The world-famous Dutch football player Johan Cruijff once said: ‘You only see it when you know it.’ That applied to patterns in soccer of course, but it could also refer to the many hidden layers of Latin America’s gay life.
It sometimes reminded me of my visits to Russia. Being out and proud gay is impossible there, as Putin’s conservative cronies are looking for scapegoats for their catastrophic nationalistic policies that are ruining the economy.
Thank God that scapegoating hasn’t happened yet in Central America, but when talking to gays there it is the same as in Russia. Close friends know, the parents usually don’t. At least not officially. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’, the policy in the United States military until the nineties, is still in effect here. Don’t ask any uncomfortable questions and I will not tell you the truth about my sexual orientation, that’s the deal.
Not as macho
The Latinos have many more layers though. There is even a very visible one in San Jose (Costa Rica) and in Guadalajara and Mexico City. There, gays walk hand in hand in the streets, to prove that Latin America isn’t as macho as it is said to be. And all of these cities actually have a gay nightlife, with clubs and even saunas. The ones where you don’t go for the sauna itself, but for the cruising zone of course 🙂
A more subtle and unexpected aspect are the she-males, with an ambiguous gender identity. You might expect them in the metropolises mentioned above, but you could see them walk the streets of remote San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. Or in student town Leon in Nicaragua.
Those are the exceptions though. Most gays are straight-acting on the outside, whatever that means. Never seen so many guys though who are checking out other guys. Out of cultural habit, curiosity or sexual attraction, I never really found out.
Open up a dating app on your smartphone and the veil from that straightness is lifted to open up another world for you. Even in remote locations profiles pop up. Not in the same quantities as in Western Europe, but at least you have options.
This is also where the basic rules of capitalism seem to apply. Where there is more supply (aka the big cities), there is less interest, especially in something meaningful. Guys seem to be looking for quick ONS (One Night Stands) here mainly. There was this hilarious moment in Guadalajara, where the dating app showed a guy in a 20 metre distance. Turned out to be the hostel’s night receptionist, who came around for a quick visit and left his station for some 23 minutes.
Even in these big cities there are plenty of exceptions to the ONS-philosophy though. In the same city I met a great sympathetic guy, who spent an entire day showing me the beautiful canyons of Barranca de Huentitan.
Once you got to smaller towns, the ONS-ghost didn’t completely vanish. But the mood (and demand) seemed to surge into a more Latin style. Gentler, more genuine. There was this amazing soft dude in Esteli (Nicaragua), who walked with me through town for hours whilst I was teaching him English. He slept naked with his female friends. Because they know. Everybody knows. But nobody asks.
He was weeping when we said our goodbyes, after not even sleeping together because I was still head-over-heels with this guy from Antigua, Guatemala. Yes, you should never fall in love whilst travelling. Well, let’s call him Alejandro, and he caught me be surprise. After first showing me his beautiful colonial city for a day, we said our goodbyes never to see eachother again.
But, of course, curiosity killed the cat. So we met again with his friends in a club later that night. They know. Officially. His parents don’t know. Officially. Because they don’t ask, as much as my Dutch mother would never have asked if I hadn’t told her. But both the Guatemalan and the Dutch guy still ended together in bed, several times even for an entire week.
There are apparently also plenty of old-style meeting points. Where cruising zones in Europe have slowly been replaced by online dating and the more safe environment of gay saunas, in Latin America they are still very much alive. You have to know it, before you see it though.
In Leon the receptionist explained me to go to the skate park behind the city hall in the evening, even plenty of straight guys looking for fun there apparently. But no thank you, not interested because of the Guatemalan of course.
Places like these are apparently not unusual in Latin America. And it probably has to do with those two Spanish words you will immediately learn in the dating apps: ‘con lugar’. Which basically means one can host someone as well, there is a place to sleep and do ‘cositas’ (little things) together. Yes, my Spanish vocabulary took huge leaps…
Any unpleasant experiences? Not really. Some guys are scared to be seen with a foreigner, because it might invoke the question to which no one wants to hear the answer. And yes, you have to be slightly more careful with your health. Most guys will say they got tested recently for STDs. But most don’t really have the financial means for tests or are scared for their privacy.
Apart from that, all good. Just make sure to meet guys in a public space. And don’t shove it in everyone’s face you are gay. As long as you don’t know it, you don’t see it, remember? 🙂
Good to know:
- gay life in Mexico City is concentrated in the Zona Rosa area
- In Guadalajara, look for the corner of Ocampo and Prisciliano Sanchez. There are several bars there, from the cosy Priscilla and campy Yeye to the huge Caudillos Disco Bar. There are also several gay saunas in the city
- In Guatemala, tourist-friendly Antigua is a good bet. Even there you can only find one gay club night a month though. The capital features slightly more options, but not a lot: http://gayguatemala.com/index.php/guia/ciudad-de-guatemala/noticias
- Costa Rica is the most open gay country, though even there in more rural regions it’s best not to explicitly show your gayness. San Jose has the biggest pride of Latin America and several bars, clubs and gay saunas. Manuel Antonio village, 165 kilometres from the capital near the national park, is also known as a gay paradise with lots of expats