For a naïve gringo living in provincial Cuernavaca, the “#ClubQueers” party by Fiestas Bomba in Mexico City had been a big gay whiff of fresh air.
I got to meet my favorite American queen Raja and watch some of Mexico City’s talent up-and-coming DJs and drag performers. Most importantly, it was the first event I’d ever attended where everybody just seemed to be having a good time, judgment free.
I was surprised to find out not everyone felt the same.
A few weeks after the event, Franka Polaris, a figurehead in the Mexico City drag community, published an irony-soaked post-modern feminist critique, proclaiming “the death of queer,” a label she maintained was now devoid of meaning, coopted by capitalist forces.
With the help of Yisus and social media, after the party I discovered that Franka was at the head of a thriving underground scene of “gender/sexuality non-conforming people” with their own music label, their own artists, even their own voguing competitions.
I didn’t care about the label (or lack thereof).
But I needed to know more about the flip side of Mexico City’s Queer Underground.
Time to go undercover.
My cohorts in crime Shanaynay, Yisus and I planned to crash the party with a touch of sass, so after:
- 960 pesos spent on wacky costumes,
- 2 hours in transit, and
- 4 hours of makeup
We were ready for our D.F. drag debut at the Queer Excellence Awards, hosted by local record label Discos Matsumura.
Wobbly in strappy black stilettos, I stumbled down the elevator and through the hotel lobby.
Two middle-aged Brazilian ladies gawked, the receptionist’s stared, a mousy young woman muttered,
“They’re so beautiful…”
Chapultepec Avenue had never seen a sassier red-head, La Wera Tremenda, flowering mint-green-pleather-jacket psychedelic-graphic-T gringa-goddess homage-to-Frida Kahlo. My legs were encased in 6 inches of compressed foam, 3 pairs of panty hose, and fishnet tights. Out of my back protruded 11 glittering spikes, all danger and whimsy.
Next Shanaynay hit the pavement, sultry black-and-white Beetlejuice pop-it-on-ponytail-buzzed-head trashqueen, then Yisus as queer-ghetto-rapper sporting red feathered lashes, gold chains, and hot pink surgical mask.
My friend Owen, tired and bored from sitting through our four-hour transformation, made a beeline for Insurgentes metro station. We followed as best we could in spiky heels.
Walking the street in full drag was jolting. Heads turned and shook, eyes squinted and stared.
What were they thinking? Man or woman? Cis or trans? Prostitutes? Performers?
Just a bunch of weirdos?
I couldn’t bask in (or revile) the unexpectedly intense attention. The stilettos I borrowed from Shanaynay were five inches high, and the elastic strap kept slipping off my heel. I clung to Yisus’ arm for dear life, thinking,
“If someone attacks us, I won’t be able to run.”
After tripping and slipping six eternal blocks to the metro, Shanaynay and I traded shoes, and I returned to my original mint green slingback heels.
On the subway platform a smiley, rosy-cheeked woman paid us her highest compliments.
My respects to you, ladies. I can barely walk in these pumps, and look at you! You are gorgeous.”
I’d done drag a couple times before, mostly on Halloween, mostly imitating celebrities like Paris Hilton. Now my first fully realized drag creation was already making waves.
Our posse rolled into “La Faena” downtown around 11 PM, two hours late for the awards. After depositing a reasonable 50 peso donation, we strutted across a miniature hot pink carpet (red is so passé), sucked up by silent camera lens. I fear cameras almost as much as I fear strangers, so almost forgot to strut and pose for posterity.
I half-assed a pouty face and rushed through the lobby.
The strange, gloomy inner hall was decked out weird Spanish bullfighting paraphernalia. Carefully embroidered banners, bullfighting uniforms, capes… At the front of the room, a dark metal band strummed and shrieked while the few dozen spectators listened attentively.
The audience was less colorful, less ebullient than we’d expected. Most were dressed in black gender-appropriate attire, silent, not smiling.
Either “queer music” was serious business for these people, or they’d walked into the venue by mistake and decided to stay.
We shuffled to a table toward the back corner and watched over a round of beers. The morose scene dragged on for what seemed like an hour, probably more like half an hour. Bored with the confusing spectacle onstage, we took a slew of selfies. The crowd glared at us all surly lips and side-eye disdain.
