Javier: Your book, Invertidos y Rompepatrias ("Queers Wreck the State" 2019), presents an impressive panorama of sexual and gender dissent in the Spanish State during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although you cover LGBTQ+ history during the Second Republic (1931–9), the Spanish Civil War (1936–9), and the Franquist dictatorship (1939–1975), the majority of the book's chapters have to do with the “Transition” to formal democracy (1976–1982) following Francisco Franco's death. There are also additional chapters available on your blog about more recent history, covering themes like anti-fascism, lesbian feminism, HIV/AIDS, and new films and literature.

Could you tell us about your hopes and dreams for the book?

Piro: The first thing that I should clarify in response to this question is that my personal life and political militancy in anarchist spaces, and in spaces of sexual and gender dissent, have played a very important role. I keep this in mind for almost everything I do.

Beyond this, my life's passion is history, and to analyze and investigate it has always served me well. I believe that it is super-important that we know our history, as it is vital for the strengthening of the present. Moreover, it helps us to have solid references to focus on, so as to press on with our own lives and struggles. It's not the same if you think that you are alone in the world, carrying on a given struggle, when other people are also involved in a similar way. Equally, it's not the same if you know that other people—who are very similar to you in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity, and political ideology—struggled along the same lines in the past in your very territory, or in others with which you have certain cultural empathy.

All of this, applied to LGBTQ+ politics in the Spanish State, implied taking on this book project, given that this intersection had been under-investigated, and considering that this relationship is essential for understanding our present. This lapse is due to the fact that the majority of Spanish LGBTQ+ historiography has been monopolized by the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), which is the main social-democratic (or post-social-democratic) party in Spain. Furthermore, the PSOE is one of the parties which made a deal with the Franquist elites at the end of Franco's dictatorship to ensure the Transition Agreement—the very source of the political regime that we have lived and suffered in the Spanish Kingdom since 1978. Given this trajectory, it would be easy for those who don't know Spanish politics very well to overlook that this party has very specific interests when it comes to historiography. What is more, since the 1990's, the PSOE has dedicated itself to infiltrating, capturing, and manipulating important parts of the mainstream LGBTQ+ movement. This has granted it a hegemony which it has used to discredit, hide, and even expel from its ranks individual or collective proposals to lay out sexual and gender dissidence from anti-capitalist perspectives.

Applied to Spanish LGBTQ+ historiography, this means that—although it seems to me essential—we missed having a detailed description of the process whereby Marxism and anarchism in Spain passed within 3-4 years or fewer from being overall homophobic to being driving forces for vital changes in the struggle for sexual liberation. These radical mechanisms of social change have been much more important than the PSOE, which after all ended up taking on a leadership role. In the same way, within the construction of LGBTQ+ historical memory, the PSOE's hegemony has marginalized the collectives and proposals that recommended the deepening of the then-ongoing social revolution, rejected any compromise with Franquism, and openly acknowledged that sexual liberation and capitalism are incompatible.

In this sense, my objectives in writing this book always were, and continue to be, to illuminate and make visible all these political proposals and complicated processes that have led up to the present, and to indicate which forces have been able to manipulate history, and toward what ends, while offering some solid and admirable references to those people who at present continue the struggle against capitalism and heteropatriarchy.

Javier: Please tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ history of Barcelona, which is known for being and having been something of a European capital for the community.

Is this an older, Mediterranean San Francisco?

It's not wrong to call Barcelona a “San Francisco” of the old age, given that there's no doubt that it was the main space for sexual dissidence in Europe. This is well-supported by the press and historical testimony. Sadly, Berlin is my witness, given that the enormous environment for sexual and gender dissent in this city (much greater than in Barcelona) was assaulted and destroyed in the first months of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933.

During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–30), despite the fact that homosexuality was criminalized in 1928, one-off parties took place in the Barrio Chino (“Chinese Quarter”) of Barcelona and in bourgeois homes on the periphery of the city, while in 1926, La Criolla, the main café for gays and cross-dressers, opened its doors. After 1931, with the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic, the number of spaces that accepted drag shows, cross-dressing sex-workers, and the presence of dissent in the streets exploded, such that two more spaces opened: Cal Sagristà, and Barcelona de Noche.

