august 1950

I’m sarcastic, skeptical and sometimes callous because I’m still afraid, deep down, of letting myself be hurt. There’s a vulnerable core in me which every egotist has…I can’t deceive myself out of the bare stark realization that no matter how enthusiastic you are, no matter how sure that character is fate, nothing is real, past or future, when you are alone in your room with the clock ticking loudly into the false cheerful brilliance of the electric light. And if you have no past or future, which after all, is all present is made of, why then you may as well dispose of the empty shell of present and commit suicide.
—  Sylvia Plath, from a letter to Eddie Cohen written c. August 1950
10

Juan Gabriel, Gay Mexican Icon

(January 7, 1950 – August 28, 2016)

With his glittery capes, slinky dance moves and ultra-romantic lyrics, Mexican superstar Juan Gabriel was an unlikely king in a country known for its machismo. He never spoke about his sexuality, yet was widely assumed to be gay. It’s no surprise that the singer was an icon in Mexico’s gay subculture.

Having sold over 100 million copies worldwide, Gabriel is among Latin America’s best-selling singer-songwriters. His eighteenth studio album, Recuerdos, Vol. II, holds the distinction of being the best-selling album of all-time in Mexico, with over eight million copies sold.

During his career, Gabriel wrote around 1,800 songs. Releasing 35 albums over the course of his 45-year career, he became beloved by multiple generations of fans in Latin America, Spain and the United States. His genres varied widely, from mariachi to salsa to disco.

In 2002, a few years before Mexico City legalized gay marriage, the famously effeminate singer shut down a journalist who asked if he was gay.  “You don’t ask about what can be seen,” he said.

Although Gabriel never publicly claimed the gay community, that community certainly claimed him, with his romantic Spanish-language ballads belted late into the night in drag bars on both sides of the border.

Many have credited Juan Gabriel with opening the door to greater expression of gender and sexuality, even if he never explicitly called for it. Like Prince, or David Bowie, Juan Gabriel was known for his gender-bending clothing and occasional touch of eye makeup.

“I think he made a deep cultural change not by talking about his sexuality but by living it out on stage,” said Alejandro Madrazo, a law professor in Mexico who is an expert on the legal battle for same-sex marriage in the country. “Juan Gabriel taught us how to be feminine.”

Madrazo recalled seeing Juan Gabriel perform before a large crowd at a cockfight, a sport that exemplifies Mexico’s machismo culture.  

“He would dance in a way that was sexy and provocative in front of all these stereotypes of a Mexican man,” Madrazo said. “He would literally shake … in their faces, and they would go crazy.”

In an homage to Juan Gabriel published on the website of Mexico’s Millenio newspaper, journalist Alvaro Cueva recalled friends making fun of Juan Gabriel for his effeminate stage presence. At some schools, his name was used as an anti-gay slur.

Cueva called Juan Gabriel subversive. “You … became an idol in a country of macho men,” he wrote. “You made homophobic people sing and dance.”

Eduardo C. Corral, the gay Chicano poet, shared a story on Twitter about how it was easier for his parents to accept him after he came out to them because of Juan Gabriel. “In high school, I came out first to my mom. She told my dad when he got off work at midnight. She was nervous. Afraid of his reaction. My dad’s response? He said, in Spanish, ‘So what? So is Juan Gabriel,’” Corral wrote.

The poet relayed an experience that was common for LGBT Latinos and their families. “Over the years, Juan Gabriel became part of many Mexican families. Yes, he was mocked. But there he was. In our homes. Familiar & strange. Queerness, then, became a presence in Mexican homes. In my home. This familiarity with queerness helped my father to keep loving his son,” tweeted the poet.

In all his glory, Juan Gabriel was an incredible performer and singer-songwriter, but it is his impact on the LGBT Latino community that must not be erased from the narrative of his legacy.

2

❝In private life, she was not in the least what her calumniators would have wished her to be. She was very quiet, had a great natural dignity, and was extremely intelligent. She was also exceedingly sensitive.❞  - Dame Edith Sitwell

There was no such person as Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe was an invention of hers. A genius invention that she created, like an author creates a character. She understood photography, and she also understood what makes a great photograph. She related to it as if she were giving a performance. She gave more to the still camera than any actress- any woman- I’ve ever photographed.❞  - Richard Avedon

❝ She went right down into her own persosnal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn.❞  - John Huston

I found myself in the privileged position of photographing somebody who I had first thought had a gift for the camera, but who turned out had a genius for it. She had a naive quality, but she also had a great sense of showmanship and self-promotion. She was very clever. She was able to assess each photographer. Even if it was only an amateur with a box camera, she worked with the same diligence that she would have if she were working with a top professional. She would photograph ten pounds lighter which is against every rule in the book. The smile was brilliant. Her skin was translucent; white luminous. She was always sort of golden-looking, and because she had a down of just very fine golden hairs on her face, it trapped the light and caused an aureole to form, giving her a faint glow. It was extraordinary. I’ve never seen it before. It was nimbus, so that she looked almost angelic.❞  - Eve Arnold

Marilyn would have been 91 today. I want to wish her all of the love in the world. Happy Birthday, Norma Jeane. You are so special. I love you. ♡ 

Another year, I’m reminded to keep Marilyn’s legacy alive in the truest way I can; sharing truthful statements, tidbits of knowledge and accurate quotes. It was important to Marilyn to be remembered as she was, to be quoted correctly.

❝Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one. I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity.❞ - Marilyn Monroe

1ˢᵗ of June, ¹⁹²⁶ - 5ᵗʰ of August, ¹⁹⁶²

Thursday, August 10th, 1950
“Mother, today I killed a man…I threw a terrifying device called a hand grenade and it killed him instantly. The explosion nearly tore out my own ear drums. Even as I write at this moment, my ear is filled with a dreadful echo. But as much as an enemy they are to me, it pains my heart knowing that the people I’m shooting at are my people who I share the same blood and language with. And as if death is approaching, my fellow student comrades lay hopelessly in the sun, as if the enemy might advance any moment. However, talking to you eases my disturbed mind. The enemy is dead silent, I do not know when they shall strike.They have countless foes, we only have 71. I am scared because I do not know what to do next. Mother, there is a chance I might die today. It’s unlikely that those numerous North Korean soldiers. Would just ignore us and march on. Dear mother, it’s not that I’m afraid of death. I’m just afraid that I shall never see you or my siblings again. However, I shall live. I promise I will survive.
Mother, my aching heart is starting to settle now.
Mother, I shall survive and be at your side again.
I crave a fresh lettuce wrap right now. I want to slurp down on cold noodles until my teeth fall off beside the waterfall…
Ah, the enemies are coming now.
I shall write again. Mother goodbye! Goodbye! Ah, this is not a goodbye. For I shall write again. Until then…”

- letter discovered on the body of South Korean soldier Lee Woo Geun, killed three days after writing it during the defense of Seoul

Nothing I can say will really do to tell you everything that happened, or why. I was completely out of my head—strange physical sensations—I was a prophet and everything was a symbol; then: shouting, singing, tearing things up. Then: depression (extreme) aching, self-enclosed, fearful of everyone and everything anyone could do, feeling I was nothing and could do nothing. I want you to know—I’m sorry. Sorry because of all my ill, inconsistent, selfish and so on actions toward you…I try to accept myself and hold on to the joyful.
—  Robert Lowell, from a letter to Gertrude Buckman c. August 1950