Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guest post: "Why Ricky Matters" by Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano

[NOTE: Another Latina music star came out this month. To find out who it is, please click here]

Hello! And welcome to the first ever guest post on this blog. My friend Lorenzo tagged me on a Facebook note he wrote this morning and I thought it was so great that I asked him if I could share it. So...

Why Ricky Matters (to me.. and maybe a few other boys)
by Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano

There’s been a lot of commotion regarding Ricky Martin’s recent coming out statement on his official website. As with most things in life these days, I learned about the news on Facebook. So, I immediately posted about the news as well and quickly joined in the jubilee of queerness and pranced about the office like a middle school-aged boy who accidently touched hands with his classroom crush. I even committed the blasphemy of comparing the news to that of Health Care Reform and the release of Apple’s iPad (insert sound of angel choir here).

And then, of course, there was the storm of cattiness that followed the news. As a queer Xicano, I admit that sarcasm is built into my genetic code. The survivor of four Christian-themed religions and 500+ years of white supremacist occupation, I find humor, irony and disbelief in most things. Still, yesterday I just wanted to celebrate.

I agree that the fact that Ricky is gay is not all that shocking. Queer men and not long speculated or asserted that he shook his bon bon far too well to be straight. Plus, for us jotos/maricones/patos, there was the added benefit of dreaming him up queer, which somehow put us that much closer to his arms.

Still, as the catty remarks continue, as people boast about how they knew and think he should have done this 10 years ago, or sassy queens dismiss the news as inconsequential, I say, look beyond our borders (geographic, cultural, and age-based) and take a minute to honor the fact that for many, Ricky’s coming out is groundbreaking, perhaps even life-saving.

So Ricky was doing more than living la vida loca; he was, in fact, a loca. To the trained eye, this is just confirmation that our gaydar runs on more than hormones and dreams.

Hormones, dreams and cattiness aside, I challenge the ungleeful remarks about Ricky’s coming out.

As with most performers who began as Spanish-language artists, Ricky began over 10 years ago. The Barbara Walters interview (assuming it was Barbara, I can never tell who is behind that cloud of light) did have me on the edge of my teenage self, hoping he’d come out and proclaim his gayness, but it wasn’t his beginning. Ricky’s career began decades ago.

Long before the Latin Explosion, which was more of a Latin Spark, Ricky had left his imprint on the Spanish pop scene of the late 80’s and early to mid-90’s. Back when Thalía and Paulina were still artists and relevant, before Gloria Trevi’s traumatic (for her and her fans) imprisonment in Brazil, and before Alejandra Guzmán would be hospitalized for too much botox on her behind, there was a cultural movement in Latin America.

As a pre-teen growing up in a rural town of 300 in northern México, Thalía, Paulina, Gloria, Alejandra and Ricky were my window into another world. Their performances pushed, albeit at times gently and censured, the boundaries of repressive cultural norms. From flowers wrapped around a microphone to songs about teen pregnancy and abortion, these young performers were resisting and embodying another realm of cultural possibilities. Ricky gave boys the excuse (and perhaps reason) to shake our hips in ways that would otherwise be condemned as obscene.

The dismissal of Ricky’s coming out seems to be rooted in an U.S.-centric perspective where we have the opportunity to stop celebrating any queer image on TV and offer our critique. There is so much gayness these days that we can spend our days and dissertations balking at how a character isn’t gay enough, is too gay, is too white, etc. And although we don’t actually have the type of representation GLAAD and I would like to see, we have a whole lot more than we did in México in 1992 (except, of course, Ricky gently caressing his long hair on stage… oh, and Locomía).

I am not critiquing the fact that we spend so much time criticizing queer portrayals in the media. To the contrary, I am celebrating the fact that we can. In fact, I’d go further and ask why queer people of color media performance and productions are so weak, lame and superficial. Having once curating a queer people of color cultural arts program, I know we can do better.

What I am critiquing is that our criticisms of Ricky’s coming out has us falling into the pitfall of imagining and defining all things queer through a U.S. lens. I even joked about the fact that he used the term “homosexual” to define himself. And now, in retrospect I find that identifying as a “fortunate homosexual” was much more powerful than a simple “gay.”

