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Joseph Carrier, 1996


De Los Otros: Talking with Joseph Carrier about the Dynamics of Homosexuality in Mexico
 

By Owen Keehnen

 
In 1996, Columbia University Press released De Los Otros: Intimacy and Homosexuality among Mexican Men by applied anthropologist Joseph Carrier. Spanning more than two decades, Carrier's ground-breaking research offers an abundance of rich insights into the unique nature of gay life and culture as it has developed in Guadalajara, his primary city of study. It is fascinating reading, filled with essential insights into the problems and hurdles faced there in regards to such problems as HIV prevention and coming out.
 

Keehnen: In your book you state that being fired because of your sexual preference was your incentive to begin your cultural studies.

Carrier: Actually, my interest predated that. What happened was that I met Evelyn Hooker, the well-known psychologist, socially in 1964. Through her I learned the different kinds of things that had been done, and I started looking through the literature, which I hadn't done before. I may have had the courage to take up anthropology even if I hadn't been fired, but that certainly lit the fire beneath me.

Keehnen: Was there a specific reason for your study of Mexican men?

Carrier: Yes, Evelyn Hooker and I talked about the kind of research I would do for my dissertation. I was forty when I started my program so it was important that I focus early. I was very lucky that I hit a receptive environment at the University of California in Irvine. Had I gone to UCLA, I doubt I would have been able to do it. When I did my dissertation fieldwork, as far as I knew I was the first graduate student in anthropology who had ever tackled homosexuality. I had to start from scratch because no one had done any fieldwork in Mexico.

Keehnen: So you initially went to Mexico to study homosexual men.

Carrier: When I went to Mexico to start my fieldwork, I didn't focus on gay Mexican men but on men who had sex with other males. That way I could avoid the whole question of who was a homosexual. The gay movement in Mexico didn't start till the late 1970s and not in Guadalajara, my primary city of focus, until 1981.

Keehnen: Your research spans from 1969 to the early 1990s, and throughout that time the same cultural influences seem to dominate--the family, machismo, the church, and economics. Have you noticed a shifting of the dynamics during that period?

Carrier: One of the shiftings I noticed is that when the gay movement did start in 1981, I think you began to have gay-identified young men. It really affected them in terms of the sex roles they played. One theory is that as a result of the gay and lesbian movement in Mexico, instead of people just playing one role or the other this new group came along called the Internacional, and these are the people who eventually play both roles.

Keehnen: Going along with that, De Los Otros often stresses the importance of the activo and pasivo roles in gay sex as the defining tool of sexuality rather than the U. S. cultural labels of gay or straight. What are the primary reasons for this cultural variation?

Carrier: That difference is still so strong. They don't conceptualize it in the same way we do here. The people I studied were mestizos, so the culture is a blend of Spanish and Indian, but this represents a very Spanish pattern that came in when the Spaniards came to Mexico. The Moors who had occupied Spain heavily influenced them. In that culture as well you find the strong dichotomization, as you do in the Mediterranean countries of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Italy to some extent. I cite in the book the Greek epidemiologists who research why the AIDS epidemic took a different shape in Southern Europe as opposed to Northern Europe, and again I think the explanation can be easily asserted that it has to do with role-playing.

Keehnen: And that is the continued playing of a specific sexual role rather than switching from active to passive to back again.

Carrier: There's no question about the inequality in the transmission of the virus. It's much easier for the receptive anal partner to be infected than the insertive. That's not to say the insertive cannot be infected, but the risk is very different.

Keehnen: So tying into this, what current practice or angle do health care professionals need to consider or stress when dealing with the particular dynamic of AIDS in Mexico?

Carrier: If you're looking just in Mexico, I think what Pedro Preciado and his group did was to focus essentially on those men coming to the bars and then get condom distribution going. One of the things they also did was try to appraise any male who was having sex with other males about the danger of infection. Economic times in Mexico are very tough right now, and there isn't always money for condoms, and if you don't get them free, where are you going to get them? There have also been problems with the church and the right wing so that the Department of Health wasn't able to distribute them freely, so it's been up to the Gay Liberation Group.

Keehnen: That's a great impact for the GLG to have, though in the book you say gay liberation in Mexico overall has had a rather limited effect. What's the reason?

Carrier: The dynamics of men having sex with men haven't changed much because the dynamic of the family hasn't changed much. The family represents a tremendous pull and one continues to live with one's family as long as he's single. Some escape this by moving to another city or coming to the United States.

Keehnen: How (if at all) has the media reflected the growing gay consciousness?

Carrier: The tabloids continue to be vicious with their negative representation. The major difference is that the big progressive newspapers have constantly provided a forum. The same thing is true with television; many large stations have been very sympathetic to the gay and lesbian movement.

Keehnen: Going back, the tightness of family life has mostly fostered a fear about coming out and at best a conspiracy of silence. Do you think it's possible for a shift to occur and that closeness to emerge intact--in a sort of PFLAG way?

Carrier: They have something similar to PFLAG but I don't think it ever really got off the ground. Over the years that I've gone down there, I've seen the great amount of stress most young men have gone through in coming out, but most have also over time come to a very satisfactory accommodation with their families. They are loved, but the homosexuality is still not embraced.

Keehnen: Thanks so much, Joseph, for the insightful interview and all the best with De Los Otros.

Carrier: Thank you, Owen.

 
About Owen Keehnen
 
Owen Keehnen has worked as a journalist, book reviewer, and interviewer for a number of years. Currently, the Chicago based author is completing a trilogy of interview books on gay XXX stars, finishing a horror novel, and supporting himself as a massage therapist. He is also launching a website which celebrates independent horror films, www.racksandrazors.com.
 
Related Pages
 

Mexico

Anthropology

Coming Out

Hooker, Evelyn

Mediterranean Homosexuality

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

 

 
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