PhD Student in Information Science at University of Colorado Boulder
To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana2009. "To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana", The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, Gloria Anzaldua, AnaLouise Keating
Anzaldúa critiques the term lesbian as English-dominant, cerebral, and "white and middle class," a form of assimiliation which erases color and assimilates culture. She similarly discusses how previously stigmatized words like "dyke" and "queer" have been assimilated by white middle class academic lesbians. Like discussions of feminism, she states that "queer" is an attempt to homogenize diversity under a false unity. She critiques the use of identity labels for writers, as white and heterosexual writers simply get to be "writers." She specifically disdains that the writing itself becomes "Chicana" or "lesbian," rather than the writer. She claims her use of these labels is not a conforming to the dominant expectations of marginalized writers, but so that others like her aren't erased. She describes this as a "double bind," where identity labels become both positive and marginalizing.
Queer theory itself has been framed by white middle class gay men and women, controlling the discussions in academic and activist communities and "making abstractions of us colored queers" (pg 251). She states that white theorizing about queer identity has constrained the ways we think about being queer. The queer of color perspective is then constantly reactive, pushed into a position where they must defend the cultural abuse of white queer theory and thus become the "colonized reader and writer forever" (pg. 252). She discusses the policing of identity, particularly of the "passing" of one in a certain identity, like lesbian, and how it colonizes identity and writing about identity---one must become the "good lesbian" (pg. 254). She discusses the relationship between writer and reader, and how both white lesbian and straight Latino communities were often less receptive to her works than working class communities of otherwise straight and straight men, oft considered anti-feminist in white lesbian communities (pg. 255).
She also critiques the segmentation of identity into cleanly divided boxes---"lesbian" cannot be separate from "Chicana." She labels the checklist of identities totalitarian, specifically for queers of color, as the checklist itself is derived from whiteness. White lesbians and gays scrutinize the "cultural/Other" for fear of instability and fragmentation within a community that would open that community up to attacks from non-gay outsiders, a point reminiscient of Alcoff's reviews of liberal and leftist identity critiques.
However, she does question whether it is queer identity that makes the queer writer, or is it the individual? In other words, can straight men write lesbian women, or is it only lesbian women capable of writing such characters because of their lesbian identity, not their individuality as a writer? She believes reading shapes identity, and thus identity shapes writing. Identity is even informed by negation, when one notices the differences between ones own experiences and the character's (pg. 256). The subtle experiences of queer cultures may be inaccessible to the straight reader. The straight writer often distills down the gay character into curiosities and sexuality. Still, the complexity of identity can "exclude" even the most similar affinities of identities (pg. 258). Reading extends beyond the written word, into real life scenarious---some are better able to read a situation based on their identity.
Yet, while Anzaldúa critiques the dominant frame of sexuality and romantic identity by white middle class gays and lesbians, she adopts her own form of calcification, continuously using the term "s/he." She writes: "I struggle with naming without fragmenting, without excluding" (pg. 252), but the exclusion is palpable. This showcases how all writers, of all backgrounds, might perpetuate a normativity that excludes or supersedes an identity, like that of the trans woman of color or the non-binary indigenous culture.