This doesn't mean that the Republic favored sexual dissidence, as is sometimes suggested in the historiography. In reality, this was a regime that promoted homophobia, criminalized non-reproductive sexual relations in its penal code, and approved special laws that could be used (and were used) against homosexuals. This includes the Law on Vagrants and Criminals, which was subsequently employed by Franco. In the case of Barcelona, city hall prepared an urban plan to destroy the whole neighborhood of Raval (otherwise known as the Chinese Quarter), rationalizing this course of action with reference to the degeneration that supposedly existed there. Plus, the police units of the Republic and of the recently created Government of Catalunya carried out homophobic raids in the neighborhood.

Even so, the Republic did see a relaxation of repression at all levels, including sexual, given that in the preceding decades, such repression had been overwhelming, with the Catholic Church in charge. Given the Republican abolition of a multitude of monarchical laws, the displacement of the Church as the political leadership, and the hopes for freedom held by a great deal of the population (many concentrated in Barcelona), the creation of public spaces and new dynamics of sexual and gender dissent took off. Despite public condemnation in the press, emanating from all political actors, this progress could not be held back by the regime.

Furthermore, the fact that Barcelona is a port city had some influence, too: the Chinese Quarter is very close to the port, and we know that sailors need sexual contact when they disembark in cities, and they often pay for it, even and especially when (as it often was) not heterosexual. Photos including sailors are habitual finds in the visual documentation of the Barcelona context. Also, although this is more difficult to research, there was migration to Barcelona on the part of many European sexual dissidents from France, Italy, Britain, and particularly Germany after 1933. Many of them had pertained to left-wing organizations and joined their equivalents within the Catalan context. Some spied on groups that supported Nazi Germany...

Equally, following the approval of the Law on Vagrants and Criminals in August 1933, the Barcelona environment became reduced, and there were people who had to flee to other cities of the State, such as Valencia, given that in these locations, there was less repression and, indeed, some gay-friendly spaces. In 1934 and 1935, the right wing governed the Republic, and this meant greater social and political control in Barcelona, which translated to the persecution of homosexuals and sex-workers in the Chinese Quarter, with more raids... Then, this repression was eased with the arrival of the Popular Front in February 1936, not only because its politics were less restrictive, but also because its victory was seen as the moment in which social, sexual, and general revolutions would have to be made. Although LGBTQ+ people often didn't fit into this project, to subjugate them was not a priority. The same year, actually, Barcelona de Noche opens its doors. But this only lasted for a bit, given the start of the Spanish Civil War, the worsening of inflation and hunger, and the beginning of the decline of the gay bars and overall environment. The Chinese Quarter was punished for this reason. In fact, the fascist air forces often targeted it, and during one of these air raids in 1938, La Criolla was bombed and entirely destroyed. This is not to mention that, with the arrival of the fascist troops at the beginning of 1939, this European experience died off, only to be reborn some years later with new spaces, dynamics, and locations. Still, the Chinese Quarter continued to be, as it is today, a reference-point for sexual and gender dissent.

Javier: I was a bit surprised to read in Invertidos y Rompepatrias about the pathologization of homosexuality by many Iberian anarchists, who supposedly supported free love (28, 52–6). Frankly, I find it incredible that certain anarchist luminaries have stigmatized non-heterosexual dimensions of the libido as a central focus of their eugenicist campaigns to achieve what they considered to be “public health.” Likewise, the Mexican anarcho-communist Ricardo Flores Magón despised LGBTQ+ people, despite being considered a feminist at the same time.

Demonstrators protesting during the Day of Struggle against Repression, June 25, 1978. The banner reads, "Although the Church rejects us, God loves us. He created us for a reason!"

Without contemplating the cross-over with the homophobia incited by hegemonic Spanish traditions, both monarchical and religious (20), it is almost as though these “freedom-fighters” agreed with present-day tendencies that promote the ill-named “conversion therapy,” which constitutes psychological and sexual torture of queer people.

I think we should contextualize these proposals within their historical times, given that these “conversion therapies” (which I believe began to be called this way in the 1950's and 1960's, at the peak of the popularity of behaviorism in psychology) were the most progressive option on hand in Europe a century ago. The alternatives promoted by the Church and the conservative (and not so conservative) political class were detainment, imprisonment, murder, or social isolation, such that these leftists used the tools available to them, applying them to what was considered a social problem. We have to consider the context of viewing science, including medicine and psychiatry, as liberatory elements within the context of societal secularization and liberation from the overwhelming power of the Church. Nowadays, it might be more difficult to understand this position, because science doubtlessly serves power, having little liberatory potential, but then, it was seen as a counter-power to the traditional elites, who accordingly opposed its spread among the proletariat and in political debates. At this time, science had not yet been adapted and integrated to serve ruling-class interests, as would occur in the following decades.

