Homo Freak

Like Matthew Shepard’s, Jorge Steven’s body is generating its own mythical force. The body of the young American man whose name heads the Hate Crime Act recently signed by President Obama was found almost dead in a field in Laramie, Wyoming. His face so brutally beaten by two young men, that those who found him thought they were staring at a scarecrow. Matthew was murdered for being homosexual. The defense lawyers for the self-confessed killers alleged the accused were victims of “gay panic.” Jorge Steven, a 19-year-old, was murdered by another young man, Juan José Martinez Matos, who allegedly paid Jorge (or not) to engage in sex. That encounter ended with the savage murder of this young man, whose body was stabbed, dismembered, partially burnt, and then dumped in Mount Guavate in Cayey. Juan José, the self-confessed killer, has said Jorge Steven tricked him supposedly posing as a woman the night of the encounter. Matthew was murdered for being who he was. Jorge Steven was murdered allegedly for not being who he claimed to be.

Two beautiful young gay men heinously murdered. Like Matthew’s body in the United States, Jorge Steven’s body is a prominent icon in the struggle for gay rights in Puerto Rico at a moment when the gay marriage issue is gaining decisive momentum in many parts of Europe, some Latin American countries, and a handful of American states. The possibility of Juan José being prosecuted under the hate crimes law would restore some dignity in the Puerto Rican LGBT population. A crucial point is that Jorge Steven’s dead body is essential for the vindication of the homosexual bodies alive in the country today. For this to happen, it’s important that we identify the real victim of this crime. The victim is not the murderer, as those who use the “gay panic” defense claim, but the homosexual who has been murdered.  

The process of victimizing Jorge Steven’s body has been unraveling for the last few months in Puerto Rico with a clarity, consequence and determination never before seen. Similar crimes committed against homosexuals during the decades of the seventies and eighties, like the case of Ivan Frontera -- murdered by a serial killer commonly known as the “Angel of Single Men” – never generated news that traveled beyond gossip and tabloid press dedicated to crimes of passion. The only effect caused by the death of Ivan Frontera, a fashion and social etiquette journalist, was the termination of “Ivan Fontecha”, a popular television character spoofing the flamboyant mannerisms of Frontera, created by comedian Sunshine Logroño, who removed the character from his repertoire. Ironically, with this gesture Logroño denied Frontera his last chance of survival.

But Jorge Steven’s case has been quite different. News about his death and the prosecution of his killer, still at an early stage, have been widely covered by the local press, and there have been attempts to place the news in a global context. Commemorative vigils have taken place in Puerto Rico and New York, there are numerous testimonial videos by friends and admirers on YouTube, and several film memorials have been created celebrating the life of Jorge Steven with photos, anecdotes. and statements from activists in Puerto Rico and the United States.

No one has been more faithfully dedicated to this cause than Pedro Julio Serrano, who has practically turned Jorge Steven’s murder into the axis of his position as the leading LGBT rights activist in Puerto Rico. Currently working as communications manager of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, a leading national lobbying organization working at the federal level, Pedro Julio ran for legislator under the New Progressive Party a few years ago without success. He since has become a fierce advocate for gay marriage and constitutional equality for sexual minorities. No one explains with more eloquence and zest the due right we gay people have to be treated with absolute equality as legitimate citizens of a Puerto Rican society that must be for everyone once and for all. That’s the name of his base organization: Puerto Rico for Every@ne (Puerto Rico para Tod@s). In Spanish, the word everyone has a masculine and feminine form, and he uses the @ symbol to include both genres in a single grammatical space.

