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Breaking Latinx Gender Roles

On stringent gender norms in the Latinx community and the need to expand them

By Zoe D. Ortiz and Ruben E. Reyes Jr.
Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a former Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House.

Ruben: Bad Bunny sits on the screen in front of me, in a robe, his ears pierced, a stud on his nose. He’s getting his nails done, a dark black shade painted over his cuticles, and he seems absolutely unbothered as it happens. Suddenly, Bad Bunny is a girl. Suddenly, Bad Bunny is himself again and he’s being kissed on the cheeks by men and women.

I sit there, wondering how he makes it so easy to be comfortable with his body, how he’s able to release a music video like that knowing that a deluge of questions will follow: Is Bad Bunny gay or bisexual? Why would he paint his nails, wear that outfit, act so out of line with what a man should be?

I wonder how he handles the non-stop barrage of questions, how he finds comfort when the queries and assumptions do not stop.

Zoe: On the other side of reggaeton, is the Latina. She is fierce, she is powerful, she is beautiful, and she is talented. From Becky G to Natti Natasha, she is represented by successful women. She produces catchy, hip-shaking songs and has a curvy body to go along with it. She is comfortable in her own skin and she is the antithesis of what I grew up thinking I could be.

For me, sexuality has always been a sort of forbidden fruit. I was meant to act like a lady, to wear tops that weren’t too revealing, and to hide my body from prying gazes. Even more, my body wasn’t the curvaceous replica of Becky G and Natti Natasha. So, in a family of beautiful, curvy, yet slender Latinas, baggy clothes given to me at Christmas were usually the most “flattering.”

R: When it comes to understanding my masculinity, Harvard is worlds apart from my life in California. Latinx culture is still obsessed with gender roles. There’s limited versions of what a man can look and act like. Here, at college, I can imagine new versions of my masculinity, news way of understanding myself and my gender.

This is not to say that homophobia or transphobia do not exist on this campus. People’s gender presentation, their bodies, and sexuality are constantly policed here. The “liberal bubble” does not protect us from bigotry. But compared to a community so invested in familiar labels and gender norms, college has offered some freedom to begin shedding my shame, to no longer feel insecure about my choices or the way I understand my masculinity.

Z: The first time I wore a crop-top at Thanksgiving, my grandma pulled it down so quickly, I was immediately filled with shame. In college, I was free of familial expectations for the first time and financial independence allowed me to dress myself in what made me feel beautiful. Yet, in that moment at Christmas, I felt like too much and not enough. I wasn’t the girl that was meant to wear that shirt. I was showing too much, when I was taught less was more.

Without the right clothes, I was failing to be the young “lady” in modest clothing my grandma wanted me to be. Without the curvy body, I was failing to be the “sexy woman” society deemed to be inherently Latina. In that moment, I didn’t feel beautiful. Swallowed by my own insecurity, I felt lost between two molds I never completely fit into.

R: Feelings of insecurity, low self-worth, and stomach-churning self hatred do come out of the the unnecessary policing of people’s sexuality. Yet our adherence and unquestioned adoration of gender roles also come with corporeal consequences. Women in El Salvador are facing life-time sentences for miscarriages because of the country’s total ban on abortions. Young BGLTQ folks are taking their own lives after their peers harass them for how they choose to express themselves. Lives, not just emotions, are at stake.

Z: But a Latina is not only policed by her body or physical sexuality. She is policed in who she can love and who she is. It’s the way family members ask, “¿y tú novio?” at Christmas, assuming a Latina is half of a heterosexual pair. Or how the contributions of trans-Latinas are ignored. The Latinx community is machista, heteronormative, and homophobic. In order to change it we must constantly push back against the ways our community attempts to fit everyone into molds that should have never been created.

I can only hope that the next time I wear a crop top I won’t feel the weight of two opposing expectations on my shoulders. I can only hope that one day, I’ll just be Zoe, a Latina who wears crop tops sometimes, because they make her feel beautiful.

R: Bad Bunny is not some savior. He’s not rewriting the book on gender and sexuality, and has gotten oddly defensive after people implied he might not be straight. The revolution will not happen in reggaeton.

Yet any time I scroll past a picture of Bad Bunny in an outfit that would’ve gotten me bullied as a child, I feel some hope. Watching his seemingly unhinged joy, I allow myself to imagine a future where Latinx families will abandon everything we’ve internalized about gender and sexuality. I hear a ringing in my ear of a day when we all sing together, “no hay nada mal, estamos bien, estamos bien.”

Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a former Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House.

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