Certainly, I do not wish to rationalize these reformers' disregard for homosexuality. There were people at this time, who—it must be said—were involved in anti-capitalist, anarchist, and Marxist movements in Europe who openly supported homosexuality and its decriminalization, without calling for psychiatric or medical intervention. This took place more in Central Europe than in the Iberian Peninsula, although such voices were heard here, and such views were also held here, although less frequently and more covertly.

Ultimately, what I want to say is that the combination of eugenicist, psychiatric, and medical proposals as the most progressive alternative at the time, on the one hand, and the lack of eminent voices supportive of homosexuality on the other led to this disastrous mix of pathologizing and therapeutic proposals to cure homosexuality as the most advanced option then available. It may seem absurd to us now, but to say anything along these lines then implied that you would be accused of being gay and insulted, because you were requesting decriminalization, and of course, that's something for queers. At this time, the right and far-right were less focused on trying to cure homosexuality.

In the case of anarchism, the idea that the State can never improve matters, but rather always worsens them, entered the fray. In other words, the assumption was that criminalizing homosexuality exacerbated the situation, thus creating more homosexuality and more gays. Plus, the eugenicist theories that were then blowing up came hand-in-hand with naturism (then all the rage in the anarchist world) and free love. These were the best alternative then accessible to libertarians, who mostly followed the opinions of established Iberian doctors, rather than those of Èmile Armand, Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis, the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin, or the Institute for Sexual Hygiene in Moscow.

Feminists at this time did not present themselves as allies of homosexuals in the least, and the fact that Flores Magón had declared himself a feminist while demonizing homosexuality and wielding homophobia against political rivals (something that was regular practice at the time in Mexico and throughout much of the world) does not really surprise me.

Javier: I greatly appreciate that, in contrast to the questionable attempts today to present Karl Marx as an anti-authoritarian, you review the sexual history of the European left honestly, without overlooking either Marx's heterosexist prejudices or Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's homonegativity. Likewise, you observe that several anarchists declared themselves in favor of gay and lesbian liberation at the turn of the twentieth century, including Edward Carpenter, Emma Goldman, and Lev Tolstoy. Indeed, Marx and his followers mocked the feminism and homoeroticism expressed by Mikhail Bakunin (23–34).

How do you explain these differences of opinion among radical historical writers toward sexual dissent?

I find it difficult to answer this question in terms of Marxism vs. anarchism. In the Spanish State, whether monarchical, dictatorial, or Republican, until the 1960's, anarchism had demonstrated itself historically as being a bit more open to sexual dissent, relative to Marxism. This was especially the case until 1939. In general, Marxism overlooked the question, implying death at the stake. We have the brief exceptions of the Workers' and Peasants' Bloc (BOC) and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unity (POUM), which were targeted for immediate repression by the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) that loyally followed Joseph Stalin, the executioner of the sexual revolution that had been in process in Russia since 1917. This sexual revolution—perhaps due to geographical or cultural proximity, or for whatever other reason—led to the idea in almost all of Europe that Marxism was the world's most gay-friendly program, at least until the arrival of Stalin, of course, who dedicated himself to purging the Communist parties. I suppose that it also has to do with the fact that in the 1920's, anarchism no longer was what it once had been in Europe, with the exception of Spain and a bit of Britain, considering that it was impossible to organize in Italy and Germany under fascism.

Prior to this, the dispute was not so much Marxism vs. anarchism, either. I believe that we can frame the biographies of the people you mention as an important element in their views on these questions. Proudhon, Marx, Engels, and many other theorists were cocky men as regards gender, with pretty sexist personal lives. In the case of Proudhon, besides his patriarchal writings, there is to date no documentation about his wife beyond a portrait. Engels married two proletarian sisters, initiating power relationships that are pretty obvious to me. They accompanied him and helped him to write his books, and he cited them in the trajectory of his political journey. But the case of Marx is especially lamentable, given that he stole ideas without attribution from Jenny Marx, who herself was a prominent socialist militant who was relegated to bearing his children and taking the back seat when she married him.

Beyond this, after all, Carpenter was gay; Goldman, beyond favoring sexual liberation, had as her life partner Alexander Berkman, who publicly declared that he had had homosexual relations while imprisoned; and the letters between Bakunin and Sergei Nechaev, and others in which Bakunin discusses Nechaev, are evidently not very straight. I find it very characteristic that the International Alliance for Socialist Democracy, founded by Bakunin and his comrades at the beginning of the First International, supported gender equality at a time when not even God spoke of this question. There is something here that goes beyond mere political ideas, in my opinion.