I laughed. I couldn’t blame them.
I hate compulsive selfie-takers.
But it’s not every day I go out looking like Emma Stone meets my mom meets My Little Pony meets Frida Kahlo meets Smarties sugar-candy whore.
After a few rock performances followed the slow, laborious distribution of platinum record awards to the musicians and performers present. Most of the dialogue was inaudible over the aging speaker system.
Disc after platinum disc exchanged hands onstage, like a dozen setting suns.
Owen was practically falling asleep at the table when we decided to split.
“We must have missed the main performers. Paris Bang Bang and the others must have left already.” Yisus was not pleased, anxious to fulfill his ambitious networking agenda. We exchanged woeful, knowing glances.
This “queer” gala was a lot more serious (and less fun) than we’d expected.
We sat back down, ecstatic.
The party had just begun.
- Silvertronic did her trademark rap deluxe, rocking the crowd with her beats, twirling her long, frizzed out hair. We watched and listened in awe.
- Galo Santo sang a foot-stomping version of “Bailando” by Alaska y Los Pegamoides inciting us to get up and dance in front of the stage.
I twerked and twirled as best I could, trying not to fall or step on the other revelers or impale them with my 11 sparkling spikes. A threesome of pouty girls protested.
“It’s not fair that you’re so tall! You make us look like midgets!”
Having never been called or considered “tall” in my life, I wondered how to respond.
“I know honey, life’s not fair, is it?”
I giggled and danced my way to the front row while the freshly served girls laughed behind me.
Now front and center, I made eye contact with the thin, scantily clad Galo Santo. Bending down, he met my gaze, crooning the final refrain of the song. Relishing my intention to work up the crowd with our sensual staring contest, I suddenly felt an overwhelming fear of falling flat on my ass on the dance floor.
Stunned, I stepped gingerly away from the stage and back to the table, sensuous Galo left in the lurch.
Safe in the corner, my feet throbbed with pain. My bladder nudged against my sloppy un-taped tuck. Taking another sip of Corona, I pondered:
“To pee or not to pee?”
Fuck it. I chugged the rest of my beer and went for another.
The whole moment felt like lost in time, the song was over as soon as it started.
Suspended in a dancey daze, we waited for a second act to Paris’ trademark single, “#SOLA.” Instead she dropped off the stage and disappeared.
There would be no #SOLA action tonight.
I joined Shanaynay and Yisus outside for their half-hourly cigarette break. The frigid night air was refreshing to my body, overheated by wig, pads, tights, and jacket. While we dissected every bit of the show, Paris Bang Bang emerged from the heavy doors, entourage in tow. Casual and effortless in off-white knee-length dress, blond wig, and red felt top hat.
I love your jacket, where’d you get it?”
She admired my shimmering spikes.
“My boyfriend had it made for me today!”
“Very cool, hook me up.”
“Any time! Our seamstress is a force of nature.”
Huh? Was Paris Bang Bang seriously complimenting my outfit? This random assortment of rags Ramon and I pulled together in three days from the local market and fabric store?
A mousey young girl crept up behind us, waving a camera in her hand.
“Um, I’m sorry, but, could like, I take a picture with you all?”
I pointed at Paris and said, “You do know that she’s the famous one here, right?” With a shrug, we all posed with our new-found fan.
This was uncharted territory.
Suddenly Paris spun into the street, turned and called back, “See you at Marra 2 then?”
Sounds like a plan..
We quickly gathered our things and hastily exited, well aware of the party’s shifting axis.
We followed Paris’s giant red top hat downtown toward Bellas Artes, carefully dodging cracks in the brick-paved road.
Shanaynay, in her vertiginous black stilettos, fell further and further behind until she collapsed in a bony heap on the sidewalk.
Paris’ red hat floated further and further away.
None of us knew the way to Marrakech 2.0, and apparently neither did Google Maps. Either we were too drunk or our smartphones too stupid to find the address some other way. Following Paris had been our only ticket to a guaranteed good time until dawn.
Now we were lost, in pain, sans Plan B.
Owen proposed returning to Zona Rosa, where we’d find a guaranteed crowd (albeit probably not a drag or “queer” crowd) and proximity to bed once we finally hit a wall.
But we debutante queens would have none of it. Zona Rosa was passé, bourgeois, overdone… Must avoid at all costs.
