MARCHING IN MEXICO
Celebrating gay Pride in Mexico City
As we break through the cloud cover I press my nose to the smudgy glass, craning to see as much of Mexico City as I can. In the morning haze, the cityscape seems to unfurl forever, right up into the foothills of Popocatépetl which has been smoking for several weeks, since a recent eruption. “El DF” (Mexico City’s alias, an abbreviation of Distrito Federal) is humongous, a sprawling 2,000 kilometres square comprising 16 boroughs and hundreds of neighbourhoods. It’s a dense, complicated cluster, best picked apart like you’d undo a tangle. Step one: Find a thread. Step two: Tug.
What I’m here for— my thread, if you will — is the Mexico City Pride March (La Marcha LGBTTTI del Orgullo y Dignidad, in Spanish), and though there’s only a week until the big day, the official web site is still showing information for last year’s event. I start drafting a message.
“Forget the pinche email. You know how it works here.” My local friend, Tanya, has hosted me before and she’s impatient for me to synch up with the city. “Face-to-face,” she says. “Just like the old days.” I close my laptop.
Mexico City’s gay area is famously (if a touch obviously) known as the Zona Rosa, and Calle Amberes is the main strip. A business and entertainment district clotted with nightclubs, restaurants, and sex shops, it’s also home to the city’s lesbian bookshop and café, Voces en Tinta (Niza 23, Zona Rosa, vocesentinta.com). From the stacked translations of Daly, Dworkin, and Lorde to the display of vagina art, the place feels a lot like the 1970s. They’ve got flyers stacked at the front counter, but they haven’t yet received any printed Pride Guides.
Like so many gay villages around the world, the area’s a little seedy. Restaurants advertising meals in English vie for space next to cantinas with Pride flags in the windows, and a mostly young crowd cruises the streets under the glare cast from convenience store fluorescents. Vendors use music and lights and their own voices to attract attention. When it starts to rain, they pull tarps over their heads and the tourists disappear into the cantinas.
We carry on from venue to venue, blindly following the directions given by each person asked, like we’re in a living treasure hunt. It makes for a pretty good tour of the area. We find Pride mugs, flags and underpants at Rainbowland (Estrasburgo 31 esq. Amberes Zona Rosa, rainbowland.com.mx) but no guide.
A few inquiries lead to an impromptu interview with a government official working in the ministry that handles LGBT issues, and leaves me with the impression that the department is most concerned with health and legal services — HIV screening and human rights legislation. Finally, we get lucky at the Erotika Love Store (erotikaenlinea.com); they have a stack of Pride guides on the counter next to a basket of sample lubes. We retire to a cantina to plan the rest of our week.
The next morning, my inbox is busy. I’ve received invitations to a lesbian football tournament, to a meeting at the tourism offices, and to speak on a panel at a lesbian conference
“Restaurants advertising meals in English vie for space next to cantinas with Pride flags in the windows”
the following day. “See?” Tanya asks. “Now people know you’re here.”
Mexico City held its first annual Pride in 1979; about one thousand people participated. Thirty years later, in 2009, the Legislative Assembly legalised same-sex marriage, becoming the first jurisdiction in Latin America to do so.
Despite the city’s vanguard position on LGBT human rights, it’s the capital of an overwhelmingly Catholic nation and the result is a gay culture that, from my perspective, feels like it’s still emerging. The Mexico City community has yet to gallop off on a uniform agenda; it is still taking the time to have its conversations. Face-to-face, of course.
“In Mexico City, there’s no place for women to have sex with women. Period.” I’d sent the question to a professional domme who works in LA and DF. “There are bath houses for men, but the women are a bit more… romantic.” It’s a sentiment I’d heard echoed at the lesbian conference. According to one speaker, a women’s sex club had opened in DF but closed after a month, and only two visitors. But back in the Zona Rosa in Kinky Bar later that night, I get an entirely different impression as I elbow my way to the front of an energetic throng of women crowding the go-go dancer’s podium. These apparent contradictions make me curious, and I ask around for a scene outside the Zona Rosa.
El Viena, on Calle República de Cuba in Centro Historico, is Mexico City’s only gay cantina. Inside, soft lights illuminate the décor and the barkeep; both appear to be original — 1930s. A tasteful bouquet brightens one end of the bar. Tanya and I are the only women in the place.
Over time, the cantina fills up with college boys, vaqueros, and businessmen gently courting while Mexican pop songs crackle over an ancient speaker. Right next door, disco blasts out of the doorway to Bar Oasis (República de Cuba 2G), and I learn that between here and cabaret-cumdrag- venue La Perla (Rebública de Cuba 44, cabaret-laperla.com), a rock bar, dance club, and lounge — all gay-friendly — line the street.
On the Saturday of Pride, we arrive early at El Ángel de la Independencia, a statue commemorating the Mexican War of Independence, and symbol of the city, where participants are gathering to march. People cluster around banners: LGBT-friendly family members and teachers and athletic teams and trans people. A group of vaqueros mount their horses in matching dress shirts, and I notice that there are few floats.
Most people are on foot. I struggle to translate the hand-made placards: Educación sexual laica y gratuita para todos (Free and secular sex education for all), says one. Yo apoyo a mi amigo gay (I support my gay friend). I see almost no corporate logos.
The throng of thousands unspools along the Paseo de la Reforma, literally in the shadow of el Ángel. Our destination is the Zócalo, the second largest public plaza in the world; only Moscow’s Red Square can hold more people.
I walk through the crowd, taking in this version of Mexico City — queer and celebratory, political and contradictory — and wonder where it will lead next.
PRIDE CELEBRATIONS IN MEXICO CITY. PICTURES KEPH SENETT