Javier: I believe there exists a historical dialectic, whereby colonial and capitalist violence paradoxically open the possibility of homoerotic, decolonial, and anarchist union beyond borders, although the dominant tendency be clearly toward the re-entrechment of violence and domination. In this sense, the queer spy T. E. Lawrence, known as 'Lawrence de Arabia,' supposedly regretted having participated in the swindle known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916). By means of this secret accord, the British Empire betrayed the Arab tribes that had bravely rebelled against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

In this sense, do you see a kind of parallel between your discussion of the same-sex encounters facilitated by the expansion of the Spanish Empire (18–19), and the experiences of the cadet Tolstoy with the Cossacks in the Caucasus in his youth, as I discuss in my book Queer Tolstoy?

I think that I would need more information about the sexualization of these spaces to respond adequately. I believe there is a parallel at least as a historical process between the Spanish colonization of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and the colonization carried out by Russia on its current territory, and on the lands it lost in the past. Upon expanding their imperial conquests, both Castile and the Principality and later Tsar of Moscow confronted peoples who had views on gender and sexuality that were different than Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, respectively. From here originates the remains of gender and sexual dissent among traditional cultures that are available to us now, and I could say the same about Cossack culture, plus the Skoptsy and Khlysty sects. Stalin bore down on all these peoples at the beginning of the 1930's, and the excuse of homosexuality was employed toward this end, within a context in which it had been recriminalized.

I am not so familiar with the Russian case, but Spanish colonialism took place under state regimes that were not as omnipresent as those of today, or even compared to those of the eighteenth century. This dynamic allowed colonizers to have more freedom for same-sex relationships among themselves than we can conceieve from the present day, as the State apparatus was incapable of repressing the 'sodomy' with which many indigenous peoples were charged in the short and medium terms, such that their only means of repression ended up being indoctrination into Catholic dogma. I've less of an idea how it was under Tsarism. As far as I know, there did not exist in Russia a tribunal akin to the Inquisition; homophobic laws did not begin until Peter the Great, and even a century later, they weren't that strong; and moreover, such homonegativity declined to an extent beginning with the reign of Tsar Alexander II. In this sense, the process of repressing homosexuality among the peoples conquered by Imperial Russia had to have been quite different from the case of the Spanish Empire.

The case of Britain presents a very different model of colonization, compared to the Russian and Spanish systems. British imperialism was much sharper, more invasive, and with fewer scruples than either Russian or Spanish imperialism. Anglicanism was imposed more with guns and cannons than using missionaries, and the domination of peoples under the British Empire took place in a multitude of ways, but always for the benefit of the Empire. For this reason, the fairly well-known homosexuality of Lawrence of Arabia ultimately made no difference, so long as he completed his awful work. I suppose that he must have experienced some disorientation upon arriving to a region that was less restrictive about homosexuality in social and political terms than the Empire that he defended, but I'm not an expert on his persona, so I don't know what else to add.

Javier: Continuing with this theme, I was curious about your implication that the Spanish Empire had more scruples than the British. I suspect that many British people would say the opposite—and to them, I would recommend listening to the Empire podcast. Many right-wing Spaniards affirm the idea of the supposed “Black Legend,” which claims that other European powers exaggerated the Spanish Empire's atrocities to promote their own interests. The propagandist María Elvira Roca Barea has invented the term “empirephobia” to cover up the global abuses committed by Spain. In contrast, I find it critically important not to endorse any “White Legend,” which would present an idealized and false image of Spanish colonialism.

Theodore de Bry 'Massacre of the Indians', This engraving depicts the Spanish conquistador Vasco Nuñez de Balboa setting his dogs on indigenous cross-dressers in Panama in 1513

How do you interpret this historiographical debate?

Once again, on this theme I might blunder, as I repeat that it is not my specialty. I studied the invasion of America profoundly to a certain extent when I was in college, and there I ended up hating Spain and all it represents, considering that that was an enormous, terribly cruel genocide, and the Spanish Empire the worst of its time. That conclusion is consistent with historical reality, but I was greatly surprised to learn also that England and the Netherlands sought to physically exterminate all indigenous peoples they considered to be potential enemies. This legacy continued in the United States after 1783, and even during the American Revolutionary War. In comparison, the Spanish Empire played a different role that might have been worse, but I'm not sure that I would be the one to judge. I refer to its strategy of assimilation, reproductive coercion, standardization, and pacification toward native peoples. This translates to the present reality, whereby larger indigenous populations exist in Latin America (with the exceptions of Chile and Argentina), compared to the United States and Canada, although the extreme racism they suffer is very similar in both contexts.

