Contextualizing queer life and death in Colima, Mexico.
BY ALEXIS STERGAKIS
June 20, 2018
Most current statistics seed Mexico as the second most dangerous country in Latin America to be LGBTQIA+.
The number of fatalities among trans and gender-diverse people from 2008 and 2016 alone, number over 290. In 2016, following a review of 20 years of publicly available data on LGBTQIA+ violence, the Citizens’ Commission Against Homophobic Hate Crimes reported that the largest group of victims of homophobic attacks of men, at a rate of 976 murders, followed by those identified as transgender with 226 reported cases. The majority of these attacks were committed by men.
As data on incidence and occurrence of violence and fatalities among sexually and gender diverse people are not systematically collected, the actual number is likely greater with same commission estimating figures as high as three or four fatalities per fatality recorded. Skewing statistics of LGBTQIA+ hate crimes comes not only from a failure of Mexican institutions to systematically record LGBTQIA+ data, cases are often recorded as crimes of passion, rather than as a homophobia motivated hate crime. Further pushing data into the shadows is a culture of under-reporting of hate crimes by victims of violence, stemming from a history of mistrust and further victimization from police and the judicial system.
What we do know from this limited data and extensive narrative evidence collected by local and international organizations, is that impunity for crimes against LGBTQIA+ has fostered endemic violence against the queer community in Mexico.
Violence which not only persists, but has surged since president Enrique Peña Nieto proposed pro-queer legislative action and the nation wide legalization of same sex marriage in 2016.
On the brink of modernization, or deepening conservatism
Mexico’s veil of political progressivism through recent political rhetoric and incremental action towards marriage equality and gender affirmation, is not as forward moving as it seems. The domestication of LGBTQIA+ inclusive laws, such as the right to legally change ones gender, continue to be stalled at state level. It is an open secret that current President Enrique Peña Nieto is not supported by his own political party (Institutional Revolutionary Party - PRI), in his public advocacy for the institution of LGBTQIA+ equality in law.
Political conservatism around LGBTQIA+ rights across political parties in Mexico remains a threat to the queer community, with many fearing a backslide on rights and protections following upcoming federal and local elections.
Parties such as National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) have adopted a strong LGBTQIA+ agenda at local level, and many LGBTQIA+ citizens hold hope for further progression of queer rights agenda with the election of MORENA’s presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (most commonly and affectionately referred to in short as AMLO). But others are skeptical that the pro queer agenda is embedded as a party priority at federal level.
In a Queer Here interview with Leopoldo Cortés, Sexual Diversity Coordinator within political party PRI in Jalisco State shared, that although PRI is more of a central party he has seen a recent shift towards the conservative end of the political spectrum. Cortés believes that the battle for elevating the queer agenda lies in the fact that although the president supports the LGBT agenda, there remains members inside the party that social conservatives within the party is preventing the antiquating of state and federal laws. The opposition within the party is largely motivated by party concerns with not alienating the large conservative base of electoral voters, especially given that it is election year - something which speaks to Mexico’s widespread conservatism.
In many cities and towns across Mexico, there continues to be an expectation of femininity and masculinity to be performed in a way that conforms to the traditional compulsory binaries of gender and sexuality.
Macho culture and a history of queer violence
Historically machismo was introduced and instituted in Mexico by Spanish conquistadors as a reaction to indigenous peoples interpretations of sexuality and gender - practices such as male to male sexual activities and ‘cross-dressing’ were deemed as sinful and immoral in the eyes of the Spanish and the church. Machismo culture was fostered and endorsed by the catholic church as a way to preserve male power and female submission and purity.
A great scar left by the violent process of colonization in Mexico, machismo today continues to be instituted as a tool to control and oppress queer bodies and expression. In machismo culture there is no room for any expression of gender or sexuality outside of the binary. To be queer is seen as feminine or weak and its divergence from the expected norms of gender and sexuality are met with ridicule and violence - which we see today reflected in the soaring rates of femicides and LGBT murders.
LGBT related hate crimes against the queer community in Mexico are overwhelmingly committed by men where queerness is seen as a threat to the heteronormative status quo. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, between 2005 and 2013 in Mexico, 555 homicides targeting individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity were reported the majority of perpetrator of this violence were cited as male.
