Book Reviews

Amor de Mujeres by Ilse Fuskova and Claudina Marek (Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1994).

Review, "Coming out of the closet: A stage in the social history of Argentina," by Ariel
Barrios Medina Ph.D.

Thirty years ago, the sociologist Robert Merton pointed out the polarization of society on the basis of
"insiders" and "outsiders" which accounts for the blooming of movements based on class, race, sex,
religion and sexual orientation. He observed that those movements expressed: "Public affirmation of
pride in certain statuses and of the solidarity with groups that for a long time have been socially
degraded, stigmatized or harassed in other ways by the social system." (Merton 1977, 159)

The polarization of political movements has been painfully frequent in Argentine society. Presently,
Merton´s observation is applicable to those movements which affirm their right to identity and
difference in sexual orientation.

In examining the back cover of a recent book whose title suggests a clinical examination of sexual
orientation of females in Argentina today, we soon realize that it is a double autobiography
paralleling the lives of the two authors. (Fuskova and Marek 1994)

Although in 1993 one of the authors had published a brief account of the political mobilization of
lesbians in Argentina together an Israeli anthropologist preparing a doctoral dissertation, this book
culminated the coming out of the closet of both authors: "I decided to speak, not about lesbianism
but rather about ‘myself as a lesbian.’" (Fuskova and Marek 1994, 60)

The first part of the expression (coming out) refers to the upper middle class custom, almost extinct,
of the presentation of young women to society. The second part (of the closet) refers to the piece of
furniture in which clothes and personal belongings are kept; it refers also to the bathroom, called
also the water closet and the privy.

Presently coming out of the closet is the expression indicating that a homosexual has made their
sexual orientation public. The act is, in sum, a series of successive revelations: from the self-
awareness of the homosexual to revealing oneself to family, friends, co-workers or the press. The
process can get held up in any one of those stages and the response of the homosexual to the
question of how and when to come out has many variables.(Dynes 1985 and 1990, Silverstein and
White 1987, Savin-Williams 1990, Silverstein and Picano 1992)

The above analysis shows, as does the lack of antecedents of the Fuskova-Marek work in Latin
America, the "real need" for the expression coming out of the closet in Spanish as well as other
languages. (Dynes 1985) Presently, the expression is darse a conocer, meaning literally "to give
oneself to be known" (Personal communication).

The autobiography resembles the literary genre used in coming out. In the analysis of the
autobiographical literature of this type, Toni McNaron, a specialist in both Renaissance and
feminist/lesbian literature, established some common characteristics of coming out narratives: (i) the
memory of first recognizing oneself as "different" emotionally or sexually; (ii) the first erotic or sexual
experience with someone of the same sex; (iii) a relatively brief, tight structure; (iv) details and words
that bring the "love that dare not speak its name" out of obscurity and darkness and into the light of
the outside world; (v) the crucial recognition of the self as one that loves a member of one’s own sex,
admitting the dangerousness of such an act in a homophobic society; (vi) empowerment of the writer
on the whole of levels; (vii) defiance of the implicit and explicit demands of dominant culture by
refusing to hide or allow oneself to pass for heterosexual. (McNaron 1990)

This double autobiography of Fuskova and Marek, which includes the above aspects and culminates
in their mutual, reciprocal erotic awakening, denounces the semic pact of silence, "De esto no se
habla" (one doesn´t speak of these things) of homosexuality in Argentina. (Barrios Medina 1994)
Since 1995, this semic pact has been denounced by the Research Institute of the School of Social
Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires where the professors Analia Kornblit and Jorge
Vujosevich have directed research concerning homosexuality and human rights in the city of Buenos
Aires.

