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Relax don’t do it When you want to go to it

7 July 2007

(Edited and revised from the original)

I always had a problem with Gary Jenning’s “Aztec” (though the series is worth reading, if just to enjoy quibbling with the author’s interpretations of events, and to see how he manages to fit in everybody and everything into one person’s life). The “cuinlotín,” are a modern “gay” couple — artists, of course.

Jenning’s treatment of the two artists is a 20th century projection of his thinking and culture (Jennings was an Englishman) based on something alien to Aztec thinking — and that of modern Mexico.


Artists were not considered rarified creatures in Aztec culture, nor are they seen as some exotic species by the Mexicans today is beside the point. Artsy = faggy to us, so if you’re going to have a gay couple, they have to be artists. Not farmers, not warriors, but … something queer.


Not that romantic friendships or even sodomy are anything new… or that there weren’t effeminate men (even among the Aztecs) before the 19th century. But until the Germans, and then the English, got on their catagorizing kick, no one thought of making a clear distinction between gender preference and behavior… or that certain types of behavior said anything about one’s sexual orientation.


Consider these two photos of homeless people… the Mexicans on the right are comfortable with each other’s bodies and don’t read anything into it. The gringos (even the probably Hispanic guy) space themselves, preserving their autonomy.




I hadn’t really thought about it, but I have noticed before that Mexicans – and Latins in general – are much more comfortable around each other than we gringos. I’ve been amused before by the clueless (by choice) gringos who assumed every man they saw with his arm around another man’s shoulders was a gay couple (or, when they’d see what was probably a padrino and ahijido, assumed the younger man was a prostitute). And, I got a perverse pleasure out of hearing a tableful of very nasty old queens on the Zona Rosa trying to figure out my relationship with a Mexican friend I properly greeted with an abrazo… we just don’t do that.


According to a California scholar named John Ibson, we did at one time. Ibson put together photos of U.S. men in groups from the 1880s to the 1950s – which sounds interesting – and wrote a semi-interesting (but also, semi-academic, i.e., pretentious) essay about his own research. His theory is that “homosexual,” a word that didn’t exist in English until about 1900 has changed the way we relate to each other, and we’re so conscious of how men are supposed to relate to each other, that we unconsciously adopt a “manly” pose.


Take a look at these two soccer teams… on the left, a college team from the U.S., on the right, the 2006 Mexican national team…




Mexicans – and Latins – don’t play by those rules, though maybe the Catalans do. This next photo is from a website for latina girls. How many male rock bands (this happens to be “La Lay” from Chile) in the U.S. pose like this?




When I first looked at the “issue” in 2004, I only looked at half the equation:


“gay” means effeminate men or masculine women. Behaviors we consider gay (good manners, cultural interests like the opera or women’s fashion, concern or body image and appearance) are neutral or positive values here.


But… Pancho Villa openly cried like a girl at Madero’s funeral. Obregón wrote morose poetry and had a biting wit. Zapata was a snappy dresser and very, very polite. And, if you’ve ever heard a tape of Francisco Franco, or read anything about the old dictator, he sounded “nelly” and was a fussy old queen… and hardly gay.


Citius64, who is hip and trendy, but not pretentious, wrote recently about Catalan scholar Oscar Guasch, who recently published a study called “La crisis de la heterosexualidad”. Citius, citing Vin Diesel and “World of Warcraft” has it over Prof. Ibson in the readablity department. Guasch, whose work I don’t know (I can’t read Catalan, and can’t afford the book anyway, even if it is in Spanish), makes the point that the late 19th century also saw the birth of “heterosexuality” as a concept

But, both Gausch and Prof. Ibson make the same point… we’ve got outselves into a situation where we act… consciously or unconsciously… according to some arbitrary set of rules. We assume the rules are universal, or at least the same throughout the Americas… they’re not.



Is it that Latin America is Catholic and communal and the North is Protestant and individualistic? Is it the Napoleonic Code (which never said a word about consensual sex)? Is it just that the Latin Americans just don’t give a shit what people think? Or is it something different about us? Friends of mine criticize us gringos for psychologizing everything… but we seem to be trapped in the psychology of 1900, and it’s where — or rather HOW — we stand.

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