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Dance of the 41 Queers: Police raid on Mexican drag ball remembered
“Los 41 Maricones” (The 41 Queers) by Jose Guadalupe Posada, 1901 (Wikipedia)
One of the world’s most notorious police raids on a queer gathering occurred on this date (Nov. 17-18) in 1901, when police arrested 41 men at a drag ball in Mexico City.
The raid on the “Dance of the 41” caused a huge scandal with lasting repercussions against LGBT people. The incident was widely reported and was used thereafter to justify years of police harassment, including more raids, blackmail, beatings and imprisonment. The number 41 entered popular culture in Mexico and continues to be used as a negative way to refer to gay men, evoking shame.
About half of the men at the Dance of the 41 were dressed as women, with silk and satin dresses, elegant wigs, jewelry and make-up. Police raided the private house where the “transvestite ball” was underway. They never released the names of those arrested because they came from the upper class of Mexican society.
As punishment the 41 detainees were humiliated in jail and then forced into the army, where they dug ditches and cleaned latrines in the Yucatan. A lesbian gathering in Santa Maria was raided soon after on Dec. 4, 1901, but it received much less publicity.
The vivid reports of the Dance of the 41 included a famous series of caricatures by popular Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. These mocking images stand in contrast to the LGBT Stations of the Cross by Mary Button, whose paintings connect police raids of queer bars with the suffering of Jesus. The raid on the Dance of the 41 is an example of police harassment that happened in many countries and continues in some.
Today same-sex marriage is legal in Mexico City and the Dance of the 41 is being reclaimed and reinterpreted by LGBT activists and scholars. A non-profit organization called “Honor 41” honors and celebrates Latina/o LGBTQ individuals who are role models. Their English-language video on the Dance of the 41 gives an accessible overview of the history.
The event is known in Spanish as simply as “el baile de los cuarenta y uno” (the dance of the forty-one) or with an added anti-gay insult “el baile de los cuarenta y uno maricones” (the dance of the forty-one fags).
All the facts and the full context concerning the Dance of the 41 are examined in the scholarly book “The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico” by Robert McKee Irwin, Edward J. McCaughan and Michelle Rocio Nasser.
Dance of the 41 (Wikipedia English)
Baile de invertidos (Homosexual balls) (Wikipedia Spanish)
To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
El baile de los cuarenta y uno: Recordando el momento en que la policía allanó un baile queer en México
This post is part of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.
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