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“Response to ‘Sex and Social Control’”
Harry Vélez Quiñones, University of Puget Sound

I am struck by a series of coincidences and common themes concerning our business here during these couple of days. To start, as I am sure we all have noted, we meet in “the city of brotherly love””, an auspicious yet troubling motto. As Barbara Weissberger was quick to notice, the erasure of “sisterly love” demands our attention. Quite possibly, the founding fathers of Philadelphia exhibited tendencies similar in kind to those our speakers traced in Queer Iberia about the chroniclers of the Albigensian Crusade, the pro-Isabelline propagandists, and the poets who wrote cantigas d’escarnho e de mal dizer. After all, homosocial bonds, like homophobic discourse, are invariably predicated on misogynist anxieties. There is more to this than meets the eye, since we can safely assume that the original loving brothers in Philadelphia’s motto must have been white, Christian and well-off. The erasure of women and queers, as our speakers have also noted, is linked to the fears surrounding those who occupy or are made to occupy liminal positions. Women, Jews, conversos, Moslems, moriscos, Italians and slaves, for example, were all seen as prone to womanish weaknesses and nefarious inclinations in both medieval and early modern Iberia.

Our proceedings also take place at a moment in culture that is germane to those that Sara Lipton, Benjamin Liu, and Barbara Weissberger considered in their pieces for Queer Iberia. The Albigensian crusade saw opposing armies struggle in the Languedoc. The military campaigns waged by Alfonso el Sabio’s father, Fernando III, extended the frontier of the Christian kingdom of Castile farther south than ever before, creating a multitude of social and political tensions among people of three religions who would now have to live in closer contact. Finally, the civil war and Portuguese invasion of Castile that followed Isabella’s accession to the throne in 1474 was a delicate, if not disorderly, event. Today, October 20, 2001, we find ourselves involved in a war effort. The September 11 attacks have strained our convivencia. Religious and ethnic differences have fueled a series of violent expressions, both rhetorical and physical. Today our military is bombing a Muslim nation. Repeatedly referring to the Muslim foe as “cowardly”, President Bush and his administration have launched what was initially advertised as a “crusade” under the name “Infinite Justice”.

In many quarters of the United States, anxiety, fear, and hate have emerged. According to CNN, two days after the September 11 attack, the Reverend Jerry Falwell made the following statement during a broadcast of the Christian television program “The 700 Club”:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen’.

Falwell’s ultra-orthodox Christian ideology manifests itself in a rhetorical strategy that aims to demonize the other by aligning it with nefarious people and their unholy sexual practices. The Muslim Arab terrorists come together in Falwell’s speech with non-Christians, women of lascivious disposition, Pro-choice professionals, homosexuals, lesbians, progressive Jewish intellectuals, leftist activists, and others who do not fit into Falwell’s nativist vision of America. But we find similar attempts to naturalize and neutralize these fears and anxieties by those who usually write from a radically different position. David Schmader, a talented queer writer and performer, wrote the following in his column, “Last Days”, in the alternative Seattle weekly, The Stranger:

Almost one month ago today, Islamic terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, killing the flight crews before crashing the planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. We may never know what was going through the hijackers’ minds as they executed the worst act of terrorism in American history. But today The Boston Globe revealed what was on the hijackers’ minds before the attacks: hot, hot pussy. According to Boston authorities, on the night before the attacks, four of the suspected hijackers called a number of Boston escort services, inquiring about available sexual services and haggling over price; a driver for one of the services told reporters he twice drove a prostitute to the suburban hotel where two of the accused hijackers were staying. And while history will remember these men for their willingness to die for their religion, Islamic law requires those who engage in prostitution to be publicly stoned to death.

Mohammed Atta and his comrades appear here to have been every bit the “pussyhounds”, to use the term of “good ole boy” Christian fraternity brothers on Spring Break. At first glance Schmader’s argument may appear to counter Falwell’s misogynist and homophobic rhetoric, but in many ways he intensifies the Christian fundamentalist’s position because he attacks the purported moral/religious authority of Al-Qaeda militants by condemning their sexual appetite for women. By ascribing to middle-class respectability, and by invoking an almost medieval notion that men are weakened and corrupted by their uncontrolled passion for women, Schmader undermines the belief of many queers that sex between consenting adults is not a criminal act.

