My relationship with femininity has always been fraught: do I disidentify with womanhood because of internalized misogyny? What is the root of my discomfort with expressing femininity or presenting in a feminine way? What is my role in sanitization of Latinx femininity when I refuse to embody it? As I have worked through my personal discomfort with femininity, I have come to understand and appreciate the role of Latinx femmes in my life and communities.
Deborah Vargas’s “Ruminations on Lo Sucio as a Latino Queer Analytic,” argues that markers of Latinx difference are read as queer latinidad because of their excessiveness. She claims that these markers are traces of “lo sucio” that can be identified “through smells, tastes, and sounds, the sensorial detections of racialized queer femininities” (Vargas 723). She describes “lo sucio” as offensive to the senses in a racialized manner because it exceeds sanitized normativity. Smells of fried food and the sounds of el barrio attack the senses because they are overwhelming in their grimy latinidad. Sucias, thus, are Latinx women and femmes that are excessive in their speech, their smells, their look, their overall volume; their “phenotypic characteristics…exceed what is visually inoffensive” (Vargas 716). This Latinx femininity is read as queer because sucias fail to conform to a particular cis, heterosexual, white femininity in their excess.
In a world intent on sanitizing and disposing of this Latina suciedad, “sucias love in surplus” (Vargas 718) and it is in that surplus love that I found myself understanding Vargas’s framework. However, this “love in surplus” nurtured and nourished me throughout my coming out process. While I would never call her a sucia to her face, my mother is one of the most important sucias in my life and it was through her that I was able to understand Vargas’s concept of suciedad. Mami is loud, she’s always got gallo pinto and tortillas on deck, and the sound of her accent lets me know I’m home. Before I came out, Mami made my Latinx home a space where I could explore my queerness. She gave me the space to experiment with my gender presentation without asking questions. While shopping together, once, she asked if I had checked the men’s section when I said that I hadn’t found anything I liked. While my dad made a scene about me cutting all my hair off, Mami made sure to find someone I could trust to cut my hair comfortably. When she asked me how I felt about Pulse, I could see in her eyes that she knew I was hurting more than I let on, but she did not press the issue. When I finally came out, she just asked how I knew I was queer and accepted “I just do” without another question.
Mami allowed me to grow into the sucix I wanted to be, not the sucia that white patriarchy and machismo expected. While Vargas defines sucias as Latinx women and femmes whose femininity is excessive, abrasive, and loud, I found myself relating to her understanding of suciedad because of my gender nonconformity. My struggles with femininity didn’t prevent me from understanding how suciedad informs the lives of all Latinxs, and particularly queer Latinxs. So, while I am not interested in expressing femininity myself, I do find that my gender transgression adds its own layer of filth to the suciedad of Latinx femmes. I will never grow into the words “woman” or “mujer,” and I’m not trying to anymore. However, owning my queerness, especially with other queer Latinxs as witness, has allowed me to embrace that sense of alternativeness that Vargas associates with sucias. There is room for gender nonconforming and nonbinary folks in suciedad and being able to celebrate each other’s queerness, knowing that we will never fit into white, cis, heterosexual norms of personhood, is a demonstration of Vargas’s love in surplus. Embracing Vargas’s reclamation of suciedad helped me understand the feelings of community I get whenever I’m around other queer Latinx folks who see my nonconformity and celebrate it with me.
While reading Vargas’s piece, I thought of my tías, my primas, my sisters, and Mami. I thought of the sucias I have grown so close to at school and I thought of myself. Vargas states that “decontamination…requires continual labor that necessitates dissolving layers and removing residue” (Vargas 724). I, along with all other children of immigrant sucias, are the layers of residue underneath the latinidad of the sucias that came before us. Despite the threat of decontamination, sucias celebrate and love each other in their surplus, building the Latinx community up as they heal and thrive within the excess of their suciedad. Sucias claim space for their excess, allowing young sucixs like me to find and build our own grime.
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Vargas, D. R. "Ruminations on Lo Sucio as a Latino Queer Analytic." American Quarterly, vol. 66 no. 3, 2014, pp. 715-726. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aq.2014.00468