The day of Jorge Steven’s wake at Diaz Funeral Home in Toa Alta, my partner and I attended along with some friends. Like so many others, his death had moved us deeply and we felt compelled to be there as part of the LGBT community of our country. Chapel A, a small and humble space, was packed with family and friends. Some of us had to remain standing by the entrance. Soon after we arrived, Pedro Julio showed up and sat on the floor in front of a makeshift altar with numerous photos of Jorge Steven and his friends. One of Jorge Steven’s brothers introduced the preacher for the event, a woman between the age of 30 and 40, who introduced herself as a former addict transformed by the word of God. In her testimony she told us how her addiction caused her to become homeless and hand her children over to the government. The process of her transformation that began with her religious encounter, allowed her to start a new life re-socialized, a life for which she claimed back her sons. Her two sons, who went to live with her again, were present at the funeral home. She asked them to join her up front and proudly introduced them as her two gay sons. Her testimony ended on a dramatic note: she had to leave her congregation because of her sons’ homosexuality. Her church accepted her, but they couldn’t accept her gay sons. At the end of her testimony many of the people in the room were moved to tears.

After this first act, it was Pedro Julio’s turn. His words were firm and moving. “The sin is not homosexuality. The sin is homophobia. The sin is intolerance, it’s the violence of silence.” Pedro Julio uses religious language, not like a religious figure, but like a politician. When he uses the word “sin” he’s referring to the fault, the problem, the issue. “The silence of the politicians (continues) who have not even expressed their condolences to Jorge Steven’s mom, is a deafening silence. Some days ago I witnessed another silence at a gay club were they observed a minute of silence in memory of Jorge Steven. A minute of silence at a club…Two silences, so different one from the other.” I thought to myself, a minute of silence in a gay club, that’s a true miracle. 

Pedro Julio Serrano has the qualities to be a great political figure in his native country. He speaks with conviction. He speaks with a clear sense of purpose, and has a genuine and utterly important message. Jorge Steven’s death, so unfortunate and untimely, could, however, be key for people to get a better and deeper understanding of the interesting and promising Pedro Julio. His young and candid style, never trivial nor entitled, presents him as a different kind of contender in the Puerto Rican political arena, so deteriorated in recent years by dimwitted politicians produced by long-standing and tired partisan politics. I hope that figures like Pedro Julio and especially our voters come to realize that our political future does not lie in political parties. We have to listen to the proposals of minority groups like homosexuals, women, syndicates, and environmentalists. The advocates for Corredor Ecológico del Noreste, Todo Puerto Rico por Puerto Rico, Movimiento Hostosiano, and Puerto Rico para Tod@s. Therein lies the future of Puerto Rican politics. Neither (former governor) Anibal Acevedo, nor (current mayor of San Juan) Santini, (current governor) Fortuño, (current president of the Senate) Rivera Shatz, or (former senator) Ruben Berrios have much to offer Puerto Rico. But figures like Pedro Julio Serrano do. The famous kiss he and his boyfriend shared at the end of his deposition in front of the Legislature is one of the few promising political acts that have taken place in this grand house in recent years.

However, and I say this not with arrogance but with certain melancholy, neither Pedro Julio, nor the gay community, or LGBT activism have the capacity to summon Jorge Steven’s real body. In a way, there’s no greater act of violence against a body than placing it in the sarcophagus of victimization. On the other hand, I recognize it’s true, even if I don’t completely accept it: we had to snatch the young body away from the murderer, we had to remove him from his hands, so he couldn’t continue dismembering him. We had to restitute him into an integral body, a united body, coherent, legible, a body that could restitute itself for law and order, a complete body waiting to be re-civilized. That is the body of a victim of a hate crime. In order for the victim to occupy his space, it's necessary for the perpetrator to occupy his. The assignment of roles in the cast of this drama is implacable. And the stage lights have to shine on the body remembered (rememorized and reunified), the body of the new political subject of the XXI century: the LGBT body.

The drama woven in this process is about gay rights. It’s an important drama. I’m moved by the progress we’ve had in Spain, Holland, Vermont. I’m moved by Evo Morales’ pro-gay policies. But I can’t forget that the two main causes of the gay movement in the United States today, gay marriage and serving openly in the military, we should admit, are very conservative. The right to marriage is in fact the right to divorce. The number of gay couples that divorce soon after getting married is alarming. We have become staunch advocates attempting to save two of the most questionable institutions of Western society: bourgeoisie marriage and the imperial army. 

