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Art, Identity, and Mexicos Gay Movement 89

Art, Identity, and Mexicos

Gay Movement

Edward J. McCaughan*

ince the emergence of Mexicos homosexual liberation movement in the
late 1970s, LGBT activists have worked to transform a cultural politics of
national identity that rested discursively on patriarchal constructs of hetero-
sexism, machismo, and rigid binaries of gender and sexuality. In Art and Social
Movements: Cultural Politics in Mexico and Aztln (McCaughan 2012), I make
the case that artists associated with Mexican and Chicanx social movements from
the late 1960s through the early 1990s created visual languages and spaces through
which activists could imagine and perform new collective identities and forms of
meaningful citizenship. In this article, I extend that analysis through an examina-
tion of the role of art and artists in Mexicos gay movement.
The first time I began to understand more fully the extraordinary potential of
publicly displayed art to disrupt and queer notions of what it means to be Mexican
was in 1999, when I visited the annual exhibition of LGBT-themed art at the Museo
Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City. As I moved through the museums vast
galleries, I was confronted with dozens of images produced by gay, lesbian, and
allied artists that seemed intent on creating a queer Mexican imaginary. Carlos
Jaurenas mixed media assemblage, Los Compadres, for example, included two
erect penises intertwined with a tricolor ribbon (Mexicos red, white, and green).
Gustavo Monroys oil and collage Mapa mundi was a map of Mexico populated
by indigenous couples engaged in sex. Araceli Prez Mendozas oil on canvas,
Cacto so good!, offered a nude female in lotus meditation position; her vagina
was a green nopal cactus paddle. Salvador Salazars piece was an oil portrait of
a nude, muscular Subcomandante Marcos, the well-known spokesperson of the
Zapatista indigenous movement. Salazars Marcos holds a machine gun aloft with
his right hand and a huge Mexican flag in his left. Many of the individual works in
the exhibition were engaging, but the cumulative power of this visual intervention
was greatly magnified for me by the large number of queerly Mexican images on
display in a prominent public venue visited by thousands of people.
This article examines how visual art works such as these, produced in the con-
text of Mexicos LGBT movements, helped to shape new discourses and imagine
* Edward J. McCaughan (email: is Professor of Sociology in the Department of
Sociology and Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University. The most recent of his several
books is Art and Social Movements: Cultural Politics in Mexico and Aztln (Duke University Press,

Social Justice Vol. 42, No. 34 (2015) 89

90 Edward J. McCaughan

new subjects constituted around the intersections of gender, sexuality, and national
identity. The significance of the creation, circulation, and impact of such imagery
must be understood in the context of the gradual but uneven, fragile, and still
incomplete democratization of Mexicoparticularly Mexico Citythat began
in the 1970s with the opening of the press, the electoral system, and autonomous
spaces for organized civil society. Since 1987, a major exhibition of artwork by
gays, lesbians, and allied supporters has been mounted each year at the Museo
del Chopo, as part of an annual LGBT pride celebration that, in the assessment of
the late Carlos Monsivis (1997, 13), constituted for civil society critical proof
of the way in which alternative spaces have contributed to the diversity and the
democratization of Mexican life. Since 1997, Mexico City has been governed
by a center-left party that, under organized pressure from LGBT and feminist
activists, legalized same-sex marriage and abortion. I argue that artwork created
in the generative environment of Mexicos LGBT movements contributed to these
cultural and political sea changes by producing new visual discourses that allowed
diverse publics to recognize, understand, respect, and inhabit gendered and sexual
identities that were previously excluded from hegemonic notions of what it means
to be Mexican.

