by Christopher Ortiz
Cut, no. 39, June 1994, pp. 83-90
In her essay, "A Long Line of Vendidas," Cherríe Moraga states,
Moraga and other lesbian feminists continue to be some of the only voices within the Chicano/a and Latino/a communities to explore the connections between what it means to be Chicana/Latina and lesbian in the U.S. today. [open notes in new window] The work of these writers deals with the various contradictions that they experience as Chicanas/ Latinas and lesbians: their need to articulate their lesbian identities within and from their cultures which often marginalize and censure them; and the silence and invisibility they face within a Eurocentric gay and lesbian movement and feminist movement. In their project of self-representation, Moraga and other Chicana/ Latina lesbians observe that the struggle for empowerment by people of color often ignores the question of sexuality and sexual difference. And they note that the gay and lesbian and feminist movements relegate race and ethnicity to a secondary consideration or assume that racism will be eliminated through the achievement of civil and sexual equality.
In comparison to the work of Chicana and Latina lesbians, Chicano and Latino gay men have been surprisingly silent in articulating the political and personal meaning of their cultural and sexual identities. Although Moraga addresses herself to the lesbian experience, her project of self-representation (and that of other Chicanas and Latinas) can be viewed as a political challenge to gay Chicano and Latino men and as a necessary context for the latter's own project:
In analyzing the representation of Chicano and Latino men in gay pornography, my project here is one whose impetus comes from Moraga's understanding within the framework of Chicana and Latina cultural experience in the U.S. — that a consideration of sexuality is essential for any construction of identity and political analysis. It is also a response to a need I see for a more thorough and systematic discussion among Chicano and Latino gay men of how our sexuality and the meanings we give it position us culturally and politically within our communities and within the hegemonic discourse of gay and lesbian liberation movements in the United States.
One way in which this study attempts to begin to address the question of how we represent our own identity and desire and how our identity and desire position us politically is to look at various widely circulated images in "gay" culture that attempt to construct a discourse on Chicano and Latino gay sexuality. In some ways the theoretical focus of my analysis is to critique the way in which the white or European-American male has been constructed as the universal subject of gay identity. A critique of this subject is a way in which we can begin to address our own desire and articulate our own experience of being Chicano/Latino and gay. A critique of this type begins to address Moraga's call for an exploration of the "complex and contradictory history" of our relation to a dominant discourse which often functions to oppress and to define us and which in many ways some of us have internalized.
In his essay, "Looking for My Penis: The Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn," video artist Richard Fung describes the situation for gay men of color in these terms:
Fung succinctly articulates the dilemma that many gays of color face. They not only have to come to terms with the cultural and gender expectations of their own communities' expectations which are often at odds with a gay self-identification and which in some cases produce homophobia — but they also encounter the stereotypes and racism of a European-American gay community, which has hitherto seemed by its hegemony and visibility to speak as and for all gays and to define culturally what it is to be gay-identified. For groups such as African Americans, Native Americans and Chicanos/ Latinos, this situation is often made more difficult by factors of class and linguistic difference.
Underlying the question of political, ethnic and often class hegemony raised by people of color vis-à-vis the gay movement is the issue of cultural and racial hegemony in the construction of identity and sexual desire. In this sense, gays of color find themselves in the proverbial place between a rock and a hard place: between the lack of culturally circulated images in their own communities which represent their sexual desire and ethnic specificity as negotiable and desirable; and those hegemonic representations of a gay and lesbian identity in which they cannot find a point of identification. In the construction of a political praxis, a necessary and important project is the simultaneous interrogation and investigation of hegemonic representations that act as structures of desire for Chicano/ Latino men — even when many of those representations either exclude or reinscribe them in dominant hierarchies of race and class — and the creation of images that will encompass affirmatively and critically sexual desire and ethnic specificity.
As contemporary film theory and especially psychoanalytic approaches have pointed out in its various articulations of desire and sexual difference, visual representation often acts as a phantasmatic space in which a society creates an imaginary set of relations by which it defines itself and produces knowledge. Thus, visual representation is an ideological project which operates within a number of often differing and seemingly contradictory discourses. For U.S. gay culture, pornography acts as an important and often defining discourse on sexual desire and identity. Pornographic film and video provide a means for the circulation of sexual images among a broad number of men who engage in same-sex activity.
