Latin American Studies LGBT Literature
Héctor Domínguez-Ruvalcaba
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0273


LGBT Latin American literature includes a vast number of authors, currents, genres, and styles on topics related to gender and sexual dissidence. This literature spans diverse cultures, ideologies, and sociopolitical spheres. The first texts alluding to sexual diversity in the region can be dated to long before this region was known as Latin America, and the LGBT acronym was created. Since the European conquests, same-sex desire was considered a nefarious, unspeakable sin. Thus, its representation was banned, forcing writers to conceive discursive strategies to refer to “deviant” sexualities and gender expressions without breaking the rules. Homoeroticism was disguised in colonial literature as special friendship or spiritual attachment, which allowed the 17th-century poet Sor Juana to write love poems dedicated to the Countess of Paredes. Homophobic representations of homosexuals can be found in several dramas and narratives from the nineteenth century where the so-called deviants were secondary, execrated characters presented as, at best, the objects of jokes. At the end of the nineteenth century, non-homophobic representations of sexual dissidents can be found in naturalist novels like Bom Crioulo by the Brazilian author Adolfo Caminha, modernista poems like the Mexican Amado Nervo’s “Adrógino,” and several short stories. In the first half of twentieth century, two cultural magazines were pivotal for the promotion of gay writers and intellectuals: Contemporáneos (Mexico, 1928–1931) and Orígenes (Cuba, 1944–1956). In Mexico, writers who gathered around Contemporáneos magazine sustained fierce controversies defending homoerotic representations against the homophobia of post-revolutionary cultural elite. On the other hand, Orígenes in Cuba published gay authors who referred to homoerotic desire in positive and sometimes sublime terms. In the 1960s and thereafter, LGBT literature echoed the sexual liberation movement, and became established as a mark of modernity. Life in the closet, family conflicts, social and official homophobia, and queer marginal subjects are some of the main topics we find in several works published in these years, although with the prevalence of male authors writing about male cis-gender homoerotic experience. Homosexuality, after centuries of being deemed a sin, a crime, or a disease, now is an identity struggling for respect and inclusion. At the turn of twenty-first century, topics of same-sex prostitution, the displacement of LGBT people because of their sexual orientation (sexile), a more visible lesbian representation, and the tribulations of trans people have proved their influence in culture, politics, and social life beyond LGBT environments.

Academic Essays

Since the 1980s a great number of academic essays have introduced theories in their reading of Latin American LGBT literature, looking for understanding sexual dissidences in the region. It is telling that most of the critics are themselves located in a transnational conversation, as opposed to the national critics, who traditionally have been linked to local elites. Although most of these scholars use conceptual resources rooted in European and US theoretical frameworks, they re-signify these concepts as their material of analysis and their own agendas are oriented to incessantly deconstruct cultural assumptions, easy categorizations, and all kinds of biases regarding sexual diversity. Even in those works that are conceived as national literature studies, like Bejel 2001 or Melo 2011, the objective is to dismount the national-patriarchal apparatus, promoting a queering of the dominant cultural and political order. Queering is a key word for most of these texts. Fiol-Matta 2002 and the authors compiled in Bergmann and Smith 1995, for instance, review literary and intellectual canonical figures in order to find the queerness resting behind their public presence, or the queerness that made possible a contribution to their cultures. Queerness implies nonconformity and social disturbance, as the works included in Chávez-Silverman and Hernández 2000 emphasize. The strategies to deal with this nonconformity are diverse, yet here we focus on just two of them. On one hand, transvestitism radically challenges the heteronormative society, as we can read in the works gathered in Irwin, et al. 2003 and in Sifuentes-Jáuregui 2002. On the other, oppressive conditions of life force queer people to develop strategies of passing, as read in Quiroga 2000 and Fiol-Matta 2002. The compilations Viteri and Lavinas Picq 2016 and Domínguez Ruvalcaba 2016 address the problem of coloniality and translation as key factors of queerness in Latin America.

  • Bejel, Emilio. Gay Cuban Nation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

    This book is a historical account of homosexuality related to the nation, focusing on how national and sexual identities are destabilized in Cuban literature. Throughout the study of the Cuban literary canon, Bejel shows how homoerotic imagination has forged a queer version of Cuban-ness.

