Skip to content

Of Jehovahs’ Witnesses and drag queens

15 November 2009

I’m still moving into my new house  and already the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been by… with a message in almost perfect English.

I realize the Witnesses have some deeply held convictions that may put them into conflict with the state (pacifism and a refusal to acknowledge the symbols of the State) which has, at times, subjected them to murderous rage.

But, the Witnesses have thrived in Mexico.  For whatever reason, per capita  there are more JWs in this country than in any other  and … in some trades… are actually at an advantage.  Los Testigos have a reputation for taking extra care of other people’s money. Although religious discrimination is technically illegal — Witnesses are openly solicited for jobs as cashiers  — amusingly in the kinds of places you don’t think a sect known for their puritanical lifestyle would be employed — like “meet markets” and dance clubs.

Of course, like everywhere else,  these rather harmless people make one “lifestyle choice” that exposes them to mainstream prejudice on occasion.  Otherwise rational, tolerant people are proud of their harassment of JWs who — shall we say — flaunt their lifestyle.  The same people who will say they don’t care what other people believe, and speak of other religious conscientious objectors like Quakers or the Amish with nothing but admiration, will often gleefully relate the stratagems and cruelties inflicted on people whose practices are not their own, but to whom a simple “no, thank you” or, at most, cold indifference, is all that is required.

I thought of that today, not just because the Witnesses left me a “welcome to the neighborhood” message (not realizing I’d lived two door away, but up a flight of stairs inside a gated porch), but because I watched another minority not my own, and one whose members don’t affect my daily life, subject to “accepted” cruelty.  Teenage boys are usually relatively respectful in Mexico, but one of the neighborhood drag queens came in from a more than a few rude taunts from the guys hanging on the corner while she was walking down the street, minding her own business and, like I was, doing nothing more provacative than carrying home some groceries.

Jehovahs’ Witnesses… drag queens… both perfectly harmless minorities that ordinary, otherwise decent people, find it permissible to attack.  But, and this always surprises me, there is an incredible tolerance for drag queens (and Jehovah’s Witnesses) within Mexico — and in Latin America as a whole.  This holds true not just for “mestizo” Mexico, where a tolerance for the differences in humanity as a whole influence the thinking, but in “white” Argentina and “black” nations like the Dominican Republic and Cuba as well.

Cuban homophobia, lingered much longer than elsewhere in Latin America, but I’ve always maintained, it’s got more to do with the Cuban government’s adherence to a 19th century Victorian ideology than anything else.   Karl Marx may have hoped the workers of the world would throw off their chains, but he expected them to adopt the same prudish middle-class values he practiced.*

Mexico is somewhat behind the curve when it comes to gay rights… only one state and the Federal District recognizing same sex unions (something Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela, etc. have considered in one way or another) although the Mexican constitution was ahead of the curve in recognizing sexual preference as a protected civil right.

But elsewhere in the Americas… Canada and the United States (especially Canada) have — like the other wealthy nations — been relatively good on protecting the civil and legal rights of sexual and religious minorities. The rest of the English-speaking Americas. No.

I mentioned the “races” of Latin America for a reason.  In another forum, on another topic, I mentioned something about homophobia in Jamaica, and one comment was incredibly racist.  While in the United States, African-Americas tend to be socially conservative for complex reasons, the rampant homophobia in the former British colonial empire (Africa and the Caribbean) seems to have more to do with who was the colonial overlord:   the ENGLISH, after all, who included sodomy in their colonial criminal code, and who settled the Americas with their puritans.

Which makes me wonder if just learning Spanish is enough to bring Jamaica into the Latin American community.  Or the community of civilized nations, for that matter:

* Reynaldo Arenas, drag queen and political dissident,  pointedly observed in his 1990 memoir, Antes que anochezca, that as a sexual minority, one is by definition a dissident, no matter the political system:  one’s identity as a human being demands you say “NO!” to the majority.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 November 2009 8:30 am

    Late last year, early this year there, Bellas Artes was swamped with Jehovahs Witnesses trying to convert me in pretty decent English. They haven’t as yet succeeded, and I haven’t seen them in a while – maybe they gave up.

    In the UK, JW and Drag queens are sometimes mocked but rarely victimised, by the common populace at any rate. We prefer ginger haired people and Huns for our venom. 🙂

  2. 15 November 2009 2:32 pm

    That was probably the annual Benito Juarez Day celebration… not just JWs, but the Protestant denominations also hold their festivities in Alameda in honor of the guy who separated Church and State. Being Mexicans, even JWs are going to have a “saint” to give an excuse for a fiesta.

  3. 15 November 2009 4:56 pm

    They were there, loitering, for weeks. I was approached about half a dozen times. They always introduced themselves by asking if I speak English. Then asked if they could tell me about a book they liked…

  4. 15 November 2009 6:43 pm

    Greetings from Brooklyn Heights, the Vatican of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, where the JWs own hundreds of millions of dollars in tax-free real estate, including the building next door to mine, 25 stories tall, thrown up on a sliver of land 19 feet wide that no one ever thought would be developed, and which resulted in the bricking shut of my two bedroom windows that had views of lower Manhattan? “Harmless”? If we ever start burning heretics at the stake again, I’ve got a list….

  5. 15 November 2009 6:47 pm

    Only a list Frank? I turned mine into a book…. 🙂

    (Not that I have any JW’s in it, for the record. I live too far from Brooklyn Heights)

Leave a Reply to garydenness Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: