Leah Bakely is a history student at Wesleyan University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Merida, Mexico in Spring 2015. She originally wrote this piece as a guest post on the IFSA-Butler student blog in March 2015.
Hmmm, where to start. I suppose with a little vignette (I just tried to spell that viñette, because my head is swarming with Spanish right now).
A few weeks ago, a friend from one of my classes asked me what my expectations of Mexico were before stepping on Mexican soil. I told her that the only expectation I had had was that I would be confronted with a very conservative, homophobic society in which discussions of sex, queerness, etc. would be entirely taboo. I joked with my friends that I would have to grow out my hair here (it’s currently short short), because no good Catholic woman would agree to cut it. Then I reasoned that maybe short hair on a female wouldn’t even connote the same thing (read: queerness) in Mexico as it does in Estados Unidos, because queerness wouldn’t even be on people’s radars in Mexico.
Boy, was I wrong. I soon realized I had let my own stereotypes of Catholicism and religious conservatism creep into my head. Short hair still connotes queerness. There is a burgeoning queer tinder scene. While there are no exclusively gay clubs, there is a bar/club that attracts a lot of queer people. Also, P.D.A. is quite the thing here, so it’s not unusual to see a queer couple holding hands or even kissing. And further, no one seems to bat an eyelash. I was even more surprised when a girl I had just met asked me if I had a boyfriend OR a girlfriend. She told me that she had actually had a girlfriend in the past and that it really wasn’t that unusual here. And in a public opinion class I’m quasi auditing, a group made a video in which they asked various people from Mérida, ranging in age from 8ish to 70ish, their opinions on various issues regarding la homosexualidad.
Still, I don’t mean to paint a rosier-than-reality picture of the situation here. Although almost everyone interviewed in the public opinion video agreed that love is love and that people should be allowed to kiss/love/make love to whomever they want (save for one older woman who, when asked if matrimonio homosexual should be legal, exclaimed with a face of disgust, “NO!”), almost all of the interviewees also agreed that queer couples should be prohibited from raising children. The students that made the video suggested that this opinion prevailed because the interviewees associated la homosexualidad exclusively with gay men and in Mexican society child-rearing is still inextricably associated with women/mothers/motherhood. The professor suggested that the opinion stemmed from a society-wide ignorance of all things homosexual. Regardless of the reason, the video gave me a bit of a reality check.
Only adding to my reality check, this week I also found out that a Mexican acquaintance can no longer host parties at his family’s house because, in October (five months ago!!!), his parents saw two girls making out at his party. The parents were disgusted and he’s been banned from having parties ever since.
But then, I am not so sure Estados Unidos is that different. Sure, I grew up in an extraordinarily liberal neighborhood with several lesbian and gay couples on my block in a city that singlehandedly makes our state go blue during election season. I go to one of the most socially liberal universities in the country where students are (unfortunately) harassed for expressing even centrist points of view. And I have purposefully surrounded myself with people who couldn’t care less about who I want to kiss. But, I think my experience with social liberalism is the exception, not the norm; there are probably thousands (millions?) of American parents who would prohibit their children from hosting parties if the parents saw two girls making out a party. There are probably even more people in the U.S. who don’t approve of queer couples raising children. It’s just that I’ve hopped from one liberal haven to another, so I probably have a skewed perception of reality.
So, I guess what I’ve concluded from my little anécdota (because I just looked up viñeta and it’s just not a word in any language. Oops.) is that there are queer people errrrrywhere/por todos lados and I shouldn’t have assumed otherwise. That being said, here in Mérida, like in the U.S., superficial markers of acceptance don’t necessarily indicate fundamental societal change. But baby steps, right?
To end on a positive note, I would also just like to reiterate:
There are queer people errrrywhere. I love it.
Hay personas queers por todos lados. Lo amo.