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Notes Towards a Transformative Masculinity

Daniel E. Solís y Martínez

By Daniel E. Solís y Martínez
Daniel E. Solís y Martínez is Master of Arts in History student at Claremont Graduate University. The gay son of Salvadoreña/o immigrants to Los Angeles, Daniel has lived his life in spaces of contradiction. Daniel is interested in the excavation of marginal peoples' buried histories in the greater Los Angeles region. Currently, his research centers on multiracial community organizing in Los Angeles - both historically and in the present day - as well as tracing the trajectory of Latina/o immigrations to and within Los Angeles. Daniel hopes to be a university professor one day.

At the core of these communities was the idea of “coming out” - or publicly naming one’s queerness to others. This explicitly named gayness was quite different from the unnamed ambiguous position I held within my family. After I came out, my position in my family changed as I sought to force them to accept American gayness as the basis for how they understood me and my queerness. My efforts led to great conflicts between myself and most of my family members. As I grew increasingly isolated from my family, I realized that American gayness with its emphasis on the individual wasn’t sufficient for me or my particular situation. I began to seek a way to construct an empowering queerness that challenged heterosexism but that also didn’t isolate me from the people I love so much.

Constructing my queerness solely out of either Latin American homosexuality or American gayness presents great obstacles to the type of queerness I want to embody. Like Juan Diego, my options are seemingly limited – Do I choose the gendered homosexuality I grew up with in my family or the individualistic gayness of the country I was born in? Given the overwhelming power of both types of homosexuality to resist challenges to their oppressive elements, I find myself moving within and between both systems to create the queerness I seek.

In this essay, I reflect on my experiences living in both systems of homosexuality and the way in which I now mix and match elements from both to forge my own form of libratory queerness. I explore first my early childhood growing up ambiguously queer in my family and then examine my emergence into American gayness as a teenager. Finally, I trace my attempts to create an identity that is a mixed blend of the two systems of homosexuality that have defined me, all in the hope of not only liberating myself but also to transform Latin American and American homosexualities. I do not necessarily believe my life to be special or unique – no Virgin Mary appeared to me - but instead I see my life as a useful source from which to extract a queer masculinity that can support me in being the kind of queer man I want to be. My youth, for all of its mundane routines, was spent in the murky borders where my family’s ideas of homosexuality rubbed up against the gay individuality of the United States. This constant rubbing produced a space from which my own queerness was born. I call that space a mestiza/o gender.

At the core of both my journey and this essay is a creative process of reclamation. Rather than simply giving up on both of these homosexualities, I seek to work within them by taking elements from both and combining them together in a new way that can challenge the oppressive components within each. Queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, in studying the oppositional and creative use of mainstream heterosexual and queer cultures by queer of color performance artists, has articulated a process similar to the one I wish to engage in. Muñoz calls this process disidentification. He describes this as,

… the third mode of dealing with dominant ideology, one that neither opts to assimilate within such a structure nor strictly opposes it; rather, disidentification is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology … this 'working on and against' is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday struggles of resistance. [ 4 ]

Moving beyond the binary idea that in the face of oppressive forces one can either purely resist or assimilate, Muñoz instead sees disidentification as a means to creatively engage with structures of injustice. Disidentification allows marginalized individuals to take the tools of oppression used against them and use them in new ways that alter their meaning so as to challenge the very oppression from which they are drawn. Muñoz values disidentification because it presents a means to escape the binary of assimilation and counteridentification which both serve to reinforce the dominance of oppressive systems. It is what Muñoz calls ‘working on and against’ that makes disidentification a powerful means of altering the harmful elements of both Latin American homosexuality and American gayness.

I utilize disidentification to blend the two forms of homosexuality so as to construct a third path of queerness that can escape the limitations of both. Through disidentification, I can work against the totalizing power of Latin American homosexuality to trap queers in the gender system of man/woman. A third queerness can also work against a gayness in the United States that is increasingly becoming nothing more than a colorful and non-threatening alternative to heterosexuality. As gayness in the United States becomes more mainstream, it is not only leaving unchallenged dominant ideals of consumerism as citizenship, but in fact it is using those same ideals as the definition of social justice for queers. Since both forms of homosexuality are limiting and perpetuate violent forms of oppression, I must create a queerness through my daily practices that draws from the most transformative in both while challenging the most repressive in each.

I name this queerness “mestiza/o gender” to both reflect the combination of Latin American and American homosexualities that I propose but also to draw on the historical process of mestizaje. The development of the idea of mestizaje itself is fraught with complexities of power and struggle. The word mestiza/o was first used by Spanish colonialists as one category of nearly 100 in their complex racial hierarchy system that placed them at the top and enslaved Africans and the indigenous at the bottom. Mestiza/o referred to people who were the children of a Spaniard and an Indigenous person.

In the beginning of the 20th century, mestiza/o was adopted by Mexican intellectuals to define the mixed racial heritage of Mexico as the basis for a cosmic mission of global unity that could thus only be achieved by the Mexican state/people. This vision of an imperialist mestizaje was used by Mexican elites to erase the contemporary repression of the indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples by the Mexican state. [ 5 ] From there, the idea of mestizaje was taken up by the Chicana/o Power Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s as a means to describe the racial and cultural mixtures that define the experiences of Mexican Americans in the United States. To this day, mestizaje remains a pillar of Chicana/Latina identity and politics. Given the varied and contradictory threads that have gone into the creation of my self, I use the word mestiza/o fully aware of its historical development to capture the complicated queer mixture - sometimes smooth, at other times rough - that I propose to create... (continue reading)


[4] Muñoz 1999 pgs. 11- 12

[5] Mexican philosopher and politician José Vasconcelos wrote the manifesto of this imperialist mestizaje in 1925, titled La Raza Cósmica.

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Andy said:

Great essay!Very proud of you for writing this.

Posted at: May 19, 2008 2:44 PM

Ray said:

GREAT ESSAY!!! good work.

Posted at: May 19, 2008 11:35 PM

Lauren H said:


Posted at: June 1, 2008 3:38 AM

lecia said:

i'm so very proud of you, Daniel.

Posted at: July 18, 2008 11:15 PM

Daniel Mang said:

hello daniel

i was wondering, is there maybe a spanish version of your article?

(i would like a spanish/french friend of mine who's lived in latin america for some years to read your piece, and english is difficult for her)

daniel mang


Posted at: September 4, 2008 7:10 AM