Apart from dominant women and alcoholism, Juchitan on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is also fast becoming known as the queer capitol of Mexico!
For three glitzy days of the year, the ‘Vela de las Auténticas Intrépidas Buscadoras del Peligro’ (Fiesta of the True Fearless Danger Seekers), or big gay pride fiesta, attracts not only gays, lesbians, transvestites and transsexuals from around the world, but also the international media, making it a must see event if you are in the area, regardless of your gender swing.
A famous local story goes that San Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of Juchitan, was entrusted by God with a bag of muxes (gays) to distribute them equally among all the towns on the Isthmus. Upon arrival in Juchitan, however, the bag got torn on a large cactus and all the muxes fell out there. Religiously, this story helps to justify there being a special Catholic mass for muxes to kick off the festivities – a legitimate gay communion if you like.
At 1pm we arrive at the St. Vicente Ferrer Church in Juchitan to find a rag-tag group of foreign journalists armed with cameras and tripods, eagerly waiting for something controversial to happen. After a short while the muxes arrive and enter the church as if on a catwalk. Some are dressed in traditional Isthmus Zapotec women clothes, others in their own creative designs revealing a little more than what the papacy would approve of.
The trigger happy journalists, me included, line the isles, and start capturing, flashing, zooming, mega zooming and videoing the subjects. The muxes revel in the attention, posing and flaunting themselves among the pews – the elaborate statues of the Catholic Saints are suddenly being out shone by a new and gregarious congregation.
There are about thirty muxes, fifty normally dressed people and twenty journalists. All goes quiet as the priest raises his arms, as if about to excommunicate everyone.
“I do not support it, but I respect it,” he begins.
“We should respect each other; irrespective of our sexual orientation, economic situation, ethnicity or religion, therefore, I invite you all to practice respect, through which we can achieve a better society – better co-existence.”
“Let’s start with ourselves; we should love and respect our own bodies without prejudice, and not abuse them,” the priest says carefully.
I get the idea he is perhaps referring to alcoholism, drugs and HIV/AIDS, which has been on the rise in Juchitan in recent years.
The service lasts for about an hour, and becomes more normal as times wears on. At the end, the priest offers Holy Communion, but only one muxe goes to eat the wafer from the priest fingers. My girlfriend, whose grandmother was Catholic, tells me the holy wafer is only for those who have recently confessed their sins.
Looking at the all the other muxes in the church, who are busy chatting and gossiping among themselves, it seems like the whole service has not been about religion at all, but a demonstration of gay pride.
To please the media and journalists, the priest invites the local muxes from Juchitan, who are dressed in traditional women’s costumes, to stand up near the altar. Everyone else then gathers around for a Catholic/transvestite photo shoot in front of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the cross.
Apparently, when the priest first arrived in Juchitan, he would not even let muxes enter the church, let alone attend services. With time, however, he realised he had to accept them, and now sees the Muxe Mass as the one event that can raises his status in the region more than any other.
The Catholic catechism from Rome, however, still describes homosexual acts as a ‘grave depravity’ and ‘intrinsically disordered’. It states that lesbian and gay relationships are ‘contrary to natural law’, and under no circumstances can they be approved. It does specifies though that ‘they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity’, but also states that ‘homosexual persons are called to chastity’.
Recently, Pope Francis has been trying to take a softer approach to gays and lesbians, saying Catholic families should stand by their gay children. So, perhaps eccentric events like this will become more wide spread in future.
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