  • Bergmann, Emily L., and Paul Julian Smith. ¿Entiendes? Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822399483

    This edited volume is deemed the first collective study focusing on Hispanic queer issues in Spanish and Latin American literatures. The collection contains a broad review of canonical authors such as Miguel de Cervantes, Gabriela Mistral, and Jorge Luis Borges. This work deals with rhetorical strategies to conceal implied homoeroticism that had not been addressed by criticism before.

  • Chávez-Silverman, Susana, and Librada Hernández, eds. Reading and Writing the Ambiente: Queer Sexualities in Latino, Latin American, and Spanish Culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

    The works compiled in this edited volume intersect literature, law, sex, and nation, implying that queer criticism is not reduced to sexual identity, but is a reflection on the relationship between bodies and the social norms. Thus, these works focus on the circulation of queerness in the production, reception, prohibition, and disruption that occurs within the patriarchal realm rather than a mere self-representation of the queer subject.

  • Domínguez Ruvalcaba, Héctor. Translating the Queer: Body Politics and Transnational Conversations. London: Zed Books, 2016.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350223691

    An overview of the academic studies regarding Latin American sexual dissidences, this book includes literary analysis, cultural studies, political sciences, anthropology, and the arts. The topics addressed are: queer decolonization, queer representations and national identity, queer modernity, LGBT politics, and queer issues in the neoliberal era. This book has been useful in introductory classes on Latin American queer studies.

  • Fiol-Matta, Licia. A Queer Mother for the Nation: The State and Gabriela Mistral. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

    In this book, Licia Fiol-Matta displays images, attitudes, and ideological thoughts, not to construct an apology of the persona of Gabriela Mistral. Instead, the author explores a deconstructionist interpretation of discourses from and about this prominent figure of Latin American letters and education. Fiol-Matta’s approach fluctuates between mythology and anti-mythology, and her study suggests that queer symbols intervene in the formation of collective values.

  • Irwin, Robert M., Edward J. McCaughan, and Michelle Rocío Nasser, eds. The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, 1901. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    This volume includes primary sources like fiction, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and cartoons about the scandal of the 41. This drag party in Mexico City, celebrated in November 1901, marks the beginning of public discussion on homosexuality in Mexico. The editors compile a selection of essays on homoeroticism, homophobia, and sociocultural and political aspects related to sexual dissidence in early-20th-century Mexico. This source is effective for teaching and researching on the Porfirian period.

  • Melo, Adrián. Historia de la literatura gay en Argentina: Representaciones sociales de la homosexualidad masculina en la ficción literaria. Buenos Aires: Lea, 2011.

    Reviewing literary representations of homoerotic male contacts, this book highlights their significance for ideas like nation, power, and morality from the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century. Melo argues that homosexual characters in Argentine literature represent the outsider of the nation, synthesizing the other for the heterosexist, dominant society.

  • Quiroga, José. Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

    This academic work has contributed greatly to the field of Latin American and Latinx queer studies. Quiroga’s book discusses rhetorical and performative strategies that deal with the closet in Latin American culture, while connecting Latin American queer culture with its US-Latinx counterpart. Tropics of Desire links a high culture, literary, LGBT tradition to the sex and gender ambiguities found in Latinx pop culture.

  • Sifuentes-Jáuregui, Ben. Transvestism, Masculinity, and Latin American Literature. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230107281

    This book of literary criticism offers a clever reflection of the meaning of being transvestite in Latin American literature. In the analysis of canonical novels (and a chapter addressing popular press of the early nineteenth century), Sifuentes-Jáuregui develops an understanding of masculine myths, and the power of cross-dressing for destabilizing hegemonic gender assumptions.

  • Viteri, María Amelia, and Manuela Lavinas Picq, eds. Queering Paradigms V: Queering Narratives of Modernity. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016.

    This collection of essays addresses queer narratives from the Southern Hemisphere (mainly from Latin American countries) with a decolonial perspective. As diverse cultural contexts localize sexual dissidents, their ways of defining, categorizing, and struggling are unique. The ethnography, literature, and performance studied in these works deploy a conflictive relation with modern notions of gender and sexuality conceived under Western epistemology.

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