Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America

Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America

by Pete Sigal (Editor)


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What did it mean to be a man in colonial Latin America? More specifically, what did indigenous and Iberian groups think of men who had sexual relations with other men? Providing comprehensive analyses of how male homosexualities were represented in areas under Portuguese and Spanish control, Infamous Desire is the first book-length attempt to answer such questions. In a study that will be indispensable for anyone studying sexuality and gender in colonial Latin America, an esteemed group of contributors view sodomy through the lens of desire and power, relating male homosexual behavior to broader gender systems that defined masculinity and femininity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226757025
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/28/2003
Edition description: 1
Pages: 231
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Pete Sigal is an associate professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles. He is the author of From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire.

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Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America

By Peter Herman Sigal

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003 Peter Herman Sigal
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226757048

Chapter One - Toward an Andean Theory of Ritual Same-Sex Sexuality and Third-Gender Subjectivity


The study of indigenous gender culture in pre-Hispanic and colonial Latin America is plagued by transculturating tropes of sexuality that claim to represent the "other's" gendered practices in the language of European hegemony. Nevertheless, scholars have made great strides in recognizing the dilemma and have begun deconstructing the walls of the "lettered city" that informs colonial historiography, opening doors to new interpretations of what might have existed before and soon after the contact between American and European cultures. Most recently, the issues of same-sex sexuality and cross-gendered subjects have captured the attention of the readers of this corpus of texts. Who were the "sodomites" often depicted in chronicles and histories of Latin America? How can we characterize the cross-gendered peoples often referred to as hermaphrodites or berdache in the literature? What roles did transgendering play in indigenous societies? Can we differentiate between sacred and profane practices of same-sex sexuality?

In this chapter I address the above-mentioned issues in the specific context ofthe Andean region, where theoretical approaches to the subject of gender and sexuality have been limited to essentialist, and more recently, constructionist models of interpretation. Most prominent in recent scholarship has been Richard Trexler's Sex and Conquest, the most sustained analysis on the Latin American gender-crossing, same-sex practicing subject traditionally referred to as the berdache. Trexler's chapter in this volume summarizes his book's thesis that the pan-American berdache was a product of a pre-Hispanic gender ideology that sexually objectified defeated or otherwise subjugated males in ways that magnified masculine power. These cultural patterns, he argues, remarkably approximated the early modern European treatment of same-sex behavior and effeminized dependency. While this characterization may hold true for other parts of the Americas Trexler analyzes, I argue here that the Andean versions of this historical subjectivity had culturally distinct meanings that transcended European notions of effeminacy as dependency and degeneracy. Moreover, I explore different methods to theorize the same-sex sexuality associated with cross-gendering subjects in the Andes. I read through the transculturating tropes of sexuality embedded in the colonial discourse in order to reinterpret the references to same-sex sexuality and cross-gendering as performative iterations of a pre-Hispanic ritual subjectivity associated with notions of mediation between Andean masculinity and femininity. Judith Butler's concept of performativity as a model for gendered identity informs my reconsideration of the berdache as a "third-gender" subjectivity, to be defined below. The approach privileges the native people's agency in the representation of their own gender and sexual culture, even though such representations are mediated by colonial discourse.

My approach to third gender in the pre-Colombian and colonial Andes is to underscore the performativity of the subjectivity within a context of transculturation. Butler's conception of gender "performativity" suggests that discursive subjectivities are agents of their gendered selves, agents that reiterate culturally constructed imitations of an imagined original gender (Gender Trouble, 147). Any substance to a gendered identity, that is, its essence, is actually a phantasm, a mere appearance of substance that has acquired the illusion of essence through its repetitions in discourse. Individuals imitate the phantasms in "performances" that pass as gendered identities. Butler has clarified her position in Bodies That Matter by emphasizing the discursive nature of the human body, which is as much a cultural construct as gender itself. Therefore, the body is "sexed" through cultural norms. In the Andes, we will see how the body of the third-gender subject signifies culturally meaningful relationships that are brought into discourse through ritual repetitions. What we might know of third-gender subjects comes from the colonial record of their "performances" of ritual expressions of gender and sexuality.

