Dateline: Stuck between desire and ostracism
Mexico is truly a different world. Especially if you’re LGBTQ-whatever. Officially, this is not the case, though. When I brought my mother to the Mexican consulate in Sacramento, California in 2018 for her visa, I was surprised at the sheer number of diversity-promoting posters that festooned the building. There were posters celebrating racial diversity, and many celebrating gay rights. For all you’d know from that consulate visit, gays are just as well-off living in Mexico as in San Francisco.
But the reality on the ground is an entirely different matter, even here in Mexico City, the most cosmopolitan in the country. Take the case of Carlos, my BF. Originally from a small town in Michoacán, about a 7 hour drive away, with about 25,000 people, Carlos has lived in Mexico City for more than fifteen years. But for all his charms (and they are many), he’s what “out” gays in the USA would call a “closet case.”
Though now in his mid-to-late-40s and still officially “single,” his family doesn’t know he’s gay. Oh, sure, they likely imagine. Or at least it’s very hard for me to believe they don’t. After all, there’s a saying around here, “Maduro soltero es joto, seguro,” which roughly translated means “a single, mature guy is surely a faggot.” Yet the fiction continues.
Carlos is one of 9 kids, scion of a relatively prosperous and well-known family who inhabits the “centro,” of his town, and is of a certain social rank which prohibits mixing with the “hoi polloi,” who tend to live farther out, and who tend to be more indigenous. (I’m sorry, but there’s no way around the racial overtones of this. The Mexican class system also includes a generous dollop of racism; that’s just the fact here. I’m only describing it.) Though Carlos is appealingly dark, he’s what they call “Moreno claro,” e.g., on the lighter end of brown, and has European-looking features that make him racially hard to pin down. Which is to say that he could pass for Mexican, or perhaps Iranian, Arab, or maybe even Indian, (of the sub-continental variety). He does not look typically Mexican indigenous, and apparently his family is pretty-light skinned overall.
A very smart fellow, he excelled in school and university, and now works here in CDMX as a lawyer. But despite the distance from home, he’s not far from family. He shares a one-bedroom apartment with a couple of early-20-something cousins. He shares the apartment as a favor to his aunt, who begged him to take them in. Auntie worries that without Carlos’ supervision and guidance that the boys would become late-night partying, womanizing losers. Surprisingly, this arrangement seems to work, and the guys follow Carlos’ direction, do their chores, come home on time, and otherwise seemingly live lives of order and discretion. The three share a large bedroom, each with his own bed.
Last night, Carlos and I talked about the possibility of living together some day. I absolutely adore him, and my only real complaint is that he works ridiculous hours and that I’d love to be able to spend more time together. Typically he’ll come over late-ish on Saturday afternoons and then goes home Sunday evenings. Sometimes mid-week, he’ll come by for a few hours, and then return home late. But otherwise we don’t get to spend a lot of time together. I’d love to play housewife to his career hubby, and would be delighted to cook dinner for him every night, and otherwise help him create more time that we could spend together.
Anyway, we had a fairly frank conversation last night which was eye-opening, to say the least. Not that any of it was totally surprising, but the web of homophobia here can be tightly spun, at least if you’re from a family like that of Carlos. In addition to being folks of his town’s “centro,” they are also well-known, with a number of family members holding local political offices, and others being involved in politics. They trace their lineage from Spanish immigrants of a few generations ago. A number of the family are still single, not because they’re gay, but because there aren’t any marriage candidates to be found within the limited ranks of this upper-crust, “centro” social circle that they’re part of. Marrying outside of that circle is unthinkable. Apparently. So there’s a convenient, ready-made excuse for remaining single.
But they’re not all straight either. Apparently Carlos has a (closeted) gay brother, who once confided his love of his best friend (a married guy) to their sister. Sister then apparently thought it was a good idea to inform Carlos too. Yet Carlos has never broached the topic with his brother. And the brother’s situation is rather sad. His best friend is a guy who’s married with children and takes advantage of Carlos’ brother’s love for him by constantly asking for money. Naturally, this state of affairs literally horrified me. Carlos also suspects that his young cousin and flatmate is gay too. Cousin apparently has rather exaggerated mannerisms, and just got a job as a flight attendant. Nope, that guy can’t be gay. No pink flags there. Yet Carlos has never felt the need to confide in the cousin either, or even so much as to raise the topic.
To me, this is somewhat astonishing, not being able to be open even with other family members who also are gay. In my own case, the first person I officially came out to was my sister, who promptly announced that she was a lesbian. This wasn’t a total surprise, as I had long suspected that she had something going on with her best friend. But my sister had also dated guys, and was popular in high school. I suspected that the best friend was a sort of “one-off,” but apparently not. Anyway, I digress.