We had to stay Underground.
We paused to regain our bearings, then Yisus led us, slower now, to Republic of Cuba street (described as a “more rustic, uninhibited Zona Rosa”). Here we hoped to get into at least one of two iconic clubs. La Purísima (named by Time Out magazine as best gay club in 2015) and Marrakech Salon (1.0) faced each other on a brightly lit street overflowing with revelers. Both clubs were famous in LGBT Mexico City for being fun, frivolous, and relatively inclusive.
Eschewing the long line at Marrakech, we entered La Purísima, a Virgin of the Immaculate Conception-themed club known for its irreverant, kitschy vibe.
But as we staggered up the steep staircase, we found room after room packed to the brim with sweaty dancing youth. Maybe we could have jostled and elbowed our way to the dance floor, but the dense, surging crowd presented major hazards, including:
- Tripping and falling
- Breaking my spikes
- Stabbing someone with my spikes
- Losing my wallet or cellphone
We climbed to the rooftop terrace to regroup, where a few lonely smokers lingered, lost in thought. The terrace bar was closed.
What should we do? This is awful.”
“Let’s try Marra?”
“Marra will be worse.”
“There’s got to be something less crowded downtown.”
“Ok, let’s go look.”
So down the stairwell we crept, once again, toes throbbing harder and harder in tight-strapped heels.
A little wandering led us to a random bar on Republica de Cuba, busy but not packed. Perfect. Inside we found a lively crowd, men and women, gay and straight, dancing salsa and merengue on a dangerously slick dance floor.
Suddenly overcome by the fear that somebody would try to pull me out for a dance, I avoided eye contact with any and all men. But after escorting Shanaynay to the bathroom (I left my tuck intact), a gaggle of gay boys stopped me in my tracks.
“Oh my god, you look fabulous! What’s your name, sweetie?”
The accolades continued. My undercover mission was working.
Nobody seemed to suspect (or care, at any rate) that I’m not an actual drag queen.
“Where are you headed after this? Where’s the party?”
They wanted the 4-1-1. Apparently I looked like I was having a great time, I was the life of the party and the party would follow me. Poor misguided fools. They didn’t realize we were lost, drunk, in pain, and had no idea where to go next.
“Well, we went to La Faena, then couldn’t find Marra 2, then went to Purísima and left, now we’re here, but we don’t know what’s next. We’re from Cuernavaca so…”
Their eyes glazed over as if to say, “This bitch doesn’t know shit.”
The jig was up.
Ok, well nice to meet you, gorgeous! Bye!”
The gay boys discarded me like an unconvincing party flyer to the proverbial gutter. I returned to our huddle by the door. Owen was not feeling the bar. Time to move again.
“This isn’t working out you guys, let’s just go back to Zona Rosa.”
Yisus, the most knowledgeable among us, was out of ideas. Shanaynay and I were clueless.
Defeated, we hopped into a taxi and returned to Ground Zero of Mexico City’s gay mecca.
It was late, nearly 2am, by the time we hopped out of the cab on Amberes Street, and pickings were slim. We didn’t want to sit in a regular bar, which narrowed our options considerably. Lipstick was closed. The smaller clubs were packed but tasteless.
We settled on Lollipop, a lively bar on the East side of the street. We balked at the $100 peso cover, then agreed when the doorman explained it included two drinks.
As we climbed the stairs into the club, we met indifference, or worse, confused stares from gay boys asking, “What are these queens doing here?”
Had our Queer Underground adventure really come to this?
The dance floor wasn’t overly crowded, but my feet were killing me, I couldn’t bear it anymore. We piled onto stools at a high table on the terrace and nursed some lukewarm Coronas.
The last time I’d come to Lollipop the terrace was packed with gyrating, crackling bodies. Today it was nearly empty, possibly due to the sporadic rain that night. Shanaynay, Yisus and I took advantage of the wide berth to dance and spin and twirl and twerk on an elevated stage, oblivious to the rest of the room. Owen nodded off in the corner at our table.
As I stepped off the stage, a young woman stopped me in my tracks.
“I love this place, you girls are beautiful! I come almost every weekend. My son is turning 10 next month. I want to have his birthday in a place like this. You should all come! I want him to experience this!”
I was intrigued. “Is your son gay?”
“No, well not that I’m aware.”