This limitation to our knowledge of the cultural meaning of third-gender subjectivities requires a subtle reading of the colonial record. As Butler has asserted, "[T]he subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one which produces a constitutive outside to the subject, an abjected outside, which is, after all, "inside" the subject as its own founding repudiation" (Bodies That Matter, 3). The challenge to reading through transculturating tropes is recognizing that notions of the feminine and third-gender subjectivities are figured as "abjected outsiders" to performative masculine, idealized subjects of Spanish colonial discourse. These "abjected outsiders," therefore, are left marginalized to dominant subjectivities in the discourse, transformed from earlier performative subjects with different values and meanings. Therefore, we must read third gender as performed subjectivities who have passed through a process of transculturation in the highly contested, colonial contact zone. Third gender is acculturated and deculturated; the subjectivity acquires European notions of degeneracy associated with the sodomy trope while it loses part of its sacred, integrated identity associated with feminine rituality. Neoculturations appear in the discourse as mere phantasms of earlier iterations of ritual subjectivity. This chapter concentrates on reconstructing the pre-transculturated meanings of ritual same-sex sexuality and cross-gendering. To do so requires an understanding of current third-gender theory.


As Gilbert Herdt has argued in his introduction to Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, to speak of third genders is not to say there are three genders instead of two; it is to break with the sex and gender bipolarity that has, until recently, dominated Western popular and scientific thought. Herdt follows sociologist George Simmel in viewing the presence of just two categories as creating an intrinsic relationship of potential oppositional conflict. Therefore, Herdt claims "third" as "emblematic of other possible combinations that transcend dimorphism" (20). The essays in Herdt's volume strive to unravel the multiple discourses that construct gender identities around human propensities to "categorize things into twos, threes, or other structures of the mind" (20). Theorizing beyond sexual dimorphism is a gesture toward thinking about infinite rather than finite numbers of gender categories. "Third gender," then, becomes a metonymic signifier for those gendered subjectivities that fall outside the classic dimorphic gender categories but whose intelligibility depends on cultural specificity. Therefore, each third-gender subject can only be meaningfully discussed within the context of his or her gender culture.

Will Roscoe's articles, "How to Become a Berdache" and "Gender Diversity in Native North America: Notes toward a Unified Analysis," and his new recent book, Changing Ones, work toward establishing that what the traditional ethnographic literature has long identified as a berdache is in many cases the manifestation of a third-gender designation within specific native cultures. His work also gives an extensive review of "berdache" studies. As Roscoe explains, berdache is the term anthropology adopted from colonial discourse in the Americas to refer to men who dress like and adopt the roles of women in native societies. Male berdache have been documented in nearly one hundred and fifty North American societies, while female berdache (females who take on the lifeways of males) appear in half as many groups ("How to Become a Berdache," 330). Because the Western colonial chroniclers, nineteenth-century ethnographers, and, later, anthropologists had neither linguistic nor cultural categories that corresponded to the berdache subjectivity, naming it became a problem and usually resulted in misnomers such as the term berdache itself, which was originally a Persian and Arabic term for the younger male partner in a same-sex erotic relationship (331). In the different discourses alluded to above, these subjectivities have been variously named "hermaphrodite," "sodomite," "effeminate," and more recently, "homosexual" and "transsexual." Each of these terms misrepresents the berdache in its own way, some expressing bodily confusions, others inscribing the native subject in Christian or psychosexual discourses, and all ignoring the often sacred roles that these subjects performed.


It has become a commonplace in Andean studies to recognize the complementary relationship between men and women in the Andes. Analysis of colonial historiography, archival records, and more recent anthropology and ethnography reveals deeply ingrained daily practices as well as frequent sacred rituals that reinforce the dual nature of gender relations. As several anthropologists have learned from their indigenous informants, all creation is gendered, from the "male" inti (sun) and "female" killa (moon) to the pachatata (earth-father) and the pachamama (earth-mother). Men and women seek to fit into this dual vision of the world by negotiating each other's strengths and weaknesses in the reproduction of their culture. Women since pre-Colombian times have had access to and control of material resources and supernatural power. By studying the tradition of parallel inheritance that afforded women property rights within the kinship-based ayllu system, the complementary roles of males and females in the basic family unit, the corresponding gender duality of Andean deities, and the religious institutions run by women, Irene Silverblatt concludes that prior to the Inca ethnic group's political ascension in the region, "women and men in the Andean ayllu apprehended a world criss-crossed by bonds of gender" (39). Men, while invested with more political power, negotiated with women, dominant over the domestic sphere, to culturally re-create the gendered duality that marked their lives. This segregation of gender roles should not be understood as absolute, since men worked in domestic roles and women in public ones as well. Rather than understand women's roles in the Andes as occupying positions of dependency, as Trexler suggests in his contribution to this volume and his book Sex and Conquest, we must read the textual markers of gender relations as performative iterations of the negotiation between men and women, genders equally endowed with cultural significance. This negotiation is further explored below.

