In Mexico, the number 41 has a special meaning. It has nothing to do with bad luck and everything to do with a clandestine upper-class gay ball attended by 42 men, 19 dressed as women. 

Why 41 when there were supposedly 42 men attending? And why, in today’s Mexico, is the number 41 a badge of courage? 

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To find the answers, let’s travel back to the early 20th century. Mexican President Porfirio Diaz was in power; a seven-term leader as corrupt as they come — his nickname was “Asesino.”  

Diaz governed the elite and the governing classes and would soon see his dictatorship end with the Mexican Revolution.  

“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.”

“[It had] invested a lot in international business relations and symbolic ties with Europe, often at the expense of Mexico’s poor,” Mckee wrote.

According to press reports of the epoch, a ball was held in a private home in the exclusive Colonia Tabacalera. In attendance was an elite secret society of 42 gay men. Nineteen were dressed as women with opulent ball gowns, fabulous jewels, outrageous wigs, and make-up. 

They celebrated their annual gathering, but history will remember the event as ‘the Dance of the 41’

Later that night, the police raided the premises. They arrested all the men (most of them members of Mexico’s ruling elite) but one. Ignacio De La Torre, Diaz’s son-in-law, was able to escape. At least, those were the rumors.

From 42, they became 41.

The government tried to keep the arrests under wraps because, at that time, homosexuality was the love that dared not speak its name. But, the press got wind of the arrests and thus was born one of the biggest scandals in Mexican history.

The detritus of what the Mexican press called the Dance of the 41 was so controversial and dug so deep at the morality of fin-de-siecle Mexico that it changed the discourse around gender and sexuality forever. 

For quite some time afterward, the number 41 was associated with homosexuality and had such negative connotations that hotel and hospital rooms refused to use it, and some people even altogether avoided their 41st birthday celebration. 

But today, Mexicans wear 41 as a badge of courage, rescuing the number from the dark Mexican history on LGBTQ+ rights, taking its ugly past and transforming it into a Mexican gay symbol.   

And, before we leave the 41 behind, if your curiosity about the history of this grand ball has peaked, look no further than the movie “Dance of the 41,” directed by Mexican director David Pablos.  

It’s a feast for the eyes, beautifully shot, but the ending is devastating. It’s an excellent film to celebrate Pride with but bring a box of tissues. You’ll need it.