As for Carlos, things at work aren’t any better than with his family, and indeed, arguably worse. Carlos occupies a senior position with a medium-sized company, owned mostly by one guy who lives out of town. The boss/owner at one point rejected having his brother take a role in the firm because, “he’s like that,” as he explained to Carlos, e.g., gay and thus unsuitable for any kind of real job. Apparently the boss’s brother is a normal gay guy, not some kind of drag queen, or someone who otherwise makes his life into a political statement. He’s like me; just a gay guy going about life. So it’s pretty clear that Carlos needs to maintain his fiction at work too, or he’ll be fired.
As someone who came out to family and friends in the summer of 1979, only a few years after the American Psychological Association took homosexuality off of its long list of mental illnesses, this is all hard for me to really understand at a gut level. Yes, I get it, but it also seems kind of ridiculous in this day and age. I’ve been extremely open about who I am since the 90’s, but even in the 80’s when the “Moral Majority” was hell-bent on getting gays out of public schools and anywhere else they could, I wasn’t terribly worried about anyone finding out that I was gay. Discreet? Yes, but not really worried in any consequential way. Certainly I never pretended to have girlfriends, and never referred to my friends by women’s names. (Apparently a common thing in the 50’s, or so I’ve been told.) I did live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has always had a tolerance, nay embrace, for what the rest of the country calls “weirdos.” So the threat of being discovered always seemed more awkward than fatal.
As for Carlos’ family, his father is in his late 70’s, tends to drink heavily, and is openly homophobic. His brothers are also homophobic, and they can all be quite cruel and crude. When dad’s drunk, it’s no-holds-barred. Needless to say, it wouldn’t be a good environment in which to come out. Fortunately, they are far away, so they don’t pose much of a day-to-day risk.
But if we were to live together, Carlos would have to pretend that he’s renting a room in my house. And then we’d have to also rent a room to the non-flight attendant cousin, who not only needs to be looked after, but can’t afford his own place. Now Carlos is a keeper, at least as far as I can tell here, nearly a year in. But I can’t live in a situation where I’ve got his cousin in another room, or perhaps in a separate apartment on the roof, where I have to pretend that, a) I’m straight; and b) that Carlos and I just happen to be “friends.” At best, we’d be unlikely “friends,” what with a fifteen-ish year age difference, the fact that I’m a foreigner, and also never married. Never mind that fact that if it weren’t for the internet, we’d never have met. At best it seems like the premise for an unlikely comedy of manners, at worst me being dragged back into a closet where I never really lived in the first place.
Yet I don’t blame Carlos for his choices. He’s probably the smartest one of his family, certainly one of the smarter. He excelled at school, and now has a respectable and successful career. He enjoys the love and respect of his family, which is partly based on the fiction that he just “hasn’t found the right one.” And I truly can’t know his life, so who am I to judge? He certainly has a lot to lose, and I don’t want to be the one who causes him to lose it.
Meanwhile, that family really needs to stick together. As a prominent family, they are subject to all the various predations that people in those positions suffer here in Mexico. They live in fear of kidnapping and assault. They are constantly changing cell phone numbers, as old numbers eventually fall into the hands of criminals where they are used to make harassing and threatening calls to the family. Carlos himself has 3 cell phones, one of which is “classified,” for family use only. One of his aunts was kidnapped a few years ago, and sadly, murdered before they could rescue her. Not only is this family at risk for their economic position, but politics in this country, sadly, is often a “contact sport” too. So they are doubly at risk.
We Americans living here truly have no clue about the complexities of Mexican life, complexities which sit just below the seemingly tranquil surface. This is the real, Mexican life, not the stuff of margaritas on the beach, festive parades, or colorful celebrations. And it’s the stuff you’ll never, ever know unless you speak fluent Spanish, and have close Mexican friends. So for all of you who think things here are “safe,” “relaxed,” or “easy-going,” just remember. You don’t know the half of it.
And living here likely means giving up or relaxing what you think of as “right,” or “normal,” or “progressive.” At least for me. Sure, I’d love for Carlos to be able to live as openly as I do. But the more I understand the situation, the more I realize that it is I who will have to change my view on this. Somethings things just aren’t as simple or easy as they ought to be.
Still, here we are in this enormous city, the kind of place we “misfits” tend to flock to in order to live our full lives, unencumbered by the mores of our birthplaces. Surely there must be some way Carlos and I could live together some day? With time, I’m hoping the answer becomes “yes.”