Fuskova and Marek take advantage of the difference between the social contexts of male and
female homosexuality. While male homosexuality is considered a rejection of masculinity, it is
customary to view female homosexuality as an affirmation of female identity. (Weeks 1990, 101)

The autobiography of Fuskova (which makes up the first 110 pages of the book) is a dialogue with
the journalist Silvia Schmid, who is rightly listed as a co-author in the copyright. For her part Marek
reviews, in seventy pages, her youth and adolescence in a city in Argentine Mesopotamia and her
adult life in the Patagonian south and the city of Buenos Aires.

The authors, while different, compliment one another. Fuskova expresses herself with feminist
reasoning without mentioning men; Marek remembers her youth, adolescence and maturity in which
men captivate or threaten the female lover. And while Fuskova postulates the religious thesis of the
Diosa Madre (Mother-God) against the male God and the patriarchal society in which she is
politically active, Marek remembers the vicissitudes of the lesbian both as a girl and a young woman,
contraposed without knowing why in the search for sexual fulfillment and affection.

Lesbian theologian Carter Heyward afirms that society is divided into invisible boxes into which we
are placed without the knowledge that we are able to choose. One of these boxes, heterosexuality,
assigns us an anatomical destiny and indoctrinates us, from infancy, into set sexual roles. She writes
"coming out has been a long and puzzling journey out of the heterosexual box, in which I was no
more comfortable at age five than I am now." (Heyward 1984, 78)

Coincidentally, through a review of the literature of the past twenty years (taking note of the
theoretical and empirical difference between lesbian conduct and identity) the sociologist Valerie
Jenness asks: what is the nature of the process through which some women acquire a lesbian
identity? Through an examination of the conflict between the social categories and personal
identities, Jenness specifies the retypification of the social category lesbian which, redefined and
revalued, acquires precise and concrete meanings, positive connotations and personal applicability.
(Jenness 1992)

The gay historian John Boswell poses that, in the context of historiography of minorities in general,
the historical exclusion of homosexuals is one of the stigmas that lesbians and gays face as a group
which differentiates them from other minorities such as Jews. Homosexuals are stripped of a sense of
community in the present and with a sense of historical context, unable to connect with either a past,
or present community. (Boswell 1992, 38)

Fuskova and Marek demonstrate that the autobiography is the historiographic genre par excellence
to give testimony to the process of retypification: "Sin memoria, no hay salud mental" (without
memory, there is no mental well-being). (Fuskova and Marek 1994, 108)

This process, which could be considered purely personal, leads into reflections concerning
historiography. Boswell also points out the philosophical relevance of the dispute over the universals
for gay history: homosexuality is a category in reality or a predicate of reality? (Boswell 1985, 39-40)

However Fuskova and Marek, in their autobiographical interaction, sensitize the reader to the
existing social structure which systematically inflicts humiliation, suffering and frustration on lesbians
(social sadism) and to the intellectual equipment which ignores, disdainfully, those human
experiences (sociological euphemism). (Merton 1977, 194-5)

The coming out of the closet of Fuskova and Marek make evident the silent consequence of
polarization of social conflict over sexual orientation. So while well-weathered philosophy works on
resolving the reality vs. predicate conflict concerning homosexuality, the theological and social
reflections of Fuskova and the personal memories of Marek reveal the heterosexist jingoism and its
spiritual counterpart, homophobia, concerning "the narcissistic injury" inflicted on the lesbian girls
and adolescents during psychosocial development. (Gonsiorek and Rudolph 1991, 167-8)

However the theoretical and political strategy of Fuskova and Marek´s coming out of the closet,
through the historical reconstruction of "myself as a lesbian," concerns itself not as much with
exposing errors of heterosexual hegemony as it does with producing truths about the homosexual
minority. (namaste 1992)

Concerning the inevitable fulfillment of that responsibility, sociologist Robert Merton exhorts: "It is
necessary that you unite the ‘insiders’ with the ‘outsiders.’ You will all have nothing to lose except
your own pretensions. In exchange you will have a world of understanding to gain." (Merton 1977,
201)

In the present stage of Argentine social history, due to the double autobiography of Fuskova and
Marek, we can await the normative and cognitive fulfillment of Merton´s demand: the active and firm
tolerance in listening to the different names of love, whatever they are, amounting to concordance in
truth.