That’s why my melancholy cannot be satisfied with the victimized body of Jorge Steven representing the gay movement. It’s obvious that the impact of his body on his murderer is far more outrageous than the degree of hate as defined by the penal code. What did Juan José really want to kill? What did he want to erase with a knife, with fire, and dismemberment? An act that instead of vanishing the body, multiplied it, recomposed it, and increased it, in a geometrical progression. A body that far from disappearing, spreads over Mount Guavate, grows, and comes apart to incriminate from the darkest places of the forest. What did Juan José attempted to kill but failed?

Of the many testimonials about Jorge Steven circulating on YouTube and in the press, the gay movement has focused on those that present him as a good boy, hard working, obedient, full of happiness and hunger for life. His mother talks about his generous nature. Some friends even draw him as a little angel. It’s as if the victim, in order to be effective, has to become a good girl, a sweet stay-at-home Barbie. But there are other testimonials on YouTube, many from his disco drag friends who have dedicated some let’s-call-it-a-night performances to him. There’s April, Queen Bee Ho, and the drag that sings for him “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler in the most dignified way. At the end of the song she invites the audience in the club to join her in a minute of silence (the same Pedro Julio speaks about). But the best is yet to come. As soon as the minute expires, she gives a clownish conspiratorial look to her audience and lets out a thunderous scream “Here we go, let’s do it the way he liked it, let us be heard all the way up in heaven, puñeta!” In another of my favorite videos, a young friend dedicates a testimonial to him using his cherished pictures to the beat of “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, with its frantic non-stop chorus: Work It Homo Freak Bitch! 

It’s in Jorge Steven’s pictures that his true body appears to me, his fierce body. His plump red lips, his hair (flaming red is my favorite), his plucked eyebrows, striking a pose with two fingers framing an eye. It’s obvious that Jorge Steven was no Little Red Riding Hood. He was the Alpha Bitch of a fierce pack of bitches. That’s the body that his murderer tried to vanish. The body of desire. His desire. But he only was able to tear it apart and multiply it. A body that becomes animal. A body that becomes female. A fascinating, powerful, and dangerous body.

The gay struggle has become a project of liberal politics: the quest for equality. Equal rights. Thus, inserting itself in the civil rights movement, the biggest contribution of liberal politics in the West. But our political struggle doesn’t fade in the search for equality. Its most radical form is in fact the defense of the differences. The body that provokes fear because it fascinates and confuses at the same time, is the body of the differences. A body that is neither female, nor male. It’s a trans body. The real phobia is ultimately not homophobia. It’s trans phobia, the phobia of a borderline body, porous, a multiple body in constant transformation, like a fierce pack of queens. That is the legitimate political body that we must defend…even from civil rights politics. A naked, impudent, explosive body. A homo freak bitch. 

(English translation by Erik Carrión Orlandi)


Mara Negrón

¿Qué nos convoca, interpela, indigna tras el asesinato de Jorge Steven? Su muerte, la muerte de alguien que estaba lleno de vida. Nos indigna su muerte y la violencia de su asesinato. Nos podemos referir a la violencia de forma genérica para hablar de la «ola criminal que nos arropa» en un país donde se cometen asesinatos todos los días. Pero no quiero hablar de la violencia en forma absoluta sino que quiero calificarla. Me parece que es esencial que califiquemos esa violencia, esta violencia en particular que es la que se ejerce por odio, por fobia sobre el cuerpo del otro, de otro que se presenta irreconocible, ambiguo. Estamos hablando de violencia de género y de crimen de odio. Me parece que todos queremos que se haga justicia, que los tribunales juzguen y que quede claro que se asesinó a Jorge Steven porque era homosexual.

Entonces, estamos ante la paradoja de la ley y de las identidades políticas; por un lado pedimos al derecho y al estado que reconozca a Jorge Steven y por otro lado revindicamos lo irreconocible de su subjetividad, no queremos que sea normalizado ni domesticado.

