Generating Discussion: Liberation or Exploitation?

De Ambiente Queer Tourism and the Shifting Boundaries of Mexican Male Sexualities

by Lionel Cantú

In Cantú’s essay, he argues that sexual colonization and liberation are active in gay and lesbian tourism and in Mexican sexualities.He examines development of gay and lesbian tourism in Mexico and those effects on Mexican sexualities. He begins by presenting a a portrait of an exotic Mexico which he draws from a tourist website focusing on Mexico–“a sexy Mexico.” Then he defines terms such as ambiente meaning homosexual subculture. Loosely defined, ambiente is sort of like the environment, the vibe or feeling of a certain place. He defines “gay and lesbian tourism” as “identity-based tourism” and “queer tourism” as “a larger market” that includes heterosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender folks transnationally. He explains that he working toward a transnational framework by recognizing that identities are driven by change across borders.

He frames this essay by acknowledging his subject position (which is very feminist) in comparison the folks he is researching. He identifies as Chicano, and his ancestry is Mexican. He also addresses limitations in his research and explains that he does not want to perpetuate lesbian invisibility by doing his research on primarily Mexican mens who have sex with men. Some of his methods included ethnography, along with being at tourist, which was the basis of his investigation and these interviews demonstrated that he needed to focus on tourism as a form of migration.

He explains a “Mexican phrase”–De los otros–referring to the others or to a different type of folk. He explain that one cannot study sexuality without focusing on culture simultaneously. Later, he goes on to explain sexual borderlands or “tolerance zones” of Mexican male sexualities and relevant to this transformation. He writes about the relevance of cultural-economic relationship between the united States and Mexico and that they co-dependent. Co-dependent in terms of Mexico being the “labor source” for United States’ business in relation to migration. He noticed the common trend among the men he interviewed which was rural to urban migration.

Gay bars in “zonas de tolerancia” in Mexico reflect urbanization and “development.” He explains that these zonas regulated the other or deviant such as homosexuals, someone with sexually transmitted diseases, and prostitution. He presents more information in the way that zonas’ reactions where different depending on location such as border town zones. Lots of “north of the border” people were attracted to the sexual space of “south of the border.” There was this fetishization of “el caballero” or Mexican cowboy.

Late he goes on to explain the attraction of gay and lesbian tourism is either brings feeling of the exotic or of the home-y. He talks about Puerto Vallarta as in Guadalajara as a “San Francisco of Mexico.” Tourism companies who’s audience is the queers focuses on this exotified Mexican San Francisco in contrast to the Mexico (or “foreign land”) that is often presented as homophobic. He has a series of interviews in which Mexican men are explaining their experiences in certain areas of Mexico and the United States in terms of class and sex and tourism. He explains how these zonas can be sexually liberating in terms of coming together and celebrating queer community, but can also be exploitative in terms of the “American” man coming for his sex dream with a Mexican caballero. As he writes, it is a sexual borderland between liberation and exploitation.


How does this concept of sexual borderlands and Queer Mexico work within each other and gay and lesbian tourism?

How does global processes work in creating a “space” that is economically political?

What are some differences between gay and lesbian tourism and queer tourism in relation to this essay?



2 thoughts on “Generating Discussion: Liberation or Exploitation?

  1. I found it interesting that Cantú distinguishes between gay and lesbian tourism and queer tourism, and I think this differentiation is an insightful one. Cantú mentions the increasing availability of travel tours designed to cater specifically to a lesbian and gay clientele. Implicitly, these travel agencies are seeking a particular demographic of lesbians and gay men, namely those with financial resources who can afford travel and leisure time. In a capitalist socioeconomic framework like the US, the presence of LGB communities seems to become more widely accepted as they become (or at least, are perceived as) a more economically viable demographic (this reminds me of the increasing visibility of corporate sponsors at large pride festivals). While businesses may be more eager to appeal to certain gay and lesbian clients, a lot of folks without such resources are rendered invisible and undesirable because they do not represent a potential profit. Cantú contrasts this model with queer tourism, which focuses more on the complexities that arise from transnational travel, intersecting/fluid statuses and identities, and dynamic relationships between tourists and the spaces they inhabit.

  2. Although this article was about queer tourism specifically, it reminded me of the “Rent a Rasta” and the Columbian bride documentaries we watched. Cantu mentions that they reference Mexico as “a sexy Mexico,” which is the same thing that is done to Jamaica and Columbia by advertising companies. All the tourist industries are linking the land to the people and vice versa. The women and/or men in the foreign country are hyper-eroticized. All of these destinations are made to be inviting to the tourists, but simultaneously seems very different than their homelands. Also, both heterosexual and queer tourist destinations are restricted to those with the economic means to make the trip. So the identities that make up these spaces are very different. Class interactions play a large role in creating the culture because the men and women living and working in popular tourist destinations are in very different class levels than those vacationing.

Comments are closed.