The Dance Of The 41 Is A Bit Of Mexican Queer History That Many Don’t Know But It’s Impact Lingers To This Day
The Dance of the 41 was a scandal of epic proportions in Mexico in 1901. According to reports, 41, though likely 42, men gathered at night and held a ball where half of the men dressed as women and the group danced and partied into the night. To this day, 41 has a negative connotation in Mexico, often used as a homophobic slur because of the night where the men at the dance were caught, arrested, and, in some cases, disappeared.
The use of 41 as a homophobic slur in Mexico has a deep and storied history.
On Nov. 17, 1901, 42 men gathered for a regularly held night of dancing and partying that was supposed to be a secret. The men would gather at different locations and half would dress as women. While the organizers of the dance remains a mystery, it is widely believed that the participants of the dance were some of the highest men in society.
On this night, the men had gathered at a private house on Calle de la Paz and began the party. It wasn’t long until Mexican police raided what was being called a “transvestite ball” and began harassing and arresting the men at the party. It was because of the men’s high standing in society that the names of the men were not released to the public.
While the men’s identities were not released to the public, Mexican media at the time went wild reporting on the incident that shook Mexican society.
The Mexican government at the time was seen as one that catered to the elites at the expense of the poor. According to experts of the incident, Mexico was in the throws of a budding relationship with European forces.
“It was a government that was focused on the elite,” says Robert McKee Irwin, editor of “The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, 1901” explains, according to History. “[It had] invested a lot in international business relations and symbolic ties with Europe, often at the expense of Mexico’s poor.”
Some historians claim that the dance was so scandalous at the time that is was used to justify further marginalizing the LGBTQ+ community throughout Mexico.
One man who is believed to have escaped any kind of punishment in the dance was Ignacio de la Torre y Mier.
The incident, dubbed the Dance of the 41, is believed to have included 42 men. However, one of the men was closely tied to then-Mexican President Porfirio Díaz.
Ignacio de la Torre y Mier was the son-in-law of President Díaz. It was this relationship to the president that presumably allowed the young man to escape the incident to return to his home. For the rest of the revelers, humiliation, jail, and forced work followed.
According to reports, the 41 men were jailed for participating in the dance. Of those, the most well-to-do men where able to pay their way out and return to their lives in society. However, for many, being jailed was just the beginning of the ordeal.
Some accounts claim the men were forced to wear dresses and clean the streets before being jailed. For the ones who were not able to leave jail, they were sent to the Yucatan and used as forced labor to help the military. They were subjected to digging ditches and cleaning the latrines. All accounts agree on one thing: the fate of those sent to the Yucatan are largely unknown.
Another case similar to the Dance of the 41 happened on Dec. 4, 1901. Referred to as Santa Maria, it was a gathering of lesbians that was disbanded by police. While the stories are the same, the Santa Maria incident received less press coverage.