In any case, I did not mean to suggest that one mode of conquest was better than another, although it may have seemed that way, in light of the adjectives that I used. I meant that one model allowed for prolonged contacts between colonizers and indigenous peoples, thus allowing for relationships that differed from the sexual norms that existed then and that exist now. With this, I do not mean to say that such situations did not take place under British and Dutch imperialism, but their tendency to kill everyone, to divide and conquer, to incite against other European powers, and to murder with alcohol and smallpox obviously diminished the number of such encounters within the zones colonized by Britain and the Netherlands, relative to those occupied by Castile and Portugal.

I find Elvira Roca to be a hit woman of official historiography. I had a chance to take a close look at her book some years ago, and though I haven't read all of it, I still found it embarrassing. She is one of those historians who manipulate history with the goal of rationalizing present-day politics, logics, and ideologies. Imperiofobia y leyenda negra (2016) is pure Spanish chauvinism, and it came out within the context of Catalunya taking serious steps toward formal independence, as well within an environment of racism and the rationalization of colonialism as backlash to the focus placed by Latin American politicians and presidents on colonialism as being one of the greatest causes of the problems currently suffered in their countries. This is not to mention the incipient and booming anti-racist movements within the Spanish Kingdom itself. To me, this way of doing historiography is simply and frankly trash.

It is nonetheless true that the “Black Legend” was used by rivals of the Spanish Empire, especially the French and English monarchies and the independence movements of Flanders (now Belgium). In war propaganda, as we know, there is always a tendency toward exaggerating the evils of the enemy. Still, the “Black Legend” was based in real events that took place, and some of them even continue today in Spanish politics: for instance, the great power of the Catholic Church, militarism in statecraft, special political tribunals, and the criminal law of the enemy. To either cover this up or to use a smokescreen means that one seeks to rationalize a prevailing Spanish politics that is revolting: just as revolting as what the Spanish Empire did from the vantage point of our own ethics, as well as the ethics of history.

Javier: Yes, thank you. We're in agreement, and I similarly felt embarassed and nauseated merely watching a minute of an interview of Elvira Roca en YouTube. Now, I see your point about the prolonged contact between colonizer and colonized. In this sense, it would be interesting to consult Robert Ellis's new book, They Need Nothing: Hispanic-Asian Encounters of the Colonial Period (2022). I did want to add that not only in Chile and Argentina, but also in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America (among several other places), the Spanish Empire exterminated several indigenous peoples. Indeed, it appears that Raphael Lemkin, creator of the legal concept of genocide, based his concept on the Spanish Crown's barbarism.

Considering the close ties between Spanish Nationalism and homophobia, I wanted to ask you about the anthropological concept of “schismogenesis,” which suggests that groups and societies distinguish themselves from one other by means of schisms and divisions toward Others and their customs. In this sense, my father, a U.S.-American Protestant who married my mother, a Catholic woman from Madrid, used to observe that the hegemonic Spanish diet symbolizes a rejection toward the Muslim concept of haram and the Jewish concept of kosher, and as such, could affirm a certain religious and national pride—even, Spanish chauvinism.

Similarly, taking into account the homophilia of the Arab-Hispanic society that existed in Iberia before the so-called “Reconquest” (17–18), do you think that the hatred directed by the Catholic Church and Spanish conservatism at sexual diversity has something to do with a direct or indirect repudiation of the legacy of this Arab-Hispanic homoeroticism?

I've no doubt that the Spanish Empire committed genocides against peoples in Latin America, the Philippines, the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands, Guam, and the Marshall Islands, and that in quantitative terms, these were larger than those committed by Britain and the Netherlands together, mostly because the territories of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires were several times larger than those of all the other European powers combined. I haven't read Robert Ellis's book, but I would surely be very interested to do so. Spanish historiography has not covered Castilian colonization in the Pacific Ocean very well, such that there is much left to investigate and, above all, to interpret.