Art and the Construction of Mexicanidad

In his writings about cinema and photography of the African diaspora, cultural
sociologist Stuart Hall (2001, 560) argued that cultural identity is always
constituted within, not outside representation. As documented by several scholars,
representation through the arts and visual culture was certainly essential to the
constitution of twentieth-century Mexicos densely entangled social identities
organized around nation, race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. Zavala
(2010), for example, traces changing meanings of traditional and modern Mexican
womanhood through representations in the visual arts. Gutirrez (2010) examines
the representation of mexicanidad and sexuality by Mexican and Chicana musical
and theatrical performers. Irwin (2003) dissects canonical Mexican literary texts
to illustrate how Mexicanness, masculinity, and notions of homosexuality were
constituted in relationship to one another. De la Mora (2006) explores how Mexican
cinema helped to make hyper-masculine machismo a defining characteristic of
mexicanidad, and an anthology edited by Macas-Gonzlez and Rubenstein (2012)
includes studies that follow the construction of masculinity and sexuality in Mexico
through film and music.
A few examples will illustrate. Mexican muralists created an extensive inven-
tory of public art in the first half of the twentieth century; Diego Riveras and
David Alfaro Siqueiross larger-than-life portraits of virile male heroes of the 1910
Mexican Revolution contributed to linking mexicanidad, machismo, and nation-
alist power. The famed graphic artist Jos Guadalupe Posadas caricatures of 41
men who were arrested in 1901 at a private party in Mexico City (where many of
Art, Identity, and Mexicos Gay Movement 91

them were dressed as women) were a central component of the extensive media
coverage of the infamous scandal that would help to establish public discourse
about homosexuality in Mexico for decades to come (Irwin, McCaughan, and
Nasser 2003). One Posada broadsheet about the scandal includes a drawing of the
men, half of them in ball gowns, dancing together, and a ditty about the pretty
and coquettish maricones (faggots). The identification of male homosexuals as
effeminate, sexually provocative, and objects of derisive humor would stick and
be reproduced widely in cartoons published in leftist newspapers like El Machete
and in Mexico Citys satiric working-class penny press (Buffington, 2003). Report-
ers and photographers working for Mexicos popular nota roja (a sensationalist
genre of tabloid journalism that focused on stories of physical violence, murders,
crime, and the bizarre) created an iconography called mujercitosa mas-
culinized version of the word meaning little women. Photos of transvestites and
transsexuals circulated widely in nota roja publications and served, in the assess-
ment of historian Cuauhtmoc Medina (2014, 3), as confirmation of the macho
stereotype of homosexuals ... as the preceptors of a virtuous ambivalence. The
cover of the tabloid Alarma! from 1970, for example, includes photographs of two
individuals, presumably transvestites or transsexuals, and text that reads (from top
to bottom), Whats going on? Doesnt anyone want to be a man anymore? More
Mujercitos! Secret banquets of invertidos [homosexuals]. They were born men!
Sickening sexual depravation.
Such representations in the arts and popular visual culture combined with the
work of scholars and political leaders in the first half of the twentieth century to as-
sociate Mexican culture with the construct of heterosexist machismo. Given Octavio
Pazs stature as one of the great writers of the twentieth century and as a semiofficial
intellectual of the Mexican state, the publication of his famous The Labyrinth of
Solitude helped to elevate such constructs to the level of official national discourse.
Using highly sexualized language, Pazs (1961) social-psychological essays on
Mexican character described what he understood to be the essential characteristics
of Mexican men. The Mexican man never cracks, never opens himself up,
never allows the outside world to penetrate his privacy (p. 30). The passive
homosexual Mexican male is thus regarded as an abject, degraded being (p. 39).
Hctor Carrillo (1999: 225) suggests that such acutely heterosexual, machista
representations of Mexican identity are in part the result of nationalist responses
from Mexicos leftist intelligentsia and its socially conservative elite to the growing
influence of North American cultural values in the first decades of the twentieth
century. Their reaction, he argues, helped construct what, in the decades to come,
promoted the association of Mexico and mexicanidad with machismo. Mexicans
resistance to the cultural invasion from the north, and the defense of traditional
values, symbolized the kind of strength and stoicism that Paz identified as masculine
qualities of the Mexican macho.
92 Edward J. McCaughan

The nations secular narratives about the incompatibility of homosexuality and

authentic Mexicanness were certainly reinforced by Catholic patriarchal dogma
about homosexuality as a sin and abomination, the Churchs rigid gender norms,
and its long history of repressing sexual deviants. Nevertheless, in a somewhat
ironic twist, the religious artworks filling Mexicos thousands of Catholic churches,
cathedrals, convents, and monasteries often include homoerotic and ambiguously
gendered images of saints, martyrs, and Christ himself, offering more than a few
gay boys and men a fertile fantasy world.

