Stacy Macías: Chicana, Jota, Queer, Lesbian, Femme
By Hannah Fradkin
It’s the ’90s. Stacy gets into the WeHo clubs with someone else’s ID. This time, it’s an ID her best friend Fabian borrowed from his older brother’s friend. Fabian is aspirational in his queerness, reaching into West Hollywood and pocketing whatever doesn’t slip away. Stacy looks enough like the woman on the ID that the bouncer doesn’t notice, or maybe he doesn’t care. Stacy is affirmed in her queerness, not yet out but queer-oriented. Thankful to have dodged the Sugar Shack in El Monte, which Fabian convinced her to be far too ordinary, Stacy and her friends let the music flow through them.
And that's how we would venture off into West Hollywood. It was always like the queerness, in terms of the public place, was outside of South El Monte...We'd go to the west side, because that was primarily where queerness, as we understood it, was.
For Stacy’s parents in East L.A., however, South El Monte was the place to be. In the late 1960s, their friend Charlie’s house was the hangout house with its wild parties, its contingent of family and friends; but also its reprieve from the urbanity of the barrios in East L.A. South El Monte seemed like working-class suburbia, rife with the potential to buy a home and build a family. Jerry González writes, “For Mexican Americans. . .becoming suburban was the culmination of a long road to becoming American. . .the suburban home was the manifestation of decades of struggle.”1 Stacy’s parents moved into Charlie’s neighborhood in 1970, into the house where Stacy’s dad still lives today, into the childhood home where Stacy can walk blindfolded and not run into any walls.2
It was in this home that Stacy first witnessed queerness. Her maternal aunt Alice had two children older than Stacy, both of whom were queer. Eddie was a hairdresser, a gay man with a partner, adored by Stacy’s mom. Renee was a gorgeous “big ass femme,” fixing up a plate for her butch lover at every family gathering. Although Eddie and Renee made room for queerness in the family, Stacy was physically reprimanded as a young girl for “being inappropriate” with her female friends. Years later, it would take the tragic deaths of Eddie and Renee, of AIDS and overdose respectively, to push Stacy to come out to her parents.
Jerry González, In Search of the Mexican Beverly Hills: Latino Suburbanization in Postwar Los Angeles (Rutgers University Press, 1980).↩
South El Monte was incorporated in 1958, but, as Nick Juravich notes, the late 1960s and early 1970s was a period of immense growth for the city. See Nick Juravich, "City of Achievement,” in East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte, 89-101.↩
Regardless, Stacy surrounded herself with queerness in and out of school. To improve her chances of graduating high school, as neither of her older brothers graduated until adulthood, Stacy chose to attend a Catholic girl’s school with the support of her parents. She attended Ramona Convent in Alhambra, parallel to her male friends from Epiphany Catholic Church’s grade school who matriculated into Don Bosco, the Catholic boys’ school. Throughout high school, Stacy’s queer friends were all young men at Don Bosco, some of whom she dated or acted as beard.3 As a school that boasted its tech programs and athletic teams, straightness at Bosco was expected and assumed by students and staff. The gay kids got shit from their dads and brothers who suspected them to be gay. The moms knew their sons were gay but were happy—relieved, even— to pretend otherwise. Stacy related to the pressure on the Bosco boys to be straight, despite the outness of her cousins. Mostly, Stacy and her friends were queer in the privacy of her bedroom, left alone by her dad who was struggling with the pain of divorce.
Even though queerness wasn’t celebrated, Stacy and her friends found opportunities to be queer in the public eye of South El Monte. For example, the Catholic school dances were known to be flamboyant events, giving space to self-expression that would otherwise be frowned upon.
Catholic school dancing was very queer. . .There was something about the Catholic school dances that I guess was repressed otherwise so the school dance was a moment to just break out. And they had really good DJs. Everybody would dress to the nines. I mean, it was a scene, it was very queer.
This was the precious time before Facebook and Instagram. School dance photos served as a way to consciously preserve relationships and memories that otherwise had to be covert. Stacy could pose with her gay friends, out or not, and not be flagged as queer. Months later, when the photos were printed and returned, Stacy would be reminded that there were times when everything could be as it was and nothing had to be hidden or excused.
