HOMEBOY (Illustration credit: Rafa Esparza)
HOMEBOY is a film by Dino Dinco about gay Latino men who are former gangbangers (or cholos). Made over the course of 10 years, HOMEBOY features a small group of men in one-on-one interviews about a little-known world. I interviewed Dinco about the making of HOMEBOY, the political economy of thuggishness, and the connection between the LGBT community and the immigrant-rights movement. HOMEBOY screens Saturday, July 14 at 4:30 p.m. at Redcat in downtown Los Angeles.
The gangbanger, or cholo, is often cast as the "hot papi chulo": bald, tough, thuggish. Were you aware of this sexual objectification?
Absolutely. It's a very complicated issue. The sexualization comes not only from what could be easily deemed as outsiders but also from within. I've witnessed many on the inside balking at the sexualization of homeboys.
BiLatinMen.com, for example.
BiLatinMen.com is a very good example, because it is capitalizing on the sexualized, male, gangster body and the fantasy of sex with one. One camp would say it's celebrating a problematized archetype. Another party could say that it's championing a socioeconomic and class male stereotype. But also there's this interesting slippage between fiction and fact that contributes to the psychosexual fantasy. All those short bios on the models are probably bullshit and written to sell more memberships. "Just out of prison, bisexual Mario" may not be true. Is Mario truly bisexual? Or is he just out of prison? And, furthermore, why are these attributes seductive?
But then, if you're into Mario, his beauty, his youth, his physicality conspire to render that biography subservient to what he is: hot.
But it's not a universal hotness. Because hotness isn't universal. And even an imagined bio and why that's considered "hot" is worth examining. But there's also a lot of people who are affected by gang violence, and they're repulsed by the cholo/homeboy image. There are a lot of Latinos who [may] have a bald head and they're fit, but if someone were to call them a "cholo," they'd be offended. It's a loaded word and not universally embraced, loved, or respected. In fact, it's downright offensive to more conservative families, who would never want to be associated with that lifestyle.
Luis is a poet, community organizer, and almost died living the life of a gangster. He isn't gay but was unflappable when faced with questions of, "What would you think it would be like to have lived the life you've lived but also be concealing your homosexuality?" He said, "I know what I went through. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be if I was concealing my sexuality."
I was struck by his reference to the universal demands faced by all young men: leaving home, going out, and proving themselves. Are there alternatives to this journey other than gangs?
I don't think so, because I don't think we'll ever eradicate poverty -- there's too much money to made off the poor. If young men were taught more than being masculine and macho -- there's a purpose to it, but it's also a really fragile front that we may not want to have, this insistence on men proving themselves to be men. Men are almost pushed out onto the end of the plank and left to their own testosterone levels to figure shit out. It's like sink or swim.
All the men in HOMEBOY casually reference being incarcerated as a rite of passage. Could you comment upon that?
Unfortunately, I think that is just a routine component of the life of someone who is poor, of targeted ethnicities and dabbling in the construct of "gang." This is going to be part of your reality if you want to maintain that lifestyle. And with the wave of privatizing prisons, incarceration will only increase, because the poor and ethically targeted are easy profit potential.
I was curious about the aspiration voiced by the men in HOMEBOY: wanting to settle down, with one guy, in what they described as traditionally imagined relationships.
I don't think it would take a scientist to figure out that the goal of settling down might be a direct reflection of a life that is traumatic, dangerous, and unstable. Once you decide, "I'm retired from this lifestyle, I just want to watch Netflix all day long with one person, make some food and go to bed." 'Cause I think that's far less exhausting than the life from which they came.
In contrast to so many other documentaries, HOMEBOY is strikingly direct in its storytelling.
Simplicity was a conscious choice. I didn't want to rely on all the tenets of what traditionally is known to make the "right" kind of documentary. It doesn't have all the B-roll and dah dah dah, tangential interviews and technique that you can pour into making what feels like a really beefy documentary film. I so often heard from these men, "No one's ever cared about my life, my story."
And how did you chose/find your interview subjects?
I started this process with some close friends of mine who were gang members, or who had been in gangs, and are gay. Then the gay disco Circus. Through other nightclub scenes, I met more. I printed fliers and delivered them to Bienestar in the Los Angeles area, gay bars and BilatinMen.com's message board.
The men in HOMEBOY were all out, too.
I decided that I only wanted to work with men who were out. I didn't want to have any sort of silhouetted, manipulated voices. Because I thought, "This is really about celebrating these men who've left it behind." I wasn't really interested in working with men who were still in that, living two lives.
Who's the audience for HOMEBOY?
These men and this type haven't really been properly represented before. The only times they've made appearances are on shows like Jenny Jones or Ricki Lake, in that tabloid way: "We're bringing out your boyfriend... and his boyfriend, Lil' Puppet."
Have there been any negative reactions to HOMEBOY?
A tattoo artist I approached about designing the title said, "You know, people are gonna trip on this film. People are gonna get really angry." And I said, "It's not like I'm making this stuff up. There are a lot of upsetting things in the world, but that doesn't make them untrue." Even the suggestion that a gangster could be gay chips away at this armor that we're all supposed to buy into in a very subjective way.
Do you see a connection between the LGBT community, the immigrant-rights movement, and evangelical Christians?
These guys still operate on the fringes. It's not as clean as the haves and have-nots, but being poor kind of still precludes you from getting swept up in the mainstream gay discourse. You can go to Gay Pride with your friends, but I suspect most of these men don't necessarily feel comfortable in MSM/gay communities. I still feel like there's a matrix of otherness going on. Maybe the gaps can be reduced, if not closed.