Gay Activism and Art

Such was the cultural context when the Mexican homosexual liberation movement,
as it first identified itself, emerged in the 1970s. It was a period when homosexual
panic associated with nationalist constructions of masculinity and Mexican identity
(Irwin 2003, 187) coexisted with emerging hybrid notions of male homosexuality
(Carrillo 1999) and a subtle opening up of masculine sensibility and emotion
(Vaughan 2015, 220). Politically, it was also a time when the Mexican Left was
resurgent as the radicalized generation of 1968 provided new leadership to a variety
of social movements and new political organizations that seriously challenged
the hegemony of the long-ruling, post-revolutionary regime. Much of the Left,
however, uncritically reproduced patriarchal notions of what constituted authentic
Mexicanness and viewed demands for gender and sexual equality as divisive.
As a result, many gay and feminist activists who otherwise shared leftist goals
of class equality and social justice felt compelled to create their own alternative
organizational and cultural spaces outside Mexicos traditional Left (see, e.g.,
McCaughan 2002 and 2012).
Many date the emergence of the modern Mexican LGBT movement to 1978.
On October 2 of that year, a contingent gays and lesbians participated in a march
in Mexico City commemorating the tenth anniversary of the infamous government
massacre of student protesters at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco. Today
that contingents appearance is often regarded as the first Marcha de Orgullo Ho-
mosexual (Homosexual Pride March), although the first march formally organized
as such was actually held in Mexico City the following year (Hernndez Cabrera
2005, 290). Luis Zapatas influential gay novel, El vampiro de la Colonia Roma,
also was published in 1978 (Letra S, n.d.). Among the first activist LGBT groups
were the Frente de Liberacin Homosexual (FLH), Sex-Pol, Lesbos, and the Grupo
Autnoma de Lesbianas Oikabeta, and soon after the Frente Homosexual de Ac-
cin Revolucionaria (FHAR), Grupo Lambda de Liberacin Homosexual, cratas,
and Lesbianas Socialistas (Hernndez Cabrera 2005, 290; Mongrovejo 2000). The
first openly gay candidates campaigned for election as Federal Deputies in 1982
and were met with a violent assault in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City
(Letra S, n.d.). The first cases of HIV in Mexico were documented in 1983, which
shifted the focus of gay activism (ibid.).
Art, Identity, and Mexicos Gay Movement 93

One of the movements early strategic actions was to establish what became an
annual cultural mobilizationfirst called the semana cultural gay (gay cultural week,
reflecting the internationalization of the English word gay), later (beginning in
1992) the semana cultural lsbica-gay, and now the festival de diversidad sexual.
Since 1987, a cornerstone of the annual pride celebration has been an exhibition of
artwork by gays, lesbians, and allied supporters held at the National Autonomous
University of Mexicos Museo del Chopo. Those shows, as well as other major
exhibitions such as Propuestas temticas (1983) and Las Transgresiones al cuerpo
(1997) at the Museo Carrillo Gil and those organized under the banner 100 Artistas
Contra el SIDA (100 Artists against AIDS) in the mid-1990s, gave high-profile
visibility to counterhegemonic visual discourses about homosexuality. The large,
public venues in Mexico City assured that large audiences saw the artwork every
year. According to feminist artist and LGBTQ ally Mnica Mayer, the exhibitions
were especially significant as an alternative social space for people to gather and
interact (interview with author, Mexico City, November 28, 2012). Art historian
Jorge Alberto Manrique (1997, 16) described the annual El Chopo exhibitions as
sites of solidarity with the cause of a persecuted, assaulted, and wounded minor-
ity, and, as noted earlier, Carlos Monsivis (1997, 13) regarded these forums as
critical to the democratization of Mexican life. In addition to the significance of
the social space created by these exhibitions, I argue that the widely viewed images
were important in and of themselves in producing an alternative visual discourse
about the possibility of being simultaneously homosexual and Mexican.
From the catalogs of these group exhibitions, catalogs from the solo shows of
Julio Galn and Nahm Zenil (two of Mexicos most prominent gay artists), and
photos I took at miscellaneous venues, I assembled an archive of approximately
600 works of art produced by gay, lesbian, and allied artists. A team of undergradu-
ate research assistants1 and I did a preliminary content analysis of those images,
coding them according to four key themes (which often overlap): the secular ico-
nography of mexicanidad, the religious iconography of mexicanidad, the violence
of homophobia and AIDs, and alternative or liberatory representations of gender
and sexuality. In this article, I focus on works of art that intervene in the visual
discourses of mexicanidad that are associated with the nation-state and the church.
I also limit my analysis in this piece to work produced by male artists. Women
artists were not equally represented in these venues, undoubtedly reflecting both
the general underrepresentation of women in the Mexican art world, about which
I have written previously (McCaughan 2007), and the sexism faced by Lesbians in
the LGBT movement (see, e.g., Mogrovejo 1999 and 2000). The participation of
women in the annual pride activities, and in the art exhibitions in particular, deserves
a much fuller analysis than I can provide here and will be addressed more fully in
the book I am writing on the role of art in Mexicos LGBTQ movements. Here I
will simply note that only 20 percent of the artwork in my archive was produced
by women, that womens artwork was represented somewhat more prominently
94 Edward J. McCaughan

