116: Bisexual Visibility: Joan Baez

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By Evan Jones & Paul Hobbs, Evan Jones, and Paul Hobbs. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Our episode today will first air on Bisexual Visibility Day so we want to wish all of our favorite bisexuals a proud, and happy day of visibility. And in honor of both Latin history month and Bixsexual Visibility we have invited Vima Manfredo, our favorite, bisexual Latina, to join us today. We also have David Rivera, Paul’s fiance! Before we get to the story of the incredible Joan Baez, we are going to have a brief discussion around the usage of the term Latinx.

An ongoing discussion around the growing popularity of the term Latinx has created division in Latin/Hispanic communities in the last few years. With a current viral facebook post by user James Lee furthering the contention. A summary of his points are as follows:

The goal of the X in Latinx is to remove gender, ie not LatinO or LatinA. But it presents problems when you are speaking Spanish because it is an English idea. Luckily, the Spanish language already has a gender neutral letter. The letter E.

…The letter E can be exchanged for any gendered word ending in an A or O in the Spanish language and it works wonderfully. Latine works.

In my experience, Latinx took off like a rocket over the last few years, in no small part because of the political class, which we know is largely white-led. But it doesn’t accomplish what Latine does.

Latinx was easy to understand and popular because of its association with LGBTQ equality, but it doesn’t really focus on Latino and Hispanic culture the way the gender neutral term Latine does.

Latinx has been used and accepted widely by non-Latino/Hispanic communities in an effort to be inclusive. I appreciate it, but it’s felt like something more so used by outsiders. On the other hand, Latine has been adopted and used more widely in Spanish speaking countries

…If we give preference to Latinx simply because it caught on faster than Latine, we ignore the conflicts it has with the Spanish language, we lose the potential for it’s true intentions, and we leave behind the people in our community who can’t speak English.

And even though Lee stated that the term Latinx had taken off in the U.S., he gave the usage more credit than it has earned. The Washington Post released a poll in August of this year that showed less than 23% of Latin Americans have ever even heard of the term Latinx let alone used it as an identifier. And even though 42% of millennials polled had heard the term, it still is not the dominant preference. Mark Hugo Lopez, a director at Pew Research, explained the demographic of those most likely to use Latinx. “Younger people, college-educated Hispanics and notably young Hispanic women were the ones most likely to say that they used the term ‘Latinx’ themselves to describe their identity,”. Whatever the outcome of this debate over the next few months or years, it is important for white and non-latin queer people to listen to the communities and not necessarily the organizations that coin these terms. We must keep the best interests of our people as a whole above the interests of entities and businesses.

And speaking of those who fought for the people above corporate and government issues, today we cover the notorious Joan Baez. Baez was a singer and activist who famously came out as bisexual in a 1972 interview. Born on Staten Island in 1941, Joan Chandos Baez was the daughter of two immigrants. Her father, Albert Baez, was born in Mexico yet he spent most of his life in America. While her mother, Joan Chandos, had immigrated from Edinburgh, Scotland. It is possible that Joan’s parents bonded over the fact that they were both PK’s (preacher kids). Chando’s father was an Anglican minister and Baez father was a methodist preacher who served and advocated for the spanish speaking communities of New York. The religious ties didnt’ stick for the young couple who converted to Quakerism when Joan was a a child. However, the roots of activism ran deep in the Baez family.

Growing up as a Latina in New York during the 40s and 50s was hard on Joan who faced daily discrimination. She was only 2 years old when the Zoot Suit Riots had erupted in Los Angeles in 1943. Zoot Suits were wide-legged, tight cuffed pants covered by a long coat with wide lapels. It was a popular style in Afro and Latin-American communities wich sparked the racist rumors that Zoot Suitors were murderous and untrustworthy. The harassment over the outfits finally lead to a 6 day riot that included white American soldiers running through the streets, beating men, teens and children in Zoot Suits and stripping them of their clothing. The unrest sparked other riots specifically against Latin-Americans in at least 6 other cities that summer of 43.

Even after nearly 500,000 Hispanic Americans served in World War II, the discrimination and harassment did not end. Nationalism that had fostered during the war shown through strongly in the following years. Segregation and Jim Crow ruled the day and included more than just Black Americans. Mexicans, along with others of Latin descent, were segregated and barred from schools, businesses, and various organizations. The same redlining that kept Blacks from living in particular neighborhoods also kept Latin-Americans out of the same areas. And the social injustice was all in addition sanctioned government oppression. The late 1950’s Supreme Court ruling of Hernandez vs Texas granted equal protections to Mexican American’s as well as other non-white groups. This case originated after Pete Hernandez was convicted of murder by an all white jury in 1954 in a county that had not seen a person of color in the jury box in 25 years. But even as change gained momentum, the battle was only beginning.

