Pride Profile: Gema Pérez-Sánchez, Ph.D.

To celebrate Pride, we've collected experiences and insights from just a few of our researchers and scholars studying areas of interest in LGBTQ+ art, communities, and health. Below, learn more about Dr.Gema Pérez-Sánchez, an associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature and scholar of queer artists and movements in the Spanish-speaking world.

My research focuses on contemporary Spanish narrative and film, cultural studies, transnational and migration studies, and queer theory. I am the author of the book Queer Transitions in Contemporary Spanish Culture: From Franco to la movida (SUNY Press 2007) and the guest editor, with Brenna Munro, of the 2017 special issue of S&F Online on the topic of “Thinking Queer Activism Transnationally.”

With the economic support of a UM 2021-2022 UM Fellowship in the Arts and Humanities, I am working on a second book, “Transnational Queer Affects and Activism: Literary and Visual Public Interventions in Spanish Culture (1970s-2000s),” whose main goal is to evaluate how aesthetic and political objectives in Spanish creative works either depict or were produced as a result of affective transnational links among Spaniards and Latin Americans and/or US-Latinxs—connections that led to new activist strategies and to greater political effectiveness. It uses literary, historical, and theoretical methods to focus on intersections among epistolary, literary, visual, and activist discourses and transnational lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer (LGBTQ) mobilizations in Spain in relation to key moments: (1) the early 1970s, during the waning years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, when the gay and lesbian liberation movement operated underground through multinational networks of solidarity; and (2) the early 2000s, during the debates around the passing of Law 13/2005 of July 1, 2005—legalizing same-sex marriage—and Law 3/2007 of March 15, 2007—allowing trans* citizens to change their genders and names in the National Registry without proof of sex-reassignment surgery. The cultural works I study make important aesthetic innovations, and they consciously engage in LGBTQ activism (or “artivism”).

My book’s unique significance lies in its main argument that transnational emotional bonds were crucial for the development not only of the Spanish underground gay and lesbian liberation movement of the 1970s, but also of the global LGBT networks that would eventually lead to the current, mainstream, global discourse of LGBT rights as human rights—a strategy that has favored gay and lesbian agendas of respectability and insertion in official national projects, leading some Nation States to use LGBT legal rights to “pinkwash” their international image. Spain’s “elevation” to a global-North country by the 1990s paved the way for some Spanish “homonationalist” (Puar) policies (i.e., support for LGBT legal rights at the expense of the rights of immigrants) that threatened to curtail the promise of the radical, intersectional gay liberation movement of the 1970s. However, the grass-roots activism of important transfeminist, queer, and lesbian groups often integrated by refugees and immigrants from the Global South (e.g., Radical Gai, LSD, Guerrilla Travolaka) prevented this curtailing.

My work is also significant because it puts into conversation with each other several current academic discussions that have tended to operate in isolation from one another: (1) my book partakes in the urgent effort to document the 1970s gay liberation movement across the globe, to save its ephemeral archives, and to record the testimonies of its surviving militants; (2) it engages with the field of Transnationalism (Basch, Glick Schiller, and Szanton Blanc), and deploys tools from sociology and political science, such as Peggy Levitt’s notion of “cultural remittances,” to understand the complex interrelation among early activists and their exchanges of publications, correspondence, contacts, cultural products, and activist practices: (3) it deploys theories from Affect Studies (Massumi, Brennan), in general, and Queer Affect Studies (Ahmed, Cvetkovich, Dinshaw, Love, Sedgwick), in particular, to highlight both the emotional links that fueled the gay liberation movement, then, and the affective orientation to and connection with the recent past of academic and activist projects now; (4) it adds a new dimension to a dominant research trend in Spanish peninsular studies: the recovery of historical memory and the consequent rewriting of the inherited “truths” about Spain’s recent past—particularly the Spanish Civil War, the post-War period, and the transition to democracy; and (5) in addition to dialoguing with relevant scholarship from the US, the UK, France, and Latin America, this book engages with the rich academic output on LGBTQ theory and cultural analysis that has emerged in the last two decades in or about Spain. By uniting these historical and theoretical discussions, my book shows how crucial emotional bonds have been to the most innovative, impactful creative and “artivist” transnational LGBTQ movements working across Spain, Latin America, and the United States. 

