Why has this Mexican LGBT bookstore soared while U.S. ones close?

*I originally published this piece on Unicorn Booty on February 25, 2015.

Voces en TintaVoces en Tinta is a bookstore, coffee shop, cultural forum and publishing house; all of that in the heart of Zona Rosa,Mexico City’s LGBT neighborhood. Bertha de la Maza, the store’s founder and owner, is clearly excited and proud that they’ve just celebrated their fifth anniversary. While that’s clearly a success, it’s also an anomaly — during that same period, other LGBT-oriented bookshops have closed in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York,Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Spain.

In 2013 alone, the number of independent bookstores in Britain lowered from 1028 to 987. And yet Voces en Tinta sells over a thousand books a month and has 18,000 more in stock with 600 clients every month from Mexico and around the world not to mention their online customers, and Twitter and Facebook followers.

In some ways, Mexico City is more liberal towards LGBT issues than the most U.S. states. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Mexico City — with marriages recognized nationwide — since 2009. Local law punishes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in work and public accommodations. And in November 13, 2014, lawmakers approved a bill allowing transgender people to legally change their identity without the need of a medical document.

Yet, as gay political scientist Genaro Lozano calls it, Mexico is still “macho land”: a country where most citizens identify as Catholic, gender roles are strict in familial and professional environments, and hate crimes continue to rank high: according to the organization Letra S, there were 887 homophobic and transphobic homicides between 1995 and 2013 (an average of almost one per week).

We talked to the owner of Voces en Tinta to get a better sense of the store and how it has survived when so many others are closing.

Voces en Tinta2Unicorn Booty: Why did you decide to open a specialized bookstore when the publishing industry seems to be having a rough time?

Bertha de la Maza: I’m 50 years old, and I’ve never heard talks about Mexico being at its economic best or that Mexicans are reading more. Since when I was a child until now, Mexicans haven’t gone beyond reading two or three books on average, per year, per person. So, anytime is good actually to start a business like this. Or anytime is bad.

We had the online store for nine years, people already knew us, looked for us, and started asking for an actual bookstore, a physical space. We anticipated that many people wouldn’t buy these books, because they didn’t even know they existed. The books were usually known only in academic and activism circles. That’s why we decided to start a cultural forum as well, as a way to present books, give exposure to the authors and have an exchange between readers and writers.

What has been the response from the editorial industry, the writers, big publishers and independent ones? Have they reached out to you to help sell their LGBT titles?

Publishing houses have not wanted to open up. They still think LGBT and gender-themed books don’t sell, and that nobody wants them. There’s a lot of prejudice. But the writers and researchers in Mexico have been great, and many of them have decided to invest in actually publishing their work locally.

Do you think Voces en Tinta has played a role in motivating those authors to get out and get published?

Yes. Those who had published before would end up with many of their books at home, using them as table legs or whatever. Now they know there is a place where, while we might not sell them out, they at least have a good chance of getting a return on their investment and using that money for their next work.

Voces en Tinta3

Do you notice people feel afraid to ask you something, or ashamed of coming into the store at all?

Many people walk in with a doubtful attitude. They look at the books we have on one of the main tables, which are mostly LGBT, gender and sexuality-themed, look past them and move on to the novels section. Then they look at them again and move on to another section. Then they become aware that they can ask anything they want.

What about the events you organize? What kind of audience do you have over?

We do a number of activities: book presentations, poetry readings every third Friday night of the month, small-format theatre, small-format concerts with sopranos, pop singers, trova, children music like Cri-Cri, workshops to make alebrijes [folk art sculptures of small and large scale of fantastical creatures], sexuality workshops for children and adults. We also have events to have people meet the writers, talk to them, like our “Have breakfast with your favorite author” series.

How has Voces en Tinta managed to stay in the market considering that books can be found easier and often cheaper on websites like Amazon, and that some readers aren’t buying print books at all but using digital platforms?

Mainly because of the service we provide. People actually want to come back. At Voces en Tinta we’re not saleswomen but bookwomen. We love books, we read, and in that sense we can recommend, advise, accompany the client, be empathic. Another reason is that, pricewise, we compete with big book retailers. Finally, because at Voces en Tinta you can find books that are not elsewhere.