A “beard” refers to a woman who pretends to be the romantic partner of a gay man to ease or alleviate social repercussions of gayness.↩
Stacy was one of the first two Women’s Studies majors at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, a liberal arts college in Lynchburg, Virginia.4 Though she initially enrolled in the Sociology/Anthropology program, Stacy and a colleague fought to develop a curriculum and course load that would serve as the basis for the Women’s Studies degree. Despite leaning into queerness from a young age, Stacy didn’t realize her lesbianism until her first year of college. From then on, she began embracing her perspective as a queer Chicana feminist. She completed her thesis on gay Latinos in the West Hollywood nightclub scene but, despite earning her degree, Stacy was denied her diploma and transcript for outstanding tuition fees. Not wanting to return home, Stacy moved to Costa Rica to stay with a college friend’s evangelical grandparents. Unfortunately, due to her withheld transcript and degree, Stacy couldn’t find employment. She moved back to South El Monte.
In 2007, Randolph-Macon Women’s College became coed and was renamed Randolph College (partly so as not to be confused with Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA).↩
With a payment plan from the college, Stacy lived rent-free with her dad and brother and worked to pay off her undergraduate tuition. At Bienestar Health Center in the latter half of the ‘90s, she coordinated the Latinas Understanding the Need for Action (L.U.N.A.) program which aimed to address lesbian and bisexual Latinas’ vulnerability to HIV. In these years, Stacy felt like HIV/AIDS prevention in the Latinx community was her life’s work due to her cousin Eddie and his partner’s deaths from AIDS complications. Moreover, she was impassioned by the silence surrounding their deaths as AIDS-related. The work Stacy did with L.U.N.A. was vital. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS), HIV prevalence in Latinas is eleven times higher than that of white women.5 The systemic racist and sexist structures that make Latinas more vulnerable to HIV further marginalize queer Latinas. Because Stacy’s work focused specifically on providing care and resources to queer Chicanas and Latinas, she left Bienestar after L.U.N.A. funds became regularly appropriated to meet the needs of queer men. Still committed to supporting her community, Stacy became a founding member of Tongues, a collective of queer women of color based out of LA. Though they had an office in the Gay and Lesbian Center’s village in WeHo, they preferred to work together in their own homes.
Active from 1999 to 2010, Tongues organized together around topics that affected the lesbian of color and queer of color communities as well as those that addressed their specific identities as queer Latina/xs and Chicana/xs. Tongues also produced four zines and the collective, as well as individual members, published several scholarly works and created important artworks on Latina queerness. In 2006, Tongues spoke at the Marcha Lésbica in Mexico City where they were inspired to organize the Tongue-to-Tongue event which took place in 2007.
D. Worth, and R. Rodriguez, Latina Women and AIDS (SIECUS, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1987).↩
In 2000, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College allowed Stacy access to her transcripts to apply to grad school. She began an Urban Planning degree at UCLA in 2001 but again switched her degree to Women’s Studies in 2003, joining the doctoral program. She planned to write about Tongues and their activism and organization but, in 2006, the Tongues Collective was asked to leave their physical location in WeHo as Prop 8 took priority.6 Tongues became a phantom site, retaining their mailing address and voicemail. The internal changes and challenges at Tongues changed the way Stacy approached her studies at UCLA but, in 2011, she graduated with a PhD in Women’s Studies after completing her dissertation on queer racialized femininity.7
In the spring of 2022, I met with Dr. Macías to conduct an oral history. After we both separately referenced Gloria Anzaldúa within the first five minutes, her theoretical framework served as a subtext throughout the oral history. I was inspired to use Anzaldúa as a guide through this analysis of Dr. Macías’s narrative. Specifically in “To(o) Queer the Writer,” Anzaldúa refers to herself as “a composite being, amalgama de culturas y de lenguas.”8 The more Dr. Macías and I spoke—the more of an amalgama she became—the more obvious it was that I needed to approach her biography through Chicana/x feminist praxes. It is my goal that what follows will not only situate Dr. Macías within queer Chicana/x theory, but also encourage readers to further engage with Chicana/x feminist scholarship.
“Prop 8, was a California ballot proposition and a state constitutional amendment passed in the 2008 California state election. The proposition was created by opponents of same-sex marriage. . .Prop 8 negated the In re Marriages Cases ruling by adding the same provision as Proposition 22 to the California Constitution, providing that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.’” from Georgetown University Law Library, “Proposition 8.”↩
Stacy I. Macías, “Forbidden Femininities: Reimagining the Cultural Politics of Queerly Racialized Femininity in Queer Theory and Chicana/o Studies” (PhD diss., UCLA, 2011).↩
Gloria Anzaldúa, "To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana," in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, by AnaLouise Keating (Duke University Press, 2009).↩
Since 2011, Stacy has consistently published academic works on queer Latina cultural politics. Notably, she has written about fashion and self-styling, butch/femme culture, and, despite their inactive status, about Tongues and their work together.9
I truly believe that we need our identities because they provide us language. Without language, we don’t have a way of communicating our shared reality, our individual reality, our social reality...We give nuance to our existence because we are complex beings, so why not use language in order to communicate that?
