I will end my blog posts with a short paragraph from my research project on queer spaces. Through conducting my research, I have developed an added interest in queer solitude. This excerpt begins my initial theorization on the topic:
The final concept I will introduce in my theorization of queer spaces is a space created by a singular entity: solitude. While the previous locations were constructed by a collective under the jurisdiction of power structure, this space exists independently. For this example I will use the analogy of a room with one person inside, but this does not mean that those without homes, or those residing in other habitats that do not model US living structures cannot access this space. In fact, this solitude is discovered under the individual’s perception of their own privacy. Additionally, queer solitude is not completely, independently constructed as someone will bring their personal experiences, influenced opinions, and shared histories to this space. The multiplicity of imaginaries come into play within solitary space. Furthermore, what I believe to be queer about loneliness or isolation is the way in which the complexities of resistance as well as conformity can be embodied by a singular entity. I wanted to conclude my findings with the concept of solitude because it most easily taps into the persistence of queer imaginaries. These utopias can and do exist in the previous spaces, but I believe they flourish in isolation.
A recurring topic, not only in Prague, but in every country we have visited sheds light on subject displacements. This theme was specifically contextualized during our visit to the NGO, Cooks without Homes, and our lecture with Miroslav Rusenko on the marginalized histories of the Roma people. Cooks without Homes strives to provide woman-identifying people who have difficulty finding permanent living situations with resources towards safety, partnership, and empowerment. As Prague has become increasingly gentrified due to tourism and the influx of wealthier people to the city, the percentage of homeless women has remained stagnant within the past decades (women account for around 20% of the homeless population). During our tour of common destinations homeless people would visit, I thought about how these individuals live among us and are physically hyper-visible in society, yet remain incredibly invisible in terms of adequate support and their personhood. Lanka also mentioned how in Hungary it is illegal to be homeless (all in the name of protecting the presentation of the city), but where is the efficient logic in criminalizing the existence of a demographic? On a similar vein, the lecture about Roma histories presented a disturbing truth about the power of nationalist groups in inflicting violence onto the ethnic group. Rusenko outlined the 1,000 year old history of the nomadic Roma people by focusing on how the population was systematically murdered and tortured during WWII. Currently, the Roma continue to face discrimination in the workforce, housing, and in health care as reiterated by the lecture at Slovo 21. As we arrived in Prague, I noticed a positive shift in terms of how multicultural parties are treated in comparison to Poland. However, as it has been mentioned by my professor, Iveta Jusova, Czech people often present as a welcoming and hospitable people even if they internally feel contrary. In the progression of entering increasingly white-dominated countries, I have realized that while people might sell you a certain image of themselves, it does not mean they are not guilty of perpetuating the same racial violence as those in Poland for example. The persistence of nationalist groups and subsequently marginalized groups such as the Roma and homeless population proves that there is at least tolerance for discriminatory behaviors.
Another theme that persisted in two specific lectures (Bliss without Risk and VietUp) was the creation of communities in border territories. The origins of sex business in the Czech Republic reportedly came from the opening of borders to international travel after the communist regime (specifically tourists from Germany). Bliss without Risk predominantly provides health care services such as contraceptive information and HIV testing to members; additionally, during this lecture, Simona Zatloukalova mentioned how some people participating in sex business have relocated to border towns (some which are adjacent to countries in which sex work is illegal). This labor meets the needs of tourists looking to access sexual services, although for now it is difficult for these workers to find appropriate resources to keep themselves safe and healthy. Similar to this labor offered to foreigners, the establishment of Vietnamese communities on the outskirts of the Czech Republic serves another need by producing materials to be consumed by neighboring countries. Originally arriving in the Czech Republic because of ideological ties between the two formerly communist countries, Vietnamese people built border towns to supply food, clothing, and materials for tourists travelling into the Czech Republic. Both of these groups remain largely marginalized by the general society, one for their ethnic identity and the other for their occupation. The movement into the outskirts of the country represent a trend to push out certain Czech people from a society that they ultimately contribute largely to. For example, the Czech Republic is still a destination for sex tourism (bringing the country plenty of money) despite there being no legislation on this legally invisible group. Additionally, walking around Prague one can find an abundance of Vietnamese, Southeast Asian cuisines to serve the consuming desires of the white population yet the existence of Vietnamese people remains a contested tolerance. While these groups are suffering, the hegemonic masses are profiting off the labor endured by these people.