Perhaps for the jaded queen living in urban U.S., the oversaturation of gayness in the media has deemed Ricky insignificant and worthy of our dismissal. For that frightened and confused 12 year old in rural Chihuahua, it’s monumental.

My coming out process was stumped by the fact that I could not even imagine my queerness, let alone live it. At the time, the saturation of gayness was mostly strictly white. It wasn’t until queer brown men like Jaime Cortez and Emanuel Xavier fearlessly (or perhaps fearfully) exposed their work and their bodies to the sun of public criticism, that I was able to imagine myself.

Whether U.S. fags approve or not, Ricky is a prominent figure here, and more importantly, in Latino América. Ricky’s coming out makes it possible for young boys in countless homes to imagine themselves as something other than confused.

For this, I say to Ricky: gracias. And, you know where to find me.

About Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano: A Queer Xicano writer, Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano is the author of the Lambda Literary Award-nominated Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen (Evelyn Street Press, 2005).  He is also the editor of Queer Codex: Chile Love (allgo/Evelyn Street Press, 2004), an anthology of visual and literary works by queer men of color from across the U.S.; and, Queer Codex: Rooted (allgo/Evelyn Street Press, 2008), a mix-genre anthology by queer women and trans-identified writers and visual artists. His work also appears in Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry (Floricanto Press, 2008), edited by Emanuel Xavier. A native born, raised and perpetually residing in Aztlán, Lorenzo was born in San José, CA, raised in Estación Adela, Chihuahua, and schooled in Austin, Tejas. Along with his compañero of nine years, Lorenzo now makes home in San Francisco, CA. 

Oh, and he also blogs, sometimes, at Hairspray & Fideo. Oh, and he has a personal website.

[Related: My friend Dan Vera wrote to say that he'd just posted a similar essay on Ricky Martin's coming out. He says that he had no idea Lorenzo had written this piece and was struck by the similarity of their thoughts.  His post can be found below].


Some Other Guy said...

I wholeheartedly agree with this post. Last night on HuffPo I had to reply to someone saying 'Do str8 people get a press conference?' They just don't know.

Had to set the str8 str8.

Everyone comes out their own way in their own time and the fact that people are talking about Ricky Martin coming out, it could only help those dinner table discussions and perhaps enable someone else to leave the closet behind.

Then this morning as response from a right wing FB friend who's attitude was who cares? Ricky Martin hasn't had a hit here in years. I had to school this guy with the fact that Ricky did have other hits en Espanol, and explain the good that comes out of Ricky's coming out.

There is no bad in Ricky Martin coming out, it's all good. There is bad in indifference and catty remarks.

Ah, my gay people always willing to attack their own...

Anonymous said...

I would have appreciated it more had he done this at the height of his popularity and not at a stage where his career is pretty much over and his relevance in pop culture has dwindled to non-existent.

Well Said said...

Thanks for writing this. I snickered when I first heard but you're right. There aren't many out gay celebrities of color. Ricky definitely matters.

Matthew said...

I'm going to link this; I 100% agree and it's been annoying to me how people don't get it: Ricky Martin is a HUGE international icon. He is one of, if not the, most famous person worldwide to have come out aside from Elton John.

RIcky Malone said...

It is hard not to compare the way that Ricky came out to the way George Michael came out. George Michael was exposed. Ricky came out as a loving father of two boys he wants to nurture. There was no "smoking gun" hanging over his head. He deserves kudos and credit and those people who say, well what the big deal, we've known it all along underestimate the courage it took for him to make this move.

Cubbyish said...

Great post, summarizes most of my thoughts on the subject as well. When I read all the snarky comments from my friends list, I thought the same thing. It was relatively easy for me as a middle-class white kid from the midwest to come out at 16, but that's not the culture he came from or where his popularity lies. I was very happy for him that he was able to come out and wish him only the best.

Some Other Guy said...

Hate to burst Anonymous' bubble (actually I don't mind doing it), but while Ricky Martin's career might have been on the wane here in the US, I'm quite sure he continued selling records en Espanol all over the world. Just because you might not be aware of his hits doesn't mean he's over.

Robert said...