Sexualidad y poder, y hemos aprendido a leer ese binomio con Foucault, posee diversos estratos: el del estado con todos sus aparatos de normalización de los individuos y de sus cuerpos y el del ámbito de lo privado o doméstico en el cual los sujetos establecen relaciones entre sí. No hay si le creemos a Foucault, y yo le creo, ningún ámbito que excluya el ejercicio del poder, es decir, mecanismos de control y de sujeción. No es que uno ande mandando por ahí, pero no hay ámbito de la otredad, de la relación del uno con el otro que esté exento de esa organización de fuerzas; uno puede tratar de pensar ese poder como democrático, igualitario, humano, pero es poder. Otra forma de decirlo es afirmando que no hay un afuera de la ley, que podemos estar ante la ley como lo dice Rubén Ríos remitiéndose al texto de Kafka. Pero nos construimos como sujetos en ese forcejeo con la ley, la ley del deseo es pues también deseo de ser reconocido. En esa tensión se producen eventos, cosas nuevas, aparecen obras de arte, discursos nuevos y por supuesto subjetividades nuevas. Entonces es muy difícil y complejo pues el deseo que parece querer quedarse fuera de la ley sólo transgrede estando en los márgenes de la ley para poder ser incluido y transformarla. Hay un deseo de inclusión por parte de todo sujeto que implica ese hacer aparecer algo que en su momento es irreconocible y que luego se estabiliza como identidad. Una vez aparece la identidad, una vez esta es reconocida se endurece y pierde su potencial político. Pero ese deseo es político mientras es irreconocible aunque la lucha política consista en ser incluido. Estas propuestas sobre la ley y su violencia a la cual se enfrenta el deseo son aporéticas, pues hay violencia porque hay ley pero a la misma vez la aspiración democrática supone reglamentar, trazar límites. Enumero algunas ideas para abrir a la discusión.

1)    Las representaciones del poder ya sean patriarcales o falologocentricas - modelo muy adherido a los estados modernos en su concepción de la soberanía y por lo tanto de la idea de familia (el pater familia… y de ahí las prerrogativas que los hombres reclaman en los diversos espacios de simbolización) subsiste. Creo que este modelo no ha dejado de operar a muchos niveles del poder político y de lo privado o doméstico.

2)    Padre = Ley dice el psicoanálisis. ¿Y podemos salir de ahí? ¿Podemos imaginar una ley sin padre, es decir, que no ejerce su cuota de coerción y de violencia? No estoy planteando la fatalidad de la violencia, pero sí sus complicados vericuetos. Pues cuando hablamos de «masculinidades» de nuevas masculinidades que aparecen, estamos dándole vueltas a ese modelo, a ese problema. La norma parte de ahí. Dicho sea de paso, en los artículos iniciales de Diálogo se emplea ese término «masculinidad», «masculinidades», en plural. Y me gusta. Pero se da a entender que lo masculino solo atañe a los hombres, que es un ámbito donde los hombres se mueven para escoger modelos de «masculinidad». De igual forma que «la feminidad» - que ha dado mucho quehacer a las teóricas feministas, a las de la diferencia sexual y posteriormente a las performativas – se revela como unas prácticas, y no una esencia que no está forzosamente ligada a las mujeres – ni lo masculino, ni la masculinidad es un propio de los hombres. El gay es precisamente aquel que performa esa inestabilidad de las categorías de lo definible. Nos dice con su cuerpo que la sexualidad no es «natural», es un devenir y produce cosas extrañas, ilegibles, irreconocibles. Como dice Rubén en su artículo Homo Freak, de todos los cuerpos que se significan a través del cuerpo de Jorge Steven está el más extraño. El anota el hecho de que su asesino confiesa haber sido engañado. A Mathew Sheppard lo matan por lo que era y a Jorge Steven porque no parece lo que es. ¿Qué eres?, la pregunta de la indecisión, la que genera violencia. Te mato, me doy el derecho de matarte por no ser reconocible, traducible en mis términos, es decir, en los de la ley del género clásica, piensa el inconsciente del asesino.

