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THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

MALE SEXUALITY, THE POPULAR CLASSES AND THE STATE:

BUENOS AIRES, 1880-1955

VOLUME ONE

A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO

THE FACULTY OF THE DIVISION OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

IN CANDIDACY FOR THE DEGREE OF

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY

BY

PABLO BEN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

JUNE 2009
A mi madre/To my mother
iii

TABLE OF CONTENTS

VOLUME ONE

LIST OF CHARTS .................................................................................................... iv


LIST OF FIGURES .................................................................................................... v
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .......................................................................................... vi
ABSTRACT .................................................................................................... xii

INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................... 1

CHAPTER
I. SEXUAL LEGISLATION, MEDICINE AND
SOCIAL CONTROL ............................................................................ 11

II. LUNFARDOS AND THE SEXUAL CULTURE OF THE


POPULAR CLASSES ........................................................................... 72

III. URBAN MOBILITY AND PLEBEIAN MALE SEXUALITY .......... 124

VOLUME TWO

IV. MARICAS SEXUAL AND SOCIAL LIFE IN PLEBEIAN


BUENOS AIRES .................................................................................. 187

V. THE TRANSFORMATION OF SEXUALITY IN BUENOS AIRES


AFTER THE 1930s................................................................................ 246

CONCLUSION .................................................................................................... 301

APPENDIX. SET OF 70 CASES OF PLEBEIAN MEN WHO HAD


SEX WITH OTHER MEN .................................................................. 310

BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................................................................... 320


iv

LIST OF CHARTS

Chart 1. Buenos Aires population growth between 1855 and 1947 .................... 83

Chart 2. Index of masculinity in Buenos Aires, 1869-1947 ............................... 84

Chart 3. Children in relation to the total Buenos Aires population .................... 166

Chart 4 . Decreasing size of family units in Argentina ........................................ 268


v

LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1: Jailaif, Buenos Aires por dentro... y por fuera............................................. 92

Figure 2: Chapbook Images......................................................................................... 93

Figure 3: Front Page of Tango scores booklets, c. 1900. ............................................ 99

Figure 4: Jack Frison, Reliquias dudosas ................................................................... 99

Figure 5: Manuel M. Cientofante, Amores de Cocoliche ........................................... 112

Figure 6: Gabriel Carrasco, “Los progresos de Buenos Aires en 1906” ..................... 168

Figure 7: Left: Francisco de Veyga, “Invertido sexual imitando a la mujer


honesta”[Sexual invert imitating an honest woman];
Right: “Aurora”............................................................................................ 206

Figure 8: Cut from the comic “The enemies of box” or “Los enemigos del box”
by Lanteri, Crítica, frontpage ..................................................................... 276

Figure 9: “Dejar Constancia” by Muñiz, El Pampero, 31st agost 1943......................... 283


vi

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The research for my dissertation began in the late 1990s before I started my

graduate studies at the University of Chicago. In all these long years, I benefited from the

advice and support as well as the intellectual exchange of many people, I hope I can

remember all of them and do justice to their contributions to my project (although of

course, none are responsible for any flaw you may find in my work.)

At the beginning of this project Omar Acha, Paula Halperin and Debora

D’Antonio helped me understand gender, sexuality and social theory in a context where

friendship and intellectual debate were inseparable. I owe Omar more than I could

express in a few lines, both because of his friendship and intellectual companionship. The

same applies to Débora, who is like a sister to me.

Another person who played a crucial role at the beginning of my project was Dora

Barrancos. As director of the Instituto Interdisciplinario de Estudios de Género, Dora

Barrancos encouraged those like me who were interested in taking the study of gender

and sexuality beyond the traditional framework of women’s studies.

I am especially grateful with James Green. I met him for the first time in Buenos

Aires on June 28th, 2000, when he presented a lecture on the history of same-sex

sexuality in Brazil as part of the activities organized to celebrate the anniversary of

Stonewall. Listening to his lecture on the history of sexuality was exciting because of the

similarities between Brazil and Argentina. James Green not only inspired me and

generously shared his ideas, but also helped me come to study in the United States.

Without his help, this dissertation would not have existed as it is.
vii
In 2001, I began my graduate studies at the University of Chicago. I thank George

Chauncey for his interest in my work and his sensibility for cross-cultural comparison. I

profoundly admire his work, which has been the most important inspiration for this

dissertation. I attempted –not as successfully as he did – to apply Chauncey’s approach to

the study of male same-sex sexuality in Buenos Aires. Despite his busy schedule and the

many students he has guided, Chauncey was always available when I needed him. When

I was conducting archival research in Buenos Aires, Chauncey came to Buenos Aires on

Spring break to offer his support by watching the city I studied, seeing the 21st century

version with his own eyes. Despite just a few days in Buenos Aires, he devoted many

long hours talking about my research.

I am grateful to Dain Borges for many reasons, but I should begin by praising his

patience and his presence throughout the years. For seven years, Borges was available in

his office every single morning with no exception, always answering any email I sent

within the hour. With humor and good will, Borges helped me cope with the cultural

shock of living in a different country. His academic and intellectual advice was

invaluable, and I am amazed with the wealth of his knowledge on a wide variety of

topics, from Latin American to international history. Whenever I had doubts on the

bibliography, Borges knew the answer. Together with Chauncey and José Moya, he

insisted on the need to write on same-sex sexuality from the point of view of social rather

than intellectual history. José Moya also read my dissertation at different stages of its

development and his comments were vital. His close knowledge of the history of Buenos

Aires was of great help.


viii
I also want to thank Ramón Gutiérrez whose work on sexuality in colonial New

Mexico was an inspiration. Ramón Gutiérrez discussed my work in the last stages,

helping to give this dissertation its final form. His insistence on conceptual precision was

fundamental for my argument and his support was invaluable. I also benefitted from the

advice of other professors at the University of Chicago, especially Claudio Lomnitz, who

helped me in my first years.

The group of people who work on Latin America and Gender and Sexuality at the

University of Chicago offered an inspiring environment for writing a dissertation,

especially through the workshops. The Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for

Gender Studies and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture offered me

crucial support. Thanks to their scholarships I was able to study, do research trips every

summer, participate in their intellectual debates and enjoy their cultural activities.

In Chicago, I benefitted from the friendship and intellectual debate with many

people. I especially thank James Vaughn for his friendship and support. James coped

with the stress of being my roommate while I was writing this dissertation. Many of the

ideas I present in this dissertation were the result of long discussions with James; I owe

him a great deal. Ronen Steinberg also offered his friendship and he always challenged

me to see things from another point of view. Thanks to Ronen, the stress of graduate

school was easier to manage, and talking to him about history was always a pleasure. My

friends José Hernández and Jaime Pensado made me feel at home as a Latino in the

United States. They read my work at different stages and gave me very insightful

comments, especially by helping me to place Argentina in the context of Latin America.

The writing workshops we organized with José, Jaime, Ann Schneider and Julia Young
ix
were very stimulating, gave me an appreciation of their work, and helped me to keep a

schedule.

The number of colleagues and friends in Chicago who supported me throughout

my graduate studies and stimulated me intellectually would make a list too large to

mention here, but I specially want to thank Michael Westren, Ibrahim Kaya Sahin,

Marcela Brusa, Sarah Potter, Timothy Stewart-Winter, Sarah Osten, Mariela Szwarcberg,

Dora Sanchez-Hidalgo, Michalis Aristophanous, Red Vaughan Tremmel and Teresa

Moro. Constanze Weise was in Chicago only for a brief time, but it was enough to

develop a strong friendship. Constanze always encouraged me to think through the eyes

of other cultures and reminded me of my background in Anthropology.

Many historians, writers and social scientists helped with my research in Buenos

Aires and discussed my work at different stages. I especially want to thank Adriana

Valobra, Karina Ramacciotti, Juan José Sebreli, Renato Pellegrini, Malba, Alejandro

Belkin, Mario Pecheny, Joaquin Insausti, Valeria Pita, Fernanda Molina, Diego Sempol,

Andrea Andújar, Malú Moreno, Rafael Freda, Daniela Lagos and Eduardo Saguier.

Several archivists offered their assistance in finding materials. I owe my gratitude

to Mariana Nazar at the Archivo General de la Nación for her help finding sources and

even taking pictures and sending them to me by email. She is not only the most helpful

archivist I have ever met, but she is also a very interesting historian. Gerard Koskovich

also suggested some very important sources as well as Daniel Bao, the first person to ever

write about same-sex sexuality in the history of Buenos Aires. Meeting Daniel when I

was working on my dissertation gave me a lot of hope. I also want to thank him for

sharing his ideas and insights. Rafael Freda invited me to look at the sources of SIGLA
x
where I found very useful information; he also discussed my work and shared with me

his view of the history of same-sex sexuality. Pablo Britez also spent a lot of time helping

me with my research in the archive of SIGLA. Dulce Suaya, a vocational psychologist

from the Hospital Borda, kindly allowed me access to the archival records at that

institution. I especially appreciate her help because the records were organized by her and

other people at the hospital in their free time without any kind of financial support.

Osvaldo Sabino, whose knowledge of Argentine literature never ceases to amaze me,

suggested a large number of literary texts that were extremely useful for my research.

My work at the Iberoamerikanisches Institut in Berlin was crucial in developing

my analysis of sexual culture among the popular classes in Buenos Aires. I am grateful

for the funding the institute provided to conduct research in the last months of 2006. I

especially thank Peter Altekrüger, Sandra Carreras and Peter Birle for this opportunity.

They helped me find a place, showed me the archive, suggested sources and provided a

stimulating environment for debate. Peter Birle and Sandra Carreras read an earlier draft

on plebeian sexuality in early twentieth-century Buenos Aires and gave me very

insightful comments. I also want to thank Norbert Bauschatz because life would have

been a lot more difficult in Berlin without him. He did not just rent a room, but

introduced me to his city and culture.

My colleagues at the University of Northern Iowa gave me very insightful

comments on my work. Together with my new friends from Iowa, my colleagues made

everything possible to make me feel at home in Cedar Falls. UNI was a very welcoming

environment and this made it easier for me to work on my last revisions. I especially

want to thank Thomas Connors, Gregory Bruess, Isabela Varela, Trudy Eden, Jay T.
xi
Lees, Julie Lowell, Louis Fenech, Judith Dohlman, Vickie Hanson and María Ruth

Ormord, for their affection and the ideas they shared with me.

Writing in English has been a challenge for me and a number of people have

helped me with this task throughout the years. The English speakers who helped me with

language and editing throughout the years are too many to mention here, but I want to

thank Hannah Hayes for her work as an editor.

I want to express my gratitude to all my friends for supporting me throughout the

years, especially Mario Fraquelli, who is like a brother to me. I also want to thank Sergio

García and Adrian Landeira, who always had their home and heart opened. Laura and

Guillermo Bengochea were also a family to me, and they offered refuge when I was

overwhelmed with my research. Laura Bengochea listened to my ideas for years and gave

me a long list of suggestions to improve my work. Her advice with statistics and her

approach as an epidemiologist allowed me to see things from another point of view. Rob

Kotte lived with me in Buenos Aires while I was conducting my research, and I want to

thank him for his friendship. He contributed to create the right environment to enhance

my work.

Without the help of my family I could have not studied anthropology and history.

My parents, Herminia Iglesias and Eduardo Ben, gave me infinite emotional and financial

support during all these very long years. They gave me the opportunity to explore my

passion for history. Without my mother, I would have never been able to finish this

dissertation. I also want to express my love for my brothers Roberto and Diego; I can

always count with them for anything I need. In addition, Roberto discussed some of my

ideas and asked questions that opened new worlds for me.
xii

ABSTRACT

This dissertation focuses on the history of male sexuality to explore

fundamental processes of urban economic and demographic change and social re-

organization in Buenos Aires from the consolidation of the nation-state in Argentina to

the Populist presidencies of Juan Perón in the mid-twentieth century. The first four

chapters analyze the effects of disproportionately male migration to Buenos Aires on the

development of male sexuality between 1880 and 1930. Against the backdrop of the

scarcity of women and male peer pressure to show one's masculinity through sexual

deeds, men from the lower strata demanded female prostitutes. When women were not

available, however, men seemed to have no qualms about having sex with one another.

The analysis of sexual practices and identities in the popular classes between

1880 and 1930 focuses on a harbor-city where massive migration and the seasonal agro-

export economy created an unstable job market that encouraged the development of

crime, prostitution, and a flourishing culture of male same-sex sexuality rather than

family sociability. The study provides detailed analysis of casual same-sex sexual

contacts in male plebeian culture and of the gender dynamics shaping the personas of

maricas, transgender males who were viewed as a distinct gender/sexual category.

Chapter V explores the effects on sexuality of social changes after the 1930s.

Rather than offering a conclusive interpretation, this last chapter is meant to establish a

hypothetical analysis that requires further research. The hypothesis is that decreasing

migration and the stabilization of the job market in the context of import-substitution
xiii
industrialization encouraged family life, possibly leading to a decline in the importance

of crime, female prostitution and sex between men. I present the possibility that these

social changes might have precipitated the formation of a male homosexual subculture.
1

INTRODUCTION

This dissertation explores male sexuality and sex between men in Buenos Aires

between 1880 and 1955 in relation to the transformations of the popular classes and the

state. During the first part of this period (1880-1930), family life faced many obstacles

while sex between men, robbery, and female prostitution were usual activities among the

popular classes. After the 1930s, this situation apparently changed. Family sociability

permeated urban life while male, same-sex sexuality seemed increasingly limited to

specific groups of men perceived as outcasts. From the first period to the second, sex

between men came to occupy a very different, socio-cultural space as a result of the

changing relationship between sexuality and sociability.

By taking a specific sexual practice as a focal point, this study engages in a

broader analysis of sexual culture by exploring the changing forms of plebeian

sociability. I define plebeian sociability as the organization of gender, as well as the ways

daily life is managed in the context of urban space and how it is used; also, the

establishment of social bonds – such as family bonds or any other significant network –

and the norms and beliefs about how life (especially sexual life) should be conducted.

These phenomena provide a backdrop for how men who had sex with other men

understood and related to their own sexual practices and identities over time. A specific

conceptualization of the popular classes informed my analysis of male, same-sex

sexuality in the context of plebeian sociability.


2
The urban popular classes as I present them in this dissertation emerged in the late

nineteenth century when mass migration and urbanization began. Constrained by a

booming agro-export economy with a sporadic agricultural cycle that dominated the

period between 1880 to 1930, the urban poor experienced seasonal fluctuations in an

unstable job market. Most workers were forced to move regularly to different sections of

the economy searching for new jobs, thus circulating between alternative urban spaces.

The term “popular classes” is meant to capture the fluidity of this urban world as a

heterogeneous, moving mass of people with relatively scarce ties to locations and

sometimes loose and distant family bonds. This concept not only defines the scope of

empirical research, but also establishes how sex between men was constituted by the

character of plebeian sociability emerging against this background.

In addition to mass migration across the Atlantic, the internal geographical

mobility of Buenos Aires usually encouraged forms of social interaction where

anonymity and ephemeral encounters prevailed over long-term bonds. Men and women

were moving to new neighborhoods all the time, and their small homes forced them to

share their lives with a collective of relatively unfamiliar people. There were plenty of

opportunities to have sexual adventures and violate moral standards that were hardly

enforced by state institutions or family life. Because job instability made family life

difficult, people frequently turned to robbery and prostitution to make ends meet, even if

these activities were not morally acceptable. In the streets, parks, and bars where robbers,

female prostitutes and workers engaged in mutual interaction, many men would also have

sex with other men. Freed from family and peer pressure due to distance and mobility,
3
plebeian men frequently performed sexual activities even though it may have been in

violation of their own cultural background.

Migration and job market instability, however, were not the only elements

shaping the life of plebeian men in Buenos Aires during this period. Plebeian men

interacting in public spaces of sociability developed a form of male identity that in the

end, encouraged sex between them. In face-to-face interactions, these men bragged about

their adventures and convinced each other that a man was a subject with an exuberant

sexual drive. This exuberance was represented by penetrating others, which was how they

sustained their status as men as they competed for masculinity. However, few women

were available for occasional sex, since the number of women in Buenos Aires between

1880 and 1930 was significantly less than men. While there were some female

prostitutes, most plebeian women were confined at home. All of these factors encouraged

men to have sex with each other, an activity that became highly visible in public places

throughout the city.

Although men usually preferred women as sexual outlets, the distinction between

same-sex and different-sex sexuality became irrelevant because of the cultural pressure to

penetrate others as a way of proving oneself a man. As long as men performed the

“active” role, same sex-sexuality did not undermine masculinity; on the contrary, it was

perceived as the usual response of a man in need of satisfying a supposedly unlimited

sexual urge. This was reinforced by a double moral standard requiring sexual restraint

from “respectable” women, so the absence of female sexual outlets meant they had to

find a way to satisfy the disproportionate male drive. The intertwining of this plebeian

sexual double standard for men and women combined with a demographic imbalance in
4
favor of men and the cultural confinement of women favored the development of female

prostitution and male same-sex sexuality rather than family life. This peculiar plebeian

sexual culture is the focus of my analysis throughout the dissertation, especially in the

first four chapters.

Throughout the text, the term plebeian will be used as an adjective for the

collective noun “popular classes.” The reasons for its use are rooted in plebeian self-

representations. Although the word “plebeian” has sometimes derogative connotations in

the United States, this was not necessarily the case in Argentina in the period between

1880-1930. Physicians, psychiatrists and criminologists frequently associated “plebeian”

life with degeneration. They believed the popular classes were formed by sexually

deviant people with a tendency to engage in crime. However, “plebeian” and “plebe”

were often employed in a positive light, especially in the realm of radical politics and

popular entertainment.

Socialists were more inclined to talk about the “working class” when addressing

their constituency, but Anarchists frequently used other terms like “plebeian” to qualify

their supporters. These two contending and highly influential views among the urban

lower strata differed in their word choice because their support came from different social

groups. Socialism was a small movement consisting of a majority of qualified workers in

a city where unskilled labor prevailed. Shaped by the politics of the Second International,

the Socialist party addressed a small group of privileged workers promoting legal reform

through parliamentary intervention. Anarchism, on the contrary, had a massive

constituency formed by people from all walks of life, but fundamentally, the lower

echelons of the urban world. Although Anarchists had no ideological qualms with the
5
term “working class,” they would more frequently choose other terms like “plebeian,”

probably because it reflected more accurately the variety of people they represented. In

fact, comic chapbooks that sold for a few cents in the streets also used the term

“plebeian” and “plebe” to refer to an audience of men and women who were scarcely

literate. Anarchists and inexpensive chapbooks were describing the lower economic strata

that made up the larger portion of the urban population that is the focus of my research.

The representations associated with the word plebeian in the Anarchist press and popular

entertainment suggest it denoted not only urban strata, but a specific kind of sociability

often portrayed as virile, rebellious and Dionysian in mood. The active participation of

males in street life, sexual comedy and disdain for the mores promoted by the state and

the church were usual topics associated with the word plebeian. For this reason, the term

plebeian is not only a convenient adjective for the popular classes, but also a “native”

concept that adds another layer of meaning to the concept of popular classes, one that is

in tune with the approach followed in this dissertation.

The plebeian sociability as characterized in the period between 1880 to 1930

probably came to an end with the formation of a new class structure; this is discussed in

Chapter V, which is only meant to present some hypothesis for further research rather

than constituting my final interpretation. In post-1930 Buenos Aires, a new division

gradually emerged between the industrial working class and a middle class. The brief

analysis of the period 1930-1955 carried out in this chapter is meant to explore the

contour of a transformation that changed both plebeian sociability and sex between men.

Rather than constituting a frequent practice as it had been between 1880 and 1930, sex

between men probably became circumnscribed to a limited number of people. My


6
hypothesis is that this was the result of the gradual consolidation of family life prompted

by the coming of import-substitution industrialization that overcame job instability and

geographical mobility, and along with it, the type of male identity encouraged by face-to-

face interaction in male spaces of sociability. It would seem that Buenos Aires became a

city with year-round steady employment and higher salaries, especially for men.

Furthermore, the number of women increased, and family life gradually replaced

previous male activities involving crime and female prostitution. Thus, the peer pressure

to penetrate others that had been so crucial in representing plebeian masculinity at the

turn of the century began to decline. Although the representation of male sexuality as

exuberant continued to exist, bragging about ones’ sexual adventures apparently lost the

central importance it used to have when male competition for masculinity was central in

the life of plebeian men. The defining feature of masculinity was gradually associated

with fatherhood and the capacity to provide economic support.

Against the backdrop of a family sociability that was probably stronger, men who

had sex with other men apparently experienced their life and sexuality as an independent

sphere formed by a specific group of people: homosexuals living beyond family ties. In

the context of a growing division between “normal” families on the one side and

“amorals” performing same-sex sexuality on the other, the state began to persecute

homosexuals with the wide support of civil society. After police edicts and repressive

laws were passed in the 1930s and 1940s, temporary confinement became a daily threat

for homosexual men, reaching a peak around 1955. The analysis of working-class

sexuality and homosexuality after the 1930s, however, is not the focus of this
7
dissertation, but a way of establishing the contours of social transformation after the

1930s.

Chapter I to IV will engage in a detailed analysis of the relationship between

plebeian sociability, sex between men, and the state in the 1880-1930 period. The first

chapter sets the grounds for my approach, criticizing repression as the main topic of a

history of sexuality that focused on the analysis of medical and criminological discourse.

In discussing studies of sexuality in Argentina and other Latin American countries, I

argue that sex between men was not an issue that concerned the state beyond the rhetoric

of physicians, criminologists and writers until the 1930s. In a country with a liberal

sexual legislation, the actual persecution of male same-sex sexuality by the police was

not significant. The analysis of Argentine sexual legislation in this chapter follows an

international historical comparison with other countries in Europe and the Americas.

In the second chapter, I analyze the widespread existence of male same-sex sexual

activities and provide a socio-cultural analysis to account for the reasons leading to a

plebeian sexual culture where sex between men, robbery and female prostitution were

highly visible throughout the city’s male spaces of sociability. My narrative integrates

descriptions of sexual practices throughout the city, plebeian representations of male and

female sexuality and a socio-economic and demographic analysis of Buenos Aires

between 1880 and 1930.

After providing the grounds for understanding the context of plebeian sexual and

gender culture, I consider the specificity of sex between men in Chapters III and IV. The

division of my analysis of male same-sex sexuality in these two chapters is related to the

varying relation between practices and identities forming two groups of men. In Chapter
8
III, I explore sex between plebeian men who also frequented women and did not draw an

identity from their same-sex sexual practices. As touched upon in the previous chapter,

plebeian male identity was not undermined by the decision to penetrate other men, which

allowed many men to look for both female and male sexual outlets. However, despite the

fact that they claimed to exclusively participate in the “active” role, an analysis of the

sources suggests that plebeian men also performed receptive anal intercourse. But

because of their cultural understanding of masculinity, it would seem that plebeian men

actively concealed this reality.

Through this analysis, I show that the usual understanding of Latin America as a

region characterized by a gender-hierarchical model of same-sex sexuality with a sharp

division between “active” and “passive” partners constitutes a problematic assumption.

Receptive and penetrative intercourse might have been distinguished by plebeian culture,

but the boundaries were often disrupted in a world where vulnerable men were assaulted

by others who felt culturally compelled to search for sexual outlets. The analysis of a set

of seventy men suggests that those who were more powerful due to their age or position

in the job market usually took advantage of vulnerable ones. However, due to the fluid

nature of the popular classes, where workers circulated between different branches of the

economy, this distinction between powerful and vulnerable men was contextual rather

than stable. The same plebeian men could find themselves on one or another side of the

fence at different moments of their lives. I compared the information in the set of seventy

cases with the characteristics of the popular classes at large to offer the more plausible

explanation of the life, sexual practices and mores of plebeian men who had sex with

other men.
9
Chapter IV also deals with male, same-sex sexuality, but as explained previously,

the analysis considers a second group of people who built a different association between

their sexual practices and identities. Unlike most plebeian men, cross-dressing effeminate

male prostitutes known as maricas openly accepted their participation in receptive sexual

intercourse. By doing so, they lost their male identity, becoming lesser men in the eyes of

plebeian gender/sexual culture. In this chapter, I consider the characteristics of the

cofradía, the name maricas gave to their collectivity. I argue that the cofradía was not a

separate social world of its own, but rather an aspect of the underworld of crime and

prostitution that prevailed throughout Buenos Aires. Due to their participation in this

world, maricas enjoyed a relative integration into plebeian sociability. In a context where

family life was not important and the state was unable to manage plebeian sociability,

maricas did not face major social and cultural obstacles in leading their lives. In fact,

some of the obstacles maricas faced usually came from their own community. Because

many maricas survived through prostitution, they competed for clients, which

encouraged conflicts that were pervasive throughout the cofradía and were part of a

larger pattern of the Buenos Aires urban underworld between 1880 and 1930.

Through the analysis of sexuality in these chapters, my dissertation not only aims

to explore this sphere of social life, but also to provide a closer understanding of plebeian

sociability. My research of sex between men in plebeian Buenos Aires involved the

exploration of a number of factors that have rarely been considered as a whole in order to

understand plebeian sociability. In this sense, my analysis provides a new approach to the

study of the urban popular classes during this period that illuminates current

historiography in a new way.


10
Explaining the transformations of sexuality in terms of its socio-cultural context

requires the integration of multiple sources of information into a historiographical

narrative. This approach explores the popular classes beyond the almost exclusive focus

on working-class unionism and political organization prevailing in a one-dimensional

understanding of labor history. By arranging multiple factors into a unified analysis, I

have established a relation between fields of historiography that rarely engage in mutual

dialogue: the history of labor, the study of crime and prostitution and the analysis of

gender and sexuality.


11

CHAPTER I

SEXUAL LEGISLATION, MEDICINE AND SOCIAL CONTROL

Introduction

In turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, physicians, writers, politicians, and other

professionals believed that sex between men was widespread among the popular classes.

As previous studies have shown, the local ruling elite feared that these sexual practices

constituted a pathological threat to the social order. An exclusive focus on these

discourses of sexual pathology, however, fails to identify why such discourses (largely

imported from Western Europe) were appealing to professionals and politicians

concerned with social control. The representation of the popular classes provided in the

discourses of sexual pathology should not be seen in terms of a “panic” driven by fears of

growing homosexuality, a sexual identity that did not exist at that time.1 On the contrary,

rather than fearing a specific group of sexual outcasts, the elite and the state were

concerned with the sociability of the popular classes as a whole. The pathologization of

the popular classes undertaken via representations of sexual deviance appealed to the elite

because it provided a discourse that targeted urban marginality without addressing the

social causes of theft, robbery and prostitution.