Although a small portion of the market in comparison to overall production, more gay pornographic films and videos that feature Chicano/ Latino men have been produced in the last ten years. As a means to interrogate and investigate hegemonic representations that act as structures of desire for many gay men, I would like to analyze the image of the Chicano/ Latino man in three pornographic videos. An analysis of these images will explore the way in which they position Chicanos/ Latinos within a larger field of cultural and social discourses on race, ethnicity and sexuality.
The gay pornographic videos that feature prominently in the market are of two types. The first type pairs Chicano/ Latino and black men together in some combination. The second features only Chicano/ Latino men. In a few of the second type, some white men appear at least in one episode. Many of the videos come with titles like BOYS FROM THE BARRIO, parts 1 and 2; HOOKED ON HISPANICS; RAUNCHY RICANS; LATINO MEN; LA CUCARACHA; BLACK ALLEY: SOUTH OF THE BORDER; LOS HOMBRES; LATIN MEN HARD AT WORK; LATIN LEATHER; LATIN LOVERS; PORTRAIT OF A PUERTO RICAN; POSTCARDS FROM THE BARRIO; BOYS BEHIND BARS, parts 1, 2, and 3. The locations where the scenarios unfold are, to name only a few, prisons, warehouses, restaurants, kitchens and urban areas that are defined as Chicano/ Latino neighborhoods. The three videos that will be analyzed demonstrate the way in which Chicano/ Latino men are framed as objects of desire within already culturally familiar codes.
SOUL AND SALSA (1988, produced and directed by Frank Jeffries, Adam and Co.). As the title suggests, African American and Chicano/ Latino men are linked to familiar signifiers such as soul and salsa. What the terms denote have both a cultural and sexual meaning not only within the video but within a wider social context. African American men have more soul, commonly thought of as passion, "rhythm," and emotional depth. Chicano/ Latino men are framed in terms of salsa, a type of music or a dish that is stereotypically linked to Latinos and often becomes a way Chicano/ Latino culture is reduced to a simple meaning. In fact, the juxtaposition of soul and salsa reduces African American and Chicano/ Latino men to easily consumed objects within an already familiar signifying system of racial and ethnic meaning: soul food, soul music; salsa with chips, salsa music, hot-blooded men with passion, rhythm, strong sexual appetite, and a closeness to the primal.
The cover for the video frames the men directly in these terms:
Within the system of racial and ethnic meaning that the title of the video signifies is the implicit idea that the relationship of the African American and Chicano/ Latino to nature is not as mediated or that the latter's culture is constructed closer to the natural or the primal. According to the cover description of the video's contents, African American and Latino men are both the raw and the cooked.
In line with the idea of the African American and Chicano/ Latino as a cipher for an unbridled sexuality or for a pure sexual presence is the video's mise-en-scène. The five scenarios of the video take place in two settings: a bed placed in an unspecified locale with gray matting, similar to a photographer's studio; and in the indoor construction site of a partially constructed room. The bed that is not part of a recognizable setting reduces African American men and Chicano/ Latino men to their sex. The partially constructed room reinforces the notion of men of color as somehow not completely civilized.8
Many pornographic films and videos have some narrative structure that can be followed in between the sexual encounters: boy comes to big city and learns the pleasures of gay sex; young men on a college football team have sexual liaisons; traveling businessmen do more than sell their products, etc. There are some gay pornographic texts that are constructed only by sexual encounters within a fantasy scenario, but many of these have some sort of identifiable locale or point of consciousness which can be traced as the origin of the fantasy represented. There is also gay pornography that identifies itself by the type of act that is performed. This act becomes the rationale for the contents. Titles such as MEN WHO TAKE IT UP THE ASS, FORESKIN FANTASY and CLOSE SHAVE (sexual encounters that center on body shaving) are types within this genre of gay pornography.
We can situate SOUL AND SALSA within the pornographic convention of the film or video that is composed only of sexual scenarios within a fantasy structure. But unlike the conventional fantasy scenario of the young man reading a gay porn magazine and fantasizing himself performing particular sexual acts, the fantasy structure implicit in the title and the promotional material is that of race and ethnicity. The text, then, is structured so that the fantasy is not only that of watching men perform specific sexual acts with each other, but that the spectator watches racially coded men — African American and Chicano/ Latino men — engage in sexual acts with one another. The text provides an idea of what sex between hot men of color might possibly look like.
