists in attendance, is not necessarily consonant with the social, cultural, and political realities of other countries, and indeed, it might very well be the exception rather than the rule. Latin America in particular, while certainly embracing American models, has also begun resisting these same models.

I suppose we shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which our selection of the title “Queer” Iberia smacks precisely of this sort of imperialism, the extent to which the term “queer” is shorthand in some circles for Anglo-American gay activism at its most self-serving and myopic. What we didn’t bank on when devising the title was its absolute resistance to translation. I had occasion to ponder possible Spanish titles with Goytisolo when he was in Chicago: Iberia mariconil (hopelessly reductionist); Iberia torcida (taking off on the term coined by Ricardo Llamas in his landmark Teoría torcida: Prejuicios y discursos en torno a «la homosexualidad»); and finally, a translation suggested by Goytisolo himself, Iberia loca, which, to my mind, is as problematic as mariconil in that it imposes a female-identified male homosexuality as the default. Ultimately, “queer” is a term so entrenched in both its etymology and the history of its deliberate appropriation by the Anglo-American gay community that it cannot be rendered by any single term in the Spanish. By using “queer” in our title, we unwittingly created an entity that resists a priori a quick-and-easy translation of the whole, that appears to impose English as the default when speaking about the Iberian subjects we study, that perpetuates Anglo-American models of writing queer history.

Back to Zero. I’m only now beginning to understand why it sticks in my craw. It forces me to recognize my own biases both as a gay man who came to self-awareness in post-Stonewall America and as an American stepchild of the Castro school. I applaud so readily both Goytisolo’s essay and Martínez-Expósito’s review because they speak the historical discourse I cut my teeth on, because they mirror my epistemology and legitimize my incursions into a history that is, ultimately, not my own. Zero refuses to let me off the hook so easily. Nor should it.

Zero certainly goes so far as to call Queer Iberia “fundamental”, but it prefers to see the volume’s value as provisional. “[I]niciativas semejantes”, it says, “han de ocupar un lugar preferente en nuestra biblioteca hasta que se consiga crear (parece que ya se va logrando) un corpus hispánico de análisis de nuestra propia queer historia”. In the end I’d have to agree. We need not become canonical in order to feel we’ve had an impact on medieval Iberian studies. If Queer Iberia serves only as a jump-start to Iberia’s appropriation of its own queer past, whatever term it might end up using to designate that past,3 then I think we have ample reason to congratulate ourselves.

Whether there will be a translation of Queer Iberia into the Spanish remains to be seen. It seemed probable as little as a year ago. It seems less relevant these days, now that a home-grown “queer” studies is taking off in journals such as Reverso and in the research not only of Llamas and Martínez-Expósito, but also of Xosé M. Buxán and Alfredo Miras. Those of us still intent on queering Iberia would be well advised to begin listening more carefully to what queer Iberians themselves have to say.

1 “Castro and his school effected in essence a ‘queering’ of Iberian history by exposing the Semitic roots of modern Spanish identity and by ‘outing’ as the descendants of Jews or Muslims such icons as Fernando ‘el Católico,’ Teresa of Avila, and Cervantes. His was not a campaign of cultural iconoclasm, as some of his detractors have implied, but rather an embracing of difference that obliterated the need to read Spain always as an appendage to greater Europe. It was Castro who brought Spain out of the closet and forced it to face -ultimately to celebrate- the complexities of its cultural and even its racial identities. It is in this sense that we might understand queerness, as that which normativity -in this case a cultural normativity- must reject or conceal in order to exist. Its presence is always palpable in the incongruities, excesses, or anxieties of normative discourse, but it is only exceptionally given expression, and this only at the margins...” (Hutcheson and Blackmore, “Introduction” 3).

2 Not coincidentally, of the five contributors Goytisolo mentions by name in his excursus on the discourse of sodomy, four studied with the likes of Stephen Gilman and Francisco Márquez Villanueva, both unapologetic disciples of the Castro school. It seems we all wore our allegiances on our textual sleeves.

3 Of note is Reverso’s subtitle: Revista de estudios lesbianos, gays, bisexuales, transexuales, transgénero... It would seem that by the ellipsis the editors mean to approach “queer” as closely as possible without actually deploying the term. Such is their prerogative, I would argue.

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