Pedro Segundo Mardones Lemebel 21 November — 23 January was an openly gay Chilean essayist, chronicler, and novelist. He was known for his cutting critique of authoritarianism and for his humorous depiction of Chilean popular culture, from a queer perspective. He was nominated for Chile's National Literature Prize in He died of cancer of the larynx on 23 January in Santiago, Chile.
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In this article, Kate Averis examines Lemebel's complex mapping of social identification from his position on the margins, revealing unlikely associations and unexpected schisms. How to Cite: Averis, K. This is the transition that Pedro Lemebel captures in his chronicles. Pedro Lemebel came to public attention in Santiago de Chile in the late s in the art collective, Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis [The Mares of the Apocalypse], founded with the poet and artist Francisco Casas.
Practitioners of performance, transvestism, photography, video and installation, Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis presented approximately fifteen public events between and The aim of this brief biographical outline is to contextualise two important features of Lemebel's literary production, and indeed of his aesthetic activity as a whole: his propensity to hybridity and mobility.
The flexibility with which he has moved between art practices, and across social markers of identity must, I think, be considered in light of the tumultuous period of Chilean history in which he has lived. Born in , Lemebel experienced the Socialist government under Salvador Allende, the military coup of , the period of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, the fall of the dictatorship and the neoliberal economic and social reconstruction during the transition to a democratic government in the s.
The importance of a backdrop of upheaval and of changing national identities, where survival was closely tied to the ability to assume, or at least simulate certain social identities, is of particular relevance here in the analysis of Lemebel's literary representation of the shifting boundaries of social identities.
The two main aims of this article are, firstly, to consider the way in which identifications intersect, and thus fulfil or disrupt expectations of solidarity and betrayal between and within social groups of class, gender, and sexuality; and secondly, to examine the way in which Lemebel reconciles the dilemma of intersecting identifications through the use of a certain notion of 'becoming' as a paradigm for marginal identities.
Borrowed from a Deleuzian notion of 'becoming', Lemebelian 'becoming' is defined by Lemebel's professed affinity with an idea of femininity which indeed underpins Lemebel's wide-ranging aesthetic project. Combining elements of various discursive styles, including fiction, journalism, poetry and public address, Lemebel's literary hybridity reflects his aforementioned hybrid subjectivity.
The aesthetic drive that underlies the transvestite men's gendered self-transformation is reflected both in Lemebel's transformation of their experiences into an aesthetic product the text as well as in Lemebel's own cross-dressing, performances and public appearances the latter two being arguably indistinguishable from one another.
Lemebel's chronicles dispute the notion of a 'gay community', a label which homogeneously and arbitrarily groups together those for whom the only commonality is the fact of same-sex partners, a misconception explored by Judith Butler when she asks, 'What, if anything, can lesbians be said to share?
The two groups depicted by Lemebel are referred to throughout the chronicle as 'las rotas' and 'las regias' the latter also referred to as 'las pitucas'. The two highly localized and colloquial terms, immediately recognisable and extremely evocative for the Chilean reader, refer to the transvestite guests at a New Year's Eve celebration, and which allude, respectively, to the working and middle classes.
Despite connotations of poverty and criminality, the potent trope loses its derogatory tone when used in self-designation, and taps into an underlying pride at a more 'authentic' Chilean national identity, whilst 'las regias' or 'pitucas' carries with it mocking connotations of snobbery, a slanted grasp of reality, and a limited sense of 'Chileanness'.
The roto , often of indigenous descent, belongs to an under-privileged working class which inhabits the poblaciones Santiago's shanty towns on the physical as well as the social margins of the city, with the privileged, middle-class pituco or regio , on the other hand, linked with the ruling elite.
Often of European descent even though this may be at a remove of various generations, and may only be manifest in a surname with Basque, Italian, French or British overtones , and in a denigration of national culture, the pituco is depicted as tending to look overseas, in particular, northward, for his or her cultural ideals.
It follows that the roto was most often sympathetic to Allende's Socialist government, and the pituco supportive of its overthrow by Pinochet and a return to what they saw as greater stability and order after the privations of Socialist rule. These wider socio-political divisions are textually manifested in 'La noche de los visones' by Lemebel's use of the terms roto and pituco , and the characterisation of each group's representative members.
The regias interchangeable with pitucas of Lemebel's chronicles are characterized through an abundance of symbolically rich textual detail, which establishes a clear dissociation between them and their working-class counterparts. Lemebel's own identification with the rotas is clearly signalled. The approximation of the first person plural and the rotas , albeit in the dialogue of his characters in this case, la Chumilou : '…para nosotros los maricones pobres' '…for us, the poor fags' LA 14 places Lemebel at the heart of that 'we'.