Three of the video's scenarios take place in the unidentified locale and the last two in the indoor construction site. Two of the scenarios are purely masturbatory with only one model. The first scenario opens with a black man masturbating on the bed. While the first man masturbates, another black man enters the frame from the right side, and they begin to engage in sexual relations.
In many gay and pornographic films and videos, the reality principle is at work: an identifiable location such as someone's bedroom or office. Already the mise-en-scene codes the first encounter as a place of pure sexuality, that is without any structuring narrative or point of origin for the fantasy, as stated earlier. In the first scenario, there are no point of view shots which would establish some identification with the men in the encounter. These types of point of view shots are often frequent in gay pornography: one character looking at another in anticipation of fucking or getting fucked and then a corresponding reverse shot. The men in this scenario are on display, and the spectator is placed in a position outside the frame in terms of identification.
Many gay pornographic texts provide a point of entry into the text for the spectator, either through narrative structure or point of view shots, so that the spectator can imagine himself one or the other of the characters. In SOUL AND SALSA, no such structures of identification exist within the text, although an African American or Chicano/ Latino man might identify on the basis of his ethnic identity. But the coding of the images places this spectator in a problematic subject position in relation to larger social questions of power and the representation of race and ethnicity. A white man can identify in terms of his desire for either the Black or Chicanco/ Latino men in the text, but the identification is based on a power dynamic of race and ethnicity: the desire to fuck Black and Chicano/ Latino men or the desire to be fucked by them.
Of the five scenarios presented, there are two masturbation solos with Black men, and three encounters between: two black men; a Chicano/ Latino man and white man; and a three-way between two black men and a Chicano/ Latino man. There is mutual reciprocation except for the scenario with the Chicano/ Latino man and white man. This scenario features Roberto Arias, a porn model who has appeared in mainstream gay pornography, and takes place in the undefined locale. It opens with the white man fellating Roberto Arias, who then proceeds to fuck him. There are no point of view shots. Instead, from the opening moments of the scenario, Roberto Arias and his penis become the focal point of attention.
At one point when Arias is fucking the white man, he and the white man are framed obliquely so that the spectator views the activity from the same direction or perspective as the white man being penetrated. There are two possible readings of this scenario. The first is that a Black or Chicano/ Latino spectator can substitute himself for the white man; the text presents at least one point of identification. Also as part of the first reading, the scenario represents a white man being penetrated by a Chicano/ Latino, representing the latter as active and dominant sexually, thus reversing power relations at least on the level of fantasy.
A second possible reading would take the first into account but would claim that providing a point of identification and role reversal are not inconsistent with the racial and ethnic codes that are at work in SOUL AND SALSA. One pervasive stereotype in gay pornography is the desire to be fucked by the Black or Chicano/ Latino stud who does not reciprocate and may even be straight. Interestingly, this stereotype concurs with a Chicano/ Latino cultural idea of the homosexual as the penetrated partner in a sexual relationship between two men.
The fantasy of the straight macho Chicano/ Latino man who fucks "me" (a white man) allows for sexual relations between two men and at the same time excludes the Chicano/ Latino man from being framed as a member of a gay community. For a Chicano/ Latino spectator, the identification can be a problematic one if he is attempting to articulate a sexual experience that may not conform to or may even transgress his own familiar cultural codes: macho-chingado/ top-bottom. The white man can divorce himself from the cultural and ethnic implications for the Chicano/ Latino of this fantasy scenario; the Chicano/ Latino man cannot.
In the last scenario, a three way encounter between a Chicano/ Latino man and two Black men, the question of race and ethnicity come to problematize spectator identification as in the aforementioned case. In this encounter, which takes place in the indoor construction site, a Chicano/ Latino guy enters the frame, watches a Black guy engaged in construction work and begins to rub his crotch. The Black guy is shown initially from the Chicano/ Latino guy's point of view, but the point of view is disrupted by the camera angle. We see the Latino guy look; and in place of a normal eyeline match, we see the Black man from a high angle shot. Thus, the spectator's point of view is what becomes established in a complex relation to the role of the Chicano/ Latino man in the scenario.
The initial point of view shots in the scenario establish the Chicano/ Latino man as the spectator's point of identification. However, the break in the eyeline match shot allows the spectator to substitute himself for the Chicano/ Latino man and at the same time assume the "objective" position of the camera. The high angle shot establishes the spectator's position as dominant and not (always) equivalent to that of the Chicano/ Latino man. Although this provisional point of identification seems to provide a space for the Chicano/ Latino spectator, it denies the African American men within the scenario any point of view and seems to establish an implicit racial hierarchy. For a white spectator, the Chicano/ Latino man acts as a more acceptable provisional point of identification than an African American one. What this point of view affords the white spectator in terms of pleasure or fantasy is a question yet to be considered and one which cannot fully be addressed here.
