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social sciences

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The only records providing a glimpse of homosexual social life during the Colonial period are the records of court proceedings when homosexual scandals occurred. Of such events, a purge that took place in Mexico City between 1656 and 1663 is the best known. It resulted in a mass execution.

Whereas heretics and Jews were burned in the Alameda, now a park near the center of Mexico City, homosexuals were burned in a special burning ground in another part of the city, San Lázaro, because homosexuality was not a form of heresy and thus fell into an ambiguous category of offenses. Thus, the group to be executed was marched to San Lázaro where the officials first garroted them. They were "done with strangling all of them at eight o'clock that night . . . then they set them afire." Novo states that several hundred people came from the city to watch the event.

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It should be noted that strangling the victims before burning them was considered an act of mercy; for burning was such terrible agony that it was feared that the prisoners would forsake their faith in God and thus lose their immortal souls.

The purge seems to have ended when the Superiors in Spain wrote back to Mexico that they did not have Papal authority to grant the jurisdiction the Mexican Holy Office requested, and that the Inquisitors were "not to become involved in these matters or to enter into any litigation concerning them."

Postcolonial Mexico

Mexican independence from Spain in 1821 brought an end to the Inquisition. The intellectual influence of the French Revolution and the brief French occupation of Mexico (1862-1867) resulted in the adoption of the French legal code in which sodomy was not a crime.

This decriminalization of sodomy did not grant people the right to be overtly homosexual; for included in the "minimum ethics indispensable to maintaining society" were laws against solicitation and any public behavior considered socially deviant or contrary to the folkways and customs of the time. Such vagueness in the law accorded wide latitude to interpretation by police. Shaking down (demanding money and jewelry from) those who a policeman decides are an "affront to public morality" has provided a source of supplementary income for policemen, some of whom have also demanded (and received) sexual favors.

On the night of November 20, 1901, Mexico City police raided an affluent drag ball, arresting 42 cross-dressed men and dragging them off to Belén Prison. One was released. The official account was that she was a "real woman," but persistent rumors circulated that she was a very close relative of President General Porfiro Díaz, so in Mexican slang cuarenta-y-dos (42, the one who got away) refers to someone who is covertly pasivo (a male who is sexually receptive to other males).

Those arrested were subjected to many humiliations in jail. Some were forced to sweep the streets in their dresses. Eventually, all 41 were inducted into the 24th Battalion of the Mexican Army and sent to the Yucatan to dig ditches and clean latrines. The ball and its aftermath were much publicized, including in illustrated broadsides by caricaturist Guadalupe Posada (who provided the cross-dressed men with mustaches and notably upper-class dress).

The raid on the dance of the 41 maricones was followed by a less-publicized raid of a lesbian party on December 4, 1901 in Santa María.

The spectacular growth of Mexico City in the 1930s was accompanied by the opening of homosexual bars and baths, which supplemented the traditional cruising locales of the Alameda, the Zócalo, Paseo de la Reforma, and Calle Madero (formerly Plateros). Those involved in homosexual activity continued to live with their families. There were no publications or oganizations, so homosexual activity was practiced clandestinely or privately.

In the absence of a separate residential concentration, the lower classes tended to accept the stereotypes of unions between masculine insertors (activos) and feminized insertees (pasivos). While some of the cosmopolitan upper classes rejected the stereotypical effeminacy expected of maricones ("faggots"), they tended to emulate European dandies of the late nineteenth century.

During World War II, ten to fifteen gay bars operated in Mexico City, with dancing permitted in at least two, El África and El Triumfo. Relative freedom from official harassment continued until 1959 when, following a grisly triple muder, Mayor Uruchurtu closed every gay bar under the guise of "cleaning up vice" (or at least reducing its visibility).

The perceived failures of masculinity of maricones made (and makes) them "fair game" to be robbed, beaten, and used as sexual receptacles by males upholding conventional "macho" notions of masculinity, particularly policemen.

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