Juan Carlos Mezo González

Directed by Aurelio Hidalgo de la Torre and published in Mexico City from 1985 to 1989, Macho Tips was one of the first gay magazines in Mexico. The paper included local and international news, cultural and political reportage, sections of health and legal content, literature, classifieds, a guide of gay venues in the country, and erotica. The Macho Tips readers found in the magazine an informative and entertaining medium to learn and discuss gay liberation and politics, as well as to make contact with gay people across the country and abroad. The paper also provided them with a means to find erotic pleasure thanks to its sexual imagery.

Cover of the Macho Tips sixteenth issue (1987). Courtesy of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, Toronto, Canada. Photograph of José Luis Bueno. Image used with his permission.

This visual content was actually one of the magazine’s most interesting features, since it reflected Mexican ideologies of gender, race, and nationhood. The magazine engaged with national discourses of machismo and mestizaje, which have played a crucial role in the construction of a national and cultural identity since the early twentieth century. Machismo refers to the celebration of masculinity, virility, and even misogyny in men’s behavior, while mestizaje denotes the process of race mixture that started in Mexico in the sixteenth century between Indigenous and white but also black and Asian people, and which has continued since then.

Macho Tips sought to build an image of Mexican gay masculinity through its use of erotic photographs and advertising. A number of images in the magazine highlighted homosexuals’ manliness by portraying them as masculine, virile, strong, and muscular men, thereby challenging their common depiction in the media as effeminate. For instance, the photographs and ads for gay businesses like “El Taller” bar (the Mechanic Workshop) depicted hunk, muscular men wearing a working-class attire—jeans, tank tops, overalls, and boots. The very decoration of the bar emulated a mechanic workshop by including gears, chains, crane hooks, etc. Macho Tips’ investment in the making of a gay macho image, though, was not an isolated case. From the early 1970s, gay men challenged stereotypes about male homosexuality and claimed masculinity as part of their self-identity in a number of North American and European cities. Considering that machismo and masculinity have been a crucial component of the Mexican national culture, however, it could be argued that the magazine’s appropriation of a macho identity went beyond the construction of a hypermasculine image. The visual culture of Macho Tips reflects how gay men publishing the magazine were participants in the construction and reproduction of the Mexican cultural imaginary in a way that interwove homosexuality, machismo and mestizaje. The magazine’s erotic content clearly exemplifies this process.

Every Macho Tips issue included a colored supplement that featured erotic photographs of young nude men. In the first issues, the models resembled those of other contemporary gay periodicals with sexual imagery, which tended to present white men as objects of desire. By late-1986, however, the Macho Tips’ editors increasingly turned their attention from light-skinned, blue-eyed Mexicans to supposedly heterosexual models with a “Mexican” or mestizo appearance. The editors began informing readers that they were looking for Mexican models “of all types”—though with a masculine appearance—to be featured in the paper. A number of photographs portrayed brown men wearing the attires of the working class and surrounded by features of the Mexican folklore such as agave plants, paliacates (handkerchiefs), and straw hats as a way to signal “Mexicaness,” or “mexicanidad.” Some of these images even seem to evoke Mexico’s precolonial past, or to represent an image of a poor, old-fashioned, or timeless Mexico by including mud walls, cement floors, old bejuco furniture, or by portraying models in tropical settings and using anthropomorphic stone sculptures as part of the scenery.

Through the twentieth century, Mexican intellectuals constructed an idea that equated mestizo with “Mexican.” What is interesting about Macho Tips, though, is that aside from the voices of intellectuals, the magazine exemplifies how a marginalized group engaged with, negotiated, and reproduced a national ideology. In portraying eroticized “national bodies,” the magazine arguably negotiated and (homo)sexualized Mexico’s powerful ideology of mestizaje. The heterosexual “machos” in the magazine were displayed not only as objects of desire but also as an aspirational model of a gay Mexican identity. Their bodies and masculinity were maneuvered to appeal to a gay readership while influencing their self-representations.

Cover of the Macho Tips twenty-first issue (1989). Courtesy of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, Toronto, Canada. Photograph of Juan Carlos Yustis. Image used with his permission.

Considering that Macho Tips targeted Mexico’s middle-class gay readership, and even reached an international public, one should also consider the possibility that the magazine exoticized Mexico’s racial imaginary and popular culture in order to appeal to those gazes. The portrayal of an “exotic,” “timeless” or “poor” Mexico therefore aimed to fulfil certain sexual desires. These pictures might show what Hiram Pérez calls “the primitive brown body of cosmopolitan desire” and they were probably used as a tool for attracting readers both in Mexico and abroad. Another possibility is that Macho Tips’ sexual imagery had sought to offer an alternative to dominant depictions of white men as objects of desire. In depicting mestizo models surrounded by elements of Mexican folklore, Macho Tips appealed to the erotic gaze of both a Mexican and international audience interested in non-white representations of men. In this regard, Gustavo Subero has demonstrated how contemporary pornographic representations of gay homosexuality by Mexican film productions have also used the mestizo body as a non-white alternative that appeals to a Mexican audience. Macho Tips’ visual culture thus shows a compelling intersection between erotic images, gay liberation, and Mexican ideologies of race and gender. In sexualizing and eroticizing machismo and mestizaje, the magazine was arguably able to fulfill its commercial purposes, while also engaging with gay activism and the making of national ideologies in the context of the gay liberation movement in Mexico City.

photo_2018-06-03_13-48-33-1Juan Carlos Mezo González is a Ph.D. Candidate in History and Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. His Ph.D. dissertation examines the visual culture of gay liberation periodicals in North America, tracing the relationship between sexual imagery, gay activism, identity-formation, and the making of gay communities. His research interests include U.S., Canadian and Mexican LGBTQ+ History, Visual Culture Studies, and Queer cultural production in the Americas.

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