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Topic / Gender, Race and Identity

The Peruvian Book of Queerness: An Interview with Javier Ponce Gambirazio on Writing about Queer Experiences in Peru 

After reading Crónicas Maricas (Queer Chronicles) by Peruvian writer Javier Ponce Gambirazio, I was horrified by situations Peruvian queer people had to endure—many of which persist today—simply for being who they are. I was uplifted, though, by how they decided to face adversity, celebrating life with that particular humor that, as a filmmaker, I have found uniquely present in queer communities.

I interviewed Javier after reading his latest work. The book, published in 2023 by Planeta, relates what it was like to be a queer person in Peru over the last century. Javier has already published fourteen books in Peru, Spain, and New York. Among these are scientific articles, chronicles, novels, short stories, poetry, and photo-stories. As an audiovisual researcher, he has directed documentaries on figures such as Lucha Reyes, Sarita Colonia, and topics like Contemporary Dance, among others.

This interview, originally conducted in Spanish, has been translated to English and edited for length and clarity.

WV: For me, one of the most iconic phrases in your book was: “We need a Maricopedia (“Marico” is best translated into English as “Faggot.”) that commemorates the heroes who dynamited their existences and passed down debris with which we built the palace in which we celebrate and the cave in which we hide.” As the first writer to create this Peruvian Maricopedia, how do you think we should protect this palace created by warriors of the past?

JP: Universal history is filled with examples warning us that we can always step back, and homosexuals in Peru live in a precarious balance that can collapse and return us to secrecy at any moment. Therefore, we must not let our guard down or take the relative freedom we enjoy today for granted. This is the essential function of knowing the past, understanding that the current situation is the result of much effort and sacrifice, of individual and solitary gestures that gradually pushed reality to this point. Likewise, the protection of this apparent palace through which we now navigate will be the responsibility of everyone. Each and every one of us.

The conquest of freedoms is not over. Of course, it’s good news that the younger generation can enjoy the party without being stopped by the police, but there is still much to do regarding our rights. It is their obligation not only to safeguard what has been achieved, but also to hand over reality to the next generation in a better state than they received it. Beyond the ideologies that seek to divide us, they must form alliances among themselves and not with politicians who will always offer to “help” us, but whose hidden interests will hinder progress. If we have ever made progress, it has been in an independent manner and in the struggle for freedom in all its forms.

WV: You mention that you don’t know a homosexual who isn’t damaged. The truth is, neither do I. Why do you think it’s this way?

JP: The first thing you realize when you discover you’re gay is that others aren’t. The second thing is that you have to hide it because it can put you in danger. A gay child lives in a world that’s foreign to them, where they learn to lie, to conceal their affections because they’re seen as an insult, and nothing good awaits them. They encounter this in family discourse, in insults, and in descriptions of what’s wrong, unacceptable, and disgusting. It confirms that they could lose everything, and even though they fear that their parents will stop loving them, their family is all they have. They must protect themselves at any cost. The price they pay is enduring. Faced with the choice between enduring mistreatment or losing their family, they choose to endure mistreatment. That’s why they remain silent. It’s a perverse agreement they make with themselves.

In that scenario, it’s impossible to enjoy childhood. Their entire psychological development is colored by fear and concealment. But if you think that was terrible, adolescence is even worse. If your friends find out, they will use you to distance themselves from what they don’t want to be. They attack you in public so that no one thinks they’re like you. It’s no wonder that gay Peruvians grow up damaged. However, this is not an exclusive phenomenon in Peru, but I can only speak about the reality I know.

WV: It was brutal and painful to read that when the police appeared, there was a need to flee, because after raping transgender women, they would rob them and throw them naked on the outskirts of the city. Do you know if any media outlets were interested, at least back then, in reporting on this?

JP: Homosexuals, drug addicts, criminals, and prostitutes were all lumped together in the same criminal category, and the media reinforced this ignorant and simplistic generalization. We were seen as part of the undesirable, something to be pursued and eliminated, so nobody reported these abuses because they would have been labeled as immoral for taking the “wrong” side. Transgender women were, and even today, often forced into prostitution to survive because the job market did not offer them opportunities.

Many of them are kicked out of their homes at a very young age and can’t access even basic education, not even finishing school. On the streets, they find shelter among older transgender women, but it’s not for free. They have to pay with their bodies, something they are forced to offer from a very young age. The police and local security authorities lock them up, abuse them, and before dawn, they are abandoned on the outskirts of the city with no money, from where they must walk back with no possibility of continuing to work.

WV: Despite the dramas recounted here, there is a lot of comedy and celebration of life as well. From the anecdote that the first winner of the Miss Universe Gay in Peru received a box of ceramic tiles as the grand prize to your stories with Ricky Martin or Jean Paul Gaultier, what do you think we should celebrate now? 

JP: Sense of humor has always been our best survival strategy in this tragicomedy of being gay in Peru. Without laughter and parody, which allowed us to transform horror into a party, we might have jumped out the window. The first thing you learned when you entered the gay scene was to make fun of yourself because we felt that life itself had already made fun of us, and tears were of no use. But, you know, not everyone laughed with the book.

I’ve received many criticisms because the title contains the word “marica” which has been used as a slur. Some people are outraged, saying that I should have just used the word “queer.” Even some platforms like Tiktok have directly removed all my promotional videos and interviews because of the “forbidden word” that “violates community rules.” As if we had to hide again. They haven’t understood anything. They don’t understand that trivializing and recontextualizing a word serves to remove its insulting weight and diminish its power. That’s what humor is for, which it seems we’ve lost. We’ve gone from being a group of people who could deal with any adversity by laughing at everything to becoming ridiculous fragile individuals who get offended and victimized over anything.