The Inca, as they increased their political power in the region, took advantage of these complementary linkages between men and women to reproduce ideologically the ayllu structure on a larger, interethnic scale. As a result, Silverblatt argues, women rose parallel to men in the emerging "conquest politics" of the Incas' regional expansion. Integral to these politics was the re-creation of pre-Inca, gendered "prestige hierarchies" based on relationships established between outsiders conceptualized as male and original inhabitants conceptualized as female (68). These local prestige hierarchies served the purpose of ordering and classifying within the ayllus, and the "conquered" did not lose access to productive resources, nor were they subjugated by force (72). The Incas would later repeat the symbolic patterns in order to incorporate other ethnic groups into Tawantinsuyu. The new political order established by the Incas, in which Inca rulers were figured as stand-ins for the male Sun deity, created alliances with newly incorporated territories by taking local chieftains' virgin daughters as acllas, or wives of the Sun/Inca (87). The sexual control with which the Incas treated these young women, maintaining their virginity and endowing them with semi-divine status, was one of the primary means by which Tawantinsuyu was governed (107).

The scholarship summarized above suggests that the Andean cultures were structured on the basis of a dimorphic gender system in which gender complementarity was the fundamental basis for human interaction and cultural reproduction. This structure does not, however, account for the third-gender subjectivities that reportedly populated the Andes alongside the acllas, Incas, and other Andean peoples. If cultural reproduction was linked to expanding kinship alliances through an ideology of gender complementarity, then where and how does same-sex sexuality and cross-gendering play arole in Andean culture? Trexler answers that the berdache, as defeated adversary in interethnic politics, becomes a sign for the victorious chieftain's masculine status, but I ask, Is there a way to consider the performance of third gender outside the constructionist framework of power relations? My first task, therefore, is to suggest where a third gender might have fit in the pre-Hispanic and colonial culture of gender complementarities.

To understand the conceptual place a third gender might have inhabited in the highly symmetrical cosmology of the Andeans, I turn to Tristan Platt's "Mirrors and Maize: the Concept of Yanantin among the Macha of Bolivia," an explanation of the symbolic structure of Andean gender symmetry known as yanantin. This discussion will also flesh out the complex system of gender complementarity referenced above, underscoring the performative nature of gender relations in the Andes. This dualistic symmetry is achieved through complex ritual performances such as tinku, an Andean practice that affirmed social relations by bringing opposites into harmony, which was (and is) expressed ritually and symbolically in both the Quechua and Aymara cultures. Platt explains how ritual "battles" are performed within the context of a four-part symmetrical division of cultural space. In this division, ecology plays an important structural role, as do kinship relations. Ecologically, Andean space is divided between the puna and the valley, with the dividing line being a liminal area known as chawparani, whereas each of these divisions is subdivided between two principal ayllus known as hanan and hurin (232). Hanan is symbolically gendered masculine, and hurin is symbolically gendered feminine. The members of the immediate family and of the patrilocal group maintain exogamous relations while ideally forming matrimonial relations exogamously between the hanan and hurin ayllus and between the puna and valley divisions (235). This structure forms part of what John Murra has called the ecological verticality that creates regional interdependence in the Andes. For our purposes, it is important to understand that tinku occurs between the two halves, hanan and hurin, in a ritual in which the men from the hanan ayllu oppose the men from the hurin ayllu and the women from hanan oppose the women from hurin (239-40). This symmetrical pairing of men and women is also repeated in other ritual contexts, such as the "ritual plowing" (240-41) and the "house building" (238-39).

This opposition between same-sex groups in the tinku ritual battles presents an interesting question for Platt in his study of yanantin: "Why do men battle with men and women with women during the tinku, if I am right in seeing the encounter as in part a ritual copulation between male and female moieties?" (246). Platt offers an explanation of the sexual nature of tinku by noting the relationship between food and copulation and between fighting and copulation. Catherine Allen also notes the sexual nature of tinku during contemporary puqllay, or "carnival," in the Peruvian highland ayllu of Sonqo. A passage in the indigenous chronicle of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala confirms that in his time, the late sixteenth century, tinku, or tin-quichi, as he spells it, did indeed implicate sexuality as the metaphor for conflict resolution between the sexes. Guaman Poma's reference to tinquichi is found in his description of hechiceros (shamans): "[T]he Indian shamans used to perform tinquichi: they join man to woman so that they fall in love and make the men wear-out." This passage is very suggestive of the inherently conflictive nature of Andean opposite-sex relations, for the joining of the man and woman, according to Guaman Poma, leads to the woman potentially consuming or destroying the man. In this case, the hechicero becomes the mediator in the ritual pairing of the quariwarmi (man-woman), a potentially dangerous relationship for the man. Union required a ritual or magical impulse so that the opposites could form a complementary relationship. If the heterosexual relationship implied conflict of opposites, how do same-sex relationships fit into the Andean cosmology?

