Butterflies under Cover: Cuban and Puerto Rican Gay Masculinities in Miami

By Kurtz, Steven P. | The Journal of Men's Studies, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Butterflies under Cover: Cuban and Puerto Rican Gay Masculinities in Miami


Kurtz, Steven P., The Journal of Men's Studies


Life histories of ethnic Cuban and Puerto Rican gay men who live in Miami-Dade County, Florida are examined to explore the strategies men employ to deal with their stigmatized sexuality, their negotiations of gendered self-attribution as they confront Miami's masculinized gay culture, and their reinterpretation of gay stereotypes and their own masculinities over time. Puerto Rican men were more likely to adopt a feminized self-conception and to deal with their stigmatization by moving away from their families. As they consolidated their identities within Miami's gay culture, however, all of the men gradually arrived at a more masculine self-understanding. Key variables in the gender negotiation process include the construction of inherited hegemonic masculinities, as well as the dominant form of masculinity within the local gay community.

In response to the individualizing discourses of psychoanalysis and the universalizing tenets of sex essentialism, social constructionist theories of gender (e.g., Gagnon & Simon, 1973; Rubin, 1975) have quite powerfully explained that masculinities are embedded in culturally-specified "system[s] of gender relations" (Connell, 1995, p. 44). The constructionist position is grounded in both cross-cultural studies that show wide variation in normative masculinities (Doyle, 1995; Paiva, 1995; Rosaldo & Lamphere, 1974) and historical research that demonstrates gender to be intraculturally dynamic (Katz, 1995; Kimmel, 1996).

More recently, the concept of hegemonic (i.e., contemporary, dominant, idealized) masculinities has been advanced to show how masculinities, within a particular social arena, are differently empowered (Carrigan, Connell, & Lee, 1985). While masculinities are certainly structured in relation to socially prescribed roles of women, this work stresses that masculinities serve, just as importantly, to structure power relationships between men. Race, ethnicity, class, and other significations of social status are reflected in relative valuations of stereotyped and marginalized non-hegemonic masculinities.

Sexuality, as a "nexus of the relationships between genders" (Rubin, 1984, p. 28) provides a key point of stratification between hegemonic and marginalized masculinities. Not only are sexual relations between men most often construed as the abandonment of masculinity, but homophobia is itself a key buttress of hegemonic masculinities (Connell, 1995; Lancaster, 1995). As Connell (1995) observes: "Oppression positions homosexual masculinities at the bottom of a gender hierarchy among men. Gayness ... is the repository of whatever is symbolically expelled from hegemonic masculinity" (p. 78).

Male homosexualities, like masculinities, are not, however, identically constructed across or within cultures. One particular subject that has received the attention of anthropologists and sociologists in recent years is the elaboration of the social differences between Latin and North American homosexual identities and practices. Much of this literature comes from Mexico (Carrier, 1995), Brazil (Parker, 1991; Kulick, 1997), and Nicaragua (Lancaster, 1995). Murray's (1995a) compilation provides an even wider ranging view of Latin American homosexualities.

The primary theme of these accounts is that machismo--the Latin American construction of hegemonic masculinity--produces a stigmatized homosexual identity only for those men who engage in receptive anal intercourse (pasivos) and inserters (activos, or bugarrones) retain their masculinity.(2) Because being sexually penetrated contradicts the masculine ideal--as penetration affirms it--pasivos, variously identified in Latin cultures as mariposas (butterflies) and maricons (faggots, see Murray 1995a for a comprehensive list) are socially cast as highly effeminate men. Kulick (1997) argues that effeminate homosexuals should, in fact, be seen as belonging to the female gender in the highly polarized and sexuality-defined gender systems of Latin America. …

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