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A MARICÓN BEAUTY

THE MUSTACHE is where they met. The Chicano and gay-liberation movements of the late 1970s weren’t closely aligned politically, but the artists Joey Terrill and Teddy Sandoval, in whose lives these movements intersected, found the nexus already coded onto their bodies. Cholo and clone came together right above their lips.

Terrill’s mustache was the first thing I cruised at the exhibition “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.,” produced by Pacific Standard Time and cocurated by C. Ondine Chavoya and David Evans Frantz, which traveled this summer to New York’s Hunter College Art Galleries. A wall-size blowup of Sandoval’s photo of Terrill stood sentry at the entrance of 205 Hudson Gallery. Terrill’s back arches against a serape on the floor, his Zapata-style ’stache partially obscuring a smile. Centered in the frame is a tight white T-shirt emblazoned with MARICON, the name of an early iteration of a collaborative project between Terrill and Sandoval, to be worn at protests and pride parades. (On some versions, the back reads ROLE MODEL. There was a MALFLORA option, too, if that fit better.) Like the mustache, the shirt addresses its own twoness: Spanish speakers could read the embrace of homophobic slurs as a queer “coming out”; to the white-dominated gay community, wearers were announcing themselves as Chicanx. If you identified as both, you could wear one yourself!

TERRILL STUDIED ART for three years in the early ’70s at Immaculate Heart College in LA, which still taught a curriculum by Sister Corita Kent that blended graphic design, Pop art, and antiwar protest. Like Sister Corita, Terrill imagined an audience beyond the art world. He came across Sandoval’s work at the 1975 “Chicanarte” exhibition at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Art Park. He was excited by the older artist’s homoerotic imagery, a sharp contrast to the appropriations of Aztec and Mexican sources that typified straight Chicano art. Terrill introduced himself to Sandoval, a member of the art collective Asco, at a planning meeting for another show, “Escandalosas.” The two became friends, laying the groundwork for what theorist José Muñoz would later call a “queer and Latino counterpublic.”

Joey Terrill wearing his MARICON T-shirt, 1975. Photo: Teddy Sandoval.

Sandoval’s drawings and paintings map overlapping minority masculinities, their figures’ faces blank, the features deracinated except for that lush mustache. The detail is in the clothing, such as the leopard-print shirt in Las Locas, 1980, or the popped-collar polo in the late-’70s Haberdasher and Hill Furs, advertising a men’s store in Long Beach. Sandoval seems interested less in individuals than in the construction of a cultural space from available signifiers. His figures are cinched with a pose, an attitude of gay desire. His graphic style was also employed by the younger Terrill in such works as Dormido, 1975, a screen print depicting a black-mustached man embracing a blond-mustached one. Their shared aesthetic made legible an experience outside the interdictions of gay racism and Chicano machismo.

The cholo/clone was the protagonist of Sandoval’s Butch Gardens School of Art, a late-’70s male mail-art project named after a Latin gay bar on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. His postcards depict the figure in bandanna and tank in front of a background of floating tacos, or bare-assed, balls dangling, in work boots and tube socks, B.G. tattooed across his left cheek. Richard T. Rodriguez describes the actual Butch Gardens as a place where “mostly gay and lesbian cholos and cholas congregated,” including such artists as Jack Vargas and Gronk (Glugio Nicandro). “It was very strategic that they called it the ‘school of art,’” Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Rita Gonzalez told me. “It was a way of claiming a status because they were each other’s school, each other’s teachers, because where was the queer pedagogy in art schools at that time? Nonexistent.”

Sandoval’s imaginary institution took out “ads” in Homeboy Beautiful, a self-published collaboration Terrill spearheaded in 1978. It’s a fotonovela that mimics the tabloids, featuring fictional scandals, advice columns, and classifieds. Issue one promises an “H.B. Exposé: Homo-Homeboys!”: OH MI HOMBRE YO LO QUIERO MUCHO! (Oh man, I want it so bad!) reads a thought bubble emerging from a photo of Terrill’s handsome profile. In the story “What Really Happens on Those Hot Summer Nights in Geraghty Loma!,” Terrill, in the guise of his alter ego, the journalist “Santo,” lampoons gay panic and internalized homophobia while breathlessly reporting on his infiltration of a private party in East LA:

As two o’clock approached the crowd numbered 50! Yes 50! Most of the homeboys had their “sir guys” and T-shirts off and were dancing cheek to cheek! Boy I’ve heard of vato locos but this was too much! I was really disgusted. I promised myself, one more dance and then I was leaving.

