Why Ricky Martin matters — to me… and maybe a few other boys

Why Ricky Martin matters — to me… and maybe a few other boys

There’s been a lot of commotion regarding Ricky Martin’s recent coming out statement on his official website. As with most things in life these days, I learned about the news on Facebook.

So, I immediately posted about the news as well and quickly joined in the jubilee of queerness and pranced about the office like a middle school-aged boy who accidently touched hands with his classroom crush. I even committed the blasphemy of comparing the news to that of Health Care Reform and the release of Apple’s iPad (insert sound of angel choir here).

And then, of course, there was the storm of cattiness that followed the news. As a queer Xicano, I admit that sarcasm is built into my genetic code. The survivor of four Christian-themed religions and 500+ years of white supremacist occupation, I find humor, irony and disbelief in most things. Still, yesterday I just wanted to celebrate.

I agree that the fact that Ricky is gay is not all that shocking. Queer men and not long speculated or asserted that he shook his bon bon far too well to be straight. Plus, for us jotos/maricones/patos, there was the added benefit of dreaming him up queer, which somehow put us that much closer to his arms.

Still, as the catty remarks continue, as people boast about how they knew and think he should have done this 10 years ago, or sassy queens dismiss the news as inconsequential, I say, look beyond our borders (geographic, cultural, and age-based) and take a minute to honor the fact that for many, Ricky’s coming out is groundbreaking, perhaps even life-saving.

So Ricky was doing more than living la vida loca; he was, in fact, a loca. To the trained eye, this is just confirmation that our gaydar runs on more than hormones and dreams.

Hormones, dreams and cattiness aside, I challenge the ungleeful remarks about Ricky’s coming out.

As with most performers who began as Spanish-language artists, Ricky began over 10 years ago. The Barbara Walters interview (assuming it was Barbara, I can never tell who is behind that cloud of light) did have me on the edge of my teenage self, hoping he’d come out and proclaim his gayness, but it wasn’t his beginning. Ricky’s career began decades ago.

Long before the Latin Explosion, which was more of a Latin Spark, Ricky had left his imprint on the Spanish pop scene of the late 80’s and early to mid-90’s. Back when Thalía and Paulina were still artists and relevant, before Gloria Trevi’s traumatic (for her and her fans) imprisonment in Brazil, and before Alejandra Guzmán would be hospitalized for too much botox on her behind, there was a cultural movement in Latin America.

As a pre-teen growing up in a rural town of 300 in northern México, Thalía, Paulina, Gloria, Alejandra and Ricky were my window into another world. Their performances pushed, albeit at times gently and censured, the boundaries of repressive cultural norms. From flowers wrapped around a microphone to songs about teen pregnancy and abortion, these young performers were resisting and embodying another realm of cultural possibilities. Ricky gave boys the excuse (and perhaps reason) to shake our hips in ways that would otherwise be condemned as obscene.

The dismissal of Ricky’s coming out seems to be rooted in an U.S.-centric perspective where we have the opportunity to stop celebrating any queer image on TV and offer our critique. There is so much gayness these days that we can spend our days and dissertations balking at how a character isn’t gay enough, is too gay, is too white, etc. And although we don’t actually have the type of representation GLAAD and I would like to see, we have a whole lot more than we did in México in 1992 (except, of course, Ricky gently caressing his long hair on stage… oh, and Locomía).

I am not critiquing the fact that we spend so much time criticizing queer portrayals in the media. To the contrary, I am celebrating the fact that we can. In fact, I’d go further and ask why queer people of color media performance and productions are so weak, lame and superficial. Having once curating a queer people of color cultural arts program, I know we can do better.

What I am critiquing is that our criticisms of Ricky’s coming out has us falling into the pitfall of imagining and defining all things queer through a U.S. lens. I even joked about the fact that he used the term “homosexual” to define himself. And now, in retrospect I find that identifying as a “fortunate homosexual” was much more powerful than a simple “gay.”

Perhaps for the jaded queen living in urban U.S., the oversaturation of gayness in the media has deemed Ricky insignificant and worthy of our dismissal. For that frightened and confused 12 year old in rural Chihuahua, it’s monumental.

My coming out process was stumped by the fact that I could not even imagine my queerness, let alone live it. At the time, the saturation of gayness was mostly strictly white. It wasn’t until queer brown men like Jaime Cortez and Emanuel Xavier fearlessly (or perhaps fearfully) exposed their work and their bodies to the sun of public criticism, that I was able to imagine myself.

Whether U.S. fags approve or not, Ricky is a prominent figure here, and more importantly, in Latino América. Ricky’s coming out makes it possible for young boys in countless homes to imagine themselves as something other than confused.

For this, I say to Ricky: gracias. And, you know where to find me.

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