in the 100 Artists Against AIDs exhibition, and that my preliminary analysis of
the archive suggests that more of the artwork produced by women reflects the
theme of alternative/liberatory representations of gender and sexuality rather than
an engagement with notions of national identity. What follows, then, is a content
analysis of artwork by gay or at least gay-friendly Mexican men engaging the na-
tions secular and religious iconography of mexicanidad.

Oh Santa Bandera (Oh Holy Flag)

The visual culture of the modern Mexican nation-state provided fertile ground
for gay male artists intent on decoupling mexicanidad from notions of proudly
heterosexual, hyper-masculine, machismo. Some, such as Froyln Ruiz and Nahm
Zenil, emphasize the homophobic violence embedded in national symbols. In Ruizs
surrealistic Los amorosos y morir en Mxico (the loving ones and to die in Mexico)
from 1993, the head of a dark-skinned, mustachioed, smiling man (presumably one
of the loving ones) floats in the top left corner of the sky. To the right, the name
Roberto, written in cursive letters, glows like a neon sign. Does the name belong
to the disembodied head or to his departed amoroso? What appears to be an
explosion of blood erupts from the center of the image and little red drops dot the
canvas. Fragile stalks of a pussy willow-like plant rise from a watery surface that
covers the lower third of the painting. One of the stalks is broken and small human
hearts seem to be embossed on some of the blossoms. A bloodstained Mexican flag
hangs from a string, rather like a flag of surrender, in the foreground. For a gay man
in love, the painting suggests, to die in Mexico in the 1990s was likely to be an
experience marked by the violence of homophobia and AIDS. Can the fragile pussy
willows and their hearts avoid such death? Is the Mexican flag, usually a symbol
of national patriotism, pride, and unity, surrendering in shame before such horror?
In Zenils Oh Santa bandera (a Enrique Guzmn), a triptych from 1996, the
Mexican flag stands erect, planted firmly in the anus of a naked, bent over Zenil
(see Figure 1). The artist told me that he painted this as a homage to Enrique
Guzmn, a painter he regards as an important precursor of what art scholars refer
to as neo-Mexicanism (interview with author, Mexico City, July 23, 2009). The
flag in Zenils painting is taken from Guzmns 1977 painting of the same name.
Guzmn committed suicide in 1986 while still in his thirties. Like Zenil, Guzmn
included portraits of his own body, combined with symbols of the nation in his
paintings. How are we to read Zenils homage to Guzmn? Is the artist the victim
of painful rape by the homophobic, nationalist culture or a willing participant in
the pleasurable sex associated with Mexican mens complex experience with hid-
den bisexuality? The artists face is inscrutable, revealing nothing except, perhaps,
the ambivalent feelings of gay men about the phallocentric nature of Mexicos
dominant culture.
Less violent terror emanates from the multiple images of mexicanidad in Julio
Galns Me quiero morir (I want to die) from 1985. A person of ambiguous gender
Art, Identity, and Mexicos Gay Movement 95

