Oh my Dios! Homosexuality and Latin American Identity

Can gays in Latin America be both gay and Latino?


Like the colors of the very rainbow, the acceptance and idea of homosexuality in Latin America is both different and varying. Legislatures that have been passed in Latin America offer the indication of rapid progression on the acceptance of homosexuals into Latin American society. In 1998, for example, Ecuador passed a new constitution, incorporating the illegality of hate crimes towards same-sex couples and in 2002, Argentina legalized civil unions between same-sex couples. In 2007, Uruguay followed suite and in 2008 Nicaragua decriminalized same-sex actions.


While these do give us a glimpse that Latin American politics seem to be accepting of homosexuals, the opinion across Latin America as to whether one can be both gay and Latino varies.


Traditionally, machismo plays a huge role in Latin American identity and is considered essential as being male in various Hispanic cultures, which tends to be extremely religious and conservative. The idea of the macho Latino male has even been adopted abroad, with famed commercials from the beer brand Dos XX portraying “The Most Interesting Man in the World” not only to be Latino or Spanish, but more or less of a womanizer as well, with two ladies beside him at a table and being involved in very difficult and traditionally ‘manly’ sports through various clips.


With such an emphasis on machismo and masculinity being enforced to the max, can one be both a Latino male and gay at the same time?


In parts of Latin America, the two simply cannot be.


In the Dominican Republic, for example, there is the concept of tiguerismo that a majority of men are expected to adopt. Un tiguere is an alpha male – the ultimate Latin lover who is the constant womanizer, carrying himself in a “masculine” way, and engaging in all masculine activities (such as baseball, betting in the cock ring, etc) with utmost perfection. To be called a tigere in the Dominican Republic is to be considered not just a male, but also and more importantly a Dominican male.


With this, to be gay in the Dominican Republic means to not be Dominican and behavior that is perceived to be gay is considered un-Dominican and foreign. Even flamboyancy from a heterosexual Dominican male will often lead to a chorus of insults and demoralizing jeers on the streets. Displaying gay tendencies or homosexual behaviors leads to social stigma and being excluded from social circles, as gay people are not considered “part” or Dominican society. In parts of the country, such as the deeply religious and conservative region of El Cibao, being gay can even lead to being physically abused or threatened. Due to this, those who are gay in the Dominican Republic are not only closeted, but also do not exhibit any signs of what can be perceived to be a stereotypical homosexual male in the Western world. They engage in typical “tiguere’ behavior, even whistling and flirting with women, all the while hiding their true sexual orientation.


The same can be said with Mexico. Despite civil unions being recognized in Mexico City, machismo, as in the Dominican Republic, is the very definition of what it means to be Mexican. In fact, for many in Mexico, to be considered a “Gay Mexican” is both non-existent and insulting to hear. Mexicans, who are found out for being gay, are immediately excluded and banned from both their inner circles and, at times, their families. As such, many homosexual Mexicans move to the capital, and particularly to the Zona Rosa neighborhood, where they forge a new identity on being both Mexican and gay; an identity that is not acknowledged outside of the capital.


In Peru, the country prides itself for its honor and dignity, through their cultural ancestry of the Incas and their flavorful food. As of such, all things considered to lack ‘dignity’ are immediately viewed as shameful and un-Peruvian; such is the case with homosexuals in Peru. To be gay means to lack honor, dignity, and pride in one’s own self worth – all concepts that go against the Peruvian mentality on what it means to be Peruvian. In fact, Ex-Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori notoriously fired 117 staff members for reasons that they were seen to be “homosexual” and because of that, undignified to represent Peruvians.


But not all Latin American nations are as harsh when it comes to permitting gays their own cultural identity. The idea of being both gay and Puerto Rican, for example, is not seen as impossible. While there are conservative and hyper religious enclaves in Puerto Rico, viewing homosexuality as a sin from a Christian standpoint, being gay does not strip the person of his Puerto Rican identity. Famous Puerto Rican singer and humanitarian, Ricky Martin, famously published in his website that he was proud to be a “fortunate homosexual man”, which became his official “come-out” to the world. When questioned how he felt as a homosexual man for having sang during US President George Bush’s inauguration (President Bush is notorious for his anti-gay tendencies), Martin simply proclaimed that he preformed to represent the “Latino community” and nothing more. The same goes with Puerto Rican Boxer Orlando Cruz, who famously professed in front of media to being proud to be a “Gay Puerto Rican” and no separation in the description, showing how being gay has not altered his hispanidad or “Hispanic-ness” in any way.


In Cuba, which shares many similarities with the Dominican Republic on the concept of machismo, homosexuality is no longer perceived as such a social stigma, thanks manly to Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela, who happens to be an open advocate for LGBT rights in Cuba and even led a march in Cienfuegos, combining Cuban and LGBT flags together, in early 2012. Cuba has even launched its famous film in 1993 Fresas y Chocolate, which touches on homosexuality in Cuba, during the Cuban National Film Festival – a first among many Latin American nations.


In other nations where civil unions have taken into effect, such as Argentina, there is no differentiation in being apart of the culture of that particular nation and gay. These countries tend to predominately look towards Europe, and particularly Spain - a traditionally Catholic country - that recognized gay marriage and incorporated Gay Spaniards into Spanish identity, such director Pedro Almadovar, who is both openly gay and seen as a “National Treasure” in Spanish film. Even transgender persons, such as Tatiana Pineros of Colombia (who was born male) have even made it into government and been accepted as a Public Official.


The question of whether one can be both gay and Latino varies differently in each country, with some seeing it as impossible and others seeing it as essential. Yet only time will be the real judge as to whether such attitudes will change. Paraguay, for example, during Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship regime, publicly announced in local papers a list called the 108, with the names of all those who were speculated to being gay. The reason? Gays were considered to be spies and assassins and therefore unpatriotic and not Paraguayan. Today, however, Stroessner is long gone and a movie came out in 2011 called 108/Cuchillo de Palo which explores a Paraguayan family accepting their homosexual son and his lifestyle. Time can only tell what the future will bring for the concept of being gay in other parts of Latin America and all we can really do is simply sit back and watch it unfold.

Relevant links:

Foreign Policy has a fantastic piece which highlights Latin America's progression as a whole to integrating its LGBT community (from a political stand point). I highly recommend reading it to get an idea on how the region is actually light years ahead of North America on LGBT rights.

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