The Mexican metropolis Guadalajara is known for the tequila that is distilled in the area. But hardly anyone knows that it is also considered the secret gay capital of Mexico. At the same time, the city is home to a unique film festival.

Nowhere is death happier than in Guadalajara. Whether in the junk shops of the artists’ quarter Tlaquepaque, in the narrow streets of the feverish Libertad market in the heart of the city or as graffiti in the trendy neighborhood of Chapultepec – everywhere you can see colourful skulls and festively dressed skeletons in all shapes and sizes. They remind you that life is transient. For the Mexicans this is obviously not a problem, but rather an incentive to enjoy the days on this earth as intensively and to the fullest. This joie de vivre makes Mexico’s second largest city with its 1.5 million inhabitants a bustling metropolis.

Not least, men like Pavel Cortés have their share in this. The 38-year-old has been conducting the Premio Maguey within the Guadalajara Film Festival for six years. Unlike the Teddy Award, which is given to a gay and lesbian film within the Berlinale, selected queer films for the Premio Maguey will be shown in a separate section, during which the prize will also be awarded. This is unique at a major film festival around the world – making Guadalajara one of the hot spots of gay and lesbian filmmaking. “We want to offer a forum to show LGBTTTI films from all over the world and to promote diversity and acceptance,” explains Pavel at lunch in the secluded courtyard of the Bruna, a hip restaurant in the city center. This year’s festival edition was all about the host country Germany, says Pavel. “We invited filmmakers like Jakob M. Erwa, the director of” The Middle of the World, “and cult filmmaker Bruce LaBruce. In addition, there was a Fassbinder homage. “But also subjects without direct film reference found an interested audience, such as a conversation with the Cuban activist Mariela Castro, the niece of Fidel Castro. She has been campaigning for the rights of queer people in Cuba for years. Engaged and intoxicating, the 55-year-old talked about how she persuaded the Socialist Old Masters’ Guard to ensure greater equality for transgender people on the island. “We think it’s important to give someone like her a podium,” says Pavel. “The fight for equality is far from over in Central and Latin America.”

© Thomas Abeltshauer

There is still a lot to do in Mexico. When the Mexican federal government wanted to open the marriage for same-sex couples last year, there were protests nationwide. Parliament finally voted against it in November 2016, even though Mexico City and some states such as Jalisco, whose capital is Guadalajara, have long since completed the opening of the marriage. But Mexico as a whole is still strongly influenced by the morality of Hispanic Catholicism and the gender image of machismo. Away from the two big cities, the situation for gay people still looks pretty dark. Only Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast, also located in the state of Jalisco and about 30 minutes by air from Guadalajara, is another exception. Pavel and his young, enthusiastic team have meanwhile also established a branch of their festival in the bathing paradise with its trendy gay beach and the numerous clubs and open-air bars.

Meanwhile, Guadalajara itself is one of the liveliest and most open metropolises south of the USA beyond the March Film Festival. Around the streets Madero and Prisciliano Sánchez has developed a homo district with numerous bars and clubs. There are very different shops for visitors of all tastes, from the classy Envy Club with suit-dressed types, to scruffy drag-show bars like the YeYe with performances on the edge of madness, to darkroom-like cruising bars like the Voltio, which also features so many a horny guy takes a break from heterosexual married life. The scene is self-confident and open, with the June Gay Pride Week, Marcha del Orgullo Guadalajara, attracting tens of thousands with a parade and festival. One of the busiest makers of the gay scene is Paulo Orendain. The impresario, radio host and party organizer provides the city’s most glamorous and over-the-top fetish, in changing venues. When the 38-year-old calls, they all come: the beautiful and the rich, the celebrities, and – of course – the gays. Likewise at the closing party of the Premio Maguey at the Club Edison, which bursts at its seams with more than a thousand party and dance-mad guests. “I make parties that I like to go to myself,” says Paulos as simple as proven secret of success.

Anyone who sleeps off last night’s inebriation misses one at least as exciting, but very different Guadalajara by day. Depending on who you’re talking to, the city is referred to as Mexican San Francisco (for gays), as Mexican Florence (for art lovers), as Pearl of the West (for architecture fans) or as the Mexican Silicon Valley (for techies and IT geeks) , Even the different characterizations show: Ultimately, Guadalajara can not be compared with anything. Whole streets of the city are reminiscent of former times with their Spanish colonial style, but the houses often give life to hip bars and shops. There are both here: modern urban life with cafes, galleries and a large creative scene in the center, at the same time city dwellers appreciate their traditions. They are proud of the mariachi, a regional form of folk music with extremely infectious dance rhythms that has long been emblematic of all of Mexico. Local mariachi bands from mostly seven to twelve instrumentalists regularly bring the dancefloors to a boil with cover versions of Lady Gaga or Beyoncé songs. And then of course there is the art of distilling spirits. The village of Tequila, which brought the eponymous agave liquor to worldwide fame, is not an hour’s drive away. And the Mezcal, also from here, a little less well-known than tequila, is just turning into the spirit of the day in trendy bars from New York to Munich. But the best varieties are kept by the Tapatíos, as the inhabitants of Guadalajara call themselves, for themselves. You can taste them only locally, such as in the bar “Pare de Sufrir. Tome Mezcal “- in English it means:” Stop suffering. Drink Mezcal “. The name is quite program. However, inexperienced travelers should be careful: the schnapps is real devil stuff – and the Mexicans seem to really want to know it, with their very special love-hate relationship to death.

© Thomas Abeltshauser

Lucha Libre is also about life and death, if only at first sight. Because the Mexican variation of wrestling is much more ironic and at the same time more affected than in the US. When the muscle guns in their masks and absurd costumes storm onto the stage and celebrate the machismo at the same time and literally hug each other, that’s a shrill mix of trash, gender parody – and porn. The rapt audience screams obscenities, both against the performers and against the hostile fanbase on the other side of the arena. A woman is particularly creative in her string of vicious verbal abuse, which she makes with a smoky, croaking voice. Hores and genitalia connect her with saints, mothers and sons, much to the blaring pleasure of the guests around her. Lucha Libre is popular sport and an outlet for Mexico’s class society. Here are chubby workers next to businessmen, in between a gay clique and a surprising number of women who have fun with it, as pumpeded types make fools of themselves. Those who succeed best will be tossed a few coins into the ring as a reward. Rarely can you experience such a funny and boisterous evening. And rarely does one feel as alive as here, in Guadalajara.

* Text: Thomas Abeltshauser

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