(vaguely resembling a young Galn) holds hands up as though surrendering to

state authorities. His/her right wrist has been handcuffed, and the cuff is attached
to a chain that forms a stylized map of Mexico in the background. One end of the
chain has coiled itself into a snake that appears about to crush a small bird, revers-
ing the official symbol of the nations founding on the Mexican flag in which an
eagle devours a snake. Overhead, the words me quiero morir are spelled out in
a banner of yellow and black papel picadoMexicos popular folk-art tradition
of colorful paper perforated to create elaborate motifs. Though not immediately
obvious, perhaps the most disturbing element in this painting is the Mexican flag,
which is sticking out of the persons left coat pocket. While the raised arms cast a
shadow over the rest of the background, no shadow appears on the flag, as though
it refuses to acknowledge the persons existence.
Galns cryptically titled Cuatro palabras (four words) from 1999 might be
read as the artists questionably successful effort to claim his Mexican identity and
a celebratory space of diversity within the national culture. A Mexican flag with
the artists initials, JG, is draped over the wings of an eagle. Fifteen different types
of birds, all of which are entangled in festive, multicolored serpentines and thus
probably unable to fly, surround the eagle.

Figure 1:
Nahum Zenil, Oh Santa bandera (a
Enrique Guzmn), 1996. Triptych,
mixed media on paper. Used by
permission of artist.

The approach taken by other artists was to queer the nations symbols. In a tab-
leau created in 1993 by photographer Adolfo Prez Butrn, early twentieth-century
96 Edward J. McCaughan

revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata is re-presented as an object of desire for men

and women alike (Figure 2). Standing in front of what appears to be a mural of the
Aztecs iconic plumed serpent, Zapata wears a bandolier loaded not with bullets
but with foil packets of condoms, the weapon of choice in the fight against AIDS.
A woman embraces him affectionately on his left and a man does so on his right.
His imagined lovers are dressed in the traditional white clothing of the campesinos
who joined Zapatas revolutionary army. Each wears a garland of garlic, a common
ingredient in folk medicine recipes and here perhaps imagined as protection against
HIV. Prez Butrn reproduces the standard image of Zapata as a smoldering, virile
macho, but this Zapata is also bisexual and, ever the revolutionary leader, prepared
to protect his sexual partners by using condoms.

Figure 2. Adolfo Prez Butrn, untitled, 1993. Photograph. Used by permission of artist.

Carlos Jaurena also riffed on the theme of homosexual desire as authentically

Mexican in the aforementioned assemblage from 1999 titled Los Compadres. The
scene in his glass-covered box is of a moonlit rural landscape, including a small
Art, Identity, and Mexicos Gay Movement 97

village with a cantina. Two crossed penises, entwined with a classically Mexican
red, white, and green ribbon, float in the sky. Cursive letters above the scene read
somos bien machoswe are real machos.

Cerquita de dios (Near to God)

Mexicos visual culture and identity were shaped as much by religious, particularly
Catholic, iconography and aesthetics as they were by the secular symbols of the
nation-state. Much of the artwork in my archive engages the nations inventory
of religious imagery. Some artists offered critiques of the churchs hypocrisy and
complicity in homophobic violence. Others created visual worlds in which one
might inhabit gay, Mexican, and Catholic identities simultaneously.
Emerging one day in 2001 from one of Mexico Citys impossibly crowded sub-
way stations, I was startled to find a large-scale art installation about homosexuality
and homophobia by the Taller de Documentacin Visual (visual documentation
workshop). One wall contained data about the shocking number of violent hate
crimes committed against gays and lesbians in Mexico. The opposite wall displayed
two panels of text and two large images. One panel read, The heterosexuals are
very brave: they make war and impose their law. The heterosexuals are the parents
of every homosexual. The other panel read, Homosexuals: deviants who only
struggle to live and make love. Artists have a very feminine side. Separating the
panels of text were two large images: a black-and-white photograph of two shirt-
less men embracing (one is clutching the butt cheek of the other) and a bright,
pastel-colored representation of a Christ-like figure comforting a young man who
is resting his head on the older mans shoulder. Over the latter image, titled El
discpulo amado (the beloved disciple), is the question, Qu es ser gay?(What
is it to be gay?) (Figure 3). Even with no other reference to religion, the juxtaposi-
tion of these texts and images of men loving men seems to suggest that this Christ
would never accept the injustice and inequity of the nations dominant sex-gender
discourse or the inhumanity of its homophobic violence.
Salvador Salazars 1994 Memoria de la sangre (memory of blood) is a series
of six images that decry the complicity of the Church in homophobic violence. The
image in the upper-left corner is the same portrait of a transvestite that appeared in
another painting by Salazar, Vanessa, morir en Chiapas (Vanessa, to die in Chiapas),
which referred to the brutal murders of transvestites in that state. Another image
shows a man holding a sign that reads, Por un Mxico sin putos (for a Mexico
without faggots), while someone else holds up a cross and rosary beads. Another
panel in the series contains images of a priest and Catholic bishop making the sign
of the cross. In yet another panel, the Virgin of Guadalupe has disappeared, leaving
an empty space in her halo that allows us to see a dead body on the ground. Has
the nations patron saint gone AWOL, abandoning her post while the murder of
queer Mexicans is justified by the Churchs teachings?
98 Edward J. McCaughan

