13. Mayra Santos Febres’ Sirena Selena (Part 1)

(TRAN)SEXING MASCULINITIES

April 16
1. READ: Mayra Santos Febres, Sirena Selena (p. 1 – 51)
2. Juana Rodríguez, “Translating Queer Caribbean Localities in Sirena Selena vestida de pena.
3. PRESENTATION: Brittany Demers & Amy Hahm

Download: Sirena Selena Presentation

April 18
1. READ: Mayra Santos Febres, Sirena Selena (p. 52 – 107)
2. PRESENTATION: Amber Jones & Sabryne Vidal

DOWNLOAD: POWERPOINT PRESENTATION ON SIRENA SELENA

150 Responses to 13. Mayra Santos Febres’ Sirena Selena (Part 1)

  1. Rachel Korb says:

    I am happy that “Sirena Selena” was the last book read for the class. In the beginning of the course we focused on machismo so many of the books included themes such as drug use, patriarchal problems, and sexual coming of age. Zigzagger still involved these themes but steered us away from heterosexual main characters. Many of the stories involved homosexuals or gay experiences, which I believe paved the way away from machismo. This book contrasted with our earlier readings, and I really enjoyed the new topic. I have never read a story about drag queens before. I became invested in the story because I wanted to learn more about this mysterious topic. It was interesting to see how men prepared their bodies in order to look like women. One part about the transformation that stuck to me was when Martha had to cover Sirena’s facial hair and she says that this is usually when people become uncomfortable with the process. I wonder if this is because it is the part where they initially hide their true identity or perhaps they are frustrated by the reminder that they were not born a woman, as perhaps they feel they should have been.

    I tried to pay attention to when they referred to a drag queen as “he” and when they referred to them as “she”. For the most part, the term “he” was reserved for before they started the business. It was also intriguing to see how people became involved in the business in the first place. Unfortunately for Sirena, it seems like she never had a choice. When she was a boy, she could not go places without being stared at by men. Her mom did not feel comfortable with her son going places because she feared people would not be able to control themselves and ultimately get her son in danger. Sirena was born with this feminine allure. Even when she is naked and people can see that her genitals are those of a man, they still admire “her” beautiful features. I wonder if all drag queens started as being recognized as beautiful even as young boys. Overall, I feel like this book was a fun read because for the first time I got a look into the drag culture, which otherwise would remain a complete mystery.

    • I sometimes also catch myself saying she instead of he and have to correct my typing. I guess once you see a male dressed as a female you automatically want to refer to them as a she, it happened to me. Also many young men have a “pretty face” very similar to the features a girl would have and once transformed into a female they look very much like one.

      • montanabeutler says:

        I think most of the time, it would be considered polite and correct to call a transvestite man by “she” when they were dressed as a woman. I would think this would be complimentary to the image they are trying to produce. I believe when out of this context, and regularly dressed as a male, then it would be appropriate to call them a male pronoun. The same goes for transexuals, pre or post-operation.

      • Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

        I just wrote a paper on this book for a different class and found myself often wondering whether or not I should be using he or she for Sirena Selena because there are times during the book where Sirena’s features and talent are being described and the reader gets the impression of a beautiful, mature woman, but other times it is clear that underneath everything Sirena is still in fact a 15 year old boy struggling with a lot of issues. I agree that using “she” is more flattering since that is exactly what Martha and Sirena want people to believe.

      • I really enjoyed this book because it gave me new insight on a topic that I am not very familiar with. The book in conjunction with the presentation definitely helped clarify the terminology and gave me further understanding of the LGBTQ community. In light of the recent ordeal with the Canadian contestant in the Miss Universe pageant, my German class discussed what makes a woman a woman and a man a man. All of what was said is what the media/society label or deem to fit the categories in which there is no fluidity, as if one is either masculine or feminine and that’s it (which is clearly not the case).

      • amyhahm says:

        I find that quite difficult to. Sometimes I’m not sure what I should say. It might be more considerate to call a transvestite man by ‘she’, but in some cases, I’m sure it could be different. One thing I learned from this book and presentation was the idea of labels and categorizing people. As a cross-dresser, maybe they would still like to be referred to their original sex, even though they are dressing as their opposite sex.

    • ElisePrairie says:

      I agree that this book definitely brought up a new perspective I have hardly considered never-mind am familiar with. It is very interesting how Sirena was attractive for her feminism before transforming. I can’t imagine how it must feel to grow up with such confusion about one’s identity and I appreciated an opportunity to experience it through reading this story.

      • dipali1991 says:

        I agree with you. This book definitely opened my eyes and let me in on a whole new perspective to a world that I never paid attention to. I never realized that phycology plays a big role in gender roles and not just the physical. This book made me realize that even though Selena was physically being dressed a boy in the drag world, he could still think like a boy and could be a heterosexual male. People shouldn’t automatically assume that a male has to be gay just because he doesn’t physically dress like a man should or in other words how society says a male should dress. This book made this fact clear.

      • Brimar Guerrero says:

        I too agree with everyone’s comments. After reading this book and having multiple discussions in class I have a new perspective on the transgender/transsexual community. I think it is unfair how society as a whole makes these broad assumptions about such individuals even though at times it may not be true. For example, why must transgender persons identify themselves as “mentally ill” in order to get the approval from the courts for a sex change?

    • arussell11 says:

      It is interesting that you bring forth this point of when to refer to a drag queen as a male or female because of the ambiguity that exists. I too thought it was interesting that the pronoun shifted depending on the work that needed to be done. Great observation.

    • dipali1991 says:

      I also get confused on whether or not to use “he” or “she” when addressing a transvestite man. I feel that if a man is dressed as a women he would want to be addressed as “she” but then again we shouldn’t be making assumptions. I feel that if a man gets surgery to be have all the sexual organs needed to be a woman then he would most definitely want to be addressed as a woman, because if they are transforming into a women by changing their body then it is because they feel that they are actually a woman. I feel that this whole subject of transexuals and transvestites is a tough one to really understand, but we must take into the feelings of the person being addressed before we say anything. Many people have different preferences.

      • amyhahm says:

        I like how our class is starting to watch themselves as they refer to a person now. Even something as minuscule as referring to someone as he or she. It can really affect the way someone feels. I also think its very important how our class is starting not to assume what an individual would like to be addressed because they belong in a certain category, or don’t belong in a category at all. I think transvestites and cross-dressers and are a very interesting topic that might seem foreign to our society, but I would love to learn more about it and their culture!

  2. Jacob Finlan says:

    Drag culture is incredibly interesting to me, because most of the media attention we see regarding drag demonstrates its focus on showiness and extravagance. We just watched a video in another sociology class of mine that showed men who dressed as women on a day to day basis, or days ‘when they just felt better in women’s clothing’. It’s intriguing to see both sides of the culture – the normal, day to day life of ‘drag queens’ and the huge, media attention that we see in the media.

    My only other understanding of drag culture (outside of this reading and the video I watched in another class) is the one episode I’ve seen of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, a reality TV show about drag queen models. The concept is interesting – from wikipedia, “Casting calls are announced online, where prospective contestants submit audition tapes in hopes of being cast. All contestants selected must be 21 years of age or older at the time of taping, and all contestants must be biological men. While sexual orientation is not important, to date, all contestants have been gay men. Transgender women, faux queens, and drag kings are ineligible.”

    In a way, it seems there are some discrepancies in the drag culture, and perhaps even a hierarchical system where certain types of drag are ‘better’ or more acceptable among others inside the culture. Maybe it’s just for TV, and to make sure the competition progresses the right way for good television, but it reminds me of our in-class discussion of how some minorities out-group each other based on things like skin color or darkness.

    • You said “In a way, it seems there are some discrepancies in the drag culture, and perhaps even a hierarchical system where certain types of drag are ‘better’ or more acceptable among others inside the culture. Maybe it’s just for TV, and to make sure the competition progresses the right way for good television, but it reminds me of our in-class discussion of how some minorities out-group each other based on things like skin color or darkness.” , and based on this I know that like any career or job, it is very competitive. It really depends on how far the drag queen takes her hobby/career to go, and also how serious he is about excelling and the more years into it the better he is or will get. It is like becoming a singer, the more years into it the more people will get to know of you, and the better you will get.

      • amyhahm says:

        An aspect I really enjoyed about the presentation that had to do with drag culture was the youtube clip of what a person has to do to become a fully made up transvestite. It was very interesting and it made me think about your comment of how you drag culture might be more acceptable among the society. Although it might be just for tv or for a career, or even for fun, it could be based on the person and the individual. I think this book did a good job highlighting that every individual is different whether its their hobby or sexual orientation or anything else.

    • montanabeutler says:

      I think there is a discrepancy in drag culture, as well in the transexual/transvestite community at large. Much of the discourse in the GLBTQ community is centered around “norming” transvestism and transsexualism for male to female persons almost exclusively. While there is a push to put female to male persons in the spotlight as well, and make this part of the conversation, in mainstream culture at least there is very little concentration on these people. As much as I enjoy shows such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race/Drag U, it does set apart those Drag Kings in the world. Drag Kings have been around for a long time, but there are certain differences between them and drag queens. One major difference I found in some research I did was that many drag kings are straight women who dress like men for entertainment. While there are most likely men who dress as women strictly for entertainment purposes, a majority of transvestite males are gay. Also, according to an interview with notorious Drag King Mo B. Dick (see cited sources at end), Kings are often pursued by or pursuers of gay men. She stated her reasons for dressing in drag were varied, but as a queer-associated woman who is primarily lesbian, she decided that rather than being an angry women and lashing out at men, she would become one and mock herself. An interesting satire, to be sure, and definitely something not many people know about. I think the idea of this is very interesting, and both male to female and female to male transvestites are doing something important in my eyes, making our world realize the fluidity of sexuality.

      Image of Mo B. Dick-

      Interview with Mo B. Dick-
      http://www.jstor.org/stable/25008273

    • arussell11 says:

      I think that the discrepancy is very real and like you said, is present in society. I think that the issue is what people deem okay and what others say is completely unacceptable. Like you said, in some cases drag is okay because some see it as an art form whereas transgenderism is less accepted because it is a way of life.

      • Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

        I agree with what was said about the debate between what is/is not accepted for drag culture. I think maybe the media decides what they will allow in order to maintain a divide between entertainment and the fact that this is a real day to day lifestyle for some people and it could take away from the fun and humor of shows like Ru Paul. By selecting participants based on certain eligibility requirements, maybe they assume all of the people who are able to be considered are on the same page in regards to drag culture and it won’t offend anyone or involve issues of who takes it seriously, who does it for entertainment, who is comfortable with exposing their sexuality, etc.

      • amyhahm says:

        I think drag culture is really interesting. I thought this presentation did a good job of filling in some questions the class had about cross-dressers and transvestites. I also liked how we learned that drag culture or cross-dressing doesn’t even have to be a sexual preference but just a line of work.

    • chloebx says:

      I agree, the Drag culture is very interesting and is a vibrant society. And I say society because, the culture is divided into groups of people, there are the Drag Queens, the Drag Kings, the faux queens and even faux kings but not very common. Based on my own research, Drag culture can be a fierce thing for in Pageantry, it is all about who looks more outrageous or most real.

  3. Sirena Selena really did stir up a lot of conversation and questions in class as well as for myself. Like most people, I jumped to conclusions when assuming Sirena Selena was gay just because he dressed as a woman. Many men I have encountered and personally know do dress as a woman like Sirena Selena as a form of art and not for sexual preferences towards the other sex. Since this society is so stereo typical, we over assume that when a male acts too feminine then he is automatically gay or “not right”.
    We now live in the 21st century and stereotyping as well as discrimination still goes on, but the gays, transsexuals, transgendered, and transvestites are as liberal and as open as ever about supporting their people. Since society sees them as abnormal and out of the box, off coarse the rest of the world follows with ignorance. “We must be leaders to form leaders, and not leaders to form followers”. In Sirena’s case, he sang and danced which is definitely an artistic way of expressing yourself, just because he was a male and dressed to impersonate a female made readers like myself “sad to say” think he was gay.

    • Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

      I found myself assuming he was gay in the beginning of the book too. I watched a film in one of my other classes last semester with a teenage boy who was addicted to drugs and had a horrible family life who did sexual favors for men in exchange for drug money. We later find out it was a horrible experience for him and he felt so violated because he was a heterosexual male and was not interested in experimenting with men, he just needed the money. I started to compare whether or not this was a similar case in this book. How different would the boy have been if his grandmother hadn’t died, if his parents weren’t absent, if he wasn’t on drugs, if he didn’t have a drug habit, etc. But regardless, I think the major point when I debated whether or not Sirena was interested in men or women was in the situation with Hugo. Part of me thought that the main reason this happened was because he/she lacks any sort of closeness and relationships with others and part of me questioned whther or not he/she really was interested in being with a man. I agree that society makes the issues of men being too feminine into a really big deal but I found that there were so many different situations in the book that it was hard to tell what the boy/Sirenas character really did/did not want.

      • amyhahm says:

        I hate to admit, but when I was first reading the book, I assumed Sirena Selena was gay as well. It really demonstrates how our society influences the way one thinks and categorizes people in terms of sexuality and gender. As a sociology major, I try my best to stray away from these social categories and labels, but it did not really hit me until the class to realize that Sirena Selena might not even be gay and was behaving in those ways just because of the person he was, or just because of his situation.

    • chloebx says:

      I, as well, assumed that Selena was gay, when in fact, a lot of people who do Drag are not gay themselves. It is an art form, a way of expressing one self. And as for stereotyping, that is something that people who do Drag as a hobby or a profession have to deal with on a daily basis.

      • It is easy to get caught up in the being gay stereotype when it comes to crossdressers. It makes sense simply because we are not used to seeing males wearing make up or playing dress up. It is good that the reading does in someways help dismiss these assumptions. Yet I do believe theres a high number of cases in which that is the case.

  4. arussell11 says:

    More interesting than the book was the discussion that occurred in class and the presentations that were centered around the more general topic of transvestitism and homosexual assumptions. I found it very interesting that the presenters grossly stereotyped the characters within the book and the topic in general. It was even crazier that the group was attempting to educate us on a topic yet the presentation was full of stereotypes and assumptions. They concluded by saying that the way to end these assumptions and stereotypes was through education—ironic because we are all college-trained people yet the majority of the class was no less stereotypical than the average citizen. Whose fault is this? Can we blame society or must we start by not saying things like “that’s so gay” or “my gay friend?” Where does it end?

    Heteronormativity is the assumption that everyone is straight unless otherwise stated. Think about the problems that this may cause. Why must someone have to disclose their sexual orientation to someone else in order to appease society? This is unfair and oppressive. We need to grow up.

    In terms of Sirena Selena, I thought it was interesting how many people said that she “acted feminine.” What does that mean? Who defines femininity and is this another way to create a subordinate group? This is no different than saying that someone acts Black or Gay or Retarded. This was a great way to end the semester because it completely contradicts and challenges the Wordle that we constructed at the beginning of the semester. The words that we chose to construct masculinity are not what define it. Masculinity and femininity are subjective, fluid terms that cross genders and appearances.

    • montanabeutler says:

      I in no way think that those presenting on the trans-community as connected to Sirena Selena meant to be rude or grossly stereotyping. Every person who spoke about it was trying to eradicate negative connotations to the subject, and their intent was good. Perhaps at times, heteronormativity slipped through in their ideas or words, but we have all grown up in a world surrounded by these “norms” I think its hard not to let the ideas permeate our speech. The purpose of this class is to clear up these issues. Education is the answer to these problems, so I didn’t find it “ironic” that that was their answer to how to end the assumptions and stereotypes. We are all college educated, but not necessarily on these topics, and courses like this are meant for us to explore the many different ways in which sexuality is expressed. They were not educating us on the many ins and outs of the GLBTQ community, but rather starting a conversation about it for us all to explore.

      • I agree with Montana in that I don’t think that the presentation was meant to be rude. I agree that the best way to handle any topic is through educating oneself on the topic at hand. However, I believe that a lot of this education comes from personal experiences and going out of your way to learn more about a certain topic. I think that college is a great place to learn more about things that you have never been exposed to, but it isn’t talked about in every course. So, again, like what Montana said, we are all taking the first step (if not, another step) in the right direction by taking this class where we are learning more about the GLBTQ community and thinking about things from another perspective.

      • arussell11 says:

        These are clearly all opinions on the subject and I stand true to what I said. While the intent may not have been to offend people, to me it was offensive. With that being said, when you are presenting on a topic, your job is to be objective and present facts, not what you think may or may not be the case. This is no personal attack on the presenters, simply a critique of the presentation.

    • amyhahm says:

      You bring up such interesting points. Especially about heteronormativity. Thanks for defining it. I think that our society is definitely affected by heteronormativity, and we are guilty for having society affect individuals in this way. I think because our society views masculinity as the more powerful and important characteristic, it also reflects on how we tend to view everyone as straight. I think it is a problem because it subordinates certain groups and categorizes people into labels that are unfair.

  5. Katheryn Maldonado says:

    A very interesting fact pointed out the presentation about the book was Mayra Santos’s reference to Greek mythology in the name Sirena Selena. The Sirens in Greek mythology have similar characteristics to Sirena Selena. The Sirens were sea nymphs that had the ability to sing in a very seductive way. Sailors that passed were hypnotized by the melodies of the Sirens’ songs and the distraction caused them to crash on the rocks surrounding the island where the Sirens resided. The Sirens and Selena parallel in their incredible and alluring voices. They both have this incredible ability to captivate men in a sort of trans-like state. The talent of Selena and the Sirens is an incredible talent, even though there is a negative connotation in many mythological stories.

    I think Sirena Selena’s story was very interesting. I think one of the keys to this novel was the fact that the author did not disclose Sirena’s sexuality. I think that shows that one cannot assume the sexuality of person based on some external factors, such as cross-dressing. I think it was refreshing to read a story that was very different from the other novels we have read this semester. It was not so much a story about the struggles of coming to terms with sexuality, but more a story of the rise to success.

    • amyhahm says:

      I also thought that her name was really interesting! It was perfectly parallel to the Greek mythology in that the sirens seduced the sailors, and in how Sirena Selena had an alluring voice and almost tricked/conned these males for their money. Although it has a negative connotation, In Sirena Selena’s case, I didn’t particularly see it as a negative case, but a way for her to rise from her ‘ashes’ in a sense and be able to become to the place she was at the end.

  6. amyhahm says:

    Sirena Selena was such an interesting book about drag culture, travesties, and homosexuality. Although we never truly found out if Sirena Selena was homosexual or just enjoyed cross-dressing, or was just doing it primarily for her job, it was intriguing to read about. I really enjoyed how the presenters highlighted the notion about labels and how our society has the need to label everything. Whether it is homosexuality, drag, transvestites, transsexual, cross-dresser, and etc., someone has to fit into a certain category. I liked how the presenters mentioned that these labels don’t define a person nor does a human being have to be included by a label, many labels or any labels at all. I like how the author did not specifically include Sirena Selena’s sexuality. It made it more interesting. And I think it made a point on how our class/society automatically assumed she was a homosexual because of certain behavioral traits, whether it was her cross-dressing or slightly less masculine qualities about her. I think it highlights an important lesson that a person’s sexuality cannot be certainly determined by physical appearance or even the way they act or behave. Our society constantly finds labels and means of oppression in not only gender roles, but racial and class differences too. Heteronormality is an issue of our society that I am strongly unhappy with. It is a huge problem that our society feels that they need to prove that masculinity and how masculinity is the social norm. Gender is a socially constructed term and I feel that our society has to overlook these labels and means of oppression.

    • montanabeutler says:

      You bring up interesting points. Your comment made me think about labels and putting people in categories so we can better understand them within the contexts of our own lives. It is a natural human trait to do this, and in most every culture and sub-culture this practice of classification takes place. I guess this is because we are afraid of what we do not understand, and if something doesn’t fit into one of our categories, then we reject it out of fear. So what it boils down to for me is just saying who the fuck cares how you identify sexually? Be what you want, don’t force me to be like you because I’m me, and just keep going on with life.

      • Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

        This is really true. In this class and in some of my other classes we have talked about the need for people to classify others because if you can’t figure out what their race/sexual orientation is/etc., it becomes almost like an obsession to solve the mystery to properly identify them. It is surprising how much people care about knowing certain things in order to be comfortable but I think almost everyone is guilty of doing it.

      • Ally Green says:

        I think your mention of the classification of people by sexuality, and your attitudinal response to it, is really interesting because it encapsulates some of the most controversial areas of queer theory. Judith Butler, probably one of the best known queer theorists, warns about the danger of identity categories since they reinforce stereotypes and create social identities for minority groups that are determined by the majority. This sort of censors what traits/versions surrounding homosexuality are acceptable. I think the problematic feminization of gay men that occurs in popular culture (i.e television programs like “Will and Grace” or “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”) equates homosexuality and femininity.
        This is why, at least in my opinion, there is a general assumption that Sirena Selena is gay. As a society we can wrap our minds around the idea of a gay man acting and dressing like a woman because this image is perfectly in accordance with the feminine gay stereotype. On the other hand, drag violates the heteronormative conception of traditional masculinity, a conception that still seemingly colors society’s definition of straight male sexuality. It makes sense that readers would automatically assume Sirena Selena is gay since, according to these conceptions of sexuality, what straight man would ever put on a dress/makeup/etc?

    • ElisePrairie says:

      I also agree that our society is almost obsessed with labels. This book, and this class on a large scale helped point this out to me, and encouraged me to participate in the movement to educate people on the need for acceptance in place of the need for cookie cutter identities.

    • As soon as I read your post I immediately thought of the Real World Las Vegas where it was revealed that one of the roommates had lived in a house (a live webcam site) in which he and other men engaged in sexual activities with one another. Once the news hit the rest of the cast, they immediately started to question if he was “gay” or “bi” because they didn’t think that he could still be “straight” after performing such acts. This roommate defined himself as straight and did it just for the money (reminding us of Piri Thomas in “Down These Mean Streets”). Again, we are a society that dwells on labels and does not rest until everything is concrete.

    • arussell11 says:

      I like your points on labeling and how everyone must fit into a certain category or social group in order to be accepted by society. I also like how you discussed that masculinity is defined by categorization into one of these social groups. Gender and sexuality are two completely different terms and I like that you shed light on that here.

  7. Katie Lakotko says:

    I enjoyed reading Sirena Selena the most out of every book we’ve read thus far. It was most enjoyable because it was something that I was very interested in. I go to the Polo Club in Hartford and love the drag performances! With that, it was much easier to get into in comparison to the other books solely due to the topic of drag, my first hand experiences and overall fascination and curiosity. I found it interesting that the same themes were still recurring in this book as well, for example, the stereotypical gender roles and impact of drugs were very prevalent throughout.