The development of theft, robbery, prostitution and sex between men in Buenos

Aires was in fact the result of social transformations that the elite had welcomed since the
1
In his study about the history of “homosexuality” in Argentina, Jorge Salessi developed such an
approach, treating repression as the central angle of his analysis. See Jorge Salessi, Médicos maleantes y
maricas: higiene, criminología y homosexualidad en la construcción de la nación Argentina: Buenos
Aires: 1871-1914 (Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 1995).
12
mid-nineteenth century. At the time, Argentina was among the fastest growing economies

in the world. Based on a liberal agro-export model, this growth had unexpected

consequences, including the emergence of a rebellious culture of plebeian masculinity

where sexual conquest and self-assertion through violence was fundamental. Unable to

find jobs, many plebeian men turned to robbing strangers and exploiting female

prostitutes, even as other men responded to the same conditions by participating in

radical politics. Plebeian men perceived robbery and radical politics in a manner similar

to the way they understood same-sex sexuality. Penetrating another man was an act of

masculine self-assertion comparable in some respects to going on strike to oppose

employers or robbing and exploiting female prostitutes to secure an income. In response

to this rebellious plebeian masculinity, physicians, writers and politicians imagined urban

unrest and radical politics in terms of sexual deviance. However, analyzing this discourse

about sexuality without referring to the sociability of the popular classes obscures its

meaning. In addition to understanding the elite discourse of sexual pathology as a

response to the challenge posed by the sociability of the popular classes, I will explore

other conflicting sexual discourses produced by other branches of the state.

Unlike positivist medical and literary representations focusing on the social

control of sexual deviance, sexual legislation in Latin America was inspired by the

French liberal tradition of the Napoleonic Code. The penal codes of Argentina, Mexico,

Colombia and Brazil did not outlaw same-sex sexuality. On the contrary, any sexual

practice between consenting adults in the private sphere was considered beyond the realm

of state intervention. Most of the scholars who study sexuality, however, disregard the

importance of the liberal character of this legislation. In studies of the state’s persecution
13
of men who had sex with other men, the legal status of same-sex sexuality is mentioned

only briefly. After an inconsequential reference to the legislation, scholars frequently

move on to long discussions of the stigmatization of non-normative sexuality in the fields

of criminology, medicine, psychiatry and other disciplines dealing with social control.

Under the auspices of the fin de siècle positivist paradigm, the state supposedly

commenced persecuting men who had sex with other men. The pathologization of same-

sex sexuality found in innumerable texts on social control is taken as sufficient evidence

to conclude that men who had sex with other men were punished by the state even if such

punishment had ceased to be legal. In opposition to an analysis focusing on the

“medicalization of homosexuality” that views sexual legislation as irrelevant, I argue that

an analysis of the law illuminates the relationship between the state and sexuality. The

actual interventions of the state in the social realm of sexuality, however, cannot be

inferred from medical, psychiatric, criminological or legal representations.

In order to consider the actual relationship between the state and male same-sex

sexuality in Buenos Aires between 1880 and 1930, I explore the records of state

institutions, such as the police and psychiatric asylums. The available evidence suggests

that the state repression of sex between men was unimportant in comparison with the

social control of theft, robbery, female prostitution and radical politics. Although medical

and literary representations associated these forms of urban unrest with same-sex

sexuality, there were no legal grounds to condemn or punish sex between men, and the

police was more concerned with preventing widespread robbery, alcoholism, female

prostitution, working class radicalism and threats to work discipline.


14
Although this study focuses on the development of male same-sex sexuality

within the popular classes, this chapter deals with state intervention on sexuality in the

larger context of social control of urban unrest in Buenos Aires between 1880 and 1930. I

decided to discuss this topic before providing an analysis of plebeian sociability in

Chapter II in order to depart from an analysis that concentrates on repression rather than

how sexuality was shaped positively by its socio-cultural context. By considering the lack

of significant state intervention on same-sex sexuality, I also propose a socio-cultural

approach to the history of sexuality in opposition to a Foucauldian paradigm of discourse

analysis almost exclusively focused on elite published texts. Although Michel Foucault

argued against an exclusive focus on repression, he limited his analysis to medical,

criminological and psychiatric representations without interrogating the actual role of

such representations in actual state interventions. As William Sewell argues, by limiting

their analysis to “those forms of discourse readily available in textual form,” Foucault

and other cultural historians avoid questions “about the distribution of wealth, the

dynamics of economic development, changing patterns of landholding or employment,

demographic structures, or patterns of geographical concentration and dispersion.” The

absence of these questions has encouraged “a drift away from the socially marginal”

because most of the available texts scrutinized by cultural historians were written by the

elite.2 In terms of the topic explored in this chapter, an exclusive focus on the discourses

of positivism, naturalism and social Darwinism has often led scholars to exaggerate the

role of the state’s repressive activities in the realm of sexuality. Only an analysis of

culture that is sensitive to social history – an analysis that seeks to ground shared

2
William Sewell Jr., Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 2005), 51-2.
15
meaning and subjective consciousness in the lived experience of its social and historical

context – can avoid this distortion.

A “Passive Pederast” Asking for Police Help

In 1906, J.A. went for a walk after a night at the theater. At the corner of Avenida

de Mayo and Bolivar in the very center of Buenos Aires, the nineteen-year-old boy found

a man staring at him insistently. The stranger invited him for a drink, and although it was

late at night, they found a bar open a few blocks away on Tacuari Street. Once there, the

man bought drinks for the two of them and propositioned J.A. He wanted J.A. to sexually

penetrate him in exchange for 10 pesos. J.A. accepted. They both went to a hotel between

Buen Orden (today named Carlos Pellegrini) and Tacuarí, and once in bed, J. A.

demanded more money. After a final offer of 50 pesos, J.A. agreed to have sex. When

they woke up in bed together the next morning, however, the man asked J.A. to return the

money and threatened to call the police if he refused. J. A. did not return the money, and

the client called the police. Soon after that, a judge condemned J. A. to seven and a half

months in prison for robbery.

The man who called the police does not seem to have faced any punishment.

Criminologists classified him as a “passive pederast,” arguing that he agreed to pay 50

pesos only because of an “intense excitation due to his sexual perversion,” realizing later

in the morning that he had been “abused.”3 Although J. A. was sent to prison, he was not

accused of prostitution. Rather, he was simply catalogued as a common thief. The

3
Revista Penitenciaria. Ano II, No 2, Republica Argentina, Julio de 1906. Publicación Trimestral.
Director Señor Jose Luis Duffy. Secretarios Srs. J. Fortunato Garrido y Dr. Eleodoro R. Jiménez. Director
de la Carcel de Encausados: Senor Jose Luis Duffy. Buenos Aires. Tipografía de la Carcel de Encausados.
1906, 209-222.
16
sentence expressed a concern about crimes against private property rather than a

regulation concerning male sexuality. Although the criminologists who studied the case

considered J.A. a “pervert,” there were no laws against any form of “pathological” sexual

practices as long as they were performed by consenting adults in the private sphere. The

man who called the police seemed to have been aware of the law, as he was confident

that J.A. would be the one sent to prison. This awareness suggests that the persecution of

men who engaged in sex with other men was not particularly harsh.

Despite the fact that the circumstances were very ambiguous, the police, the judge

and the criminologists unanimously found J.A. guilty of robbery. Although J.A. requested

a large amount of money, his client accepted the arrangement and only changed his mind

the next morning. The reason this event was categorized as robbery lies in the character

of male plebeian sociability and in the state’s social control over such sociability.

In the history of crime, there are countless examples of the police persecuting

groups and individuals for behavior not formally illegal, but that could nonetheless be

construed as a violation of other legal codes and statutes. In many different countries, the

police and other institutions of social control have confined people for violating certain

formal laws when the actual objective was to punish them for activities not technically

illegal. This is a typical practice employed by state agencies seeking to repress political

activism. Political activists are often jailed and prosecuted on the basis of felony and

misdemeanor accusations rather than because of their activism. This widespread police

practice was not pursued in the case of J. A., and the absence of such tactics must be

analyzed seriously. Although there were no major laws against same-sex sexuality in

Argentina, the police were fully capable of confining and prosecuting individuals who
17
engaged in same-sex sexuality because of other legal violations. Although the social

history of modern criminality provides numerous examples of police agencies re-

classifying criminal categories, there is no evidence to suggest this was a widespread

practice concerning same-sex sexual activities in late nineteenth and early twentieth

century Buenos Aires.

Several factors suggest that the police did not systematically persecute same-sex

sexuality in a covert manner. The Buenos Aires police force often classified offenders

under categories that did not entail any formal violation of the law. They were able to do

this because they had the power to issue “edicts” solely on their own authority. Thus, it

was not necessary for the police to classify men who engaged in same-sex sexual

practices covertly under another criminal category since they could simply issue edicts

without any formal legal grounds. In several published memoirs, former policeman often

expressed dislike for effeminate men and same-sex sexuality. These memoirs provide

some of the few examples I have found of police persecution of sexual intercourse

between men.4 If policemen were unwilling to refer to the confinement of men who

participated in same-sex sexual practices in their formal reports and records, why would

they talk about the persecution of those very same men in memoirs and texts sold to the

public, and in some cases, published by state institutions? The police would not have

faced serious opposition to repressive practices in these cases since both public opinion

and the prevailing “scientific” paradigms validated the persecution of same-sex sexuality.

However, while formal legislation regarding sexual activity was liberal in content, the

4
See for instante Carlos Arenaza, Menores Delincuentes, su psicopatología sexual (Buenos Aires:
Jesus Menendez, 1919); and Adolfo Batiz, Buenos Aires, la ribera y los prostibulos en 1880 (Buenos Aires:
Aga Taura, n/d).
18
legal status of same-sex sexuality did not stem from an explicit tolerance for non-

normative sexuality. The records of policemen and criminologists make it abundantly

clear that they found non-normative sexuality extremely problematic. But the references

to inappropriate sexual practices usually focused on the inextricable relationship between

sexuality and plebeian sociability. Thus, the claims advanced in this study concerning the

policing of sexuality require a more detailed empirical analysis. Further examination of

the case of J.A. will allow us to lay down the preliminary lines of investigation.

Like many other plebeian men, J.A. belonged to the Buenos Aires underworld.

According to Carlos Martinelli, a criminologist who studied his case, since he was

fourteen years old J.A. had been keeping “bad company,” becoming a “vagabond” and

committing several offences to the extent that he “identified with that life.”5 The police

had already arrested him several times for petty theft and drunkenness. When J. A. was

arrested after his client called the police, the accusation of robbery confirmed his

participation in the urban underworld in the eyes of the police and state officials. The

criminological analysis described J.A.’s sexuality as problematic, but only in relation to

his participation in the urban underworld and his inability to accept any kind of

discipline. According to the report, J.A. had been expelled from several schools and

failed to keep a regular job. After leaving his family, he wandered throughout the city

searching for ways of making money. The man who offered himself to J.A. as a client

apparently provided the kind of alternative he was looking for. Selling sex for money was

not merely a sexual practice, but part of a broader pattern of plebeian male activities in

5
Revista Penitenciaria, Ano II, no 2, Republica Argentina, (Julio de 1906): 209.
19
Buenos Aires at that time. Prostitution was a socio-economic survival strategy equivalent

to theft. Despite its biased pathologization, we should not dismiss the particular

association of sexuality and marginality identified in the criminological report.

The case of J.A. was not unique. As I will show in the next chapter, many men

from the popular classes in Buenos Aires survived through prostitution, petty theft, and

the exploitation of female prostitutes. These activities had become common in Buenos

Aires by the late nineteenth century, and it is against this backdrop that criminology,

psychiatry and elite literature described the popular classes as sexually deviant.

Professionals promoted state intervention into plebeian life to encourage family

sociability and work-discipline. However, their crusade against the urban underworld was

unsuccessful because thieves, prostitutes and other marginal people were the product of

an unstable job market. The urban underworld only began to fade towards the 1930s

when the social conditions that produced it began to change. Because repressive attempts

to eliminate urban marginality before the 1930s were unsuccessful, many professionals

believed that the failure to achieve social control was due to the inherent degeneracy of

the popular classes—a trait usually understood in sexual terms. In the next section, I will

analyze the emergence of this discourse.

Sexual Pathology and the Popular Classes

Before the 1880s, gender and sexuality had already become contested realms used

by elite writers to stigmatize whoever did not share their views. Beginning in the 1830s,

several writers and politicians turned to sexual/gender transgression to discredit their

political opponents. From the 1810s to the 1860s, the United Provinces of the River Plate
20
had experienced a state of permanent political turmoil due first to independence and later

to internecine struggles between regional factions with conflicting agendas. The

opposition between those who claimed that the country should adopt a federal system and

those in favor of a centralized/Unitarian political structure was acute, especially during

the rule of caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas between 1829 and 1852. Having gathered

significant popular support, Rosas organized a paramilitary force known as “La

Mazorca,” meaning “The Corn Cob.” This force was formed by plebeian Federalist men

who sodomized Unitarians using the object that gave the group its name. The brutality of

this form of torture was meant to humiliate political opponents through symbolic

emasculation. Federalists wanted to present Unitarians as effeminate men whose gender

inadequacy made them unsuitable for governing.

In response to this representation of Unitarians as effeminate, Esteban Echeverría

– one of the most famous Unitarian intellectuals – wrote El Matadero [The

Slaughterhouse] in 1839. In this tale, Echeverría inverted this representation, presenting

the Federalists as the ones who commit sexual/gender transgression. A Federalist mob in

the slaughterhouse threatens to penetrate a young Unitarian with a corn cob, but the

young man chooses to die with honor rather than face emasculation. When the Federalists

undress him, the young Unitarian man dies of a self-inflicted hemorrhage. Disgusted by

the possibility of being sexually penetrated, he “burst of rage,” says one of the characters

from the Mazorca after watching blood flooding the floor.6 According to Jorge Salessi,

the moral of the story is that Unitarians were honorable men while Federalists were

6
Esteban Echeverría, “El Matadero,” in Esteban Echeverría and Juan María Gutierrez, Obras
Completas de D. Esteban Echeverría (Buenos Aires Carlos Casavalle, 1870-1874) I, 585. This text was
originally written in 1839 and published for the first time in 1871.
21
sodomites. At this time, when the United Provinces of the River Plate were experiencing

internecine struggles to define the nature of their political system, the representation of

sexual/gender transgression constituted a weapon used by various factions to discredit

each other.7

When a unified nation-state began to emerge in the 1860s, intra-elite conflicts lost

its previous importance, and the emergent discourse of sexual/gender deviancy was

increasingly aimed at new targets. Some authors continued with metaphors of

emasculation and effeminacy aimed at opposing elite factions, but most of the growing

imagery of sexual pathology targeted the mass of newly arrived workers. Between 1871

and 1914 some 5.9 million immigrants arrived in Argentina, of whom more than 3

million stayed. The vast majority of them settled in the urban areas, especially in Buenos

Aires, a city where foreign-born men outnumbered the natives.8 This created

unprecedented forms of urban unrest and challenged the elitist character of the political

system. As was also the case with the Científicos of the Porfiriato in México and the

intellectuals of the first republic in Brazil,9 Argentine thinkers of the late nineteenth

century turned to European theories – such as positivism, social Darwinism and

7
For an account of the mutual accusations of sexual/gender transgression that Federalists and
Unitarians used against each other, see Jorge Salessi, Medicos maleantes y maricas: hygiene, criminología
y homosexualidad en la construcción de la nación Argentina, Buenos Aires 1871-1914 (Rosario: Beatriz
Viterbo, 1995), 55-74.
8
David Rock, Argentina 1516-1987: From Spanish Colonization to Alfonsín (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1987), 141 and 166-167.
9
See for instance Pablo Piccato, City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900-1931 (Durham:
Duke University Press, 2001); Mauricio Tenorio Trillo, “1910 Mexico City: Space and Nation in the City
of the Centenario” Journal of Latin American Studies 28, no. 1. (Feb., 1996): 75-104; and Dain Borges,
“‘Puffy, Ugly, Slothful and Inert’: Degeneration in Brazilian Social Thought, 1880-1940,” Journal of Latin
American Studies 25, no. 2 (1993): 235, 256.
22
10
naturalism – when debating social control of the urban lower strata. The association of

plebeian culture with sexual pathology emerged in this context.

The so-called Generación del Ochenta [Generation of the 1880s] represented the

newly arrived immigrants as either sexual degenerates or effeminate men threatening the

nation. From this point of view, their pathological traits were the result of their inferior

racial background. Different versions of this pejorative association of sex, gender and

race were promoted by influential authors and politicians such as José María Ramos

Mejía, who occupied key positions including the Minister of Education;11 Bartolomé

Mitre, the founder of national historiography and president of the country between 1862

and 1868;12 Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, president of Argentina between 1868 and

1874;13 and Lucio Vicente López, a popular late nineteenth century writer and politician

10
For an analysis of positivism, social Darwinism and naturalism in the elite texts about social
control, see Beatriz Celina Ruibal, Ideología del control social, Buenos Aires 1880-1920 (Buenos Aires:
Centro Editor de América Latina, 1993); Eduardo Zimmermann, Los liberales reformistas: la cuestión
social en la Argentina, 1890-1916 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, Universidad de San Andrés,
1995); Gabriela Nouzeilles, Ficciones somáticas: naturalismo, nacionalismo y políticas médicas del cuerpo
(Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2000); Mirta Zaida Lobato, ed., Política, médicos y enfermedades: lecturas de
historia de la salud en la Argentina (Mar del Plata/Buenos Aires: Biblos, Universidad de Mar del Plata,
1996); and Julia Rodríguez, Civilizing Argentina: Science, Medicine and the Modern State (Chapell Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
11
See José María Ramos Mejía, La locura en la historia; contribución al estudio psico-patológico
del fanatismo religioso y sus persecuciones (Buenos Aires: Lajouane, 1895); and José María Ramos Mejía,
Las multitudes argentines; estudio de psicología colectiva para servir de introducción al libro ‘Rozas y su
tiempo’” (Buenos Aires: Lajouane, 1899).

12
Bartolomé Mitre, Historia de Belgrano y de la independencia argentina (Buenos Aires: F.
Lajouane, 1887).
13
Although Sarmiento did not refer directly to sexual ‘deviance,’ his evolutionary interpretation of
race was part of the same paradigm. See Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Conflicto y armonías de las razas
en América (Buenos Aires: Tuñez, 1883).
23
14
from a traditional elite family. This association of ‘deviant’ sexuality with racial

inferiority was a major trend in the scientific debates of the Atlantic world.15 The

association was formulated for the first time in Europe, and later it spread to the

Americas.16

European evolutionary thinkers understood change in terms of a unilinear

teleological progression through a series of social stages. In their view, the human

evolutionary trajectory would begin with a sexually disordered state and culminate in a

monogamous bond between two complementary and opposed sexes. This paradigm had

been promoted by most of the evolutionary theorists of the nineteenth century, and it was

adopted as a worldview by elite intellectuals, state officials and the emerging professions

throughout Europe and Latin America.

This shared evolutionary approach appeared in its most systematic form in the

“theory of recapitulation,” a term invented by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel to

explain how ontogeny – the development of an individual organism from embryo to adult

14
For an analysis of the intellectual paradigm promoted by these authors that focuses on race, see
Gabriela Nouzeilles, Ficciones somáticas: naturalismo, nacionalismo y políticas médicas del cuerpo,
Argentina 1880-1910 (Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2000).
15
Julian Carter, Normality, Whiteness, Authorship: Evolutionary Sexology and the Primitive
Pervert,” in Science and Homosexualities, ed. Vernon Rosario (New York: Routledge, 1997).
16
Dain Borges has explored the circulation of these ideas from Europe to Brazil, arguing that
while Brazilian intellectuals regularly read the work of their European colleagues, the latter rarely engaged
with the intellectual production of Latin America. See Dain Borges, “‘Puffy, Ugly, Slothful and Inert.’” For
an analysis of the elite association of sexual abnormality and racial inferiority in turn-of-the-century Latin
America, see Sueann Caulfield, In Defense of Honor. Sexual Morality, Modernity and Nation in Early
Twentieth-Century Brazil (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000); Peter Beattie, The Tribute of Blood.
Army, Honor, Race and Nation in Brazil, 1864-1945 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); and Eileen
Suárez Findlay, Imposing Decency. The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870-192 (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1999).
24
17
– recapitulated phylogeny – the evolutionary history of the species. According to

Haeckel, who wrote many popular texts for those who had no scientific background,

human beings passed through the same biological stages from birth to maturity that

natural history had undergone in its evolution from single cell to complex organisms. Of

course, not everybody read Haeckel’s work; what is important is that he gave a coherent

form to ideas that were expressed with different levels of systematicity by fin de siécle

intellectuals throughout the Atlantic world.18 Scientists shared the idea that history (both

biological and social) had a direction, and that adulthood, whiteness, the opposition and

complementarity of the sexes and the distinct social customs of European elites

characterized the more developed stages. Everything opposed to these characteristics of

higher evolution was interpreted as inferior in evolutionary terms, even if it existed

within Western societies. Childhood, non-European racial background, and anything that

blurred the distinction between the sexes was interpreted as a form of arrested

development that constituted an obstacle for progress. The early nineteenth century

medical distinctions between normality and abnormality were subsumed into this broad

evolutionary paradigm. Arrested development became a crucial definition of abnormality.

Non-white racial groups were remnants of the evolutionary past as were women,

children, and the European lower classes. Within this frame, the opposition and

complementarity of the sexes constituted the higher level of evolution. The natural

17
Ernst Haeckel, The Evolution Of Man; A Popular Exposition of the Principal Points of Human
Ontogeny and Phylogeny (New York, Appleton and Company, 1886).
18
For an analysis of the theory of recapitulation in Europe and its influence in Argentina, see “Bajo
la advocación del transformismo,” second chapter of Dora Barrancos, La escena iluminada. Ciencias para
Trabajadores 1890-1930 (Buenos Aires: Plus Ultra, 1996). For an analysis of the influence of Ernst
Haeckel in Brazil, see Jerry Dávila, Diploma of Whiteness: Race and Social Policy in Brazil, 1917-1945
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), and also Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, The Spectacle of the Races:
Scientists, Institutions and the Race Question in Brazil, 1870-1930 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999).
25
evolution of the species began with asexual cells, a process recapitulated by human

embryology. The second step for both the evolution of the species and embryology was

“hermaphroditism,” where anatomical sex developed as an independent function without

a clear distinction between male and female organisms. Finally, the differentiation of the

sexes into separate individuals constituted the highest stage of evolution reached by fully

developed humans. People with ambiguous genitalia – “hermaphrodites” – were

characterized as abnormal because the theory held that only “primitive” stages of

development would fail to create sexually differentiated individuals. Hermaphroditism

was abnormal arrested development; indeed, normality and development became closely

tied at the end of the nineteenth century.19 Not only embryology but also human

evolution and natural evolution emphasized differentiation between the sexes and sexual

desire towards the opposite sex. The first anthropologists and sexologists also developed

a similar teleology. Their narrative of socio-cultural evolution usually began with a stage

of primitive promiscuous sexuality not regulated by norms, where society tolerated incest

19
In Argentina, the idea of abnormality as arrested development in relation to the conformation of
genitals is already present in medical texts of the 1860s. See for instance “Un adulto con las partes genitals
externas dobles, completamente desarrolladas,” in “Revista Médico-Quirúrgica, V. II, (1865). By the early
twentieth century, the association of sexual dichotomy with higher stages of evolution was the hegemonic
paradigm in medicine. See for instance “Sesión científica del 9 de septiembre de 1901. Roberto Werkicke
presenta un caso de persistencia del uraco,” La Semana Médica (1901); Carlos Roche, “El pseudo
hermafroditismo masculine y los androginoides,”Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines,
V. III, (1904): 420-448; Francisco de Veyga, “La persona humana ante el criterio legal. Los signos de
humanidad y el origen de los monstrous,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, V. IV,
(1905): 448-464; and Carlos Lagos García, Las deformidades de la sexualidad humana (Buenos Aires: El
Ateneo, 1925). For an analysis of the recapitulation theory in Argentina, see Pablo Ben, “Muestrame tus
genitales y te diré quién eres. El ‘hermafroditismo’ en la Argentina finisecular y de principios del siglo
XX,” in Cuerpos, géneros e identidades: estudios de historia de género en Argentina ed. Omar Acha and
Paula Halperín (Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Signo, 2000). For an analysis of sexual dichotomy as a result
of evolution in European thought, see Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual
Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), Chapter 3,
“Mothers, Monsters and Machines.” For a history of the medical and social understanding of
“hermaphroditism,” see Alice Domurat Dreger, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998).
26
20
and same-sex sexuality. Freud repeated the same teleological narrative in his Three

Essays on Sexuality, describing children as polymorphous perverts who later gradually

evolved in their adulthood an orientation for sexual desire towards the opposite sex. Sex

difference and heterosexual desire were some of the natural outcomes of evolution.21

Fin de siècle European and Latin American intellectuals believed that throughout

evolution sexual norms would become stricter until highly evolved societies would

produce a family structure characterized by monogamous bonds between men and

women.22 Within this narrative adopted by psychiatrists and criminologists, effeminate

men who refused to perform the socially accepted male sex role were considered “sexual

20
See Julian Carter, “Normality, Whiteness, Authorship.”
21
In his work, Freud characterizes “sexual inversion” as a form of arrested development. Sexual
inverts’ desire remained in the anal stage and had failed to evolve towards an interest in genital intercourse.
Despite this pathologyzing of same-sex sexuality, Freud believed that so-called “normal” people also
engaged in numerous perversions. Kissing, as well as all the preliminary sexual practices were not genital
and had no reproductive consequences, and thus they were perverted forms of sexuality. What
characterized the “normal” sexual development was that all these perverse practices would culminate in
genital-reproductive sexuality. In sexual inversion, perverse practices were an end in themselves rather than
means to achieve the final genital-reproductive stage of evolution. Being “normal,” however, implied
paying a cost. Because all humans are – in Freud’s understanding – oriented towards polymorphous
perversions, limiting sexual desire to genital intercourse implies repression of perverse tendencies.
Repression does not erase the impulse towards perverse sexuality, but on the contrary, it makes that
impulse unconscious. Being unable to express themselves at a conscious level, the unconscious impulses to
perform perversities take the form of symptoms, which explains the emergence of neurosis. Together with
perversions, neuroses are also a pathological development. Freud was thus saying that human beings do not
have a chance to be normal, at least not in the way normality was understood by psychiatry at his time.
Humans could either be sexually interested in genital intercourse with people of the “opposite” gender, in
which case they would be neurotics, or they could fail to repress perversions, in which case they would be
perverts. In any case, they would still develop one or another form of pathology. It could be said that Freud
blurred the distinction between pathology and normality taking the usual psychiatric definitions of his time
to their last extent and thus concluding that everybody is abnormal. Claiming that Freud pathologyzed
sexual inversion – as many scholars argued – is not wrong, but it is a biased interpretation of his theory.
Such assertion ignores the fact that the “non-inverted” form of sexual desire implied a pathology too.
Although Freud was unable to question the notions of pathology and normality, he destabilized them,
making the distinction irrelevant to some extent by claiming that everybody is abnormal. Sigmund Freud,
The Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis,
1962).

22
Engels, to cite an example, expressed this idea in his famous work on the evolution of the
family: Friedrich Engels, The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State: in the Light of the
Researches of Lewis H. Morgan (New York: International Publishers, 1972).
27
inverts.” Instead of following the trend of progressive polarity between men and women

that consequently oriented desire for the opposite sex, inverts blurred the dichotomous

difference: their sexual behavior was not coherent with their sexual anatomy. This is why

“sexual inversion” was interpreted as homologous to hermaphroditism. Sexual inverts

represented the abnormal persistence of a backward past in the midst of a modern sexual

binary system composed of males and females.23

Sexual inverts were not the only deviants emerging out of this fin de siècle

evolutionary science; the urban lower strata as a whole was perceived in terms of this

normal/pathological paradigm. Even plebeian men who did not adopt a female persona

and refused to be penetrated were characterized as perverts if they were willing to

perform the penetrative role with men as well as women. From the point of view of

disciplining and socially controlling plebeian culture, penetrating other men was not

considered an inversion of a man’s sexual role. According to psychiatry and criminology,

however, it was still pathological, and “inferior” immigrants from Southern Europe were

associated with this sexual practice. The association of Italians and Spaniards with sexual

pathology was a response to the growing social tensions created by their arrival in turn-

of-the-century Buenos Aires.