Figure 3. Taller de Documentacin Visual, untitled, 2001. Installation. Photographs of

installation details by Edward McCaughan.

Salazars El reverso del medalln (the reverse side of the medallion) from 1995
refers to the Catholic Church hierarchys repression of Sor Juana Ins de la Cruz,
Mexicos great seventeenth-century, protofeminist poet, playwright, scholar, nun,
and lesbian. Adopting the European style of religious paintings that adorn many
Mexican churches, Salazar renders Sister Juana and her lover, the vicereine, float-
ing through the air over an upside-down crucifix. One male angel offers Juana an
olive branch while a snakethe ancient symbol of dangerous sexuality that figures
prominently in the Christian and secular Mexican origin storiesappears to kiss
another figure. Here the famous medallion that hangs over Juanas chest in several
popular portraits rests against her thighs and reveals its reverse side: a Christ-like
figure apparently engaged in sex with a black man, perhaps Judas? How many
betrayals committed and how much punishment were rendered over the centuries
out of the fear of deviant sexuality and strong-willed, intelligent women?
Several artists linked the persecution of gays to Christian martyrs, including
St. Sebastian, St. John the Baptist, and Mara Sebastiana. Nahm Zenil portrayed
himself as St. Michael the Archangel, a complex symbol for gay men. On the one
hand, St. Michael was the leader of Gods army and the patron saint of battle,
soldiers, paratroopers, police officers, and security forces. As such, he potentially
represents religious and state repression of homosexuals. On the other hand, Saint
Michael is also the patron saint of artists, bakers, haberdashers, and milliners
professions often considered more compatible with the sensibilities of many gay
men. Michael is also the patron saint of dying and sick people, of ambulance driv-
ers, paramedics, and medical techniciansfigures of no small importance for the
gay community in the era of AIDS. In portraying himself as Saint Michael, Zenil
perhaps suggests that he, like most gay men and, indeed like the national culture
Art, Identity, and Mexicos Gay Movement 99

in general, embodies all of these contradictory impulses: to oppress and to protect,

to destroy and to create, to kill and torture and to heal. Zenil also portrayed his
long-time companion Gerardo as a saint holding a cluster of rosary beads, chains
bearing silver hearts (milagros), a crucifix, and a portrait of the artist. Is this perhaps
an acknowledgment of his beloved Gerardos power to heal Zenils broken heart?

Figure 4. Miguel Cano, Cerquita de dios, 2002. Mixed media on paper. Private collection
of Edward McCaughan.
Agustn Portillos painting, La Ascensin del ero, sidesteps the Catholic hier-
archy and its official teachings to appeal directly to that most Mexican of saints, the
Virgin of Guadalupe, as a loving, welcoming, protector of even the most humble
and maligned. ero is a word used both as a noun and an adjective to convey
various pejorative meanings, including vulgar, uncultured, uneducated, foolish,
tacky, and in poor taste. As a noun it would refer to an individual characterized by
those qualities, but it is often used among male friends in Mexico City when greeting
one another, not unlike, whats up, dude or African American men greeting one
another with the N word. In Portillos painting, ero is likely an affectionate, familiar
100 Edward J. McCaughan

