Police Arrest “Los 41” in Mexico City Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Police arrested forty-one gay men at a dance in Mexico City, creating a media sensation that challenged the concepts of sexual and gender identity and led to social debate about homosexuality, gender expression, and even Mexican identity in general.

Summary of Event

Mexico’s history of sexuality documents the case of the famous “Los 41.” "Los 41"[Los 41] 41, Party of the A small network of gay men agreed to organize a fiesta, promoting it among their friends and through invitations delivered to select men in the cantinas of Mexico City. On the evening of November 17, 1901, police officers dressed as civilians entered the party; after some hours had passed, the police raided the place and arrested forty-one men. [kw]"Los 41" in Mexico City, Police Arrest (Nov. 17, 1901)[Los] [kw]Mexico City, Police Arrest “Los 41" in (Nov. 17, 1901) Mexico;police abuse and harassment ”Los 41"[Los 41] Police abuse and harassment;Mexico Party of the 41 [c]Civil rights;Nov. 17, 1901: Police Arrest “Los 41" in Mexico City[0160] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 17, 1901: Police Arrest ”Los 41" in Mexico City[0160] [c]Crime;Nov. 17, 1901: Police Arrest “Los 41" in Mexico City[0160]

Unlike many other “scandals” involving same-gender sexuality, the Party of the 41, as it came to be called, became a major event. The Mexico City newspapers reported on the raid and the men’s punishment. José Guadalupe Posada illustrated the event and wrote comic poems about it for the general public. Many corridos (poetic songs) and fictional accounts, including a novel, circulated in the following months.

The event became so significant that the number 41 became a metaphor for homosexuality, a metaphor that continues to this day, even though the event with which it is associated has been all but forgotten. Robert McKee Irwin, in an article on the party, states that the open discussion in the media was associated with the fear such an event posed to Mexican identity. Unlike other countries of Latin America, where scandals were hidden and homosexuality was portrayed as foreign, Mexico allowed journalists and writers to describe the forty-one queer men as Mexican. This created concern about Mexican national identity, because same-gender sexuality was seen as an obstacle to building this identity. This fear continued throughout the twentieth century in the work of famous Mexican intellectuals who wrote about the fate of the nation. For example, Octavio Paz, in El laberinto de la soledad: Vida y pensamiento de México (1950; The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico, 1961), gendered all social relations, illustrating how the fear of emasculation is a major determinant in daily interactions.

The fictionalization of the Party of the 41 in the newspapers and in literary accounts, together with contradicting versions, obscured what is known about the event. According to many accounts, the police publicly ridiculed half the men because they were in drag. They were forced to sweep the streets in their female attire while onlookers laughed. This public humiliation was depicted in illustrations and became known even among those who could not read. Although many of the men at the party belonged to privileged families, the scandal’s magnitude prevented their families from helping them. No legal code in Mexico had established a punishment for cross-dressing or practicing same-gender sexuality. Just the same, the Party of the 41 was punished by being enlisted in the military. They were sent by train first to Veracruz and then to Yucatán, where they joined the Mexican army and fought against a Mayan uprising.

Cross-dressing was common practice in the theater and other forms of popular amusement of the time, and the Mexican government tolerated it. However, the men suffered not only from the stigma of their own sexual and gender identities but also from Mexicans’ association of ball dances with immorality. Public opinion pressured the government to inflict harsh punishment. Newspapers such as El País, El Universal, El Popular, and El Hijo del Ahuizote covered the event widely, and they called for official action against the men, who had violated sex and gender norms. The more conservative media used the party to condemn the government, associating the liberalism of the state with the “libertinage” of the fiesta of the 41. Others criticized the government for sending to the army people who had “abdicated their sex.”

Significance

According to scholar Robert McKee Irwin, an analysis of the different accounts of this event suggests that two contradictory paradigms about same-gender sexuality existed in Mexico at the time. On one side, any same-gender sexual practice implies homosexuality; on the other, homosexuality includes only those who “invert” their gender roles, playing the “feminine role,” and who desire to be penetrated by men. The coexistence of these views is complex, and it creates the possibility of multiple forms of queer identity. Although many scholars have argued that Mexican gay men are always identified as effeminate, Irwin argues that the masculine men in the Party of the 41 were also labeled “homosexuals.”

Considering the coexistence of the two views on homosexuality opens the possibility of comparing Mexico’s similarities to and differences from its northern neighbor. Those who identify Mexican homosexuality as inevitably associated with effeminacy may contribute to the idea of Latin America as an exotic place, without recognizing that the cultural interchange with the United States has strongly shaped both cultures.

On the centenary of “Los 41,” Tulane University organized a conference on Latin American sexuality to memorialize the event. Carlos Monsivais and other Mexican scholars who had written about the 41 and the history of sexuality in Mexico were invited to participate. Monsivais denounced the lack of a commemoration in Mexico City, and he referred to the silencing of the history of the 41 in Mexican historiography. As a result of this conference, a book was published that includes primary sources and papers about sexuality in Mexico in the early twentieth century. Mexico;police abuse and harassment "Los 41"[Los 41] Police abuse and harassment;Mexico

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Franco, Jean. Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Irwin, Robert McKee. “The Famous 41: The Scandalous Birth of Modern Mexican Homosexuality.” GLQ 6, no. 3 (2000): 353-376.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Mexican Masculinities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Irwin, Robert McKee, Edward J. McCaughan, and Michelle Rocio Nasser, eds. The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, c. 1901. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lancaster, Roger. “Sexual Positions: Caveats and Second Thoughts on ’Categories.’” Americas 54 (1997): 1-16.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Monsivais, Carlos. “El mundo soslayado.” In La estatua de sal, edited by Salvador Novo. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional Para la Cultura y las Artes, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Paz, Octavio. El laberinto de la soledad. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. Translated by Lysander Kemp. New York: Grove Press, 1961.

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