This last scenario is the only one in which dialogue takes place. The Chicano/ Latino man tells the Black man that he is checking him out, and they then proceed to have sex. As the Black man is fellating him, the Chicano/ Latino man asks him "You've never had some Mexican before. Huh?" As the Black man continues to fellate him, the Chicano/ Latino man looks directly and seductively at the camera or the position of the spectator. The Chicano/ Latino guy's look is an invitation to knowledge, while his question is SOUL AND SALSA 's first direct reference to race and ethnicity. The ensuing sexual activity, then, is not just about men having sex with one another, but is also a purported knowledge of what Mexican dick is and what distinguishes it from other types of dick.
The scenario, however, provides no representation of Chicano/ Latino gay sexuality from the viewpoint of the Chicano/ Latino man, but functions to recode him as Other within existing dominant codes of race and ethnicity. In this scenario, as in the other analyzed, the spectator of color is faced with a similar problem of identification. He can identify with the Latino/ Chicano man or Black men, but he must do so from what has been constructed by the text as a white man's fantasy. In this light, the overall structure of SOUL AND SALSA could be said to display its image of Black and Chicano/ Latino gay sexuality in a spectacle which produces its sexual pleasure through a reinscription of men of color in dominant codes of representation.
In contrast to SOUL AND SALSA, BLACK SALSA (1991, Hal Roth Production) literalizes the idea of Black and Chicano/ Latino gay sexuality as spectacle in its narrative and consciously mobilizes dominant discourses on race and ethnicity to produce its sexual meaning. BLACK SALSA's opening shots are of downtown Los Angeles and an identifiably Latino neighborhood. The establishing shot is of a restaurant that serves burritos de cane asada and other items. A young Latino man enters the restaurant and is then interviewed by Vladimir Correa, who plays the owner of the restaurant. By his accent and clothing, the young man, played by Angel del Rio, is obviously meant to represent an illegal alien.
At this point the video could possibly be blurring the lines between the fictional narrative and the actual situation many young illegal aliens. The young man says that he desperately needs a job and will do anything the owner asks. Vladimir Correa says that he has the job on a probationary basis and may be required to perform special duties for him and the two managers, one of whom is played by Eddie Valens.
In the first of five sexual scenarios, a young Chicano/ Latino guy and Black guy are cast in the roles of kitchen boys who start having sex with each other and as a result make a mess out of the kitchen. The two managers, one Chicano/ Latino and the other Black, discover the kitchen in disarray and then tell Angel del Rio to clean it up. They then order the new employee to suck their cocks, and proceed to fuck him roughly while they ask him if he likes his new job. The course of action in the second scenario is determined by the power differential between the managers and the new employee.
The third scenario is introduced with a superimposed title that informs the viewer that the time frame is the next day. The restaurant also provides a strip show in addition to serving food. Vladimir Correa introduces Chico, "the hottest stripper," to an audience that is composed almost entirely of people of color, except for one man who looks Italian and is coded as blue collar by the work clothes he wears. Chico, the black stripper, begins to do his number.
The framing device of Chico's performance is used as a means by which the audience watching him in fact becomes the show for the video's spectator. As the audience of the scenario watches Chico, they begin to become uncontrollably excited and oral activity begins. In a very controlled manner, the camera moves among the various dyads and triads that have formed between the men in the restaurant. The camera, which establishes the position of the spectator's gaze, places each of the men in the scenario under its scrutiny, providing no point-of-view shots.
Just as the title of SOUL AND SALSA acts upon the various meanings connoted in the words themselves and their juxtaposition, this video's title acts in the same way by having black modify salsa. All the various cultural and sexual connotations of "black" and "salsa" become enacted and literalized in the restaurant. Both Black and Chicano/ Latino men lose all civilized restraint in the face of the sexual; they become hot-blooded and their desire uncontrollable. The set location, a Mexican or Central American restaurant decorated with piñatas, and the ensuing activity all mobilize culture-based images of black and Chicano/ Latino sexuality which is put on display in an orgiastic spectacle. The idea of the sexuality of the Other as a spectacle or display is a common trope in the discourse of colonialism and imperialism, with the ethnic and racial specifity of the Other reduced to pure unbridled sexuality.