I was suspicious. “Are you gay?”
“No, I’m not. I just, this is the only place I can go and just let loose, you know what I mean?”
Despite the bizarre turn of our conversation, I did.
I knew exactly why this heterosexual woman wanted her presumably heterosexual preteen son to celebrate his birthday with gogos and drag queens. It was the same reason my friends and I had tried to avoid places like Lollipop, why we’d set out on this underground undercover mission in the first place.
We just wanted to be around a diverse, inclusive crowd, free from hostility or unwanted sexual advances.
I guess “freedom” is in the eye of the beholder.
My feet starting throbbing again and I excused myself, trying to chat with Owen and rouse him from sleep. He barely responded.
At just 2:30 AM, it was time to head back to the hotel. Or was it?
Owen hurried back to his room while Yisus and Shanaynay came to mine to untuck. Delirious with pain, I kicked off my heels, ripped off the 3 layers of pantyhose, tossed the birdseed boobs and foam pads to the floor and ran to the bathroom,
emptying my swollen bladder of six hours’ worth of Coronas.
When I came out, Shanaynay was gathering her things, half-boy half-girl, nearly ready for bed. Yisus raised his eyebrows at me, still shining in his full queer rapper couture.
“Shall we try again?”
I threw on some cut-off jean shorts and tennis shoes, leaving my wig and makeup intact. It seemed a pity to destroy four hours’ of makeup just to be comfortable.
Let’s see how the Zona Rosa reacts to my new half-baked style.
“Psst. Hey. Hey! Bonitaaa…”
A drunk man at a taco stand slapped my ass as we walked by.
We ignored the hostility and marched on.
By the time Yisus and I made it back to Lollipop around 3 AM the door was closed. Without the guarantee of a wild party, it seemed too risky to pay for a cab back downtown, so I stepped into a place I never thought I would—Papi Fun Bar.
Papi was the epitome of poor gay taste. It was tiny, fluorescent green and pink, encased in glass windows, blasting incessant circuit music while young partiers wiggled and shaked. But it was a place to regroup (again).
Maybe someone would lead us to a cool afterparty?
We paid the 35 peso cover and stepped right in, receiving our complimentary beer right at the room. At least we didn’t have to line up at the bar…
Dancing half-heartedly to mindless yet catchy electronic beats, I gazed around the room, safe in the anonymity of my undercover disguise, looking for the hook-up.
Except nobody met the “after party profile.” Finding a tip-off isn’t hard once you know what to look for. Experienced revelers can spot a fellow after-partier from a mile away. There’s that beatific grin, the sweaty disheveled hair, that devil-may-care sparkle in the eye. But I didn’t find that sparkle at Papi Funbar tonight. The boys and girls here were either content right where they were, or yawning their way out the door.
We continued dancing, going through the motions, impatient.
As I swiveled my neck to survey the room I caught the eye of an obviously strung out circuit boy, grinding sexually on an tall platform. He leaned over and yelled over the music,
“Gorgeous, darling, gorgeous!”
Then continued writhing in ecstasy, still smiling, lost in his own little world.
I smiled and turned away. “Thanks.”
But my circuit boy admirer wouldn’t give up so easily. After a few minutes he tried to dance with me, reaching out, grabbing. Yisus stepped in and pretended to be my boyfriend, hoping to deter the unwanted advances.
My mind raced,
What did I do wrong, or right, in my life? How did I end up here? Cut-off shorts, wig full drag makeup, leaning on a strange queer rapper thirsty for mad after party fighting off cracked-out circuit boys in the lusty 3 AM haze.
Exasperated, we exited the club to get away from circuit boy.
Yisus flicked his cigarette, irritated.
“What should we do?”
“Looks like the party is over…”
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
We stumbled back to the hotel, tired and unsatisfied.
“How much, sweetie?”
The tired receptionist unlocked the door and we popped into the hotel.
Back in my room, I reflected on our underground undercover mission.
- Clubs, bars, cantinas and even awards ceremonies.
- Gays, lesbians, queers, drag queens, and more.
- Underground, mainstream, and in-between.
Nothing had turned out as planned, but we’d had an exhilarating outing. Amid empty accolades and sexual harassment, we’d managed to make a broad sweep of underground Mexico City and its amazingly varied LGBT nightlife in just one night.