Recent critical inquiries into the notion of masculinity have had an enormous impact, weakening sexual hegemony and the consequent reproduction of the binary of gender. That is, the redefinition of the concept of masculinity—and its extension to masculinities—has systematically dismantled the illusion of male anatomy as the sine qua non of the body. The insight that masculinity is just one more performance of gender, a copy of a long-lost original (Butler) rather than a synonym for manliness or a quality that is entirely dependent on the male body and its effects (Halberstam), has had repercussions on the materiality of sex. The masculine body is now understood as cosmetic, excessive, and prosthetic matter that is changeable, mutable, and malleable. Masculinity, however, was not always understood as the status quo of the body. Masculinity was invented and, with it, the idea that the male body corresponds to the place of the original, the beginning of materiality, or the first skin. This illusion of naturalness, that the male body occupies the place of the neutral body or even that the body is an implicit or altogether absent component of the masculine—which makes the female body its material opposite—forms part of a group of performative operations of citationality and repetition that have become naturalized over time. As such, the exploration of gender and the archeology of its performance are necessary critical platforms for tracing the production and materialization of the illusion of its naturalness.
Similar to the archeology of the digital, which has dominated the recently established field of media and modernity studies, the analysis of the construction of masculinity and the political response of the invention of masculinities allows us to understand the relationships between naturalization, gender, and sex in order to destabilize sexual hegemony and the violence that it exerts on the lives and habitability of other bodies. To activate this archeology is to have an effect on the politics of visibility and visibilization of gender and sex, as well as the material processes that solidify those sensibilities, affects, and practices that exceed—from within—the essentialism contained in the concept of masculinity.
Numerous scholars and intellectuals have participated in this challenge to the concept of masculinity, shedding light on its complex construction and highlighting the masculinism that dominated twentieth-century studies of masculinity. Jack Halberstam has convincingly argued that the study of alternative masculinities, collected under the general label of female masculinity, can effectively reshape the notion of gender as well as the theory and criticism of gender and sexualities. Halberstam’s work disconnects manliness from access to the codes and effects of masculinity and makes the history and future of masculinity the object of a definitive critical operation. And Paul B. Preciado relates masculinity to signs of the present and new forms of power that he defines as the pharmacopornographic regime, which is powered by an operative impulse that he calls orgasmic force. By taking testosterone, a nearly sacred substance that is difficult to obtain commercially, Preciado proves that masculinity’s inaccessibility as the original of sex can be overridden by chemical control. The virilization of Beatriz Preciado—who took the name Paul B.—is not a search for sexual stability. To the contrary, Preciado’s transformation becomes a de-identificatory project focused on the disappearance of the concept of masculinity itself. Similarly but in relation to femininity, Marcia Ochoa develops the notion of spectacular femininity to describe how transsexual bodies—known as transformistas—and those of beauty pageant contestants both make femininity legible in Venezuela. She insists that the concept of spectacularity is key to understanding the mass mediation that defines femininity. In this sense, Halberstam, Preciado, and Ochoa represent a critical point of departure, affirming the need to comprehend masculinity outside of the domain of the masculine and to understand the mediations that make it legible outside of that sphere. Other critical approaches, like those of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (homosociability, nonce taxonomies), Sylvia Molloy (the politics of posing), Carlos Monsiváis (vulgarity), and Roberto Echavarren (androgynous art), offer tools that are useful to our archeology of the history of masculinities and our proposal of alternate and alternative genealogies that reconsider the basic postulates of the most radical contemporary discussions of masculinities.
Drag Kings: An Archeology of Spectacular Masculinities in Latino America will debate the future of gender in the unequal, plural, and contradictory space that we call Latino America. Taking the Drag King show and what we call spectacular masculinity—a hyperbolic masculinity that regularly and without warning usurps the space of privilege and centrality granted to the masculinity of men—as our starting point, we systematically revise the staging of masculinities and the possibility of generating a crisis in heterosexism. For one thing, we highlight notable antecedents of the contemporary Drag King show, early interventions in which women or transsexual, transvestite, or intersexual bodies use the dynamic capacity of the certainties of gender to produce the effect of masculinity. For another, we emphasize our work in reading both hegemonic masculinity and its exceptional models through a critical technology that turns up the volume on the dramatization of masculinity and its prosthetic and cosmetic conditions, a spectacular masculinity that is disconnected from control or exclusive administration by men. These models range from Elena/Eleno de Céspedes, the sixteenth-century Spanish surgeon who adopted masculinity at a very young age, to Juan Gabriel, the Mexican national icon who places flamboyant performance at the center of the popular masculine repertoire, to Chavela Vargas, the Costa Rican singer who was one of the most emphatic exponents of Mexican rancheras. At the same time, our symposium explores masculinity’s enormous flexibility, the paradoxical categories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—from dandies to bugarrones, from mayates to metrosexuals. We pay special attention to the figures that embodied masculine myths—Che Guevara, Simón Bolívar, and Pancho Villa—as well as their reversals, parodies, and revisions—El Che de los Gays, Juan Domingo Dávila’s Bolívar, and Frida Kahlo dressed in men’s clothing. Finally, we complicate our research with an intersectional revision of failed and/or lacking masculinities. For example, the Latino artist Rafa Esparza, whose work examines the connections between queer subjectivities and migrants or the undocumented, re-thinks the supremacy of the body with a spectacular masculinity that associates the footprints of gay crossings in Los Angeles’s Elysian Park with those of Latino immigrants and workers near prisons and the Los Angeles River. In his 2015 performance Red Summer, Esparza wore a sequined target on his back as he walked near the Police Academy firing range. Over the course of twelve hours, Esparza fell to the ground every time he heard a shot fired.
With our critical approach, we seek not only to complicate the certainties of gender but also to stage a game of de-identifications that resists the pressures and new tactics of sexual binarism, making it impossible to locate the originals of sex and gender and instead constructing a space of material autonomy. As such, we want to recompose Latin America to incorporate critics, activists, and artists, and we want conversations with Latino and Hispanic populations in the United States to continue or interrupt debates taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean. An example of the need to connect these conversations is the contrast between the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta and the Latinx photographer Laura Aguilar. Although Aguilar’s work, which documents East Los Angeles’s lesbian population of the 1990s and also exhibits her own nude body in desert landscapes, has recently achieved increased visibility, it remains completely absent from queer studies and regional histories in Latin America.
Through prosthetic and cosmetic masculinities, our project considers the operations of hegemonic masculinity. While the figure of the drag queen has been broadly analyzed, the (im)personifications of masculinity and the drag king have been practically absent from Latin American critical analysis. In this sense, our project finds that, in spite of the machismo and chivalry that have long characterized considerations of Latin American masculine cultural productions and masculinity, women, women’s masculine personifications, and sexual dissidents have paradoxically had privileged access to the construction of mainstream masculinity. As such, the study of the discordant and contestatory figures of spectacular masculinities, many of whom have occupied central cultural and media spaces, makes the concept and operations of masculinity more legible. It also and moreover reveals the structural flaws in the framework of masculinity, thereby unraveling its hegemonic capacity and its uninhabitability to sensibilities, bodies, and genders that are dissident or threatening.