Lastly, I will discuss the topic of disability as it is manipulated to present a discourse on race (Katerina Kolarova) and gender/sexuality (Jamie Rose). During Kolarova’s lecture, she explained the manipulation of two Roma boys’ ethnicity in a particular film as their race was presented as underdeveloped or backwards. The boys’ failure to assimilate into Czech society perpetuated an existing hysteria of Roma people being unequipped to live among other Czech people. I had never heard about racism being paralleled with disability in a constructive format, but Kolarova’s critique shed light on a reality faced by many ethnic minorities. The method to cure their insufficiency is met with the challenge to assimilate this population (i.e. the cure) and those that respond closest to the dominating class are seen as more viable. Although they will never be fully cured because of their racial/ethnic identity, these people such as the famous Roma individuals presented in Horvathova’s talk can at least be seen as undergoing treatment. This lifelong process/treatment can somewhat put to ease violent tendencies of the masses looking to expel certain groups (which is why people can stomach individual tolerance). Moreover, during Jamie’s lecture on queer people in the Czech Republic, she reiterated the power of sexologists to determine the fates of trans legal recognition. She mentioned how the absence of a trans community has led to internal conflicts by many individuals looking for legal confirmation in that the voice they hear comes from transphobic doctors. In the Czech Republic, people are forced into admitting a disability by having to consult with a doctor about their identity and being made to read literature on “gender disorders.” Additionally, trans people are stripped of their bodily and social autonomy as they are obliged to be sterilized, undergo corrective surgery, and terminate legal partnerships to gain legal recognition of their identities. Therefore, the social, legal, and medical position of both the Roma and queer people remain predicated on the decisions of the state and masses on how to treat these people. As patients to a larger social order, these groups/individuals remain vulnerable to violences dictated on those from positions of power.
Before arriving in the Europe I viewed the following countries we would visit as simply: the Netherlands: gay friendly, Germany: neo-Nazi territory, Poland/Czech Republic: gray. Each of these biases informed by progressive politics juxtaposed with the homonationalist future of the US, the effects of WWII, and supposed static result of communism in Eastern Europe. At the end of this program, I have realized the dangers of creating a homogenized view of Europe and have learned tremendously about the historical, cultural background of each country we visited. In this reflection, I will discuss my experience as I entered queer spaces and how my presentation was a determining factor in my acceptance within these localities.
To begin, I will start by talking about queerphobia in my hometown, Santa Ana, and my experience with physical presentations (we all have our own truths, though incomplete). In an interview, Judith Butler mentions the dangers of swinging hips on an effeminate male (presumably queer or at least read that way). In Santa Ana, this movement is also enough to be ostracized by society, to be targeted by the proclaimed cholas and cholos associated with gang activity. It is through this environment, I have found markers to cope and to conceal the hips I have morphed into hills, distract the brows I plucked into ocean waves, and starve the lips I smoothed into folded petals. And it is for my safety I return to the image of a straight, cisgender brown boy. I return to childhood because in this innocence I am read as without-sexuality by my grandmother who wonders when I will have my first girlfriend or my father’s friends who wish I would bring a Chinese girl home with me when I return from Asia. In this environment, I keep my ears open to listen to the “homosexual hearing” (Jose Munoz’s theory of messages only audible to queer ears) because in these words I live vicariously.