The beginning of urbanization in late nineteenth century Buenos Aires brought

visible mass poverty and the emergence of an extensive underworld; the growing mass of

immigrant workers began to demand better working conditions and higher wages, and

Socialist and Anarchist groups challenged elite political hegemony. It was against this

23
In his treatise about love, José Ingenieros compiled a number of writings he developed in the
early twentieth century that expressed the association of race, sexuality, and gender through the theory of
recapitulation described here. See José Ingenieros, Tratado del Amor (Buenos Aires L. J. Rosso, 1940
[1929]).
28
backdrop that many elite writers, criminologists, and physicians represented the

newcomers as a mass of sexual perverts who threatened the nation. In his novel La Bolsa

[The Stock Exchange], for example, Julián Martel blamed the economic crisis of the

1890s on selfish, effeminate Jewish investors who were more interested in speculation

than becoming productive citizens. This association of effeminacy with Jewish

stereotypes was also present in other texts. Ramos Mejía compared Jewish usurers with

“sexual inverts.”24 Unlike virile productive men from the elite, marginal immigrants and

foreign female prostitutes allegedly would feminize the country and lead it to economic

disaster, a representation that Jorge Salessi explored in his study of sexuality and the

Argentine nation.25 Elite literary representations frequently portrayed Italian immigrants

as dangerous criminals whose sexual pathologies threatened the future of the nation. The

debauchery of an Italian immigrant had disastrous consequences for a respectable family

of landowners in En la sangre [In the Blood], an 1887 novel by Eugenio Cambacérès.

After gaining the confidence of the family, the Italian immigrant rapes their daughter who

becomes pregnant and marries him to avoid becoming a single mother. Soon after their

marriage, the man begins a dissolute life, squandering the family fortune by gambling. In

addition to ruining an elite family, this Italian immigrant also engaged in sex with other

men. The association of Italians with gambling, theft, robbery, same-sex sexuality and

prostitution was also present in other novels. Argerich, for instance, wrote a story about

an Italian couple whose son would spend most of his time in brothels, eventually dying of

24
José Ramos Mejía, “La fauna de la miseria,” in Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y
Ciencias Afines, Vol. III, (1904): p. 397-8.
25
Jorge Salessi, Medicos Maleantes.
29
syphilis. In these stories, same-sex sexuality was not an independent sphere. On the

contrary, it appeared as another aspect of sexual debauchery among the newly arrived

immigrants.26

Until the 1900s, representations of plebeian sexual deviancy appeared mostly in

fictional or historical narratives, but after that date they began to appear in texts

concerned with the actual performance of social control. In 1902, the first Argentine

academic journal of psychiatry and criminology was created. The Archivos de

Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines [Archives of Psychiatry, Criminology and

Related Disciplines] (APCCA) published articles promoting the policing of men who

engaged in same-sex sexuality. The authors of these articles occupied important positions

within state institutions. Indeed, the journal promoted social control over all forms of

deviant sexuality. Francisco de Veyga, a medical examiner and professor of Medical

Law, claimed that in Argentina sexual inverts always ended up in prison;27 Ramos Mejía

wrote articles requesting the state take measures against sexual deviants.28 Victor

Mercante asked the Minister of Education to avoid hiring female headmasters because

they would fail to prevent sex between women in the school system.29 Such calls for the

repression of sexual deviancy were not limited to this journal. Other journals and books
26
Julián Martel, La Bolsa (Buenos Aires: Bolsa de Comercio de Buenos Aires, n/d); Eugenio
Cambacérès, En la sangre (Buenos Aires: Lajouane, 1887); Juán Antonio Argerich, Inocentes o culpables?
Novela naturalista (Buenos Aires, Imprenta del courier del Plata, 1884). For an elite representation of
female sexual inversion, see (See Lucio Vicente Lopez, La gran Aldea: costumbres bonaerenses (Buenos
Aires: M Biedma, 1884).

27
See citations 87 and 96.
28
José Ramos Mejía, “La fauna de la miseria,” in Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y
Ciencias Afines, Vol. III, (1904): 385-405.
29
Victor Mercante, “Fetiquismo y uranismo femenino en los internados educativos,” in Archivos
de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. IV (1905): 27-30.
30
dealing with criminology, urban policing and psychiatry also followed this repressive

trend.

The emerging demand for the persecution of sexual deviancy in the first decade of

the twentieth century was seen in other Latin American countries as well.30 Historians of

sexuality have frequently assumed that these demands directly affected the life of men

who had sex with other men. The exclusive focus on criminological and psychiatric

literature, however, has obscured the fact that in the late nineteenth century most Latin

American countries adopted liberal sexual legislation. In the context of the new penal

codes passed at this time, same-sex sexuality could not be legally persecuted. In the

following section, I examine the history of sexual legislation in a trans-Atlantic context in

order to understand the adoption of liberal laws and explore the peculiarities of Argentina

in a broader context.

The Legislation of Male Same-Sex Sexuality

Historians of sexuality have usually overlooked the existence of liberal sexual

legislation in Latin America. The decriminalization of all sexual practices between

consenting adults in the private sphere that is characteristic of most Latin American penal

codes stands in sharp contrast to the scholarly focus on the persecution of sexual outcasts.

In addition, the influence of liberalism in Latin America has been obscured by a

historiography that tends to assume a high degree of arbitrary state intervention on civil

society throughout the region. Although liberal sex laws failed to stop the policing of

30
For an analysis of this topic, see Robert McKee Irwin, The Famous 41. Sexuality and Social
Control in Mexico, 1901 ed. Edward J. McCaughan and Michelle Rocío Nasser (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2003); and James Green, Beyond Carnival. Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999).
31
sexuality throughout Latin America, the lack of a legal ground for the persecution of men

who had sex with other men granted them a higher degree of freedom in comparison to

those countries where such sexual practices were outlawed. In order to understand how

Latin America developed a relatively more tolerant legal approach, I will briefly explore

the evolution of sexual legislation from the first codes punishing “sodomy” in Europe

during the fourteenth century to the development of the nineteenth century penal codes

on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although there were prejudices against same-sex sexual practices in Europe

throughout the Middle Ages, no legislation condemning such practices existed until the

first territorial states emerged between the thirteenth and fourteenth century.31 With the

emergence of territorial states in Europe, new legal codes were issued outlawing some

forms of same-sex sexuality. Unlike the modern penalization of homosexuality, however,

these legal codes referred to “sodomy,” a category that is historically specific. The term

sodomy did not refer to sex between two men or between two women, but to any form of

anal intercourse between two men, a man and a woman, or a human and a beast.32 Only a

few regions of Europe included female same-sex sexuality in the punishment of

sodomy.33

31
“Prosecutions for heresy were unknown after the decline of Roman power until the rise of new
secular states in the High Middle Ages. Nor did what civil authority existed undertake to regulate personal
morality in any detailed way during the early Middle Ages. Civil laws regulating sexuality or marriage
were rare, or had limited application and were weakly enforced.” John Boswell, Christianity, Social
Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to
the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 269.
32
Francisco Tomás y Valiente, “El Crimen y Pecado contra Natura,” in Sexo barroco y otras
transgresiones premodernas, ed. Francisco Tomas y Valiente (Madrid: Alianza, 1990).

33
For a discussion about the punishment of female same-sex sexuality in late medieval and early
modern Europe, see the discussion in the introduction of Judith Brown, Inmodest Acts: the Life of a Lesbian
32
Michel Foucault and Jeffrey Weeks were the first authors to point out the specific

historical difference between sodomy and homosexuality. Whereas sodomy constitutes a

legal category defining an action that has no consequence for the self-representation of

subjects, for Foucault homosexuality implies the emergence of sexuality as a fundamental

element of subjectivity.34 Historians of Europe and Latin America have questioned this

distinction. They claim that sodomy was more than a concrete sexual practice. In

sixteenth century Mexico City, for instance, there was a community of sodomites, and in

some cases they developed an identity associated with heresy.35 Although the existence

of such a community and a group identity undermines the distinction between sodomy as

an act and homosexuality as an aspect of subjectivity, only an anachronistic narrative can

identify the two as a single phenomenon. There was no clear boundary between same-sex

and different-sex sexual practices, and in fact many of those who performed sodomy

were married and had sex with women.36

Nun in Renaissance Italy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). Lillian Faderman argued that in a
male-dominated society, affectionate and sexual bonds between women were not threatening to men and
that is why they were not punished. Her hypothesis is that only with the possibility of women’s economic
independence in the late nineteenth century female did same-sex sexuality become threatening. See Lillian
Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the
Renaissance to the Present (New York: Morrow, 1981). Although in most laws about sodomy women were
excluded from punishment, there are a few exceptions to the general pattern, especially in Northern Europe,
see Jens Rydström, Sinners and Citizens: Bestiality and Homosexuality in Sweden, 1880-1950 (Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 32-7.
34
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol.I, and Jeffrey Weeks, Coming Out: Homosexual
Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (London: Quarts Books, 1979).
35
Serge Gruzinski, “The Ashes of Desire: Homosexuality in Mid-Seventeenth-Century New
Spain,” in Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America, ed. Pete Sigal (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 2003). See also Rafael Carrasco, Inquisición y represion sexual en Valencia:
Historia de los sodomitas, 1565-1785 (Barcelona: Laertes, 1985).
36
For a critical analysis of the historiography on the relationship between sodomy and
homosexuality, see the essay by David Halperin, “How to Do the History of Male Homosexuality” in How
to Do the History of Homosexuality ed. David Halperin (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002).
33
Although sodomy and homosexuality were considered distinct concepts, the

history of legislation regarding sexual practices and identities reveals much continuity.37

The relative liberalization of laws about sexuality in the eighteenth and nineteenth

century only makes sense in relation to the previous history of legal categories of same-

sex sexuality, which began with the enactment of the first legal codes in late medieval

territorial states. In the Iberian Peninsula, the first legal code penalizing sodomy was the

Siete Partidas issued under the kingdom of Alfonso the Wise in Castile.38 This code

condemned sodomy with death, and other codes of European territorial states soon

followed this trend. Between 1250 and 1300, sodomy “passed from being completely

legal in most of Europe to incurring the death penalty in all but a few contemporary legal

compilations.”39 Despite the severity of the penalty, however, John Boswell argues that

its enforcement was erratic. It was not until the formation of absolutist states in the

sixteenth century that the legal persecution of sodomy became significantly more

repressive.

In the late fifteenth century, the Catholic monarchs of Spain decided that the

previous legal punishment stipulated by the Siete Partidas was insufficient. They issued a

Pragmática lowering the requirements necessary to condemn a person to execution and

37
Michel Foucault was the first author to point out the specific historical difference between
sodomy and homosexuality, stating that the former was a mere action and the second constituted the core of
the modern subject. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol.I.
38
See Las Siete Partidas del Rey Don Alfonso El Sabio, cotejadas con varios codices antiguos por
la Real Academia de la Historia. Tomo III. Partida Quarta, Quinta, Sexta y Septima. De Orden y a
Expensas de S. M. Madrid en la Imprenta Real, (Año de 1807):664. For an analysis of this text in the
context of the growing intolerance of the emerging European territorial states, see John Boswell,
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 289.

39
John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 293.
34
40
property seizure. Almost a century later in 1592, the Spanish monarch Felipe II lowered

“even further the evidentiary requirements necessary for the prosecution and sentencing”

of sodomy cases.41 The prosecution of sodomy was not only carried out by the Spanish

secular state, but also by the Inquisition throughout the Catholic regions of Europe and by

Protestant and secular institutions in Northern Europe. Many European secular states

followed the same repressive trend. In 1533, the English monarchy passed draconian

legislation against sodomites (known as the Buggery Act) that resembled the legislation

of Spain and Portugal. Under this act, sodomy became a felony and the king could issue

death sentences and expropriate the property of those who had committed such a crime.42

Similar legislation was passed throughout Germany and Scandinavia.43 Some decades

later, the Portuguese Philippine Code issued in 1603 also condemned sodomites to

burning at the stake and expropriation.44 Although historians have claimed that the death

40
See Novísima Recopilación de las Leyes de España, Ley I, Tit. XXX, Lib XII, facsimil edition of
the Boletín Oficial del Estado (Madrid, 1976), 427-428. For an analysis of this legislation, see Federico
Garza Carvajal, Butterflies Will Burn: Prosecuting Sodomites in Early Modern Spain and Mexico (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 2003), 40-3. And also see Francisco Tomás y Valiente, Sexo barroco y otras
transgresiones premodernas.

41
Federico Garza Carvajal, Butterflies Will Burn, 44.
42
Nabil Matar, Turks Moors and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1999), see Chapter 4 “Sodomy and Conquest.” This British legislation was extended to
the colonies, see: Suparna Bhaskaran, “The Politics of Penetration: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code,”
in Queering India. Same-sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society ed. Ruth Vanita (New
York: Routledge, 2002).
43
See Jens Rydström’s discussion of the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina of 1532 “which has been
said to have influenced Scandinavian legislation.” Jens Rydström, Sinners and Citizens, 35.
44
James Green, Beyond Carnaval. Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1999), 21. The author explains that article 13 of the 1603 Philippine Code
condemned those who performed sodomy to be burned until they turn to ashes. See Cândido Mendes (ed.)
Auxiliar jurídico: servindo de appendice a decima quarta edição do Codigo Philippino ou Ordenações do
reino de Portugal recopiladas por mandado de el-rey D. Philippe I, a primeria publicada no Brasil
(Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1985 [1869]). This edition includes the original 1603 code.
35
penalty was not frequently enforced, many sodomites were condemned to hard labor and

had property seized, in addition to other harsh penalties. James Green explains that

“between 1587 and 1794, the Portuguese Inquisition registered 4,419 [sodomy]

denunciations,” but only 394 actually went to trial. Of these, thirty were punished with

death. Many others were exiled or sentenced to hard labor on the king’s galley ships. In

Spain, the number of executions was also low in comparison to other forms of

punishment such as fines, being whipped or sent to the galleys, exile or confinement.45

The impact of the repressive legislation during this period was not limited to Europe.

European powers accused other cultures of tolerating sodomy in order to justify the

seizure of their land and imperial domination.46 Under colonial rule, the laws of England,

Spain and Portugal were extended to the Americas and other parts of the world.

Legislation against sodomy was applied throughout the Americas until the nineteenth

century. The Inquisition and the various state authorities were not so effective in the

colonies,47 but in the main urban centers of Latin America, those who committed sodomy

were condemned with the same sentences as European sodomites.48 The persecution of

45
See Rafael Carrasco, Inquisición y represion sexual en Valencia, 65-88; and Cristian Berco,
Sexual Hierarchies, Public Status: Men, Sodomy and Society in Spain’s Golden Age (Toronto: University
of Toronto Press, 2007), 76.
46
This argument has been developed by several authors: Pete Sigal, “(Homo)Sexual Desire and
Masculine Power in Colonial Latin America: Notes toward an Integrated Analysis,” in Male Homosexuality
in Colonial Latin America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). Federico Garza Carvajal,
Butterflies Will Burn; and Rudi Bleys, The Geography of Perversion: Male-to-Male Sexual Behavior
Outisde the West and the Ethnographic Imagination, 1750-1918 (New York: New York University Press,
1995).
47
For an analysis of the inefficacy of the inquisition in Spanish America, see Alberro, Solange,
Inquisición y sociedad en México, 1571-1700 (México: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1988).

48
Serge Gruzinski studied the persecution of a group of sodomites in Mexico City; see: Serge
Gruzinski, “The Ashes of Desire: Homosexuality in Mid-Seventeenth-Century New Spain,” in Pete Sigal,
in Colonial Latin America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003).
36
sodomites continued throughout the colonial period. Changes in the legislation did not

take place until the nineteenth century.

The French Revolution profoundly affected the law of sexuality in Europe and the

Americas. The new liberal approach, premised on limiting the intervention of the state in

civil society, led to the decriminalization of all forms of private and consensual sexuality

between adults. With the military expansion of France across continental Europe, the

decriminalization of sodomy under the Napoleonic Code was enforced in the occupied

regions.49 Despite the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the French legislation continued to

influence other countries. In 1822, the Spanish Penal Code omitted sodomy, and its

influence was felt throughout Latin America after independence in the early nineteenth

century. In the 1830s, the new Imperial Penal Code imposed by the Brazilian emperor

Dom Pedro I also eliminated any reference to sodomy, legalizing all forms of sexuality

between consenting adults in the private realm. James Green explains that this

legalization resulted from the influence of “the ideas of Jeremy Bentham, the French

Penal Code of 1791, the Neapolitan Code of 1819, and the Napoleonic Code of 1810,

which decriminalized sexual relations between consenting adults.” In 1889, Brazil

became a republic, and a new penal code (passed in 1890) replaced the 1830s imperial

code. The new body of legislation did not affect sex between people of the same gender,

49
“With the rise of the nation-state, homosexuality was regarded as particularly dangerous,
although, as James D. Steakley points out in his important study on the origins of the homosexual
emancipation movement, ‘In France, the revolutionary Constituent Assembly had enacted a penal code in
1791 that removed homosexuality from the list of punishable offences. This action was reaffirmed in the
Napoleonic Code.’ French thinking on this matter was to have a liberalizing influence on several of the
German states, especially Bavaria. Even Prussia was not immune. Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle: The
Nazi War Against Homosexuals (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1986), 31.
37
50
which remained legal between consenting adults. The Colombian penal code of 1837

also removed any direct reference to same-sex sexuality from its list of punishable

offences.51 Ian Lumsden argues that the same occurred in Mexico, where “recognition of

the right to individual privacy dates back to the 1857 constitution and the liberal Reform

Laws of 1858, which sought to destroy the traditional power of the Church.”52 Argentina,

then, along with Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, followed the liberal French tradition of

decriminalizing previously punishable acts of private and consensual sex between adults.

Although in Argentina, the legal decriminalization of sodomy only took place

formally in the 1880s, it seems that in practice sodomy was not considered a crime from

the mid-nineteenth century onward, when the nation-state was emerging. After

independence in the early nineteenth century, the United Provinces of the River Plate

entered a phase of internal wars and did not formally change the legislation until the

Argentine nation-building process was consolidated between the1860s and the 1880s.

Colonial laws concerning sodomy continued to exist formally until 1886 when a new

penal code was issued by the national congress. However, as early as the 1860s, the old

laws concerning sexuality were not enforced. Whereas in 1813, a group of foreigners

were expelled from Buenos Aires for committing sodomy,53 by the 1860s the punishment

50
James Green, Beyond Carnival, 21-2.
51
Walter Alonso Bustamante Tejada, Invisibles en Antioquía 1886-1936. Una arqueología de los
discursos sobre homosexualidad (Medellín: La Carreta, 2004), 83.
52
Ian Lumsden, Homosexuality, Society and the State in Mexico (Toronto: Canadian Gay
Archives, 1991), 51.
53
Argentina. Índice del Archivo del Departamento General de Policía desde el año de 1812
(Buenos Aires. Imprenta de La Tribuna, calle de la Victoria núm. 31. 1859), 5, no. 44 Abril 14 de 1813.
Nota del Dr. D. Juan Madera al Intendente de Policía sobre la introducción del vicio de sodomía resultante
de un número de hombres de diferentes países. The original document referred to in this index of the
nineteenth-century police archive can be found at the Archivo General de la Nación.
38
of sodomy did not seem to be effective. Effeminate men had become the object of

derision rather than legal persecution. In an article published in a major newspaper in

1862, the author satirically assumed the guise of women, asking the police to persecute

effeminate men who could be seen cruising in search of other men throughout Buenos

Aires. This article suggests that such men were enjoying some degree of freedom if they

circulated visibly throughout the city.54 In addition, the sodomy trials that took place in

the decade prior to the introduction of the Penal Code did not refer to colonial legislation.

On the contrary, sodomy was treated as if decriminalization had already taken place.55 In

1886, the new Penal Code completely eliminated legal punishment for all forms of

private adult consensual sexuality, thus finally formally decriminalizing sodomy.56

The history of sexual legislation in countries that followed the French legal

tradition, such as Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, was the result of a

liberal approach to the relationship between state and civil society. State intervention was

limited to guaranteeing basic rights, such as the defense of life, private property and

freedom of speech. According to this view, morality was a realm of civil life that should

be independent from any state interference. Even if male same-sex sexuality was morally

condemned in civil life, the state had no right to persecute men who engaged in such

sexual practices. Other countries of the Atlantic basin, however, followed a very different

54
“Los Maricones” La Nación Argentina, (Buenos Aires, 21st November 1862), 2 and the
continuation of the same article next day, 22nd November, on p. 2.
55
The following are records of sodomy trials previous to the Penal Code that actually applied the
legislation that such code made legal a few years later: Argentina. Archivo General de la Nación.
Tribunales Criminales. 1869, Legajo G, “L.G.;” 1876, Legajo E, “E., I. Profugo por delito de sodomía
cometido en la persona del menor M. V.;” 1877, Legajo B, “B., P. Por sodomía en la persona del Menor
C.;” 1879, Legajo B, “B., A., acusado de conato de sodomía y heridas al menor F. L.”
56
Código Penal de la República Argentina (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Sud America, 1887).
39
path. Despite the influence of this French liberal legislation in the decades after the

invasion of Napoleon, Germany outlawed sexual practices between men in the second

half of the nineteenth century.57 Nineteenth-century English sexual legislation also

changed, but unlike the French legal code, same-sex sexuality was not considered a

private matter free from state interference until the late twentieth century. The 1885

British Labouchere Amendment continued to outlaw sex between men. Although defined

as a misdemeanor, those found guilty of such actions could be imprisoned for up to two

years, with or without hard labor.58 It was under this legislation that Oscar Wilde was

condemned to forced labor for several years.59 This repressive British legal regime only

came to an end in 1967 after the Wolfenden Report suggested the state liberalize its laws

on sexuality.60 In contrast to France, Spain and Latin America, some other European

countries followed the same repressive trend observed in Germany and Britain.61

57
“But only in Bavaria and three other German states (…) had a truly tolerant view prevailed. In
1813, under the combined influence of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and upon the urging
of Anselm von Veuerbach, and influential liberal jurist, Bavaria liberalized all laws concerning sex,
including those penalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults males. Hanover followed suit a
generation later, in 1840, when it repealed its antihomosexual legislation. But the old prejudices were
ultimately to prove too strong. In the end, von Feuerbach recanted and reversed himself, condemning
‘indecencies of the coarser type, illicit licentiousness and bestiality.’ In 1851, Prussia enacted Paragraph
143, which outlawed ‘unnatural sexual acts between men, and men and beasts,’ and promised
imprisonment for up to four years for violators. This law served the legal basis for Paragraph 175, passed
by the newly united Germany of 1871.” Richard Plant The Pink Triangle, 32-3.
58
Matt Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2003), 42-5.
59
Ibid., 51.
60
Patrick Higgins, Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain. (London:
Fourth Estate, 1996).
61
Russian legislation remained tolerant at a time when most Western European powers were
condemning sodomy with the death penalty. Same-sex sexuality was not outlawed until Western influence
became stronger in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, however, Russia was a bastion of the
reaction against the French Revolution, and thus, the country was not influenced by the emerging liberal
legislation. In the nineteenth century, Russia followed the path of Britain and Germany until homosexuality
was decriminalized with the advent of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Under Stalinism, homosexuality
40
Liberal Penal Codes vs. Repressive Police Edicts

Despite the striking difference between the laws outlawing male same-sex

sexuality in some countries and the decriminalization of sodomy in the French-influenced

penal codes, countries that did liberalize sexual legislation did not put an end to the

policing of men who had sex with other men. Liberal legislation only made the policing

milder. The countries decriminalizing consenting sexual acts between adults in private

frequently gave the police power to punish public displays of all forms of non-normative

behavior, including same-sex sexualities. Although in Brazil, same-sex sexuality was not

outlawed in the penal code, the police could still deprive an individual of their freedom

for committing a “public scandal” or involvement in “disorderly conduct.” 62 As James

Green argued, the legal situation of same-sex sexuality could not be properly understood

through an analysis of the crimes explicitly listed in the penal code. Although sodomy

“had been decriminalized in the early nineteenth century […] criminal codes with

vaguely defined notions of proper morality and public decency, as well as provisions that

limited cross-dressing and strictly controlled vagrancy, provided a legal net that could

readily entangle those who transgressed socially sanctioned sexual norms.” So even if

“homosexuality” was not outlawed, the Brazilian police and the courts used those vague

was criminalized again. See Igor S. Kon, “Russia,” in Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality. A Multi-Nation
Comparison ed. Donald West and Richard Green (New York: Plenium Press, 1997), 221-242. In Central
Europe, the German-speaking regions followed the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina introduced by the
sixteenth-century Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The Austro-Hungarian Empire continued to outlaw
same-sex sexuality, as did most of the nations that constituted the Empire after its fall at the end of WWI.
See Ivo ProCházka, “The Czech and Slovak Republics,” and Helmut Graupner, “Austria,” in Sociolegal
Control of Homosexuality. A Multi-Nation Comparison ed. Donald West and Richard Green (New York:
Plenium Press, 1997), 243-253 and 269-287.
62
See: Robert McKee Irwin, “The Famous 41: The Scandalous Birth of Modern Mexican
Homosexuality,” in: GLQ, A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 6 No. 3, (2000): 353 and James Green,
Beyond Carnival.
41
63
notions of morality inherent in the penal code to control same-sex sexuality. William

Peniston describes a similar panorama for Paris after sodomy decriminalization:

When Napoleon’s legal experts, under the leadership of Jean Jacques Régis de
Cambacérès, rewrote these penal codes in 1810, they retained this silence about
same-sex sexual activity that occurred in private between consenting adults.
Their penal code contained articles on rape and sexual assaults (#331-333),
public offenses against decency (#330), the incitement of youths to debauchery
(#334-335), and adultery and bigamy (#336-340). None of these laws specifically
mentioned sodomy, pederasty, acts against nature, or any other term used at that
time for same-sex sexual behavior. They all applied to sexual crimes between
men and women, as well as between men and men and women and women.
However, some of them were used extensively against men who had sex with
other men, especially if their activities took place in public.64

Brazil and France have very different histories, but this point of overlap points to

a similar relationship between state and civil society in terms of how these two spheres

address non-normative sexuality, as well as other forms of urban disorder and unrest to

which elites objected. The model of French legislation limits the power of the state over

civil society. Ideally, under this legal system the police should only be concerned with the

violations of the penal code. However, Brazil and France provide numerous examples of

persecution taking place despite the spirit of the law. The contradiction between state

social control and legislation happened in different ways. Sometimes the police resorted

to vaguely defined notions of morality in the penal code; in other cases, the forms of

social control were explicitly specified in police codes or dispositions. In late nineteenth-

century Colombia, for instance, police officials believed it was their role to “protect

effectively morality and good customs,” and men who had sex with other men were

63
James Green, Beyond Carnival, 23.
64
William Peniston. Pederasts and Others. Urban Culture and Sexual Identity in Nineteenth-
Century Paris (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2004), 17.
42
65
persecuted for violating socially acceptable behavior. The same was true in late

twentieth-century Mexico:

In Mexico City, the by-laws (reglamentos) of the Federal District police, which
are in effect extensions of the criminal code, have particular impact upon the
lives of homosexuals. They give police sweeping powers to arrest “anyone who
behaves or uses language that contravenes public decency,” who makes “gestures
that are offensive to other people,” who disturbs “public order,” and who
“invites, permits or engages in prostitution or carnal commerce,” amongst a host
of other offences. Similarly, in Guadalajara, the police are authorized to detain
anyone who engages in acts that contravene “normal sexual relations.”66

In strict legal terms, police bylaws appear to contradict penal codes, but also

imply an intrusion of the executive power over the legislative one, as they are issued by

the police – a branch of the executive – rather than by the parliament.67 According to

William Peniston, while the French penal code implied a limitation of the arbitrary power

of the state over the elites, the police code of Paris facilitated the enforcement of public

order among the urban poor.68 Since male same-sex sexuality was considered a threat to

public order, the police – with the approval of police codes – continued persecuting this

65
“[P]roteger eficazmente la moralidad y las buenas costumbres,” Compilación de disposiciones
vigentes sobre policía en el departamento de Antioquía, Medellín, Imprenta del Departamento, (1890): 73-
75, quoted by Alonso Bustamante Tejada, Invisibles en Antioquía 1886-1936, 83. See his analysis of the
legislation of sexuality and police actions in his third chapter, 79-97.
66
Ian Lumsden, Homosexuality, Society and the State in Mexico, 53.
67
The Human Rights movement in Argentina has questioned the very existence of the police edicts
on these grounds since the coming of democracy in 1984.
68
“The distinction made between a police code and a criminal code reflected the legislator’s
concern to redefine the relationship between state and society. The police code was designed to limit the
arbitrary power of the state without depriving it of the means to enforce public order. It dealt, therefore,
with infractions that could be modified to fit the needs of the state. The criminal code, on the other hand,
was created to protect the citizen’s natural rights in terms of their properties and persons. It defined crimes
(i.e., felonies) which were, theoretically, universal. Whereas the police code was enforced by officers, the
criminal code fell within the domain of lawyers and judges, and it became the primary concern of legal
experts both within and outside the Ministry of Justice.” See William Peniston, Pederasts and Others, 17.
43
form of sexuality in those countries where this sexual practice had technically been

decriminalized.