Court of the Lions, Alhambra (“The Red Palace”), Granada (Courtesy Sean Adams; Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic License)

These exterminatory practices also took place in the Canary Islands, which are the oldest colonies of the existing Spanish Kingdom. In reality, the Guanche people remain practically annihilated to this day. Genocide was also carried out in what is now Morocco, especially during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, even involving experiments with chemical weapons on civilians. I've no doubt that all the Islamophobia that went into the national construction of Spain has played a role in all this. Anti-Semitism has also been present, given how central the specters of “Jewish-Masonic conspiracies” have been in Franquist rhetoric—this, emanating from a regime that officially ended nearly 50 years ago, but which we unofficially still confront. Hatred toward Islam, Arabs, and Berbers was key to Spanish chauvinism during Franco's dictatorship, together with earlier times, when the nation-State was not as well-defined as it would become in subsequent centuries.

A thousand years ago, the Spanish Catholic hierarchy was completely imbued with the idea that a human being and a Christian must be fearful before God and procreate. This was conveyed especially to those bodies catalogued then as women. Since the fourth century C.E., the Church had supported the sexual repression of the populace and the suppression of practices that the Roman Empire had tolerated to a much greater extent, including sexually diverse customs. A thousand years ago, this dynamic was not as well-defined among Muslim elites. It is true that sexual repression was encouraged by these elites, and that this question appears in the Quran (with different interpretations, some more homophobic than others), but arguably not as aggressively as in the Christian case. Certain Islamic-fundamentalist sectors of that time-period, such as the Almoravids (1085–1145) and the Almohads (1147–1238), attributed the decadence of Muslim dynasties—in contrast with the grandeur of the Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031)—to their tolerance of homosexuality.

We should also remember that, at the same time that the Catholic Church waged war on Islam in Iberia, it also confronted several heresies from within Christianity itself. Many of these made proposals that were much more open and free with regards to sexuality, including support for sexual dissent in certain cases: for instance, the Cathars, the Dulcinians, and the Brothers of the Free Spirit. The Church also utilized these sects' openness to sexuality against them, concluding that they were 'sodomites' and 'sexual degenerates' by means of the judicial and inquisitorial processes that were launched against the survivors of these heresies. Precisely the same narrative was used against the Muslim populace. This will then recur as war propaganda. Although homoeroticism certainly was present in Muslim and Arab-Hispanic territory and culture, it was so exaggerated by the Christians that it seemed to have been promoted in turn by the caliphs, some of whom themselves practiced homosexuality. Likewise, homoeroticism was more present in the public sphere of the Muslim zones of Iberia than it was among the Christians, at least until the twelth or thirteenth centuries.

For all these reasons (and with this I will conclude my response), homophobia has certainly been part of the construction of the Aragonese-Castilian, anti-Arab identity of the “Reconquest,” as well as playing a role later in the construction of the Spanish nation, starting at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. This identity has always been united to Catholicism, and the Catholic Church in these lands has been an extremely oppressive and reactionary force in terms of sexual and gender diversity. Due to this dynamic, I feel distressed seeing in recent years how certain left-wing groups have begun to champion Spain, its construction as a national identity, and its symbols, when all of this is the fruit of (and a rationalization of) a history of racism, genocide, Islamophobia, negation of freedom, and extremely broad-ranging sexual and gender repression. All of this baggage goes into the idea of present-day Spanish chauvinism, which will go nowhere, regardless of whether certain sectors either speak of Spain as part of some kind of left-wing dialectic or fly rainbow flags alongside red and gold ones (that is, Franquist flags). In my view, in fact, to do so is counterproductive for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as for many other communities that are led by migrants and/or non-white people who live in the kingdom.

Javier: Although Hildegart Rodríguez, a leader of the League for Sexual Reform in Spain during the Second Republic (1931–9), saw homosexuality as a criminal degeneration, I was very interested in her homoerotic analysis of Jesus of Nazareth, who is typically presented as an asexual, single person (as the Church of England recently drew attention to). In parallel, I found this comment of hers a bit apt: “The homosexual is usually vain, morose, hostile to the world, and something of a poet, who is predisposed to religious exaltation and hallucinations.”

What do you think?

In my opinion, more than homoerotic, this analysis is homophobic: it is motivated principally by the hostility of the left toward the Catholic Church, including all of Christian culture, from the present day to the origins of said doctrine. A year before publishing these words, she accused half of Spanish sainthood of homosexuality: not only Saint Teresa, who might have been queer (there are increasingly more studies that suggest that she could have been lesbian), but also Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a Catholic fundamentalist. Although the Society of Jesus, co-founded by Loyola, has arrived at certain progressive ideas nowadays, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, the Jesuits were ultrareactionary Catholic fanatics. In this article, Rodríguez also says that Jesus of Nazareth “topped” all of his apostles, except Peter and Judas (the two apostles with most presence and character in the Gospels). This means that Jesus was the leader and, in a sense, the “alpha” male, while the “bottoms” are less masculine and below him in the power hierarchy. My impression is that this transmutes social ideas about sexuality from a century ago to the context that was lived two millennia ago.