To be fair, it is not all queer people who share this risk. Actually within the cholx community the order is masculinity, meaning, butch lesbian women, trans men, cismen, masc women, etc. are all worthy of gaining respect. It is femininity that has no place and those that embody femme features are susceptible towards violence of any form. So, what does that mean for cross-cultural exchange and my study abroad in Europe? It means our physical presentation grants us, as queer people, entry into spaces that are temporary, subjective, and partial.
Over these three months I questioned how to navigate queer spaces. To so badly want to be seen as queer when people read me as straight. Berlin, which I quickly realized was the ultimate destination for queer individuals looking to explore their identity, fetishes, and engagement provided me the opportunity to explore my femininity. Wanting to be noticed by men in bars, but having them assume my female friend was my girlfriend made me question why my cropped shirt and hoop earrings were read as heterosexual markers. But, the most hurtful was not being invisible to men. The most hurtful was being mistreated by other queer people who saw my physical presentation as not-queer enough and too-conforming. In this statement, I am conflicted because on one hand I understand the courage of individuals to explore non-normative styles in places that punish these curiosities. For example, it would be difficult for me to imagine a non-hyper visible lifestyle by a queer-presenting person in Krakow, Poland. On the other hand, as a low-income person/closeted queer who simply cannot afford two vastly different presentations, being queer means operating within a medium that allows for transgression as well as conformity. Wearing makeup and feminine clothing in Berlin might elicit positive responses from strangers and free products from LGBT+ friendly clubs, stores, and restaurants (which happened). But this presentation needs to be adaptable when I return to Santa Ana so that I may move safely and be a respectful son to my parents.
First, I will mention an experience I had in Amsterdam in the beginning weeks of the program as I attended the Radical Queer Resistance Festival. During this conference, I participated in an event for queer femmes of color (each of these things I identify with) which was a comedy writing session. I sat next to an individual also identifying with these three characteristics who made it clear from the start I was not welcome in this space. This space was simply not for me. Even though I was also queer, femme, and of color, this did not matter. As we were in the session they proceeded to purposefully block my view by physically relocating their chair in front of mine although we were already sitting in pre-organized circle. As we passed around learning materials they would toss the paper and then the pens into my lap instead of handing them to me. They would also continue to stretch their body into my face and violate my personal space to the point I would have to reflect their movements to avoid being hit. In this rejection, I began to question my identities and if I deserve to embody them. What does it mean to experience Butler’s vulnerable subjectivity? To be potentially undone by a member of my own community? I only wore jeans and a heavy brown jacket with a face clear of makeup. Truthfully, I have never entered a queer circle back home, but I will state that my subtle forms of resistance in my queer presentation would be seen as radical from my community members. Would others look to me as the gatekeeper of the queerness? A position no one is worthy, capable, and deserving of.
In the second week of staying in Prague, my friend and I were on our way home from visiting the convenient store late at night. Right before walking up to the front door of our apartment we strolled past a popular LGBT+ bar named “q cafe.” In this moment, we caught the attention of a group of drunk queer individuals and one in particular that called to us shouting, “hey, you, we want a picture with you!” Thinking that she actually meant she wanted us to take a photo for her and her group of friends, we retracted our steps and joined them.
We would actually be the subjects of this photo along with her young Czech friends. As we began casually socializing with the group (making this moment more bearable) this woman started yelling at first me and then my friend to “shut the fuck up.” And in her aggression, I wanted to make sure my friend felt safe because according to the woman she wanted “to steal my girlfriend.” My friend who is Asian and identifies as lesbian was not asked to return this woman’s apartment or told how beautiful she was because the woman could sense her queerness. In fact it was because she was in her Asian alone, that made the subject of her sexuality irrelevant. And I, as a straight-presenting individual in that moment, would risk being physically assaulted to help my friend out of this situation. I could not see the wonderful person, queer activist, artistic organizer her friends outside the bar described her to be. We only experienced the violent, aggressive woman ready to assault two other queer people. In the US, we are constantly fed the rhetoric that LGBT+ people have formed a community to protect one another. This I believe to be true. However, sexuality is also invisible as well, so in order to be eligible for acceptance, even within our own community, you must be validated. The public groups of queer people in Utrecht, Berlin, Krakow, and Prague are all small is size and most people are well-acquainted with each other. Additionally for me as a brown queer, my entry is always up for deliberation as to maintain protection of other queer people.
