As a gay man, a question often asked of me and my partner is,”Who is the man and who is the woman in the relationship?” Our response is always,“It depends on the day.” For most people existing within our heteronormative society labeling members of a same-sex partnership as predominantly masculine or mostly feminine makes the concept easier to grasp. Personally, I see both myself and my partner as equally being “men” within the relationship (because we both clearly are) but what is it that makes a man a woman? When a man cries does he become less manly? Does a man become a woman when he lets his lover know what is within his heart? Or does he become a woman when the world realizes that his lover is a man? To some to be a man who loves men is the same as to be a woman especially in Latin American. But what is the reason?
Some would argue that this perception is due to the concepts of machismo and marianismo; male and female gender roles. Machismo comes from the word macho and is defined as an exaggerated sense of manliness. The term came into use in the 60s and 70s by Latin American feminists to describe pervasive attitudes and beliefs regarding masculinity in Latin American cultures; often emphasizing the negative aspects of masculinity(violence, aggression, sexism etc,). To some individuals these masculine stereotypes are just another way of saying that we live in a patriarchal society and that is true, but how is it different in the Latino community?
For starters, Latin America, for the most part, is very religious and conservative. In fact, the term marianismo comes from the name Maria, a variation of the name Mary. The virgin Mary’s display of martyrdom and sacrifice for one’s family is often viewed as what it means to be a woman. What’s more is that individuals perceptions of what it means to be a man and to be a woman is synonymous with their Latino identity. One idea as to why Latino men are hyper-masculine is because of the stereotype that Hispanic men are more emotional than are their non-Hispanic counterparts. To show one’s feelings and vulnerabilities is often viewed as a sign of weakness and is inherently non-masculine, and hyper-masculine behavior is simply the means to compensate for this,”feminine” trait. What’s more interesting is that this stereotype of the sensitive Latino male is used to create another image important to the macho identity. The sensitive and compassionate nature of the Latin lover is what makes him so alluring. The ability to seduce women is a huge part of machismo. But what happens when you have no desire to do so?
Having sex with women plays such a major role in the perception of being male that not doing so, in fact, makes one less of a man. Marica, mariquita, y maricon all translate to gay, sissy, or faggot. What is more telling about the words used to insult gay men is where the words come from. Marica and its variants come from the name Maria as does marianismo. The term bluntly says that to be a man who loves other man is the same as to be women. This perception of gay men as women also allows for “heterosexual” men to take part in homosexual acts without having to adopt the label of marica; After all the object of your desire is still a woman. So sometimes the question, ”Who is the man and who is the woman?” can leave an insulting aftertaste.