Mexicans are generally very courteous, and in some ways quite formal. It is common, for example, to address people as señor or señora, while being too brusque can give quite a bad impression.
Most Mexicans are also quite religious, and about three-quarters are Roman Catholic; you will often see little altars by the roadside, and many people cross themselves whenever they pass a church. It is wise to avoid open disrespect for religion unless you are sure of your company. While male travellers will find the country very easy-going, women may encounter a few difficulties arising from traditional Latin machismo.
There are no federal laws governing homosexuality in Mexico, and hence it’s legal. There are, however, laws enforcing “public morality”, which although they are supposed only to apply to prostitution, are often used against gays. 1997 saw the election of Mexico’s first “out” congresswoman, the left-wing PRD’s Patria Jiménez, and in 2003 the federal parliament passed a law against discrimination on various grounds including sexual preference. In 2005, however, a gay man from Tampico successfully claimed political asylum in the US after demonstrating the extent of persecution he faced in his hometown.
Nonetheless, there are a large number of gay groups and publications in Mexico – we’ve supplied two contact addresses below. The lesbian scene is not as visible or as large as the gay scene for men, but it’s there and growing. There are gay bars and clubs in the major resorts and US border towns, and in large cities such as the capital, and also Monterrey, Guadalajara, Veracruz and Oaxaca; elsewhere, private parties are where it all happens, and you’ll need a contact to find them.
As far as popular attitudes are concerned, religion and machismo are the order of the day, and prejudice is rife, but attitudes are changing. Soft-core porn magazines for gay men are sold openly on street stalls and, while you should be careful to avoid upsetting macho sensibilities, you should have few problems if you are discreet. In Juchitán, Oaxaca, on the other hand, gay male transvestites, known as muxes, are accepted as a kind of third sex, and the town even has a transvestite basketball team.
You can check the latest gay rights situation in Mexico on the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission website at wwww.iglhrc.org, and information on the male gay scene in Mexico (gay bars, meeting places and cruising spots) can be found in the annual Spartacus Gay Guide, available in specialist bookshops at home. As for contacts within Mexico: lesbians can get in touch with Grupo Patlatonalli, Apartado Postal 1-623, Guadalajara, 44100 Jalisco (t33/3632-0507, e [email protected]); while for gay men, CIDHOM (Centro de Información y Documentación de las Homosexualidades en México), Cerrada Cuauhnochtli 11, Col. Pueblo Quieto, Tlalpan, México DF 14040 (t55/5666-5436, e[email protected]), can offer information.
Sexual harassment and discrimination
Machismo is engrained in the Mexican mentality and, although it’s softened to some extent by the gentler mores of indigenous culture, most women will find that a degree of harassment is inevitable.
On the whole, most hassles will be limited to comments (piropos, supposedly compliments) in the street, but situations that might be quite routine at home can seem threatening without a clear understanding of the nuances of Mexican Spanish. Avoid eye contact – wearing sunglasses helps. Any provocation is best ignored – Mexican women are rarely slow with a stream of retaliatory abuse, but it’s a dangerous strategy unless you’re very sure of your ground, and coming from a foreigner, it may be taken as racism.
Public transport can be one of the worst places for harassment, especially groping in crowded situations. On the Mexico City Metro, there are separate women’s carriages and passages during rush hours. Otherwise, if you get a seat, you can hide behind a newspaper.
Problems are aggravated in the big tourist spots, where legendarily “easy” tourists attract droves of would-be gigolos. Away from resorts and big cities, though, and especially in indigenous areas, there is rarely any problem – you may as an outsider be treated as an object of curiosity, and usually, such curiosity can also extend to friendliness and hospitality. On the whole, the further from the US border you get, the easier things will become.
The restrictions imposed on drinking are without a doubt irksome: women can now drink in most cantinas, but some still maintain a ban, and even in so-called “ladies’ bars”, “unescorted” women may be looked at with suspicion or even refused service.
At expensive restaurants in tourist resorts, waiters and waitresses are used to American tipping levels (15–20 percent), but elsewhere levels are more like those in Europe (10–15 percent). In mid-range and upmarket hotels, you will be expected to tip chambermaids (a few dollars, depending on the standard of the hotel and the length of your stay) and porters (ten pesos or a dollar is fine). It is not usual to tip taxi drivers, but small tips are expected by gas-station and car-park attendants and the bagboys at supermarkets (all of these will be happy with a few pesos of small change).Read More