The last scenario I will discuss is the fourth one, which is introduced by the intertitle, "Later by the stage door." In this scenario two of the audience members, a young Latino man and Black man, waylay Chico. They tell him that he has gotten them so hot and horny that they must have him and convince him to have sex with them in the alleyway by the stage door. This scenario contains the only immediately identifiable white man in the film. He watches the men engaged in sexual relations and consequently masturbates himself. The scenario is framed as his point of view. Just as the camera's point of view is dominant and establishes no specific identification with any of the performers in the previous scenario, so too does the camera establish the white man's (voyeuristic) gaze as dominant and strangely detached from the action, although he is masturbating.
The scenario raises again the issue of the problematic nature of the spectatorial position constructed for the spectator in the film. As stated earlier, a Black or Chicano/ Latino spectator could find a possible point of identification with the text's performers of color; however, he must do so from what has been constructed by the text as a subject position for a "white man's fantasy." This spectator would have difficulty divorcing himself from the text's representation of sexuality, a representation which mobilizes existing dominant codes of ethnic and racial difference as a means to place the Black and Chicano/ Latino man in the position of cultural and sexual Other.
Briefly, NOCHES LATINAS/ LATIN NIGHTS (1991, directed by Santiago Romero, Producer Bob Johnson, Latin Man Video) is the last text to be discussed. Latin Man Video is a production company which has produced a number of films and videos targeted at a market for Chicano/ Latino gay pornography. Santiago Romero has also directed this LATIN ON THE LOOSE for Latin Man Video. NOCHES LATTNAS/ LATIN NIGHTS is important to mention in the context of this article, because the argument being made here is not an essentialist one. A Chicano/ Latino director of a gay porn video featuring Chicano/ Latino men will not necessarily produce a text whose erotic pleasure is free of stereotypes and racist images. I also do not think race and ethnicity are elements that should necessarily disappear from the erotic landscape of our imaginations, but rather I am analyzing the way in which current productions frame those elements so that they reinscribe the man of color in oppressive and dominant cultural representations of his sexuality.
Although the title of NOCHES LATINAS/ LATIN NIGHTS is bilingual, the video is directed at a non-Chicano/ Latino audience. The basic narrative structure of the video is that of the spectator observing various sexual scenarios that take place throughout the course of a night in the urban Los Angeles barrio. The intertitles provide the spectator with such information as:
The Chicano/ Latino men presented in the video, then, are not coded as queer-identified, but rather their sexual activity is part of male bonding and is attributable to a certain hegemonic notion of Chicano/ Latino machismo.
The intertitles continue to structure the various scenarios and inform the spectator that the city can offer him the possibility of a sexual encounter with a hot Latino:
The video ends with this invitation to the spectator:
NOCHES LAT1NAS/ LATIN NIGHTS presents the Chicano/ Latino man in terms of the homeboy or street-smart and tough urban resident, an image of the Chicano/ Latino that is widely circulated in the dominant media. In this production, Chicano/ Latino sexuality is presented almost as a touristic excursion or urban adventure that is momentarily consumed and then forgotten. The Chicano/ Latino man's sexuality is reduced to class and racial Otherness; and thus his same-sex activity is framed as outside a notion of gay- or queer-identified desire. Although directed by a Chicano/ Latino man, NOCHES LATINAS/ LATIN NIGHTS constructs a representation of Chicano/Latino sexuality in similar problematic terms as in SOUL AND SALSA and BLACK SALSA. In a sense, "directed for" becomes more important; NOCHES LATINAS/ LATIN NIGHTS is directed for a particular market and that market's demand.
In order to place my textual analysis in a broader context of social issues, I would like to conclude with some general comments on how pornography is looked at in terms of gay cultural practice and what relation the present discussion has to Chicano/ Latino men as they undertake the politically necessary task of articulating and representing the question of identity in terms of their lived experience.
Pornography can be said to be an important artifact in popular gay male culture, and as such can be claimed to be fairly democratic in its availability to hegemonic and non-hegemonic gay male communities. Precisely because gay pornography circulates so widely among those who engage in same-sex activity, it is often viewed in its best light as an almost utopic space of sexual liberation for the homoerotic representation of desire and as free of the aforementioned hierarchies.