    At one point when Selena was dressed as a man, she confessed it was a good thing because if she was dressed as a woman she would have ‘collapsed right there.’ This very clearly indicates the typical views of the difference in male and female demeanors and how her appearance directly affects the way she acts. Another event that stuck with me was when Leocadio was inquiring as to how to become a man when he was answered with his penis being grabbed. He proceeded to get angry and even defensively ask not to be compared to a woman. This concern put on gender adds to the continuing generalizations that shouldn’t exist in the first place. This book specifically restricts and defines women as “scared and melodramatic” and says a woman is a senora when she has a house, forks, calla lilies and nice hair. Men on the other hand are ‘the bigger ones,’ ‘make the decisions’ and the ‘leader’. This stereotype brought a precise meaning to ‘el hombre and mujer.’ In addition to the clear definitions given to a man and a woman in this book, I think the more important and central theme involved the introduction and exploration of the not so typical group of people characterized in this book as ‘indecisos.’ My favorite quote from this book was “…but who doesn’t suffer moments of indecision in this life?” The truth behind this statement is very eye opening and really makes the reader think and reflect on their own life, forcing them to connect and relate to the characters despite obvious and major differences.

    • arussell11 says:

      Interesting point that the way Sirena Silena was dressed impacted her way of thought. I think that this is all about comfort level. Most people exude confidence when they are dressed well but on a bummy day, they feel bummy. Great point to show the character’s comfort level.

      • Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

        I did notice the differences in how Sirena was explained when dressed like a woman and dressed like a man. Although we know underneath the clothes is a 15 year old boy, her ability to perform and feel confident about being a woman seems to become less difficult and more comfortable because people are seeing a woman with a beautiful voice. When Sirena is exposed from her clothes to Hugo, you can feel the discomfort and nervousness through the authors explanation because the confidence of being a women completely disappears. I agree that clothing and appearance play a significant role for the character.

    • Jean-Claude Nicolas Jr. says:

      I agree. This book really made a distinction between gender roles. It also challenges our own thinking and lets the audience know that there is more out there in this life than whatever we are able to gather from our exposure to media, friends and biases

  8. Lauren Todd says:

    I really enjoyed reading “Sirena Selena” and liked reading a novel about Drag culture, in which I have never had done before. It was interesting to read this story while working on my term project, which is Transgenderism. Drag queens/kings fall under the umbrella term as transgender, so it was intriguing while doing my research and reading a fictional story about this topic simultaneously. I really liked how this book, more than the rest, really had the class think more open-mindedly on the understanding of drag, transgender, and being gay. Most of these concepts were foreign to some in the class, which is alright, but I was happy for those who did know to educate them because that is what allows for growth. I thought that it was important that the author never revealed Sirena Selena’s sexuality because it allowed readers like us to question sexuality in terms of behavior and gender. I also liked reading the whole transformation from the beginning a young street hustler with real problems morph into this glamorous seductress. The story just was not about the life of a drag queen, but the struggles a person has and how their life can change around.

    I’m glad our last work strayed away from some of the main themes we looked at for most of the semester and showed us some new themes that still apply to fictions of Latino masculinities. I’m glad that we could end class with clearing up some last minute stereotypes and this book allowed us to do that.

    • I agree, I think that it is very interesting that the author chose not to disclose Selena’s sexuality. It was not until the part of the book where Selena is getting intimate with Hugo that I started to question Selena’s sexuality. Throughout the novel Selena was constantly referred to as “she,” and whenever she was called Sirena it was in the feminine form. When Selena was with Hugo, Sirena was taken aback because he referred to her as “Sirenito,” or the masculine form. Like Jorge said in class, Selena could have been “straight” and just doing it for the money (similar to Piri Thomas in “Down These Mean Streets”)

    • arussell11 says:

      I like how your blog post more closely talks about the theme of change in the story than sexuality. It was great that you showed that not only can people change their actions but also the way in which they express themselves.

  9. Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

    Sirena Selena was a really interesting book to read and I think now that we have discussed so many of the issues presented in this novel in other literature in class, it was easier to understand and think about things critically. It is fairly obvious that major themes are sex, sexuality, gender, culture, identity, poverty, etc., but this book was different from the others because these topics seem to be more advanced and in depth than the others. For example, we read about questioning identity and sexuality in a lot of the other class material but in this book, Martha is already half way through a sex change and ready to complete it to feel happy about herself. Another example is that although we have seen poverty in all of the other works we read, the level of poverty is so extreme in this novel for the young boy that he accepts the offer to become a drag queen. When I was reading this I felt like I could connect it to a lot of what we’ve discussed but it seems to be more serious and more intense in this book.

    I noticed other people commented on whether or not Sirena Selena is gay. I was curious about this too because originally, Martha picked up a young boy who was on drugs and starving, living out on the streets. Additionally, he has no parents and lost his grandmother who was his only caretaker. For a young person who is that desperate for money, I think he figured it would be easier to go with Martha, make money, use his talent, and bury the issues of sex and sexuality that he was having or would have through doing this because he had a much better chance of surviving than staying where he was. The scene with Hugo was really interesting though because it made me question whether Sirena wanted to be intimate with him or if it was just a way to be close to someone and stop hiding everything.

    • arussell11 says:

      The scene with Hugo was interesting to me as well because it would change people’s opinions dramatically of Sirena Silena’s sexuality. I too have studied these issues in other classes but found it more difficult to specifically relate the themes and characters to things that I’ve already studied.

      • Ally Green says:

        I think Hugo’s role in the book is the metaphorical “nail in the coffin” for readers when they are evaluating Sirena Selena’s sexuality. Knowing that I had to present about the book I was sort of hyper-aware of the situations that might shed more light on her sexuality but this just reinforces how important sexual preference is in constructing one’s identity, especially for an enigmatic character like Selena who violates so many traditionally masculine norms. Like race or gender, sexual preference has become a defining social category that we feel the need to strictly define in order to get to the core of who people are as a homogenous group rather than as individuals. Essentially, even though I was making a conscious effort to be objective about her sexuality I still instinctually sought to categorize her as straight/gay/bisexual etc. Though I’m embarrassed to say so, I feel as though I was ultimately checking characteristics/actions off a mental checklist in order to determine is Selena met the “gay criteria.” This also hearkens back to the conversation we had in class after the presentations as we all discussed what “makes someone gay?”
        Having considered this question in the context of other classes/assignments before, I am reminded of Dennis Altman’s idea of the “global gay identity.” Altman essentially claims that despite the relatively “new” (in comparison to race/gender) status of sexuality as an identity category, it is quickly becoming an important piece of our social fabric. The danger here is that unlike race/gender, sexuality is still in the fragile process of being defined by society, that is, the “global gay identity” is still very much under construction. This process, while seemingly inevitable, seems, at least to me, to be very dangerous. For example, it is my opinion that the interpretation of Selena’s character would be markedly different if the majority of readers presumed Selena was a heterosexual vs. a homosexual. Why? Because it seems obvious that our expectations of and reactions to gay experiences vary drastically from our expectations of/reactions to the straight and societally “normal” experiences of straight people. For an emerging sociocultural identity category to already have this impact, conscious or unconscious, on the American public (or in this case the reader) is an example of just how powerful and potentially dangerous this categorization can be once examined in the context of reality rather than fiction.

  10. Jean-Claude Nicolas Jr. says:

    This book was different from other books we read. There were still themes of drugs, poverty and other social issues we have seen in other class readings. This was my first book I had ever read concerning the drag world. It caused me to understand that they are not monsters as I previously believed what mainstream society would have us all believe. I now see them no differently as I see other groups of people like Asians, dwarfs, politicians, etc.

    It is funny how life experiences that hit real close to home (as I shared mine with the class) mixed with education can change your very belief systems.

    • Ally Green says:

      I definitely agree that there is a perpetuated conception of “drag queens” as freaks/monsters and at the very least social pariahs. It’s interesting that you bring up the other factors surrounding Sirena Selena’s life experiences (i.e. drugs, poverty, ethnicity) because the intersectionality of these factors are what really makes people, the majority and the minority, who they are (or what they are perceived to be by society.)

      • I agree with ally as well I feel that when people choose to be different and not follow the norm we automatically label them as being freaks or abnormal . Its sad that we choose to conform to a system that has institutionalized us to fear difference

      • amyhahm says:

        Although there might be a certain perception of drag queens as freaks or monsters, on contrast, there is belief that drag culture is more accepted in our society because it can be just a hobby. I wrote about this in a past comment about how drag culture might be more socially accepted because it can be seen as something an individual is doing for fun or for a career. Drag culture is also seen in society as something ‘for tv’ or something fun. There are plenty of drag queen bars and clubs where the idea of drag culture is based on the individual.

  11. Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

    I agree that this was the first book I had ever read concerning the drag world. I never really thought much about it or had an opinion on it but Sirena Silena is much different than other books and films from class. It does make me realize that my opinions probably would have been different had I not considered a struggling young boy who resorted to drag performances as a means of survival and getting off the streets of Puerto Rico. Maybe there are other people in the real world who use their talents in ways that would seem strange to some of us, maybe not. It did open my eyes to a lot of possibilities though.

  12. Gresenia Gil Suarez says:

    While looking at the list of novels that we had to purchase for my class my last thought was that this book would be based on the culture of drag queens. Sirena Selena was a very interesting book to read and the topic that it was about was interesting as well. I am also fascinated with the transformation process which is so meticulous and the amount of time and work that goes into it. I asked myself whether Sirena Selena was gay or if his only reason for doing what he did was for the money. Maybe he got pleasure out of it im not really to sure.

    While reading this novel it automatically reminded me of a cousin that i have who was born a male but now he is recognized in my family and to the state of NY as a female. When he was younger he did things that i guess would question the elders. He would play dolls with the girls and play dress up, wear dresses and make up. Once he got older maybe around the age of 16 and 17 he would wear girl jeans and belts and he was letting his hair grow. We were in NYC walking to my aunts house and i was really surprised with the attention that he was getting from grown men. Today if you were to see him you would never think that he was a boy. He has the nicest body i have ever seen and breast just like a women. Being that my family is Dominican and the males in my family are very ignorant and machista it was hard for them to accept him at first but now i guess its normal. When my aunt passed away in 2009 he went to the funeral dressed like a women with heels on and everything and he looks pretty darn good.

    • I agree with you that the Dominican culture revolves around machismo mind set . You have to follow gender norms and act accordingly to that role. Sexuality is set to a strict set of norms and homo sexuality is frown down on , I really like the fact that your cousin was able to undergo his sex change and have the support of his family

  13. Ally Green says:

    I think the mention of the classification of people by sexuality, and the attitudinal response to it (i.e. who cares, do what you want, etc), is really interesting because it encapsulates some of the most controversial areas of queer theory. Judith Butler, probably one of the best known queer theorists, warns about the danger of identity categories since they reinforce stereotypes and create social identities for minority groups that are determined by the majority. This sort of censors what traits/versions surrounding homosexuality are acceptable. I think the problematic feminization of gay men that occurs in popular culture (i.e television programs like “Will and Grace” or “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”) equates homosexuality and femininity.
    This is why, at least in my opinion, there is a general assumption that Sirena Selena is gay. As a society we can wrap our minds around the idea of a gay man acting and dressing like a woman because this image is perfectly in accordance with the feminine gay stereotype. On the other hand, drag violates the heteronormative conception of traditional masculinity, a conception that still seemingly colors society’s definition of straight male sexuality. It makes sense that readers would automatically assume Sirena Selena is gay since, according to these conceptions of sexuality, what straight man would ever put on a dress/makeup/etc?

    • I really enjoyed reading your comment. you made a lot of interesting points about the way society conditioned us to automatically put labels on people. I must admit that i have engaged in those types of thoughts and action . it sad that automatically we assume that a person that dresses like a woman is gay and sometimes that is not the case . Drag challenges a lot of our heteronormative mind set because we are so use to having things being defined as either black or white no room for the in between

    • Brimar Guerrero says:

      Ally, you bring up a lot of interesting points in your discussion. The way that society shapes the way we think completely bobbles my mind. Even our English language sets hierarchies and categorization. I think it’s interesting that you point out that “there is a general assumption that Sirena Selena is gay.” I think this is very true because once someone hears the words transgender/transsexual we automatically want to connect it to homosexuality and this is not necessarily the case in every situation.

