Supergay outs macho Mexicans

Who is that masked man - in the spandex pants? Phil Davison on a new folk hero
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The Independent Online
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a professional wrestler? No, it's Supergay, caped crusader for homosexual rights in macho Mexico.

Dressed in black spandex with a pink-sequinned cape, black mask and rainbow symbol, the country's latest colourful folk hero stepped out of an underground comic book and appeared as large as life in the capital last week.

"It is time to come out of the closet. I am a symbol all gays and lesbians can identify with," he said as he and two fellow rights campaigners, Superbarrio and Superecologist, symbolically "closed down" the Mexico City headquarters of the strongly Catholic and conservative National Action Party (PAN). The country's fourth caped avenger, Superanimal - who fights for animal rights - was indisposed.

From as far back as the Aztecs, on through the days of Spanish colonial rape, Mexicans have traditionally hidden behind masks in more ways than one. In the cases of Superbarrio, Superecologist and Superanimal, the outfits are a publicity-grabbing gimmick. But in a country where men still wear cowboy boots, often tote pistols and prefer their wives to stick to making tortillas, Supergay's mask may serve the strictly functional purpose of saving him from being beaten up. Some locals immediately branded him Supermaricon (Superpoof).

Superbarrio, formerly an all-in wrestler, was the first caped and pot- bellied crusader for the oppressed. He emerged when the government was slow to rebuild poor barrios in the wake of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. So popular did he become that he has twice been cloned - three men now take turns to wear the costume. Superecologist and Superanimal followed over the last few years. Then along came the slimline Supergay, pronounced by some as in English, by others as in Spanish, when it sounds like Superguy.

"We symbolically sealed off the PAN building because of the party's gay- bashing policies," says Rafael Cruz, spokesman for Mexico's Circle of Gay Culture organisation. "They forced the cancellation of a meeting in Guadalajara of the International Lesbian and Gays' Association and continue to block individual rights."

In the face of Mexico's long-standing machismo, where borracheras (drunken binges) and la casa chica ("the second home," or mistress) are what make a man a man, Mexico's gays and lesbians are emerging only slowly.

"Homophobia still permeates Mexican society. Repression is total," says Mr Cruz. "Five years ago, maybe 300 people took part in our annual Gay Rights March. "Last year, we got 2,500. But that was a group phenomenon. Individually, almost everyone is still in the closet. And we have a saying in Mexico: 'El closet mata' (The closet kills).

"Some gay groups think that, behind the macho facade, 10 per cent of Mexico's 90 million people may be gay or lesbian, but who knows? Among politicians, entertainers et cetera, there are strong rumours as to who is gay. But no one has come out. Everybody knows that Juanga [popular singer Juan Gabriel] is gay, but he's never said so."

"You can't hold hands or kiss here. The police extort money from us even if we stroll together in Alameda Park," says Supergay, a 26-year-old computer engineer and graduate of the University of Mexico. His character began as a comic book hero in a free gay newsletter distributed by the Circle of Gay Culture.

"The only places we can really show our sexual orientation are the gay or lesbian bars but the authorities shut some down or blocked entertainment shows claiming they were 'dens of prostitution'." Gay men in the capital frequent bars such as el Taller (the Workshop), or Tom's, favoured by "the black leather set". Lesbians hang out in Enigma or El Gab, named after its owner, Gabriela.

"Gay transvestites have been murdered and the cases were never cleared up," says Supergay. "Earlier this month, the owner of a gay bar, Bar 14, was horribly murdered. Someone bored a hole through him with a drill."

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