Two young men meet to discuss their place among their Mexican relatives and the language of men
8:06 tonight in Texas.
It's one of those marvelous summer eight p.m's where the sun's light is dying over sky's edge, and a deep saturation of indigo hangs above the earth. Blue churns up black with the passing minutes. People, almost entirely men, congregate at the parking lot of a food shop on the corner of Windfern and Prairie road somewhere in Houston. They usually gather here to drink after a day of work, and it's a Friday—a working-class holiday of reprieve and drinking. The side of the lot nearest the road is where most of the regulars squat. A couple of stragglers nest in the adjacent covered-seating area. The general buzz of chatter, some laughter, and 'órale, güey's' occupies the airwaves alongside the most prominent vibration of an obscure cumbia blasting from a tiny flatbed truck. A single man, Tomas, sits alone while waiting for a friend. He's holding a small, ugly yellow flower that he plucked when he arrived here 20 minutes ago. A beer can rests by his foot.
"Yo," says a voice directed at Tomas. It's from James (he calls himself Cualtzin ever since he started passively learning Nahuatl on the internet. Cualtzin means beautiful, and he likes that it's both androgynous and ancient enough for his style).
Tomas looks up from the flower,
"Finally. What the hell took so long, babe?"
"Oh, you know. . ."
"Well, no. In fact, that is why people ask such a question. For lack of knowing."
"I left my place and stopped at la tienda for the ATM and some mezcal. Trade was at—"
"We didn't—we we're walking out the front door together. I asked him what was for dinner and then we started talking. His parents are from Jordan and so we started talking about language acquisition."
"As you do with the men at the liquor store. . ."
"As we do. Anyway, it was cute. He gave me his number so we can talk more about the Arabic language."
"Of course . . . How are you?"
"You casually asked him what was for dinner?"
"What else was I going to ask?"
"Oddly enough, I rarely start conversations with strangers at the store so I don't have any proven advice here."
"Trade is always at the liquor stores."
"You talk about your men like you're a prostitute."
"It's true. That term seems so wrong in this context."
"That's because we're re-contextualizing the language of oppression!"
Tomas and Cualtzin both laugh briefly. A few more men walk by holding cheap, 40-ounce beers. One is unraveling a pack of cigarettes. Many more people arrive as the night grows older.
"Life is terrible," says Tomas. They re-engage in conversation. "Before you got here, I asked el caballero over there if I could make his picture and he declined. He was so bashful. I told him that I liked his 'estilo de caballero,' and he blushed."
"Over there, with the white hat. Older guy."
"Well, yes, but it's the image that I want. Only in my traveling did I realize one of the things I miss about this place and that's the Norteño's and caballero's, and that cultural group. No where else in the world can you find this distinct group of people; the North-Mexican Tejáno cowboy. It's so fucking beautiful to me. The style, the essence, and what not. Of course, I'm romanticizing the idea."
"All brown men are beautiful."
"Well, I guess, but I'm thinking about this specific manifestation."
"Spirit is within us and our ancestors, that's why we're so beautiful. That's also why all of these white men are chasing after us behind their wives backs."
"When I was over there asking about the photo, one of their friends walked over to the old cowboy and hugged him from the side. Another guy who was sitting in that little truck started yelling 'beso! beso!'"
"Oh, yum. They always let go of that straightness after a few drinks."
"Men are so strange. Or rather, it's the ideological frameworks that we maintain that are strange. Especially in the South. Besides, there is an entire other language of men and their straight peers, or whatever it may be."
"The language of men. . ."
"A coworker showed me his text messages to another one of our work mates, and in those texts they addressed each other as 'bro' and 'homie,' yet they always call me 'sir' at work. I find that culture of boyisms to be so outlandish. I've never had a part in it. Not voluntarily, but because I have no idea how it functions."
"I find gendered language in general to be a problem . . ."
"Maybe, but I merely want to understand that nuanced system of male-to-male lingo. For instance, does the word 'buddy' not strike you as rude? It's like the word 'bitch,' it can be used both endearingly and aggressively. When men call me buddy I'm automatically turned off. Maybe they know calling me buddy will drive me away, and so they use it to spite me."
"Most words can be used in such a way. Of course, with all language and with humans in general, prejudice and imperialist notions arise in our language too. Ignorant people play into the hands of oppressors using only their words. Colonialism and imperialism aren't only about the taking of land. They involve altering language, removing indigenous words and thought, cultural censorship."
"And language becomes a device of thought control or, at least, shaping. In this case, the language men use among one another becomes a code. This code they then use to amplify or detract from their ideas of self, and their collective culture of quote 'men'. Calling each other pussy is an act of admiration yet provocation, as if, they want to challenge each other to become even more of what they believe to be manly. Yet, this idea is underhanded and completely ineffective."
"Yea, completely. That code within the economy of manhood is so oppressive."
"All the while I wonder how to speak about such a thing in the wider context of culture. I've been around these boys recently, because of my job, who all have some experience with prison and what not. Or the military. In my observing them, I can't help but notice their efforts of posturing and cock-measuring. They share these irrelevant prison stories about bashing someones head against the floor and the hum-drum of prison life.