This is reinforced by the use of the third person plural to refer to the regias , for example, as they walk past the police station on their way to the party: 'las regias se adelantaron para no tener problems, pero igual los pacos algo gritaron' ['the regias hurried past so as to avoid any trouble, but the cops still called out to them'] LA Apart from the narrator's tendency to refer to the regias collectively, with the exception of la Pilola Alessandri who is individualized in contrast to the rotas , who are primarily represented as individuals , it is above all the general tone of derision with which the middle-class regias are represented in the text that conveys the author's ridicule.
As well as constituting a discursive strategy of distantiation through which to recount the devastating effect of the AIDS crisis in Chile, humour is a fundamental element of Lemebel's narrative style which, rather than light-heartedly portraying the extreme marginalization of many gay men during the period of military rule, functions to ridicule and undermine the beliefs and assumptions that upheld such a regime.
Implicit in Lemebel's mockery of the middle-class regias is an accusation of a lack of solidarity with the 'maricones pobres': the regias ' pride in their class origins is implied to be at odds with the alienation they experience within their own class group, to which their presence at the lower-class New Year's Eve party testifies.
The text's allusion to a lack of solidarity resonates with the question Weeks poses when he asks: 'Is being a member of an ethnic or racial minority community more important than a sexual identification? Whilst Lemebel's implicit denunciation of the notion of a 'gay community' would posit sexual affiliation as a myth, the underlying accusation of the regias ' betrayal of the rotas seems to problematize this position somewhat, by implying the wishful expectation of a fundamental sexual allegiance that would override class loyalties.
The author's identification with 'the feminine' aligns all marginal identities in a more general sense gay, working class, Third World and indigenous with a Deleuzian notion of identity by which minority groups negotiate their way to a coherent sense of identity through, and in spite of, the hegemonic power structures. Lemebel further problematizes any attempt to tie him down to any fixed dialectical position and attribute him with a categorical rejection of the notion of a 'gay community' when he posits the ties between the regias and the rotas as symbiotic as well as antagonistic.
No te digo. Just imagine. In the eyes of the other transvestites and spectators of the poor neighbourhood of Recoleta, the presence of the regias confers upon them and their neighbourhood some of their glamour and worldliness.
In much the same way that the regias bring glamour to the slums, this very same place offers the regias a space where they can perform their enviable middle-class tranvestism that is most certainly denied them in their own middle-class space. It is in this sense that both groups serve a facilitators for the other—the rotas provide a space where the regias can perform their transvestite magnificence, and the regias provide a gay model in which the rotas can be proud, and indeed aspire to, as indicated by the description of la Palma, 'que quiere pasar por regia' ['trying to pass herself off as a regia '] LA Yet the symbiosis that exists between the different social groups of transvestites not only relies upon but also firmly sustains the class rift between them.
The unattainability of passing oneself off as a regia is clearly formulated in the use of the pejorative 'pasar por', and additionally contains an implied accusation of inauthenticity and betrayal of one's own class origins that accounts for Lemebel's transvestites' tendency to remain loyal to the social group of origin.
Despite the economic and social rift in the 'gay community', which disrupts the capacity of sexual identity, in isolation, to function as a cohesive label of social identity, he does not altogether abandon the hope for an overarching 'gay community'. The fact that the New Year's Eve party depicted in 'La noche de los visones' is a point of encounter for gay men from vastly diverse backgrounds Lemebel very consciously and precisely delineates the different quarters of Santiago from which those present at the party come , the insistence on inclusivity is however suggestive of a vision of an overarching, albeit heterogenous community.
The photo of those reunited at the party, which serves a visual mnemonic to the narrator and inspires the reminiscence that constitutes the chronicle, provides a graphic illustration of the insidious nature of the crisis, as the narrator points to those lost to AIDS-related illnesses which is most of the transvestites present, both rotas and regias. Yet he is quick to point out the disparity in the impact of, and response to AIDS by those at different ends of the socio-economic scale.
By and large, the working-class gay men are depicted as falling victim as the result of a background of economic need and deprivation.
Transvestite prostitute, la Chumilou, is described in 'La noche de los visones' as having been infected by a 'gringo', i. Equally notable is the representation of New York as the cutting-edge in style and fashion, disturbingly in this case including the wave of HIV infection, as Lemebel refers with shockingly acerbic wit to death from AIDS-related illnesses as the latest gay fashion.
New York is tagged here and elsewhere in the chronicles as the site of origin of the HIV epidemic, although it is unclear whether Lemebel refers to 'the fact that the epidemic was first identified in the early s in the gay male communities of North America', 13 or whether he creates a metaphor of the US as the noxious origin of many of the ills of Chilean gay society, thus replicating a reactionary knee-jerk anti-Americanism prevalent in Latin America at the outbreak of the virus.
