Notes on Pride

"Is he? You know..." (***bends wrist***): Carlos Decena's Tacit Subjects

June 10th, 2021
There’s a special place in my heart for all of the incredibly Southern ways aunties ask if someone is gay. Is he “that way,” “you know (***bends wrist),” “a little sweet,” “fruity,” “light in the loafers,” “funny acting,” and so on. Couched behind the litany of (semi-problematic) metaphors and turns of phrases (that sound more like wine notes than descriptors) is the subtle fact that Auntie knows. She listens. She heard your grindr blip at the function that one time. And YES chile, she knows what the grindr is. These metaphoric and circular ways of talking about queerness and kin enunciate the truth that those closest to us often know, usually well before we do. I personally felt hella attacked and robbed of the DRAMA of coming out when I got no tears, no surprised looks, no dramatic gasps and pearl clutching. It was the “issabout damn time” looks for me. But I wanted my moment, dammnit. As I think about the folks in my life who always already knew, I often wonder what the point of it all was. If not for them and for me (since I kind of already knew) who and what are coming out for? Why does it matter so much? And do the playful metaphors of eager and speculating aunties or the ambiguities of open secrets give us a different world of possibilities to operate from?

"Conventional views of coming out in contemporary queer communities celebrate the individual, the visible, and the proud. Given the growing legitimacy of predominantly white and middle-class lesbians and gay men in the United States and of models that presume and uphold individual decision making, negotiations of the closet that refuse speech, visibility, and pride have been generally viewed as suspect, as evidence of denial and internalized homophobia, or as outright pathology.” (Carlos Decena, Tacit Subjects, p. 18)
"Today, one comes out not to be radical or change the world but to be a “normal” gay subject. From this perspective, some queers of color have an uneasy relationship with the closet because they resist the depoliticized “liberation” that coming out promises, which currently resides in a gay identity as a social-cultural formation and as a niche market” (Carlos Decena, Tacit Subjects, p. 18-19)
"In Spanish grammar, the “sujeto tácito” (tacit subject) is the subject that is not spoken but can be ascertained through the conjugation of the verb used in a sentence. For example, instead of saying “I go to school,” in Spanish one might say “Voy a la escuela” without using the Yo (I). Since the conjugation voy (I go) leaves no doubt who is speaking, whoever hears this sentence knows that the subject is built into the action expressed through the verb. Using this grammatical principle as a metaphor to explain how my informants interpret how others view their lives, the sujeto tácito suggests that coming out may sometimes be redundant. In other words, coming out can be a verbal declaration of something that is already understood or assumed—tacit—in an exchange. What is tacit is neither secret nor silent." (Carlos Decena, Tacit Subjects, p. 18-19)

Carlos Decena’s Tacit Subjects is a clever riff on the grammatical convention of the tacit subject (that the subject of a sentence can be implied without being stated) which he creatively applies to coming out. What he suggests, much like the missing “You” in a declarative statement, is that some things can be known, understood, and accepted without being verbalized. In thinking about the lives of Dominican immigrant gay and bisexual men in NYC, Decena reminds us of the closet as a collaborative project. It is a space where we need not think about things purely in the individuated language of coming out, but rather in the collective language of inviting in. He also demonstrates that ambiguity and speculation can also be intimate acts, where coded knowledge about queerness is traded, shared, and revealed without the drama of a big announcement. As Decena’s text suggests, our loved ones pay attention and know us intimately. And sometimes coming out may almost alienate those closest to us by presuming that they do not already know or were not attentive/paying close enough attention to us. Thus, the complicity of aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and other loved ones in the public secret of sexuality is not silent or oppressive. Rather secrets and implied knowledges can be ways of sharing the world together, intimately. And as Tacit Subject proves, even family secrets can be the stuff and substance of kinship, intimacy, and collective living.