He was known as Mexico's finest chronicler, its "last public intellectual," its "conscience," and as the only literary figure around who was said to be recognized by regular folks on the street. With the death on Saturday of Carlos Monsivais, Mexico lost a voice that for nearly 50 years was considered unrivaled in his ability to cut to the core of the issues and personalities of his day.I have to say I didn't know much about Monsivais, other than he was an ardent defender of LGBT rights in Mexico and that some of his published pieces on the subject were seen as influential on moving a number of cultural and political leaders to support marriage equality rights in Mexico City. I also assumed he was gay...
Mourners, from high-profile politicians to everyday workers, swarmed the writer's casket at two public wakes over the weekend. People waved, cheered and chanted for the man millions knew simply as "Monsi."
Monsivais was a journalist, a critic, a cinephile, a collector of historical and pop ephemera (which led eventually to the founding of a museum) and a tireless activist for minority rights and the political left. In hundreds of articles and columns, more than two dozen books, countless appearances on television and radio, at conferences and demonstrations, Monsivais represented for many Mexicans an enormously erudite man of letters who never lost touch with ordinary people, or with the tragicomic nature of life here.
Well, he was... but apparently not too willing to talk about it. Again, from Daniel's piece for Los Angeles Times:
Monsivais was also active in various gay rights issues and wrote on related topics such as homophobia. His own sexuality, however, was not something he commented on.That was the clear sentiment online Saturday night on Twitter as hundreds came to pay their respects at a last-minute wake, including Marcelo Ebrad, the Mayor of Mexico City. The ceremony was broadcast live by some Mexican networks and on online feeds.
"Many of the achievements we have today are thanks to him, the work he did," said Lina Perez Cerqueda, director of a gay rights organization, referring to the legalization of gay marriage in Mexico City and similar measures. "I think Carlos was beyond [labels]. It was nothing he hid, and it was not something he announced. He was Carlos."
From this vantagepoint, it was a mix of the emotional and the gaudy, of pure sentiment and outright cheesiness. Or perhaps I am not used to Mexican wakes? That five minute stretch of people applauding as some looked around confused as whether they should stop? Awkward! The gay guy playing a flute as others looked uncomfortable around him? Spare me the flute melodies when I die.
I Tweeted "What was that? An attempt to reclaim Monsivais for the LGBT community?" And it was!
Today, Mexican LGBT news site Anodis caught up to gay flautist Horacio Franco (pictured in the black shirt, crossed arms, to the left), who is described as a friend of Monsivais. He was also the man who placed the flag on the coffin.
Asked about about Monsivais' homosexuality, Franco said "it was never made public, but everyone knew about it."
Damn! Outed right before burial! I'm not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, there is a long history of left wing leaders and figures who were gay but never acknowledged it while alive. I mean, when it mattered. That is, when Fidel Castro was sending gays to forced labor camps. On the other, Monsivais was a forceful advocate for LGBT rights even as he seemed less than willing to discuss his own sexuality.
As I looked at the live broadcast of the wake, I wasn't the only one who noticed all the photos of Monsivais and his loved cats. He was said to love his cats so much that he kept them despite doctors telling him that their presence in the house would worsen the lung ailment that eventually killed him. But, as I looked at all those pictures, I also wondered if there hadn't been any men in his life whose photos he would have liked to grace the halls of his wake. Yes, that was his chose in life and perhaps that choice was violated at the wake. But I couldn't help to feel sadness that such a man lived and died in the closet.
UPDATE: I always admit that I am not the best writer out there. Sometimes I reread a post and cringe a bit at what I wrote and something about this post makes me do that. It comes out as too light a take on the issue of outing someone who never said he was gay publicly and yet did great things for the LGBT community. BUT I do know that I have good instincts for sniffing out interesting stories nobody else is writing about here in the United States. And sometimes someone takes a look at what I wrote and spins off on my thoughts. That was the case with Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano's take on my post after Ricky Martin came out ("Why Ricky Martin Matters") and it is the case now with Anahi Parra at Macha Mexico. She has written the post I was hoping to write on the outing of Monsivais so please jump over to...
- Lo que se ve no se pregunta (Macha Mexico, June 20th, 2010) - btw, it's an English language post for those of you who do not understand Spanish.