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One of the largest and potentially wealthiest countries of Latin America, Argentina has suffered in recent decades because of a pervasive economic crisis. Until 1930 the country was governed by democratic rule, but since 1930 military dictatorships--often supported by the elite classes and the United States--have frequently ruled the country.

There has recently been progress in securing recognition for glbtq people in Argentina. Indeed, in 2010 Argentina became the first Latin American country to achieve marriage equality nationally. Still, the country has a long history of defining itself in terms of masculinity and in opposition to sexual deviancy.

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The River Plate was colonized by Spain in the sixteenth century. To a greater extent than in other Latin American countries, the native Indian cultures were exterminated, and there has been little research on same-sex sexualities in the ancient Indian cultures or during the Colonial period.

On July 9, 1816 the United Provinces of the River Plate became independent. Those provinces occupied only a part of what would later become the territory under Argentine State control. The relationship between these provinces that would later constitute Argentina was marked by conflicts from the beginning.

The elite represented these conflicts through literary narratives that featured telling sexual images. For example, Esteban Echeverría's 1840 tale "El Matadero" [The Slaughterhouse], one of the founding texts of Argentine literature, depicts the Federal faction as savage because they threaten to kill a Unitarian man by penetrating him anally. In other cases, the authors represent the faction they want to portray favorably as masculine and the opposed political group as feminine.

In the 1860s Argentina became a unified territory. The nation-building process was finally consolidated in the 1880s. At this moment of consolidation, the elites, inspired by European Social Darwinism were concerned about creating a national identity associated with masculinity and sexual "normalcy." Any deviation from the sexual and gender norm was perceived as an obstacle to progress.

Lucio Vicente López's 1884 novel La gran aldea [The great town] portrays Buenos Aires' history by focusing on a sexually deviant woman who controlled the political faction opposed to that of the author.

Many other literary works of the period presented similar images of deviant men and women. In La Bolsa [The stock exchange], by Julián Martel, the 1890s economic crisis is interpreted as caused by nymphomaniac women and effeminate Jewish investors. In 1896 Eduardo Holmberg constructed a similar representation, depicting a mysterious serial killer as a woman who cross-dressed.

These literary works were not only important cultural artifacts, but they were also political ones. From the very beginning of the Argentine state, deviant sexual conduct was conceived as politically dangerous; and accusations of sexual deviancy could be a potent political tool.

The Early Twentieth Century

At the beginning of the twentieth century, physicians began to medicalize homosexuality as a pathology affecting individuals and the nation. They believed that the poor Italian and Spanish immigrants were responsible for importing all kinds of sexual deviance into Argentina. José Ingenieros and Francisco De Veyga were the first psychiatrists who published "scientific" studies of male and female "sexual inversion," using European theories to explain local developments.

Physicians, as well as state officials and other ideologues of the period, were concerned about the growing urbanization of Argentina because it was creating anonymity and the relaxation of moral customs. They feared that this was contributing to the emergence of communities.

Buenos Aires had an important queer community by the beginning of the twentieth century. There were cruising areas near the River Plate where sailors and newly arrived immigrants gathered. The queer subculture also developed its own argot and social customs.

According to Jorge Salessi, until 1914 physicians and state officials chose to attack same-sex sexuality as a degrading pathology, but after that year their strategy changed. They began censoring public debate about the existence of "inverts" and "." The censorship of a play from that year, Los Invertidos [The Inverts], marks this change, according to Salessi. This play about men who hide their same-sex sexual desire by accusing others of being "degenerates" was prohibited after nine performances. After that, "sexual inversion" seems to have disappeared as a topic of public debate. However, the pathologizing of homosexuality continued in medical and "scientific" journals.

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Top: Argentina and neighboring countries in 2004.
Above: Downtown Buenos Aires viewed from a preserve on the bank of the River Plate.

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