As Robert Stam suggests, gay pornography's historical inscription contributes to this reading:
Stam cautions, however, that gay pornography's historical inscription cannot be viewed as fixed, but that as a circulating social discourse it must be contextualized:
The copious intermingling of bodies and engagement in a wide variety of sex acts belies the way in which the body is not simply natural, but also constructed out of codes and cultural expectations, just as pornography is structured by genre conventions and dominant standards of beauty and desirability:
An important part of the debate initiated by people of color in the fight for visibility and equal participation in the gay movement is the understanding that the phantasmatic space of desire is also what helps give shape to the face of politics. Because pornography is also a discourse about relationships of power, Fung challenges men of color
Fung implies that this disadvantage is not only political, but also psychic, for images of white men and white male beauty are
This consensus is politically disadvantageous, because in some way the phantasmatie space of desire and its discursive structures implicitly posit the white man as the universal subject upon which gay identity is constructed. Issues of political importance to lesbians and gays of color, such as racism and the equal access of their ethnic communities to health care and economic opportunity, become looked upon as special interests and often a hindrance to the primary "agenda" of equal rights, employment protection and visibility for gays and lesbians. As a result, lesbians and gays of color are often asked to choose between two subject positions which are often constructed as antagonistic or incompatible.
This consensus which results in an often either/or identity choice for lesbians and gays of color has various psychic consequences. Prominent leaders in the hegemonic gay community often define their struggles through an analogy to the civil rights movements of the 60s led by people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and César Chávez. The analogy does have some historical validity, but on the level of cultural practice it takes an ironic twist when re-read in the light of familiar slogans from the Black and Chicano power movements of the period. Accompanied by a politics of style as in the Afro or the cholo/a look, slogans such as "Black is beautiful" and "Brown is beautiful" were politically conscious strategies against cultural and social standards of beauty such as blondness, blue eyes, fine facial features, thin lips, among others, that created a distorted image for Afro-Americans and Chicanos of themselves as somehow unattractive and inferior. For many Afro-Americans and Chicanos, their very physical appearance hindered them from attaining access to political and economic enfranchisement, and it often still does.
Many European-American gays and lesbians do not understand the discomfort which gay and lesbian activists of color have with an oft-repeated analogy which is not historically and politically contextualized. The civil rights movement was not just about legal empowerment but also about visibility and cultural practices. Much of the discourse in the gay movement still operates according to the principles of a liberal humanism that has appropriated the discourse of the civil rights movement, while at the same time in its hegemonic cultural practices it reinscribes the very racial and ethnic tropes which have allowed the white male to posit himself as a universal subject. Many gay and lesbian activists of color are no longer simply content to be "included" in the movement but are demanding the right both to critique and shape its discourses.
On the political front, lesbians and gays of color who make the hegemonic movement aware of contradictions such as the aforementioned one are often accused of an ethnic essentialism and a divisive separatism that weakens the goals of liberation. Although essentialism is one possible position that can be taken, countercultural practices such as the Afro or cholo/a look do not necessarily denote an essentialist and/or separatist attitude. These are strategies that attempt to break down rigid aesthetic standards and ideals — themselves based on a racist essentialism-of what is beautiful and good.
One way to counter "the essentialist rhetoric of categorical identity politics [that] threatens to erase the connectedness of our different struggles" (Mercer, How Do I Look? 209) would be to historicize aesthetic standards and the way they play themselves out in (popular cultural) representations such as pornography and in the process of identity formation.
It is not simply the filming of a white man and an Asian man having sex or the photographing of a black body that automatically determines an image as racist and objectifying, an argument that sometimes arises out of a certain essentialism, but rather,
To be gay and to be Latino or Chicano is often to be marginalized and/or invisible, both within one's community because of sexual difference, and in the hegemonic gay community because of cultural and racial differences. The growing Hispanic communities of Los Angeles and other cities has given a new visibility to Chicano/ Latino gay men within the urban milieu and at the same time has marked the segregation based on ethnicity that characterizes a city like Los Angeles. On a political level, one could make the claim for progress in the growing interaction between gays and lesbians of color and the hegemonic community and in the inclusion of race and ethnicity as part of the political discussion (although initially at this point). Still, a dominant discourse of race and ethnicity continues to mark the phantasmatic space in which representation of gay desire is constructed for the (white) gay spectator.