nickname given to a fuck-up by his closest friends. In any case, el ero appears to
have died and is ascending to heaven, assisted by his friends and/or family below.
His dress (tee-shirt, sneakers, a knife tucked into his pants), a beer bottle, and a
pack of cigarettes help to identify him as a rough, working-class, good-time guy.
Although nothing in the painting particularly codes el ero as gay, the paintings
inclusion in one of the annual LGBT exhibitions suggests that probability. He is,
in sum, not the most likely candidate for official Catholic heaven. Yet Guadalupe
opens her arms to receive him.
Finally, combining the nations religious and secular iconography, Miguel
Cano reimagines God as a gentle, Mexican father figure who is blessing a mar-
riage between two men (Figure 4). In Canos Cerquita de dios (near to God) from
2002, a sweet-faced, bearded elder wears a mariachi sombrero while he extends
his arms to clasp the heads of the gay couple, appearing to nudge them closer to
one another. The gold and white rays that emanate from the deity resemble feath-
ers, symbolic of his divinity. Angels with red, white, and green wings wave small
Mexican flags in celebration of the union they are witnessing. Several years before
the LGBT movements mobilizationsincluding mass kiss-ins and the very public
marriage of lesbian artists Liliana Felipe and Jesusa Rodrguez on Valentines Day
in 2001finally succeeded in pressuring legislators to legalize same-sex marriage
in Mexico City, Canos image helped gay activists and the public to visualize a
world in which it was possible to celebrate simultaneously ones Mexican identity,
Christian faith, and homosexual love.
In conclusion, these images, produced in the context of a decades-long move-
ment for the full rights and equality of Mexicos LGBTQ communities and viewed
by many tens of thousands of Mexicans over the years, created a counterhegemonic
visual discourse about the relationship between mexicanidad and homosexual-
ity. As I argue in Art and Social Movements (McCaughan 2012), art produced
by people actively engaged with movements for social change has the power to
incite new ways of knowing and being in the world. Twentieth-century Mexican
art and visual culture, functioning much like language, structured peoples under-
standing and performance of subjectivities organized around notions of national
identity, gender, sexuality, race, class, and citizenship. When LGBT movements
first emerged, it was difficult to find within that patriarchal, sexist, and homophobic
visual language ways to imagine and inhabit a queer Mexican subject endowed and
empowered with dignity, equality, and full civil and human rights. But consistent
with Sausurres (1983) distinction between the structure of language (langue) and
the agency of speech (parole), gay activist artists spoke in ways that transformed
the meaning and structure of the language of mexicanidad. By doing so in the
context of an organized social movement of LGBTQ communities, they helped to
liberate and mobilize powerful new social agents. To a large extent, the de facto
exercise of full Mexican citizenship and its corresponding rights and privileges
were long circumscribed by notions of an authentic Mexican subject who was
Art, Identity, and Mexicos Gay Movement 101

male, heterosexual, and macho. In using art to expand the public imaginary of what
it means to be Mexican, queer artists also helped to shape new social and political
spaces for extending full citizenship rights to those previously excluded by virtue
of their sexuality or gender performance.
Although it is difficult to measure the impact of the artwork on the LGBT
movements constituents or on the Mexican public in general, it is reasonable to
assume that the cumulative weight of the wide circulation of this new visual lan-
guage over the course of some 30 years has helped to shift public attitudes about
what it means to be queer and what it means to be Mexican. Changing cultural
attitudes in turn are reflected in political changes such as the election of openly
gay and lesbian political officials, the creation of institutions such as the Comisin
Ciudadana Contra los Crmenes de Odio por Homofobia (Citizens Commission
Against Homophobic Hate Crimes), the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the
strengthening of Mexico Citys antidiscrimination laws to include comprehensive
definitions of homophobia, lesbophobia, and transphobia.


1. The author is very grateful to the following San Francisco State University undergraduate
sociology students who assisted me in organizing the archive, analyzing the content of the artwork,
and transcribing and coding interviews: Ivan Aguilera, Karina Almaza, Graciela Anchante, Vincent
Cancellieri, Giulianna Cendejas, Noelia Corzo, Jennifer de la Cruz, Araceli Daz, Karla Daz, Estefania
Placencia, Marisol Pimentel, Sebastian Ren, Hayley Totten, and Edher Zamudio.


Buffington, Robert
2003 Homophobia and the Mexican Working Class, 19001910. In The Famous
41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, 1901, edited by Robert McKee
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