Platt's partial answer to this question provides a symbolic structure from which to address more profoundly same-sex sexuality in the pre-Hispanic Andes. For Platt, the key to understanding Andean gender relations and sexuality is the mirror. The mirror is a potent symbolic tool for the Machas; it is used, for example, in two most important liminal contexts: during the marriage ceremony and at death (32). Platt observes the symmetry that results from a reflected image in a mirror. For example, a right hand reflects back a left hand in the mirror, which would represent perfectly the concept of yanantin, the expression for perfect, dualistic, gendered symmetry. What, then, happens when human bodies are reflected in the mirror? The human body represents perfect symmetry of the left and right sides, yet the reflection of a man in the mirror is not that of a woman but of another man, as is the case in which a woman's reflection is but that of another woman. Remembering that the goal of yanantin in this context is to unite the man and woman for social and human reproduction, we can understand the importance of the predicament. To understand how the union is symbolically achieved, we must take a closer look at the mirror effect.

If we consider all four possible pairings of man and woman, and their respective reflections within the yanantin model, we have, in Platt's words, "male men, male women, female men, and female women" (247-48). This four-part construction of relationships corresponds to the four-part construction of the Andean cosmos, and the four-part division of the Inca empire, Tawantinsuyu, which in colonial Quechua meant "All of Peru, or the four parts, which are Antesuyu, Collasuyu, Contisuyu, Chinchaysuyu" (Gonzalez Holguin 336) The first two pairings of same-sex couples reflect the gendered groupings involved in the tinku ritual battles, the house building and ritual plowing ceremonies. The pairing of the groups from hanan with the groups from hurin is achieved through the symbolic reflection of perfect symmetry represented in the same-sex pairing. The man from hanan is reflected back to the man from hurin. The woman from the puna is reflected back to the woman from the valley. Platt concludes that the two figures of the same-sex pairings create a certain ambiguity that leads to the union of the gender opposites: "The very ambiguity of the middle two elements allows them to be presented, not illogically, by men and women respectively. And we can now understand the ideality of such an arrangement: Two actors of the same sex can affirm the relationship of mirrored symmetry that should pertain, in real life, to the conjugal pair" (248).

Platt clarifies and corroborates this hypothesis by comparing an analysis of the Quechua word yana's semantic field with that of related root words, namely pampa (a flat place, a thing in common, a common and universal thing); cuzcachani and pactachani (synonyms: to join two unequal things); and chulla (antonym: a thing without a mate, unequal images). After considering these terms and concepts within the context of his previous discussion, Platt concludes that the commonality of the terms is found in the pairing of opposites, just as we have seen yanantin function above in the context of gender relations (249-52). To bring these opposites together, in each of the concepts discussed, implied the elimination of inconsistencies and disproportionate halves. In the tinku ritual the goal was to reaffirm borders between ayllus, so that each side reflected symmetrically the other. In the marriage of man and wife, the ritual aimed at uniting two opposite genders so that each complemented the other in daily interdependence. For this symmetrical pairing to occur, the things to be paired must share limits or borders.


Excerpted from Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America by Peter Herman Sigal Copyright © 2003 by Peter Herman Sigal. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: (Homo)Sexual Desire and Masculine Power in Colonial Latin America: Notes toward an Integrated Analysis, Pete Sigal
1. Toward an Andean Theory of Ritual Same-Sex Sexuality and Third-Gender Subjectivity
Michael J. Horswell
2. Gender Subordination and Political Hierarchy in Pre-Hispanic America
Richard C. Trexler
3. Gendered Power, the Hybrid Self, and Homosexual Desire in Late Colonial Yucatan
Pete Sigal
4. Political "Abomination" and Private Reservation: The Nefarious Sin, Homosexuality, and Cultural Values in Colonial Peru
Ward Stavig
5. Tales of Two Carmelites: Inquisitorial Narratives from Portugal and Brazil
David Higgs
6. Crypto-Sodomites in Colonial Brazil
Luiz Mott, translated by Salima Popat
7. The Ashes of Desire: Homosexuality in Mid-Seventeenth-Century New Spain
Serge Gruzinski, translated by Ignacio López-Calvo
List of Contributors

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