Why is it important to have a space like yours in a rather conservative and machista country?

I am sure that art and culture are the most humane forms of making a revolution. This is our revolution. Voces en Tinta has contributed to the decrease of violence and the increase of harmony in society. How? We promote values of gender equality and respect for diversity. All of our actions and events send a message. Our clients become involved with our programming proposals through their support, opinions, and decisions and they take our events beyond Voces en Tinta to their everyday. I think that our values counter those promoted by a culture of drug traffic, uncertainty, fear, and individualism.

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Buck Angel: pornographer turned advocate

*I published this piece originally on The Huffington Post on September 23, 2014.

His Pervert tattoo on his back is often misread as Perfect. But that’s what he has achieved in a way. Perfection. He looks the way he always dreamed to. He has also created Buck Angel Entertainment, Buck Angel Dating, and has his own sculpture in London.

A lot of people don’t think he has important things to say, which he attributes to the fact that he is a porn star. And he does. That’s why I met with him for an interview on a short trip to Merida a couple of years ago and between work trips of his own to Detroit, Oklahoma City, Copenhagen, and London. And after a series of unfortunate events that resulted in this not being published earlier, here’s my chat with award-winning pornographer turned advocate Buck Angel.

If you’re in Mexico City on September 25 and 26, don’t miss Dan Hunt’s documentary on Buck’s life and work Mr. Angel at the MIC Género festival. The film is also available on Netflix.

Buck AngelEnrique Torre Molina: In Merida it’s not really hard for people to stand out. How has that been for you?

Buck Angel: This place has been magic for us. People are amazing, they’re really sweet, even though I look kind of scary in a sense. So, I do stand out, but people aren’t rude about it. They’re very okay. They don’t care. It’s very simple and easy here. There’s no pretentiousness. You lived in New York, you know what I mean. I travel all the time. I’m constantly on the road, so our house here is sort of like our safe place. We have people who work for us, who take care of our place and our dog, and we could never live like that in the U.S., with a domestic staff of three. We throw Christmas parties for our neighbors, with tamales and everything. At first they were scared of us. They thought we were drug dealers. We’ve made an effort to show our support to the community.

ETM: How did you get into the work you do now?

BA: I started working in the porn business behind the camera and everything was going great. Then I started working with a transsexual woman, which is a huge genre in the adult industry. So I thought, wow, there is no porn with a man like me. You could see any kind of porn you wanted, but a guy like me did not exist. I realized it had to be all about me, so I came up with the “man with a pussy” tag line. It was not easy. The whole adult industry hated me. I was, like, they have porn with 500 men gang bangs. How can you say I’m a freak?

ETM: Do you think that even with everything you can find in porn it is still a heteronormative or gendernormative industry?

BA: Everyone was freaking out on me. It was something new, and there had been nothing new in this industry for so long. At one point I got sick of it, I was taking everything personal, and that’s when I snapped myself out of it. I flipped it and everything started to change. Within two years of starting my business I won the AVN Transsexual Performer of the Year. Little by little I started recognition inside and outside the adult industry. When I started getting media attention from outside of that I realized maybe I was doing something bigger. Gender and sexuality is whatever you make of it. Because of that, that’s where I am today. Moving my adult work into educational work. I moved it to wanting to teach the world that you can be whoever you want to be, no matter what anybody tells you.

I get emails from people who tell me I’ve changed their lives, I’ve made them feel like they don’t have to commit suicide, they can be who they want to be. They don’t have to have surgery to become a man or a woman. That has been the most rewarding thing for me. A 13-year-old kid writing me and telling me “Thank you for making me feel that I’m not a freak.” You know how huge that is? When I was 13 I wanted to kill myself. That’s why I’ve had to twist my work into more educational, because my message is bigger than that.

ETM: So, that just happened very organically.

BA: It did. But through the organic change I realized I have to make an effort to change. I had to make that effort to say I’m an educator. I’m an advocate. I’m a filmmaker. I’m not just a pornographer. That has actually been a burden more than anything: the fact that I’m a porn star.

ETM: Is that common in the porn industry? To have people make that crossover to advocacy, activism, education?