  14. dipali1991 says:

    I loved the book “Sirena Selena!” It was so different than anything we have ever read before, and I loved that it was about such a controversial topic! I have never really read anything about the drag world so this book was new to me. I have heard about “drag-queens” in the past, but I didn’t know that there was whole drag world out there, especially in another country!
    Although there were other themes in this book such as sex, culture, and sexuality I feel that identity was the main theme that was present in the book. Sirena Selena was obviously a man but was pushed into the drag world for money and a better life. It was never made clear in the book if Selena was a gay male, but I feel that the reader just assumed this because she dressed like a women and had a sexual relationship with a married man. I feel that the author left the reader to interpret whether or not Selena was gay because everyone has different opinions of the drag queen world, and I feel that the author didn’t want to put his own opinion into the novel by telling the audience what he thought.
    Most of the people in class assumed that Selena was a gay male and I thought this as well until the Professor pointed out that this didn’t have to be the case. Even though her relationship with a male suggests that he is homosexual. I feel that Selena was pressured into the drag world, and even though this world brought her fame and fortune, and took her out of the ghetto I don’t believe that she truly wanted to be apart of it, but saw it as her way out. I feel that she just adapted to the drag world and in the process fell in love with someone she never intended to fall in love with.

    • Ally Green says:

      While I agree with a lot of what you just mentioned (especially the author’s seemingly purposeful omission of a “concrete” sexual identity for Selena) your comment that “identity” was the main theme of the book, not “sex, culture, and sexuality” appeared as a sort of contradiction for me. For me, the story really enforced the interaction of these themes/factors as necessary to identity development. The combination of sex (particularly given its context within the book), culture (i.e. poverty, drug use, prostitution), and sexuality, which as you mentioned was left ambiguous, were the factors that seemed paramount, at least to me, in constructing Sirena Selena’s character/identity for the reader. This is what, I felt, made the novel so complex as it illuminated the various motivations and potential sources of Selena’s life/experiences.

      • I also agree with you Ally because there was never a point in the book that allowed the audience to see Selena’s sexual preferences and that was probably not the point of the author because he wanted to highlight identity. As a society, we were taught that if someone is a drag queen they are most likely gay and that is not always the case. The author probably left that to one’s interpretation to show us how quickly we fall into these assumptions.

  15. While I did enjoy reading Selena sierna because it brought into discussion a new topic about sexuality that is kind of taboo for many of us . I feel that the problems that revolve around LGBTQ issues are that as a society we do not educate ourselves enough. Education is the foundation of everything. The root of discrimination, oppression, sexism is the misinformation being provided and the lack of knowledge available for people. By educating each other on topics and issues, we may not be aware helps reduce our personal stigmas and discrimination about different subgroups in our society.
    We are sexual oppressed and no one should be condemned for the choices they make. This goes to my comment that I made my post about Zigzagger people in society are hesitant to the idea of difference and change. We forget that people should be able to explore and be liberated to explore themselves. The reality is that people are always changing and exploring their development of self, it is not necessary to isolate sexuality to one set of norms without leaving room for change and exploration. The problem is that in America we are too conservative and pin up with sexuality, if sexuality was not so hidden or oppressed than we would not be facing these issues of gender and sexuality oppression .

    • I totally agree with your comment because education is the foundation for everything. As mentioned in class, many people would think that nowadays people are becoming more understanding of LGBTQ communities when in fact there are still many people that know nothing of it. Many of us have had the opportunity to gain some insight on the topic because we reside in the Northeast which is much more liberal than other parts of the country. Some of our thoughts and comments are still very much taboo and unheard of to places such as the south because they strongly believe in heterosexual relationships and strong masculinity traits where men are dominant and women second. The only way to stop this is to educate others and be aware of our own language because saying things like “that’s so gay” or when someone makes a comment then after states “no homo” what are we trying to do? Clearly we are still separating individuals into the “other” category.

      • Ally Green says:

        It’s really interesting that you bring geography into the conversation. That is definitely a factor I hadn’t considered until now. Furthermore, your idea that we perceive ourselves as a society to be “educated” about the LGBTQ community when in reality the majority of us remain ignorant is also excellent. I think people see gay men/women on TV, see news coverage of a Gay Rights Parade, etc. and consider themselves well informed about queer issues. To me, this is dangerous because it implies there isn’t a need for further education, a belief that couldn’t be farther from the truth given the complexity and variance of issues surrounding different queer identities.

  16. Gresenia Gil Suarez says:

    Speaking of the dangers of identity categories it always scared me half to death to think that something would happen to my cousin. Being that he looks so much like a woman\ practically is one and good looking got him a lot of attention from men. If one were to approach him without knowing anything about his identity and was able to engage in some sort of sexual act to then find out that he has male genitalia Im not to sure how that person would act. My cousin is so goodlooking that any man would look at her and just assume that it was a woman without really knowing that in fact he still has male genitalias. This was something that often worried my family, that he would be out in the New York City streets have some kind of affair with the wrong person and then things would go down from there. If a man were attracted to her without them knowing and something happened between them there is no knowing how that man would react. For all we know he can act in a very violent way to know that he was just deceicved into thinking that it was all women when in fact thats not the case.

    I feel that this is an issue that a lot of transgendered/ transvestites face. Violence due to the fact that some people may look at them and think that they are male or female but then when finding out the truth they would retaliate in a violent manner and wanting to harm that person. This reminded me of a movie i saw my freshmen year in college, It was called Boys Dont Cry which was a dramatization of the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a biologically born female who identified as a man and as intersexed, who pursues a relationship with a young woman, and is beaten, raped and murdered by his male acquaintances after they discover he is anatomically female.

    • Ally Green says:

      This is such an excellent point! So much of the conversation surrounding the novel turned to identity, sexuality, and stereotypes surrounding homosexuals and drag performers. Though these are obviously paramount, your mention your personal family experience and your “Boy’s Don’t Cry” reference seems particularly pertinent. Given the common social perception of transvestites/transgendered as socially monstrous/menacing, society’s often volatile/violent reaction to these minority groups is definitely worthy of discussion/concern as it is a tangible reflection, or manifestation, of the aforementioned discriminatory attitudes discussed in class.

    • Brimar Guerrero says:

      Gresenia you bring up really great points. Why is is that the transgender /transsexual community is frowned upon by our society? I believe that we are so used to placing people into categories that we often forget how much hurt this can cause to that person. The way we speak can often be offensive to others because through our language we immediately identify people into certain categories. For instance, you gave an example of your cousin but throughout the entire conversation you categorized this person as a “he” instead of identifying them as the gender they chose to portray. Even I would have done the same thing if I were giving such example. It just fascinates me the way our minds work and the way we immediately have to categorize people even if we do it subconsciously.

      • Stanley Demosthene says:

        I agree 100%. In today’s day and time, it is as if EVERY thing and everybody needs to be placed in a category of some sort. There is usually an uproar in regards to any issue, like the parents who chose to keep their baby’s gender secret from the public as well as the child. This leads to people who dont prefer to be labeled as being outcasts and the subject of ridicule and abuse. Going off of you Brimar, the public need for everything to be categorized turns people and their feelings into things that are just thrown a label, regardless of the individual.

  17. Our society always wants to label everything and I find it crazy because many people do not fully understand how they feel and are too scared to be labeled as something because of the negative stigmas attached with it. People should be able to be themselves without it seeming as though there is something wrong with them and that they need to be fixed. In the presentation, they talked about how a sex change teen in Argentina winning the legal battle and I thought that was very interesting because people were only granted the sex change if they found that they had this Harry Benjamin syndrome. This was my first time hearing about this and so I decided to look it up and it states that ” HBS is a congenital intersex condition that develops before birth, involving the differentiation between male and female. It is believed that every 1 out of 500 is born with this condition. Therefore, a girl with Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome would have a female brain’s sex but her genitals would appear male.” It is sad to see that if something is out of our societal norm then it must be some sort of disability.

    • Ally Green says:

      You raise such a valid point in your discussion of Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome. The discussion of this “disability” as a requirement for a sex change Argentina struck me as particularly interesting as well as upsetting. The description of the syndrome itself seems odd because, in my opinion, it so overtly communicates the idea that gender identity is solely a matter of biology, when in reality the societal shaping and construction of gender definitions is so widely discussed and debated. In fact, I would say that this social construction/shaping is one of the primary themes explored in this class. Additionally, the requirement of diagnostic evidence “proving” the existence of a disorder for sexual reassignment really reinforces the attitude that deviation from the traditional approach to gender is inherently dysfunctional.

  18. Brimar Guerrero says:

    Even though Sirena Selena was not of my favorite novels, I really appreciated the fact that we got to learn a little more about the transgendered/transsexual community. In my opinion, it was a breath of fresh air. Learning about the drag culture was something that I found very entertaining because not all men who dress in drag clothes are homosexual. For me personally, this was a point that I never truly considered because in popular cultural transgendered/transsexual community is automatically linked to homosexuality. This book along with the discussion brought up in class made me realized how closed minded society makes us at times.

    An interesting point that was brought up during the presentation was the fact that some people had to be deemed as “sick” in order for the courts to approve a sex change operation. In my opinion, this is another way that society is oppressing the LGBTQ community. Why is it that a person needs to identify themselves as sick in order to get such procedure? This is another way of isolating this community because popular culture will always deem them as “sick” and not normal. To me this is very offensive.

    • Ally Green says:

      I totally agree, I mentioned something similar in a post of mine and I’m glad that you also recognize the need for diagnostic evidence of dysfunction to qualify for sexual reassignment (in a certain context) as offensive. I think this implies that those who are in the process of exploring their sexual identities or those who don’t align themselves with the heterosexual norm are the human equivalent of damaged goods, that is, they aren’t just “different” from the norm, they are lesser than the norm.

    • chloebx says:

      Agreed, isolating them and making them targets does not help not one bit. It is hard enough to take that leap, being told by more people that you are dysfunctional can take a heavy toll on a persons mind. They should be left alone and should be offered confidential procedures so that other people who are not close friends or family, will not be in their business.

  19. chloebx says:

    Sirena Selena is a sad portrait of what really happens in the LGBQT community. Not only does the discrimination and hatred bring them down, but being born into poverty or becoming poor cripples them and many have nowhere else to turn. Some are lucky to find fellow brothers and sisters and mothers who take them under their wing. Martha Divine is what you call a “Mother” or “House Mother” and based on what I’ve read, I feel as if she cared however, used Selena, Selena being young and fragile. Its merely a opinion.

    This novel also shed light into the corruption of D.R. They travel there because they “don’t care for such things”. Societies like these, I feel, don’t protect these individuals. They look the other way at times, and that can only lead to problems because once a transgender teen gets raped or beaten up, killed what then?

    Also that fact about how sex changes in certain countries like Argentina are only granted if you are deemed sick/dysfunctional is very cruel. All that is doing is making them feel more of an outcast. Making them more of a target and unstable. I feel that these procedures should be available to all who desire them, its their body, as long as their not hurting anyone or anything, let them be.

    • My first thoughts when Martha Divine took in Sirena Selena was that she saw an opportunity with Selena since she was so talented and could help her complete her surgical operation. However, looking more into it she and Selena both had this desire to overcome their economic situation and obtain social mobility so they were both trying to reach their dreams. Maybe if Selena did not find Martha at such a young age and take her under her wing then she probably would have ended up in a far worse condition trying to fend for herself in this cruel world.

  20. Stanley Demosthene says:

    It was nice to change pace of the course a bit, being that the large front portion of the class focused on male masculinity, and machismo. Sirena Selena took a nice change in direction, and though the main character was still male, he was a gay drag-queen. This almost gave a double perspective for the reader to follow, as the story takes off between Selena’s relations Graubel back to his pre-drag days as a 15 year old street hustler in the city of San Juan. Though the author exercises the right to examine sexuality and power, she does not lead the reader away from the fact that it is still all about who has the money and the power.

