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“Dance of the 41″… Porfirian porn?

17 May 2021

Not the sex scenes — the misuse of history, the reliance on stereotypes, and the unnecesary rehabilitation of protangonist, Ignancio de la Torre.

Carlos Monsivías, who if not inventing, at least made respectable, the study of LGBTQ+ culture and history in Mexico, called the “incident” of the night of 17 November 1901 the birth of homosexuality in Mexico. Certainly, it was the first time gay sex (or perhaps “same gender sexual activity”) was a media sensation, discussed widely (and condemned) in the coded language of the press of the time, an object of ridicule to Jose Posada, but saying more not about men having sex with men (nothing new since … well… forever) but about Posada’s (and society’s) distaste for the decadent “one percenters” of the era.

4.1.1

Herbiero Frias, one of the more populat journalists of his time, had written about prison drag queens, and there are plenty of records, going back as far to the Conquest , if not before1. On the other hand, would the subject had been explored had it not, as Monsivaís said, marked the beginning of such scholarship? As it was, the word, although coined in Germany in 1869, wasn’t used in English until 1901, and barely used in Spanish (“homosexualidad”) until after de la Torre’s rather undigified death (during a hemorroid operatin in 1918).

In itself, it should not have been a problem with the film, although presenting what is seen as a “secret vice” in the film is something reserved for the very wealthy, and worse… that it was particularly unjust that rich twits shoud be the ones to suffer. Which is historically incorrect. In the film, and in popular imagination, the wealthy party-goers were carted off to the Yucatan (for back of a better term, the Porfirian gulag) when in fact, they were let go with a stern warning and a fine. There was no law against sex among persons of the same gender. “Sodomy” had been strick from the legal code in the late 1850s, although there was (and still is) a crime called “outraging public morals”… and pedastry. Those who were sent to the “gulag” were not those nice, overly pampered main characters, but the rent boys hired for the occasion (the second block of what is now calle Madero was the Zona Rosa of the era). As it was, it’s not even established that de la Rorre was at the party (although one of the Emperor Maximilano’s godson’s was, along with several other socialites of the time) … nor was it a secret club. NOR were the particiants being particularly under surveillance by the police. What brought them to the venue was that neighors had noticed a lot of carriages showing up at a hall rented for what the landlord had been told was a baptismal party… Carriages being the limosines of the time, and baptismal parties, with a baby as the guest of honor, usually don’t go on all night.

Not to say this wasn’t a massive injustice, only that to call this a “true story” is more than a stretch. Nor that the legend is not important. Given the furor raised in public (or at least by the upper middle class and upper class) and the emphasis put on propriety by late Porfirians, the story nicely encapsulates the hypocrisy of the upper classes, and of the sypathethetically portrayed de la Torre. Who was, by all acccounts, not only a rotten husband, but a absolute monster who served as a symbol for all that was wrong with his father-in-law’s too long regime. As Emiliano Zapata, who took care of the horses on de la Torre’s vast estate in Morelos noted, the horses lived better than any person in the state… and was a key factor in Zapata’s own revolutionary conversion.

What bothers me is that I really liked the film. The sets are beautiful, evoking what I want to believe is how the wealthy lived at the time. The sex scenes are erotica rhat than porn, well done, and one sympathizes both with Amanda Díaz (de la Torre’s deceived wife) and his partner, the entirely fictional Evaristo Rivas. But, if the true story, or rather the true fiction, of the Dance of the 41 had any impact on Mexican consciousness, it was in creating a stereotype of men who prefer men as either decadent rich assholes, or as effeminate. And that made me feel dirty.

  1. Against Nature: Sodomy and Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America,” Zeb Torcorici, History Compass 10/2 (2012) pp. 161-178 (DOI: 1478-0542.2011.00823) and “When Medicine is a Sin: Sex and Heresy in Colonial Mexioco“, Farren Yaro, Recipes Project. Also: “Love (that dare not speak its name) among the ruins“, MexFiles, 5 November 2013.

Jesús Campos, “La verdadera historia del baile de los 41 y el yerno de Díaz” (Chilango, 15 May 2021)

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