Like many in Mexico City I long admired Monsiváis, but–like few–I had the privilege of becoming his best friend for three long, amazing and wonderful days.
This was the third time I organized a conference where he was the key note speaker. And the first time that despite canceling last minute, I convinced him to take the red eye flight from Mexico City to Montreal to give his keynote. It was the middle of winter and it was horrible, so I awaited Monsiváis at the airport fully equipped with winter clothes, which he denied at first but after feeling the first wave of cold air freezing everything including his eye balls, he conceded to the hat, the gloves, the coat, the scarf, etc. The conversation took us to the different AIDS treatments in Mexico and Canada and very soon after my many awkward attempts to impress him the magic happened: I think we clicked. He said, “Call me Carlos.”
During the three days we spent together I noticed his humbleness and was privileged to get a taste of what characterized him: his way of chronicling reality, making an art out of irony. We were witnessing similar things, while walking on the street buying movies, having dinner at a fancy restaurant with important McGill officers, attending an artsy private screening of a porn film, waiting on an elevator, eating lunch, yet he notice a different reality — always sharp, without any warning and full of irony — and chronicled it to me, the spectator.
What I first thought after hearing the news was: What am I going to think now? What am I going to know what I am supposed to think? Not that we can not think for ourselves, but no one can equal his capacity to synthesize personal, political, past, future, present, local, and humorously, and to do it in one article that denounces the evil and highlights the advantages of everything from policies, treaties and politicians, to songs and cultural events. There are innumerable things we lost with his passing away. There is no space for a public intellectual anymore, that figure that is beyond academia and activism, who belongs to both and is an authority not only to the fellow critics and people but to the government. He was our public intellectual and he is gone. And his humor is gone too. How are we going to laugh at tragedy now?
Then I thought I missed out in a chronicle of a Mexico he only knew through his personal romantic encounters. In Macha Mexico’s last post on Monsiváis, Anahí talks about how Monsivais never came out of the closet publicly yet he was one of the main defenders of the LGBT rights in Mexico, always writing against homophobia and most recently in favor of the same-sex marriage in Mexico City.
It got me thinking. Yes, I wanted to read a chronicle of all his love affairs. I wanted him to write and for all of us to know that Mexico of high level politicians, of pop icons, of random cabaretito personalities, of ambassadors, of particular secretary’s of governors, of protégées. What will Mexico look like if every one of them was outed by a posthuma novel written by Monsiváis? I couldn’t believe the Mexico that was opening before my eyes when Carlos shared with me his personal affairs. Yet, now, it got me thinking.
In the Anglo Euro-American world a primary level of identification is gender and sexuality and there is the assumption that more visibility equals more freedom and civil rights. But I think, we in Latin America have to be more cautious with this assumption. More visibility doesn’t necessary equal more power. We are millions of brown people in Mexico City, thousands of indigenous yet racism is more than prevalent — actually there was a protest not long ago where many campesinos and campesinas protested at the Zocalo, this time naked thinking it will gain them more visibility. It did, but not from the the government and their pleas were not heard.
I was pleased that the LGBT community claimed a place in the ceremony of Monsiváis’ wake, as much as the UNAM and Mexico’s flags did. But I am most happy that although Carlos shared so much with Mexico, he kept so much more for himself. Yes, we should not be scared of talking about sexuality but it doesn’t guarantee more freedom. It also got me thinking about private-public. Heterosexuality needs no coming out, yet for non-normative sexual identities, not only there is no privacy but the pressure to become “visible for the cause.” I am all for more visibility but if we want to learn from the LGBTT movement in the Anglo Euro-American world, identifying primarily through gender and sexuality is not a guarantee of civil rights and it cannot be measured in quantifying or qualifying terms. There is really no binary division, no way of measuring the power of saying or not saying and silence too, can be very powerful.
Macha Mexico is honored to publish this unique perspective on the passing of Carlos Monsiváis. Thank you, Susanísima, for sharing this account and your ideas in this space.