Potentially these instances were my fault for not looking queer enough. To be clear, I am using the former statement provocatively. All identities are valid regardless of their presentation. Nonetheless, I cannot deny the emotional response elicited through my experiences in Europe. In the instances where I put on physical display my queer femme identity, I gained access to clubs, people, and interactions that were made possible by Berlin’s tolerance of alternativity. And contrary to the situation where I could not help my friend escape violence from other queer people, my fully realized presentation granted access for my classmates to the same resources I was thrown. But let me be clear, I completed this despite my brownness (not in parallel) because leaving two clubs in Berlin (separate occasions) I made conversation with multiple brown, queer men (who presented non-alternatively) rejected by the bouncer. Meanwhile, white gay men were filling the semi-empty dance floor. In conclusion, I have learned that our positions are both permeable and permeated by those around us. Although I am privileged to be given space abroad to exist, I must also recognize that we, queer people, also replicate toxic behaviors.
For my this post I thought it was appropriate to discuss situated queerness. I will specifically be looking at Berlin, Germany which was the second stop of our trip. As many of you know, Germany was home to the National Socialist Party (Nazis) during WWII which meant the country’s intentional extermination of Jewish people across Europe/German-occupied territories. Since the end of WWII, the country, along with other European countries, developed the theoretical framework of color-blind societies. In order for events like the Holocaust to never happen again, Germany set out on campaigns to remove discourses of difference and adopt “progressive” politics. These discourses are rather unfamiliar to people living in the US, as many of our social issues relate directly to politics of identity. One particular group that gained support through Germany’s liberal afflictions was the LGBT+ community, a community I am both a part of and engage with on a critical level. One mode of critique towards the LGBT+ group can be understood through Jasbir Puar’s coining of the term “homonationalism.” A national identity that becomes so consumed with protecting the queer population that it simultaneously adopts racist/islamaphobic legislation to preserve anti-immigration policy and xenophobia. Berlin is one location that has received such criticism with LGBT+ organizations like LSVD historically invested in “re-educating” backwards people (brown/black) from certain countries. To be clear, this is not my language, but actually comes from old LSVD initiative write-ups. And to provide a fair picture, I will add that during our visit to LSVD they stated their efforts to step away from homonationalist projects and towards helping immigrant communities. One such step is a project called “Miles” which provides transitional resources for queer immigrants new to Berlin/Germany. Additionally, through my interactions with German students, there have been great strides to discuss the circumstances of immigrants, POC, and to move away from the rhetoric of color-blindness once used. So why is this worth mentioning? You can hopefully assume that being a queer POC in Berlin is better than being a queer POC in any city in the US. Or at least I just feel that way.
For many of the queer students at Colby, you might already know that I am member of a popular gay dating site called Grindr. This digital platform has actually provided me with an interesting approach at examining the racial and gendered overtones of queer communities in these countries. Not only during my stay in my program’s four countries, but I actually re-download the app in every city I visit hoping to understand a little more about what is like to be queer in a given area.
Before beginning my anecdote, I will start with a short self-reflection of my own identity. Before this program, I was always uncertain about how my gender presentation and sexual orientation would affect my interactions with people around me. Of course I can still not foresee the future, but this uncertainty kept me sheltered and unwilling to explore my queerness. And not queer like I like to have sex with this group of people. But queer like what does it mean for your identity to transcend social norms or engage critically with structures around us (law, medicine, science, etc.). To me, queerness is to die and rebirth oneself. But even to be reborn does not mean being impervious to social reconfigurations and recalculations of this new, queer You.