Although the Argentine state followed a path similar to Brazil and France

regarding the control of sexuality, in Buenos Aires, the police did not issue any specific

regulation against sex between men until the 1930s.69 As in France, the Buenos Aires

police issued its own regulations aimed to control forms of urban unrest that were not

outlawed in the penal code, but their focus was not sexuality. These regulations, known

as “police edicts,” existed from 1880 and remained in place until 1996.70 Police edicts

violated the tripartite division of political power written into the constitution of 1853,

since the police were technically a branch of the executive power and therefore should

not have issued legal regulations. However, as in France and Brazil, this legal

contradiction did not prevent the Buenos Aires police from enforcing such edicts. In a

book published by the city police in 1910, issuing edicts to defend morality and maintain

69
República Argentina. Policía de la Capital. Disposiciones de la policía. Leyes – Decretos del P.
E. – ordenanzas municipals, edictos y disposiciones de la jefatura. Resoluciones varias, en vigor, 1880-
1923 (Buenos Aires: Imprenta y Encuadernación de la Policía, 1924). For an analysis of the dispositions on
disorder and scandal between 1880 and 1923, see pp. 234-9. Other publications compiling police edicts did
not include any reference to male same-sex sexuality either. See Eugenio Soria, Digesto municipal de la
ciudad de Buenos Aires. Leyes, ordenanzas, acuerdos y decretos vigentes. Publicación oficial (Buenos
Aires: Imprenta de Biedma e Hijo, 1907); República Argentina, Repertorio de Policía. Compilación de las
disposiciones vigentes comunicadas por la “orden del día” de la Policía de la Capital, 1880-1898. Hechas
bajo la dirección del Dr. M. Mujica Farías, Secretario General de Policía (Buenos Aires: Imprenta y
Encuadernación de la Policía de la Capital, 1899).
70
In 1996, the legislature of the city of Buenos Aires eliminated the police edicts and passed what
is now known as the Código de Convivencia Urbana [Code for Urban Public Behavior]. Although this code
has been legally voted on by the legislative power, its very existence is legally problematic because it
overlaps with the Penal Code and in some cases there are contradictions between both. This is why GLBTT
and Human Rights groups in Argentina have questioned the existence of the code which is still used to
persecute transgender people, political demonstrations and the young and urban poor. See Guillermo Rafael
Navarro, Código Contravencional de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. Código de Convivencia Urbana y otras
leyes locales actualizadas (Buenos Aires: Pagina 12, 1998). For an analysis of the recent history of police
edicts and the new Code for Urban Public Behavior, see Mercedes S. Hinton, The State on the Streets.
Police and Politics in Argentina and Brazil (London: Lynne Rienner Publishes, 2006), 34-5 and 55-7.
44
the social order is listed as one of the proper attributes of the police since its creation.71

The absence of any police edict against sex between men would suggest that such sexual

practice was not an immediate concern for an institution whose explicit aim was to

combat threats to morality and the social order.

The impetus for issuing police edicts in the early 1880s was the federalization of

the city and its separation from the surrounding province. With the exception of female

prostitution, these edicts rarely referred to any aspect of sexuality. There was one

reference to “bestiality,” but only as an argument that the “penal codes of civilized

nations, such as ours, do not mention this rare and degrading crime of the human species,

which is actually a fault that should be buried in silence.”72 In 1885, the sheriff of Buenos

Aires circulated a note to all police stations establishing the first systematic set of police

edicts.73 These edicts regulated issues such as the possession and carrying of arms,

drunkenness in the public sphere, “disorders” and “scandals,” balls, vagrancy, playing

cards, the behavior and circulation of minors in the city and the celebration of carnival.74

As I will discuss in the following section, while the police sometimes used the edicts in

the name of “disorder” and “scandal” to persecute effeminate men and male same-sex

sexuality, the persecution of male same-sex sexuality was not systematic. In fact, male

71
Policía de la Capital. La Policía de la Capital Federal (Buenos Aires: Imprenta y
Encuadernación de la Policía, 1910), 3-5.
72
"Los códigos penales de las naciones civilizadas, así como el nuestro, no hacen mención de este
delito, raro y degradante de la especie humana, que más bien es una falta cuya existencia debía quedar
sepultada en el silencio" República Argentina. Policía de la Capital. Memoria del Departamento de Policía
de la Capital (Buenos Aires: Tipográfica La Pampa, 1881), 272.
73
See República Argentina. Policía de la Capital. Libro de Ordenes del Día. Buenos Aires, 20 de
abril de 1885.
74
República Argentina. Policía de la Capital. Disposiciones de la policía. Leyes – Decretos del P.
E. – ordenanzas municipals, edictos y disposiciones de la jefatura. Resoluciones varias, en vigor, 1880-
1923 (Buenos Aires: Imprenta y Encuadernación de la Policía, 1924), 230-261.
45
same-sex sexuality was not officially considered an actual form of disorder or scandal,

according to the police edicts.

Although two police edicts, “disorder” and “scandal,” were vague and potentially

broad, the definitions of violations included in these categories were quite precise and did

not include any reference to same-sex sexuality. In these two edicts, there were only two

references to sexuality. One alluded to female prostitutes standing in front of brothel

windows in order to attract men in the streets; the other involved men saying “obscene”

words to women who passed by. All other forms of interaction described in the edicts of

“disorder” and “scandal” – such as public demonstrations, fights among unarmed men,

false fire alarms, corruption of minors, urinating or bathing in public places, public nudity

and loud music at night – were not aimed at same-sex sexuality. In fact, the eventual use

of these edicts against men who had sex with other men entailed an “ad hoc” extension of

police power rather than – as Jorge Salessi suggests in his book on male same-sex

sexuality and the nation-state – a coherent and well-conceived plan carried out in

response to a “homosexual panic.”

In his analysis of the Argentine Penal Code, Cristian Berco has interpreted the end

of the penalizing tradition as an official attempt to erase same-sex sexual practices from

the public scene.75 Although the 1881 police order referring to “bestiality” discussed

previously referred to ‘burying’ this fault in ‘silence,’ no documents exist that suggest

this was the aim of legislators who passed the Penal Code or sheriffs who issued police

edicts. Indeed, in parliamentary discussions on the Penal Code, deputies did not mention

75
Cristian Berco, “Silencing the Unmentionable: Non-reproductive Sex and the Creation of
Civilized Argentina, 1860-1900,” in The Americas, 58.3 (2002): 419-441. Código Penal de la República
Argentina (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Sud América, 1887).
46
anything about the social control of sexuality. Although some laws (such as laws

concerning adultery and abortion) clearly implied state control over sexuality (especially

female), the penal code was passed as a whole, without parliamentary debate on issues

related to sexuality. The main concern expressed explicitly in the discussion among

deputies in the congress was the danger posed by the lack of a unified penal law that

could legitimize the rule of the state. Deputies claimed that no modern society could

function without a standardized legal system where individuals could know what to

expect from the law. The code seemed to symbolize a proper and “modern” set of rules,

and its enactment reflected a desire for the homogenization of the whole legal system into

a hegemonic liberal tradition, rather than official concern about the spreading of non-

normative sexuality.76

The shifting meaning of the legal concept of “sodomy” in Argentina provides an

insight into the understanding of how the state handled sexual acts between men. As

discussed earlier, before the passage of the Penal Code, the term “sodomy” was legally

defined as an “act” in which a man would anally penetrate another man, a woman or an

animal. This was the definition used in all of the sixteenth-century European codes

mentioned previously. The distinctions of private/public and consensual/forced had no

meaning in this old legislation. The law exempted legal minors from punishment, but the

76
“El ‘oscuro laberinto en el que los juices se confunden y los ciudadanos no pueden conocer con
exactitud los límites de sus derechos y obligaciones,’ decía Varela, debía ser depurado de sus resabios
coloniales y ordenado en códigos comprensibles. Es difícil no relacionar esta preocupación con las
complejidades del marco legal en el que los jueces basaban sus decisiones. Hasta la codificación de fines
del siglo, disponían de una multitud de piezas legales contradictorias y semiabolidas por el desuso, y por
eso mismo, de una gran discrecionalidad en la selección legal que fundamentaba sus decisiones. La
selección del pensamiento de Bentham discutido en la Universidad también se explica por la preocupación
que esta situación producía en sus lectores rioplateneses. De su frondoso archivo de proyectos penales y
punitivos, interesaban por sobre todo su propuesta de abolición de la pena de muerte y sus nociones de
homogeneización legal y codificación.” Lila Caimari, Apenas un delincuente: Crimen, castigo y cultura en
la Argentina, 1880-1955 (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno, 2004), 37.
47
punishment applied to adults was the same if they performed a sexual act with another

adult or with a minor. In the new Argentine Penal Code of 1886, the word sodomy

continued to exist, but since this code did not punish consensual acts between adults in

the private sphere, sodomy acquired a new meaning. The word was now used to refer to

what U.S. law classifies as “statutory rape.” Sodomy no longer designated all forms of

anal penetration. Only men performing sexual acts with boys were condemned under the

new late nineteenth-century sodomy law, and anybody accused of performing sodomy

was subjected to the same legal conditions that applied to those men who performed

sexual acts with female legal minors. When statutory rape referred to an adult man who

had sex with a boy, the code used the sodomy category, whereas in the case of sex

between adult men and girls, the code referred to rape. Despite these different categories,

the punishment did not differ.

According to Cristian Berco, shifting the meaning of sodomy to a term that meant

statutory rape expressed official panic towards adult pederasts who might corrupt

Argentine children, thus symbolically threatening the future of the nation. However, the

association of children with the future of the nation only began to emerge in the 1920s,

and it was consolidated several decades later with the advent of Peronism (1946-1955).77

Indeed, the state was not particularly concerned with the situation of children in turn-of-

the-century Argentina. In Buenos Aires, most children worked in the streets, factories and

77
See Donna J. Guy, “The State, the Family, and Marginal Children in Latin America,” in Minor
Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society ed. Tobias Hecht (Madison: The University of
Wisconsin Press, 2002).
48
workshops from the age of nine. There was no law against child labor until 1907;78

furthermore, after the law was passed, it took the state many years to actually enforce it

effectively.79 In terms of sexuality, the state did not protect children from systematic

abuse.80 In many sodomy trials during this period, the victims were poor boys engaged in

urban prostitution.81 The state had no policies to prevent widespread sexual practices

between adults and minors, which was fueled by the vulnerable economic situation of the

youngest portion of the urban population.82 In fact, the new concept of “sodomy” was in

itself inadequate to deal with the prostitution of minors – both girls and boys. Minors on

the streets who turned to prostitution were unlikely to press charges against those adults

78
Congreso Nacional. Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados. Año 1906. Tomo I. Sesiones
Ordinarias, abril 22-septiembre 28. Buenos Aires. Talleres Gráficos de la Penitenciaría Nacional. 1907.
79
In 1906, when the law against child labor was issued, a popular magazine published an article
about a chocolate mill. A few shots of the collective of workers at the company show a mainly children
among the workers; see Caras y Caretas, 1906, Year IV, No. 378, no page. Three years after the banning of
child labor, Caras y Caretas was still publishing pictures of children at work; see Caras y Caretas, 1910,
Year XIII, no pages. An article about a publishing house considered as a “model” by the same magazine
also showed numerous pictures of minors among the workers, which confirms Juán Suriano’s hypothesis
that the law was not enforced until later in the century; see: “Las artes gráficas en la República. Un
establecimiento modelo,”Caras y Caretas, May 7 1910, Year XIII, No. 605, no page. Juan Suriano, “Niños
trabajadores: una aproximación al trabajo infantil en la industria porteña de principios de siglo,” in Mundo
urbano y cultura popular. Estudios de historia social argentina ed. Diego Armus (Buenos Aires:
Sudamericana, 1990), 253; Eduardo Ciafardo, Los niños en la ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1890-1910 (Centro
Editor de América Latina: Buenos Aires, 1992).
80
Although a study conducted by José Ingenieros showed that newspaper boys in the streets in
many cases turned to prostitution, the state did not pass any legislation or take any measure to prevent
children from selling sex for money. See José Ingenieros, “Los niños vendedores de diarios y la
delincuencia precoz,”Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. 7, (1908): 329-348. In
his book about the late nineteenth-century underworld in Buenos Aires, an anonymous writer who used the
pseudonym of Severus complained about the state’s innability to stop the proliferation of comercial sex
among minors of both sexes. See Severus, Fases del Vicio (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Mendia y Martínez,
1891), 91.
81
See the analysis of sodomy trials in Chapter 3.
82
For an analysis of the vulnerable economic situation of minors in turn-of-the-century Buenos
Aires, see Ricardo Salvatore, “Criminology, Prison Reform, and the Buenos Aires Working Class,”Journal
of Interdisciplinary History, 23, no. 2 (1992).
49
83
who had sex with them. The legal punishment for sodomy demonstrates that the state

followed a liberal path, considering such a crime a private concern rather than a practice

that deserved the attention of the state.

In the 1886 Penal Code, sodomy was considered a crime against an individual,

not against the state. This meant that legal prosecution could only take place if the victim

pressed charges, and in the case of minors, only their parents were allowed to do so.

Attorneys, policemen and other state officials were frustrated to find that most parents

were unwilling to press charges against the accused, which is not surprising for plebeian

families who were reluctant to invite state intervention, and who did not share the values

associated with childhood today. How could legislators classify sodomy as a crime

against an individual if they were so concerned with adult pederasts? By allowing

(plebeian) parents to decide, they handed the authority to punish to a group of people

portrayed by most turn-of-the-century bibliographies as violent, irresponsible and

irrational. This was certainly not the best option if legislators wanted to protect children

from sexual abuse. It could be argued that the embarrassment associated with sodomy led

legislators to pass a law that allowed the victims to avoid going through the experience of

a trial. If this was the case, embarrassment seemed to have more weight than the “future

of the nation.” It is impossible to grasp the intentions of legislators, especially when they

are not expressed in the records of parliamentary debate. The available evidence,

however, suggests that the sodomy law was not the product of a fear for the nation and its

83
Donna Guy, “Parents Before the Tribunals. The Legal Construction of Patriarchy in Argentina,”
in Hidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America ed. Elizabeth Dore & Maxime Molyneux
(Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2000); Eduardo Ciafardo, Los niños en la ciudad de Buenos
Aires and Carlos de Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, su psicopatología sexual (Buenos Aires: Jesus
Menendez, 1919); see Chapter VIII on child prostitution.
50
children. It was the result of the emergence of a new body of liberal laws that legislators

did not care to debate closely.

Although criminologists and psychiatrists advocated the persecution of sexual

deviants, this persecution was not legal. Neither the Penal Code nor police edicts mention

any sanction for same-sex sexuality. An analysis of the real situation of men who had sex

with other men, however, should address the information provided by the actual

proceedings of institutions of social control rather than simply focusing on legal,

psychiatric and criminological discourses. In the following section, I will consider the

available evidence on the police and the psychiatric asylums.

Policing of Male Same-Sex Sexuality

The analysis of the policing of sex between men in turn-of-the-century Buenos

Aires constitutes a difficult task. There are serious deficiencies in the police and

penitentiary records and to make matters worse, the available sources are not

systematically classified, making an exhaustive search in a reasonable length of time

impossible. Despite the gaps in the available information, however, I will argue that

enough evidence exists to claim that the policing of same-sex sexuality was not relevant

in Buenos Aires before the 1930s. Several reasons led me to this conclusion. The first one

is that the image of strict policing that some scholars have provided is informed by the

rhetorical arguments of early twentieth-century professionals concerned with advertising

the effectiveness of the young Argentine state. Once we move away from the essays

written by these professionals, the data offers a very different picture.


51
Most police accounts suggest that this institution was not seriously involved in the

social control of same-sex sexuality. Many turn-of-the-century intellectuals and state

officials were unhappy with the fact that turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires police were

overwhelmed.84 The inability of this institution to control widespread crime and urban

unrest resides in the character of social life in Buenos Aires at this time – an element that

most historians have left unattended. Criminal activity – especially robbery and female

prostitution – was so pervasive throughout the city that police were unable to control it.

An unstable job market encouraged most workers to turn to robbery when other

alternatives were not available. Without a serious change in the city social structure,

crime could not be significantly challenged. Criminologists and physicians who

researched these topics, however, did not have an understanding of the social foundations

of the urban underworld. Consequently, in keeping with European theories prevalent at

the time, their accounts blamed the popular classes for being degenerate while claiming

that state institutions did everything possible to solve these problems.

Early twentieth-century criminologists maintained that the policing of male same-

sex sexuality – as well as urban unrest at large – was strict in turn-of-the-century


85
Argentina, but the evidence suggests that this was a rhetorical move rather than a

description of how the police actually worked. Rhetorical representations of the

effectiveness of social control usually obscure the conclusions reached by historians, and

84
In a book about the urban underworld in Buenos Aires, for instance, the author begins a review
of the situation talking about the “deplorable state of our police organization;” “deplorable estado de
nuestra organización policial. See Severus, Fases del Vicio (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Mendia y Martínez,
1891), III.
85
See Jorge Salessi, Médicos maleantes y maricas and also Jorge Salessi, “The Argentine
Dissemination of Homosexuality, 1890-1914” in Entiendes?: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings ed. Emile
L. Bergmann and Paul Julian Smith (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).
52
this is why a discussion of the policing of sexuality needs to address this rhetoric first.

One of the key criminologists who claimed that the police controlled male same-sex

sexuality throughout the city was Francisco de Veyga. Given the important position of

Veyga in academic circles and his influence in a number of state institutions, it is

fundamental to begin with a critical assessment of his claim.

A renowned scholar, Veyga taught medical law at the University of Buenos Aires

between 1894 and 1911. He published essays in the most important criminological forum

of his time, the APCCA, where influential intellectuals and state officials discussed social

control of alcoholism, madness, criminality, prostitution and all forms of urban unrest. In

addition to his role as a university professor, Veyga had important connections to judicial

authorities and to the police.86 Francisco’s brother, Tomas de Veyga, was an important

judge at the time, and Francisco also had close contacts with the Buenos Aires sheriff.

Through his connections with the police, Veyga established a research institute in 1901 at

the major police detention center located at the corner of 24 de Noviembre and Rivadavia

in the neighborhood known as Once. While this institution was referred to by various

names in the official and academic documents – “Sala de observación de alienados,”

“Depósito de Contraventores,” “Depósito 24 de Noviembre” – its purpose was to confine

those who according to police edicts were found guilty of promoting urban unrest. Veyga

86
The authors of the APCCA constituted a network of professionals who occupied key positions
throughout the state, and Veyga had close connections with many of them. These men had met each other
when they studied medicine at the university. They occupied positions of leadership in the educational
system (Victor Mercante and Rodolfo Senet), the police (Veyga, José Ingenieros, Carlos Córdoba), the
army (Pedro Barbieri), and in the congress (Lucas Ayarragaray and Augusto Bunge). See the obituaries in
La Prensa Médica Argentina, Volume XXXI, No 24 (1944): 1128; La Semana Médica, (June 26 1944,):
1359; Boletín de la Academia Nacional de Medicina, No. 2-5, (May/August 1945): 294; La Semana
Médica, (May 10 1917): 562; La Semana Médica, (August 26 1943): 521; La Semana Médica, (December
31 1942): 1573.
53
used some of the subjects confined in this detention center as the basis for his articles

about “sexual inversion.” In one of these articles he stated that some “sexual inverts”

ended up in prison and that many were regularly detained in the Deposito and in police

stations throughout the city.87 However, a closer look at a personal letter sent by Veyga to

the Buenos Aires sheriff in 1901 contradicts this statement.

In this 1901 letter, Veyga asked the sheriff to find some effeminate men who have

sex with other men so he could study them. This request suggests that these men were not

frequently caught by the police, but rather made available and perhaps sought out upon

request. The letter begins with ritual expressions of gratitude: Veyga thanked the sheriff

for helping him build a research center in the most important detention facility in Buenos

Aires. The ties between this professor and the sheriff become evident when Veyga praises

him for providing generous funds to buy “scientific” tools to “measure” the bodies of

offenders at the Deposito. After communicating his gratitude, Veyga proceeds to ask for

yet another favor. He explains that he may need the sheriff to assign police personnel to

apprehend specific categories of individuals to make sure they are available for scientific

research. Among other “specimens,” Veyga asked that they seize some “maricas,” a

word used in plebeian language to refer to male prostitutes who cross-dressed and

frequently adopted a female persona. The fact that Veyga needed to ask for these

individuals to make sure he could conduct his “scientific” research suggests that such

87
“A la cárcel van a parar, a Contraventores vienen no pocos y las Comisarías tienen que hacer
constantemente con ellos.” Francisco de Veyga, “El sentido moral y la conducta de los invertidos
sexuales,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. III (1904): 27.
54
88
types were not necessarily priority police targets. Veyga’s letter to the Buenos Aires

sheriff undermines his own published statement about the effective persecution of

‘homosexuals’ in Buenos Aires. It shows that even when Veyga had to ask for some of

the people who became the “object” of his studies, he would not make that clear in his

published essays. The generosity of the sheriff, as well as the close ties between Veyga

and the police, should encourage scholars to distrust any of his claims about the

effectiveness of this institution. In addition, even Veyga’s published essays offer an

ambiguous picture when viewed altogether.

In 1903, Veyga published a report of the activity at the Deposito that shows no

evidence of the policing of sexuality, which in other essays he adamantly claimed took

place. From a total of 211 individuals observed throughout the year in the Deposito, most

of them were sent to psychiatric institutions. The city’s male psychiatric asylum, known

as the Hospicio de las Mercedes, hosted 148 men coming from the Deposito. The

equivalent institution for women, the Hospital de Alienadas, received twenty-seven

women coming from the same place. The data also shows that thirty-nine individuals

with mental problems had been simply released rather than institutionalized. The

psychiatric classification of the 211 people referred to a wide variety of mental diseases,

but none of the categories of “abnormality” referred to any kind of sexual practices. In

88
[Later, I will write other studies of the same kind about robbers, vagrants, faggots, minors, etc. In
order to further these studies, I warn you just in case, I will need to bother you still a little more because I
still need the cooperation of some of the staff that you may tell to help me] “Después irán apareciendo otros
estudios del mismo carácter sobre los ladrones, los vagabundos, los maricas, los menores, etc., para cuya
terminación, le prevengo de paso, necesitaré molestarlo algo más todavía porque necesito la cooperación de
cierto personal que sólo Ud. puede poner a mi disposición.” Argentina. Policía Federal. Cuaderno Copiador
No 1, Folio 11, carta escrita por Francisco de Veyga, “Buenos Aires, enero 28 de 1901. Al señor Jefe de
Policía de la Capital, Dr. D. Francisco I. Beazley.”
55
fact, this report on the people observed at the Deposito reflects the trend of a number of

crime statistics where sexuality was not an issue at all.89

Turn-of-the-century crime statistics did not classify maricas or any group of men

performing same-sex acts as a specific targeted group. The absence of references to

same-sex acts, however, could constitute an institutional attempt to conceal the existence

of a form of social control that was not mandated by the law and did not constitute any

official crime category.90 An effort to conceal the information about the policing of

sexuality in crime statistics, however, would be in open contradiction with the claims of

physicians and criminologists who bragged about the policing of same-sex sexuality in

essays published for a wide public audience. In addition, even internal police documents

unavailable to a public audience failed to mention anything about the policing of men

who had sex with other men.

The only police edicts under which same-sex sexuality could have been included

were those classified as “scandal” and “disorder.” Internal communications from the

sheriff to police stations explaining who qualified for these edicts, however, did not refer

to sex between men. The instructions refer to the control of female prostitutes, men who

insulted (upper class) women, making noise in the streets, and other perceived forms of

urban unrest. A total of 5,702 people were arrested in 1909 for provoking disorder or

engaging in scandal, a small number in contrast with the total of 39,363 who violated

89
Francisco de Veyga, “Estadísticas de la Sala de observación de alienados. Clínica de psiquiatría
y criminología aplicadas,” in Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II (1903): 42-5.
90
For crime statistics, see: M. A. Lancelotti, La Criminalidad en Buenos Aires. Al márgen de la
estadística, 1887-1912 (Buenos Aires: Librería Jurídica, 1914); Pedro Benitez, Delincuencia de adultos en
la Ciudad de Buenos Aires en la década 1906-1915; Ballvé A. El primer censo carcelario de la República
Argentina. Sus resultados generales. Estadísticas publicadas en la Revista penitenciaria; Oreste Ciattino, La
delincuencia en Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires, Talleres Gráficos J. Perrotti, 1930).
56
police edicts in the city that same year. Although some of the 5,702 offenders who were

caught under the category of scandal and disorder could have been men who looked

effeminate or were having sex with other men, it would be reasonable to assume that

these men were only a small proportion of the total. After all, the sheriff had not ordered

anybody to go after them. In contrast, 18,991 people had been caught by the police for

being drunk. 91

Available information about the actual police intervention in the life of men who

had sex with other men corroborates the absence of systematic persecution. In one of his

articles, Veyga described how the police broke into a party of maricas celebrating in a

brothel, imprisoning one of them who was charged with having caused a scandal.