BA: You will not see a lot of people like me making that crossover, though it is happening more today. And I have to say I attribute that a lot to my work. I really believe that my work has helped other people come along and feel more the need to become sex educators. The way they disrespected trans women in porn was also one of the reasons why I did my own work, because I didn’t want me or a guy like me to get into a porn industry that disrespects me. Trans women or girls with dicks were marketed as freaks. It was a straight man who took them, and made money off of them, paid them, and kicked them out the door. I saw that, and I didn’t want that to be my work.

ETM: The T in LGBT seems to be the last priority within that community. Does it make sense for transgender people to continue to spin off as a movement of its own?

BA: I think they should. Sexuality and gender are two different things. LGB is your sexuality. T is about your gender. I’ve always said that. When I mention that I’m a transsexual to a doctor, they immediately think I’m saying I’m a homosexual. And I have to tell you Mexico has been amazing in terms of medical care.

ETM: What is it like to have achieved the ideal version of yourself, appearance wise, if that is the case?

BA: It is. I always dreamed to look how I look: a man with muscles, able to take my shirt off. I don’t know so much about the tattoos or the bald head, which came with the testosterone as a side effect. I can say that I have achieved what I always wanted, which is the look of ultra, hyper masculinity. That’s what I was going for. Not to say that’s the case for all trans men, but it was my vision. I used to hate my body. And, actually, contrary to what people say of testosterone, testosterone mellowed me. It didn’t make me angry. I was angry before the testosterone, but now I’m much more calm, and feel more at peace with myself than ever before. My work isn’t about being trans. It’s about being who you are.


For Matthew Shepard and his family

*I originally published this post on The Huffington Post on June 18, 2014.

I wrote and read this piece on June 3, right before a special performance of The Laramie Project that I co-produced with the U.S. Embassy and the Matthew Shepard Foundation at Mexico City’s Teatro Milán.

funeral de matthew2At the end of my first year in college, just when I began to come out to my family and friends, I read about a young man in the United States, Matthew Shepard, who had been brutally murdered for being gay. This shocked me for many reasons — first, because I identified with a few of Matthew’s traits: My age at that time was almost the same as his when he was killed. We were both university students studying international relations. We both enjoyed traveling and learning new languages. We were both gay.

But what caught my attention the most was the fact that he was a regular guy. Matthew was not a famous activist whose work made someone in power feel uncomfortable. He was not a politician getting in the way of another. Matthew was just at the wrong spot at the wrong time with the wrong people. This terrified me.

A couple of years after that, I was living in New York, and I met Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mom and the co-founder of the organization named after him. Judy spoke at the city’s LGBT Community Center. At the end of the event, I came up to say hello, mentioned how much I admired her work, and asked her a couple of questions. Judy gave me a purple plastic bracelet that I have worn every day since then, for five years now. It has two simple but very strong words on it: “ERASE HATE.”

The hate that took her son away. The hate that ended Matthew’s life in 1998 in Wyoming, Brandon Teena’s in 1993 in Nebraska, Daniel Zamudio’s in 2012 in Santiago, Agnes Torres’ in 2012 in Puebla, and the list goes on. The same hate that ends relationships between friends because of one’s sexual orientation, or between a mother and her transgender daughter because the mother doesn’t understand her daughter’s identity.

The message sent by people like Matthew’s murderers (and everyone else’s) is that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is wrong. It is a problem. It is dangerous. It’s best to get rid of them. Alarming, right? Far from the promises of campaigns like It Gets Better, for people like Matthew and many more it actually got worse.

The amazing thing is that, 16 years after that episode, and thanks to the work of many, many people, Matthew is still “alive.” His story and the story of the small town that knew him keep traveling, moving hearts and minds, inspiring playwrights, filling theaters around the world, pushing laws forward against discrimination, driving young men and women to promote respect for diversity.

Today I celebrate that Matthew’s life did not end for nothing. If he, a 21-year-old, ordinary student, is here tonight and has made us come and know his story, we now have the task of erasing that hate and replacing it with respect and understanding.


Mexico City’s hottest tacos and gay parties

*Jean Paul Zapata published this piece on Gay Star News on March 4, 2014.

Mexico City's hottest tacos and gay partiesDon’t let the name fool you. Mexico’s Anal Magazine is an intellectual publication and has a highbrow following.

