At the end of May, my boyfriend and I took a very long awaited and much anticipated vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with two of our very good friends—the queerprof and her partner. They had been to Puerto Vallarta before and had told us that on their earlier vacation, some family members had noted that there seemed to be a large number of same sex couples vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. As a sociologist, gender and sexuality are topics that are frequently in the forefront of my mind and are subject to a great deal of analysis and discussion in my academic life, but also spill over into my personal life. Being a straight woman who has many lesbian friends, I have become fairly accustomed to being mistaken for a lesbian- there is something, after all, to be said for theories of homogamy in friendship.
Despite this topic being such a prominent part of my life, something happened on our trip to Mexico that I found both surprising and interesting. During one of our excursions to the market to buy some jewelry and other souvenirs, The Queer Prof and I got into a discussion with a shop owner, a man named Lionel Richie. We were shopping around and decided to buy some jewelry from him, and while we were talking and checking out he asked us if we were “good friends or girlfriends?” We replied, “good friends!” and he then proceeded to inform us that “in Puerto Vallarta, it doesn’t matter. Girl and girl, boy and boy, it’s no problem.” He kept talking about how in Puerto Vallarta, it was okay to be in a same sex couple and that it didn’t matter. It was, apparently, no problem. We appreciated his sentiment and laughed off his comments, and then proceeded to analyze the interaction as we were leaving the market. Not one minute later, we were approached by another shopkeeper who was trying to entice us to purchase some of his items, and we started talking to him as well. After a very short time, he asked us if we were girlfriends. We again said that no, we weren’t, to which he replied, “not yet?” and laughed. We said that no, we were just good friends, and nothing more. He told us that in Puerto Vallarta, being in a same sex couple is no problem and that “only God can judge.” We talked a bit more with him and then left, as we couldn’t wait to get back to our respective partners (who were eating oysters and drinking beer on the beach) to tell them about these crazy incidents.
As we were recounting the stories, we were then inclined to wonder what it was about us that led those two individual shop keepers to assume we were a couple, and then be so bold as to ask about it. Did we look like couples they had seen before? Did they think that someone who was fairly queer looking and someone who was more traditionally feminine looking must be a couple together? And what prompted them to both tell us that being gay was okay in Puerto Vallarta? We decided that the answer could only be one of two options: first, maybe they really were okay with all forms of sexual orientation and expression in Puerto Vallarta—at least in the shops. In fact, on a tour we had taken the previous day, we learned that there was a specific gay area in town called the “romantic zone” and we later ate dinner at a restaurant in the “romantic zone.” Rainbow flags were proudly displayed in windows and on balconies and while we were there we saw a variety of very stereotypically flamboyant gay men. Was it that Puerto Vallarta was a really accepting city, or was it more pragmatic than that? Like a heterosexual couple, same sex couples take vacations, and would be likely to take a vacation to Puerto Vallarta if that sort of destination struck their fancy. As a town that makes a living through the tourism industry, locals would obviously be well advised to be accepting of a group of people who are bringing business to the city and stimulating the economy. However, why these men felt the need to so vocally express their sentiments is something that we will continue to wonder about and as our friends later saw after we left the vacation early, girl and girl (or boy and boy) may not actually be “no problem.”
The Wrong Side of the Pier
By the QueerProf
Sitting at the same restaurant across from the shops on the beach as the day before, my partner and I saw a “problem.” This problem began innocently enough and not as a problem. Two young girls were wading in the waves—holding hands. In fact, we did not even consider issues of sexuality initially. There were a number of families and children playing in the water and these girls (most definitively not out of high school) could have been best friends, cousins, etc. However, eventually, hand holding turned to splashing which turned into wrestling which turned into kissing and then full on make-out kissing rolling around in the sand. At this point most of the tables and families were watching. Little was said at first, but then more and more comments and jokes came. I cannot speak directly to the comments and jokes as I do not speak Spanish so well and the loud crashing of the waves and music and general lively beach atmosphere muffled many of them. I was actually a little impressed at how comedic the crowd found it, rather than disturbing—I mean the kind of disturbing that stems from repulsion and leads to violence. This couple was also quite persistent and enthusiastic. This behavior went on for a good long while at least 15-20 minutes without interruption. This type of PDA would have drawn a great deal of attention even for a cross-sex couple. I was actually impressed at how quickly many of the tables and families went back to their previous interactions.
The Lady in Red
However, there was one lady—the lady in red, who was extremely concerned. So much so that she went to get the police. The police took their time in coming and they took their time in analyzing the situation. The frolicking was still taking place, although the passionate kisses had simmered down. Three police people showed up to address the situation from a nearby substation—two men and one woman. The female officer was a solid butch woman although we cannot speak to her sexuality, we identified her as a probable lesbian. It appeared that the two men were there to supervise while the woman was there to “have the conversation.” The men hung back with the lady in red, while the female officer approached and spoke to the girls. The men were light hearted about the situation and seemingly empathetic to the lady in red’s concerns. The three were smiling and chatty while they looked on as the female officer spoke with the girls. We were unable to hear what she was saying, but she did point toward the people on the beach and the families. She further pointed down the beach a few times. It seemed she was suggesting they go elsewhere and perhaps on the other side of the pier as she motioned down the beach and over something. The girls seemed surprised by situation and were in shock with how to deal with the interaction. Eventually, one of the male officers—who seemed to be the supervisor—also made his way to the girls. He reiterated via hand motions that they should just move down the beach to the other side of the pier to what we later realized was in the romantic zone and soon to be established gay beach. The girls still in shock and clearly effected by the situation, gathered up their clothes and walked down the beach in the opposite direction of the Romantic Zone. I wish I could remember if they were still holding hands. I do remember that their smiles were gone.