La Pilola Alessandri is implicitly accused of bringing AIDS back from New York with her to Chile, and along with her middle-class peers, is consequently denounced for turning to the US for cultural models and ideals, and of infecting Chile with its 'poisonous' cultural baggage. Lemebel thus depicts the spread of the HIV virus in Chile as emblematic of another kind of cultural infestation which corrodes Chilean society through the metaphor of colonisation. The metaphor of biological colonisation is extended to the cultural when the narrator refers to 'una nueva conquista de la imagen rubia' ['a new type of conquest by an ideal of blondness'] LA 27 , thus consolidating the articulation of a sense of betrayal by the regias of their lower-class peers.
This betrayal is depicted as a form of abandonment by the middle-class men, who are seen to 'seek to move into the oppressor class, rather than to work collectively with the oppressed to end the system of oppression'.
With his reference to la Malinche, 16 Lemebel infuses the text with a multilayered criticism of the superficial aspiration to false ideals, a historical legacy of female betrayal and duplicity, the facile adoption of new behaviours, and the incongruence of naively adopting the norms of a geographically and ideologically distant 'other', and as such accuses the middle-class regias of disloyalty to their impoverished counterparts through their active participation in what is perceived as both the physiological and cultural contagion of the Chilean 'gay community'.
Where earlier the notion of allegiance arose in the form of a sexual allegiance, here the notion of solidarity arises again in the form of national, or cultural allegiance. The recurrence of the theme of betrayal is figured here in terms of abandonment of a national model to privilege the normative gay ideal that mainstream US culture offers. The denunciation of the subscription of middle-class Chilean men to this imported gay model indicates the narrator's frustration with their dismissal of a national, or even Latin American gay identity, in favour of a hegemonic, imported version.
Having said this, Lemebel also problematizes the designations of 'heterosexual' and 'homosexual' in this chronicle, where apparently heterosexual men take part in homosexual activities without in any way self-designating as homosexuals. La Regine gloriously displays her transvestism in la Vega where her marginality in terms of wider Chilean society is largely unapparent. The openness with which la Regine's sexuality, cross-dressing and prostitution is carried out in the Mapocho district is portrayed as the result of a mutual respect and affection between her and her marketplace neighbours.
Whilst la Regine's overwhelmingly positive reception might be dismissed as coloured by an idealistic nostalgia the reader must bear in mind the twenty-year gap between the setting of the chronicles and the moment of their publication , the assertion of class complicity is nevertheless clearly articulated.
The dominant identification at play here is effectively one of class, to which sexuality and gender take a secondary defining role. An even more striking indication of the prevalence of class identification is the working relationship established in la Regine's brothel, where a standing agreement has been established between la Regine and military troops on leave of duty, who turn to the brothel to 'pasar un rato a descansar' ['pop in for a break'] LA If the language at this point is euphemistic, there is no equivocation in the following description of the sexual nature of the soldiers' visits to la Regine.
Lemebel establishes a common ground between the male prostitutes and the military men in the fact that both disenfranchized groups are subjects of the oppressive ruling elite that orchestrates and monitors their marginalization. In this case the overriding commonality, which obscures political and social identities and roles, is a shared space of instrumentalization by those in power.
If the poor and working-class were enlisted in the military during the right-wing dictatorship regardless of their political affiliation, so too did military officials hypocritically endorse behaviours not otherwise tolerated in the armed forces for the sake of maintaining and pacifying the troops.
Sergio is haunted by images of the violence he has perpetrated in his role as safekeeper of the military state, and there is a strong sense of empathy between his character and la Regine, as both see themselves as pawns in the repressive regime of dictatorship and state oppression due to their membership amongst the lowest socio-economic groups of society.
Yet, characteristically of Lemebel, class loyalty is not straightforward but intercalated with conflicting political alliances. The apparent collusion between la Regine and the low-ranking soldiers is disrupted by the reminder of their relative location at opposite ends of the political scale, with the soldiers embodying the right-wing oppression of the military leaders, and the site of la Regine's brothel the 'subversive' left-wing space which was quashed and partly eradicated during the years of military rule.
Sergio is the only one of the soldiers not to contract the virus, although it is unclear whether this is through safe sex practices or abstinence, as conflicting references in the chronicle to both condoms and 'platonic love' leave this unresolved. Yet la Regine's obvious empathy for Sergio leaves no doubt that this is not casual. La Regine's efforts to spare Sergio from infection introduces a further axis of identification into Lemebel's chronicles, in that Sergio is described as a southerner, and 'negro como cochayuyo' LA 31 in order to highlight the dark skin of his indigenous background, one of the four markers by which Lemebel has been seen to stake out his own identity.