Ahora bien no queremos que por ser Freak, Queer, a alguien se le arrebate su derecho a vivir. Por eso acudimos a los tribunales, por eso hacemos reclamos políticos y de representación como comunidad LGTB. Que el que quiera pueda ser todo lo raro que se le pueda ocurrir sin que su vida esté en peligro. Eso queremos y es políticamente deseable. Pero no podemos olvidar que el deseo de reconocimiento político implica cierta normalización. Por eso imaginar una política radical implica estar todo el tiempo en una huida de identidad.

El asesino de Jorge Steven también es un sujeto deseante, es decir, estamos ante el deseo que es una fuerza indomesticable. Pero el deseo de muerte de ese asesino yo no lo voy a defender. El ámbito del deseo es complejo, y no queremos minarlo pues sabemos que «la norma» se encarga de sujetarlo y que parte de las transformaciones políticas radicales que nos interesan remiten a deseos indomesticables. Por lo tanto, se trata de defender el derecho de existir  y de desear lo más extraño e infinito sin matar al otro, y de pensar en leyes que a la larga no nos encierren en la normalización coartando el derecho a la exploración de lo inaudito.

3)    Hablemos de masculinidades pero entendido que es el espacio de una exploración de la sexualidad abierto y donde el modelo patriarcal está en crisis. Prefiero en ese sentido el ¿qué es un hombre? que trae a colación Alfredo Carrasquillo.

4)    Si los hombres no abandonan tan fácilmente ese modelo es porque hay un goce perverso en el poder. Ese es el autor de la violencia sobre su pareja o el de un crimen de odio.

5)    ¿Qué respuesta política podemos dar a esa violencia que se justifica, que se tolera y se legitima ya que el estado y sus instituciones siguen diciendo de muchas maneras, algunas abiertas otras más solapadas, que la heterosexualidad es la única opción sexual, la única vía “normal” de asumir el deseo? La paradoja es que tiene que haber ley. Sí ley. Tanto para transgredirla como para protegernos. Necesitamos por lo tanto ampliar el arsenal de leyes para proteger las diferencias. Creo que hay que obligar a la gente a hacer. No hay de otra. A fuerza de obligar se impone una cultura diferente. Obviamente, hay que educar en la complejidad del deseo y de la otredad. Si soñamos podríamos esperar que los medios de comunicación en Puerto Rico asumieran otra actitud y se repudiara contundentemente los crímenes de odio y la violencia de género, la violencia machista. Me gusta mucho el caso español. ¿Cómo han combatido la violencia machista? Con leyes. En los medios noticiosos, los periodistas hablan - y las palabras no son solo palabras, las palabras son las cosas -  de violencia machista, y hay una actitud de condena y de repudio. De manera que no hay ni pizca de tolerancia, no hay ambigüedad en cuanto a la actitud que hay que tener frente a esa violencia. Es decir, España, está formando una generación que está diciendo el mundo de otra manera y transformándolo. Esto no pasa en Puerto Rico, porque ni las políticas del estado ni los diversos sectores civiles se ponen de acuerdo. Por un lado una defensa de la familia en su estado arcaico, políticas sobre sexualidad conservadoras y exclusión de la comunidad LGTB, una comunidad que no es reconocida como sujeto político.  Pedro Julio Serrano avanza, con todos sus defectos, en esa senda. Pero, a los partidos políticos de la isla, anquilosados, les cuesta mucho trabajo reconocer las transformaciones que se han producido. 

“The sin is not homosexuality. The sin is homophobia. The sin is intolerance, it’s the violence of silence.” - Profound and beautiful quote.

I thought one of the most important parts of the article was the conclusion. I would agree that the greater phobia here is transphobia and not necessarily homophobia, and because of my recent studies I think that extends to the cyborg body too.

Really, I think that male dominated religious society has been slowly going on the back burner and that is the arguably evil force that is fighting for power and struggling to keep difference, and definitely the main force against homosexuality and trans bodies. It was males who made african americans into slaves, it was males who kept women in the home with less rights, education, and pay, it was males who ran the bible thumping medival clergy... these males are loosing their footing as the most powerful part of the human species and are clammering for a place in our increasingly liberal and progressive societies. They have a place, butthey refuse to accept difference, because in that acceptance they have to give up what made them powerful, being a man.