‘With a unique design, this magazine is dedicated to spread any kind of cultural expression of erotic nature or general interest to men who are not afraid to show their fascination for other men.’

The magazine’s logo is clever and well conceived; The content (no doubt provocative) extends to include literature, fashion and interviews; The publication has quickly established itself as a social force within the city’s LGBTI community.

Anal also puts on One Hell of A Party, the name given for its signature Halloween bash.
Three-year Mexico City resident and gay activist Enrique Torre Molina credits Anal Magazine with the city’s hottest dance floor. Facebook photos of previous parties corroborate these claims.

Torre Molina works with ‘media, non-profit organizations, companies, schools, and government agencies to promote respect for LGBT people,’ and has his fingers on the pulse of Mexico City’s culture scene.

He writes: ‘When I was in college in Puebla, I used to come to Mexico City about once a month. When I finally moved here three and a half years ago, I already knew my way around and had many friends living here. I especially like that there’s a lot of good theatre, and great people to meet every day. In this sense it’s very similar to New York, my other favorite city, where I lived for a little while. They remind me of each other.’

Here’s Enrique’s list of the best museums, theatres and tourist sights in Mexico City.

Favorite gay bar: Nicho and La Purísima.

Favorite any bar: Lilit.

Favorite dance floor: Anal Magazine’s Halloween party.

Favorite tourist sight: The view of the volcanoes when flying over Mexico City.

Mexico City's hottest tacos and gay parties2Favorite meal: Tacos at El Parnita and mascarpone cheesecake at Delirio.

Favorite getaway: Merida, Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas.

Favorite breakfast: Eggs at El Péndulo and French toast at Carrez.

Favorite park: Chapultepec, around the Tamayo Museum.

Favorite café: El Péndulo.

Favorite hotel: St Regis.

Favorite festival: Festival Mix, which is the oldest LGBT film festival in Latin America.

Favorite bike ride: I don’t bike.

Favorite long walk: Reforma avenue and shopping in colonia Roma.

Mexico City's hottest tacos and gay parties3Favorite photo-op: My building’s rooftop terrace, and anywhere with photographer Oscar Morales.

Favorite museum: Museo Memoria y Tolerancia and Museo Franz Mayer.

Favorite beach: Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca.

Mexico City's hottest tacos and gay parties4Favorite place for a first date: Cineteca Nacional or the theatre.

Favorite shopping street: Colima street in colonia Roma and H&M in Santa Fe.

Favorite food market: Mercado de Medellin in colonia Roma.

Favorite art gallery: I’m not a gallery person, but I love the photo exhibits they do on the fences of Bosque de Chapultepec along Reforma avenue.

Favorite view: From the Chapultepec Castle terrace.

Favorite public art: Sculptures outside Bellas Artes.

Favorite thing in the city that defies categorization: Theatre at the Santa Martha Acatitla prison.

Favorite theatre space: Foro Shakespeare and Teatro Helenico.

Favorite gay media outlet: Betún magazine.

Favorite hidden treasure: It used to be Tia Maria, a gay piano bar in my neighborhood, which closed last year. I have yet to find my new favorite hidden treasure.

To get in touch with Enrique, visit his website or follow him on Twitter @etorremolina.

Mexico City's hottest tacos and gay parties5

Don’t let the name fool you. Mexico’s Anal Magazine is an intellectual publication and has a highbrow following.

‘With a unique design, this magazine is dedicated to spread any kind of cultural expression of erotic nature or general interest to men who are not afraid to show their fascination for other men.’

The magazine’s logo is clever and well conceived; The content (no doubt provocative) extends to include literature, fashion and interviews; The publication has quickly established itself as a social force within the city’s LGBTI community.

Anal also puts on One Hell of A Party, the name given for its signature Halloween bash.
Three-year Mexico City resident and gay activist Enrique Torre Molina credits Anal Magazine with the city’s hottest dance floor. Facebook photos of previous parties corroborate these claims.

Torre Molina works with ‘media, non-profit organizations, companies, schools, and government agencies to promote respect for LGBT people,’ and has his fingers on the pulse of Mexico City’s culture scene.

