Something that I began noticing on my first trip to Mexico City and that still grabs my attention is the necking that seems to be taking place on benches, lawns, and (occasional) street corners throughout the city. Kissing does not adequately describe these fits of public love-making: these are not gentle pecks exchanged before parting, but extended make-out sessions. I would have expected this in Paris or maybe in Italy, but the passionate displays of affection I´ve come to expect in Mexico City were a delicious suprise for the voyeur in me.
I suspect some locales attract eager couples more than others. When walking with my girlfriend through a park in Coyoacán on a warm day, I realized that my first impression of the park–which appeared largely empty–was incorrect. We were indeed the only couple walking in the park, but there were half a dozen other couples vigorously engaged in various stages of love-making, from the teenagers I saw kissing in the shade of a tree, to the middle-aged pair necking on a partially seclued bench, to a couple engaged in some stage of heavy-petting under the cover of a picnic blanket. Ciudad Universitaria (C.U.), the campus of the Universidad Autonimo de Mexico (UNAM), seems to be another high-frequency area, with couples locked in passionate embraces quick publicly on the many lawns.
I have always assumed that this culture of public or semi-public affection is due to the fact that so many young people in Mexico live with their parents well into their twenties, and so making-out at home is not a realistic option. Of course, my theory doesn´t quite explain the “older” couples (in their forties and fifties) participating in this P.D.A. phenomenon.
A question that friends in New York who have not visited Mexico City often ask is whether or not I feel comfortable being publicly affectionate with my girlfriend. My answer is that yes, I absolutely do. We hold hands, link elbows, and weave our arms around each other´s waists as we walk down the street. We´ll peck each other goodbye when parting on the subway or a street corner, exchange lingering kisses while flirting in restaurants and cafes, and we make-out like crazy people on park benches and on taxis. I´ve never felt uncomfortable or unsafe doing any of this. Yes, there have been stares, even glares, and occasional cat calls from strangers trying to convince themselves that we are only putting on a show for them, but no one has ever threatened us with words or body language, nor has anyone said anything nasty.
In all honesty, visiting machas should take my positive attitude with a grain of salt. Realisticly, when traveling in a new city anywhere in the world, you have to feel comfortable and confident and safe before you shove your tongue down your girlfriend´s throat. I´ll admit that the first time I was kissing my girlfriend in public, I checked-in with her afterwards to ask if she ever felt uncomfortable being publicly engaged in (gasp!) lesbian sexuality. She assured me that she did not, and since then I have trusted my instincts on the matter, which usually lean towards kissing and embracing rather than not.
Of course, every female traveler has her own unique perspective when entering a new culture, country, neighborhood, or restaurant, and I recommend engaging in public affection to whatever extent you feel comfortable and safe. That feeling is no doubt informed (in varying ways) by age, race, gender-normativity (how masculine or feminine you are), whether you speak Spanish, whether you are traveling alone, whether you are traveling with children, where you are from, and how comfortable and safe you feel in your own city. Let these instincts inform your feelings of safety and comfort rather than vague stereotypes and racist fears about machismo and Catholicism in Mexican culture. There are wonderful and vibrant gay communties in Mexico City, and no chilango can claim that gay people do not exist in his city.
Unfortunately, outside of the Zona Rosa (and my circle of friends) I have not seen many other gay couples engaged in public displays of affection out on the street. A friend recently confided that many of the hand-holding female couples she initially read as lesbians turned out to be mothers and daughters upon closer inspection. Young teenage “girlfriends” (in the platonic, Sex and the City sense of the word) are often affectionate in public, hugging and holding hands.
In the Zona Rosa, I have seen gay men and women holding hands, and occasionally at night I´ve spied couples locked in an embrace on the street. My snobby (and hipocritical) impulse to roll my eyes or murmur “get a room” is always trumped by how pleased I am to see queer public displays of affection.
Let´s get it on.