I think it's funny that you refer to jaded urban NYC gays as having a "U.S." perspective. Yes, gay issues receive far more media attention in the U.S. than in Latin America. But most cities here are like the little Chihuahua you mention. The hatred is more pervasive than anything else.

anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I do really appreciate it as I feel like I’ve been a bit on the defensive the past two days. . I would have to say first of all. No one should judge when, if and how another individual should come out. I resented everyone who told me to. When I finally did it was my time, for me and no one else, because I wanted and needed to… Taking advice from a queeny twenty year old to come out of the closet is just as bad as someone’s mother telling you to stay in. Clearly the people who were close to Ricky Martin knew back in the day and what the hell else mattered? Was it his duty? Should be be expected to be a gay rights activist now? No. I sincerely thank him for doing this now, though a bunch of bitches out there say its too late.. I love him for it and once more thank YOU for this post.

Anonymous said...

Ricky doesn't owe you anything.

Anonymous said...

Kudos for this thoughtful and well written post. It takes balls to come out. Go Ricky.

qc.carlos said...

Ricky Martin Says He is Gay [No Kidding] Now What

Celebrities have the privileged power of influencing people's minds and ways of living. That is how it's in these days of corporate-run media and pre-designed cultures, rather we like it or not.

I understand why many Latinos (regardless of our racial and cultural diversity) in the U.S. might be excited about this. Some think that Ricky Martins action can help as an example for many closeted gay or bisexual men -or LGBT people period- who are still living in fear in the Americas, especially in societies where the lack of tolerance is overwhelmingly oppressive.

libhom said...

I was really happy to read that he had come out.

I think a lot of the cattiness is due to the fact that a lot of people wanted him to come out much earlier. I could tell he was gay from the first moment I saw him, and I know most other queers could too. I think many queers felt that denying the incredibly obvious was sending a message that being queer was something to be ashamed of.

Personally, I'm not really interested in judging or criticizing him for past mistakes. I'm just glad that he did what he did now.

Anonymous said...

This is another anonymous person, simply because I don't feel the need to register for something I won't use.

Anyways, I want to agree with the other Anonymous fellow. As a Xicano male, and having family in both Spain and Mexico...Ricky Martin is simply a whisper in pop culture in comparison to Shakira, Invierno, etc. Furthermore, I feel that this coming out process, though glad he had found the strength to do so...could also be a means of obtaining sales on his album that he will soon be releasing. Perhaps that is not his intent, but I feel the possibility to be there.

Furthermore, using Ricky Martin as an example for other gay men to find the courage to come out is absolute nonsense. So he came out? To be honest, it has no effect on my decision to come out or not, nor do I find any strength in it. I feel that if someone wants to know if I'm gay they are more than welcome to ask....otherwise it is of no one's concern, just as it is no one's concern if someone's straight. I apologize but a lot of LGBT activism is a load of 'cattiness,' over symbolism that is only applicable to those who care about such things (careful, as I do not mean indifference). I have more respect for the actor who plays Magneto in X-men for being gay, than I do Ricky Martin.

Some Other Guy said...

Better to be callous than catty then.

Brian Pacheco Corleto said...

Actually anonymous xicano....I disagree that Ricky Martin's only a 'whisper in pop culture' (and who's INVIERNO??) . I'm not sure whether you actually saw coverage in Spanish-language media, but the story was HUGE; shows devoted large chunks of their airtime to discussing Ricky Martin's coming out and the coverage was overwhelmingly positive. Now he may not be as out on the scene as he used to be, but given that his story enjoyed great mediacoverage, I would say that he is as culturally relevant now as when he was on tour, on novelas, and releasing albums. Popularity isn't measured just by your personal pop culture preferences or circumstances (like one's own social circle), but by what is shown in the media and/or by what is deeply and widely liked in the community as a whole.

monoflaco. said...

omg this made me laugh and tear up at the same time. I admit, at first I deemed Ricky's coming out as not necessarily insignificant but simply a confirmation of what EVERYONE (even my dad) already knew. I didn't really see it as a huge deal but like Lorenzo said, to a jaded San Francisco queen like myself, already saturated in queer culture, it wouldn't be. To that little boy in Chihuahua it is an affirmation that he is not weird for feeling the way he does and for shaking his hips so "obscenely." I stand corrected and see how it could open a world of possibilities to someone and maybe even save their life.

We forget what a great influence the people on-stage have on our kids and people in general. Great article, super funny, thoughtful and i love how his picture is on here... u kno, in case SOMEONE comes across it hahah.