The book is structured in two main sections and a concluding chapter. The first section includes three chapters and is dedicated to the gay and lesbian liberation movement of the late 1970s in Spain. Recent historical studies on this movement seek to unearth international networks of gay activism to highlight the transnational and global nature of LGBT activism. I underscore the importance of emotional and affective bonds for that history.  

Transnational Queer Affects and Activism: Literary and Visual Public Interventions in Spanish Culture (1970s-2000s)

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  • Chapter One, “‘Camaradas homófilos’: Reading Epistolary Affect in Activists’ Transnational Correspondence (1973-1980)”

    I focus on how affective connections among Spaniards and activists from other countries (pen-pals, friends, lovers, sexual tourists, or political allies and enemies), especially from global South countries (then, “developing” countries, among which Francisco Franco’s Spain was included) shaped the Spanish gay liberation movement’s agenda. Based on my archival research in Cornell University’s Human Sexuality Collection of the Robert Roth’s papers—which include Roth’s personal correspondence with Spanish, Catalan, French, and Latin American gay and lesbian activists—I argue in favor of privileging forms of “minor transnationalism” (Lionnet and Shih) that deliver major political results.

  • Chapter Two, “‘Repentinamente avergonzado’: The Articulation of Shame in Juan Goytisolo’s Memoirs”

    Chapter Two focuses on one of the most studied “queer” foundational affects—shame—by tracing its constitutive force in Juan Goytisolo’s memoirs and its imbrication in the author’s shameless perpetuation of lesbophobia. The archival research I have conducted on correspondence from the 1970s among gay and lesbian activists from several countries serves as a historical background to my analysis in Chapter Three.

  • Chapter Three, “From Los Angeles to Madrid: Affective Bonds and Political Activism in Eduardo Mendicutti’s California (2005)”

    Mendicutti’s novel, California, is a paradigmatic work in my book, because it establishes an explicit contrast between the early 1970s sex-positive, gay liberation movement in the USA and the activism that led to the passing of the 2005 same-sex marriage law in Spain. Even though the novel points to what will become, as I argue, the “homonormative” (Duggan) activist agenda that will dominate gay and lesbian politics in Spain from 2005 on, it ends with a somewhat paradoxical and utopian call for civil rights within a sex-positive queer antinormativity. 

  • Chapter Four, “What Happens on the Other Side of the Strai(gh)t? Clandestine Migrations and Queer Racialized Desire in Juan Bonilla’s Neopicaresque Novel Los príncipes nubios (2003)."

    The second section of the book begins with Chapter Four, “What Happens on the Other Side of the Strai(gh)t? Clandestine Migrations and Queer Racialized Desire in Juan Bonilla’s Neopicaresque Novel Los príncipes nubios (2003).” Here, I investigate literary representations of Spaniards’ simultaneous racist rejection of and erotic fascination with immigrants. By highlighting Los principes nubios’ debt to the Spanish picaresque literary tradition (especially in regards to its complex narratological structure and heterosexist ideology) and by identifying in this novel a monumental “acting out” of Spanish violent racist and homophobic fantasies of anal rape, this study demonstrates that Bonilla's novel is symptomatic of a disturbing trend in Spanish cultural products depicting irregular immigration from Africa to Spain across the Strait. Although works such as Bonilla’s novel offer well-meaning critiques of Spaniards’ racism towards African immigrants, they articulate those critiques in such a way as to re-inscribe homophobia.