Anyways, during this portion of our trip I decided to fully embrace my queer identity via Grindr seeing as though the city is extremely welcoming of nonconformists. Others might know that I also wear makeup at school, so embracing my identity (physically) basically just meant that I was going to have my profile picture be me with makeup (I will attach the photo for reference).
While I was pleasantly surprised by the increasing number of responses I received, I noticed a repeated trend. FYI: For anyone that isn’t queer, being a gay femme person in the gay community is pretty stigmatized; people want a “real man” and if they want you it’s either a) in an aggressive/fetishizing manner (this I will expand on later) or b) in a way they are ashamed to want you. Just ask around at Colby, I’m sure you can find someone that is too embarrassed to admit they like femme men. Check diverted eyes to confirm your suspicions.
Regardless, I was receiving so many messages from these hyper-masculine men. Not even asking me the simple “how are you” or “what are you looking for” but just sending me explicit photos and asking for me to perform things I had never even done. The thing with queer/trans folks is that we are often assumed to be the punching bag for people’s desires. As a result, I was in multiple situations in which I was objectified simply to fulfill someone else’s fantasies. Even a female friend! (yes, women can uphold toxic masculinity as well) used my body (to her, an object) for her own needs. This was a new experience for me as I am more accustomed to answering to “sexy Latin boy.” Again, what is the point of this story? To relate it to my earlier discussions of homonationalism; these protections primarily exist to shield normative cisgender gay people. For queer/trans folks it’s really a mixed bag of experiences. I want to be clear that I am not citing this as an issue representative of Germany (I believe this to exist in many parts of the world including the US). Also, I had countless of wonderful experiences being queer in Berlin. I felt comfortable to walk on the streets with makeup and in femme fashion. Or to hold hands and share intimate, romantic moments in public with another queer person. Berlin gave me the strength to want to explore my presentation and identity. In Berlin, being more is better and being yourself is the most fulfilling experience. My time in Berlin holds the memories I smile about when I let my mind wander to happy places.
For my first post I thought it was appropriate to introduce myself and the program I am participating in for the fall semester. I am currently abroad with a program titled Women and Gender in Europe which travels to the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. I along with nine other classmates have been taking classes with a professor who travels with us to these four countries. Together, we have attended lectures hosted by both NGOs and governmental organizations across Europe. These activist groups focus on a variety of topics such as sex workers rights, abortion services, immigrant communities, eradication of human trafficking, trans/queer advocacy, and many other issues.
My name is Kevin Muñoz and I am a junior at Colby College, double majoring in East Asian Studies and Women’s, Gender, Sexuality Studies. The reason I chose this program was to have a semester of my undergrad dedicated to studying critical theories. As I also engage in another area of studies, it is sometimes challenging for me to balance both disciplines equally. Thus, here I am in Europe and I have truly loved every minute of it (almost every minute).
I am hoping to use this blog to share some of the social issues relevant to each of the countries I am visiting. Additionally, I will position my identity within these geographical locations to reflect my own experiences as a queer person of color. While these countries are all located close to one another, they hold vastly different histories and cultural significances. Lastly, I am looking forward to sharing some gender/sexual theory in this blog and relate it to personal, potentially intimate experiences. As a trigger warning to potential readers, I will be discussing micro-violences as they pertain to gender, racial, and sexual subjectivity. Also, I will be touching on my visitation to organizations that focus on sensitive social issues, meaning if any of my posts effect you in a way you are uncomfortable with, please refrain from reading. You, as the reader, must also look out for your own well-being as well. For me, I want to lean into my vulnerabilities and trust that what I share with anyone who reads me will be used in a productive manner.