Santos doesn’t leave. Instead, he stumbles on, then engages in, an orgy, depicted in overlapping photos, respectively captioned “Homo Homeboys frenching!!!” and “Going Down on a Homeboy; Rape? or mutual desire?” Most shocking: two pachucos on a couch, Judy Garland albums in hand, captioned, “Let’s hear ‘over the rainbow.’”

Page from Homeboy Beautiful 1 (1978). “H.B. Exposé.”

Issue two, titled “E.L.A. Terrorism,” features a mock takeover of the Homeboy Beautiful offices by “actual” homo-homeboys. Illustrated with sexy drawings by Sandoval, it ends with a one-page comic titled “The Adventures of Spooky and Puppet.” The first panel shows our eponymous heroes in their lowrider, one in a bandanna, the other in a stocking cap, mustaches bisecting their nondescript faces. “Spooky and Puppet are deeply in love and face all the problems of homo-homeboys everywhere,” a text bubble reads. When they pull into an alley near Whittier Boulevard to make out, a woman attacks them: “Jotos! Cabrones, Maricones get the fuck outa my alley you faggots scum get out before I kick your ass!” she yells. “That was Lydia my moms cousin whos my sisters comadre!” says Puppet. Not safe in their own neighborhood, not even from their own families, they drive off to Hollywood, hoping to “find someplace where we can go and feel comfortable.” There was no issue three.

THE SCHOLAR Robb Hernandez calls Terrill and Sandoval’s projects maricónography, a visual form that answers violence against queer Chicanx bodies “with an equally combative, unapologetic, and flamboyant set of tactics.” It’s a social choreography through which the artists perform the “someplace comfortable” that eluded Spooky and Puppet. But any peace was temporary. The AIDS crisis wore on; their community was decimated. Terrill lost Sandoval, his “artistic collaborator-soulmate,” to the disease in 1995.

Terrill’s work on the Spanish-language comic Chicos Modernos (1989–90) brings the techniques he developed on the staging ground of the Chicanx art world into direct contact with a contemporary audience living the Homeboy Beautiful life. Because Chicos Modernos was published with support from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, its depictions of sex were proscribed; but Terrill nevertheless found a way to pursue his maricónography at a time when the gay Latino body was catastrophically vulnerable. The faces of Chicos Modernos are more expressive—cartoonish, but specific. Its subject is a newly synthesized queer Latino. It offers practical lessons on condom use, HIV testing, and the enduring reality of “EL SIDA” (AIDS). But it’s not all didactics. The characters watch over each other: El Diablo, a homo-homeboy par excellence, has a thing with a closeted married man who doesn’t want to have safe sex. His friends intervene, and he realizes he is putting himself and others at risk. In the third issue, El Diablo shares his revelation with undocumented sex workers on his street. He meets Jorge, a new love interest, while passing out safe-sex literature.

Chicos Modernos is rendered in bold, abstract shapes, with the narrative running through panels and across pages, pulling the eye like a trailer along a bumpy LA freeway. It recalls the Hernandez brothers’ classic, ongoing Chicano comic Love and Rockets (1982–), which also explores Latinidad and sexuality, as well as Bronx-based cartoonist Ivan Velez Jr.’s Tales of the Closet (1987). The Hernandez brothers create independently authored arcs; among the queer storylines in Jaime Hernandez’s version of the masterfully embellished fantasia is the on-and-off sapphic friendship of Maggie and Hopey. The panels of Velez’s Tales of the Closet echo the uncomfortable density of its Queens setting, trapping the cutely drawn characters—a multicultural cross section of queer youth—in a struggle against the ever-present violence of gay bashing. In contrast, Chicos Modernos imagines a quotidian utopia; its close-knit, mostly gay-male-identified community is an urgent and direct model for survival.

Chicos Modernos came out when I was in high school. While it was immensely popular in Spanish-speaking gay bars, I never saw it. My dad, a Spanish professor, was one of the founders of the Chicano studies department at San Diego State University, and I grew up around what we then called “Chicano culture,” which I now understand to have been a somewhat academic version of it. I was not exposed to Terrill’s and Sandoval’s radical queer practices. Counterpublics have limits; it’s part of the strategy, but it also means not everyone will find them. I remember feeling deeply troubled by the double negative of being gay and Latino (the term Latinx wasn’t popularized until after the millennium), and the collision of the two selfhoods in me engendered an awareness of the theatricality of identity. Funny thing, though: Without even knowing why, soon as I could, I grew a mustache.

Alexandro Segade is an artist based in New York.