  21. franciscotorres01 says:

    I actually love the idea of Sirena Selena. My research project this entire time has had to do with homosexuality and Latin dance and I love the role change in this novel. We have a man who dresses like a woman and sings beautifully. He is so good that men fall for him in his work attire.

    My project deals with role change and that men primarily can play the role of leader and follower in Latin Dance. Not just that, but men can actually be better or just as good as a heterosexual couple. Sirena Selena is a perfect example of how a man can play both “roles,” the male and female role. The only thing that deters people from the realization of broader vocality or dance moves is gender norms instituted by society. I think i am a better dancer because i know the female and male role, but others think that i am weird, but I think they are weird and insecure, so who is stronger?

    • Lauren Todd says:

      I feel the same way as you do. And I like the fact that you are bringing up dance, because practically all traditional dances are socialized for heterosexuality. Why does there have to be a man and a woman, and a lead and a follow. Why can’t both people lead and follow throughout the dance, why is it so structured that the men is in control, aggressive, and strong? It is very frustrating! But, I think you are probably a better dancer too because you know both parts and I do not think that is weird at all. It is a shame there is a female and male role, there should be just two roles not assigned to a particular gender and by learning both just means you learn the two different ways to dance it.

  22. Much of this story is about the drag culture we are able to see the struggle of a 15 year old boy who is gay but is more interested in being a drag then being a boy. He has an amazing voice and has also changed his name to Sirena Selena which is symbolic because its the title of the book threw this the reader can predict that this going to be the idea of his struggle threw out the book.

    This story is full of the struggle of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual community I believe that being poor hinders the persons self esteem which forces them to feel completely alone and alienated.

    “Men dressing as women in performance has always been around. In Shakespearean and classical Chinese theatre men would play the parts of women as women would not be permitted to appear on stage. We can see early forms of traditional drag appearing towards the late 1800s and early 20th century. Julian Eltinge began performing in Broadway shows from the age of 10, appearing as a girl, and by 1910 reached the height of his fame going on a national tour of America and even producing his own magazine.” People should be alienated for something that has been around for almost ever it can be a way to express themselves not be let down.

    http://www.tqsmagazine.co.uk/a-brief-history-of-drag-part-1/

    • I think it’s so interesting how views of social norms can change so drastically within a short period of time. Males playing female roles have always been around and has never been looked down upon until now. Why suddenly a change? Also I’m not sure if I agree with your comment about only poor people being hindered from expressing their true sexuality and being alone. Even in the richest of families and neighborhoods you can still not belong and feel inadequate when compared to others.

      • Ernie Abreu says:

        I agree with you Victoria, poor people are not the only ones that struggle with expressing self-identity and sexuality. A lot of people with wealth often hide their true sexualities and emotions within their wealth, often feeling like outcast to the wealthier society because of their abnormal traits. And it is interesting how social norms change over the years. Just to add to the feminine theatre acts, back in the Plato and Socrates era, the attraction for young men was very popular. In fact, it was not considered to be “gay” or “homosexual” when an older man showed a sexual interest for young men. Today’s insecurities have led to the social changes in norms.

    • John Wilkinson says:

      I think that your understanding of sexuality, performance, and expression are accurate for characters such as Martha and the other drag queens, but I think that Selena is a different type of character that complicates this understanding. Her motives always seem economic rather than in search of identity. Drag and the performance are means to an economic end more than anything else. Martha represents a contrast to that. Her notions of gender and womanhood are inherently tied to her identity despite having a transsexual body. Although I think that the use of Selena for economic means highlights a presentation of gender and sexuality in that it is more dynamic, especially when it is able to be commoditized and readily alternated.

  23. Amber Jones says:

    I found Sirena Selena to be very interesting. In the beginning pages we are introduced to the drag life style. Selena’s drag mother is Martha who took her in and helped her fight off her drug addiction and get her life on track. At the tender age of 15 she endured an immense amount of struggles. When his grandmother died she was left alone to fend for herself on the streets. It was only her voice and Martha that assisted in his progression away from the streets. From this reading I assumed that drag mothers are essential to the LGBT community. Martha took Sirena under her wings and was determined to make Sirena a star partly for her own benefit and hers. On her way to the Dominican Republic Sirena was praying intensively to succeed. She refused to go back to her lifestyle of struggle, ” Me in the street again? Never, never, never. I went through too many police raids to get these implants and the hormones that make me fabulous” (Febres 2). Sirena was accustomed to a certain lifestyle and she refused to lower her standards.

    I found it interesting how Martha took pride in the fact that people on the airplane probably looked at her and Sirena as mother and son. The perception of deceiving the public amused her. Most people believe that people who take part in drag are simply gay but they fail to realize that some people merely like the perception they give off, or the idea that they can change their image if they wanted to. We see this in Martha’s amusement of how she is giving off an image that is not true. When it comes to drag, people’s mindset is boxed in one idea rather than looking a larger picture of what drag can offer.

    • When Martha helped Sirena Selena and gave her a place to live. I believe that she saw an opportunity with Selena since she was extremely talented and could help her complete her surgical operation. I believe that both people had something that they can take away from their relationship. I also do agree with you about how you simply can’t tell by a persons looks if their gay, lesbian or bisexual. The people on the airplane may of never guessed that he was a drag and very talented, we often box people up into some category that we believe best fits them and also it gives us a comfort that everyone has a certain box that they belong in and anything other than that is not a norm.

    • Interesting that you picked up on the “necessity” or importance of having a Drag Mother. Surely she played a huge role in aiding in the recovery of the drug addiction of Sirena. It was almost as if she guided him through his journey and became his mentor. Its the same of idea of there being power and comfort in numbers. The relationship however seemed like they used eachother. Conversely, in terms Martha being amused l feel that she just enjoyed being the center of attention, it comes with that theatrical element of being a drag queen.

    • Nelson Veras says:

      When reading about Martha and Selena’s relationship I get a weird vibe. I look at Martha more as a manager to Selena than an actual mother. I feel like Martha is using him because he is so talented and thats the reason she took him under her wing. If not, I label Martha as a mentor more than a mother. A mother is caring, nurturing, and genuinely wants the best for her kids with no benefit. I don’t necessarily feel like Martha wants the best for Selena without her seeing a benefit from it. Lisette brings up a good point. Martha likes the attention on the airplane, it being a theater element amongst drag queens. She is an attention seeker and you can tell by her reaction to the public.

    • Ernie Abreu says:

      People’s mindset about drag is very biased and labeled as a “gay” activity Amber. I have to say that before I was exposed to drag, my mindset about drag was pretty fixed. I thought it was a weird activity and I didn’t see how people could be amused from it. After being exposed to a couple of drag shows, and talking to drag show actors, I have understood the entertainment factor of it and my mindset of it has changed. I believe that a lot of people are not exposed enough to drag shows, therefore, their mindset about it is negative and judgmental.

  24. emilyvanburen2013 says:

    The beginning of this story did not hold my attention very well because the introduction was confusing, however half way through this section I began to understand Sirena Selena better and understood where the story was going. At the end of the first section (pages 1-51) I did not want to stop reading! I’m anxious to see what happens to Sirena Selena after she is taken by men who aren’t who they say they are. The one thing I understood from the very beginning of the book was just how naive Sirena Selena was. It’s strange because she is very un-trusting of most and only listens to Martha, but makes very naive decisions with out thinking about the consequences. I think she got too wrapped up in what her life was going to be like, that she forgot where she was and the reality of what could happen to a beautiful, young ‘androgynous’ teenager. Toward the end of this section, Sirena Selena became selfish and greedy and thought about leaving Martha when she became famous enough to sustain herself, which resulted in her not making thought out decisions about what she was doing.

    “So immersed in thought was la Sirena that she didn’t perceive the employees’ hire written plainly on their faces. She wasn’t even aware of their presence, their secret conversations, because they weren’t Valentina, or la Martha, or el cliente. For Sirena, no one had really existed outside of her world, even if their paths crossed” (Santos-Febres, 50). Sirena had been this boy, who was unusual in society because he liked to dress like girls. He had incomparable talent and was taken in by a woman who was money hungry and business savvy. He became Sirena Selena and learned Martha’s money-hungry ways and became someone who desired a pampered life in the lime light, but in the process lost any ability to be skeptical of others and I’m sure will now pay the price in the next section of the book.

    • I agree that the beginning of the story was definitely not as attention grabbing as the rest. I also thought Serena was acting very naive. Just as we talked about in class, it seems as though she doesn’t understand the workings of NYC. She thinks that it will be glamorous and easy to make it in the big city because of how well she is doing in the Dominican, but doesn’t realize how expensive it is and how hard it can be to be successful in such a huge city with so many people. She is still very young, and though she may not be innocent, she is a little clueless at times.

      • Well like we discussed in class, in Dom.Rep. there is a currency exchange which constitutes a change is socioeconomic status. One can literally go from being ignored to being treated with respect solely because of the assumption of wealth. It is no surprise that Sirena feels more at ease there. Yet like you mentioned she thinks that it may be just as easy in NYC. Itll prolly be that much harder because its that much more expensive there.

  25. Lauren Carabetta says:

    I thought it was interesting how Rodriguez’s article described Santos-Febres’ intention “to use transvestites as a metaphor to think through the complexities of Caribbean society” (Rodriguez 212). There are so many interacting forces in “Sirena Selena”. Gender, language, race, culture, politics, and travel are just a few of many aspects that can be analyzed in this book. It is interesting that “passing” is applied to more than just passing as a female. Passing is connected to the First World status and politics that concern the Caribbean and Latin America. I think the negotiation of identity across nations is something that “Sirena Selena” will cover in detail. The roles that they must play in order to be accepted or to “pass” change based on location.(Rodriguez)

    I also thought it was interesting that Rodriguez’s article touched on the gendered language in “Sirena Selena”. I wonder how much of the gendered implications are lost in the translation from Spanish to English. I also thought it was interesting that language has power and symbolism in that there is a section of the original Spanish text that was written in English. It is hard to escape gendered stereotypes and gender roles in our society when even our language is gendered. You can see this in the pronouns that are used to describe someone. We use he or she and society dictates that you must fit into one of these categories, which links to the concept of passing for a he or a she. I am curious about the gendered language in the Spanish text. I know many times certain phrases don’t translate well into English and the meaning is lost. I am curious if this translation matches the original intentions of the author. (Rodriguez)

    • Thats great quote you used. “To use transvestites as a metaphor to think through the complexities of Caribbean society” (Rodriguez 212). I honestly did not even know what that meant at first. Yet based on your analysis it seems as if transvestites is used to explain the caribbean identity experience. The distinction and dichotomy between what is presented and what is disguised. It is still a little confusing but it captures depth and much symbolism.

  26. Desiree W. says:

    Within the first few pages of this story you can begin to see an interesting plot unfold in front of the audience. This story is already one of struggle and identity, we are presented a story about a little boy who has no family to turn to and is forced to be on the streets due to fear of being placed in an orphanage because he knows he will be bullied and raped by the “stronger” boys in the group. This is an interesting dynamic since we have know real knowledge of what makes those other boys stronger than him other than what is hinted to us, that he is battling an internal identity crisis.

    It’s also hard to watch such a young boy battle with a drug addiction as a means of escaping the harsh life he lives. It is also different to see that he identifies himself as both male and female depending on the name he refers himself to or how he is dressed. This is a new dynamic we haven’t seen before in our other readings. He clearly didn’t feel right playing the social role as a “boy” because of the fact that he knew he was different from his peers, and he clearly feels more complete when dressed as a woman as if that were a part of him that was missing. I also wasn’t quiet sure if in the beginning of the book if the woman they were talking about was him post operation using the hormone drugs.

