In his memoir Estatua de Sal, Mexican writer Salvador Novo talks about coming of age in the heady, slutty 1920s gay scene, the first era during which some Mexico City homosexuals felt safe enough to “live dangerously,” a.k.a. go public with their sexuality. To accommodate their social lives and steady stream of hookups during this heyday, young Novo and two friends got their first apartment on Republica de Argentina and Donceles Streets in the Centro Histórico neighborhood.
Novo recalls tricking out the space with decor inspired by pre-Columbian art — an act of “extreme nationalism,” as he puts it. Presiding over the apartment’s genteel orgies was a nalgón figurine that the young writer named Polencho (hilariously translated in the book’s English version as “Saint Bollocks.”) At Polencho’s feet, Novo placed a gourd “as the most appropriate vessel for the Vaseline required for our rites.”
Ninety years later, postdramatic actor-director Pepe Romero and NAAFI creative director Mexican Jihad were brainstorming for an event that could act as homage to the evolution of modern day sexuality. They brought in influential local queer promoter Derré Tida and Tape owner Diego Jiménez Labora to round out their cast of residents, with risqué photographer Alan Baltazar as the official documentarian. Inspired by NAAFI’s first vogue ball, they wanted to create a queer meeting point that defied traditional party formats — and while they were at it, “betray” the reactive organizations that dominated LGBT activism in Mexico City. Traición was born.
The team realized that Novo’s Polencho would be the perfect overseer of the progressive debauchery they had planned. “We want to put forward a queer space where everyone feels welcome, that they can be in a place where they feel at home,” Derré Tida says. “Free, without judgement. We want to create a dialogue between everyone, a beautiful Sunday afternoon en familia.”
At the debut edition in June 2015, Televisa’s first queer producer Mario Lafontaine served as the guest DJ. Pornographer G del Diablo of Mekos Films hosted. As an enthusiastic guest, I remember thinking that the party was like a live yearbook of queer Mexico City. As such, I was honored to be tapped to work the door at the second edition and I’ve been there ever since.
Traición is a year old now. It has happened in fancy cocktail bars, a political magazine’s offices, even a museum — but always on a Sunday, the Mexican day of family. “For some people, it’s the most traditional day of the week,” Mexican Jihad told me. “But for many, it’s the least normative day.” If you’re not close to your family, Sunday is an invitation to turn up, and to celebrate the support network you do have.
The party has hosted sets by Total Freedom, Ali Guaguis, Tomasa del Real, Tayhana, nearly everyone in the NAAFI collective. The day that Juan Gabriel passed away, it was Traición where Mexico City’s famous genderqueer performer Zemmoa sang her homenaje to El Divo.
Such is the soundtrack to the queer socializing that takes place, but what really sets Traición apart from the rest of Mexico City’s thriving party scene is performance art. “When we started the party, we knew we wanted the music and performance to have the same weight,” Pepe said when we talked about the party. “There are few platforms for visibilizing performance in Mexico City. That world is segregated, it’s very outsider.”
Though drag has become the popular (if not only) face of queer performance pretty much anywhere that Drag Race is aired, at Traición other corners of the realm are more fully explored. Pinina Flandes, whose pedagogic Noches Transitadas art parties helped inspire the event, burned rainbow and Mexican flags with Pepe at the debut edition. Muxe (Oaxaca’s third gender) Lukas Avendaño stalked another edition in butoh makeup, clothespins affixed to their face and torso. Mermaid performer Lia la Novia Sirena was memorably carried to a pool by four attendants for an eerie, choreographed water dance. Afterwards she played pool host, giving foot massages to those brave enough to socialize in the wet. Pornoterrorista inserted one poor venue’s microphone in her vagina and invited the audience to play her stomach like a drum.
Traición pauses for these pieces, which have taken on a ritual-like air. The music is cut (or especially designed by Mexican Jihad to compliment the action.) Party people stfu. Sometimes, everyone sits on the floor to watch. These are moments that collapse the space between party queers and art queers, that invite attendees to consider what brought them here and why they return each month.
And for every edition, a different artist is asked to evolve Polencho. The god has been interpreted across the gender continuum, each incarnation commemorated with a flag hung at the party and a small run of t-shirts sold to the faithful. New York illustrator Mo Juicy contributed a mischievous bear deity, fashion designer Victor Barragán a suspended muscle babe, Paula Assadourian a cheeky Fantasia flower.
Under the deity’s watch, something strange has happened, something very 2016. It is this: the straights come to the queer party, and they do not ruin things. “I feel more free at Traición,” more than one heterosexual attendee has told me at the door while exiting. People leave with surprising partners (sometimes several, and I’m not naming any names). Queer takes on its most expansive definition.
Organizers have invented a name for this phenomenon: #sexodiverso. “The term speaks to performativity,” Pepe tells me. “It’s about the act of being with someone — that’s a concept that more people identify with, rather than ‘diversidad sexual,’ which has more to do with gender and fixed categories of sexuality. We celebrate sex as an action, sharing. It’s not about which genders it takes place between.”
The project continues to evolve — on September 25th Traición takes its first trip outside Mexico City to San Francisco, for an unofficial after-party of open air kink festival Folsom Street Fair, in collaboration with the Bay’s queer hip-hop crew Swagger Like Us. Barragán is joining the crew to contribute his second, risqué living installation at Traición. There’s talk of launching larger events in Mexico City, which is in need of a production company to bring big name queer acts to town.
“Working in a queer space is different in terms of organization and sensibility,” says Mexican Jihad. “You have to think intersectionally and develop a ‘brand’ with an ample identity. But they’re also the spaces where you can be more free, surround yourself with the best talent, learn from what has been done before and imagine possibilities.”
Novo’s era has come and gone, now it’s time to figure out what the future of queer will look like in Mexico. Call it extreme nationalism, if you must.