Tacit Subjects

Belonging and Same-Sex Desire among Dominican Immigrant Men

Tacit Subjects

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 1 photograph Published: April 2011

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

Tacit Subjects is a pioneering analysis of how gay immigrant men of color negotiate race, sexuality, and power in their daily lives. Drawing on ethnographic research with Dominicans in New York City, Carlos Ulises Decena explains that while the men who shared their life stories with him may self-identify as gay, they are not the liberated figures of traditional gay migration narratives. Decena contends that in migrating to Washington Heights, a Dominican enclave in New York, these men moved from one site to another within an increasingly transnational Dominican society. Many of them migrated and survived through the resources of their families and broader communities. Explicit acknowledgment or discussion of their homosexuality might rupture these crucial social and familial bonds. Yet some of Decena’s informants were sure that their sexuality was tacitly understood by their family members or others close to them. Analyzing their recollections about migration, settlement, masculinity, sex, and return trips to the Dominican Republic, Decena describes how the men at the center of Tacit Subjects contest, reproduce, and reformulate Dominican identity in New York. Their stories reveal how differences in class, race, and education shape their relations with fellow Dominicans. They also offer a view of “gay New York” that foregrounds the struggles for respect, belonging, and survival within a particular immigrant community.


“[T]his book provides a compelling look at the lives of samesex loving Dominican immigrant men. It is a powerful piece of work, which will be of
great interest to those in the fields of anthropology, cultural studies, sexuality/queer studies, globalisation and public health.”
— Ian W. Holloway, Culture, Health & Sexuality

“Carlos Ulises Decena’s first book, Tacit Subjects, is a most welcome addition to the nascent field of queer Latina/o studies. . . . Tacit Subjects offers more than just a rich analysis. It is also a pleasure to read.” — Julio Capó, Jr., CLGBTH Newsletter

“Overall, Tacit Subjects develops new theoretical terrains in sexuality, masculinity, and migration studies through its deep and personal engagement with the complex lives of a group of Dominican immigrant men living in New York City. It will therefore appeal to scholars across a range of disciplines, and I for one will be using it in my gender and sexuality courses as part of a sophisticated suite of texts exploring the movement, organization, and transformation of sexual desires and identities within and across Dominican borders.” — David A. B. Murray, GLQ

“The book is an academic text, so it’s not for everyone, but the larger understanding embedded in its content is universal. Not only is there the history that seems to be looming over everything, what is particularly striking is the struggle for self-respect and dignity in what is too often a brutal world. These men yearn for the love and respect of their families and from their partners and acceptance from society. It isn’t too much to ask, but in the world they inhabit it too often seems to be asking for everything.” — Aaron Leonard, History News Network

“The book is an excellent tool, both methodologically and theoretically, for academics and students seeking to gain understanding of the complex
social relations navigated by immigrant men who have sex with men. It is particularly well suited for graduate level seminars in the social sciences
interested in the complexity of sexuality, race and the nation.”  — Matthew Thomann, Journal of Homosexuality

“There is much packed into this worthwhile book. Its achievements are many, among them the rare capacity of a scholarly book to intertwine complex theorization with the kind of vibrant ethnographic storytelling that this text captures. . . . [R]eaders across the social sciences and humanities, will find this an intriguing, elucidatory and captivating read. It is an important contribution to the multiple, intersecting fields of anthropology, gender studies, masculinity studies, queer studies, Latin American and Caribbean studies and sociology, among others.” — Diana J. Fox, A Contracorriente

“This is an absorbing and challenging examination of homoracial transnational erotics. It is a very careful and layered autoethnography cum-
participant observation and life history interview study of 25 Dominican immigrant men in New York City.... As such, this volume presents a nuanced
disarticulation of dominicanidad (Dominican identity) with telling comments as to the nature of transnational desires and relations, and pointed conclusions as to the complex construction and performance of identity in general.... This book not only adds a tacit and homosexual dimension to migrant studies, but it is also an invaluable corrective to the often static portrayal of migrant identity.” — Jonathan Skinner, Social Anthropology

“A thoughtful discussion of the connections among linguistic practice, masculinity, and sexual sameness in the Santo Dominican diaspora. . . . Tacit Subjects shows why studies of the Dominican diaspora must pay attention to discursive practices. More than that, Decena’s work challenges the rest of us to mobilize narrative data in ways that give ethnographic subjects in any location adequate spaces to speak for themselves.”  — William L. Leap, American Ethnologist

“His theoretical constructs always seem appropriate to the data he has gathered. He introduces and elaborates them in ways that illuminate the data while simultaneously emerging from the data...rarely have I seen the movement among culture, material circumstances, politics, and political identity so well and so thoroughly accomplished as in Decena’s beautifully written book.”   — Michael Hames-Garcia, American Anthropologist

“Decena unpacks the meanings behind the boundaries and links created by those in his study, focusing on their perceptions of other Dominicans in relation to their own positions as marginal, working-class, immigrant people attempting to advance based on a social status hierarchy in a host country. Tacit Subjects is clearly a must read for any scholar interested in race, class, sexualities and migration.” — Katie L. Acosta, Contemporary Sociology

Tacit Subjects appears at a time when there is no shortage of theoretical debates and a spate of fascinating descriptive books of ethnic minority gay and lesbian lives and experiences. What marks it out, and will give it a place on many a reading list, is that it is informed throughout by theoretical considerations and yet does not shrink from a substantive analysis of a framework which examines the sexual expression and the formation of a sexual identity for gay Dominican immigrant men within the specificity of their cultural norms and values.” — Constantinos N. Phellas, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“This well-crafted book uses the experiences of gay and bisexual Dominican men living in New York as a particularly productive vantage point for reflecting on some of the big themes in transnationalism: migration, culture shock and self-transformation, performing gender, and sex and inequality. . . . Overall this is a book that has much to contribute to the research literature on sexuality, gender, migration, and Latin American studies.” — Barry D. Adam, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“This book integrates knowledge from multiple disciplines and is a must read for scholars in different fields, such as transnational migration, immigration, sexuality, gender, race, and area studies.” — Shu-Ju Ada Cheng, Gender Forum

Tacit Subjects is a joy to read, an important piece of ethnographic scholarship, and a crucial node for a more enlightened and progressive understanding of queer lives lived on the edges of nations, histories, and cultures. Carlos Ulises Decena meticulously engages with, departs from, energizes, and reframes recent LBGTQ scholarship. He exhorts us to consider alternative modes of queer habitations ensconced in histories of racialized migration, colonial occupations, poverty, dictatorship, and humdrum existence in late-capitalist America.” — Martin Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora

“Without a doubt, Tacit Subjects is the most intelligent and coherent book on Latino homosexuality (and homosociality) that I have read in a very long time. It is a corrective to many readings of the Latina/o dynamic around disclosure, as well as the imperative of revelation that seems to mark most of the work in Anglo-American LGBTQ studies. It is a trenchant and powerful call for us to listen carefully to what others say and understand how their wisdom can teach us to abandon our preconceived notions of normativity.” — José Quiroga, author of Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carlos Ulises Decena is Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, and Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Tacit Subjects 17

Part I. Leaving Living in the Mental Island 39

2. Moving Portraits 41

3. Desencontrando la dominicanidad in New York City 67

Part II. Body Languages 107

4. Eso se nota: Scenes from Queer Childhoods 111

5. Code Swishing 139

Part III. Colonial Zones 173

6. Virando la dominicanidad 177

7. To Be Someone, To Be Somewhere: Erotic Returns and U.S.-Caribbean Circuits of Desire 205

Epilogue 239

Notes 241

Bibliography 287

Index 303
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4945-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4926-6
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