    • I agree with you how our society has a social role that a boy or a girl have to fulfill when in reality we are the ones who are creating that role. Which we never consider how the person truly feels we just only look at how the person should act. These ideas are not only in childhood but it also goes into adulthood say that men should be the protect, the provider but in reality its the person that should choose how they want to be perceived and how they want to act. Just like you said he never felt like the other boys and he didn’t believe he was he was a boy but when he dressed like a women he felt like that was the truly missing piece that will truly complete him.

    • I had also really enjoyed watching the different scenario of Selena. The fact that she still identifies as both female and male really shows the struggle that gender identity can be in ones life. Even though society creates a lot of gender roles for males and females to fulfill, I wonder if it’s the same when it comes to homosexuality and gender confusion. If you are enjoy Drag, you are still expected to dress, act, and perform in certain ways.

    • This book is great because it is definitely something we haven’t seen before in the other books we’ve read so far in class. The gender roles in society can be confusing for someone like Selena who is conflicted between being genetically male but psychologically and emotionally female. It seems as though Selena is much more confident after Martha takes her under her wing when she sees how people react to her appearance as well as her talented singing.

      • Amber Jones says:

        I agree that Selena was much more confident after Martha took her under her wings but I wonder if Martha’s strong influence encouraged her to go into drag? Because when you think about it before Martha, Selena was just roaming around the streets hustling and once Martha came into her life she gets attracted to drag. Since Selena was missing familial ties I wonder if that played a large part in her agreeing to do drag. Just some thoughts

  27. Amber Jones says:

    In reading Rodriguez’s analysis of the novel I like the way he points out the different facets of sexuality,”In this way Santos-Febres presents two different articulations of male- to-female transgender identity without privileging one over the other: Martha’s gender is fixed, defined, and rooted in an unchanging sense of individual identity and Selena’s is fluid and contextually driven. The author uses these differing relationships to gender positionality as a metaphor for understanding how the realities of gender, sexuality, and nation can be multiply interpreted” (Rodriguez 208). Through the characters we see the different forms that sexuality can take. Martha fully understand her sexuality and she abides by it rules by constantly dressing and acting as a woman whereas Selena is more radical for a lack of better words in her sexuality. Selena deviates away from the norm by switching in and out of one sexuality to another. As a society we believe that everyone should have a fixed identity, you can not be a male one day and then a female another day , this is just not normal to us.

    Aside from this notion I also like the fact that Rodriguez talked about trans culture between the United States and the Caribbean, “Translocality” suggests how local conditions are variously impacted by the global, yet simultaneously are engaged in a process of redefining interpretations of both global and local formations” (Rodriguez 216). In reading this I got the idea that the trans culture exceeds distance; we can not just think that it exists in one area. This culture is influenced and carried throughout the U.S and the Caribbean where it is redefined and transformed over and over again.

    • emilyvanburen2013 says:

      Amber, I really liked your analysis of gender and how the society we live in today believes it should be fixed. You are correct, as a society we do believe that people’s identities should not vary, as in physically seeming male one day and female the next. Even though I have read and learned about gender fluidity in my gender and communications class and then this class, I still find myself questioning those who perform drag or men who dress femininely because I have been raised in a society where you are supposed to figure out where that person fits in… what category they belong in…is that person a man? a woman? is he or she gay? transsexual? When we learn about our own reactions to stimuli that we have never considered because it comes so ‘naturally’, and discuss in depth about why we react to certain phenomena the way we do, I cannot help but wonder what it would be like to live in a society where one’s sexuality, gender and sexual orientation aren’t question based on what one wears.

  28. Iris Foley says:

    Reading Sirena Selena felt very similar to reading DTMS for me even though the characters and stories are so completely different. Piri and Sirena Selena are both characters who grow up on the streets and lead very independent lives. They both fall into circles of people who swoop them up and lead them into lives far different then what they knew before. Piri is swept up in a life of gang violence, drugs, and crime, and Sirena Selena is swept up in the world of drag performance. Both create new families for themselves in the friends they make, Piri finding brothers in his gang members and Sirena Selena finding a mother in Martha.

    I think both characters understood the convenience and safety of group association. Both understood the potential dangers they faced alone and that they were stronger in numbers. Piri used his gang to get drugs, to get money, and to get street cred. He never faced an enemy alone. Sirena Selena knew that she would face abuse and bullying from other boys for her feminine ways and liked the safety that Martha and the drag world provided her.

    I also thought it was interesting that both Piri and Sirena Selena’s groups saw them for what they could offer. Neither group took in members and carried them without a price. Martha saw the talent Sirena Selena had and knew that she could make money off of it to pay for the surgery she longed for. Though she seemed to genuinely care for Sirena Selena and be motherly to her, at the end of the day she took her in for what she could give back. Similarly, Piri’s gang valued Piri’s friendship up to a certain point, but if he didn’t follow through in a crime or in a fight, he would have been ousted. He had instrumental value to the group’s strength as a whole.

    • Sabryne Vidal says:

      Iris, I hadn’t noticed the similarities between Piri and Selena, but I do agree with your interpretation. At times, I feel like Martha only wants to keep Sirena Selena around for her own personal gain and desire to become a woman but then again, she does seem to genuinely care for her regardless; however I still do sense that Martha’s love for Sirena is conditional.This also occurred in Piri’s situation, he was only accepted by his group of friends whenever he acted macho and tough, but they rejected and bullied whenever he wanted to back down.
      Also, although it may seem like Martha is in a way “pimping her talent out” to potential clients, this is just another way of life for transvestites. I don’t think Sirena Selena minds doing what Martha requests since it makes her money, but I do think that she’s emotionally affected by her past as reflected in her melancholy voice. However, her inner conflicts rarely get in the way of her business or job rather, and I found this similarity between Martha and Sirena. Both have inner conflicts, but they both get through it. I just think that it’s a way of life amongst the transvestite community and that they learn to help each other out regardless of the negative connotations we interpret.
      ~Sabryne Vidal
      04/16/2013

    • This is a great point that you make. I also didn’t notice the similarities between the two characters since they were two completely different stories, but after reading your post I can absolutely see where you’re coming from. It is essential for human beings to have some sort of support system in their lives in order to feel secure, and for someone like Selena who was clearly confused and lonely, being a drag performing and having that group of people similar to her was extremely important.

    • I really like your comparison of Selena to Piri. I hadn’t thought of this before I read your post but I agree with everything you’re saying. They both have similar struggles and the only major difference is the setting of the story. I think these two have stories that are recognized and relatable across cultures. Finding who they are, where they belong, and having someone to guide them (for better or for worse) is often a part of growing up. Everyone experiences at least one of these situations at one point or another in their adolescence.

  29. Amy Hahm says:

    Reading Sirena Selena brought up many questions in my mind about Drag Culture and the transsexual community. I feel like it is a topic that we are not very comfortable talking about in our society. Something interesting that I picked up on was Sirena’s identity. Sirena is a male who participates in drag culture, but it is unclear whether or not Sirena is a homosexual. Looking up the definition of Drag Queen, I found out that one of the definitions of Drag Queen is “A male homosexual transvestite.” When I was reading the book, I first assumed that Sirena was a homosexual, purely because of the fact that he was participating in drag culture. I later realized through several hints shown in the book, it does not necessarily mean that Sirena was gay, “The base was a fundamental weapon in the war declared against nature. Selena didn’t like to see the foundation plastered on her face and all the way down to her neck and chest. She looked like a clown, a ridiculous lie that denied her doubly.” (32). This quote seems as though he is only dressing up as a drag queen for work, not as something that defined his sexuality.

    It is interesting because Sirena’s identity, although the book doesn’t clarify, goes against the societal norms. People automatically assume drag queens are homosexuals. The human mind tends to categorize people in certain groups, but I feel like this book teaches us not to do that. I enjoy how Sirena never discloses his sexuality. It was a very interesting read shedding light on drag culture.

    • Lauren Carabetta says:

      I also had many questions about drag culture. The definitions we discussed in class were interesting. I didn’t know much about the terms before. I think that a drag queen is a performer and a drag queen isn’t necessarily homosexual. It can just be a character or persona played in a performance that is separate from their individual identity. You bring up a point that seems to be a common theme in this course: people want to categorize people into groups and they get uncomfortable when they don’t know where to categorize someone. I think it is unfortunate that society will continue to try to categorize people. Hopefully there will be a change to a more open and diverse society.

      • Amber Jones says:

        I think its understandable for most people to assume that drag queens are homosexual, because in reality we as a society usually associate how people look with their sexual preference. So if I see a girl I’m always going to assume she is attracted to men until told differently. It’s not our fault that our minds just pivot to assumptions like this because thats the way we were raised. But people do need to take that extra step to get out of that mindset.

    • sorlyz says:

      I agree with all the posts relating to drag culture and sexuality. I have read and seen many different stories where a man that does drag is happily married into a heterosexual relationship. I think drag culture should be thought of as another hobby or form of entertainment because for many dressing up and singing or being comedic is just another day on the job. Our society has a difficult time understanding that humans come in different sizes, colors, and with different “accessories”. It is not fair to have to characterize genders when a man prefers to dress like woman.

    • emilyvanburen2013 says:

      Amy, I agree the transsexual community is not a community that we as a society are comfortable taking about. It’s ‘different’ from the norm and therefore isolated and considered wrong. It honestly bothers me that we as a society don’t have more knowledge about what the terms sexual orientation, gender, sex, transvestite, transsexual and drag truly mean. I was ignorant of almost all of these meanings up until a few semesters ago when I took a gender and communications class. At the end of the class I walked away with a great deal more knowledge about this community than I had had before taking the class. I had no idea that those who performed drag were not gay…it literally never occurred to me, because in my mind, and so many others minds, gender is black and white, a component of life that is fixed, you are either heterosexual or homosexual, how could there be anything in between? I wish there was a way for EVERYONE to take a class on gender to understand that gender and life in general aren’t so black and white, there are numerous shades of gray and I can only hope that the next generations will become more accustomed to all lifestyles and like every other struggle (women’s rights, slavery, etc.) we as a culture have endured, we will get to a better, more understand place.

    • I too was really intrigued about drag culture, which is partly why I was eager to read this book. It’s interesting to see how society assumes gender based off of how they look. While they may be the most readily to judge because they dress as women, in lesser cases judgment happens as well. Many men who dress ‘metro’ or even have a hint of femininity are automatically assumed homosexual.

    • John Wilkinson says:

      I think that your understanding of society’s misconception about drag and the transsexual community is accurate. One of the ways we see this is in the representation of transsexual people and drag performers is that they’re classified in one of two ways. First, the person cannot remotely pass for being female or is dress so over the top it is simply absurd. This is often used to look at drag performers and members of the transsexual community in a negative light and in the amusement at their expense, but highlighting that they pose no danger to heteronormativity. The other type of transsexual is the one that passes for the opposite gender. By contrast, this individual threatens people’s ability to classify others and destabilizes heteronormativity, making many people uncomfortable.

  30. Brittany Demers says:

    I was very confused when I began reading this book. I was also confused when certain paragraphs switched between calling the same person he and she. I feel like this confused me because I’m so used to identifying a person with one gender. I thought about this for a while and I guess i realized its not necessary to label a person with one gender. I started to just think about the characters a people, that’s it. This helped me to better understand some of the character, like the Cuban. Gender is socially constructed but I feel like I often forget this.

    I feel like SIrena Selena is somewhat insecure. When she is on the airplane, she fears what will happen if someone looks in her suitcase. After hearing what happened to Maxine, another drag queen. I don’t blame her for being scared. I think what happened to Maxine was horrible, there was not reason to destroy her belongings.And on page 36 the quote “I’ve never seen anything like it” (Santos-Febres), I felt so bad for Sirena. I’m not saying that this man should have said he or she but he could have used a less hurtful phrase. I wish the author included a reaction to this other than Sirena paying no mind and trying to be mysterious. I would like to know the reaction that this caused.

