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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.

As is the case for many homo boys, from an early age my mother was my world. The bond between us was one of sameness; in my mind I was just like her. My mother is fond of reminding me of how as a baby she alone had the power to stop my tears. To this day, she is still one of the few people that can get me to shut up. Given the close affinity between my mother and me, when my parents would fight I would stand at her side ready to battle my father, and often my older brother as well. It wouldn’t matter who was wrong or right, but simply that my mother was threatened. Since I saw my mother as not only my role model but as the source from which I had sprung, when she was threatened I was threatened.

Often the fights between my parents were about the bond of affinity between my mother and me. My father accused her of spoiling me, which in our working class home had strong undertones of feminization and emasculation. In claiming that my mother was spoiling me, my father was really saying that she was turning me into a non-boy. His accusations were further complicated by his patronizing of my older brother as his Chosen Son. Subtly undermining my mother’s authority over him, my father drew my older brother into his orbit as an ally. As time wore on, those battle lines became entrenched gender lines dividing us into two opposing camps: my father and older brother as the men and my mother and I as the women. It was in those moments of anger, of a family divided along lines of what I can only call queer genders that my own unique place in my family began to emerge.

My queer gender developed out of those fights within my family. While never openly named by either of my parents, they had tacitly agreed that I was to be raised differently from my clearly male-gendered brothers. I was to be the culerito. [ 7 ] As a child, I was the son taught to cook, clean, listen and nurture. At the never-ending string of quinceañeras, birthday parties, and baptismal celebrations, I was always with the women. I would sit among my mother, grandmother, aunt, godmother, and a host of their friends, listening to them gossip about one another, or lovingly (yet critically) pick at their husbands, their sons, and their daughters. Meanwhile, my brothers would play with other boy-children. My inclusion in these circles of women was never questioned, at least while I was present. If whispered conversations of concern about my affiliation with women happened between my mother and her women friends, I was not aware.

My connection to femininity extended to include the toys I played with. I didn't think it odd that I played with Barbies or “My Little Ponies,” or that my role model was the 1980’s fashionista / philanthropist / superhero Jem. Thanks to my mother’s protective embrace, I was free to be myself - plastic Mattel dolls and all. What strikes me as interesting now, from my postmodern, sub-altern, queer, Latino, male vantage point, is how lovingly my family embraced my deviant gender/racial expressions. Sure there were occasional bouts of homophobia on the part of my father, but the overwhelming response from my family was acceptance. Whenever my brothers and I played with our G.I. JOES or X-Men, I was always the one in charge of the women action figures. There was never any criticism. I simply was.

The relative acceptance of my family was matched by the unease I felt towards the world “out there.” I don't really remember an exact moment when I became conscious of the fact that my love for girl-child toys and women superheroes was a private matter - a matter of the home and family. Somehow I just understood that it was not okay for me to take my dolls out of the home. Whenever I played with the other children in my apartment complex, I never mentioned that my favorite G.I JOE was Scarlett, the red haired counter-terrorist vixen of the team, and I certainly never dared to bring her out with me to play.

Like my constant transitions from English and Spanish between school and home, I also switched my gender performance from home to the outside. The queer child I was inside my home butched it up whenever I crossed the threshold of our door. It took me many years to understand the unnamed acceptance of my queer gender by my family. Why would my parents, who came from a country where to be a gender deviant was automatically equated with homosexuality, and thus the loss of masculinity, support their son’s gender deviance? To better understand my parents’ integration of my queerness into our family the only way they knew how, as another type of gendered child, I had to understand the discourses that had informed my parents’ understanding of gender and sexuality in El Salvador.

Throughout Latin America and in El Salvador, homosexuality is understood primarily as a matter of gender. Homosexual behavior - particularly the act of penetration - determines to a large degree whether one is or isn’t a man. Maricónes, culeros, and putos are all words that name the non-maleness of the homosexual in the traditional Latin American conceptualization of homosexuality. Mexican anthropologist Héctor Carrillo describes the traditional operation of this gender-sexuality system in Mexico as creating men through non-men. He writes,

[p]rior to the adaptation of an understanding of categories of sexual identity and sexual orientation, Mexican society dichotomized men almost exclusively into two broad categories that were defined by demeanor. Masculine men were hombres or machos. Their counterparts were the effeminate men, the maricones, who were perceived as having forfeited their manhood altogether. The existence of the latter confirmed the ‘normality’ of the former. The hombres - those who were seen as legitimately manly and who were allowed to assert their dominance via the abuses of machismo - needed the maricones as a point of reference that defined where manhood ended. [ 8 ]

The location Latin American homosexuals occupy is critical for legitimizing the normative masculinity of heterosexual men. In the traditional understanding of homosexuality in Latin America, homosexual male-bodied individuals are not men at all. Instead, they are seen as another type of gender category altogether, existing in a shifting location between women’s femininity and men’s bodies. Carrillo’s observations of Mexican homosexuality hold true for much of Latin America. In fact, many names for male homosexuals throughout Latin America speak to this in-between gendered status. [ 9 ] In most of its Latin American articulations homosexuality is a matter of gender, not sexual identity... (continue reading)


[7] In El Salvador, the word of choice for homosexuals is culero. Culo, the word it is formed from, means “asshole.” A culero is thus an “asshole man.” A culerito is thus a young asshole man.

[8] Carrillo 2003 p. 352

[9] In El Salvador, homosexuals are also called mariposones, or butterfly-men. In Puerto Rico, homosexuals are called locas, or crazy women (Guzmán 2006 p. 35).

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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