Watching a gay porno video with Chicanos/ Latinos in it, the Chicano/ Latino spectator could possibly find himself in a problematic relation to the image on the screen. On the one hand, the narratives often make him the subject or object of fantasy scenarios arising from a hegemonic view of Chicano/ Latino culture. On the other hand, within a society dominated by hegemonic images, he is watching at least one that contains a face similar to his own.
As contemporary film theory has demonstrated, however, an image is not transparent but composed of intertextual layers of meaning that arise out of complex ideological operations. The image of the Latino/ Chicano man in a gay pornographic film or video, then, is subject to a complex set of ideological determinations that structure and position the spectator either in opposition to or alongside hegemonic articulations of desire and racial difference. By exploring a number of dominant tropes that frame Latino and Chicano men in a growing speciality market of gay pornography, I have attempted to historicize those imaginary identifications which both structure our Eros and our politics. In so doing, I hope to begin the articulation of gay Chicano/ Latino desire from a different point of view and with an aim towards opening up our political space to the possibility of an Eros which represents the complexity of both our sexual desire and ethnic experience, an Eros of multiplicity and identities.
1. Cherrie Moraga, "A Long Line of Vendidas," Loving in the War Years: La que nunca pasó por sus labios (Boston: South End Press, 1983): 90-144. See, also, Norma Alarcón, Ana Castillo and Cherríe Moraga, eds., Third Woman: The Sexuality of Latinas (Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1989); Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983); Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters, 1987); Carla Trujillo, ed., Chicana Lesbians; The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1991). This is only a partial listing of the writing that is available.
2. Within the past few years, there has been a growing number of Chicano and Latino gay artists who have begun to explore these issues. Groups such as the Los Angeles based ¡Viva!, a Latino gay and lesbian arts organization, have begun to provide a space in which artists can work. However, the work has not been widely disseminated and remains difficult to access. Much of the work by Chicana and Latina lesbians has been a collective effort, as can be seen by the number of anthologies collectively produced by various writers and artists. This work has received wide circulation within lesbian feminist communities. Chicano and Latino gay issues receive little attention, for instance, in the growing area of Lesbian and Gay studies. I am currently at work editing a volume which will bring together both new and published writings.
3. Although Linda Williams's Hardcore. Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible"(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) takes as its subject heterosexual pornography, she points out that pornography can be looked at as a discourse about power and knowledge. Williams does not address the dynamics of race in terms of pornography, but I would like to conjecture that in terms of the images I analyze here sexual knowledge also becomes racial knowledge that has as its end the denial of difference. This will be addressed further in my analysis.
4. A critique of this subject has already been initiated by black and Asian men in Canada and the United States and by European-based people of color like Kobena Mercer. Film and video makers like Marion Riggs, TONGUES UNTIED (1989), and AFFIRMATIONS (1990) have also begun to explore the issue of gay subjectivity and ethnic identity. My analysis will use some of their work in addressing the question of Chicano and Latino men in relation to pornography and is also a means of including us in the discussion. See Richard Fung, "Looking for My Penis; The Eroticized Asian in Gay Porn" (145-168), and Kobena Mercer, "Skin Head Sex Thing: Racial Difference and the Homoerotic Imaginary" (169-222) in How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video, ed. Bad Object-Choices. (Seattle: Bay Press, 1991).
5. The title of Fung's essay comes from the stereotype of Asian men as having small penises. This stereotype becomes a way in which Asian men are viewed as having a low sex drive and as being passive and receptive in sexual acts. Fung shows the ways in which this stereotype, arising out of a historically determined Western Orientalist discourse, influences the framing of Asian men in gay pornography.
6. The increase in the number of films and videos that feature Chicano/ Latino men is based on my research and observation of the tapes available at a number of video stores that carry large selections of gay pornography in the Los Angeles area. There are no industry statistics available by genre category. Interestingly. Los Angeles is one of the largest centers in the U.S. for the production of pornography and also an area which has a large Chicano/Latino population. One could attribute this increase in production either to an increased multiculturalism on the part of the gay community or to a diversification of gay erotic (exotic?) tastes.
7. A number of white men have told me that they think Latinos are better lovers because they are "more sensual, passionate and romantic" than any other group of men.
8. For a powerful discussion of the image of black male sexuality in the history of Hollywood cinema, see Michael Rogin's "'The Sword Became a Flashing Vision': D.W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION," Representations 9 (Winter 1985): 150-195. Robert Stam and Louise Spence's "Colonialism, Racism, and Representation: An Introduction" in Movies and Methods, vol. 2, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press), 632- 649; and Ella Shohat's "Gender and Culture of Empire: Toward a Feminist Ethnography of the Cinema," Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 130-3): 45-84 are useful discussions of questions of race, gender and class in terms of the ways in which dominant modes of Western cinematic production have represented people of color and the Third World.
