Thursday, September 7, 2017

Un joto femenista!

In México, joto is a masculine word that denotes a homosexual male, and pejoratively connotes an effeminate gay man who is a pasivo—sexually receptive rather than insertive. Moreover, the word’s breadth and potency as a pejorative is colored by regional influences: joto in metropolitan Guadalajara—Mexico’s Castro—connotes something different than it does in rural Michoacán. I have yet to find an English term that aptly captures the meaning of joto, so nuances are bound to get lost in translation. The same can be said of “queer,” which translates to raro in Spanish, which, in turn, translates to “rare” in English.  

I tell my English-speaking friends that I’m queer only if they are familiar with the term. Otherwise, I simply say that I’m gay. But with my Spanish-speaking friends, I vacillate between joto and gay. And sometimes I queer joto by upending the gender and calling myself a jota, even if it’s grammatical nonsense. Jotas don’t exist, but lesbianas (lesbians) do!

To add to my already complicated identity, I am also a femenista, and I have been one since before I knew what the term meant. Life steered me in its direction.

Due to my father’s trek to el Norte, my abuelita, tías, and mom raised me. They taught me early on that despite seemingly fixed gender roles, mujeres (women) deserved the same respect and treatment afforded to men. I also witnessed how poverty and an indifferent labor market gave these mujeres the impetus to practice feminism. Indeed, when my mother and I reunited with my dad, she let him know that she, too, would have to work because a single service-sector paycheck was not going cut it.

My father too agrees that men and women deserve to be treated equally even if he doesn’t grasp what femenismo (feminism) is. In fact, his trek to el Norte was also a journey into feminism, because it forced him to grapple with the fact that there isn’t, as former President Obama notes, a “right way and a wrong way to be a man.” When my father arrived in this country he had to cook, clean, and take on service sector jobs despite his traditional upbringing. Immigration forced him to confront domesticity and the untenabilty of strict gender roles. And he learned that, just like women are expected do, men of color in this country have to compromise in order to survive. In short, although my father didn’t seek out feminism, feminism found him.

Personally, as my lexicon grew, I learned to articulate what I had grown up observing, and I began calling myself a feminist. In fact, I became a hyphenated feminist. Throughout several semesters of undergraduate study, I identified as a queer-intersectional-feminista. This was not because it was trendy do so, but because I felt compelled to ask mainstream feminism to make room for an immigrant joto like me.

I wholeheartedly believe that “the personal is political,” and that feminism must continue to hear, incorporate, and reflect upon others’ her/hi-stories, including those of men. Indeed, Adichie’s comment that masculinity is a “small hard cage, [where] we put boys inside,” highlights the fact that gender norms also bedevil men. Thus, feminism should actively strive to fold more men into its ranks. 

In spite of the challenges confronting feminism, I admire feminism’s bent toward reflexivity and its willingness to critique itself. I take comfort in knowing that feminism is capacious enough to embrace jotos, individuals who identify as queer, and others whose identities may be morphed or partly lost in translation.


B. Williams said...

I love your post. It's a great reminder of why intersectionality in feminism is so important. Clearly, there is no "one size fits all" feminism. Feminism isn't all about white women, wealthy women, or women in high-powered careers... feminism should and can be successfully adapted and adopted by everyone regardless of gender/race/sexual orientation/gender expression/disability status.

I really appreciated reading about how you claimed feminism and amended the label to something that encompassed multiple facets of your identity! Language is important and your choice of self-descriptors really conveys that idea that feminism is a "big tent." It's also sort of a radical challenge to the idea that feminism can be captured by one specific term or ideology.

On a separate note... I adored your phrasing here:

"Immigration forced him to confront domesticity and the untenabilty of strict gender roles. And he learned that, just like women are expected do, men of color in this country have to compromise in order to survive. In short, although my father didn’t seek out feminism, feminism found him."

Omar de la Cruz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Omar de la Cruz said...

Great post, it really enjoyed reading about your family's history. I liked the fact that you went as far back as your grandfather and identified that he is technically a feminist as well despite perhaps not knowing what the word means. That made me reflect on how far back I could go in my family and find generations that "existed" in ways that would be considered feminist, like by sharing work that is typically divided along gender lines.

As a native spanish speaker, I was also very interested by your exploration of the word "joto." Like you mentioned, sometimes there are certain words that lose much of their meaning when translated literally between languages. I always felt that "joto" was an entirely insulting and negative term. While I would never call someone that, it was great to see how you have reclaimed the term and use it as a means for identifying yourself.

Suzanne Connell said...

I really enjoyed your post and how personal it was. It really showed how feminism can be malleable and how people can identify with its principles in different unique ways that reflect the different and unique feminist. Your description of your father's trek to el Norte but also to feminism demonstrated the subtle ways that feminism can be acquired unknowingly. It made me think of my own journey with feminism. I didn't just wake up one day and decide to be a feminist. It came to me gradually over time when I learned of the inherent inequalities and wrongs our society commits against women. It took me a while to realise I actually was a feminist, however I got there in the end.

Your treatment of men and the need for folding more of them into the ranks of feminists is a progressive way of thinking which I completely agree with. The feminist movement does itself no favours if we're to bully and exclude men from supporting its aims, and in many ways it will just end up being counterproductive as male exclusion contributes to a large part of feminisms stigma.

I really enjoyed reading about the way you reconcile the differences between identifying as a feminist and defining yourself in both Spanish and English, because since English is my first language it was all new to me. Overall I found your piece to be engaging, different and highly personal which I believe added a great deal of emphasis to the message you were trying to relay.