The figure of Jesus continues to serve many different interests, and a century ago, it could have been employed to rationalize homophobia, while five hundred years ago, it could be used to rationalize the murders of thousands of indigenous peoples in America and endless wars in Europe. Today, it can be readapted to our times of greater individualism and representation of other sexual orientations, such as asexuality. The different churches have shown that they know how to adapt themselves to the times to avoid losing parishioners.

Hildegart could certainly make very interesting contributions to a multitude of fields in her time, but in terms of sexual dissidence, she was incapable of overcoming the contemporary prototypical narratives on this question: namely, that all Christians are repressed gays, that openly gay men are resentful and asocial semi-women, and that since they aren't real men who are capable of taking responsibility for their own fates with masculinity, they meekly accept the promises of a better life made by Christianity. This is what Hildegart ultimately meant to say in her engagement with sexology, as she tried to sell as scientifically rigorous all the social and cultural clichés that were reproduced by society toward sexual dissidents during the Second Republic.

Javier: Thank you. I was curious to read in your book about the known and presumptive male lovers of the Granadan poet Federico García Lorca. A semi-closeted homosexual, a self-declared revolutionary, and a political martyr of the Second Republic, Lorca was equally a martyr for love, and not just with progressive or left-wing partners! You tell us that Lorca loved Salvador Dalí, the renowned paintor with Franquist and fascist tendencies, as a partner, and that he possibly had a same-sex relationship with José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who founded the Spanish Falange (86). Furthermore, Juan Ramírez de Lucas, who has been claimed as his last lover, went to fight in the Blue Division with the German army during the Second World War, and worked for the right-wing newspaper ABC in the post-war period.

I understand that Manuel Francisco Reina's novel Los amores oscuros (2012) dramatizes all this history at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War: specifically, he writes that Lorca was about to exile himself to Mexico with Ramírez, but that first, Ramírez needed to go home to ask his father for permission to leave, while Lorca wanted to say farewell to his family in Granada. This delay resulted in the tragedy of Lorca's political assassination, given that Granada fell to Franquist forces shortly after the coup attempt of July 1936.

I have two questions in these terms: first, isn't it a bit paradoxical that a poet so celebrated by the left would have had so many homoerotic relationships with right-wing figures? And second, I didn't see Ramírez mentioned in your book, but you do discuss Rafael Rodríguez Rapún, a member of the PSOE, whom you cite as Lorca's “last lover” (101).

These aren't the same person, are they? If not, how can you square these two versions of Lorca's romantic biography at life's end?

In the first place, I do recall seeing the name Juan Ramírez de Lucas in my research, but I did not pay much attention to him because, on the one hand, I was more interested in Rodríguez Rapún—given that my study is about the relationship between homosexuality and the left—and on the other, because one of my main sources was the work of Ian Gibson. I would swear that Gibson didn't pay much attention to this person either, at least in his book Lorca y el mundo gay, which opened many investigative paths for me. I didn't know that Ramírez de Lucas fought in the Blue Division, and one would have to investigate well why he did so, because many people joined that unit without being fascist or even on the right, but instead so as to avoid retaliation against oneself or one's family members. The most well-known case is quite possibly that of the director Luis García Berlanga. To have had a relationship with Lorca, and to have passed the war in the Republican zone, could have been reasons that would explain his joining such a unit.

Beyond this, simultaneous and/or serial sexual-affective relationships are more common than historiography and still-existing social conventions would have us believe, so I wouldn't be surprised if Lorca had been with both at the same time, or with one just after the other. After checking my sources, I would say that they were concurrent. In the gay world, this occurrence is even more common, or at least more accepted, both at present and at that time.

Monument to martyred gay poet Federico García Lorca in Madrid (Courtesy Zarateman; Creative CommonsCC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

In terms of relating oneself with right-wingers, it's well-known that Lorca had fascist friends, such as the poet Luis Rosales or José Antonio Primo de Rivera, so this doesn't faze me, either. At this point, I will allow myself to refer to the literary historian José Antonio Fortes, who in recent years has dedicated a great deal of effort to undermining the myths about Lorca. I find his writings (or at least, those I've read) valuable and necessary for those who study the historiography involving Lorca. As Fortes has asserted, Lorca was the child of a comfortable social class, and he acted as such in all spheres of his life, including socially.