Although these parties were not illegal, Veyga explained that under the state regulation of

prostitution, a party in a brothel was not considered private, but rather legally classified

as an event taking place in the public sphere. The public character of the event allowed

the police to intervene if they considered that there were signs of unrest or violations of

the regulations concerning female prostitution.92 In this case, a patron was convinced that

one of the maricas at the party was a female prostitute, and he became violent after

finding that the marica was a female impersonator. Although the scandal attracted the

attention of the police and they arrested the female impersonator, the reason why this

marica was imprisoned was not related to cross-dressing or performing sex with a man.

The police actually found out that this marica committed robbery and other non-sexual

91
República Argentina. Policía de la Capital. La Policía de la Capital Federal (Buenos Aires:
Imprenta y Encuadernación de la Policía, 1910), 178.
92
For an analysis of the history of legislation about prostitution, see Donna Guy, Sex and Danger.
57
93
crimes several times before. As with the case of J.A., the reason for imprisonment was

also robbery rather than same-sex sexuality.

There are innumerable references to other marica parties taking place in Buenos

Aires without police intervention.94 It is impossible to know exactly how frequently the

police disrupted these parties, but their recurrence shows that police persecution failed to

eliminate this fundamental form of marica sociability. In fact, although elite intellectuals

found these parties problematic, they did not think that legal action and police

intervention constituted the appropriate response to marica sociability. Eusebio Gómez,

one of the leading criminologists of the early twentieth century, claimed that state

intervention was not called for because “the repression of a vice is the job of moral law

rather than social law.”95 Despite the claims of criminologists, the police did sometimes

intervene in marica sociability using “scandal” as an excuse, but such intervention seems

to have been relatively mild and rare in comparison with the treatment of maricas in other

countries.96

93
For a list of Aurora’s crimes, see Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” 199.
94
For references to marica parties, see Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” 203,
207; Eusebio Gomez, La mala vida (Buenos Aires: Juan Roldán, 1908), p. 192; Francisco de Veyga, “El
sentido moral y la conducta en los invertidos sexuales,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias
Afines, Vol. 3 (1904): 27; Max-Bembo, La mala vida en Barcelona. Anormalidad, miseria y vicio
(Barcelona: Casa Editorial Maucci, 1912), 251. Although the book by Max-Bembo studied “sexual
inversion” in Spain, in the indicated page he refers to a Spaniard cross-dresser who had come to South
America and was famous for organizing big parties in Buenos Aires.
95
“[L]a represión del vicio corresponde a la ley moral y no a la ley social,” Eusebio Gomez, La
mala vida, 177.
96
Veyga stated that he had heard that it was possible for some ‘inverts’ in Europe – in the context
of another “ethnic and social composition” – to develop a viable and happy life as intellectuals, but he
thought that this claims about the happiness of ‘inverts’ was probably the result of biased diagnostics. In
Argentina, however, Veyga felt confident to claim that it was not possible for ‘inverts’ to led a successful
life: [Over here things work in a different manner; and except for a few cases – which could be cited as an
exception to the cited rule – the course of this mental process is the moral degradation first, misery soon
afterwards and death in the midst of abandonment in the end.] “Por aquí las cosas marchan de otro modo; y
58
In early-twentieth-century Mexico City, for instance, the police approached these

kinds of parties in a very different way. Robert McKee Irwin studied the case of forty-one

maricones involved in a party raided by police in Mexico City in 1901. The police sent

personnel dressed in civilian clothes to spy on the party in advance. After a few hours, the

event was raided, and although some of the patrons were members of the upper classes,

their personal power did not save them from punishment. Newspapers from the most

diverse ideological backgrounds referred to this for several days. The cross-dressers were

forced to clean the streets in their female garments as a form of public humiliation, and

they were later sent to serve in the military in Yucatan. Criminologists, journalists,

writers and other professionals wrote extensively about this party, to the extent that the

number “41” is still today associated with homosexuality in Mexico.97 In contrast to this

case, marica parties in Buenos Aires never achieved such notoriety, and they continued

as a regular form of entertainment despite police intervention. Police also intervened in

other areas of marica sociability in the streets of Buenos Aires, but as with parties, they

failed to put an end to street visibility.

In his 1919 book about the “sexual pathology” of young Argentine criminals,

medical examiner Carlos Arenaza referred to the interventions of a downtown police

station in the life of maricas. According to Arenaza, some policemen patrolled areas of

marica street life dressed in civil clothes, catching every night “a great number of

salvo en alguno que otro caso – que se podría citar como excepción a la regla sentada, - el curso de este
proceso mental es la degradación moral primero, la miseria en seguida, y la muerte en el abandono al fin.”
Veyga, “El sentido moral,” 28. It should be noted, however, that this criminologist believed that it was not
police persecution that drove ‘inverts’ to a “death in the midst of abandonment,” but on the contrary, he
believed that it was the result of the context of their role in the Buenos Aires underworld.
97
For a discussion of the party of the 41 maricones and its legacy, see Robert McKee Irwin (ed.),
The Famous 41.
59
pederasts.” However, despite this imprecise reference to a persecution of a supposedly

important magnitude, he recognized that the frequency of these police raids did not

decrease the number of maricas in those areas. The year before the book was published,

policemen suddenly found themselves unable to apprehend other maricas. They were not

in their usual places anymore, something that Arenaza could not understand. Eventually,

undercover policemen found out that a foreman from the north of the province of Buenos

Aires had hired a good number of maricas to work in a factory. Arenaza – who was

interested in finding out what had happened in order to provide an explanation for his

“research” – confirmed the story, saying that some prison inmates had told him the same

version. Apparently employment possibilities were more effective than police persecution

in driving maricas out of the city.98 In fact, throughout the book, none of the criminal

cases cited by Arenaza include individuals who had been sent to prison or the police

station for performing sexual acts of any kind or cross-dressing.

An examination of police records confirms that the persecution of same-sex

behavior was not very common. Police records are difficult to find in Argentina, but one

archive holds daybooks from the police station controlling the downtown area where

maricas gathered – police station number 1, the same one that Carlos Arenaza mentions

in his book when describing the policing of marica street life. The daybooks are not

indexed and they are poorly preserved. After sampling the police daybooks for four

months, I found no evidence of persecution of maricas. What I checked was a small

portion of the available material, but I examined records of different years throughout the

98
Carlos Arenaza, Menores Delincuentes, 101.
60
99
period. If there was a “homosexual panic” responsible for police persecution, there

should have been some information in the records I reviewed.100

Other sources suggest that the persecution of same-sex sexuality was

comparatively less important to authorities than other forms of social control.101 The

“gallery of thieves,” for instance, does not contain sufficient evidence to claim that the

police persecuted sex between men.102 The books contained headshots of 200 men. These

were circulated to the city’s police stations so that agents could recognize these men in

the streets. With the invention of photography, cameras were increasingly used to police

urban marginality. The gallery was a result of this endeavor, and serves as a sample of

what the police institution considered as the focus of social control. The men in the

gallery constituted a sample of the “bajo fondo social;” that is, the Buenos Aires marginal

underworld of petty criminals. As historian Lila Caimari argues, many of the men listed

99
I checked the police daily orders that the Buenos Aires sheriff [Argentina. Policía Federal. Libro
de Ordenes del Día] gave for the whole city during the following time periods: 1885 (the whole year),
1890 (January-May), 1895 (January-March) 1900 (January, August), 1905 (August), 1906 (February,
September), 1908 (August), 1910 (August). I also checked the records of the daily police activity:
Argentina. Policía Federal. Cuaderno Copiador de Notas, years 1900 (March-April), 1905 (September),
1910 (June).
100
Jorge Salessi, Médicos maleantes y maricas, has claimed that in turn-of-the-century Buenos
Aires, the elite intellectuals working for the state created a “homosexual panic.”
101
The vast majority of psychiatric and criminological texts published at the time, for instance, do
not refer to same-sex sexuality in their discussion of abnormality. See for instance José María Ramos
Mejía, La locura en la historia, contribución al estudio psico-patológico del fanatismo religioso y sus
persecuciones (Buenos Aires: Lajouane, 1895); Benjamin Solari, Degeneración y crímen. Estudio
antropológico y médico-legal (Buenos Aires: La Semana Médica, 1901); José Ingenieros, Simulación de la
locura ante la criminología, la psiquiatría y la medicina legal (Buenos Aires: La Semána Médica, 1903);
José Ingenieros, Histeria y Sugestión (Buenos Aires: Tor, 1904); José Ingenieros, La locura en Argentina
(Buenos Aires: Agencia General de Librería y Publicaciones, 1920); José Ingenieros. Criminología
(Buenos Aires: Talleres Gráficos de L. J. Rosso y Cía., 1919 [1907]).
102
Argentina. Policía de la Capital. Galería de ladrones de la capital. 1880 a 1887. Publicación
hecha durante la jefatura del Señor Coronel Don Aureliano Cuenca, por el Comisario de Pesquizas Don
José S. Alvarez. Tomo 1 (Buenos Aires: Imprenta del Departamento de Policía de la Capital, 1887).
61
in this gallery had not even committed a crime. Most were minor offenders, pickpockets

and children who might become robbers, who were sometimes simply friends of robbers.

In the vast majority of the cases, they were “quincenarios” – from the word “quince”

(fifteen).103 This word was police jargon to designate those who would spend fifteen days

in police stations. The entries below the headshots of these men included in the first two

volumes104 detailed past criminal activity and listed a few personal traits, but none

referenced sex between men with one exception: a man guilty of statutory rape.

This man listed for committing sodomy was twenty-one years old and used three

different names to disguise his identity. He had been in prison a total of nineteen times,

nine of which were for provoking “disorder.” In 1880, at the age of fourteen he became a

suspect in two robberies. He was released due to lack of evidence. In 1881, he was caught

for robbery and spent two and one-half months at a correctional institution for minors.

After his release, he was caught and found guilty of sodomy. This time, he spent one year

in the penitentiary. Soon after being freed, he was sent again in 1884 to the penitentiary

for robbery. His story of robbing and swindling was repeated several times, but each time

his imprisonment was brief. Only when he committed homicide did his incarceration

become more permanent.105

This case indicates the difficulty the state had in controlling criminals. The

criminal file of this man, with his successive commission of crimes, imprisonment and

prompt release was not an exception. The vast majority of the cases listed in the gallery

103
See Lila Caimari, Apenas un delincuente, 83.
104
The third volume was lost.
105
Ibid., 91.
62
of criminals showed a high turnover of inmates circulating inside and outside the

penitentiary. This points to a wider pattern of urban criminality that the state could not

control. In this context of general ineffectiveness when it came to confining criminals, the

state seemed even more incapable of imprisoning those men who had committed

statutory rape with boys.

In an urban context where the prostitution of boys had become significant (as I

will demonstrate in Chapter III), only one person (discussed above) among hundreds of

criminals was listed for committing sodomy. This man only was condemned to a one-

year prison sentence for his crime. Although another man was listed as a “pederast,” such

a word is used as a descriptive category. He was wanted by the police for committing

robbery and because of his associations with the French mafia in Buenos Aires, not for

performing sex with other men.106 Other reports of criminal activity beyond the gallery of

criminals suggest a similar pattern: although it is common to find cases of criminals who

engaged in same-sex sexuality, nobody was actually sent to jail for committing sexual

acts if no minors were involved.

From a total of seventy criminological and psychiatric cases referring to men who

had sex with other men and a set of ten individuals who identified themselves as maricas,

there is not a single example of confinement for performing same-sex acts with adults.107

It should be noted that even in the case of men who had committed statutory rape with

boys, most of them were not sentenced to prison. In the few cases where maricas were

imprisoned, they had committed other crimes. In Chapter III of this work, I explain why

106
See Galería de ladrones, volume II, 37.
107
See my analysis of these files in Chapter 3 and 4.
63
the most important crimes among men – whether they had engaged in sex with other men

or not – were theft and robbery, followed by different forms of urban unrest, especially

street fights. An analysis of the relationship between police and criminals shows that theft

and robbery among men – as well as prostitution among women – were systematic forms

of plebeian survival. The structural instability of the economy led men and women from

the lower strata to seek out illegal ways of finding material resources. In this context, the

police were overwhelmed, and the elite and the state were more concerned with these

types of crime than with sex between men.

The Argentine state focused its social control on preventing theft and robbery and

regulating female prostitution. Beginning in the 1900s, the police also began to take aim

at radical politics such as socialism and anarchism. In Argentina, these two political

ideologies did not exist in the mid nineteenth-century, but both began to gain importance

by the end of the 1890s.108 The foundation of the socialist newspaper La Vanguardia in

1894 and the anarchist La Protesta Humana in 1897 represented the coming of age of

these ideas as they became social movements organizing and extending workers’

strikes.109 Although the police cracked down on strikes, political activity was not

completely disrupted, and the state did not really take more repressive action until 1902.

That year, the stevedores of Buenos Aires shut down the harbor, initiating a strike that

108
Ricardo Falcón, Los orígenes del movimiento obrero, 1857-1899 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor
de América Latina, 1984).
109
For an analysis of the emergence and subsequent history of Socialism in Argentina, see: Hernan
Camarero and Carlos Miguel Herrera (eds.), El Partido Socialista en Argentina. Sociedad, Política e Ideas
a través de un Siglo (Buenos Aires: Prometeo, 2005); for an analysis of Anarchism, see Juan Suriano,
Anarquistas: cultura y política libertaria en Buenos Aires 1890-1910 (Buenos Aires: Manatial, 2001).
64
extended throughout the country until it became national. This led the Argentine state to

begin a systematic persecution of radical activists.110

The general strike of 1902 constituted a fundamental challenge for the Argentine

upper class. The nation’s export economy was centered on the Buenos Aires harbor, the

major site connecting the national economy with the international market. Against this

background, the radicalization of the stevedores who attempted to paralyze the harbor

threatened the interest of landowners, merchants and industrialists. The congress

responded to the general strike by passing the Ley de Residencia, an emergency law

approved unanimously by legislators, with almost no debate and in record time.111 The

Ley de Residencia gave the executive the power to expel all foreigners who were

perceived as a threat to the nation. In a country where the majority of workers were

foreigners because of mass immigration, this law provided an effective tool to crack

down on radical political activity. Another measure taken by the state as a response to the

strike of 1902 was the passage of mandatory military conscription at age eighteen.

Historians have argued that this mandatory conscription was an attempt to exert

discipline on workers and instill a sense of patriotism among younger generations.

The tension between radical workers and the state was perceived as both a class

conflict and a struggle between the elite and the workers over gender and sexual issues.

In addition to representing an attempt to achieve better labor conditions, strikes were

usually associated with plebeian masculinity. The newspaper La Protesta claimed that
110
For a study of the 1902 strike in relation to the history of state repression, see: Carl Solberg,
“Immigration and Urban Social Problems in Argentina and Chile, 1890-1914,” The Hispanic American
Historical Review, Vol. 49, No. 2 (May, 1969): 228.
111
For an analysis of the emergence of state repression against workers at this time, see Juan
Suriano, Trabajadores, anarquismo y Estado represor: de la Ley de residencia a la Ley de defensa social,
1902-1910 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de America Latina, 1988).
65
police repression of strikes deprived workers of their virility. Most articles written in

radical journals represented workers’ struggles as masculine self-assertion in opposition

to the effeminacy of employers,112 the state, and the Catholic Church.113 The association

of masculinity with radical politics was not only present in anarchist and socialist

journals; Chapter II will demonstrate that this association was also expressed in

inexpensive chapbooks meant for an audience from the lower strata. In these chapbooks,

plebeian resistance in the workplace was portrayed in terms of a man’s attitude towards

life.

Elite intellectuals denounced plebeian unrest as pathological. The discourse on

sexual pathology developed by criminologists, physicians and literary writers was a

112
The editors of the socialist newspaper La Montaña would talk about “las viriles energias de la
Revolucion.” [The virile energies onf the revolution] In: La Montaña, Buenos Aires, Año I, No. 5, 1 de
Junio de 1897; There were many similar examples in the left press of this age: See, Ch. Letorneau “El ideal
del Futuro,” La Montaña, Buenos Aires, Año I, no. 8, 15 de Julio de 1897, p. 1; José Barreto, “La juventud
de América y La Montaña”, La Montaña, Buenos Aires, Año I, no. 10, 15 de Agosto de 1897. La Protesta,
the major Anarchist Newspaper, identified the repressive closing of the “Workers Federation” in 1904 as a
way to “end with the virile movement of proletarian claims that is beginning to take place in this capital.” [
acabar con el movimiento viril de reivindicación proletaria iniciado e esta capital.] In La Protesta, Buenos
Aires, 12 mayo de 1904.
113
Socialists and Anarchists were all the time accusing the elite of raping children and performing
pederasty, see the following articles in La Vanguardia, the most influent socialist newspaper: “Un
presbistero rufian, No hay por qué asombrarse,” in La Vanguardia, Buenos Aires, Abril 14 de 1894, p. 3;
“Violación de una niña de 12 años por personas de la ‘Alta’ Sociedad, Padre e hijo delincuentes, Moralidad
Burguesa.” In La Vanguardia, Año VI, no. 2, Buenos Aires, Enero 14 de 1899, p. 2; Juan Doménech, “Un
crímen más, El caso del cura Perez,” in La Vanguardia, Enero 20 de 1900, Año VII, No. 3; and in the
following number, a week later: “El cura Perez,” in La Vanguardia, Año VII, No. 4, p. 3. La Montaña,
another famous Socialist paper that was supposed to have a more left leaning position, was full of
references to the “decadent” upper class. For instance, in an article named “Los reptiles burgueses,” José
Ingenieros accused Juarez Celman, the former president of Argentina until the Revolution of 1890, of
“suffering from vices against-nature” [padece de vicios contra-natura], see La Montaña, Buenos Aires, 15
de Abril de 1897, Año I, No 2; in the second part of his article, in the following issue of the same
newspaper, Ingenieros insisted that the “half a dozen urnings, homosexuals or inverts, or whatever name
you want to choose to avoid calling them pederasts, were all individuals from the decent society.” [la media
docena que he conocido de uranistas, homosexuales, invertidos, o como quiera llamárseles para no decirles
pederastas, eran todos individuos de la buena sociedad] stress was in the original; see José Ingenieros, “Los
reptiles burgueses, II,” in La Montaña, Buenos Aires, 1º de Junio de 1897, Año I, No. 5. In fact, a few
journals were almost exclusively devoted to this kind of denouncing against the priests and the elite; the
best example I found is the Anarchist newspaper: El Azote.
66
response to this rebellious plebeian masculinity rather than an attempt to persecute sexual

outcasts. Sexuality was pathologized not because the elite believed that men who had sex

with other men could undermine their rule, but rather because they were fighting against

a culture of labor unrest that was related to plebeian masculinity.114 In this context, the

evolutionary association of the racial “inferiority” of immigrants with a pathological

sexuality provided a scientific discourse to justify the state persecution of radical politics.

When radical social movements began to emerge, the state tolerated these

movements with a liberal approach. But after a general strike took place in 1902 the state

developed a very repressive approach towards workers. Between 1902 and 1916, the

police crackdown on radical activity continued, peaking in 1910 when they virtually

dismantled the anarchist movement.115 With the exception of the years between 1916 and

1919, this repressive tendency continued.116 The police developed the same repressive

114
The pathologization of the lunfardo by Veyga, Ramos Mejía and Ingenieros usually emphasized
labor and social unrest, and sexual pathology usually appeared as a corollary rather than as the focus of
their concern. See for instance José María Ramos Mejía, La locura en la historia, contribución al estudio
psico-patológico del fanatismo religioso y sus persecuciones; Benjamin Solari, Degeneración y crímen.
Estudio antropológico y médico-legal; José Ingenieros, Simulación de la locura ante la criminología, la
psiquiatría y la medicina legal; José Ingenieros. Criminología; Francisco de Veyga, “Los auxiliaries del
vicio y el delito,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, V. 3 (1904): 289-313.
115
On the celebration of the centenary of independence in 1910, when the elite organized massive
festivities visited by leaders of several countries, the Anarchists threatened the event. The police not only
arrested all those who attempted to disrupt the festivities, but they literally destroyed most of the locales,
imprisoned a significant portion of the activists and closed down La Protesta, a newspaper that had by then
developed a mass distribution throughout the country. See Juan Suriano, “El Estado argentino frente a los
trabajadores urbanos: política social y represion, 1880-1916.” Anuario, Anuario/Rosario, segunda época,
14, (1989/90): 109-136.
116
In 1916 Hipólito Yrigoyen was elected president under the 1912 Ley Saenz Peña – a law
granting the right to vote secretly to all adult Argentine men. Yrigoyen tried to negotiate whenever a strike
broke, and the government dealt with workers’ organizations successfully until 1919, when another general
strike took place. See: Enrique Garguin, “El desarrollo de la seguridad social en la Argentina: los seguros
sociales: del modelo ideal al possible,” in Argentina: trabajadores entre dos guerras ed. José Panettieri
(Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2000). Although Yrigoyen wanted to negotiate with the strikers, some groups
within the elite organized and contributed financially with the paramilitary forces known as the Liga
Patriótica Argentina [Argentine Patriotic League]. For a study of the emergence of the Liga Patriótica
Argentina, its importance within the history of the right wing in Argentina, and the influence it had on state
67
attitude towards most forms of social unrest, but their control of the city was not very

successful. Although some state officials, politicians, and elite intellectuals portrayed

deviant sexuality as a threat to the nation, in pragmatic terms, the state responded more

aggressively to immediate threats such as theft, robbery, female prostitution, labor unrest,

workers’ organizations and political radicalism. When compared to the repressive

response to these activities, the police approach towards non-normative sexual practices

and identities was mild. In contrast with the police and army intervention against strikes

and political demonstrations of the working class, the persecution of sexuality per se does

not seem to have been a concern of the state. Moreover, not only did repressive

institutions such as the police and the army not target sexual practices as their main

objective, neither did other state institutions, such as psychiatric asylums, confine people

on the basis of their sexual practices or identities.

Same-sex Sexuality and Psychiatric Institutions

The physicians who worked under the direction of Veyga at the Deposito from

1901 until 1911 examined their prisoners, “learning” about them and deciding their

destiny through the use of psychiatric science. Eventually, many prisoners were released

unless they had committed a felony, in which case they would be sent to the penitentiary.

Physicians distinguished between “normal” prisoners and those who were “mentally

repression, see Sandra McGee Deutsch, Counterrevolution in Argentina, 1900-1932: The Argentine
Patriotic League (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). When this paramilitary group attacked
workers throughout the city, the government followed suit until the strike famously known as “the tragic
week” was finally put down. Edgardo J. Bilsky, La Semana Trágica (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de
América Latina, 1984). A similar episode took place in 1921 in the southern region of Patagonia. For a
historical account of the 1921 strike in Patagonia, see Osvaldo Bayer, La Patagonia rebelde (Mexico, D.F.:
Nueva Imagen, 1980). From 1919 throughout the 1920s, the state pursued a repressive approach against
strikes and radical activism.
68
abnormal;” the latter were sent to the Hospicio de las Mercedes, a psychiatric asylum in

the southern part of Buenos Aires.117 Although in some of their writings Veyga and

Ingenieros classified “sexual inverts” as “abnormal” subjects who needed psychiatric

treatment, the files from the Hospicio suggest that those diagnosed as inverts were not

sent to the psychiatric asylum systematically as a targeted group.

The most frequent cause of psychiatric confinement was alcoholism, which

coincides with the prevalence of people caught under the edict of “drunkenness” in

contrast with the low numbers of those who were accused of violating other police edicts.

The psychiatric records did not refer to “sexual inverts,” “perverts,” or any other

psychiatric category used at the time as a way to classify men who had sex with other

men. In fact, there were no individuals whose pathology was described as sexual. The

prevailing psychiatric categories were “ideas of persecution” and “hallucinations,” which

were symptoms associated with the large numbers of individuals reported to be chronic

alcoholics.

My analysis here has been based on the information available for sixty individuals

whose psychiatric files span the years between 1895 to the 1920s.118 The files are ordered

chronologically beginning with the year the inmate first entered the Hospicio. Most

117
The same lot still continues to be a psychiatric asylum. The building of the Hospicio de las
Mercedes is today a center where psychiatric patients take art classes, work in art studios and make their
own expositions. The building also holds the asylum’s archive. A new larger building was built one block
away from the Hospicio de las Mercedes; today it is known as Hospital Psicoasistencial Interdisciplinario
José Tiburcio Borda, located next to the Constitución train station.
118
At the Archivo del Hospital Borda, a small group of professionals who have other positions in
the institution have worked hard and for free on a project to create this archive. I was allowed to enter the
archive by the Licenciada Dulce Suaya, a vocational psychologist who runs a program for secondary
students and simultaneously works as the unpaid director of the archive. She is currently looking for
funding to maintain the place and open it to the general public. See Argentina. Archivo del Hospital Borda,
Legajos Personales 1900-1910 1 A, 1 B and 1 C and Legajos Personales 1911-1920 2 A and 2 B.
69
inmates were sent there several times. Many of those sent to the asylum had difficulty

adapting to work-discipline, were alcoholics, and/or had difficulty “adapting to the family

environment.”119 It is difficult to calculate the number of inmates in each of these

categories because the files included different observations for each entry to the

Hospicio, and the labeling practiced by physicians was subject to variation. Although this

evidence is not conclusive, it coincides with the information reported in other sources.

The absence of references to any form of same-sex sexuality in these psychiatric files

cannot be understood as conclusive, of course, because only a small group of files were

preserved.

In a study of the inmates at the Hospicio conducted in 1881, Samuel Gache

reported that the majority of them were confined to this psychiatric asylum because of

alcoholism.120 According to this study, there were no men at the Hospicio who had been

confined due to same-sex sexuality. In fact, sexuality was only identified as the cause of

mental illness in the case of one inmate who had performed “onanism,” another who had

contracted syphilis, and four who had become crazy because of reasons related to “love.”

Even in these cases, sexuality only constituted an explanation of the “causes” of mental

illnesses rather than the grounds for confinement itself. This study of inmates in the

major psychiatric asylum in Buenos Aires does not mention sexuality in any other sense.

The importance of alcoholism, some forms of family ‘maladjustment’ and urban unrest

119
“...inadaptable al medio familiar,” see Argentina. Archivo del Hospital Borda. Carpeta 1900-
1910 1/A, case # 11.
120
According to this study, 294 men had been in the asylum in 1880, but the reasons for the mental
illness of 152 of those men were listed as unknown. Physicians at the asylum only listed the “cause” of the
mental illness of 142 inmates, 67 of which were believed to become crazy due to the consumption of
alcohol. The other significant categories of “causes” of mental illness were epilepsy (15 inmates),
economic problems (13) and being frightened (9 inmates). Samuel Gache, El estado mental de la sociedad
de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de obras de La Nación, 1881), 72.
70
rather than sexuality constituted a pattern that is present in police sources, the files of

inmates at the major psychiatric asylum, and published statistics on crime and mental

health.