Before she found activism though Joan Baez found music. Her first instrument was a ukulele and her fist concert at age 13 sealed her passion for music. Even though her parents believed that pursuing this career would lead to a life of drugs and debauchery, by age 18 Joan was playing in bars and clubs up and down New England. At age 19 she landed her first record deal and long before the world knew the superstar Madonna, the nickname was given to Joan Baez. Who was often referred to as “The Barefoot Madonna”, “Earth’s Mother” and simply, “Madonna”. Baez spoke about her nickname and the struggle of early success decades later:

It was complicated by the image given to me: zap, you’re the Virgin Mary, the Madonna. I thought that was a terrific idea. In fact, I was sure I was, and I felt very benign and wonderful. Because up until then–I was eighteen–the only image I had of myself was of a dumb Mexican. I’d come from a place where Mexicans were called dumb peach-pickers. So I already had a big identity problem. I was just sorting things out, and all of a sudden somebody said, “Bingo, you’re the Madonna with the achingly pure soprano.” Well, who isn’t gonna opt for that, if those are your choices?

Over the next decade Joan would rise to national fame through the release of 14 records, her feature in the documentary Woodstock, and her first memoir, Daybreak. Most have considered Joan the most prolific folk singer of teh 1960’s with 13 of her first 14 albums landing on Billboard’s Top 100 list. Yet the glitz and the glam were tainted. Early in her career Joan recognized the hypocrisy of racism when she would be asked, as a Latina, to sing in a bar that only allowed whites. At a young age she took a stance to turn down any venue that was segregated but her activism went even further. Joan had heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak and was moved to tears by his words. A few years later they would meet and become personal friends. In 1963, Baez performed the song “We Shall Overcome” during the defining March on Washington (when MLK gave his “I Have a Dream” speek).

Two years later she joined her friend Dr. King in Selma to march for voting rights. Though her musical career was smashing one success after another, Joan’s devotion to resistance and civil unrest slowly took precedence. In 1964, at 23, she co-founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence which later morphed into the Resource Center for Nonviolence. Baez called for draft and tax resistance at her concerts. She was arrested twice for blocking recruitment centers and spent more than 30 days in jail at time. Her outspoken critique of the Vietnam War caused the FBI to scrutinize and harass her and they even launched a smear campaign that claimed Baez and King were having an affair.

By the 1970’s the girl nicknamed the Madonna had quite grown up. She was becoming disillusioned with the music industry, particularly those who sung about activism but never had the courage to go to the front lines. Those such as her own flame Bob Dylan. The two had a long and tumultuous relationship that spanned decades but seemed mostly connected by their love of music. It was David Harris who captured Joans activist heart. Harris and Baez had both been arrested while protesting Army recruitment. After their releas they moved onto an anti-draft commune and in 1968 the couple was married. Just one year later Joan was pregnant and David was arrested for resisting the draft. He spent 15 months in prison while Joan delivered their baby boy Gabriel. Yet though they bonded over their activism, the couple eventually divorced in 1973.

Only a few months before her divorce was finalized Joan had spent Christmas being bombed by American troops. The Christmas Bombing of Hanoi, North Vietnam happened while Joan was there trying to visit American prisoners or war. The 11 day bombing only strengthened her resolve against the Vietnam war, though Baez did take aim at Vietnam’s human rights violations. Her work on world wide human rights issues continued to expand in the 70’s when she launched her own human rights group, Humanitas International. This work became her main focus in the ensuing decades, though she continued to release several more records thought various labels after ending her 11 year contract with Vanguard Records in 1971. Over the next 20 years Joan would tour the world searching to help those in need while periodically hosting a concert or releasing an album.

Her fight for the LGBTQ+ marched alongside her fight for all human rights. In 1978 she hosted benefits to raise awareness and funding to fight the Briggs Initiative. A California bill aimed at preventing LGB people from workign in public schools. That same year Baez took part in protests over the assassination of gay politician Harvey Milk. She also took part in the 1985 Live Aid event that raised funds and awareness about the AIDS crisis. Though her sexual orientation has often been overshadowed by her music and civil rights activism, Joan first identified as a bisexual more than 45 years ago. Someone asked her once if Baez coming out explained her strong lesbian fanbase to which Joan commented.Is that what it is? But they were there before that, too.

Throughout the years Joan continued to remain an icon of her time though she faded from the spotlight. However her activism never slowed down. Over the last few decades Joan has traveled from China to Argentina and more to fight for humanitarian rights. At age 79, she continues to stand for justice and truth calling out the issues of the day. As late as 2011 she was still performing for political protest concerts when she performed at Occupy Wall Street. And as recently as 2019 she’s been classified as a rebel for championing the Catalan Independence Movement in Spain. For more than 60 years, Joan Baez has continued to put the people first and serve as an icon for Latin-American and LGBTQ+ folk everywhere.

Your recommended resources are Daybreak by Joan Baez which catalogs the first decade of her activism. Or check out some of her music on Spotify such as the album Diamonds and Rust or the album Gracias A La Vida. There is also a documentary called Joan Baez on YouTube that we have linked on our script.

  1. Latinx – https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/17/latinx-not-preferred-term-among-hispanics-survey-says/
  2. James Lee – https://www.facebook.com/jmlee77/posts/10164212147660503
  3. Baez (wiki) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Baez
  4. Baez (Stone) – https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/joan-baez-the-rolling-stone-interview-71113/
  5. Zoot (wiki) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoot_Suit_Riots

The post 116: Bisexual Visibility: Joan Baez appeared first on Your Queer Story.

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