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Ciencia, Política Y Sexo: Science, Politics, And Sex

On Monday evening, Víctor Mora Gaspar from the Autonomous University of Madrid spoke (in Spanish) at Barnard College about the suppression of homosexuality and all queer identities during Spain’s dictatorship in the mid-1900s. New Bwogger Isabel Ocampo attended the event titled, “Ciencia, Política y Sexo,” or “Science, Politics, and Sex,” for those non-multilinguals out there.

The prettiest poster these events have put out in a looooong time

Disclaimer: my Spanish comprehension skills have weakened over the summer, so I anticipated some difficulty understanding the presentation by Víctor Mora Gaspar, given that it was completely in Spanish. Nonetheless, I made attending a priority given that the title touched on two of my favorite topics (hint: science is not one of them), planning to grasp the majority of the event after five years of studying Spanish. I understood less than I hoped and spent most of the evening uncomfortably laughing and nodding on cue with everyone else without fully registering what was so hilarious or profound. Thankfully, Mora Gaspar included pictures (with text!) to break down some of the details for students like myself, and a woman I met during orientation, who is mostly fluent in Spanish, sat next to me and gave me a brief recap at the end. Turns out those “friends” you made during NSOP can be good to keep around. So with these helpful aides and the short phrases I was able to pick up, I did piece together a summary of the suppression of queer people in Spain under the Franco regime.

Mora Gaspar introduced the presentation with a mantra to keep in mind throughout the rest of his talk: we need to understand political conditions to in order to understand the culture. When Francisco Franco rose to power as a dictator in Spain in 1939, he brought comparably conservative views for the time with him, stigmatizing non-traditional gender roles, homosexuality, and unconventional gender expression. Before Franco’s arrival, the Spanish population accepted most queer identities. Afterward, publicly engaging sexually or romantically with someone of the same sex, or vocalizing one’s sexual orientation as something other than heterosexual, became a national crime leading to the incarceration of queer people. Later in Franco’s dictatorship, people committing homosexual acts would be tortured in correctional facilities to “fix” their gayness, much like conversion therapy still operating in the United States today.

In addition to suppressing queer people, Franco’s regime also strongly enforced traditional gender roles within the family, surprise, surprise. At one point Mora Gaspar said that it was the “biological destiny of women to become mothers,” so I can only assume that motherhood was greatly valued by Franco – that is, it was the only acceptable role for women. Mora Gaspar also displayed dialogue of government propaganda from the time that stressed the importance of supporting the men of the nation in battle or selling stocks or whatever it is they did that was so important and valiant and preparing the women to have families. Similar propaganda also scared women away from displaying “characteristics of feminists.” Not an unusual 1950s outlook, but nonetheless demonstrates how Franco was just as sexist as he was homophobic.

To further his dehumanization of queer people, Franco categorized homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people, and even sex workers under the umbrella term, “el tercer sexo” (“the third sex”) and referred to them as “ello.” If unfamiliar, in Spanish, “él” means “he,” “ella” means “she,” but “ello” does not grammatically exist. In the case of describing a type of people, the population did not believe they could categorize as one gender, “ello” became a gender-neutral term in a language where everything has a gender. (This is pretty sick for linguist nerds.)

To conclude what I learned from the event, aside from that I need to practice my Spanish a lot, Franco was a homophobic, transphobic, and sexist man who tried to make much of the population feel less human. Thankfully, his regime ended around 1975, and afterward, Spain became known as the country that “invented gay rights,” as one of my friends put it, further enforcing Mora Gaspar’s point made at the beginning of the presentation that political conditions affect culture. With a less hostile government ruling the people, the population found more freedom in everyday life and members of the queer community felt more acceptance. Despite my incomprehension of many details, Víctor Mora Gaspar was an engaging speaker, keeping the audience lively with his consistent jokes and enthusiastic tone when he spoke, an impressive act gave the sullen nature of the topic. He has a book published titled “Al Margen de la Naturaleza,” directly translating to “To the Margin of Nature,” all about the subject of last night’s lecture, which I will definitely be purchasing and translating to better understand the details of the presentation. I would also recommend it to any other semi-Spanish speaking student interested in queer life, science, and politics in Spain since it was an informative event about an intriguing topic most find unfamiliar.

photo via Barnard events

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