Professor discusses Latino sexuality in Chicago neighborhoods

On Thursday, Richard Rodríguez, an associate professor of English and Latino/Latina studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gave a lecture titled “The Sexual Disorganization of the City: Queer Masculinities in Latino Chicago.”

Rodríguez spoke about Latino sexuality in relation to the geopolitical borders that segregate Chicago.

With a widespread interdisciplinary background, Rodríguez approached the topic of “queerness” from many viewpoints.

He explained that the term queer is used “to register non-normative sexual practices, even if the individual has still registered as a heterosexual.”

Rodríguez described how many homosexual practices in the city, like frequenting sexual markets, occur between both men who identify as homosexual and men who describe themselves as heterosexual, even if they look for sexual activities with other men.

Rodríguez explained that sexual markets are places like bars that act as “a gay-friendly space within a non-gay sexual environment.” Even married men go to the bars looking for sex to “release sexual tension,” Rodríguez said.

Rodríguez supported this point by citing a sociological study in 2004 called “The Sexual Organization of the City.”

The study focuses on major and minor social architectures within Chicago and how the boundaries established by ethnicity often seem “impermeable.”

Rodríguez said that while the sociological studies can seem “hopelessly schematic and simplistic, they are important for tracking the sexual subcultures and providing historical evidence. I’m so glad they exist,” he said.

Rodríguez then broached the question of whether identifiable neighborhoods mean impermeable neighborhoods.

He used other research to support the hypothesis that while heterosexual masculinity may hinder Latino sexuality in Chicago, it does not prevent it.

Sexual practices are able to cut across boundaries, and “queerness manifests in locations one may not expect or recognize,” Rodríguez said.

He also quoted a sociological study which focused on the interaction of bodies and cities, specifically in relation to the role of an individual person of a specific gender within communities of color who also have roles to fulfill within the population.

Rodríguez used the film “On the Down Low” to demonstrate another representation of Latino sexuality versus human masculinity in Chicago.

The film depicts two Latino men belonging to gangs who keep their sexual orientation “on the down low” within their respective gangs but are “out” with each other.

The term “on the down low” usually refers to self-identified straight men who practice homosexual tendencies, Rodríguez explained.

As a part of his lecture, Rodríguez played a small segment of the film, including a very intimate scene between the two male characters.

The clip begins with the two men portraying very “hetero-patriarchal” characters, but it ends with a very private, sexual moment between the two, who very obviously have feelings for each other but cannot act on them in the context of their gang culture.

“The relationship seems only possible in the context of minor architecture,” Rodríguez said about the two men’s interactions in a secluded alleyway.

However, the director of the film was careful to include panoramic shots of the Chicago skyline that are juxtaposed with the confinements of the alleyway scene.

The contrast of the big picture versus the small picture shows how “the textual evidence of Latino homosexuals in Chicago is set in specific areas, not in the total architecture of the city,” Rodríguez said.