Text and photos by Guillermo Ochoa’s Jockstrap
A conservatively-dressed jazz band, a group of scantily-clad buff dudes and a couple of drag queens decide to share a parade float. No, this is not the wind-up to an awful joke. It’s a description of this year’s Marcha de Orgullo (Pride Parade) in Mexico City. The mixture may strike attendees of more established Pride festivities as a bit strange. But like the combination of sweet mango, salt and chili powder that you can find being sold here, unlikely convergences have defined my experience in this mega-city.
I started my Marcha de Orgullo day with a drunch at a friend’s house, after which we proceeded to Paseo de la Reforma, the boulevard where the parade started. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but what I found was something between a parade and a massive street party. There were crazy floats and brilliant drag queens, but what struck me the most was the lack of fences between parade watchers and those marching. Unlike my previous Prides where most visitors were simply passers-by on the sidelines, marching seemed to be the main event for nearly everyone who came to Mexico City Pride, whether or not they were actually part of a float or registered organization. While some people did stay on the sidelines, many more people easily filed into the parade itself, mixing with the official marchers and floats with no problem. There is something to be said for how the act of marching itself can inspire a sense of unity.
Osos! The Mexico City Orgullo bear float
In fact, the last time I had ever felt this close to my queer brothers and sisters was during the 2009 National Equality March in Washington, D.C., an event that contrasted interestingly with Marcha de Orgullo. In what I’m pretty sure was my first and last serious foray into LGBT activism, I walked in this march during my sophomore year of college. There were no drag queens or fabulous costumes to be found. I mostly just remember a lot of idealistic 20-somethings like myself wearing t-shirts with our association’s logo or school delegation’s colors. Nonetheless, the very act of marching together through D.C. to the Capitol’s lawn felt very empowering in a way that may not have been the case if I had been simply standing behind a barricade.
I never did anything like that again, sadly. Since 2009, part of me has also become somewhat skeptical of the goals of what I see as an increasingly corporatized mainstream gay rights movement. As a result, I’ve tended to shy away from a lot of mainline LGBT activism. It’s odd because on a personal level, I’m a fairly “traditional” gal. I want what a lot of mainstream gay activists seem to be fighting for: to be able to settle down one day, start a family, live in a place that looks like Brookline, Massachusetts, etc. But is it really liberation if the only “presentable” queers are the ones who want all this? What of all the folks who find nothing appealing about the lifestyle I just described? Or who would never be able to access said lifestyle even if they tried?
Maybe for that reason, I found something oddly liberating about the relatively dysfunctional nature of the Marcha de Orgullo in Mexico City. I’ve been living in Latin America for the past two and a half years, and this was my fourth Pride ever. I’ve been to NYC and Quito, Ecuador’s Prides, while on a much smaller scale than that of the others — possibly owing to Quito’s smaller population — seemed to operate in a similar way to Mexico City’s Orgullo. Both parades started at a central point in the city and ended with a concert in a central plaza of some kind – in Quito’s case, this was the central plaza of the Mariscal, Quito’s major nightlife center. Overall though, it was pretty tame event; there was not much in the way of public drinking and most attendees did a pretty good job of staying on the sidewalks and not spilling into the streets where the floats and organizations were marching. I don’t say this to throw shade on Quito’s Pride by any means. In fact, considering that homosexuality was legally prohibited in the country until 1997, the extent of Quito’s Pride efforts and the vast swath of LGBT organizations I saw represented in the festivities were actually really impressive.
Then there is of course, NYC Pride – that big, established, lean, mean machine of rainbows and sparkles and well-organized floats and loads of corporate sponsors. I don’t necessarily mean any of that as an underhanded insult. Arguably, NY Pride’s immaculate organization and size is a sign that gay life there has reached a point of mass acceptance. And for all my misgivings about what this sort of “acceptability” entails, I think that kind of safety and ubiquity means being a queer is better now than it was a year ago.
Mexico City’s Orgullo seemed to occupy a delightfully sloppy place between Quito’s modest march and the big corporate bonanzas you find in places like NY. Its lack of barricades says something about where Mexico City is now with respect to queerness. On the one hand, this city is loud and proud in many ways — it feels like its queerness has yet to be co-opted by bland, corporate forces. But as the city’s gay scene grows, will we one day see a sleek, well-organized Mexico City Pride with well-policed fences?
Not this year, at least. Paseo de la Reforma was so packed that the police weren’t even bothering to curb the very obvious public drinking going on. For the sake of comparison, this was not case when Mexicans of all ages stormed the same boulevard after the country’s recent World Cup win against Croatia. Then, I saw police snatching beer bottles and pouring them into bushes. At Pride a large mass of drunken queers was allowed to imbibe freely. (Did the police realized that taking action against such a large, unwieldy crowd would be futile?) At one point in the march, my friends and I decided we needed more alcohol, so we left the crowd to drop by a convenience store — only to find a sign on the window that said “No hay venta de alcohol” (No alcohol sales). Sadly, this was the case with every convenience store within close radius of the parade. Bold move, Mexico City. Bold move.
We returned without drinks to the parade, which was to proceed through all of Paseo de la Reforma, past the Monumento de la Revolución, and end at the Zocalo, the central plaza of the city’s historical district. As we inched closer to the Zocalo, the crowd seemed to get even more discombobulated. Dudes were openly selling beer illegally, people were smoking weed, police still weren’t caring. The ATMs in the area had all run out of money (the next day, I couldn’t even get money from the ATM near my apartment, which is at least a 25 minute walk from the parade … I mean damn, Mexico). Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the Zocalo, it seemed that whatever performances were supposed to be happening were dying down, so we headed to the infamous Zona Rosa, the city’s somewhat touristy gay club district. But before shit could get even realer, I decided to call it a day and go home. What can I say, day drinking is exhausting. I’m sure the night was a ruckus for all who endured longer than I did.
I’m reminded of a drunken conversation I had with a friend at one of the city’s more popular gay clubs. He kept insisting that back in the day, you could come into this club and find dudes literally fucking out in the open in the coat check section. I find that somewhat hard to believe, but his general point — that as time has gone on, the Zona Rosa has become more sanitized over the years — seems plausible enough. It does seem that the more a marginalized group is accepted by society, the less countercultural their spaces become. Is this a such a bad thing though? As I reach the end of this piece, I don’t really know the answer to that question. I imagine many people would say “yes” and that through assimilation, we lose that special something about queer culture that has the potential to change the status quo. On the other hand, this mainstreaming can also be taken as a sign that the capital of a large, conservative Catholic country is becoming more and more welcoming of its LGBT community. I’d like to think that’s progress even if it’s not perfect.