Published On: Sat, Nov 3rd, 2018

Trans meets tradition in Mexico’s LGBT+ dance troupe (REUTERS)

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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Melding tradition with modernity, a folk dance troupe is making waves in Mexico by welcoming all comers, letting its dancers smash taboos and perform in whatever gender makes them happy.

Esmeralda Nunez could not be happier.

Growing up in Jalisco state, the birthplace of Mexico’s national dance, the ‘jarabe tapatio’, folk tradition was part of her childhood.

“Dancing was my passion,” the 28-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Dancers (or dancer) from the LGBT+ folk dance group ‘Jalisco es Diverso’ perform at the Day of the Dead parade in Guadalajara, Mexico, October 27, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rojelio Navarro

But fulfilling her passion came at a cost for Nunez, a transgender woman who had to dance as a boy in her traditional and mostly Catholic homeland.

Wearing the flamboyant and full dresses that she swirls exuberantly as she dances, Nunez explained that while dance was her life, conservative culture had kept her dreams in check.

In Mexico, where machismo prevails and gender roles remain strictly enforced, being openly transgender can be difficult, if not deadly.


Michelle Navarro Transgender dancer, Michelle Navarro from the LGBT+ folk dance group ‘Jalisco es Diverso’ during an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the Day of the Dead celebrations in Guadalajara, Mexico, October 27, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rojelio Navarro

According to the government, transgender women are among the most discriminated groups in the country, facing increased poverty, health problems, and a lack of access to education.

The advocacy group Transgender Europe reported that 56 transgender women were killed across Mexico between 2016 and 2017. The United Nations said nine transgender women were killed in Veracruz state last July.

STRICTLY

Dance – like so much else in Mexico – is run on strict gender lines. Mexican folk dances are usually performed in male-female pairs, and so although Nunez had always felt like a girl, she had to dance the boy’s part.

“For the love that I had for folklore, for Mexican culture, I danced as a boy,” said Nunez. “Because it’s something that I’m passionate about, something that moves me.”

Nunez joined a dance troupe in high school, and her teacher even taught her the woman’s steps, although she kept performing the man’s role.

She befriended a young man, Edwin Sepulveda, who also found solace in dance while battling with his own identity and facing rejection from his father when he came out as gay.

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