Colima, a state clinging to the Western coast of Mexico, centered by its capital Colima City, is no exception in its experiences of macho culture and queer violence.
Machismo making and tradition in Colima, Mexico
In 2017 the queer community of Colima was shaken by several deaths of trans women and persistent ongoing threats of violence. However, such are the negative attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ in Colima, testimonies of violence and daily harassment are largely hidden. As Queer Here have documented, Trans* women in particular are subject to catcalling, threats of and actual violence.
Machismo culture in Colima is performed in various ways, mainly through gender role playing in the home and workplace, but is is also reflected and deeply connected to traditional cultural celebrations, as this photo essay documents.
Once such example, is the annual ‘Charrotaurinas de Villa de Álvarez’ festival.
The Cabalgata, as it is more commonly referred to, is a 160 year old celebration of the Charro-taurinas - a celebration of rancheros and bull fighting. Although the origins of the festival are in celebrating the feast of the city’s patron saint Philip of Jesus, the Cabalgata has evolved to centre primarily on Charreada events - displays of horsemanship and bullfighting which take place in “La Petatera” (bullring). The week of Charreada activities build towards the final celebration, and much anticipated ‘Gasolina’ parade.
In a recent interview, Colima state congress representative for political party PAN Javier Ceballos, says every effort must be made to preserve the festival citing its events as “an intangible cultural heritage”.
The festival is an opportunity for masculinity to be on display. The ‘charro’ figure which is central to the festival, traditionally has symbolized masculinity through his dramatic feats of acrobatics and strength in the Mexican caballero scene, a figure which became further idolised in Mexican culture through ‘charro’ genre of films which took hold in the golden age off Mexican cinema in the 30’s and 50’s. In its early days, Charreda’s were an opportunity for even lowest of laborers in the working class to prove masculinity through the events in hopes of improving their social status by association.
The majority of the festival follows this typical charro narrative with men taking the central role in celebrations whilst women take on a background role in preparations, the women’s ride and of course the queen or ambassador of the festival. It is against this binary backdrop that the Gasolina becomes the even more significant in relating the dominance of macho culture and its threats to the queer community. The Gasolina, which serves as the culmination of the Cabalgata activities and a closing ceremony of sorts. Intended to be the celebration automotive industry, male taxi and truck drivers cross dress in wigs, skirts and stuffed bras whilst groping at male members of the public on the sidelines. The citizens of Colima turn out in hundreds to both participate and watch the parade in what is generally seen as a source of humor and entertainment.
The Cabalgata is not unique in Mexico in that it incorporates the dressing of cis-gendered men in traditionally female attire for entertainment. In Chiapas state the men of Chiapa de Corzo take part in the annual 'Dance of the Chuntaes (servants)'. Over 1500 men participate, applying make-up, braiding their hair and dressing in traditional attire the men dance through the streets of the city in a ritual that originated with the Spanish conquest when men are thought to have dressed as women to avoid being detained by the Spanish.
A handful of queer identifying people participate in the festivities - but it is complex. Some members of the queer community take the opportunity to be openly queer and celebrated for only a few hours, if only it is to be mocked, some have hope that it may eventuate into an inclusive respectful environment for queers. On the majority, the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly trans women such as Michelle Martinez are vocal opponents of the event, calling it “insulting and disrespectful to trans* women and the LGBT community”.
The Gasolina parade is not just a display of the toxic culture of trans-misogyny in Mexico which is fueled by macho culture, it is violence in and of itself - a performance of distain for otherness contributing to the everyday cumulative trauma which queer people experience in Colima and throughout Mexico.
Documenting the Charrotaurinas de Villa de Álvarez festival and Gasolina parade, in Colima City, Colima, Mexico provide an insight into how machismo culture continues to be constructed and preserved today through tradition whilst offering a snapshot into the context in which queer people live and die in Colima, Mexico. At Queer Here we believe it is requisite to reflect and record the culture and context in which queers exist in an attempt to step us into the spaces which queers exist and resist.
Words and visual storytelling by Alexis Stergakis (she/her/they/them), digital media producer and founder of Queer Here. Twitter @lexistergakis
Fixing and fact check by Hugo Villegas González (he/him), LGBTQIA+ activist and human rights lawyer based in Colima City, Mexico.