Abstract 2 from Awash by Will Steacy, a portfolio that appeared in issue no. 177 of The Paris Review (Summer 2006).

“Pedro Lemebel, one of the most important queer writers of twentieth-century Latin America,” writes Gwendolyn Harper, his translator, was “a protean figure: a performance artist, radio host, and newspaper columnist, a tireless activist whose life spanned some of Chile’s most dramatic decades. But above all he was known for his furious, dazzling crónicas—short prose pieces that blend loose reportage with fictional and essayistic mode. … Many of them depict Chile’s AIDS crisis, which in 1984 began to spread through Santiago’s sexual underground, overlapping with the final years of the Pinochet dictatorship.” The Review has published several of these crónicas, newly translated by Harper, as part of a brief series in recent weeks. You can read the first installment, “Anacondas in the Park,” here, and the second installment, “Hot Pants at the Sodomy Disco,” here.

Fording gender’s binaries, giving the old sepia family photograph the slip, and above all picking the pockets of scrutinizing discourse—exploiting its intervals and silences—halfway and half-assed, recycling oral detritus like excreted alchemy: wiping, with a gossip rag, the pink smudge of a sphincteral kiss. I abide the unpleasant aroma to appear before you with my difference. I say in my minoritarian way that some groove or marrow etches itself into this constrained micropolitics. Cramping from camp, disassemblable in stripteased faggofication, reassemblable in straight obliques, politicizing toward sissy self-knowledge.

I expel these excess materials from a doughy imaginary, dolling up political desire in oppression. I become a beetle that weaves a blackened honey, I become a woman like every other minority. I yoke myself to its outraged womb, make alliances with the Indo-Latina mother, and “learn the language of patriarchy in order to curse it.”

Parodying patriarchy’s rectitude, obliquing myself once again inside the haunts and hair salons of travesti sisterhood. Plucking from our feathers any inky quills that tried in vain to explain us. So that at least we wouldn’t get depressed feeling utopia’s breezes. Because we never participated in those liberationista causes, doubly far from May ’68, submerged in a multiplicity of segregations. Because the sexual revolution that today is stuck back inside the status quo was a premature ejaculation in the third world’s back alleys, and AIDS paranoia threw the homosexual’s progress toward emancipation out the window. That wild desire to assert yourself in a political movement that didn’t exist—it got stuck between the gauze of precaution and an economy of gestures dedicated to the sick.

Which has little or nothing to do with the hospital that shipwrecked on our fraying coast. A gay movement we didn’t participate in, and yet we catch its deadly hangover. One of the developed world’s causes, which we eye from a distance, too illiterate to articulate a stance. Too feminine, too much flip- ping our hair and flirting with power. Too busy keeping our penises out of work to worry about anything else.

Cloistered inside our filthy ghettos, sewing fabric scraps for the underground clubs or seducing a townie on the scratched velvet of movie theater seats in a two-for-one matinee. While in Valparaíso they beat the travestis on the dock and herded them onto ships, General Ibáñez and his cruise ship of a horror movie playing forever in our memory.

But no one believed it really happened, and, in the end, those bodies frosted over with bruises were just the ordinary refuse of an aristocratic homosexuality that flipped through imported fashion magazines looking for pictures of the international gay parade. Imagining themselves in California or emptying their piggy banks to join the euphoria. So far from this illegal reality of crimes that go unpunished, slashed travesti girls dripping red ink across the newspaper, a pale punished face there for all to see, like one more stab into the silvery stateless betweens of her ribs.

Corpses and more corpses weave our story into a cross-stitch. A string of scars embroiders the rough satin insignia into a smoky halo that blurs the letters together. Class separates the locas, homos, and travestis from the comfortable gays who scramble up the social ladder.

Doubly marginalized for our loca desire, as if it wasn’t all enough already, the kicks from the system, the insults that claw at us daily, the utter indifference from not just the politicians but also those reclaiming homosexual power, which we see only as a speck in the distance.

Unable to wrap our poor Indigenous heads around the gay century, terrified of making a scene. Maybe we didn’t want to understand and escaped just in time. Too many social clubs and associations full of serious macho types. Maybe we were always crazy; crazy like the women they stigmatize.

Maybe we never let that imported discourse precolonize us. Too linear for our madwoman geography. Too much blond militarism and golden musculature that then succumbed to the horrifying crucible of AIDS.

So, how do we take charge today of this project? How can we form our own cause, transforming ourselves into exotic satellites of the groups created by white majorities who find our feathers endearing; who organize their massive congresses in English, so our Indoamerican tongue can’t have an opinion about how they organize their politics. We’re treated like younger siblings, right down to our Indigenous stammer. We nod without understanding, the flashy whirlwind of European capitals making us self-conscious. They pay for the flights and the rooms, show us their civilized world, annex us in the name of their dominant pedagogy, and, when we leave, scrub our muddy footprints off their wall-to-wall carpets.

How are we supposed to see ourselves in the gay aesthetic, blue and tortured, all those nipples stuck through with safety pins. How to align ourselves with these forniphallicated masculine symbols in chains and leather, with all those sadomasochist fetishes. How can we deny maternal mestizaje with these representations of force that are now considered masculine, forming misogynistic parallels with power.

Gay fastens to power. It does not confront, does not transgress. It offers the category “homosexual” as a regression to gender. Gay coins its emancipation in the shadows of “victorious capitalism.” Gay can hardly breathe in its necktie noose, but nods and squeezes its weak backside into the coquettish space that the system provides. A hypocritical change of spheres just to make another orbit around power.

Maybe Latin America—marked by reconquerings and transfers of power, with culture cross-dressing the wounds (covering, graft by graft, the brown skin of its own moon)—blooms in a warrior faggofication that wears tribal cosmetics as its marginalizing mask. A bodily militancy that speaks from the very edges of its voice its own fragmented discourse, whose most vulnerable sector, lacking rhetoric or political ground, must be homosexual travestismo, the underclass that finds its way into the darkest folds of Latin American capitals.

Maybe the only thing that can be said, the only writerly pretension that can come from a body politically unincorporated into our continent, is a babble of signs and common scars. Maybe a lost glass slipper molders in the vastness of this ruined field, somewhere among the stars and sickles buried in its Indoamerican hide. Maybe this political desire can zigzag, skimming along the top of these clearings. Maybe this is when the running stitch of modernity becomes the seam or side that breaks off, the weave of its theories tearing to reveal a South American validity in the homosexual condition, won back from serfdom.

This crónica will appear in A Last Supper of Queer Apostles by Pedro Lemebel, which will be published later this month by Penguin Classics, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group. Translated by Gwendolyn Harper.

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