To better understand the importance Stacy places on identity, we can look to Anzaldúa who writes, “My labeling of myself is so that the Chicana and lesbian and all the other persons in me don’t get erased, omitted, or killed. Naming is how I make my presence known, how I assert who and what I am and want to be known as. Naming myself is a survival tactic.”10
Stacy names herself as Dr. Stacy Iene Macías from South El Monte, as Chicana (with an “a,” not an “x”), as jota, queer, lesbian, femme. These names cannot be separated or sieved out from one another. They are tributaries of the same river. They converge at the same point, in the same body, in South El Monte, shaped by a small-town perception of self, contradicted by the fastness and easiness of the nearby L.A. metropolis. We return to Anzaldúa:
Identity flows between, over, aspects of a person. Identity is a river—a process. Contained within the river is its identity, and it needs to flow, to change to stay a river—if it stopped it would be a contained body of water such as a lake or a pond.11
Stacy I. Macías, "(Ad)Dressing Chicana/Latina Femininities: Consumption, Labor, and the Cultural Politics of Style in Latina Fashion," in MeXicana Fashions: Politics, Self-Adornment, and Identity Construction, by Aída Hurtado and Norma E. Cantú (New York: University of Texas Press, 2021), 262-282; Stacy I. Macías, "Claiming Style, Consuming Culture: The Politics of Latina Self-Styling and Fashion Lines," in The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture, by Frederick Luis Aldama (New York: Routledge, 2016), 323-333; Stacy I. Macías, "A Gay Bar, Some Familia, and Latina Butch-Femme: Rounding Out the Eastside Circle at El Monte's Sugar Shack," in East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte, by Romeo Guzmán, Caribbean Fragoza, Alex Sayf Cummings and Ryan Reft (Rutgers University Press, 2020), 250-260; Stacy I. Macías, ""Somos contra la 'queer-ificacíon'"/"We reject the queer-ification of lesbianism": Lesbian political identity and anti-queer politics among Mexican lesbians and queer Chicanas-Latinas,” Journal of Lesbian Studies 26, no. 1 (2022): 73-88; Stacy I. Macías, "Latina and Chicana Butch/Femme in Literature and Culture," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latina and Latino Literature, by Louis G. Mendoza (Oxford University Press, 2020).↩
Anzaldúa, “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana.”↩
Anzaldúa, “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana.”↩
I had this really intense moment with my partner [Melissa Hidalgo]. She likes to be outdoors. She likes to be in nature. She likes to do walks. So she'd been telling me about this bosque. The Whittier Narrows Nature Center. I grew up right around the corner from that. The park, the lake, all of those are like literally right around the corner from where I grew up. And she [Mel] was like, ‘oh, you've never been to the bosque?’ I was like, ‘I don't know what you're talking about’. And so we drove there one morning and we went for a walk and I was very emotional. I was bitter and I was really sad and upset because this nature park was literally a mile from where I lived. And I had no idea that it was so beautiful and that it was accessible and that it was something that I should have been introduced to as a kid. Why didn’t I know about this area? Why didn't I access it? Why didn't we make it a trip, a family trip or a school trip? And I felt a deep sense of loss and sorrow that I was in my late forties the first time I was ever going to this little hidden valley, this little majestic area of the city where I grew up.
Researching her essay on queerness in South El Monte, Stacy went to the Sugar Shack for the first time.12 The building (now JG Quality Printing) was all that remained and she grieved the barstools upon which she never sat. Nostalgia is a complex animal. It is the imagined other, the choices that weren’t made. Stacy grieves what a younger self didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, of South El Monte. She isn’t nostalgic for the bar or the bosque; but for what she could have known of them. She is nostalgic for what peace the bosque could have brought her; for the night at the Sugar Shack that could have been extraordinary.