  • Chapter Five, “David Trullo’s Queer Revisionist Photography: Negotiating Spain’s Homonationalism and the Marketing of LGTBQ Human Rights as Commodities in Latin America”

    Chapter Five serves as a case study of how Spanish queer activist artists negotiate State-sponsored homonationalism and pinkwashing. I illuminate the complex situation in which contemporary queer Spanish visual artists must produce their work: they resist homonationalism and homonormativity at the same time that they must work within these very frames to fund, produce, and disseminate their particularly subversive queer politics.

  • Chapter Six, “Voicing the Rights of the Voiceless Islamic Woman? Lampooning Pinkwashing and Islamophobia in Brigitte Vasallo’s Pornoburka (2013)”

    Chapter Six analyzes a remarkable satirical novel. When a figure dressed in a burka walks down Barcelona’s multicultural neighborhood of El Raval, the whole interconnected cast of modern (and traditional), progressive (and conservative), autochthonous (and immigrant) characters in Vasallo’s choral, daring, rabidly satirical novel goes haywire. Racing to unveil the hidden figure and “save” the “oppressed” Islamic woman, several are determined to give voice to the voiceless “woman” supposedly underneath the burka at all costs. Through an analysis of how Vasallo mercilessly lampoons Spanish pinkwashing and Islamophobia (including that stemming from the LGBTQ community), as well as racism and rigid political correctness, I reveal how the contradictions inherent in the encounter of the Spanish government homonational agenda with anti-immigration attitudes are addressed in the work of Vasallo.

  • Chapter Seven, “Competing Histories of LGBTQ Spanish Activism: Madrid World Pride 2017 and Nosotrxs somxs (2019)”

    Chapter Seven focuses on what I argue is the culmination of the homonormative and homonational insertion of the LGBT Spanish movement into the prevailing neoliberal, global LGBT agenda: the celebration of World Pride 2017 in Madrid. My conclusion analyzes the conflicting political agendas of the national, central Spanish government and private entities, on one hand, and the local Madrid municipal government (then, under the leadership of progressive mayor Manuela Carmena) and queer radical, “artivist” collectives, on the other.

Publications and Ongoing Projects

Thinking Queer Activism Transnationally

One of the most rewarding experiences of my research career was the 2017 co-edition of the special journal issue on “Thinking Queer Activism Transnationally” for The Scholar & Feminist On Line (S&F)—a highly interdisciplinary, international endeavor. Our special issue calls for re-thinking global queer politics at the intersection of activism and academia. Taking advantage of the open-source, on-line nature of S&F, this special issue mixes traditional academic articles with interviews, documents, and multi-media material from activist organizations (such as a pod cast with Nigerian activist, Sokari Ekine and a filmed interview with Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch), thus seeking audiences within and beyond academia, and maximizing the multimodal forms of communication made possible by the journal’s digital format. The majority of the contributors to this issue are scholars in the social sciences, including academics of the caliber of Debra Gould, Ruth Vanita, Karma Chávez, and Ryan Thoreson, and newer voices such as Rafael de la Dehesa, R. Lucas Platero, and Jasmine Rault. This is one of the most visited and read special issues in the recent history of S&F On line (for example, a year after its launch, our special issue homepage was viewed 4,242 times and, immediately after viewing the homepage, the most popular action taken was to read our introduction; our issue’s readers were from all over the world, with 68% of all readers hailing from the USA).

Queer Transitions in Contemporary Spanish Culture: From Franco to la movida

In Dr. Pérez-Sánchez's first book, she argues that the process of political and cultural transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain can be read allegorically as a shift from a dictatorship that followed a self-loathing “homosexual” model to a democracy that identified as a pluralized “queer” body. Focusing on the urban cultural phenomenon of la movida, she offers a sustained analysis of high queer culture, as represented by novels, along with an examination of low queer culture, as represented by comic books and films.