    • sorlyz says:

      Brittany, I was just as confused as you. But I read Sirena’s nervousness on the plane as a nervousness to fly. It says that it was Sirena’s first time flying and although Martha had flown many times before, Martha is the one most nervous to fly and land. Going through customs is the most terrifying part of any trip Martha goes on because she hasn’t been able to complete her transition to female. Maxine’s story definitely made an impact on Martha. Martha was also terrified that her adopted son’s, Sirena, wigs and outfits would be discovered and they would be humiliated like Maxine.

    • Skylar Smith says:

      It was confusing to read at first because we, as a society, are so used to addressing people in normative gender terms. I do agree how both of them felt nervous on the plane but for different reasons. Martha is much more insecure than Selena is about her gender and appearance and is terrified that someone will “point a finger at her and shout,“Look at that. That is not a woman”” (pg. 10). Selena on the other hand is “deep in thought” (pg. 10), showing no nervousness. This scene is very important because it is one of the only scenes in the book where it shows the control of the state. The airport, one of the only institutions in the book, shows how normative gender roles are enforced. Martha takes more notice and feels nervous because she knows the consequences of being “found out” in an enclosed area where normative gender roles are enforced.

  31. Joseph C. Sokola says:

    I like how this book addresses the various roles of gender that one can identify with, and I also like how this book does not include a main character who is not trying to fill the stereotypical machismo role such as Piri, or Victor Vargas for example. I did not understand why Selena and Martha were so insecure on the plane, as I figured that their self identification was something that they are comfortable with. I liked how although Selena and Martha are transsexual, it seems as though they use it purely as an identity instead of engaging in homosexual activities. It is refreshing that this book gives off the notion that being transsexual and being homosexual are not the same thing, although many people would assume that they are. I found it interesting that Selena seems to identify as a female for her performances, but that does not mean that she is a homosexual. The lack of much mentioning of her sexuality leaves the reader wondering instead of just realizing that she engages in homosexual activities. This story sheds light on a subject that I did not know much about previously, and I like how the story goes against what most readers would assume the traits of the main characters would be.

    • Sirena never reveals whether she`s transsexual or not. Martha refers to him as a she because of her own reasons which is why it is expressed this way in the book but Sirena never mentions it. I agree that is was refreshing to have a book where the characters are not hyper-masculinty. Sirena also isn`t nervous on the plane. Martha is solely because of what she believes people would think of her if her identity was revealed on the plane. She had heard what happened to Maxine and did not want to go through the same abuse.

  32. sorlyz says:

    In the first fifty pages of Sirena Selena we are introduce to Martha and Sirena. I must say that reading the first portion of this book had me a bit confused. In chapter 3, I didn’t understand that the whole chapter was a dialogue Miss Martha Divine. It was cleared up in the following chapter and the dialogue chapter explained why Martha was terrified of landing and going through customs.

    The most interesting part of the story thus far, has to be the fact that Miss Martha is half woman on her top half and male on the bottom half. It worries me that Miss Martha may be using the young Sirena just to be able to pay for her surgery. It seems like Sirena believes that her voice and talent will bring them both fortune and I am hoping that the story doesn’t take a bad turn. Especially after reading how Martha tried to go through the taping and gauzing process of Sirena’s genitals quickly. Martha was trying to avoid temptation of doing anything with Sirena and that caught my eye.

    Additionally, I want to find out why the man from the hotel is so interested in Sirena after seeing her at the beach. I wonder if the man is trying to be a predator, trying to finding out if she is boy, or doing business. It’s still unclear to me.

    • I, too, was also really confused with the dialogue with Miss Martha Divine. It’s difficult to understand who is saying what and in what context. However I feel like this sort of confusion adds to the overall complexity that one deals with when struggling with their gender. This ‘mudded’ dialogue adds dimensions to the discovery of ones gender identity.

    • I can relate to you I was a little confused while I was reading the first 50 pages of the book. I believe that Martha is not doing something out of the ordinary we as humans tend to think about our best interests and not really care about other peoples feelings or thoughts about what they think. This has me wondering because if Martha never meet Sirena how would she find the way to afford the surgery and sis she forcing Sirena to become more “feminine” when in reality she may not know who she really is I mean she is only 15 years old.

      • I`m too questioning the owners behavior/motives. I think that the book is written in an untraditional way and that`s why it may be confusing. I think some of the parts that may be confusing is where Martha goes back and shares her past. There are many scenes where she`s telling stories about the people she has meet and their influence or impact it has on her. In more than one way both Sirena and Martha are using each other. Sirena wants fame and Martha wants fortune. They both need each other to make this possible.

    • Brittany Demers says:

      I was confused about Martha possibly having a desire for Sirena. The novel talks about Martha being a mother to Sirena, and I guess that thought of Martha having a desire for someone that is like a child to her makes me uncomfortable. She also seems a little comfortable during the taping process. I thought that maybe she was making jokes because she is uncomfortable and wants to hide it. I also wondered about that man. It was really unclear what he wanted at first. I feel that Sirena have judged this man as un harmful, but I’m interested to find out if this is true.

  33. I was really surprised when reading Sirena Selena. I expected another dreary, depressing novel but instead it was surprisingly uplifting and inspirational. One part that really stood out to me was on page ten. Martha was worried about being on the airplane because she did not want to be recognized for not being a woman. I was confused as to what would have happened if authority approached her. It seemed as if she could be charged, deported, or something of that nature. This seemed absolutely ridiculous to me. It’s one thing to be uncomfortable with another persons sexuality or gender issues, but I feel like its crossing the line if you were to actually implement punishments for it.

    Another part in the book that really stood out to me was when Martha was applying make up to Selena. When she began putting on the red paste and revealed that many of her clients break down at the point was really upsetting. It’s crazy the amount of work that Drag Queens go to in order to dress up and come across as a woman. I couldn’t imagine the first time dressing in drag and how these women feel. By comparing the transformation as putting on make up that makes you look like a clown is almost saying that this is a performance look, not a lifestyle change.

    • sorlyz says:

      I actually was surprised too during the scene where Martha is applying the red paste. The video shown in class of the transformation was interesting because I did not realize how long the preparation for such a transformation. I feel like Martha hurried through the red paste process in order prevent Sirena from becoming upset. The whole transformation is amazing and the description of the final product makes me want to demand a before and after picture of Sirena Selena.

      • Amber Jones says:

        The video was intense, looking at the dramatic makeup and the time period to put it on was very interesting. I like the point that we brought up in class in regards to how drag queen performances are made to be dramatic and stand out. Most people think when a person wears drag they have this desire to be a female or male but in reality its just a performance. I’m pretty sure no one would walk out of the house was a boat load of makeup with bright eye shadow, its just for show; they are rather an extreme and overdramatic version of a gender.

    • I know exactly what you mean with how refreshing this reading was. Also you bright like to how awkward it is to have Martha constantly have to think about her gender. Whe she was getting on the plane she didnt people to know she’s male. I phrased that in a strange way but I feel like pronoun use is very complicate in this context. Also the amount of work for Drag is crazy. I know that women tend to wear make up to either hide or enhance certain feature, and performers over exxagerate their make up so that the stage light hits it in such a way. Yet for Drag Queens both elements are put into play plus the added burden of hiding typically male characteristics. The whole thing seems very tideous yet it for them it my be part of the fun.

    • Brittany Demers says:

      I agree with you. I feel bad for Martha for being worried. It would be completely unfair if they opened the suitcases and punished them for it. Martha and Sirena are not committing a crime and crimes are what people should be charged or deported for. It definitely think that would be crossing the line. I can’t help but wonder if they were found out what would have happened. I also wonder around what time this novel takes place. I feel that people are more opened minded now than they were 15 years ago.

  34. It interesting to read something with a different spin to masculinity such as Cross dressing. The word transvestite istself, as pejorative as it may seem now, it explains what it is that is happening. It is one gender dressing like another. In popular culture however we associate transvestism with transgenderism where as Drag Queens as a form of entertainment and sometimes art. In Sirena Selena there is also the use of pronouns to distinguish between when he was cross dressing or not. I also found it interesting when it explained about the extensive process of putting on make up and how the paste dripped down. Something that wasn’t so surprising that she wanted to get out of the carribean considering that its not as accepting as Europe, even though Gay Marriage is legal as described in Rodriguez’s exerpt.

    Another thing that I found weird was that Sirena as a boy had a “beautiful” or “alluring” body that was considered feminine. She did not want to put her son in the way of danger. I wonder if his childhood experience has made him consider homosexuality due to his physical feautures. Martha however does believe she is a woman or atleast seems to be more comfortable as a girl. This reading also reminded me of the Leguizamo film To Woo Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Its interesting take on Drag and transgenderism and how closely linked it came be.

    TRAILER: Attached below

      • Imaani Cain says:

        Although “To Wong Foo” is a movie that I really enjoy, I’m not sure that it adds up correctly to Sirena Selena. Selena’s goal is to make it out of the Caribbean and get away from hustling, which makes their story slightly more tragic. The movie, on the other hand, is a comedy and employs more absurdist elements whereas Sirena Selena employs a more realistic feel.

  35. Skylar Smith says:

    After reading the first 50 pages for a second time, i got a better understanding of the novel as a whole. We find out a portion of Martha and Selena’s background and how Martha took Selena under her wing. Martha got Selena off of his addiction and showed him a way to make money. Selena seems to be learning very quickly about the ways of a business man from Martha and I believe that everything Selena is doing is strictly for economical reasons. On the airplane Selena says “Me, in the street again? Never, never, never” (pg. 2). Before Martha, Selena never participated in the drag scene but as Selena began to learn about it, he realized the amount of money that is in involved. We, the readers, have already received a little taste of Selenas rough life. After going through tough times, when he received this opportunity to make some money instead of living on the streets, of course he was going to take it. Selena is open to any business endeavor, seeing as he is a drag queen and with an open mind, Selena feels comfortable expressing her life pains through performing and singing.

    I believe that Selena would fit perfectly in to the broadway scene if the opportunity arose but the only opportunity that arose was performing and expressing himself in the drag scene. Selena is very developed at such a young age and as we continue to read we have to remember that he is only 15 years old. Selena is using this as an opportunity to make money and follow his dreams of going to New York City one day. Although he is very young, he seems almost as developed as Martha is and for this reason, reading the rest of the book will be very interesting.

    • Lauren Carabetta says:

      I like how you point out that Selena was pulled from the streets into a life of performing and travel. It would be hard to say no to such an opportunity. It is important to remember that Selena is only 15. I think this will remind us that she is young and possibly still naive. She also went through a major life change. She went from being a lone boy addicted to drugs on the street to a great drag performer. In class we discussed how she probably sees herself on the road towards one day traveling to New York. She probably has a skewed perception of what New York is like and how gender, race, politics, and other factors interact there.

  36. This book was most definitely confusing in the beginning, but after the first couple chapters it started to make a lot more sense to me. There was a lot that stuck out while I was reading, for example, how anxious Martha was on the plane ride to the Dominican. It didn’t make much sense to me at first because I thought she was being a little dramatic and paranoid, but after thinking about it a little more, I could understand why she was acting that way. She was surrounded by strangers and it can be overwhelming to think that if anyone found out she was not genetically a she, that they would make fun of her and shame her.