Conclusion

The history of sexuality traditionally has focused on elite representations of

sexual deviance. From such descriptions, historians have usually emphasized the

persecution of sexual outcasts. The analysis of the relationship between the state and

same-sex sexuality in this chapter, however, suggests a more complex situation in turn-

of-the-century Buenos Aires. The depiction of sexual inversion as an obstacle to nation-

building did not directly influence the social control conducted by the state. In fact, elite

textual representations are not the best evidence to asses the actual procedures of the

police and other institutions of social control. On the contrary, the role of the police in

relation to same-sex sexuality is better understood in reference to the history of sexual

legislation. Because historians have developed an analysis shaped by the “repressive

hypothesis,” however, they have diminished the importance of legal history for

understanding the experiences of men who had sex with other men. A historiographical

approach that goes beyond the analysis of sexual repression should attend to the

worldwide influence of the liberalization of sex laws.

More important than considering liberal legislation in relation to sexuality is an

analysis of actual police, psychiatric and criminal records. The letter and the spirit of the

law cannot account for what happens when the law is applied. This is why, in the case of

French-influenced liberal laws regarding sexuality, lifting the ban on same-sex activities
71
did not necessarily imply a final end to the persecution of men who had sex with other

men. In the context of the social control of the lower urban strata of Buenos Aires, police

officials could manipulate the laws or even create their own edicts, harassing or arresting

female prostitutes and other sexual outcasts, drunkards, workers on strike, and any other

‘threats’ to the social order. Although the Buenos Aires police enacted edicts to control

urban unrest beginning in the 1880s, male same-sex sexuality was not especially targeted

for persecution. In the next chapter, I will argue that the reason why the state did not

prosecute sex between men was that the police were already overwhelmed with more

pressing criminal problems in the urban underworld of marginality and prostitution.


72

CHAPTER II

LUNFARDOS AND THE SEXUAL CULTURE OF THE POPULAR CLASSES

Introduction

Between 1880 and 1930, the popular classes developed a unique sexual culture in

Buenos Aires. Some of the characteristics of this sexual culture may look familiar, such

as representations of men as lustful creatures or the double moral standard for female and

male sexuality. While we may not share these views, we wouldn’t be surprised today to

find that this was what men and women from the popular classes believed in Buenos

Aires at that time. Two features, however, point to a sexual culture completely foreign

not only to an American audience, but to porteños/as today as well.

The weakness of family life among the popular classes is one surprising feature.

While scholars who study the history of gender in Latin America stress the importance of

the family and the relationship between masculinity and fatherhood, these elements were

far less significant in the plebeian culture of Buenos Aires during the period analyzed in

this study. Instead of family life, the most recurrent theme across the representations of

plebeian male sexuality is the attempt to have multiple sexual relationships with any

available sexual outlet. The world described by these sources gives so much relevance to

extra-marital sexual activities that it would seem that men barely shared their lives with

their wives. In fact, the evidence suggests that family life was unusual, while female

prostitution and sex between men proliferated.


73
Female prostitutes were not simply dealing with male clients with whom they

engaged in incidental sexual escapades, and sex between men was not necessarily an

exception. The weight of the evidence, however, is different for the two sexual activities.

In the case of female prostitution, there is no doubt that commercial sex extended

throughout the city. This is why so many foreigners believed that Buenos Aires was the

destination of an extended network of the white slave trade connecting Eastern Europe

and France to the River Plate region. But this was not merely a view from the outside;

plebeian oral culture joked about the magnitude of female prostitution. When the

possibility of a war with Chile emerged in 1898, for instance, a popular comic poem

proposed to send a battalion of prostitutes from La Boca neighborhood, one of the many

focal points in the city where brothels concentrated.1

While sex between men was not portrayed as prolific an activity as prostitution,

certain elements suggest that it was a widespread phenomenon. Men certainly preferred

to have sex with women, but a number of circumstances seemingly favored sexual

contact between men since female prostitutes were not always available, and men did not

always have money. In this context, men could overlook the gender of a sexual partner,

and while penetrating another man was not the preferable option, it was not necessarily

problematic from the point of view of plebeian men. Only the receptive role was

stigmatized as an activity threatening masculinity. Therefore, same-sex sexuality gained

popularity among plebeian men.

A historical analysis of the sexual culture of the popular classes requires a specific

methodology to overcome the naturalization of sexual and gender identities and practices.

1
See “El batallón de putas,” in Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 102, poem 254 (1).
74
This naturalization is based on the assumption that sexuality is always an independent

sphere that logically precedes society. For example, the tendency is to project categories

like homosexuality and heterosexuality from our present time on to the past. If these

categories are used to describe sexuality in the past, the implicit assumption is that they

are universal, rather than constituted in specific social contexts. The only element that

seems to change in this paradigm is society’s approach to homosexuality and

heterosexuality. At some point in time, homosexuality might be outlawed and that might

change later, but the change never seems to affect the very division between homosexual

and heterosexual people. From this point of view, homosexuality and heterosexuality as

categories precede the formation of society, which only comes to affect them once they

are fully constituted.2 Analyzing sources under these premises would imply plotting all

references to sex between men so that they represent the history of a distinct group of

people with an inherent sexual desire for same-sex partners. The idea that the gender of

the partner may not have been so relevant in other cultures or periods of history is

sometimes ignored.

But the universalization of homosexuals as a minority group is not the only way

of naturalizing sexuality. Heterosexuality may also fall into an anachronistic narrative if

it is considered a universal feature. Another way of projecting the present category of

heterosexuality into the past is to assume that sexuality happened almost exclusively

within the boundaries of marriage or other more or less stable bonds between men and

women. In this view, female prostitution appears as an exception; it takes place in the

2
Judith Butler argues that this treatment of sexuality as a pre-social sphere is part of the legacy of a
contractualist approach. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New
York: Routledge, 1990).
75
margins and only occasionally. As a result of this approach, the existence of a society

where female prostitution is widely visible and marital sex is not so frequent would be

ruled out as impossibility, even if there are many cases where this seems to have

happened.3

Contrary to this tradition, my reading of the sources focuses on identifying the

differences between past and present views of sexuality rather than assuming similarities.

Although this is the usual task that historians and other social scientists use in all their

endeavors, when scholars of Latin America deal with sexuality, they do not always

follow this approach. Whenever I found an indication of cultural difference in the

sources, I considered that element a thread to follow. Using these threads, I mapped a

new world that was not familiar anymore. Taken in isolation, the sources I use cannot

prove my point, but when they are presented together, they offer another picture. Once

plotted in a narrative that focuses on exploring cultural differences over time, the sources

suggest a portrait of Buenos Aires where prostitution and same-sex sexuality are no

longer marginal. In this portrait, the difference between homosexuality and

heterosexuality makes no sense, and the idea that some sexual activities were

pathological and others were normal also loses meaning. Instead of following the

classification of sexual acts and identities in the compartments we have for them today, I

3
For example, in New York from mid- to late nineteenth century according to the study of
Timothy Gilfoyle, City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920
(New York: Norton & Company, 1992). There are similar examples in other parts of the world over
roughly the same period. See for instance Louise White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial
Nairobi (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990). Gilfoyle reviewed the literature on prostitution
in global cities that were important economic nodes in the nineteenth and twenty century arguing that urban
migration and gender imbalance led to a “huge male proletariat in a state of sexual privation.” These men
created an important demand for prostitution and were unable or unwilling to marry, a pattern I observe in
Buenos Aires. See Timothy Gilfoyle, “Prostitutes in History: From Parables of Pornography to Metaphors
of Modernity,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 104, No. 1 (Feb., 1999): 131.
76
have explored the classifications used by the popular classes in Buenos Aires between

1880 and 1930.

My first step into the exploration of this urban world presents male sexuality

throughout the city in thick strokes of the brush, as a visitor would have found it at first

sight. In fact, I use the portraits left by some foreign writers and journalists who visited

Buenos Aires at the time. Through the accounts left by locals and foreigners, the reader

will find a city flooded with men in search of sexual adventures, both with female

prostitutes and other men. After presenting this bird’s eye view of male sexuality, I

analyze the social and cultural conditions that led to such a landscape. These conditions

are manifold, and only an analysis that considers their interrelation can illuminate the

world of plebeian sexual culture in Buenos Aires during this period so that its major

characteristics come to the surface.

One of the recurrent elements of male sexuality was the constant search for sexual

outlets in a city where they were scarce. This was the result of both demography and

culture. In terms of the urban demography, the trans-Atlantic migratory wave brought a

disproportionate number of men to Buenos Aires, which led to a gender imbalance in the

local population. But the disproportion between men seeking to have sex and the scarcity

of women cannot be reduced to a demographic explanation. Plebeian culture played a

fundamental role in the daily segregation of men and women. Families tried to employ

women at home, and men usually worked outside the home. Leisure time was also gender

segregated—men spent time in the streets, bars and parks of Buenos Aires, while women

remained at home. The combination of demography and culture created a situation where

men could not easily find female sexual outlets. The demand for sexual outlets fostered
77
both female prostitution and sex between men. However, plebeian culture did not only

shape sexuality by making women unavailable. Other circumstances also contributed to

the emergence of a type of male sexuality where plebeian men were encouraged to seek

multiple sexual outlets.

Enjoying their time in gender segregated spaces of sociability, men created a face-

to-face culture of competition for sexual deeds where male identity itself was

substantiated through one’s capacity to have as much sex as possible. Plebeian men’s

understanding of their own self-worth was grounded in their capacity to develop a

plentiful sexual life. On the contrary, female sexuality was understood as fragile and

subjected to erosion. The more sex a woman had, the more she would lose respect in the

eyes of others, especially in the eyes of men. The difference between male and female

sexuality becomes evident in the representation of the genitals. While male genitals

became better with sexual practice, female genitals deteriorated. This contrast between

male and female sexuality was intertwined with the sex imbalance in the urban

population and gender segregation. These different elements created a context where men

experienced peer pressure to penetrate others while women were scarce, kept away from

men, and unwilling to have frequent sex.

Against this backdrop, plebeian men engaged in activities that their own culture

did not consider appropriate. These activities were facilitated by a culture where

normativity was weakened. Plebeian men and women lived in a world that was not

always under their control. The socio-cultural circumstances they inhabited posed many

obstacles for putting their moral notions into practice. In addition, geographical mobility

allowed many people to do the “wrong” thing because their families, friends and
78
acquaintances were not there to judge them. Other factors, such as engaging in crime,

also contributed to the ambivalence that plebeian men developed towards their own moral

standards. The consequence of all these factors was the constitution of the sexual culture

described in this chapter.

A Flood of Men Looking for Sex

One of the more surprising features of Buenos Aires for turn-of-the-century

observers was the disproportionate number of men wandering throughout the city’s

public spaces in search of sexual adventures. Tomas Turner, an Englishman who lived in

the city between 1885 and 1890, recalled that at night the streets of Buenos Aires were

“crowded to suffocation.” Walking through the downtown area “any fine evening,”

explained the visitor, “you will see groups of young men, and old at every street corner,

in every doorway, lining the walls, blocking the path, obstructing the view; laughing,

joking and compadreando to the top of their bent.” Spending their time in the midst of a

male crowd, men encouraged each other to behave in ways they understood as proper to

their gender identity, as the verb “compadrear” reveals. This slang word expressed a

man’s ability to display actions understood as virile, with special reference to a male

competition to seduce women. Turner noted that the “highest ambition” of these men

who were harassing passing women all the time was “to outshine each other in these

nocturnal promenades.” 4 Two decades later, French journalist Albert Londres provided a

4
Thomas A. Turner, Argentina and the Argentines. Notes and Impressions of a Five Years’
Sojourn in the Argentine Republic, 1885-1890 (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892); 41-2.
79
similar description of the city. In his book The Road to Buenos Aires (a popular book

published in different parts of the world),5 Londres described the capital of Argentina:

Women were at home with their husbands, fathers or mothers. All those men
wandered [throughout the city] without women, they drank without women, they
ate without women. Virile men flooded the city.”6

These men, argued Londres, were in constant search for female sexual companionship,

creating a demand that allowed female prostitution to flourish. By the early twentieth

century, Buenos Aires had achieved international fame as the Mecca of the trans-Atlantic

white slave trade, and it was that image that brought Londres to Argentina to write a book

on the topic. Although this representation of Buenos Aires was certainly exaggerated in

some aspects,7 the disproportionate numbers of men searching for sexual adventures was

a recurrent feature of urban life in Buenos Aires that innumerable sources confirm.

5
In addition to the editions in Buenos Aires, the book was published in Paris, London, New York,
Berlin, Santiago and Madrid, Warsaw and Stockholm. In some of these cities there were numerous editions
throughout the years. Albert Londres, The Road to Buenos Ayres (London: Constable & Co., 1928, 1930,
1933, 1934, and 1935); Albert Londres, Le chemin de Buenos Aires: la traite des blanches (Paris: A.
Michel, 1927 and 1928); Albert Londres, El camino de Buenos Aires: la trata de blancas (Santiago de
Chile, Ediciones Ercilla, 1936); Albert Londres, Der veg Keyn Buenos Ayres: di soydes fun froyenhandl
(Varshe [Warsaw]: A. Shklyar, 1928) [Yiddish]; Albert Londres, Der Weg nach Buenos Aires: die
Geheimnisse des Mädchenhandels (Berlin: Uhlmann, 1928); Albert Londres, The Road to Buenos Ayres
(New York: H. Liveright, 1928); Albert Londres, El camino de Buenos Aires: la trata de blancas (Madrid:
Mercurio, 1927); Albert Londres, Vägen till Buenos Aires: vita slavhandeln (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1928).

6
“…las mujeres, estaban en casa de su marido, o de su papa o mamá. Todos aquellos hombres
andaban sin mujer, bebían sin mujer, comían sin mujer. Los machos inundaban la ciudad.” Albert Londres,
El camino a Buenos Aires: La trata de blancas (Buenos Aires: Aga-Taura, 1967 [1927]), p. 32. The author
repeats this impression of Buenos Aires as a city characterized by a visibly male crowd in other parts of his
book, see, pp. 66 and 85.
7
Donna Guy claims that the representations of Buenos Aires as the Mecca of a trans-Atlantic slave
trade was a distorted representation; for an analysis of this topic, see her first chapter, “On the Road to
Buenos Aires in Donna Guy, Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family and Nation in
Argentina (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991). Commenting on this, Timothy Gilfoyle says:
“Guy remains ambiguous by arguing that the frequency of white slavery ‘was highly exaggerated,’ while
organizing much of her narrative around those very sources.” Comparing Guy’s interpretation with the
historiography on the white slave trade, Gilfoyle explains that historians are divided on this issue. While
some argue that it was a media-generated hysteria, there are also those who “acknowledge the hyperbole of
many reformers but conclude that sexual slavery was a real and ‘inescapable fact,’” see Timothy Gilfoyle,
80
According to some contemporaries, the men who flooded the city not only sought

sex with women (especially with female prostitutes), but they were also willing to have

sex with men. In Veyga’s 1910 portrayal of men he called “lunfardos,” the physician

averred that

[The] vast majority of these subjects do not reach the exercise of these [different-
sex] functions until late in life. Love among them is always initiated through
homosexuality, and later, when they have reached the age of maturity, they
search for the normal approach. . . . Women represent a source of income and
shelter above everything else.8

Do these words mean that Veyga believed that sex between men was very popular in

early twentieth-century Buenos Aires? According to his account, among young lunfardos

same-sex sexuality was more frequent than sex between men and women. It should be

noted that in turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, a large portion of the population had not

“reached the age of maturity.” Individuals younger than 16 were approximately a quarter

of the city’s population throughout the period (see Chapter III for a discussion of this

topic). But Veyga’s statement also implied that sex between men continued to be

important among adult men. Rather than experiencing a sexual attraction for women,

lunfardos seemed to be interested in exploiting them as pimps, which is why women

constituted a “source of income.” Implicitly, Veyga was arguing that when it came to

actually enjoying sexuality, adult lunfardos might still prefer to have sex with men.

“Prostitutes in History: From Parables of Pornography to Metaphors of Modernity,” The American


Historical Review, Vol. 104, No. 1 (Feb., 1999): 124. According to Alain Corbin, “until 1914 the largest
market [within international white slavery] in women remained Buenos Aires and Montevideo.” Alain
Corbin, Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1990).
8
Francisco de Veyga, “Los Lunfardos: Comunicación hecha a la Sociedad de Psicología,” in
Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, 9 (1910): 517-18.
81
The meaning of Veyga’s words, however, are not as clear as they seem. Although

some turn-of-the-century uses of the word lunfardo referred to the totality of the popular

classes, in other contexts contemporaries used the term only to encompass an urban

underworld of petty burglars and pimps. When Veyga claimed that lunfardos were more

likely to engage in sex with men, he could have been referring to either a smaller group

of marginal people or the totality of plebeian men. A discussion of this issue requires a

more detailed analysis that I will conduct throughout this chapter.

But even if Veyga believed that only men from the urban underworld were more

likely to have sex with men, he was still referring to a significant number of people. In

addition to being the destination for a significant number of female prostitutes, turn-of-

the-century Buenos Aires was also a place where criminality was rampant, and the

boundaries between marginal men and workers were not sharp at all.

One way to interpret Veyga’s words on lunfardos is to dismiss them as mere

exaggeration. As I explained in the previous chapter, physicians like Veyga portrayed

lunfardos as sexually deviant because these professionals abhorred both same-sex

sexuality and the poor lower strata associated with foreign immigration. The extreme

ideological character of medical and criminological sources has led many scholars to

conclude that they can only be studied as elite discourse; from this point of view, these

sources would seem to be useless for social history. An unfortunate result of this

approach, however, is that the history of actual practices, representations and identities is

abandoned and replaced by underlying assumptions. Claiming that Veyga exaggerated

the extent of same-sex sexuality among the popular classes implies that in all societies
82
sex between men has been exclusively performed by a circumscribed group of men.9

There is no doubt that Veyga was exaggerating reality, but what is it that Veyga was

exaggerating? How widespread was male same-sex sexuality within the popular classes

and why? In this chapter, I intend to provide an answer to these questions through a

comparative analysis of elite and plebeian sources. This approach implies going beyond

discourse analysis to locate representations in the context of the social transformations

that affected turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires.

Why So Many Men in the Streets?

Understanding Buenos Aires as a place where a mass of men circulated

throughout the city looking for sexual adventures with women and with other men

requires an analysis of turn-of-the-century demography. Between 1857 and 1914, 3.3

million immigrants entered the country. Between the 1869 census and the 1914 census,

the total population of the country grew from 1,143,000 to 7,885,000 inhabitants.10

During that same time period, the economically active sector of the population grew from

923,000 to 3,360,000 people.11 Most of the country’s economic and demographic growth

was concentrated in Buenos Aires, to the extent that James Scobie argued that the Buenos

9
Otherwise, how can the possibility of widespread sex between men be discarded without even
researching plebeian sexual practices? Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argued that this kind of assumption is
characteristic of what she calls the “epistemology of the closet.” This epistemology takes for granted that
sex between men and women is universally majoritarian in all societies during all historical periods,
whereas same-sex sexuality has always been rare and performed by a small group. Eve Kosofsky
Sedgwick, Epistemology of the closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
10
Jorge Sabato, La clase dominante en la Argentina moderna: formación y características (Buenos
Aires: CISEA/Imago Mundi, 1991), 25.
11
Mirta Zaida Lobato, “Los trabajadores en la era del ‘progreso’” in Collección Nueva Historia
Argentina, ed. Mirta Zaida Lobato (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2000), 469.
83
Aires of 1910 would not have been recognizable to a porteño of the 1870s. Chart 2.1

illustrates the population growth of Buenos Aires according to the available national and

city censuses:

Chart 1. Buenos Aires population growth between 1855 and 1947

Demographic growth by itself, however, cannot explain why there were so many

men in the streets of Buenos Aires. Men were so visible throughout the urban landscape

of this city in part because of a gender demographic imbalance. If the death of many men

during the internal wars of the early and mid-nineteenth century resulted in a higher

proportion of women, the arrival of large numbers of male immigrants created a


84
significant disproportion of men that peaked between 1880 and 1895 and remained stable

until it finally began to drop after 1914. The following chart shows how the proportion of

men per one hundred women rose dramatically (especially among foreigners) from the

1860s onwards.12

Chart 2. Index of masculinity in Buenos Aires, 1869-1947

The large number of men in Buenos Aires, however, is still not sufficient to

explain why the streets of this city were full of them, whereas women were less visible.

The female/male ratio might have been disproportionate, but there were still many

12
This chart is based on the information provided in Marcela Nari, Políticas de Maternidad y
Maternalismo Político, Buenos Aires 1890-1940 (Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2004), 279.
85
women living in Buenos Aires. There seemed to be a flood of men in the streets because

of the gender-segregated world men and women inhabited, since females were confined

to their homes. Gender segregation in Buenos Aires between 1880 and 1930 structured

workplaces as well as social life.

The division of labor along gender lines created highly segregated workspaces. As

Jeremy Adelman explained, “[A]lmost all sectors were clearly the preserve of either male

workers or female workers.” Men usually worked in “primary production, construction,

casual labouring and transportation,” whereas women “were concentrated in the service

sector, cigar-making, sewing, and dress-making.” Men and women not only worked in

different sectors of the economy, they also had very different occupations. Females “were

concentrated in the more informal occupations offering employment which could be

household-based.” Activities such as “laundering, ironing, sewing and dressmaking […]

permitted flexibility of hours and locale, to allow women to perform the dual tasks of

earning wages and raising families.” On the contrary, “men were concentrated in

employment away from home, in artisanal and factory jobs, which often (except in the

case of casual labourers) implied higher levels of skill.”13 Due to this gender division of

labor, men and women rarely shared a common space during working hours.

The segregation of men and women in their workplaces, argues Adelman, shaped

politics as women “became the cornerstone of community solidarities” whereas “men

were the cornerstone of workplace organization.” In the same way that segregation

shaped politics, it also had an important impact on the daily life of the popular classes.

13
Jeremy Adelman, Essays in Argentina Labor History, 1870-1930 (Oxford: Macmillan and St.
Anthony’s College, 1992), 14-5.
86
Gender segregation was not only present in workplaces, but also in plebeian leisure and

family activities.

Plebeian husbands and wives normally spent most of the day apart from each

other.14 Daughters usually remained at home with their mothers, but boys usually became

part of the economically gainful population at a very young age.15 Thus, it was usual for

members of the family to be separated in their daily life. This is an aspect of plebeian

family life that is often missed because family bonds were very important. Studies of

migration have explained the importance of family bonds for the formation of the

migratory chains that brought so many people to Buenos Aires.16 Demographic analysis

shows that the proportion of married people was high.17 However, the importance of

family bonds should be considered separately from sociability in daily life.

Many literary representations portray a spatial division of sociability occupied by

‘honest’ women and children on one side, and adult men and female prostitutes on the

other. In his early twentieth-century descriptions of daily life in tenement houses,

anarchist writer Florencio Sánchez referred only to the physical presence of women and

14
Gayol, Sandra, Sociabilidad en Buenos Aires. Hombres, honor y cafés, 1862-1910 (Buenos
Aires: Ediciones del Signo, 2000), 52, 75-84 and 137-8.
15
Juan Suriano, “Niños trabajadores. Una aproximación al trabajo infantil en la industria porteña
de principios de siglo”, en Armus, D. (comp.): Mundo urbano y cultura popular. Estudios de Historia
Social argentina (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1990); and Eduardo Ciafardo, Los niños en la ciudad de
Buenos Aires, 1890-1910 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1992).
16
Many of the studies published in Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos focus on this
connection between family and migration. See also José Moya, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish
Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), and Samuel
Baily, Immigrants in the Land of Promise: Italians in Buenos Aires and New York City, 1870-1914 (Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999).
17
See Susana Torrado, Historia de la Familia en la Argentina Moderna, 1870-2000 (Buenos
Aires: Ediciones de la Flor, 2003).
87
children. This is the case of Canillita or Newspaper Boy, which was performed for the

first time in 1903 and became an icon of popular culture.18 The play depicts a poor family

where the father has abandoned the family and the mother has taken a new male lover,

who spends most of his time in the neighborhood bar, exploiting the newspaper boy and

his brother.19 Another of his plays about tenement houses tells the story of a woman

whose husband is in prison while she is about to be evicted by the owner. All the other

neighbors in the tenement house are women, too, and men only return to sleep at night.20

Sanchez was not the only writer showing tenement houses as a female space; this image

was also present in plays by other plebeian writers.21 Elite representations of plebeian

daily life also associate homes with women and public spaces with men.22

Such gender-segregated spatial division of plebeian sociability is not only present

in turn-of-the-century literature. Historians of urban housing such as Diego Armus and

18
This play was so influential that the term Canillita was adopted in Buenos Aires daily language
as a usual reference to newspaper boys. The literal meaning of canillita is little calf and it became a
synecdoche for newspaper boys because they did not wear long trousers and their little calves were
exposed. See Luis Contreras Villamayor, El lenguaje del Bajo Fondo (Buenos Aires: Schapire, 1969
[1915]), 86.
19
Florencio Sánchez, Canillita: sainete en un acto (Buenos Aires: Librería Teatral Apolo, 1915).
20
Florencio Sánchez, El desalojo (Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 1999). This
play was performed for the first time in 1906.
21
See, for instance, the work of Alberto Vacarezza, especially “Los escrushantes,” “Verbena
Criolla,” “Tu cuna fue un conventillo,” “Juanito de la Ribera,” and “El conventillo de la Paloma,” in
Alberto Vacarezza, Teatro (Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1993). The works are originally from the 1920s.
22
This is present in innumerable works of literature and scientific studies, see for instance: Julián
Martel, La Bolsa; Eugenio Cambacérès, En la sangre; Juán Antonio Argerich, Inocentes o culpables? For
scientific studies see the works of José Ingenieros, Victor Mercante and other professionals and
intellectuals considered in Chapter 1.
88
23
Jorge Hardoy claim that most men would only go to their homes to sleep at night. In her

work about male sociability in Buenos Aires, Sandra Gayol has claimed that this was the

“dominant pattern.”24 Single men also contributed to male crowding in the streets where

they gathered because their rooms were usually too small and occupied by multiple

tenants. In his urban portrait, Turner recalled that “in one little room hardly big enough to

accommodate four persons in comfort we have seen twenty-five or thirty Italians, or

‘Naps,’ herded together after the manner of Chinese labourers.” These little rooms were

only occupied as sleeping quarters at night, when “those creatures slept and exhaled their

garlic and bad vino, the rest of their time being passed in the streets, the fonda, or on the
25
quays.” (A plebeian chapbook written for an audience of married women in 1902

expressed a similar association between plebeian masculinity and street life. According to

“Statistics” published in this chapbook as a joke, out of every one hundred single men,

ninety of them were “piratas callejeros;” that is to say, pirates – in a metaphorical way –

who wandered the streets. For every one hundred married men, continued the poem,

ninety-five were “perdidos,” or bums).26 As Turner noted, in addition to life in the streets,

male presence was also important in the many bars of Buenos Aires. Male patrons would

23
See Diego Armus and Jorge Hardoy, “Conventillos, ranchos y casa propia en el mundo urbano
del novescientos,” in Mundo urbano y cultural popular. Estudios de historia social argentina, comp. Diego
Armus (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1990), 173.
24
“It seems that the dominant pattern was prolonged permanence [in bars], that is to say, having
dinner there, staying afterwards and wandering around between different bars to return home just as a
‘place to sleep.’” “La pauta dominante parece haber sido la permanencia prolongada [en los bares], es
decir, cenar allí, quedarse o rotar entre varios comercios para retornar a casa que era un simple ‘lugar para
dormir.’” Sandra Gayol, Sociabilidad en Buenos Aires, 142.
25
Thomas Turner, Argentina and the Argentines, 28.
26
Catecismo de las casadas (Buenos Aires: no editorial mentioned, 1902), 20
89
spend their leisure time in the bars scattered throughout the city developing networks to

find jobs and other economic opportunities.