Affective Approaches to the Study of Contemporary LGBTQI+ Culture in Spain

I am currently collaborating with my colleagues Alfredo Martínez-Expósito of the University of Melbourne (Australia) and Enrique Álvarez of Florida State University on coediting a collection of essays on the topic of “Affective Approaches to the Study of Contemporary LGBTQI+ Culture in Spain,” in which contributors engage with the latest developments in affect, emotion, and feeling theories in the study of twenty-first-century works by and about LGBTQI topics. Affects and emotions can be understood as “transformational” (Sedgwick 2003), as constituting an “archive of feelings” (Cvetkovich 2003), as retrospective perceptions of queer experiences and cultures (Love 2007), or as performing a transhistorical “queer touch” (Dinshaw 1999). From queer shame to gay pride, affects are intimately tied to knowledge produced, disseminated, and transformed through LGBTQI+ texts and practices. In this collection, we gather the work of eleven scholars of queer contemporary Iberian cultures whose research emerges from foundational work on queer affect but who revise it from the geographic and cultural specificity of Spain. We analyze cultural texts in Spanish, Catalan, and Galician—poetry, letters, novels, film, “artivism,” and social media—that probe the psychological, political, and cultural work of multiple emotions and affects. We consider the challenges these texts pose to notions of national identities, immigration, hegemonic gender positions, historical memory, and the intellectual conceptualization of the human experience.

In this collection, we also challenge how queer and brown bodies are treated as sub-human and address the specificity of the human condition in diverse geographic and linguistic spaces. Despite Spain’s pioneering decisions regarding LGBTQ civil rights, powerful mechanisms favoring traditional representations of gender and sexuality still operate in propagandist projects of queer dehumanization, especially within the dangerous revitalization of ultraconservative ideologies. Our collection is timely and essential to resisting the erasure of queer subjectivities in Iberian sociopolitical relations. Recent, influential works in the field—including Luisa Elena Delgado’s La nación singular: fantasías de la normalidad democrática española (1996-2011) (2014), Jesse Barker’s Affect and Belonging in Contemporary Spanish Fiction and Film: Crossroads Visions (2017), and Engaging the Emotions in Spanish Culture and History, edited by Luisa Elena Delgado, Pura Fernández, and Jo Labanyi (2016)—do not primarily focus on LGBTQI contributions. We build upon these important works by reclaiming the foundational nature of queer theories in affect and emotion studies and studying specifically works on LGBTQI subjects in the Spanish State. Our goal is to produce a book of essays that will move the field of Iberian affect studies towards the queer.

Pioneros de la fraternidad homosexual: La correspondencia entre Héctor Anabitarte y Armand de Fluvià

In summer 2020, I co-wrote, with historian Javier Fernández Galeano, another on-line, open source work for Moléculas Malucas, a cutting-edge Argentinean journal committed to the preservation and dissemination of LGBTQ+ archives, memories, and testimonials, so that the history of LGBTQ+ activism in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries is not lost. This article, “Pioneros de la fraternidad homosexual: La correspondencia entre Héctor Anabitarte y Armand de Fluvià (1974-1980)” (Moléculas Malucas. 31 July 2020; analyzes the emotional and exciting epistolary exchange between two giants of the early gay liberation movement: Armand de Fluvià in Spain and Héctor Anabitarte in Argentina. Through their writing, we can trace the bravery and successes of these two men. I was lucky to be able to invite Héctor Anabitarte and his partner to speak to one of my undergraduate courses in Fall 2020. 

My articles have appeared in Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos, Revista Iberoamericana, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform; Michigan Journal of Race & Law; Hispamérica; The Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies; Letras Femeninas; Moléculas Malucas; and several essay collections. I was a 2009-2010 founding Fellow at University of Miami’s Center for the Humanities—a fellowship I just received again for 2021-2022, but which I have deferred to 2022-2023—and have received numerous grants to conduct research at archives in Spain and the USA. I teach literary theory and Spanish literature and culture courses for my department at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and Queer Studies courses for undergraduates at the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. I was nominated three times for the University of Miami Excellence in Teaching Award and was a recipient of this award on 2005.