Sociologist Ernest Meccia explains how Argentina — one of the first countries in the world to introduce gay marriage — accepted and even embraced homosexuality.
BUENOS AIRES — Homosexuals used to be held in contempt — they were ridiculed, attacked, even dismissed as "abnormal." In some ways, that added to the intensity of identifying as gay. Then came the AIDS epidemic. And then, at some point, gay people became cool in Argentina. Six years ago, the country introduced equal marriage.
For more insight into this trajectory, I spoke with Ernesto Meccia, a sociologist who studies the evolving lives of people in the gay community. Meccia has tracked people as they've aged, followed new erotic paths and transitioned into an era he dubs "post-homosexual."
CLARIN: What are the particular traits one sees among non-heterosexuals as they transition to old age?
ERNESTO MECCIA: We don't know that much. Films have presented us with decadent images of non-heterosexual old age. Consider Fellini or Visconti's Death in Venice, or the Franco-Argentine filmmaker Daniel Tinayre. The impression is of aging in isolation, depressed and desperate, and that aging could only bring more crisis to already troubled minds.
But some studies show a different picture. For older gays, old age does not mean crisis in the manner of their heterosexual peers. These, for example, must learn how to manage themselves when they are widowed, often without their children's help and in a society moving at a feverish pace. They have to learn for the first time to deal with adversity, so arriving at old age is more of a crisis for them.
But among older gays, those who were young in the 1950s, 60s or 70s, family rejection and discrimination forced them to always fend for themselves and face adversity. So they don't perceive old age as the "start" of a crisis, or not as much. The storms have already passed and they grow old with prior training, as it were. They are better prepared for aging.
How does the daily routine evolve as the years go by? What happens when the erotic element, which is sometimes so crucial, dies out?
We've been taught, particularly men, that the erotic experience has to do exclusively with genitals. On top of that, the man's reputation mostly depends on the sexual capital he is presumed to wield. It's horrible but true. The "penile culture" is part of this corporal ideology that removes a whole lot of possibilities from the imagination.
But again, other studies challenge this. They suggest that the focus only on genitals is more common for heterosexual men than gays. The difference is the aptitude gays have for using other parts of the body as erogenous zones, as well as accessories. That is nothing new. French writer Michel Foucault, in his last period in the United States, found in the fetish bars there a "protest" against the genital "reductionism" accepted by most gays of all ages.
In your research, what are some of the conclusions AIDS survivors have reached about the past?
The people I interviewed, who were from the generations decimated by the epidemic, talked very little about it. I was surprised. But silence does not mean oblivion, just the impossibility of processing this extreme trauma. Faced with the cruelty and inhumanity of traumatic experiences, victims may prefer not to speak, as they learned in oppressive situations that it was better to keep quiet. They know talking could provoke misunderstandings. Or maybe the victims chose not to talk because they did not know how to, or not yet. But the cruelty of so many attacks and adversity may have developed a subjective skepticism about the very existence of a discourse able to represent the accumulated sadness. So the suffering remains where it was, dormant.
What is post-homosexuality?
It is synonymous with "gayness." It is a sum of social, cultural, legal and political manifestations related to positively recognizing this sexual orientation. It is about non-differentiation, through a process of reducing distinctions or differentiation between straight and gay people. This has reduced the sense of "otherness" that had previously been imposed on gays. Gays are still seen as different, just not as much from heterosexuals.
How does this manifest itself?
It's part of a process of opening up in spatial, relational and representational terms. For starters, gays stop occupying specific, ghetto-type areas in the city. Second, there's expansion of social relations. And third, a diversification of the images they can use to define themselves. In the old homosexual regime, gay life existed in a territorial enclave where relations emerged and ended, and it was regulated by fiercely differentiating medical, psychiatric and religious discourses.