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“Lo que se ve no se pregunta”: Carlos Monsiváis, 1938-2010

Last Saturday, during Carlos Monsiváis’ wake at Museo de la Ciudad de México, a group of young people unfolded a gay flag and put it on the writer’s coffin. Someone tried to take it away, but the group insisted and placed it right between Mexico and UNAM flags. So far, only one journalist has talked explicitly about Monsiváis’ sexuality and his links with the Mexican LGBT community.

A similar episode (link in Spanish) took place again during the wake in Bellas Artes. This time, it was the Mexican journalist Jenaro Villamil who put the rainbow flag on the casket despite the negative reaction of Consuelo Sáizar, president of the National Council for Culture and Arts (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes).

A third episode of awkwardness was described by Andrés Duque, when musician and LGBT activist Horacio Franco not only played the flute right next to the casket, but also confirmed the rumors about Monsiváis’ sexuality in an interview with a LGBT website.

Carlos Monsiváis was one of the most influential intellectuals and writers in Mexico. He was a prolific author who also learned how to use radio and TV in order to disseminate his opinions about the PRI, the Catholic church and the conservative groups that dominate the Mexican government under the PAN’s rule.

Carlos Monsiváis' wake at Bellas Artes, via La Jornada

Above all, Monsi, as many of his fans called him, was considered the undisputed chronicler of Mexico City, where passers by could recognize him on the street—a privilege that very few intellectuals have, given the separation between academia and so-called popular culture in Mexico. Monsiváis was born and brought up within a Presbyterian family in San Simon Ticumac, a poor neighborhood of Mexico City, a fact that other intellectuals of his same generation with well-to-do backgrounds despised, making Monsiváis something like an outcast within the Mexican intelligentsia.

As an activist, Monsiváis was part of the 1968 movement that ended in the massacre in Tlatelolco, he supported the Zapatista movement in 1994, and labeled the elections of 2006 that took away the presidency from López Obrador a “fraud”.

As any other controversial character, Monsiváis had his flaws: His colleagues and close friends considered him a misogynist, and despite his close links with the feminist and LGBT movements, he never came out of the closet publicly. Like Juan Gabriel, one of the many pop icons that fascinated Monsiváis, he kind of choose to follow the principle of lo que se ve no se pregunta, while defending LGBT rights in Mexico and pointing out the homophobia and double standards with which the Catholic church attacked the LGBT community and, more recently, same-sex marriage in Mexico City.

It is kind of ironic that Monsiváis was outed during his wake, posing questions about the right to live (and die?) in the closet and the power of visibility for the LGBT community. But if you think about it, the gay flag made it to Bellas Artes, the most prestigious place where someone can have her or his wake in Mexico. To give some idea of how important is this, Frida Kahlo‘s wake was in that building. The fact that the LGBT community claimed a place in this ceremony speaks to a new generation that wants to publicly acknowledge the not-so-short history of Mexico’s LGBT community. It talks about the importance of sexuality when it comes to define an identity that, like in Monsiváis’ case, was shaped by being Mexican, attending the UNAM, and being a gay man.

We’ll never know how Monsiváis would feel about this forced outing, but it is certainly sad to read “Monsiváis never married and had no children” as if that could define his personal life (and happiness) at all.

If Monsiváis’ death means the end of an era, let’s hope for a new generation that embraces all the different aspects that shape human beings, including sexuality, and the joy that comes along with it when it is accepted as part of life.

8 Comments

  1. MoNYC says:

    I loved this piece, Anahi. Thanks.

  2. Anahi Parra says:

    You know? I also wanted to talk about how Monsiváis was not the definite chronicler of Mexico City, and mention other new, fresh journalists that are more aware of what’s going on in this city—sometimes using social media to be in contact with defeños, like Hernandez and Lida. I think it’s interesting that one of the main events about Mexico City this year (Postopolis) didn’t feature Monsiváis. It’s also interesting that a great part of the work about Mexico City is written in English… I don’t know, so much to talk about…. but it didn’t fit in this post. Thanks for reading, Mo. I definitive miss you!

  3. Daniel H. says:

    Great post, thank you.

  4. Thanks for linking up! BTW… I updated my post:
    http://blabbeando.blogspot.com/2010/06/carlos-monsivais-what-outing.html

    And been Tweeting up a storm sending a link to this post to everybody at my accounts @blabbeando and @NoticiasLGBT

    Yay!

  5. Benjamin says:

    Like it! thanks!

    Here is another writer who talked explicitly about Monsiváis’ sexuality in a Mexican news paper:

    http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/editoriales/48768.html

  6. Anahi Parra says:

    Andrés, thank you for sharing our work with others! And thank y’all for reading our blog.

  7. What a great post about a great man. What a loss to all of us…

  8. Jeff says:

    Hey, hang on there! Monsivais was always out of the closet – he just chose not to accentuate that part of his multiple identity and political commitment. It is almost like a cliche – if you are a gay intellectual you have to do gay politics all the time. Well, he did gay politics but didn’t feel the need to shout his own gayness from the rooftops – it was obvious to anyone who knew him, however fleetingly. If you read his wonderful (and balanced!) biography of Salvador Novo (also the title of the book) you will read where he points out that Novo belonged to a pre-60s generation of gay Mexican artists and intellectuals who struggled to overcome the discrimination and became psychologically damaged by it, unlike the the later generations who feel much more comfortable in their skin. In fact Monsi said that Novo actually saw himself as “sick” because of his gayness – he had absorbed the stigma as some sort of truth – he did not know how to deal with it. It is hard to imagine Monsivais the same way. You say: “It is kind of ironic that Monsiváis was outed during his wake” – outed to whom? “The man on the street”? Maybe, but where’s the proof? How many well-known gays are “out” to the average man on the street? I think you need to seriously re-think that statement. The rest you have to say about the awkwardness of people trying to suppress his gayness during the funeral rites is fine – it says more about those people than Monsi though.

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