Within the rough context that resulted in the Civil War, Lorca had the luxury of having friendships with people from all political tendencies. This was a privilege that, according to historical documentation, was not open to the unionized proletariat or to the organized peasantry that seized lands, since their very lives were at stake. What neither Lorca nor a great deal of his class fellows could understand is that the hatred was so extreme that his own life was at risk. Otherwise, it is complicated to explain why he would have taken a train to Granada to see his family, when he knew that there was going to be a military insurrection. After all, the workers' organizations were stockpiling weapons, and Madrid was infinitely safer than Granada as a place to defend oneself against an attempted coup d'etat. Insofar as he went to bid farewell to his parents before leaving for Mexico, I believe that there was a crystal-clear class bias in this action that ironically cost him his life, as it was an ultimately unruly element of his that bothered those who had risen up to defend their archaic privileges.

Finally, I personally don't believe that Lorca and José Antonio Primo de Rivera had a same-sex relationship. This was a rumor that was spread at the time with the aim of damaging Rivera more than Lorca. In effect, left-wing homophobes took advantage of a certain ambiguity regarding the homosexual question on the part of many fascists until later in the 1930's. The Third Reich and Fascist Italy repressed homosexuals, always with the rationale that the victims were Marxists—something that was not always true, but that in many cases was. Prominent figures within the Nazi Party were gay, and the relationship between this Party and the Spanish Falange is well-established, although its ties were even greater with Italy. This was known by European leftists, who dedicated articles to mocking fascists, while other militants (often homosexual) pushed back by saying that these people should be criticized for being Nazis, not for being gay. Along these lines, it makes sense that José Antonio would be targeted by such ridicule, although I haven't been able to find documentation that supports the idea of his being homosexual. In contrast, I've learned that he had several aristocratic girlfriends, but never got married with any of them. To the world, he was straight.

I do have doubts, though, about one of the other co-founders of the Falange, Ramiro Ledesma, due to the homoeroticism that oozes from many of his writings, and in light of his great admiration for the Nazi Sturmabteilung (S.A., or brown-shirts), whose leader and upper ranks were openly gay. Ledesma had only one known girlfriend with whom he did not reproduce, so it fits with the standards of how homosexuality was subtly constructed at that time, but nothing has been confirmed to date.

Javier: To close this first part of our interview, before covering the Spanish Civil War, the Franquist regime, and the Transition in the second part, I wanted to ask if you are familiar with George Katsiaficas's concept of the “Eros effect”? I ask, because I found your presentation of the “new public understanding of sensualism and sensuality” in Barcelona after the defeat of the coup-mongers at the hands of the anarchist militias of the CNT-FAI in July 1936 very moving (124).

Indeed, reading this account reminded me of the atmosphere of free love that certain historians have highlighted within the Russian Revolution of February 1917, together with the “anarchism of love” preached by bell hooks, and George's ideas.

I've no doubt of George Katsiaficas's accuracy when it comes to his “Eros effect.” This is much easier to glean in the context after May 1968, and the movement for sexual liberation nourished itself powerfully from this dynamic, including later in the Spanish State. We can also trace this “Eros effect” within the great majority of revolutionary periods, from the Cathars and the Münster rebellion (1534–5) to the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, the Cantonal rebellion (1873–4), the Russian Revolution, the 15-M movement, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring. We could add a myriad of other revolutionary events, as revolutions have always been accompanied by contexts wherein (in accordance with the times) the basis of what we now call cisheteropatriarchy is questioned, very often at its roots. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the historical link between the revolutionary left and sexual liberation. Plus, it might explain the failure of ideas like the “conservative revolution” championed by the fascist-adjacent right, given that the very idea of revolution has drifted historically to paths that have converted this term into a semantic contradiction.

Perhaps we could assess the first year of the Civil War and social revolution in Barcelona, Catalunya, and Valencia as the direct antecedent of the gay liberation movement of the 1970's, even if this spirit did not survive either the fascist victory or within the Second Republic itself. Following the arrival of the pro-Soviet Republican Prime Minister Juan Negrín in May 1937, the revolutionary process is assaulted, and it collapses and dies. So do the calls for sexual liberation that were being carried out in practice. Beyond this, such efforts could not re-materialize within either a new movement or any existing organization, given that there was no longer any pre-existing LGBTQ+ organization, as in Germany or the Netherlands. For these reasons, tracing all of this is complicated for historians, because the historiography is dispersed among thousands of disconnected anecdotes.

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