9. Richard Dyer discusses the idea of narrativity in gay pornography in very general terms in "Male Gay Porn: Coming to Terms" (2729), and Tom Waugh compares the systems of representation in gay and heterosexual pornography in "Men's Pornography: Gay vs. Straight" (30-33). Both articles appeared in a special issue of JUMP CUT, no. 30 (March 1985), devoted to the question of sexual representation and gay pornography. Both Dyer and Waugh's articles are very broad in scope and position their arguments in relation to the anti-pornography debate within feminism. Although Dyer and Waugh briefly mention issues like ethnicity, class and masculinity as elements in gay male pornography, they do not directly address these questions or their specific relation to gay politics. The section entitled "Gay Male Porn: Does Sexual Orientation Make a Difference" (190-285) in Men Confront Pornography, ed. Michael S. Kimmel (New York: Crown Publishers, 1990) also has the contributors framing their arguments in terms of the anti-pornography debate. Robert Stam discusses pornography in cultural terms in Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism and Film (Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).
10. Intra-cultural gender construction and dominant stereotypes meet at this point to doubly marginalize the Chicano/Latino gay man. For a discussion of the ways in which sexuality is constructed for Chicano/Latino men, see Tomás Almaguer, "Chicano Men: A Cartography of Homosexual Identity and Behavior," differences 3.2 (1991); 75-100.
11. Although presenting only two broad possible readings, I am not claiming that each individual Chicano/ Latino man would react to the text in this way. Reading against the grain of a text as a resisting reader is an activity in which the marginalized have frequently engaged. Here I am talking about the ways in which stereotypes, culturally held beliefs and other discourses work with and within visual representation to position spectators in various relations to the text and to its broader social context.
12. The work of artist Raúl Ferrets Balanquet, founder of the Latino Mid-West Video Collective, has attempted to deal with the question of queer desire in relation to a Latino cultural experience. His videos MÉRIDA PROSCRITA and WE ARE HABLANDO attempt to articulate this experience in Latino terms, critique those terms and create a possible space of desire for the spectator. Lourdes Portillo's LA OFRENDA: THE DAYS OF THE DEAD, a documentary about the Day of the Dead celebrations and rituals in Mexico and the Southwest, explores issues of gender within Chicano and Mexican cultural terms. Like Moraga and others, Portillo explores gender as a question of politics and class both as a means to celebrate and critique Chicano and Mexican culture.
13. Vladimir Correa is actually Brazilian and has performed in a wide range of mainstream gay pornographic productions. BLACK SALSA employs a cast of recognizable Chicano/Latino gay porn models: Rod Garreto and Eddie Valens. They are usually the only recognizably Chicano/ Latino models in more mainstream gay pornographic productions, but are not coded as such. There are also performers like Johnny Rahm who appears in BLACK ALLEY. In that production he was coded as Mexican, but he crosses over into mainstream productions. Mainstream productions here means those gay pornographic films and videos in which most of the performers are white and in which race and ethnicity are not coded as significant factors, usually due to the small number of men of color or because of the haters' total absence from the production. Chicano/ Latino performers like Chris Stone and Johnny Rahm, both of whom speak with heavy accents, are represented without any markers of their ethnic identity. In one Catalina production, Chris Stone is coded as an all-American football player who gets fucked by his coach. These texts do not enter the provenance of the present discussion.
14. I do not mean to indicate any specific white man or to imply that this would be all white men's fantasy of men of color, but rather I use "white man's fantasy" as a reference to dominant discourses which construct the male of European origin as the implied universal subject of identity.
15. Chicano/ Latino men's generally low socio-economic position most likely acts as a factor which limits their access to the purchase and viewing of gay pornographic material.
16. In their article, "Race, Sexual Politics and Black Masculinity: A Dossier," in Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity, ed. Rowena Chapman (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988: 97-164), Isaac Julien and Kobena Mercer investigate the way in which dominant gay discourses are inattentive to cultural difference. As Moraga points out in her essay, cultural discourse can also be inattentive to sexual difference. Gay Latinos become not only an Other within the white gay community, but they are also made an Other within their own communities.