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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.

It is my goal to fashion a queerness that resists assimilation by the forces of oppression through its political orientation and its gressive way of being. In these times of American Empire and the straightening of gayness, all of us have an ethical responsibility to resist, no matter how small such resistance might seem. Like the race mixing that mestiza/o has traditionally referred to, I am interested in creating a gayness that is a mixture – imperfect, always in process of becoming, yet resisting with all of its might. It is towards that end, that I write these notes, themselves imperfect and in process of articulation.


Border Clashes

My childhood experiences in the vast stretches of Los Angeles were defined by a constant shift between two separate worlds firmly divided by a border made up of language, class, and race. The Salvadoreño culture of my home and neighborhood in the eastern San Fernando Valley was an island in the surrounding sea of Americanness. Moving from the Spanish of my family to the English of my teachers and school forced me from an early age to be constantly aware of the need to shift my way of being depending on where I was. Who I was depended on where I was, who I was with and what language I was speaking. Like many budding homo boys, the need to constantly move back and forth between worlds made me a talented performer from an early age. I quickly became a skilled border-crosser.

At the very core of my role switching was a fundamental clash between the migrant gender-sexuality worldview of my family and the “native” system of the United States. My parents were locked in a battle -internally and externally - to craft a family that was the best of the values and cultural forms they had been raised with, but that at the same time recognized the sheer reality that they were not in El Salvador anymore. This battle was never explicitly named by my parents as the source of their discomfort with my brothers’ and my own rapid Americanization, but it quietly informed every action they took.

It was often my grandmother who most vocally expressed this conflict to my brothers and me. As a domestic worker in the affluent West San Fernando Valley, my grandmother was exposed to the dirty laundry of the rich and white. Daily, she would clean the most intimate spaces and garments of white people, all for less than $50 a day. Whether out of a need to simply vent or as a means to recapture her sense of agency, she would convey horror stories of disgusting habits of personal hygiene, drug abuse, and broken families. These stories served as the morality tales of our immigrant home in a new land full of material promise and cultural perils. In particular, many of her stories centered on the polluting affects of the menstruation of the white teenage girls of the families she cleaned for. Often her stories about menstruating white girls would end emphatically with the statement, “¡Son tan cochinas!” [ 6 ] Her stories taught me that everything “out there” - that is everything outside of the home -was tainted. In my grandmother’s stories, moral and physical pollution awaited us in the outside world, which she represented through the polluting bodies of menstruating white teenage girls. The vivid images of dirty white girls my grandmother painted reinforced my already emerging sense of white people’s racial, class and sexual differences.

Either consciously or unconsciously, my grandmother’s conflation between white women and moral contamination served to mark not only whiteness as deviant but also femaleness. The unnamed ghost lurking in all her stories was the polluting vagina. Frightening pictures of bleeding white girls stalked my imagination every time I left my home and entered the world “out there.” This unease made me afraid of the unknown, which often meant the white and the female. In the world my grandmother constructed, white girls stood in place for the larger contaminating threat of American culture. In my grandmother’s equation, white girls were inherently tainted because American culture was tainted. In warning us away from polluting white girls my grandmother was in the same moment both resisting assimilation into white Americaness and perpetuating the misogynistic construction of women as polluting to men and society at large.

Home itself was a confusing space. Patriarchy was the central axis around which my parents constructed our family. My father worked an inhuman amount of hours as a machine-shop operator to support my family, but his salary was simply not enough to make ends meet. In the rapidly de-industrializing Los Angeles of the 1980’s, machine-shop work was on the decline. My father’s lack of an American education and legal status exacerbated the dwindling supply of work, resulting in a continuous cycle of migration from one job to the next. This instability finally forced my father to allow my mother’s entrance into the working world. Like my grandmother and aunt, she too became a domestic worker for the rich and white of the West San Fernando Valley.

The emergence of my mother as our family’s co-supporter led to fierce fights for dominance and power within our home. Quite simply, my mother’s departure from her traditional role as homemaker undermined my father’s masculinity. The assault on my father’s manhood was twofold. Since he couldn’t fully provide for all of our family’s financial needs, he was failing at his manly obligations. This was compounded by the loss of mental and physical control over my mother. It was perhaps the loss of total control over my mother that most undermined my father’s masculine power. With work, my mother gained independence as she learned how to drive and for the first time had money of her own to spend. Implicit in my father’s frustration was the fear that her daily sojourns to the outside world would corrupt my mother and render her unfit as both mother and wife. My father’s fears would explode in dramatic and often violent outbursts aimed particularly at my mother, but also at my brothers and me. These poverty-driven gendered struggles set the stage for the emergence of my queerness within my family... (continue reading)


[6] “They are so filthy!” author’s translation.

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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