Sandra Gayol found that the number of locales where plebeian men met

multiplied, mirroring population growth. In 1870, there were 523 bars; eight years later

the number had grown to 639, reaching a total of 1,097 by 1914.27 While there were

women in the bars of Buenos Aires, their number was limited unless they were female

prostitutes.28 Women generally felt uncomfortable walking in the downtown area where

bars proliferated and plebeian men would harass them.29 A 1906 comic poem published

in a plebeian chapbook portrayed the experience of “The young single woman” in the

streets of Buenos Aires:

When I go out of my house


by the streets on a troll
upon seeing my swinging hips
they all get out of time
I see myself compromised
tripping over staring men

27
Sandra Gayol, Sociabilidad en Buenos Aires, 35
28
Ibid., 48 and 69-71.
29
“No lady would dare walk out alone after dusk, and hardly in the daytime.” Thomas Turner,
Argentina and the Argentines, 42. Although “ladies” may have avoided these streets due to class and
gender prejudices, women from the popular classes did not spend much time in the streets in comparison
with men either, as I will show in the next chapter. A number of sources show the existence of constant
male harassment of women in the streets. The police issued edicts to stop this kind of harassment and in
fact there were even tango lyrics making fun of this police regulation. See the 1907 tango: “Cuidado con
los cincuenta!” in José Gobello, Letras de Tango (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor, 1997), 9. For another
reference to this tango, see Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veinte, 1966), 117-120.
There were also references to this police regulation of male harassment of women in plebeian chapbooks,
see Manuel Cientofante, El tango de los “50” (Buenos Aires: Casa Editora de Andrés Perez, 1907), 28. For
other references to men constant flirting with women in the streets, see the song “La reina de Sevilla,” in
Mercedes Alonso, Sus mejores cuplés (Buenos Aires: Edicion de la Tonadilla Popular, no date), no page
number. A newspaper article published in 1910, for instance, explains that it was usual to see crowds of
boys shouting sexually offensive things at women, “Tumultos callejeros y respeto a los transeuntes,” La
Prensa, January 18th 1910, quoted in Eduardo Ciafardo, Los niños en la ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1890-1910
(Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1992), 12.
90
who grope me front and back 30

Although the poem confirms the presence of women in the streets, it also shows

that urban public spaces were dominated by men. Gender segregation in the workplace,

social/family life and leisure time together with a disproportionate number of men in the

urban population created the phenomenon observed by Turner, Londres and other

contemporaries. The formation of relatively segregated male spaces of sociability shaped

male sexuality, encouraging sex with female prostitutes as well as with other men.

In bars, plebeian men played cards, ate lunch and dinner, had drinks, searched for

friendship and business contacts, and many eventually had sexual encounters with

women and men. The city bars played an important role as spaces for plebeian sexuality.

Many bars benefited from near-by brothels. Men who visited prostitutes would eat or

have drinks in the neighboring bars while socializing with other patrons, bragging about

their sexual adventures. The sexual stories that men told each other in the bars were

symbolically more relevant than the sexual act itself. In addition, there were other bars

where plebeian men could do more than just tell stories. These bars, known as “cafés de

camareras,” offered the sexual attraction of female waitresses who supplemented their

income as prostitutes.31 There was still another group of bars where hidden back doors

led to rooms rented by the hour for sex with female prostitutes as well as men.32

30
“La solterita” in Catecismo de las solteras, se recomienda a las niñas sean lindas o feas, con
novio o con ganas de tenerle. Publicado sin permiso de la autoridad eclesiática por un ex-seminarista
(Buenos Aires: Centro Teatral de Andrés Perez, 1906), p. 21. There was another edition of the same
chapbook without date of publication, Lehmann-Nitsche wrote “c.1900” with a pencil on that edition.
31
For plebeian representations in magazines, see the association of female waiters with prostitution
in Las Camareras y El Diablo Verde. Historia completa para Hombres solos con su Prólogo de dos
Rameras (Buenos Aires: Francisco Matera, 1910), especially the reference to prostitutes in bars in p. 9. For
a description of how female waiters suggested sexual services in exchange for money to the male patrons,
91
In addition to the high male-to-female population ratio and the gender segregated

sociability, plebeian culture developed a sharp opposition between the representation of

male sexual potency and female sexual restraint. There were fewer women and they were

not accessible; men were supposed to have sex with women while women were only

supposed to do this with their husbands. This was the socio-cultural basis for widespread

female prostitution and sex between men. But understanding this combination requires an

analysis of male and female sexuality.

Plebeian male sexuality

Unlike other historical forms of masculinity where family plays a fundamental

role and men are considered economic providers,33 in turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires,

plebeian masculinity was relatively independent from family sociability. In many cases

while plebeian fathers supported their families economically, they felt such support a

burden. Many plebeian men preferred to spend their income in bars and brothels, and it

see the poem “Las camareras” in Ajís Picante. Para hombres solamente (Buenos Aires: without editorial,
1904), 14. For a story about the way in which a naive female waiter is abused by a male patron who seeks
to have sex, see “Rosa la camarera, cuadro de malas costumbres” in Picardías y cuentos para hombres
solos y señoras de poca aprensión escritas por un tunante (Buenos Aires: without editorial, 1900), 27-32.
32
According to José Sebastián Tallón, “En algunos de los bares de la ribera, los más desorejados,
se podía ‘pasar adentro.’” [In some of the bars by the riverside, especially the more marginal ones, it was
possible to ‘go inside.’” José Sebastián Tallón, El Tango en su etapa de música prohibida, 54. The main
character in Florencio Sanchez’ famous 1904 play about newspaper boys who spend the night in a “cama
de piedra” [rock bed] at the back of a bar; see “Canillita” in: Florencio Sánchez, Teatro Completo (Buenos
Aires: Claridad, 1941).
33
According to a recent analysis of present masculinity: “With respect to employment, financially
supporting one’s family and work in general are without a doubt central defining features of masculinity for
many men and women in various parts of the Americas.” Matthew Guttmann, “Introduction: Discarding
Manly Dichotomies in Latin America,” in Changing Men and Masculinities in Latin America ed. Matthew
Guttmann (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003). In fact, in Buenos Aires, since the 1930s
on, masculinity became associated to the role of family economic provider. See Juan José Sebreli, Buenos
Aires, vida cotidiana y alienación, seguido de Buenos Aires, ciudad en crisis (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana,
2003).
92
34
was not unusual for them to exploit their own offspring. Fatherhood was not the favored

role among men from the popular classes; instead, adult male identity was shaped by the

face-to-face competition over masculinity that took place in gender-segregated spaces of

sociability. A plebeian man’s sense of self-worth was usually related to physical or

symbolic violence, as the following front page of a plebeian chapbook shows:

Figure 1: Jailaif, Buenos Aires por dentro... y por fuera


(Buenos Aires: J. Lecea, 1897).

This image meant for a plebeian audience represents men from the popular classes

displaying arms and threatening attitudes as a comic feature. The crowd of violent men

stands for Buenos Aires as a whole. The chapbook is tellingly titled, “Buenos Aires from

inside and out.”35 In the context of this violent masculine culture, men competed

34
See Juan Suriano, “Niños trabajadores,” and Eduardo Ciafardo, Los niños en la ciudad de
Buenos Aires.

35
Jailaif, Buenos Aires por dentro... y por fuera (Buenos Aires: J. Lecea, 1897). The name Jailaif
is not a real one, but a nickname; it means “high life.” The term is in English, but it is written altogether
and as it is pronounced in Spanish. Jailaif was a word that plebeian men used to refer to a comfortable life
of drinking and sexual pleasure with no commitments that in many cases would be maintained thanks to
robbery and other forms of participation in the urban underworld.
93
especially about their sexual prowess, a topic that is graphically represented in a

significant number of chapbooks:

Figure 2: Chapbook Images. This patchwork with images was made from several
chapbooks. The first two images on the upper left hand come from Manuel Cientofante,
Los afiladores afilando (Buenos Aires: no editorial, 1901), 15 and 20. The smallest picture
in the middle belongs to José Braña, El libro de los amantes: Colección de poesías (Buenos
Aires: Librería Americana, 1909). The drawing on the upper right was taken from Manuel
Cientofante, Las afiladoras (Buenos Aires: no editorial, 1902), p. 9. The lower left drawing was
published in Manuel Cientofante, Las Afiladoras Callejeras (Buenos Aires: Andres Perez, 1906),
front page. The lower middle picture is the front page of Cientofante, Los amores de un tarugo
(Buenos Aires: Francisco Matera, 1908); and the last one in the lower right corner is the front
page of another chapbook: No Author, Las Camareras (Buenos Aires: Francisco Matera, 1910).

In all of these images, men are trying to seduce women. As the accompanying

texts make clear, these men spent time and energy trying to convince women to have sex.

They may be talking to them, looking at them lasciviously, walking after them or

watching them from a distance, but the aim is always evident.


94
The profusion of images about men who chase women suggest that male gender

status was not taken for granted. In fact, it depended upon the repeated display of

masculine deeds in public spaces, as evident in Turner’s description at the beginning of

this chapter. Plebeian men would frequently refer to themselves as compadritos, a term

designating adult male power over women and children, especially in the realm of

sexuality. The display of masculinity characteristic of compadritos took the form of

physical violence, but it could also be manifested symbolically.36 Men and women who

were the victims of male sexual domination occasionally accepted it because they were

part of a vulnerable population. Vulnerability was not merely an expression of physical

weakness, but often the result of social conditions related to income or status, a topic I

will explore further in the next chapter.

The aggressive display of male sexuality was a major theme in popular music,

orally transmitted comedy and in plebeian chapbooks. This diverse array of primary

sources suggests that in face-to-face interactions, plebeian men mutually incited each

other, often making jokes regarding their own superior capacity to subject others to their

personal sexual desire. These speech acts and performances materialized in the pressure

to conform to a particular form of masculinity. Although plebeian men were themselves

36
There is considerable archival evidence with examples where men used physical force to
penetrate others; see also Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, su psicopatología sexual (Buenos Aires:
Jesus Menendez, 1919), 83, 110-11. In fact, medical examiners and policemen complained about the fact
that men in seclusion usually raped each other (ibid., 108-9). Although men isolated in prisons in other
historical and geographical contexts have been known to assault one another sexually, it is important to
understand that in many cases here the men had committed only minor offences and were only imprisoned
for very short periods of time. A similar argument could be made in the case of the military sources; here,
the testimony of witnesses, victims, and accused men in these trials also suggests a wider pattern of male
sexual violence. Men were even penetrated by others who were more powerful in the workplace (ibid., 79).
Finally, men sometimes consented to penetration in exchange for money or material resources (ibid., 16-17,
25-31).
95
the agents of these pressures, their representations of masculinity and male sexuality

nevertheless congealed into a web of cultural norms that constrained and compelled their

agency.

The observations of the German anthropologist Robert Lehman-Nitsche, who

lived in Argentina between 1900 and 1930, provide an opportunity to explore the ways

plebeian men perceived sexual desire as defined by the imposition of oneself on others.

Lehman-Nitsche compiled several hundred pages of sexual plebeian expressions orally

transmitted around the 1900s. This rich archive of plebeian oral culture includes comic

poems, jokes, riddles, stories and sayings where male desire for women was represented

as an automatic response activated spontaneously at any moment.

The repeated pressure to display male sexuality and to impose it on others is

illuminated by an analysis of plebeian notions about the penis. Lehman-Nitsche collected

a large number of oral and written comic poems where the penis constitutes the central

character. As one poem claims, a penis could become erect at the mere sight of a woman:

“Each time I see you/ It gets excited/ A stick I have/ Between my balls.”37 Expressions

like this were articulated to the point of exhaustion. There were different versions of this

poem that made the same point.38 The penis was frequently represented as a musical

instrument that both reacted to the slightest touch and made widely celebrated sounds. In

a popular magazine, for instance, a man used the metaphor of a “clarinet” in order to refer

37
“Cada vez que te veo/ Se me alborota/ Un palito que tengo/ Entre las pelotas.” Lehmann-
Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 33 (poem 100).
38
Ibid., 32 (poems 98 and 99).
96
39
to the penis as a “great instrument” since it “moves” when somebody touches it. In

another story, a group of musicians who traveled around Europe came back to Buenos

Aires and encouraged young girls to “touch” their “instruments.”40 A very popular poem,

repeated to this very day, has a man named “Bartolo” playing a “flute” with only one

hole. In the early twentieth-century version of this piece, the man’s mother rejoices at the

music, proclaiming: “Play the flute Bartolo!”41 These poems suggest that male sexuality

had the potential to burst into song at any moment (at least at the level of comic

representation).

In the comic oral tradition of Buenos Aires, male sexual performance was

uncontrollable and unaccountable and men proudly displayed their genitals. Comic

poems repeatedly described men exhibiting their erections to mostly female observers.

Such exhibitions were widely understood as humorous. The metaphor of the

“instrument,” in which young girls and mothers celebrated the display of erections, was

not the only way in which penises were publicly represented. Male genitalia was

represented in a most diverse manner: a priest tells a girl that his penis has grown since

the last time she touched it;42 a man rubs his penis in a public theater;43 a “sausage”44 is

39
Los Murguistas (Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Criolla No. 2, n.d.), 2.
40
Ibid., 2.
41
Lehman Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 24 (poem 65).
42
Ibid., 25 (poem 71).
43
Ibid., 41 (poem 131).
44
Carlos Romeu, “Dialogo Murguista,” in Puro Campo ( Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Criolla No. 1,
1925).
97
45
exhibited in the local market and other places; an “old man” shows his penis; a man

masturbates in the tramway in front of a girl;46 and Italians compulsively masturbate

when Garibaldi blows the cornet.47 The representations of public genital exposure were

repeated ad nauseam.48 Although these examples involve comic representations rather

than real events, it is nevertheless important to realize that verbalizing these acts--acts

that assertively exhibited the penis--contributed to the formation of a sexual culture that

shaped plebeian male sexuality.

Comic representations of men who were seeking to penetrate others all the time

were present not only in the plebeian oral tradition and in inexpensive chapbooks but also

in consumer products related to popular music. The titles of some tango lyrics are quite

telling in this sense. The tango “La clavada” is perhaps the most evident, as the slang

term “clavada” means not only being “stuck” in a situation but is also a direct reference

to penetration. Many others titles expressed with varying metaphors the same idea: men

penetrating some sexual outlet in which the gender is usually not even mentioned.

Among the many metaphors is “The Iron Blow” [El fierrazo], “Shake My Venetian

Blind” [Sacudime la persiana], “Hang from the Airplane” [Colgate del aeroplano], “What

is it that it stumbles against, that it does not go in?” [Con que tropieza que no dentra],

“Seven Inches” [Siete pultadas] or “The Handsaw” [El serruccho]. Another title “Que

45
See Lehman Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 155 (riddles 24, 26, and 27).
46
Los Murguistas, 2.
47
Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 42 (poem 140).
48
Ibid., 155-57 (riddles 23b to 31).
98
polvo con tanto viento,” which means “What a dust, with so much wind” also has the

same connotation as the term “polvo,” representing the sexual act for lunfardos.

In some cases, the double meaning that created the comic effect was expressed

through the relation between title and image. This is the case of “Va Celina en la punta,”

where the illustration shows a mare named Celina that was winning at the horse races.

The title means “Celina is winning” but in the language of lunfardos, it also means

“Vaseline at the tip.” There is a tango from Teres, titled "Tocame la Carolina." The

graphic shows a couple sitting on a sofa by a piano, and on the music stand, a piece with

the title "La Carolina." The man is telling the lady something. We do not know if he is

asking the lady to play the music "La Carolina" or if the lady's name is Carolina.

Castilian "Tocar" has two meanings: to play an instrument or music and to touch. The

man could be saying: please play "La Carolina" or “Carolina please touch it”. ( 'It' being

his male organ). The front page of another inexpensive tango score reproduces a similar

concept. The title of the tango, “Pump the Primus,” [Metele bomba al Primus] refers to an

old heater used at the time, which required being pumped to begin working. The graphic

makes the implicit sexual comedy apparent. The same idea is present in “Push and It Will

Open” [Empuja que se va a abrir], although in this case the overt sexual meaning of the

title is comically contradicted by the image where the woman wants the man to open the

store’s door.49

49
For an analysis of the sexual meaning of tango lyrics, see: Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña
(Buenos Aires: Siglo Veinte, 1966), 99-127.
99

Figure 3: Front Page of Tango scores booklets, c. 1900.

The stories and drawings of plebeian chapbooks referred to comic images of men

trying to penetrate women even more explicitly than in the case of tangos.

Figure 4: Jack Frison, Reliquias dudosas (Barracas al Sud: La Voz del Comercio,
1899), front page.

This illustration was the cover for a comic story about a monkey who imitated his master,

creating embarassing situations. In this story, the monkey repeatedly observed his master,

the local pharmacist, giving injections to patients. Imitating his master, the monkey began

sticking various objects into women’s rears. By creating the metaphor of an animal

mimicking human behavior, the plebeian writer (writing under the pseudonym of Jack
100
Frison) reproduced the recurring male plebeian attempt to emulate each other’s sexual

promenades. Peer pressure to emulate the sexual deeds of other men began early in life

for men from the popular classes.

From a young age, boys (especially those employed in the informal economy)

experienced peer pressure to be sexually active in their daily lives. Plebeian boys engaged

in masturbation tournaments where the first ejaculation was awarded with a cigarette, an

orange, money, or some other object of value. Some boys claimed that they were not

even interested in their own sexual response but had been pressured to participate in these

competitions.50 No matter what their sexual desires, these boys were constantly

encouraged to show an interest in ejaculating. Later in life, during early adolescence,

these boys would abandon masturbation tournaments, shifting the object of competition.

The ability to penetrate women – or men – would become the new measure of their

masculinity.51 They were expected to be sexually experienced by the end of adolescence,

and the pressure to penetrate others in order to assert their masculinity continued

throughout their lives. Plebeian oral tradition represented men as obsessively seeking to

penetrate others.52

50
For a description of the masturbation tournaments among street boys see Carlos Arenaza,
Menores delincuentes, 22, 81. For descriptions of boys masturbating in the streets or other common spaces
see ibid., 17, 32, 39-40. For examples of boys masturbating competitively without exhibiting any sexual
interest see ibid., 16, 18, 35-36.
51
In addition to the study by Carlos Arenaza, see José Ingenieros, “Los niños vendedores de
diarios y la delincuencia precoz,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines 7 (1908): 329-
48.
52
There were many oral poems collected by Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, that described
sudden male attempts to penetrate women: 26 (poem 73), 28 (poem 78), 29 (poems 83a and 84), 33 (poems
103 and 104a[1]), 34 (poem 108), 36 (poem 115), 193 (comparison poems 105, 106a and 106b), 194
(comparison poem 110), 195 (comparison poems 116, 117). There were also representations of male
animals doing the same, as in the case of a male elephant who seeks to penetrate an ant “With patience/
101
Oral culture frequently represented marriage as a mere sexual bond rather than as

a compassionate union or the foundation of a family.53 In one comic poem, a man

searches for a fiancé on Saturday, marries on Sunday, sleeps with the woman on Monday,

and penetrates her on Tuesday. In another poem, a man is accused by his mother-in-law

of failing to perform the role of provider; the man’s riposte is that having sex with her

daughter is indeed a great deal of work.54 A tango lyric expresses the same idea:

- Mr. sheriff, / give me another husband/ because the one I have / does not sleep
with me.
- Mr sheriff, / this woman is lying / when I lie with her / she does not feel me.55

Considering the fact that everyday spaces of sociability were gender-segregated and that

married couples often only met at night, such representations suggest that sexual

activities were one of the few ways married couples related to each other.

These representations make clear that male sexuality was not limited to the

boundaries of marriage.56 In one plebeian poem, for instance, a man boasts of his sexual

And with saliva [Con paciencia/ Y con saliva]” (12 [poem 6]). Other cases involve a male and a female
toad (16 [poem 27]), as well as a rooster and a hen (17 [poem 30]).
53
With regard to poems that represented marriage as a mere sexual bond, see ibid., 25 (poem 72),
31 (poem 94), 129 (sayings 25, 26 and 27). See also Jack Frison, El agujero del Diablo (Buenos Aires: La
Voz del Comercio, 1900), p. 5.
54
Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 42 (poem 138).
55
- Señor comisario,/ déme otro marido/ porque éste que tengo/ no duerme conmigo./ - Señor
comisario, / esta mujer miente; / cuando yo me acuesto/ ella no me siente.” Reproduced in Tulio Carella,
Picarezca Porteña, 108. Hector and Luis Bates also reproduced this lyrics stating that it was a famous
tango when this music style began in the late nineteenth century, see Héctor Bates and Luis Bates, La
historia del tango y sus autores. Primer Tomo (Buenos Aires: Talleres Gráficos de la Compañía General
Fabril Financiera, 1936), 23.
56
Marriage was associated with fighting and conflicts, see La risa: versos de actualidad (Buenos
Aires, 1902), 3-10. Although many men were married, they usually appear in the stories as having an
independent life rather than participating in family sociability. In the previous chapbook, for instance,
102
accomplishments. The poem is entitled “The Great Fucker,” and it describes a man’s

experiences penetrating women as a competition between men: “Without respecting

gentlemen/ who pretend to be good lovers/ I have been the one who fucked the most/ of

all the fuckers/ I do not think there will be better ones/ Nor will be found/ Another who

fucks/ As much as I have fucked.”57 The rest of this long poem constitutes an attempt to

substantiate the man’s claim concerning the number of women he penetrated and

provides a description of the different sexual positions he enjoyed with them. The man

claims to have had sex with a black servant, an old woman, a Basque woman, and a

gringa.58 As a result of these sexual activities, the man contracted syphilis. He was

nevertheless proud of the scars left by the surgical procedures performed by physicians

who tried to cure him. He believed that these scars provided proof of his myriad

conquests and vast sexual prowess.

Plebeian Female sexuality

In contrast with praising male sexual virility, plebeian culture represented female

sexuality as bounded by virginity and marriage. Although the goal of this study is not the

“love” or “amor” is described as foolish, idem, p. 10. Marriage is also usually described as a burden for
men, as in Las niñas Argentinas (Buenos Aires, 1910), 11-3. Marriage could also be an opportunity for a
man to become a pimp, as in “La serenata canfinflera,” in Pampeano, Las aves nocheras (Buenos Aires,
1901), 23. In some stories men used marriage to rob women, see for instance El tuerto Quebrachón, Las
milongas de Mandinga (Buenos Aires: Monteverde, 1899), 7 and Pampeano, Los misterios de Palermo
(Buenos Aires, 1902), 17-21.
57
“Sin respetar a señores/ Que hacen gala del amor/ He sido el más cogedor/ De todos los
cogedores/ No creo no habrá mejores/ Ni tampoco existirá/ Otro que cojerá/ Tanto como yo he cogido”
(Ibid., 75-76 [poem 240(1)]).
58
Ibid., 76-78 (poem 240[2-8]). The term gringa did not refer to an American woman in Buenos
Aires at the time. Any white European female immigrant to the city could be referred to by that term. It was
especially used to refer to Italian women.
103
exploration of female sexuality per se, an analysis of this topic is fundamental to

understand why men sought to have sex while women were bounded by sexual restraint.

If a woman had sex outside of marriage, in the eyes of plebeian men and women, she was

a prostitute. As in other parts of Latin America and the Mediterranean, women in Buenos

Aires were forced to remain sexually pure until they married, and once married were

supposed to limit their sexual life to their husbands. As Donna Guy pointed out, in real

life the distinction between “honest” women on the one hand, and “prostitutes” on the

other, did not respect clear boundaries. Women sometimes would engage in prostitution

temporarily, disguising their activities. Low female wages and male sexual demand

encouraged them to do so.

Despite this fact, plebeian culture represented the division between the two

‘types’ of women as self-evident. This does not mean that it actually operated that way,

but there is no doubt that this classification of women encouraged most of them to restrict

their sexual activity in direct opposition to the encouragement of male sexuality. The

intimate relationship between female sexual restraint and prostitution was sometimes

noticed by radical working-class groups.59 There is no doubt that women resisted the

imposition of sexual restrictions on them.60 Such resistance, however, is beyond the

59
In fact, many anarchists saw marriage as a form of prostitution. In their view the wife was
supposed to provide sexual services in exchange for the husband’s economic support. The only difference
between marriage and prostitution, these anarchists argued, was that in the case of prostitutes the
commercial exchange involved numerous men, whereas in marriage it involved only one man. But the
different number of men did not change the nature of the relationship, which was the same in both marriage
and prostitution. See Dora Barrancos, Anarquismo, educación y costumbres en la Argentina de principios
de siglo (Buenos Aires: Contrapunto, 1990), 240-314.
60
There are a number of comic poems where women even show pride in being able to profit from
their genitals. See Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 42, poem 136; p. 43, poem 142 a (2) and b; p. 50,
poem 167 (1); p. 51, poem 168 (2); p. 56, poem 178.
104
boundaries of this study. I focus on how oral culture discouraged female sexuality, rather

than how women resisted this norm, because it is the former aspect of plebeian culture

that effectively created a lack of female sexual outlets for men in spite of any resistance

to the norm.

To illustrate plebeian female sexuality, I analyze the ways in which men

represented female genitals. Female genitals were depicted as either a function of male

sexuality or a weak physical feature that would easily wear out if exposed to frequent use.

In order to maintain ‘proper’ genitals, women were supposed to limit their use, a

representation of virginity as naturally imposed by the female body itself.

In many situations, female genitals were represented by men as a mere sexual

outlet for men. Female genitals were referred to as “the temptation of men,” “the sheath

of my knife,” “a meat eater,” and a “milk drinker;” a device to peel the penis and a hole

where a knife could be stuck.61 A tango title expresses the same idea: “Sacame el molde,”

or “Take out the mold,” referring to the vulva as a mere mold for the penis.62 A

widespread fantasy among plebeian men was that vaginas were a hole surrounded by a

very weak tissue. Weak tissue had an excessive flexibility, resembling easily stretched

poor quality elastic that was easily worn out. A popular riddle asked men, “What part of

the woman widens after marriage?” Although the answer is the last name, because the

male last name is added to the female one in Spanish, the riddle expected to trick the

61
“La tentación de los hombres,” “La vaina de mi facón,” “Un come carne sin dientes/
Y un toma leche sin pan,” Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 13-4.
62
Quoted in Goyo Cuello, “El exito del tango,“ Caras y Caretas, Buenos Aires, 20th July, 1912.
105
63
audience so they would assume that the real answer was the female genitalia. When

men wanted to insult women, they would say that their vaginas were “wide as a lake,”64

or that it was open “from the anus to the belly.”65 Unlike the penis, whose positive

imaginary qualities included unlikely huge and permanently firm erections, the female

genitals were perceived as fragile. Performing frequent sex degraded female genitals into

a large shapeless mass incapable of providing friction during penetration.

