“He died for you,” mi tía Rosita would say to me, pointing at the vividly detailed sculpture of Jesus Christ at our local church in Santo Domingo. I remember having to sleep with the lights on for days after taking a close look at the crucifixion figurine — the one with the weeping tears of blood.
From a young age, I personally felt that the church had an urgent mission to make me feel frightened and controlled. I understand that might not be everyone’s sentiments, especially that of my devotedly Catholic aunts that begged me to go to church. But something didn’t sit well with me about people praying on their knees and crying in emotional distress in front of cement statues.
Still, I found myself in the Church pews a few times as a child. Little did I know just how present and problematic the guilt trip that comes with religion would be throughout my entire life — its stigma that asks you to beg for forgiveness or casts judgment on anything that goes against traditional beliefs. I came to realize religion’s true power in the Dominican Republic and the room for freedom it has repressed for so many in our culture, communities, politics, economy, music, and relationships as a consequence.
As a teenager, I discovered there was a world outside of Catholic institutions. Me and my friends started going to every single concert in our hometown supporting local bands. In that, I learned about the music artists rebelling against our country, a country governed by the Catholic Church. These music concerts sparked joy in me: its togetherness and artists constantly questioning social issues. That music community felt more like my type of church, and the legendary rock band Toque Profundo was our God. So, when my mom told me back in the ‘90s she heard its lead singer Tony Almont, with ears pierced, tattoos, and long dreadlocks, was allegedly not allowed to enter a church near his home because of his impious appearance, it became apparent how rejection and punishment are used to quiet anyone that colors outside the religiously tangled lines.
I came to realize religion’s true power in the Dominican Republic and the room for freedom it has repressed for so many.
Fast forward two decades, rising music artist Tokischa posted four images of herself on Twitter with the caption: “Los Cueros también oran.” In the photos, she posed in a white lace bustier, nude panties, and a matching lace headpiece with horns in front of a mural of the Virgin of Altagracia in Jarabacoa, a town in La Vega Province of the Dominican Republic. The church and government authorities, valga la redundancia, went furiously after her.
“We condemn Tokischa’s irreverent and disrespectful attitude that failed the ethical norms and moral values that govern an exemplary civilized coexistence,” the municipal government of Jarabacoa stated on their social media. They also said they trust that other young artists will not imitate this behavior and requested immediate legal punishment against Tokischa, adding that it was a direct attempt against dignity. The parish priest at the Inmaculada Concepción de La Vega Cathedral, Francisco Jiménez, told Caoba Digital that Tokischa’s behavior was shameful and low, and congratulated Mayor Kelvin Cruz for taking actions against the artist.
In understanding why this outrage unfolded for Tokischa, who identifies as bisexual, we must understand the history of church and state in the Dominican Republic —a domino effect that centers the Bible and trickles into law and the Constitution, following with our families, friends, and society at large.
In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a public decree legally donating all seas, islands, and lands discovered by Columbus to the Spanish crown, as long as these weren’t already under the dominance of another Christian power. How did the Pope have the power to do this? Conveniently for the King and Queen, the Pope was the “Vicar of Christ on Earth,” so he could do with Earth as he wished.
The consecration of marriage between the Church and the Dominican state, the concordat, was later signed on June 16, 1954, by dictator Rafael Trujillo — a similar treaty signed in Spain by Francisco Franco, Italy by Benito Mussolini, and Germany by Adolf Hitler. As explained by El Mitin, the Dominican Republic was allegedly the first country in Latin America to sign a concordat. The agreement currently remains to this day, and it establishes that the Dominican State is made responsible for protecting the church and recognizing Catholicism as the official religion. Among the incredibly long list of privileges, the government economically sustains the bishop, the diocesan curia, the religious seminary, and the parochial priests.
For over 500 years, we’ve been locked in a Catholic systematic and heteropatriarchal jail. With history permeating into the present day, Dominican lawyer Glenys De Jesús Checo recently spoke in a lecture on how Lesbian Feminism understands heterosexuality not only as a sexual orientation but as a political regime that allows the existence and subsistence of the patriarchy. As a consequence, heteropatriarchy is a sociopolitical system of domination in which man and heterosexuality have supremacy over other genders and other sexual orientations. Tokischa breaks all the boundaries established by Christianity, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism, religions that still manage to exert their authority on what is publicly acceptable on matters of gender, the body, and sexual conduct in the DR. It’s important to note that controlling what comes to light and what stays in the dark is also a priority for the church, considering what we have learned about some priests and what they allegedly do to women and children when nobody is watching.
Would artists feel the need to speak up if this religious imposition didn’t exist? Similar to all the local bands I grew up listening to, it’s precisely the church’s righteous double standard that gives birth and nurtures Tokischa’s artistic opposition because such a prison can only be escaped with spectacular creativity. It’s not about deception with her. It’s about being devoted to the truth of human behavior. Whether it’s bitter, or sweet. Harmful, or tender. It’s the freedom of an unapologetic sexual exploration and everything that comes with it.
When I first listened to her songs, I, myself, had to confront my own unease with Tokischa’s prowess and liberation, especially living in a country that upholds men’s misogynist behaviors in music and beyond. Although I’m a feminist and activist for women having agency over their bodies, sexuality, and self-expression, I had to reflect on why her music video for “Desacato Escolar” was almost unbearable to watch. That’s the thing about casual machismo and the guilt trip we Dominicans grew up with, and how its normalization is rooted so deep within our culture it’s almost invisible. Ultimately, Tokischa is the unsettling red pill from The Matrix, taking us on an uncomfortable yet exciting trip down the rabbit hole and empowering an intoxicating sense of freedom.
Tokischa is the forbidden fruit pushing people in the Dominican Republic — including myself — and soon, the world, to question the hypocritical society we have participated in for far too long. It’s now time that we see that there’s no snake here hoping to deceive you into taking a bite, but an artist pushing you to look at freedom differently. It’s wholly up to the individual to see the temptation for more than what it is: an urgent need for retrospection as a country.