Queer Ambivalence: Argentina After Marriage

I propose an academic presentation—of adaptable duration, depending on the conference’s schedule, and delivered via PowerPoint—on the emotional habitus of Argentine LGBTQ activists and artists after Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage in 2010. I believe that my presentation’s focus on the after-effects of marriage in Argentina will complement your conference’s focus on the “after” of marriage equality by exposing both the transnational convergences in gay marriage discourse, as well as the specific socio-cultural dynamics of marriage in Argentina, among the trans, gay, bisexual, and lesbian people whose art and activism has grappled with the “after” of marriage equality for nearly six years.

Beyond Argentina and the U.S., the day when same-sex marriage will be legal in the entire American hemisphere draws ever closer. As a result of three landmark court decisions in 2015 and 2016, Mexico, the United States, and Colombia have joined Canada (2005), Argentina (2010), Brazil (2013), and Uruguay (2013) in having gay marriage available nationally—together, these nations contain over 79% of the hemisphere’s population. Regardless of the legal and historical particularities of each nation’s process, the expanded availability of gay marriage in 2015 was no real surprise, as the trend toward legalization in our hemisphere has been loudly heralded through discourse that is decidedly transnational: gay marriage is both a universal human right and a particular marker of progress. Over the past decade, activism, lobbying, and publicity campaigns in North and South America have successfully promoted the idea that marriage rights are human rights, helping public approval of homosexuality move, in the period between 2007 and 2013, from 49% to 60% in the United States, according to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project. As suggested by the incredulity in the New York Times headline “Why Is Latin America So Progressive on Gay Rights?” North Americans are usually surprised to learn that in some Latin American countries (Argentina, Chile, Mexico), the rates of approval have surpassed those of the United States since the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project began collecting data on them. Today, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay are five of the twenty-four countries worldwide that allow gay marriage nationally, and Chile and Ecuador have civil unions that grant same-sex couples most of the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

Considering the transnational span of the age of gay marriage in the American hemisphere, my presentation intervenes in prevalent understandings of gay marriage as either a panacea for LGBTQ people or a much-lamented sign of gay assimilation by taking stock of the different forms of queer ambivalence expressed in Argentina in the years after the 2010 legalization of gay marriage. Using qualitative data, it reveals three broad categories of ambivalence about gay marriage in Argentina: 1.) Some LGBTQ people express strong support for mainstream messages about the “rights” and “equality” of marriage as a social institution but do not themselves desire to marry because of a non-specific, affective aversion to it; 2.) Some LGBTQ people have overcome their feminist and Marxist objections to the institution of marriage in order to personally take advantage of it as an imperfect but pragmatic solution—to immigration issues, for example; 3.) and some LGBTQ people were active in the marriage movement while aware of its limitations and have never failed to position it in the context of a broader social justice agenda that includes abortion, sex education, and gender identity rights, which they continue to work for even after both the marriage and gender identity laws passed. In sharp contrast to the lived experiences of these minority subjects stands Argentine entrepreneurs’, corporations’, and government representatives’ uncritical exuberance about gay marriage, which is seen as advertising Argentine modernity on the global stage. I argue that the minority ambivalence is an inevitable affective response to the predicament of the contemporary queer subject who wishes to both access equality and refuse assimilation, all while looking to the state for social justice even as its power to legislate the social wanes in the neoliberal world order. Nevertheless, the ability of some activists to advocate for marriage while acknowledging its limitations and always positioning it in the context of a broader social justice agenda that includes gender identity, reparations for trans sex workers, abortion, and sex education points to the possibility of acting constructively from a position of ambivalence.


Part of panel What's Actually Happening After Marriage? Organized LGBTQ Politics
October 2, 2016, 09:00–10:45