Mema’s House, Mexico City: On Transvestites, Queens, and Machos (Prieur, 1998)

I thought that this book was a wonderful description of the gay and transsexual subculture in Mexico City.  There are a couple of issues I had with the way that Prieur decided to conduct her research.  One is the author’s cognitive dissonance regarding the lifestyle that she has thrown herself into and the lifestyle that she was accustomed to.  The reasons Prieur gave for her over-involvement with her subjects are valid but throughout the book, it seems as though she was apologizing for her methods.  It seems to me that her choice was the best one for the situation but there was no need to continually define herself as a sociologist.  She seemed to be having a lot of fun but did not want that to come through in the text.  Even though it was a research project, there was no need to mask her feelings.  Her interpretation of the events during her stays would have been much more interesting had she not tried to mask how she felt as a woman.

Another subject that I thought was lacking in the book was the actual red light districts where the jotas would go to sell sex.  There was constant mention of it, but I don’t recall Prieur ever going to these place to investigate them for herself.  It may be unsafe for a European woman to be out there but it was a key part of the research that I felt should have been addressed.  I think that by interacting with some of the men (and women) out in these areas, her view of the sexually-deviant subculture would have expanded greatly.  Women are a part of the subculture, they are the competition for jotas and vestidas but Prieur never interviewed women regarding men in the society.  Even if it had been just prostitutes, I’m sure that they would have a lot to say about the homosexual culture; how men react after being with a jota or how the prostitute has been in competition with jotas and so on.  Charles Bukowski said that men go to prostitutes as an enhanced form of psychiatry.  I’m sure that the female prostitutes would add an interesting dimension to Prieur’s study.

Regarding the subject of Mema himself.  It seems that he is running something of a safe house for runaway vestidas.  There are two ways of looking at him, as an enabler or as a protector.  He gives these confused children a place where they can safely engage in all of the activities they would be doing anyway.  The way Prieur spoke of him, she seemed to enjoy his place among them.  It seems that she approved of his actions and regulations.  Once again, it is not her place to inform the reader of her approval or disapproval but the fact that she was willing to sleep in his bed denotes a certain comfort and lack of worry.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, usually I despise reading analytical text (which this was to a point) but the subject matter here intrigues me.  I’ve always been astonished by the gay lifestyle and the amount of energy that it takes from its constituents.  The flamboyancy of homosexual men entertains me and I enjoy their company.  While reading this book, I sometimes got the feeling that I was in those clubs dancing with queens and the like although Prieur became rather repetitive in her statements regarding the psyche of each resident within the house.  I think I would have also liked to see case studies, sections of the book where Prieur would consolidate each resident (past and present) that was interviewed so that the reader could relate to each of them on an independent basis.  I think this would have increased the reader’s interest in each of the subjects.  Also, I felt that the pictures were sporadically placed, they were discontinuous in relation to the text.  Had she written a chapter that dealt only with individuals and supplemented their stories with pictures, the reader would have had a better chance of developing a connection with the residents.  Other than that, excellent 🙂

NOTE: I wrote this as an undergraduate. Please be gentle…

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About charisselpree

The Media Made Me Crazy
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