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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Latina Lesbian Identity

I'll post the whole thing when done. Let me know what you think so far.

Lesbian Identity in Chica Lit
            I remember when I first told a friend I met on Blogger that I believe myself to be asexual. He accepted me and did some research and concluded that, “I read that it can sometimes be harder being an asexual person than an LGBT person, mainly because asexuals receive little prominence in society whereas gays, lesbians and bisexuals receive a lot by comparison.” For those of you who aren’t sure what asexuality is, it’s someone who isn’t really interested in sex or has sexual feelings. It is different from celibacy because a celibate person has interest in sex and feelings about it, but they either choose not to have it or haven't had the chance to have sex. It’s still in a gray area of being included in the LGBT community and many advocate for asexuality to be included. Since the prominence is low, it’s not really known. Sometimes illnesses are said to play into this; I have a thyroid disorder and some people believe it is that since the key feature of hypothyroidism is little interest in sex.
            When I first told my grandma that I was not interested in guys in a sexual way, her reaction was “you’re not into girls, are you?” I replied, “No. I’m not really into anyone sexually.” Her reply was simply, “well, that’s strange, but you’ve been single for a year and it might be that.”  I went through two bad relationships that lasted four months each and both ended badly, but I knew in those relationships I wasn’t interested and never would be (that was the main cause of the breakups and cheating). I was raised Catholic and getting married is a sacrament in the religion that resulted in my grandma’s fear that I wasn’t going to have “normal” relationships that might result in marriage and children. Even when I practiced Islam for several months, I learned that not having any type of male/female relationship that didn’t end in marriage and children was looked at as a sin. I just remember when my Islamic mentor said to me, “you don’t have a boyfriend? That’s odd. You might want to get on it.” Fortunately, the few relatives still practicing Catholicism don’t pester me like that anymore. I have learned that Islam and Catholicism were closely linked in that matter and was the reason why I left both faiths. I have struggled with my identity and haven’t really come out to many people because of the reaction of “it’s just a phase” or “it’s your medication or thyroid” might come up, even though I don’t believe it is that.
            In 2003 Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez released The Dirty Girls Social Club. Although it follows the lives of six Latinas that call themselves sucias (Spanish for “dirty”) and have been best friends since college, the one character is lesbian. My friend might have said it is easier being gay than asexual and that is true in a lot of communities, but in some religious and traditional communities being anything but straight is difficult. Elizabeth, the lesbian Latina, is learning that the hard way and has an identity crisis. She is introduced by Lauren as a “cohost for a network morning show in Boston, current finalist for a prestigious national co-anchor position, former runway model, born-again Christian (former Catholic), and a national spokeswoman for the Christ for Kids organization” (Rodriguez 12). With Lauren’s description of Elizabeth, we’re not aware, just like the group of friends isn’t aware of Elizabeth’s lesbian identity. When Elizabeth confesses to us that she is a lesbian, she is ashamed because she “grew up tall and narrow with a mother who did not talk about these types of things” and in Columbia there is no word for lesbian: men are supposed to love woman, not man and man or woman and woman (65). Sexuality appears to be rigid in Columbia and other Latin American countries. It is in this plot that Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez captures the queer narratives that became popular in young adult literature in the late 1960s, add a lesbian aesthetic to the novel to show us how the heterosexual relationships from family and religious communities are forced onto Elizabeth and the other sucias leading to the breakdown of relationships in The Dirty Girls Social Club.
            As soon as Elizabeth’s part comes up the reader begins to see that Elizabeth character is a lie because of her shame and fear. When Elizabeth is at the poetry house, she stated she started coming here to find herself and
People know who I am here. They know me. They think they know me. They eat eggs and drink coffee and stare at their televisions and see my face behind all that makeup. They send their children to the bus stop and rustle their newspapers while I read them the news of the day with my perky smile. They tell me to grow my hair, to cut my hair, to gain weight, to lose weight, to speak more clearly, to be proud of my accent, to change my name, to revel in my Spanish surname.
                                                                                (Rodriguez 65)