While listening I thought to myself, 'does this boy believe that this experience made him a man? That on the other side of his two year sentence, he had somehow crossed a right of passage?' He is so young—twenty-two—and his machoism's are completely inflamed. I spoke to another coworker about this boy like I do with most children—I criticized them in earshot. I said 'Listen to this guy, he sounds just like every other twenty-two year old I know: completely cynical. The boy laughed when he heard this. Of course, I'm a charmer so I didn't deliver such ridicule without a smile," Tomas adds, while a grin appears on his face.
Cualtzin responds softly, with a pensive tone,
"Those are the young boy's who seem most vulnerable to me. I've met so many twenty-year-old bros who laud their girlfriend stories like a victory."
"—well, they have to. Fucking pussy is their only claim to masculinity."
"Under that oppressive ideology, yes," said Cualtzin, as he looked over at the huge crowd of drunk men across the parking lot. "I wonder if I can seduce one of them tonight."
"You're a mess."
"I need dick, T!"
"Tea . . . who doesn't?"
"Straight men. More for me."
"You're so desperate that I'm the one who's exhausted," Tomas pauses.
Cualtzin smiles almost insidiously.
Tomas begins again, "I spoke with a man here earlier, Chapo, who told me, 'if you need anything, just ask me.'"
"Oh, was he hot? If so, I've got a request."
"No. He was a mess and wasted by 8 p.m. He had said that in reference to his gang. He told me that most of the men out here are part of gangs, and that is why they hang out in these various smaller groups. He said 'if you need anything' in that suggestively violent sense. Again, I bring up this masculinity idea; how much of these oppressive or imperialist systems in today's world are predicated on a corrupted ideal of masculinity and power maintenance?"
"Most of them, i'd imagine. Reminds me of something I was reading . . ."
"If the overall notion of masculinity and power are corrupted throughout the general populous of modern culture, how could we even begin to undo such a deeply embedded thought pattern?"
"We have our PhD thesis work cutout for us."
"Funny, the irony in that most of the people here in this general region believe that we are the outliers. That you and me are somehow flawed because we prefer one body over another. Meanwhile, corrupted masculinity and it's big brother imperialism damage the lives of so many people today. Here we are, the two fairies, holding a flower and talking about the state of the world while our men gorge themselves on alcohol and joke about kissing each other; yet, somehow, we fags are the problem.
Of course, my mom or tía would call them borrachos. They would still claim that these drunks need Jesus. In that case, maybe we aren't so different—these drunk men and me. We could never be enough for the majority of the corrupted ideologies who surround us in daily life; we're not enough for our pious mothers, tías, and sisters and primas; we're striving to be enough for our fathers, and brother, and primos, and abuelos, or whoever the fuck."
"Two fairies sat with a flower. . ."
"Facing doom and their inevitable end."
Tomas and Cualtzin ponder their conversation underneath the fluorescent lights of the awning. They adjust their positions on the hard, wooden benches and continue like this for about an hour more; theorizing and hypothesizing their social position occasionally pausing for silence, while the music grew ever louder and the men ever drunker. An irregular, female dog with swollen teats passes quickly through the parking lot; her image grossly imposed on the concrete area by the powerful, artificial lights. A couple of drunk men shout as they egg on their friends to participate in some intoxicated behavior. Two other men begin walking away and disappear into the darkness as they pass the thresholds of visible light.
"Isn't this beautiful?" Cualtzin finally posed.
"ugh, yes. And terrible." replies Tomas, while looking across the parking lot. "It's been nice seeing you tonight, my dear," he adds while gathering himself up to depart.
Every word affects me. This may be why I'm so reluctant to read anything—especially the work of academics and philosophers who have a particular knack for mythologizing everything. I'd never read McKenzie Wark nor an article in e-flux—a journal recommended to me by a cool, in-the-know queer academic friend (I consider myself to be out of touch regarding contemporary theory, academics, and formal philosophy). And, all the while, reading McKenzie's work I thought of my own writing in "two fairies speaking about their men."
I'm sure there are many other examples of this type of literature (two people having a philosophical conversation set within a mundane environment). Not only is Wark's work more impressive in scope but also much more intelligent and academic than my own. Wark has, obviously, spent much more time reading and writing on such things. Even so, we arrive to parallel conclusions: what if we lived in a world where society didn't treat us like shit for existing outside of predetermined molds?
What's bad about being so unread is that I'm likely to unknowingly reach conclusions that others have already reached. What is it about writing and the dissemination of ideas that any of us hope to achieve? McKenzie Ward, I'm sure, would have no problem with my "Platonic representation" as I would have no problem with hers. Regardless, people are always judging appearances. Why should we give a fuck about any of this? When will we academics, artists, and intellectuals actually speak to the masses, and how?
But it's happening all the time. Cultural shifts happen slowly and provide no clear evidence of those shifts until they've moved culture beyond their current recognitions.