    Another part that stuck out to me while reading this text was the relationship between Martha and Selena. It struck me as odd because although Martha did take care of Selena, she seemed like she was acting more like a manager than a mother. It also surprised me when Martha was helping Selena get ready and she was putting gauze and tape to cover up Selena’s genitals, and the text says “If Martha hadn’t been looking at it through the eyes of a mother and a businesswoman, she would not have hesitated to find a place to put that hunk of meat, just to satisfy her curiosity about feeling it inside, in all its magnitude. For this reason, Martha Devine always hurried through the binding ritual. She didn’t want to tempt herself with that hunger that she might not be able to control.” (p. 34) This was kind of disturbing to me because for someone who considers herself to be a “mother”, these are not thoughts that should even cross her mind about her child.

  37. Sirena Selena has been a great read so far. It isn`t as depressing as some of the other books we have read thus far. I took a lot out of the first 10 chapters read. Martha Divine, who is a mother figure to Sirena is a boy who she found on the streets and sprung out on drugs. Martha is a Drag Queen who hopes to get a sex change operation to make herself whole. In previous readings we have spoken about feeling as if your body does not belong to you or as if it isn`t unified which is exactly how Martha feels. While on the plane on their way to the Dominican Republic in an effort to show case Sirena`s pretty voice, Martha speaks about her body not feeling unified and how she desires this change to make her complete.

    Another topic brought up in this book that interest me is the art of performing. Drag Queens in my opinion are men who like to express their artistic ability. It is viewed as comedy, a way for these individuals to show their creativity. However, as we mentioned in class there is a misunderstanding of what a Drag Queen actually is. Masculinity is also touched upon in this book. The scene where the father tells the mother that they will face the consequences of allowing their son to play dress up indicates the fear of having a gay son ( I have the ebook version so I don`t know the page number). The father fears for his own reputation as well and knows his son being faced with judgement and shame.

    Sirena and Martha`s relationship interest me as well. They both have this survival plan set up and they are using each other to get where they need to be. At first it appeared that Martha cared for Sirena and although I am not assuming that she did not but her as well as Sirena`s motives are self-interested. I`m interested in seeing what else happens in this book.

    • sorlyz says:

      Kiya, I like that you brought up the relationship between Martha and Sirena. It is interesting that these two are thought as mother and son while they are at the airport, yet we understand that they are in the Dominican Republic strictly for business. When we were discussing who is using whom in class, I wondered if they both really understood that they were using each other? But as Jorge said in class, don’t we use everyone we meet one way or another? Martha wants to make enough money to finish her transformation and Sirena wants to make it big in NYC. I want to see where this type of relationship ends.

      • Iris Foley says:

        I was also interested in the fact that they’re using each other. Both Martha and Sirena have something that they’re getting out of the relationship. I like the point you made about whether or not either of them realize they’re also being used or if they’re both just focused on their own goals. I just wonder if throughout the book their relationship will grow into something more. After they both reach their respective goals will they stay close?

    • Audrey Allyn says:

      I wasn’t familiar with Drag Queens and what exactly made someone a Drag Queen. I think the fact that most people aren’t the environment of transgendered people and drag queens makes us less likely to find acceptance. The environment that we grew up in usually defines our reaction towards certain situations and to specific people and I believe that this case is no different. If you are exposed to certain relationships and certain types of people than those that do not fit that mold are going to hold your curiosity, and could make you feel uncomfortable. After reading this book it was easier to see all the different sides to the story and an outsiders and insiders perspectives.

      • Skylar Smith says:

        You make a few great points Audrey. It definitely has to do with what environment we were raised in in. While going to school in Puerto Rico I was exposed to a lot of drag queens on the streets near the university and at first I was not very understanding of them. As time went on and I was constantly exposed to their presence, I began to understand their culture from observing from the outside. They were more accepted in the environment over there because it is a common thing, as where around here it is seen as very bizarre. After reading this book, I understand the culture of drag even more.

  38. Amber Jones says:

    52-107
    I would just like to focus on Hugo and his infatuation with Selena. I think its really creepy in a sense how Hugo desires Selena, he lusts after her from afar where he is not seen. ” Hugo Graubel followed Selena with his gaze, as if his eyes were those of a robot ( 107). I think its essential to note that this older man has this huge crush a 15 year old! Hugo has a family and wife and he’s infatuated with someone else … underage. I know that many of us stated that it feels as though Selena is older than what she really is which I agree but in reality she is not, she still a child in way. Although her life struggle have made her grow up fast she’s still growing up.I honestly wonder what Hugo’s intentions are.. are they to have sexual relations with her or are they to form a meaningful relationship?

    • I agree with you about Hugo’s infatuation with Selena is extremely creepy he was even entertained by her. As we were able to “he entertained himself for a while watching Sirena plan her entrances and exits, her divas poses, her turns, and her stroll to the grand piano” (107), I believe that he was mainly attracted to her performances and her voice as if it was something to be treasured and something to be extremely infatuated with. But it still does not over come the fact that it is creepy the way that he is perceiving his love for her performance and voice.

    • sorlyz says:

      From the moment we were introduced to Hugo, I knew he was weird and creepy. The infatuation makes me uneasy as well because of the line “I will love Sirena like I’ve always wanted to love a woman” (Chapter 18). His history is quite strange too, it makes me question whether Hugo is interested in Sirena Selena because she is so young or maybe because of her boyish charm?

      • Ernie Abreu says:

        I cannot lie, his infatuation towards a 15 year old is pretty creepy. Especially with the quote that you have just mentioned, it seems as if Selena is the soul mate that he has been waiting for his entire life. But we also have to take into account that Hugo is dealing with a rough marriage and family issues. He is unhappy with his marriage. Selena brings him excitement, that excitement that is missing in his life. Yet again, Hugo might be what Selena needs in his life. Selena might not be looking for the same commitment that Hugo is expecting, but Hugo’s support for Selena’s hobby is encouraging Selena to continue his path to success.

    • Joseph C. Sokola says:

      I would agree that Hugo’s obsession with Selena is creepy, and that he should not be having such feelings for a 15 year old. Although Selena seems much older than her actual age and perhaps Hugo does not know that she is so young, I am curious as to what his intentions are as well. I wonder if they will eventual have some sort of emotional or sexual relationship, although I was under the impression that Selena was not a sexual person, so I will not assume that she engages in homosexual activities at this point in the book. I just hope that Hugo does not turn out to be a bad influence on Selena in the next few chapters. Because of the fact that he does not seem to care much for his own relationships such as with his wife and family, I hope that his relationship with Selena does not prove to be detrimental for her.

  39. Sirena Selena is an interesting book though it seems to be an abrupt change from the stories we’ve read so far. As other people have mentioned I too automatically assumed that Sirena was gay just for being a cross dresser. But I was thinking about it while I was thinking about what to write, and one conclusion that I came to was that it might have to do with portrayals in the media. Often in movies and shows homosexuals are almost always show as these hyper feminine characters. So this and obviously most likely other factors lead to me to associate feminism in men with homosexuality and made me assume that he was.

    • Iris Foley says:

      I also assumed that Sirena was gay when I first started reading, just because he was a cross dresser. I suppose in general, society sees drag queens as gay men who want to be women. We rarely look at it as expression and an art form. Anyone, gay or straight, can take part in it if they enjoy the performance art they’re creating.

      • Imaani Cain says:

        I’m still not sure that Sirena isn’t gay. Although her gender seems to fall between the lines of being genderqueer (or somewhere under the trans*/non-gender binary umbrella), both the book jacket and other sources described as a ‘young homosexual hustler’. However, I do agree with Iris that there is a sort of automatic assumption that men who wear women’s clothing are gay, when in fact they could identify as any possible sexualities. However, I do think that society assumes that men who wear women’s clothing is the direct source of an ignorance of the gender binary/sexuality because people simply can’t compute that a man would want to do that if he wasn’t homosexual.

  40. sorlyz says:

    Between the pages of 52 and 107, I have to say that I was mostly confused throughout the whole selection. Within many of the chapters, I was unsure of what was going on or who was narrating the story. I was interested in understanding the section about Valentina Frenesí. Because Sirena had mentioned her earlier as her guide or guardian angel, I wanted to know if this was an imaginary friend, the name of some random person, or someone Sirena actually knew. When Valentina’s story came up, I was intrigued.

    It was shocking to me that Valentina was such a helpful and guiding hand to Sirena. It makes me wonder if Martha Divine was mentioning Valentina when she was talking about people she once knew that guided her through drag culture. Additionally, I was glad to be able to read more about Sirena’s past because now we are aware that Martha did not introduce her to the “street game”. Sirena had done the street thing before Martha came into the picture. I just am confused at the what age Sirena had began working the streets.

    • It seems to me that Martha did guide Valentina threw the drag culture. I did not truly understand this section but I believe It may even be that Martha was also looking out for herself when she helped Valentina, but she was not able to get her surgery that she had hoped for and that Sirena would be the one who essentially leads her to get the surgery that she has always longed for. While Sirena just wants someone there to support her because essentially she may be the only person that can and seems to truly care about her and her well being.

  41. Nelson Veras says:

    This novel has been very different from the one’s we have read prior. Sirena is going through this stage where he is finding his true identity. Much like Piri in DTMS, Sirena doesn’t feel comfortable in playing the role a “boy” is expected to act upon and doesn’t have a grip of his true identity. On page 66 Febres writes, “and Sirena feeling like the unhappiest being on the face of the earth, threw himself into the cotton-filled breasts and the muscular arms of his hermana-she was more family to him then his own.” Sirena felt like he was abandoned which is what I feel led him to the lifestyle he is currently living in. Martha took Sirena under her wing, which was taken under wing by Valentina who is a drag queen. One question that I often wonder is whether Sirena is a homosexual or is this just an identity change considering we dont read about him engaging in homosexual acts?

    An interesting part of the story incorprates Hugo and his infatuation with Sirena. Hugo is a masculine man considering he makes money in the corporate world, has a trophy wife, and stands in a good social class. These are all characteristics of the prototypical “masculine man”. However, he has a infatuation with Sirena despite knowing she was in fact born a man. I feel that Hugo understands its outside the norm to be attractive to an individual such as Sirena. He is caught up with her external beauty forgetting that she is a man. He wants something that he cant necessarily have which brings suspense and raises a lot of questions of what is going to occur between the two.

    • Ernie Abreu says:

      Your comparison to Piri is one that I have thought about in the past, as I read through this chapter. Like Piri, Selena is put into a situation where they were both out of fend for themselves. Piri abandoned himself, while Selena was abandoned, but still, they went through similar struggles with self identity and rejection. As for Selena, I also wonder about his sexuality. Just because he is interested in drag doesn’t mean that he is homosexual, but at the same time, there is no evidence proving it otherwise. I think the author strategically left this unsaid, so the reader can assume. Maybe later in the story, we will be either shocked or reassured by his sexuality.

  42. Ernie Abreu says:

    Sirena Selena starts off with the craziest plot we have read thus far. From family issues, to personal self- identity issues, to drug addictions, these are all topics that we have read about in the past. But the simple fact that all this is happening to a very young boy, at the same time, it is quiet shocking. The young boy lost his family, and almost landed in an orphanage, which is a hell-like place in his eyes. He feels unsafe and afraid of the people in the orphanage and escapes. He fights a drug addiction, which is not the typical drugs that kids of his age experiment with. His addiction makes his life even more miserable, on top of that, he suffers from an identity crisis. It seems like nothing in his life actually makes sense or gives him some sense of peace. However, because of his talent and a mentor, he was able to change his horrible fate.

    This talent is his beautiful voice, and this mentor was Martha. Selena found his ticket out of the hell that he is living in. Although his identity crisis was not fixed, he has a future. Martha found his talent and is helping him expand his talent towards the drag world. Although there can be certain speculations about Martha’s true intensions behind helping Selena, Martha is helping Selena forget about his horrible drug addictions, and get over his family absence. At this point of the story, I cannot label Martha as a person of interest. Even if that is Martha’s true intentions, she made Selena’s life better.

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