- “Todos/as somos 41”: The Dance of the Forty-One from Homosexual Reappropriation to Transgender Representation in Mexico, 1945–2001
In a scene from Eduardo A. Castrejón’s 1906 Los cuarenta y uno: Novela crítico-social (The forty-one: A novel of social criticism), the character Mimí sashays around the chandeliered ballroom arm in arm with his escort, Ninón, while the magnificent lights from the candelabras accentuate his padded hips. He greets spectators with a coquettish grin; his hair and makeup are meticulously done. The enthusiastic applause his entrance receives soon fades as the orchestra plays a heartfelt ballad that mixes in the air with the perfume of the gardenias and daisies. Expensive wine and champagne flow as the roughly forty-one male guests dance through the night. Nineteen of them wear elegant European women’s clothing and fine jewelry, while the rest have donned expensive tuxedos and white gloves. Although the orchestra blares loudly enough to mask the shuffling of guns and batons outside the house, it cannot muffle an alarmed shriek: “The police!! The gendarmes are knocking at the door!!!” Chaos erupts as police burst into the ballroom of the house. Disgusted upon learning that almost half of the guests are men dressed as women, the armed guards proceed to arrest everyone in sight. Mimí sobs as he is taken to the precinct. Abandoned emotionally by Ninón upon their deportation to the Yucatán, melancholia becomes his escort.1
The Dance of the Forty-One, the actual event upon which Castrejón’s novel is based, remains one of the most scandalous episodes in Mexican [End Page 66] history. Media coverage of the arrests exploded during the authoritarian regime of President José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911), a period known as the Porfiriato dictatorship and characterized by economic growth and foreign investment alongside political and social repression. According to what can be reconstructed from existing documentation, we know that in the early hours of 17 November 1901, police raided a male-only private party on La Paz Street in Mexico City and arrested the forty-one guests. When it came to light that roughly half of the men were dressed in women’s clothing and that many in attendance were supposedly from some of the most elite families in the city, mainstream middle-class newspapers dedicated endless column space to providing readers with exhaustive details. One rumor in particular identified Ignacio de la Torre, son-in-law of Porfirio Díaz, as a participant in the ball.2 Circulating alongside such gossip were broadsheets containing the lyrics of corridos (ballads) about the dance illustrated with etchings by the renowned printmaker José Guadalupe Posada; these remain some of the most recognizable images associated with the event (fig. 1).3
Seven of the detainees were able to gain amparos (constitutional protection) with the support of their families.4 But for those without resources or connections, various punishments followed. The governor of Mexico City and future vice presidential candidate, Ramón Corral, sent the twenty-two tuxedoed men to the Twenty-Fourth Battalion’s barracks, where their heads were shaved and they remained incarcerated. He reserved a more stringent sentence for the men in drag, who were exiled to the Yucatán Peninsula, where they performed hard labor as conscripts in Díaz’s armies during the final days of the Maya Caste War (1847–1901). This was all in spite of the fact that their actions did not violate Mexico’s Civil Code. By the end of the year, the scandal was firmly entrenched in popular memory, and the offenders were collectively remembered as “los cuarenta y uno” (the Forty-One). Castrejón’s novel follows the fate of Mimí only up to his arrival at the Yucatán, squalid and malnourished, and his ultimate fate is left unresolved. We know little else about how the real Forty-One fared. [End Page 67]
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Due to the shocking nature of the event, the...