Trigger warnings: racial violence, death camps/Holocaust, queer violence
Queer time and space. This topic has emerged into gender studies discussions with the help of scholars like Jack Halberstam, Jose Munoz, Michael Foucault, Lee Edelman. Late in the 20th century, the AIDS epidemic in the US created a discourse around queer temporality, looking at non-normative ways of spending time. If queer people’s lives are under attack (which they were/are) then what does it mean to live in the present? A large percentage of normative lifestyles is dictated in/with the promise of a futurity. And these lifestyles are gendered and racially described. Lee Edelman writes about the social construction of the Child. The being that needs to be protected, reproduced, and in the constant framework of society. Well, what does this look like in our everyday lives? It is the compulsory attitudes we might have towards getting married and having children. It is a message we are all fed, but one thing is abundantly clear- this dream does not involve brown boys like me. This Child is white, able, cisgendered and born into a middle class family.
If you know the history of forced sterilization of Black/Latinx women, the ever present oppression against people with disabilities, and the (again) forced surgeries of intersex babies to manipulate their bodies to be later woven into a gendered binary, these things can tell you that this Child does have a face. Certainly, it is not the face of the aforementioned. And while many queer people elect/can’t have children, we are still affected by normative ideas of time that are expected for our lifespans (i.e. milestones that must be completed to live a “full” life). Today, I will discuss time/space as it applies to my experience abroad and in the cities I have visited. To provide a final piece of context, Halberstam explains that cities are places that are constructed with racial and gendered undertones. Nothing made is made without intention.
During our time in Poland we visited two death camps: one named Auschwitz and the other Birkenau. These were used in WWII specifically to exterminate Jewish people (predominantly), but also the Roma, Sinti, Jehova’s Witnesses, German Homosexuals, Sex Workers, Enemies in War, and many other groups of people who diverged from the Nazi’s planning of the Nazi Aryan race. Visiting these two sites was an emotionally exhausting experience as we couldn’t even begin to understand the trauma endured by the people in the camps. Everything from the transportation to the camps, the poor sanitation, gruesome working conditions, terminal punishments, and gas chambers was meant to kill. I’m sorry this is so dark. I just keep thinking about the prevalence of Holocaust-deniers in Europe and how the denial of this history is a completely new level of violence enacted on those affected. Truly, to deny pain, trauma, and memory is violent.
And on the topic of Jewish communities, Krakow, Poland also houses a stunning Jewish quarter right outside the city center. Here many of the synagogues from before WWII still stand as they were used by the Nazis as storage facilities. Specifically, they were used to hold ammunition and weaponry utilized during the war. It is hard to find places in Europe that were not largely impacted by the war, but Krakow is actually one of the only cities that was not destroyed by the Germans. As my instructor explained, “the Nazis liked the city, but they had an issue with the people inside.”
In our first week in Poland, we visited a former Communist city called Nova Huta. Just from looking at it, you would not know that it held such social/political importance. But, this is the point I am trying to make, things are created always with a purpose. Nova Huta has wide streets that once hosted mass gatherings and demonstrations under the Communist regime. It maintains its buildings surrounding parks or public spaces that allow people to not only watch their children from their apartments, but encourage people to watch each other. Thin walls in each apartment complex to permit neighbors to listen to each other’s conversations. Now, I am not meaning to make it sound like Communism is this horrible monster. It does have it’s strengths. But I also believe in holding entities accountable when they perform ills regardless of who or what those entities are.
Lastly, I will comment on my own experience as a queer presenting individual. This is what a city means to me. Berlin was extremely urbanized, with a similar blueprint to New York City. Tall buildings, a subway, and many people flowing through its roots and branches. With so much space, there are pockets in which queer bodies can move in, exist, and hide. But, these pockets are also conflicting, because in the same space, violence can prevail. It is possible to simultaneously experience freedom and fear in the same instant. Krakow presented a different situation. The city is designed around one city center with the influx of tourists filling the streets daily. But even among a sea of people, I could not avert the gaze projecting on my brown skin, my false eyelashes and pink eyeshadow. I want be clear that I am not proposing that these countries are homophobic or racist. Nor am I speaking for every brown, queer person that has ever travelled to Germany or Poland. But I will discuss the experiences I encounter while embodying my identities. And I will not sugarcoat my stories to readers as they were lived by me in their fullness.