Sergio is thus distinguished from his military comrades by virtue of sharing not one, but two of Lemebel's marginal markers of identity: the socio-economic and the racial. As seen in the complex play of identification in 'La noche de los visones', affinities in 'La Regine de Aluminios el Mono' are also prioritized in terms of their measure of marginality against a hegemonic centre.
This occupancy of a space of marginality is configured by Lemebel in terms of a process of 'becoming'. Lemebel uses a certain notion of becoming to portray identity as a fluid and ongoing process rather than a static state of being. Lemebel's complex affinity with women and lo femenino where this refers to an abstract idea of 'woman', and what it is that characterizes 'womanhood' permeates his cultural production, and indeed the construction of his own identity, providing a paradigmatic model of identification which can be said to condense his various marginal identities.
Lemebel's articulation of a marginalized, non-hegemonic gender identity can be said to point towards a Deleuzian notion of 'becoming-woman', which 'more than any other becoming, possesses a special introductory power', in so far as 'all becomings begin with and pass through becoming-woman[, i]t is the key to all other belongings'. Against such a majority all else can be said to be minoritarian, and 'It is', according to Deleuze and Guattari, 'perhaps the special situation of women in relation to the man-standard that accounts for the fact that becomings, being minoritarian, always pass through a becoming-woman'.
Lemebel has stated in interviews that due to similarities in their relations to power, gay men and transvestites pass through a 'becoming-woman', thus accounting for his alignment with the marginal position of 'woman', which he posits as what could be termed a 'dominant subordinate'.
Rather than a misogynist reinforcement of a subjugated female subject, Lemebel suggests that it might be possible, after all, to achieve the idealism of Deleuze's horizontal imperative by converting the vertical hierarchy of power into a horizontal one that celebrates its margins. In doing so he designates 'woman' as a kind of subordinate luminary, and sets such a notion of becoming as a benchmark for all marginal identities.
Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Carmen Maura, and Lola Flores are amongst the female icons referred to in the chronicles, figures who embody a retrospective, nostalgic, romanticized notion of woman shaped by heteronormative and patriarchal norms.
I would argue, however, that Lemebel appropriates these models of womanhood in a highly parodic way that decisively subverts and profoundly queers the handed-down ideals of womanhood.
With an increasing readership, a shift from small independent publishers to larger publishing houses, and an increasing scholarly interest in his texts, Lemebel himself provides evidence of the kind of shifting, elastic identifications that are problematized in his chronicles. It is not so much his place on the margins that Lemebel wishes to denounce or deconstruct, but the vertical hierarchy of power that elevates the white, male, heterosexual to the majoritarian man-standard, and subordinates the non-white, the non-male, and the non-heterosexual.
The rhetorical position expressed in 'Hablo por mi diferencia' sums up Lemebel's literary project of stretching the boundaries of canonical Latin American discourse to bring the margins into the focus of representation, whilst maintaining a contestatory and peripheral place in Chilean society and culture.
In a national literary and political tradition that is represented by the predominantly white middle and upper classes, Lemebel's originality 'ha sido la puesta en la escena nacional de este otro Chile' ['has been to place that other Chile on the national stage'].
Rather than attempting to integrate the margin, Lemebel argues for a solidarity of the margins, thus positing the positionality of centre and periphery as the dominant dynamic which subtends and governs all marginal identifications.
Notes 1. Jean Franco, 'Encajes de acero: la libertad bajo vigilancia', in Reinas de otro cielo: modernidad y autoritarismo en la obra de Pedro Lemebel , ed. Blanco Santiago: Lom, , pp. To my knowledge there is, as yet, no English translation of this work, and all translations are my own. All citations are taken from the edition hereafter LA. Further references to this work are given after quotations in the text. The Latinized neologism 'sidario' suggests a place of exclusion to which HIV positive men are banished, and its phonetic proximity to 'sanatorio' [sanatorium] bears overtones of the sinister irony that is characteristic of Lemebel's writing.
The phrase 'gay community' will continue to be used throughout to refer to a non-homogeneous gay community, as it is understood by Lemebel, in a way that is mindful of the problematic homogeneity that the term 'community' may imply. Weeks, p. The translation of 'sudaca' as 'South American' lacks the pejorative value of the Spanish term that is perhaps most closely captured in the US English term 'spic'.
Brian Massumi London: Athlone, , pp.
Loco afán. Crónicas de sidario
Loco Afan Cronicas Sidario by Pedro Lemebel