Ariel Barrios Medina

    Center for Science Journalism
    School of Pharmacy and Biochemistry - University of Buenos Aires

    I gratefully recognize the help and advice provided by Rev. Dr. Thomas Hanks (Other Sheep
    Multicultural Ministries for Sexual Minorities) and Ms. Jessica Erace (Connecticut College).

    Contact me: ariel@thanks.wamani.apc.org

Bibliography

    Barrios Medina, A. (1994) Los científicos argentinos ante la homosexualidad, Quirón 25:72-76

    (1996) "`Coming out of the closet`. Una etapa en la historia social de la Argentina".
    Quirón 27: 99-102

    Boswell, J., "Hacia un enfoque amplio. Revoluciones, universales y categorías relativas a la
    sexualidad", pp. 38-74 in Steiner, G. and Boyers, R. (1985) Homosexualidad, literatura y
    política. Madrid:Alianza

    Dynes, W. (1985) Homolexis A Historical and Cultural Lexicon of Homosexuality. New York:The
    Scholarship Committee Gay Academic Union

    Dynes W. ed. (1990) Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York / London:Garland

    Fuskova, Ilse (in conversation with Silvia Schmid) and Claudina Marek (1994) Amor de
    mujeres: el lesbianismo en la Argentina, hoy. Buenos Aires:Planeta

    Fuskova-Kornreich, I. and Argov, D., "Lesbian Activism in Argentina: A Recent but Very
    Powerful Phenomenon", pp. 80-85 in Hendriks, A., Tielman, R., and van der Veen, E., eds.
    (1993) The Third Pink Book /A Global View of Lesbian and Gay Liberation and Oppression.
    New York:Prometheus Books

    Gonsiorek, J. C. and Rudolph, J. R., "Homosexual Identity: Coming Out and Other
    Developmental Events", pp. 161-176 in Gonsiorek, J. C. and Weinrich, J. D. eds. (1991)
    Sexuality / Research Implications for Public Policy. California:Sage

    Heyward, C. (1984) Our Passion for Justice / Images of Power, Sexuality, and Liberation. New
    York:Pilgrim Press

    Jenness, V., "Coming Out: Lesbian Identities and the Categorization Problem", pp. 65-74 in
    Plummer, K. ed. (1992) Modern Homosexualities Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experience.
    New York/London:Routledge

    McNaron, T. A. H., "Coming Out Stories", pp. 173-175 in Summers, C. J. ed. (1995) The Gay
    and Lesbian Literary Heritage / A Reader`s Companion to the Writers and theirs Works, from
    Antiquity to the Present. New York: Henry Holt

    Merton, R. K., "Las perspectivas de `los de adentro` y `los de afuera`", pp. 156-201, en
    Merton, R. K. (1977) La sociología de la ciencia 1. Madrid:Alianza Editorial

    namaste, k., "Deconstruction, Lesbian and Gay Studies, and Interdisciplinary Work;
    Theoretical, Political, and Institutional Strategies", pp. 49-64 in Minton, H. L. ed. (1992) Gay
    and Lesbian Studies. New York:Harrington Park Press

    Savin-Williams, R., "Coming Out", pp. 251-254 in Dynes (1990)

    Silverstein, C. and White, E. (1986) The Joy of Gay Sex / An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to
    the Pleasures of a Gay Lifestyle. New York:Pocket Books

    Silverstein, C. and Picano, F. (1992) The New Joy of Gay Sex. New York:Harper Collins

    Weeks, J. (1990) Coming Out / Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to
    the Present. London / New York:Quartet Books

Book Reviews

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Review by
Ariel Barrios Medina

Center for Science
Journalism

School of
Pharmacy and
Biochemistry -
University of
Buenos Aires
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