I thought it was great that the article also touched on the fact that these "heterosexual" men were attempting to murder a part of themselves.

I found this article very touching and eye opening about the LGBT community plan to move foward from the murder with time and to fight for the rights they do deserve. I was moved by the description of the funeral and the great amount of people that atteneded to support him.

It's no surprise that people are afraid of what they don't know, or understand and feel to make those people, or things disappear. However, by pushing all of this information, this story into the media, we are assuring that Jorge's body and spirit didn't disappear with him. It's only becoming more clear that transphobia is probably the biggest LGBTQ issue at hand now that marriage is starting to come through and "don't ask, don't tell" is over. I think what is unsettling to people more than someone being gay, lesbian, or however they identify is the fact that identity, gender, and sexuality survive and thrive on a spectrum, which means that not everything is absolute or one way, or another.

It's inspiring that the lobbying of LGBT rights activists is having such an impact on the globalized view of queers. The fact that this has been covered by major news stations from the get go and not been swept under the rug only to be discovered later on during happenstance research really shows how the internet can give information and ideological mobility to queer bodied individuals and those who seek it.

It's so upsetting that we have to go through these kinds of things more then once. You'd think with all the press the Matthew Shepard case got that people would have learned or there'd be at least the beginnings of progressive open mindedness. There is no reason for the murderer in this case to be viewed as a victim. He's homophobic and I get that. He freaked out when realizing he was about to sleep with a guy and I get that. But somewhere between stabbing, dismembering, burning, and dumping a body one would think you're more humanly instincts would kick in and you would realize you are doing something wrong. 

I fail to see how the murderer, for even just a second, is considered a victim here. He still has his life. And the use of the term “gay panic?” Stabbing or shooting someone is one thing because that stems from panic, but he was able to stab, dismember, burn, and dump the body. That took time and effort. Something a panicked person doesn’t have. There is no excuse here. Transphobia, and homophobia should be treated exactly like every other crime.

in this article the author made a comment that bought chills through my body which opened my eyes in a way that I did not look at the situation at first. The comment was as follows, "The victim is not the murderer, as those who use the “gay panic” defense claim, but the homosexual who has been murdered." At first i thought of the "gay panic" a defense as the murderer themselves but I did not think that they would actully pin the reason why the victim was murdered was because it was their fault. Its absolutely not the victims fault that they were murdered because they did not ask to die they did not wish for this to happen, so they use their homosexuality against them. Which isnt fair to the vctim neither the victim's family becauser if the murderer did feel threatened or did feel uncomfortable and initially went into attack mode it doesnt make okay but thats a reason by his wrong doing but at the same time whose to know that that actually was the real reason behind why he commited ths cruel act.

As disgusting and awful as both of these crimes are, I think the fact that the press went crazy covering these cases says a lot. Even using the Ivan Frontera example, not every murder and every crime gets recognized for it's true horror and true disbelief. The fact that both of these crimes are widely well known and are still constantly discussed after years having gone by is very important. It spreads what some would hope to say tolerance and just overall knowledge that crimes like these need to stop taking place.

I find it fascinating that people will even tolerate the thought of explaining away these murders as "gay panic defense." They are clearly murders and they are clearly caused by a much more powerful force than gay panic. This is not to say that the murderers themselves are completely evil, however. There is a massively complex system of beliefs and histories at work when looking at these two instances, and although murder is always wrong, the circumstances beg a closer inspection. What causes murders such as these? Is it homophobia as Serrano suggests? Is it intolerance of difference? Is it hatred towards people who play with the meaning of gender? I'm sure it is all of the above. But blaming, discounting, and incarcerating young men for the heinous crimes they committed only goes so far as to lock them up for a very long time. It is the responsibility of everyone else on earth to make sure the issues at hand are considered, argued over, and brought to light in an effort to educate everyone else that difference is what makes us each special.

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