For his part, Falwell certainly conflates militant infidels with women and “irregular sexuality”, which brings to mind similar strategies discernible in medieval and early modern Iberia, and yet he is not alone in linking current events with the past. Osama Bin Laden, the “sodomitic Moor”, whom the righteous pastor leaves unnamed in his condemnation of queers, feminists, and liberals, would soon enough remind television viewers around the world that the Iberia of Al-Andalus, queer or not, figures highly in his terrorist rationale. Indeed, Borja Hermoso reports in the Spanish daily El Mundo:

En sus airadas palabras desde las montañas de Afganistán (?) [Osama Bin Laden] evocó el universo perdido de Al Andalus, lo situó en el mismo plano que los territorios ocupados por Israel y realizó el enésimo llamamiento a la guerra santa: «El mundo tiene que saber que no vamos a permitir que vuelva a repetirse la tragedia de Al Andalus con Palestina».1

Oddly, Bin Laden’s words infuse the Queer Iberia project with a disturbing and urgent relevance. His idyllic view of Al-Andalus, presumably populated by morally upright and sexually pure Arabs, is one that many of the contributors to this volume have questioned indirectly. Our readings can expose the extremist fallacies of the Falwells and the Bin Ladens while also turning the screws on interpretations that equate manliness with heterosexual intercourse and moral superiority with sexual abstinence.

Right now, however, there is a war. As many in the United States continue living in fear, some more frightened now than ever before, and as our troops go on risking their lives, an old paradox resurfaces. Queer servicemen and women, usually targeted by search and ‘outing’ missions, only now know with complete certainty that they are safe at their posts. Asking, telling, and pursuing are all irrelevant and inoperative in times of war. However, as soon as the mobilization ends, much like the Gulf War ten years ago, they will realize once again that they attract the anxious attention of their superiors and comrades who, like Reverend Falwell, see in them the seeds of disorder and corruption.2

Unlike our brothers and sisters in the military, we seem to have broken free from the strictures that the academic version of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy had placed on us for so long. We began asking a great many questions about alternative configurations of desire and their representation in culture. We started telling silenced or untold stories of homoerotic desire and its celebration or, more often, its persecution in medieval and early modern texts. We went on to pursue these lines of inquiry leading to publications such as Bergmann and Smith’s ¿Entiendes?, Blackmore and Hutcheson’s Queer Iberia, Delgado and Saint-Saëns’s Lesbianism and Homosexuality in Early Modern Spain, and Chávez de Silverman and Hernández’s Reading and Writing the Ambiente. Like gays and lesbians in the military, although our motivations and aims surely differ, we are good at reading cultural anxieties about sexual misalliance, gender confusion, and queerness. Soldiers need these skills to survive in a hostile environment whereas we invest ourselves in tracing the stories and the history of those who, for the most part, failed in their attempts to survive.

That we owe some of our success in “reading queerly” to the disciples of Foucault or Américo Castro, or to what some have called the dreaded “pensamiento gay anglosajón”, should hardly be a matter for dissension at this time. As Michael Solomon put it last night, “to return is to remember”. “Re-membering” is tantamount to taking stock in a thrilling critical adventure that is still in its early stages. It also concerns reminiscing about our beginnings and “re-assessing” our constituencies, the fellows whose allegiance our critical discourse seeks. “Re-membering” implies “re-tooling”, the “member” being the tool -the organi- through which we perform our readings. We should always remember that we teach with our bodies, that we write with our bodies. Sometimes we plainly write our bodies, as it were. This is what is queer about our practice, especially because it takes place in predominately heteronormative academic circles that validate so-called “rational”, “disembodied”, and “normal” ways of reading, writing, and teaching.

1 Daniel Eisenberg and Israel Burshatin brought this fact to our attention in the discussion that followed my remarks on October 20, 2001.

2 [In late September, 2001 in the wake of the events of September 11, the Pentagon issued a directive that individual branches of the military could operate under “stop loss” provisions, basically a war time procedure to forestall the routine discharge of men and women deemed essential to the war effort or of who might be seeking excuses to avoid combat. In late September the Air Force and in early October the Navy announced that their “stop loss” procedures would not include suspension of expulsions based on the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy requiring concealment of sexual orientation for gay and lesbian service personnel. As of press time, the Army, Marines and Coast Guard had not addressed this issue. Editor.]

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A Journal of Medieval Hispanic Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
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