 Elizabeth is not sure who she is and it shows when people tell her she should do whatever they want her to do. Elizabeth wants to write poetry, but fears that “after ten years of bilingual life, I don’t know where all my words have gone” (Rodriguez 63). Elizabeth is demonstrating to readers that in this double life, she’s not sure of her life and what she represents since she can’t find the words.
According to the essay “Better Than Ice Cream: Lesbian YA Literature” by Beth Younger, lesbian based themes existed in young adult fiction since the late 1960s (although gay male characters outnumber lesbian characters in novels). Younger insists that new lesbian young adult novels examine sexual orientation and since the topic has become more openly discussed, literary characters have become more overt as well (Younger 51). In earlier novels, which I believe Rodriguez is writing from for Elizabeth’s character, mediated narratives were mostly the norm. In the mediated narratives, the perspective of the antagonist performs an important function because others learn about what it means to be a lesbian through the antagonist’s coming out. This technique subtly introduces the topic of lesbianism in a less confrontational tone because the protagonist is just learning about this as well. It also shows lesbianism is too controversial to talk about (Younger 51). Since Elizabeth hasn’t come out yet to society, we still see the controversy in being gay, especially when she takes off her sunglasses at Selwyn’s poetry reading and someone from her Christian entertainment job spots Elizabeth and writes about her lesbian identity. We also see firsthand this fear and how delicate she is since her identity is built on fear and a lie.
I was curious to see what was going on in 2003 regarding the LGBT movement. Upper Merion Township Library added The Dirty Girls Social Club into their collection in June 2003. I decided to look at what was going on in June 2003 and how it ties into what Rodriguez is trying to write about. According to Wikipedia, on June 10, 2003 The United States Department of Justice reverses an earlier decision banning the annual employee gay pride event. However, on July 28, 2003, George W. Bush said he supported "codifying marriage in the United States as being between one man and one woman” (Wikipedia 1). Closer to where The Dirty Girls Social Club takes place, on July 31 Patrick Leahy that was the senator from Vermont also introduced the proposal as S. 1510, which is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), in the U.S. Senate. This proposal was designed to eliminate discrimination in immigration by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and legal permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens” (Wikipedia: UAFA 1). It was defeated in the Senate.
Compulsory heterosexuality is the last key technique of gay Young Adult literature according to Younger. I believe Rodriguez utilizes this with the Christian and other religious types and the male figures of the book acting out against Elizabeth. After the article is published, a truck driver shouts at Elizabeth, “what a waste. Look at ya. Good lookin’ nigger, too. What you need is a good man to set you straight” (Rodriguez 175). The man thinks she’s pretty and believes her sexuality is caused from a man that did her wrong, but believes he can set her straight by his manliness and sexiness. Younger argues that in compulsory heterosexuality, the lesbian(s) is (are) forced to have sex with a male figure that is angry over the lesbian identity because “in Western Culture, it is commonly accepted that sex equals heterosexual intercourse” (Younger 62). That is why teenagers are often confused when asked if they had sex based on the word “intercourse.” This is where the term “virgin” becomes important since virginity is a form of heterosexual control. That is why Elizabeth muses that “women are not thought to be sexual in Columbia. Sexual women are bad in Columbia. And even when they are called whores, everyone knows they are getting paid and do not enjoy it. They are virgins or whores and there is nothing else, nothing in between” (Rodriguez 66). If you’re gay, you can’t be a virgin or a whore in the traditional sense. The man’s comment to Elizabeth is angry because heterosexual sex is still a domination of the sexes where the male controls the female (Younger 68). This might be why Roberto becomes jealous of Sarah and Elizabeth. Rodriguez might have created him to show that even in today’s society men are still insecure about their place and when homosexuality is present, they lose their power.


  1. Reads well so far, Jessica. I really do want to see the complete version, so please let me know when you finish it. :)

    1. Will do. :) I had it proofed by some classmates and they want me to switch some things around.

    2. Hmm...I wasn't planning to make any suggestions until you have completed it. :)

    3. We're having workshops all week. The paper is due next Monday. My other seminar paper is due next Wednesday. That's another 10 page paper. I'm doing that one on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in the Hunger Games, modern pop music (within the past 15 years) and a modern take of the play in Iraq.