He writes: ‘When I was in college in Puebla, I used to come to Mexico City about once a month. When I finally moved here three and a half years ago, I already knew my way around and had many friends living here. I especially like that there’s a lot of good theatre, and great people to meet every day. In this sense it’s very similar to New York, my other favorite city, where I lived for a little while. They remind me of each other.’

Here’s Enrique’s list of the best museums, theatres and tourist sights in Mexico City.

Favorite gay bar: Nicho and La Purísima.

Favorite any bar: Lilit.

Favorite dance floor: Anal Magazine’s Halloween party.

Favorite tourist sight: The view of the volcanoes when flying over Mexico City.

– See more at: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/mexico-citys-hottest-tacos-and-gay-parties040314#sthash.NWkkZshF.dpuf

Don’t let the name fool you. Mexico’s Anal Magazine is an intellectual publication and has a highbrow following.

‘With a unique design, this magazine is dedicated to spread any kind of cultural expression of erotic nature or general interest to men who are not afraid to show their fascination for other men.’

The magazine’s logo is clever and well conceived; The content (no doubt provocative) extends to include literature, fashion and interviews; The publication has quickly established itself as a social force within the city’s LGBTI community.

Anal also puts on One Hell of A Party, the name given for its signature Halloween bash.
Three-year Mexico City resident and gay activist Enrique Torre Molina credits Anal Magazine with the city’s hottest dance floor. Facebook photos of previous parties corroborate these claims.

Torre Molina works with ‘media, non-profit organizations, companies, schools, and government agencies to promote respect for LGBT people,’ and has his fingers on the pulse of Mexico City’s culture scene.

He writes: ‘When I was in college in Puebla, I used to come to Mexico City about once a month. When I finally moved here three and a half years ago, I already knew my way around and had many friends living here. I especially like that there’s a lot of good theatre, and great people to meet every day. In this sense it’s very similar to New York, my other favorite city, where I lived for a little while. They remind me of each other.’

Here’s Enrique’s list of the best museums, theatres and tourist sights in Mexico City.

Favorite gay bar: Nicho and La Purísima.

Favorite any bar: Lilit.

Favorite dance floor: Anal Magazine’s Halloween party.

Favorite tourist sight: The view of the volcanoes when flying over Mexico City.

– See more at: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/mexico-citys-hottest-tacos-and-gay-parties040314#sthash.NWkkZshF.dpuf


Rompiendo silencios y salvando vidas

La primera vez que escuché sobre The Trevor Project fue hace cuatro años. Estaba trabajando en IGLHRC y las oficinas de ambas organizaciones eran vecinas en un edificio en el Distrito Financiero de Nueva York.

Su misión es muy puntual: prevenir el suicidio entre jóvenes lesbianas, gays, bisexuales y transgénero (LGBT), e intervenir en crisis que estos jóvenes sufren. Su misión es también muy ambiciosa: cada 100 minutos un adolescente se suicida en Estados Unidos. En comparación con jóvenes heterosexuales, es cuatro veces más probable que un adolescente LGBT intente suicidarse.

Hace un año y medio conocí a Louisa Merino. Un amigo en común de la universidad (estudiamos en la misma) me contó que Louisa estaba trabajando en un documental sobre este tema, esta organización, y la busqué insistentemente para que me contara sobre su proyecto. Me enseñó el documental y guardé la conversación que tuvimos hasta ahora que Lifeline, por fin, llega a México:

Celebridades como Daniel Radcliffe, Ellen DeGeneres y Neil Patrick Harris han sido voceros de The Trevor Project. Sobre la estrategia de asociar a personajes así a este tipo de organizaciones y campañas, y sobre qué falta para que en México haya más figuras públicas que se animen a ello, Louisa opina:

No digo que todos salgan ahorita del clóset, porque es un proceso. Pero la cosa no va a cambiar si seguimos todos adentro de él.

Lifeline se presenta este miércoles 10 de julio a las 20:30 horas en La Casa del Cine en el DF (Uruguay 52, piso 2, Centro). Sobre el estreno, Luisa dice:

Tengo mucha esperanza de que en México sea recibido con los brazos abiertos. Creo que es necesario e importante traer mensajes de este tipo.

lifelineEn México todavía no hay suficiente información sobre este asunto. En 2012 se publicó la primera Encuesta Nacional sobre Bullying por Homofobia.