New York City has long been a beacon for gays and lesbians. Its diversity, liberal politics, and thriving, multifaceted queer culture are a powerful lure to self-seekers from across the globe.
But as Rutgers professor Carlos Ulises Decena demonstrates in his pioneering new book, Tacit Subjects: Belonging and Same-Sex Desire among Dominican Immigrant Men (Duke University Press 2011), the lives of gay New Yorkers do not all hew to a single, overarching narrative of sexual freedom.
The gay men Decena interviewed for his book live and often work in the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, and are neither fully in nor out of the closet. Same-sex relationships are just one of the opportunities they seek as immigrants, he notes, and they carefully manage personal information within their community lest it compromise other vital pursuits, including economic and social advancement.
"Coming to New York is not just about migrating and being liberated. Many of these men continue to be embedded in a Dominican world. The move expands their opportunities, but doesn’t rupture community ties," explains Decena, an assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, and Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences. "They continue to be connected to the community because they can’t afford not to be. It’s about survival."
While openly declaring they’re gay might hurt their prospects, most of the men he interviewed told Decena
Carlos Decenathat close family members knew it, even if they never discussed it. Just as they guard personal information, so do their relatives. He uses the metaphor of the tacit subject – an unspoken, but implied pronoun that can be ascertained from a verb’s conjugation – to express these complex, but often silent, negotiations of identity and belonging.
"Just because they don’t say something doesn’t mean they’re silent. Doing may be saying," he notes, adding that many of the men did not view themselves as closeted.
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