But Stacy had to leave South El Monte. She had to go through home before she could go home. Think of self-determination as a matilija. Like all plants, it must be nurtured and given the space and resources to bloom and thrive; but, even in the right environment, you have to know how to grow a matilija. You have to know that the matilija will flower, that it will turn its face toward the sun. Naming Stacy as a Chicana lesbian from South El Monte, we establish that the matilija has blossomed here before and can blossom here again. We need each other. We seek each other out, just as Stacy and her Don Bosco friends followed the rainbow brick road to WeHo. Otherwise, we do not exist. Curator and art historian Anna Conlan writes:
Omission. . .does not simply mean marginalization; it formally classifies certain lives, histories, and practices as insignificant, renders them invisible, marks them as unintelligible, and, thereby, casts them into the realm of the unreal.13
Stacy brought queerness back to South El Monte with her and, in doing so, she further queered the 91733. Stacy’s essay on the Sugar Shack is a reconciliation of two selves: the Stacy who had to leave South El Monte and the Dr. Macías who chose to return. She queered the Catholic school dances. She queered her childhood home. She queered her prom photos and the Don Bosco boys. If nothing else, let this biography serve as an entry point to the queer maps that Stacy has been making in her scholarship for over a decade. Every site that Stacy queers becomes legible as such to future generations. She locates queerness in South El Monte, carving out spaces for present and future queer kids to exist. Existence is enough. As long as we can see each other, we cannot be made invisible.
Stacy’s forked tongue will never settle on “El Monte” or “El Manti14 ;” there’s more than one way to say home. Without our multiplicities, we could only ever be partial selves, bone dry riverbeds, fragmented and sieved. Stacy has been able to watch her niece play softball on the field where she played. She has visited the local high schools and spoke with teachers about the Sugar Shack. She has walked the Whitter Narrows Nature Center—the bosque—with Mel. She has had lunch with her mom and talked about all the places they’ve been. She picks up her niece and nibling15 at her brother’s house, which was once Charlie’s hangout house but Charlie’s a pastor now. She has visited her dad in her childhood home. She has walked South El Monte blindfolded and she still doesn’t run into any walls.
Note: Unless otherwise attributed, block quotes are from an oral history with Stacy Macías, conducted by Hannah Fradkin on April 11, 2022. Quotes are edited for clarity, with approval from Macías.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. "To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana." In The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, by AnaLouise Keating. Duke University Press, 2009.
Conlan, Anna. "Representing Possibility: Mourning, Memorial and Queer Museology." In Gender, Sexuality, and Museums, by Amy K. Levin, 253-263. London: Routledge, 2010.
Georgetown University Law Library, s.v. “Proposition 8” on Civil Rights in the United States, A Brief History. April 27, 2022. Accessed May 3, 2022, https://guides.ll.georgetown.edu/c.php?g=592919&p=4182204
González, Jerry. In Search of the Mexican Beverly Hills: Latino Suburbanization in Postwar Los Angeles. Rutgers University Press, 2018.
Juravich, Nick. "'City of Achievement': The Making of the City of South El Monte, 1955—1976". In East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte, by Romeo Guzmán, Caribbean Fragoza, Alex Sayf Cummings and Ryan Reft, 89-101. Rutgers University Press, 2020.
Macías, Stacy I. ""Somos contra la 'queer-ificacíon'"/"We reject the queer-ification of lesbianism": Lesbian political identity and anti-queer politics among Mexican lesbians and queer Chicanas-Latinas." Journal of Lesbian Studies 26, no. 1 (2022): 73-88.
Macías, Stacy I. "(Ad)Dressing Chicana/Latina Femininities: Consumption, Labor, and the Cultural Politics of Style in Latina Fashion." In MeXicana Fashions: Politics, Self-Adornment, and Identity Construction, by Aída Hurtado and Norma E. Cantú, 262-282. New York: University of Texas Press, 2021.
Macías, Stacy I. "A Gay Bar, Some Familia, and Latina Butch-Femme: Rounding Out the Eastside Circle at El Monte's Sugar Shack." In East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte, by Romeo Guzmán, Carribean Fragoza, Alex Sayf Cummings and Ryan Reft, 250-260. Rutgers University Press, 2020.
Macías, Stacy I. "Claiming Style, Consuming Culture: The Politics of Latina Self-Styling and Fashion Lines." In The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture, by Frederick Luis Aldama, 323-333. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Macías, Stacy I. "Latina and Chicana Butch/Femme in Literature and Culture." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latina and Latino Literature, by Louis G. Mendoza. Oxford University Press, 2020.
Stacy I. Macías, “Forbidden Femininities: Reimagining the Cultural Politics of Queerly Racialized Femininity in Queer Theory and Chicana/o Studies." PhD diss., UCLA, 2011.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, s.v. “El Monte,” accessed April 27, 2022, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/el-monte.
Worth, D., and R. Rodriguez. Latina Women and AIDS. SIECUS, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1987.