‘Use’ not only affected the shape and firmness of female genitals, but could also

manifest itself through the lack of pubic hair. From the male point of view, pubic hair

was desirable because it was deemed a sign of sexual integrity. Although it could be

uncomfortable during sex, a sexually experienced man was supposed to know how to

cope with this obstacle.66 During the stretching of a female’s vagina, her pubic hair could

fall off, affecting her sexual appeal to men. In a plebeian narrative reported by Lehmann-

Nitsche, a man tells his former female partner: “I do not love you anymore, because your

vagina is hairless.”67 Another man jokingly complains about prostitutes whose pubic hair

had fallen off because they use it for weaving.68 Men’s pubic hair was never represented

as flimsy filament, which was often the case with women. Humor about male and female

genitals stressed very different qualities.

63
Lehman Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 165.
64
Ibid., 35.
65
Ibid., 40.
66
Ibid., 129.
67
Ibid., 44. For similar examples, see: p. 41, 46, 47, 55, 63.
68
Ibid., 62.
106
From the male plebeian perspective, descriptions of the vagina as a fragile organ

were believed to be funny. Nonetheless, they were tragic when seen from a woman’s

standpoint, as they cannot escape a fate that associates female sexuality with the

contraction of illnesses, or the fast decline of the vagina. Indeed, the very definition of the

vagina reduced female sexual organs to a function of male sexuality. Instead of

understanding female genitals as a whole with different parts and in relation to the rest of

the body, male plebeian descriptions only saw a hole with an easily stretchable border

and flimsy hair whose function was to allow the penis to perform penetration.

The multiple names given to the vagina pointed to its capacity to surround a penis

during erection. The words argolla [ring], vaina [sheath] for knives and raya [line] were

clear in this sense. The labia, the clitoris, etc, are not mentioned in poems, riddles, tales

and published texts. Lehman-Nitsche found popular names for them, meaning that they

were at least identified, but those names are not mentioned in the different kinds of

popular narratives. Although plebeian culture had names to classify the existence of other

parts of the vulva beyond the vagina, in general, the female genitals were culturally

reduced to the vagina. The other parts of the vulva did not seem to matter because they

were not functions of male penetration. Men knew that women could experience pleasure

beyond penetration, but activities like cunnilingus were deemed unworthy of men.

Plebeian culture used the insult “minetero” to refer to men who succumb to the female

request for cunnilingus.69 A man was only supposed to penetrate a woman, and other

sexual activities did not help to substantiate masculinity and could even harm male status.

69
Ibid., 48, poem 157; p. 49, poem 158 and 159; p. 51, poem 169 (1); p. 59, poem 190 and 191.
107
In a joke representing a dialogue between two women, the definition of the vagina

only in terms of penetration becomes evident. The first woman tells the other that her

husband was a good man because he never dared to even touch her hair. Not touching

another person’s hair is a Spanish language metaphor for not turning to physical violence.

The second woman understands what the first one said, implying a sexual meaning and

congratulates the husband for having good aim – as the man seems capable of penetrating

without touching the pubic hair.70 The joke can be read at many levels: the naturalization

of male violence is one of them. However, the main idea is that the penis only needs a

fine surrounding tissue in order to perform penetration, the rest of the body really does

not matter.

The representation of the vagina as an organ that deteriorates with sex is related to

the understanding of female sexuality as problematic. From the point of view of plebeian

men, women could only avoid genital decay by limiting sexual activity. Women were

only supposed to be sexually responsive to their husbands. As one plebeian poem states:

A street does not seem good to me/ If it has no sidewalk/ In the same manner that
a woman does not seem good to me/ If she fucks with anyone71

According to these representations, a woman who had indiscriminate extra-

marital sex was like a “street” without a “sidewalk.” Other plebeian poems would

reproduce the same negative perception of female sexuality identifying women as the

only ones responsible for the reproductive consequences of their sexual practices. The

70
Taken from notes by Lehman-Nitsche, “Chistes y desvergüenzas del Rio de la Plata,” Paris,
1901. I found these notes in the Iberoamericanisches Institut in Berlin, and it is catalogued as Arg. Xu
1536; 11 8º.
71
“No me parece buena calle/ La que no tiene vereda/ Ni me parece buena hembra/ la que coje con
cualquiera” Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 31, poem 91.
108
judgmental attitude towards female sexuality took place under many different forms:

discussions about the status of women either as “virgins” or “whores,” derogatory

comments about female prostitutes, and stigmatizing women who experienced sexuality

with men outside marriage.

If plebeian masculinity encouraged men to brag about their sexual deeds, plebeian

femininity pushed women to deny their sexuality unless it was performed within

marriage.72 Such cultural pressure to suppress female sexuality was not always effective.

In an urban context where many women turned to prostitution as a survival alternative,

women sometimes were assertive about their sexuality and their participation in

prostitution.73 However, despite the fact that female resistance to the plebeian male

chauvinist culture existed, most women accepted seclusion at home and male control of

female sexuality. In fact, Sandra Gayol pointed out that in many cases, wives claimed

sexual restraint to substantiate the masculinity of their husbands. Kristin Rugiero also

found that women were subjected not only to seclusion at home, but sometimes were

even sent to convents in order to secure their sexual abstinence in the eyes of others.74

Plebeian textual representations also usually associate femininity with sexual restraint.

In the popular chapbooks collected by Lehmann-Nitsche, plebeian authors express

concern about female fidelity within marriage. Although sometimes they joke about the

72
See, for instance, the following tango lyrics expressing a man’s exclusive possession of his
female partner: Silverside with potatoes,/ fried chorizo;/ the women I have/ will not be taken away by
anybody [Pejerrey con papas,/ botifarra frita;/ la mujer que tengo/ nadie me la quita.], see Tulio Carella,
Picarezca Porteña, 109.
73
See for instance Lehman-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 51.
74
Kristin Ruggiero, Modernity in the Flesh: Medicine, Law and Society in Turn-of-the-Century
Argentina (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
109
fact that women do not respect fidelity, such jokes are part of the tension between

masculine surveillance of ‘their women’ and the attempt to seduce the women of other

men. In a plebeian chapbook, for instance, this tension between seduction and

surveillance of women is expressed through a triangle between a nephew, an uncle and

his wife. The nephew seduces a woman and has sex with her only to find out later that it

is the new wife of his old uncle from whom he expected to inherit money and properties.

The uncle does not find out about his nephew’s sexual encounter with his wife, but she

becomes pregnant and the nephew loses his inheritance to the new son.75 The story

follows the pattern of many other chapbooks where the content of the narrative is

concerned with female fidelity and sexual restraint at the same time that it portrays men

attempting to seduce as many women as possible or even overt use of male violence to

force women to submit to their sexual desire. These popular magazines, sold for a few

cents throughout the city, show the same pattern of opposition between male and female

sexuality that is part of plebeian oral culture.

Plebeian Male Sexuality and Its Sexual Outlets

Demography, urban sociability and the popular classes’ gender culture reinforced

each other, creating a world where male access to female sexual outlets was difficult.

Men were numerically more than women; they worked and shared their daily lives with

other men and remained apart from most women. In addition, men experienced cultural

pressure to penetrate others that was in direct contraposition to female sexual restraint.

75
Jack Frison, El agujero del diablo (Barracas al Sud: La Voz del Comercio, 1900).
110
The result was intense male competition for women, unintentionally favoring the

development of both prostitution and sex between men.

Male competition for women often led to violence. In plebeian short stories,

representations of men who fight to acquire women abounded. In a story published in a

chapbook in the late nineteenth century, for instance, a man finds an opportunity to

secure a female partner, offering to fight with another man who sexually harassed her.76

In 1910, another affordable chapbook explicitly meant for “lonely men” told the story of

two men who fight for a waitress.77 In fact, the popular figure of the compadrito

expressed the violent tension among men who would fight for women.78 The profile of

the compadrito, who is usually mentioned in reference to prostitution and marginality, is

difficult to distinguish from that of the lunfardo, the social type that Veyga associated

with same-sex sexuality and female prostitution, or the canfinflero, a category used in

innumerable plebeian chapbooks and orally transmitted poems. The tension among the

compadritos who socialized in tango-dancing places was present in innumerable plebeian

stories, jokes, and poems.79 In addition to being a source of conflict between men, the

76
Jack Frison, Reliquias dudosas (Barracas al Sud: La voz del comercio, 1899), 9. Barracas al sud,
meaning “southern barracks,” was one of the first suburbs of Buenos Aires that developed outside of the
legal city limits established by the 1880s’ federalization of Buenos Aires that separated the capital of
Argentina from the province of Buenos Aires. In 1880, the southern limit of the city was established in the
Riachuelo, the river that divides the neighborhood of La Boca from Barracas al sud – the famous working
class suburb known now as Avellaneda.
77
See Las Camareras (Buenos Aires: Francisco Matera, 1910), 5.
78
Athos Espíndola, Diccionario del lunfardo (BuenosAires: Planeta, 2002), 145 and also see
Turner, Argentina and the Argentines.
79
See Las Camareras, “tanta compadrada” p. 11; Manuel Cielofante, Amores de Cocoliche
(Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Criolla, 1905), 14; Bartolomé Aprile, Decimas Argentinas (Buenos Aires, 1914),
6.; Pampeano, Los misterios de Palermo (Buenos Aires, 1902), 9-12; Pampeano, Las Aves nocheras
(Buenos Aires, 1901), 5.
111
unavailability of women also favored violence between men and women. It was not

unusual for men to use force to keep their female partners.80 However, male competition

for sexual outlets did not always find expression through violence.

Anthropologist Dolores Juliano, who studied tango in turn-of-the-century Buenos

Aires, argued that the possibility of violence was always present, but in the end seduction

seemed to be the strategic choice for most men. Juliano believes that the male ability to

seduce women was one of the core tropes of early twentieth century tango.81 In many

tango lyrics, men expressed their superiority as seducers explicitly. In a 1903 tango titled

“El Porteñito,” the singer claims that “there is no one like me / when it comes to making

women fall in love.”82 Another lyric repeats the same idea, as the man says “in love

matters, I am a hot seducer.”83 The ability to sing, recite poems, dance tango, and fight

with other men became a means to obtain and secure sex while bonding with women at

the same time. The following drawing of two editions of “The Loves of Cocoliche”

represents a man singing to seduce women:

80
See the naturalization of male violence in the joke analized in page 105.
81
“Ante el desequilibrio demográfico producido por la gran migración que llevó al Río de la Plata
gran número de hombres jóvenes de distinto origen, las mujeres (que se habían movilizado en menor
número) se transformaron en un bien escaso. La intención masculina de conseguir mujer y conservarla se
plasmó en dos vertientes ambas bien reflejadas en los tangos: agresividad y competencia entre los hombres
con respecto a las mujeres y una diversificación de las estrategias con respecto a las mujeres mismas, que si
bien incluía potencialmente la amenaza o la agresión desembocó rápidamente en un incremento de las
estrategias de seducción.” Dolores Juliano, p. 7.
82
“No hay ninguno que me iguale/ para enamorar mujeres,” in “El Porteñito” (1903) in José
Gobello, Letras de Tango: Tomo I (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor, 1997), 6.
83
“…en las cuestiones de amores/ afilo que da calor…” in “Soy Tremendo,” (c.1910), Ibid., 13.
112

Figure 5: Manuel M. Cientofante, Amores de Cocoliche (Buenos Aires: Salvador


Matera, 1905 and 1909), FrontPage.

Although the clothes, the guitar, the donkey and the pampas behind him place the

gaucho in a rural setting, the fictional character of “Cocoliche” was popularly famous as

the representation of an Italian immigrant in an urban area who wanted to become

identified with traditional Argentine customs.84 This character represented the masses of

poor, recently arrived immigrants and was usually associated with the search for sexual

adventures with women.85

The representation of male seduction, however, was not the only topic expressing

the tense relationship between plebeian men and women. In the context of the male

struggle for female partners, the bonds between men and women were frequently

84
See Ana Cara-Walker, “Cocoliche: The Art of Assimilation and Dissimulation among Italians
and Argentines,” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 22, No. 3 (1987): 37-67.
85
The same author published at least three other chapbooks about Cocoliche seducing women,
Manuel M. Cientofante, Los amores de Cocoliche con una gallega (Buenos Aires: Salvador Matera, 1901)
and Manuel M. Cientofante, Napolitano Cocoliche (Buenos Aires: Salvador Matera, 1905 and 1909).
113
86
unstable. Plebeian men sometimes expressed such instability in terms of a melancholic

resentment against women who abandoned them.87 They would complain about wealthier

competitors who had conquered their female partners.88 The “lonely man” would also

denounce materialistic women whose ambition to make more money through prostitution

would take them away from them.89 Plebeian men bragged about their sexual adventures

with female prostitutes, but they deeply resented female partners who engaged in

commercial sex. The fact that male sexual demand encouraged prostitution was not

usually noticed because the difference between male and female sexuality was

naturalized. Instead, men believed that it was money that corrupted the relationship

between them and women.

The morally corrupting power of money is the theme of many plebeian narratives.

A plebeian chapbook, for instance, tells the story of a poor Spanish worker who falls in

86
The instability of married life due to widespread male competition was a recurrent theme in
popular theater. Alberto Vacarezza, a famous play writer, represented the tension between men and female
partners in many of his plays. This tension is the topic of “Los escrushantes” [The thieves], where the male
characters let the audience know how frustrated they feel about women. Peña, one of the characters, says:
“en tiempos de misciaduras / se hace cabrero el amor!” [in times of misery /love becomes difficult]. Later
in the play, Bacharra, another character, consoles a friend whose marriage is in trouble by telling him: “Que
le vas a hacer! Si ya sabemos lo que son estas milongas… Igual es la mia y la de este.” [What can you do!
We already know what this [love] matters are…. My [love matters] are the same [thing] and his [another
character] too. See Alberto Vacarezza, “Los Escrushantes” in Alberto Vacarezza, Teatro: Tomo I
(Corregidor: Buenos Aires, 1993), 37 and 40.
87
For representations in plebeian magazines about men abandoned by their female partners, see:
Juan de la Barca, De todo un poco (Buenos Aires: Atenas, 1897), p. 6; Juan de la Barca, Novios y Novias
(Buenos Aires: no editorial mentioned, 1899), 3, 4-7 and 9-11; Catecismo de las Casadas (Buenos Aires:
no editorial mentioned, 1902), 1; Las niñas argentinas (Buenos Aires: no editorial mentioned, 1910), 27.
88
For plebeian representations of women who leave their male partners to join another wealthier
man, see Pampeano, De Palermo a la Avenida. Misterios de la Avenida de Mayo (Buenos Aires: no
editorial mentioned, 1902), 24 and Manuel Cientofante, Los amores de cocoliche con una gallega (Buenos
Aires: Salvador Matera, 1901), 23.
89
For complaints about materialistic women who only care about their male partner’s money, see
Pampeano, De Palermo a la Avenida, 17.
114
love with a servant. Against all odds, he tries to save money to marry her and have

children, but the son of the wealthy family for whom she works lies in wait. Taking

advantage of his power, the rich son gives the woman an aphrodisiac and rapes her.

When the effect of the aphrodisiac is gone, the woman commits suicide because she is

not a virgin anymore. Because of the power of money, the Spanish immigrant’s illusion

of forming a family is broken.90 In other stories, however, women are not the victims.

Seduced by money, women actually seek to have commercial sex or find well-off

partners. A male character in a popular play meant for a plebeian audience describes the

situation as follows:

While money flows and there are [resources] to overcome hunger, they [women]
play a fair game, but when misery threatens to arrive […] not even God can tame
them.91

The perception of money as a corrupting influence expressed some real social problems,

such as the difficulties in forming families because of meager wages.92 But plebeian men

projected the blame of widespread female infidelity and prostitution onto money because

they could not understand the unintended consequences of socially constructed notions of

female decency and exuberant male sexuality.

The cultural promotion of female sexual restraint prevented women from

becoming prostitutes, but lack of economic opportunities and male sexual demand

90
X.X., Una Tragedia Amorosa, o victima, juez y verdugo: narración histórica y en verso (Buenos
Aires: Dramas del Pueblo-Biblioteca Bonaerense, 1901).
91
“Mientras la moneda corre y hay con qué hacerle frente al ragú, todo lo juegan a baraja limpia,
pero en cuanto empieza a puntiar la misciadura […] ya no hay Dios que las amanse.” Alberto Vacarezza,
“Los escrushantes,” in Alberto Vacarezza, Teatro: Tomo, 40.
92
See Marcela Nari, Políticas de Maternidad, 55-62.
115
encouraged women to overcome this norm. Female wages were lower because the gender

division of labor limited many women to household-based labor.93 Isolation at home

supposedly protected women from male sexual advances and allowed them to take care

of family chores. However, assigning women the lower paid jobs had the unintended

consequence of favoring prostitution. Women who did not rely on men had few job

opportunities that could pay for their subsistence,94 and unsatisfied male sexual demand

guaranteed the success of prostitution. The stories about the life of plebeian men and

women illustrate how frequently women became prostitutes. Although the script of the

“fallen woman” is not exclusive to turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, the numerous

plebeian oral and textual representations indicate that this was part of the lived

experience of the popular classes.95 This is why it was usual among swindlers to cheat

their victims by faking a story about how their sisters had become prostitutes after

93
For an analysis of female labor see María del Carmen Feijoo, “Las trabajadoras porteñas a
principios de siglo,” in Mundo urbano y cultura popular: estudios de historia social argentina ed. Diego
Armus (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1990); Ricardo Salvatore, “Criminology, Prison Reform, and the
Buenos Aires Working Class” and Donna Guy, Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires, 65-76.
94
“Women in late nineteenth-century Buenos Aires had few prospects of supporting families, or
even contributing to family income.”Donna Guy, Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires, 66.
95
For an analysis of the importance of prostitution among plebeian women, see Donna Guy, Sex &
Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1991). For stories of women who entered the career of prostitution for economic reasons or due to
male deception, see: “Francesita-Gran tango de moda” and “Pasa el tranvía por Tucumán” in Puro Campo
(Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Criolla no. 1, 1925), 4-5; “Rechiflando en mi tristeza,” “Mundana” and “Un
metejón” in Los Murguistas (Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Criolla no. 2, n.d.), 1, 5 and 13; Manuel Cientofante,
Los Amores de Cocoliche con una Gallega (Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Criolla, 1901), 28; Bartolomé
Aprile, Decimas Argentinas (Buenos Aires, 1914), 4-5, 11, 12 and 16; “La doncella burlada” in: Pampeano,
Los misterios de Palermo (Buenos Aires, 1902), 17-21. In an article published in the most popular anarchist
newspaper the author asks: [How many girls were lost because of a few cents; how many were victims of
their simplicity or the deviousness of an evil man; how many fought for years and ended up falling and how
many, how many have died of suffering for not being able to make other love them.] “Cuántas muchachas
hay que se perdieron por pocos centimos; cuántas fueron víctimas de su simplicidad o de la astucia de un
malvado; cuántas lucharon años enteros y concluyeron sucumbiendo, y cuántas y cuántas han muerto de
dolor por no poder habido hacerse amar.” S. F. Merlino, “¿Por qué somos anarquistas?” La Protesta
Humana, Year 2, no. 25, (January 30, 1989): 2.
116
96
ungrateful men seduced them. As mentioned previously, the story of women embracing

the world of “vice” was not only popular in chapbooks sold for a few cents, but was also

a major topic of tango.97

Despite the importance of female prostitution, however, it seems that commercial

sex was not enough to satisfy male sexual demand. In addition to female prostitution, an

important consequence of the dichotomous opposition of male sexual prowess and female

restraint was widespread sex between men. Sex with other men who accepted or were

forced to be “like women” was another solution to this socio-cultural context. Male

representations did not really seem to establish a clear boundary between male attempts

to penetrate women and men.

Graffiti in restrooms where men expressed their desire to penetrate others

illustrate the irrelevance of the receptive partner’s gender. It was clear for those who

wrote graffiti on restroom walls that the audience was exclusively male, but they still

threatened to penetrate the readers. In one case, an anonymous writer offered to penetrate

anyone who “jiggles” his rear.98 In the general cultural context of a struggle for

masculinity carried out through sexual competition between men lines of graffiti could

often be intimidating. Plebeian writers threatened to penetrate those who forgot to use

toilet paper. In fact, there were even different versions of famous comic poems that

96
See “El cuento de la hermana” or “The sister’s story,” in Benigno Argul, Los grandes cuentos
del tío y las grandes estafas del día (Buenos Aires: El ombú coposo, circa 1910), 4 and 9.
97
See “Flor de fango”, circa 1914, in José Gobello, Letras de Tango, 19; “Ivette,” 20; “Carne de
Cabaret,” (circa 1920), 36; “La maleva,” (1922), 425; “Loca,” 46, “Galleguita,” (1924), 58; “Griseta,”
(1924), 62; “Muñeca brava,” (1928), 146; “Mala junta,” (1928), 488; “Atenti, pebeta!” (1929), 155 and “Se
va la vida,” (1929), 167.
98
“Aquí se caga/ Aquí se mea/ Y se da por el culo/ A quién me lo menea” Lehmann-Nitsche,
Textos Eróticos, 66 [poem 208b]).
117
99
repeated these threats. These poems engaged the reader through symbolic violence. In

this genre of restroom graffiti, the first line often caught the attention of the audience, but

the final passage always revealed the writer’s intention to symbolically subject the reader

to anal penetration. One example of graffiti began with the lines “Balls go/ Balls come”

and finished by announcing that they stop “at your ass.”100 Although this graffiti clearly

implies situations where a man threatens to penetrate another man, there are no comments

about same-sex sexuality. The gender of the sexual outlets did not seem to be an issue

worthy of attention. This was a theme that restroom graffiti did not exploit for comic

purposes. Plebeian chapbooks did not seem to exploit this topic either.

Popular magazines often included similar threats to impose sexual aggression on a

reader whose gender is not mentioned and thus seems irrelevant. Poems and jokes often

began with a nonsexual reference and then suddenly shifted to the topic of penetration in

order to catch the reader by surprise. In one poem published in such a magazine, the

author commenced by discussing an exchange of dogs. The writer reports that in

exchange for an “affectionate dog,” he will give a “red greyhound.” In the next line,

however, he leaps into symbolic sexual assault: in addition to providing the red

greyhound, the author uses the rhyme to proclaim that he will “also give it up the . . .

eye.”101 In this example, penetration is implied using a verb that denotes the sexual act,

and the direct reference is avoided by mentioning the “eye” instead of an erotic zone.

99
Ibid., 71 (poems 230 and 231).
100
Ibid., 15 (poem 18).
101
Romeu, “Dialogo Murguista,” 2.
118
This elusive strategy was common in most commercialized texts sold for a few cents, 102

but the use of metaphors instead of direct language would not undermine the presence of

male sexual aggression in popular chapbooks.103

The symbolic aggression inherent in these representations was part of a wider

conflict between plebeian men.104 Most men wanted to penetrate others, but in general no

one wanted to be penetrated by others.105 The only exceptions were maricas. The

category marica was used in plebeian culture to refer to men who--in contradiction to the

prevailing understanding of male sexuality--acted effeminately and were supposed to

seek other men to play the role of ‘women.’ Maricas were ridiculed for their willingness

to accept what turn-of-the-century plebeian sexual culture interpreted as a defeat.106 In

fact, plebeian culture’s association of the receptive role with defeat applied not only to

102
The same censorship can be observed in tango lyrics where men are trying to penetrate whoever
they can, as in the following one: “Standing at Cinco Esquinas/ with all my contingency/ to see if I can
break your… / I am pretending to wait” [Parado en las Cinco Esquinas/ con toda mi contingencia/ por ver
sit e rompo… / ando hacienda diligencia.], in Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña, 109.
103
See Marcos Beneghi, Lecturas del Pueblo (Buenos Aires: El Cosmos, 1891), 6; Los Murguistas,
2 -3; El Pedo Universal: Versos para la risa (Rosario: Longo y Argento, 1920?), 4-5.
104
For other similar representations, see the analysis of Tulio Carella in “Humorismo Tanguero,”
Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña, 73-127.
105
This tension between the willingness to penetrate other males and the refusal to be penetrated
was also frequently expressed in descriptions of sexuality in Brazil, a country that was ambiguously
represented as a place where penetrative and receptive anal practices were widespread. See the comment
written on this topic in Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 312. Magnus Hirschfeld, the first German queer
activist, made a similar observation in his comments on Argentina; see his Geschlechtskunde auf Grund
dreißigjähriger Forschung und Erfahrung bearbeitet (Stuttgart: Julius Puttmann Verlagsbuchhandlung,
1926-1930), 637. Rather than being different from the Argentine case, the situations in Rio de Janeiro and
Sao Paulo were quite similar; it was not difficult to find men who proudly declared that they penetrated
others yet the receptive anal role was still viewed negatively. See Peter Beattie, “The House, the Street and
the Barracks: Reform and Honorable Masculine Social Space in Brazil, 1864-1945,” Hispanic American
Historical Review, 76, no. 3 (1996): 439-473.
106
For instance, see Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 101 (poem 252[2[ and [3]).
119
107
maricas; it was also used metaphorically to represent doom. In one comic poem, for

instance, a person states: “My father remarried/ After becoming a widower/ And as

inheritance he left me/ The balls in my ass.”108 Being penetrated was representative of

defeat in the violent struggle for masculinity. The frequent association of penetration with

defeat implicitly recognized the ‘passive’ role as a usual experience despite the fact that

hegemonic masculinity despised this sexual practice.

What these examples of the use of male violence to penetrate other men imply is

that men were willing to exploit other men’s vulnerability in order to penetrate them and

represent themselves as successful in the eyes of others. This attitude was part of the

same pattern of competition for women, a competition Sandra Gayol also described for

activities such as drinking and joking. Same-sex and different-sex sexuality seemed to

operate according to the same logic rather than constituting disparate areas of social life.

Men might have preferred women as sexual outlets, but same-sex sexuality posed no

problem. On the contrary, both sex with women and with men seemed to substantiate the

male status of plebeian men as long as they were performing penetration on others. The

visibility of sex between men throughout the city constitutes another indication of the

irrelevance of gender when it came to a sexual outlet. Innumerable sources refer to sex

between men occurring in open public spaces, something that did not seem to concern

plebeian men much. Sex between men seemed to follow a wider pattern of highly visible

107
Ibid., 17 (poem 28).
108
“Mi padre se casó/ Después de viudo/ Y de herencia me dejó / Las pelotas en el culo” (Ibid.,15
[poem 19]).
120
109
sexual activity in public places. Although those who were having sex wanted to keep it

intimate, their failure to do so was a popular comic trope.110 Such a trope was in many

109
For the representation of Palermo Park as a site of sexual encounters, see Pampeano, Los
Misterios de Palermo (Buenos Aires, 1902). About Palermo Park and Avenida de Mayo, see Pampeano, De
Palermo a la Avenida. Misterios de la Avenida de Mayo (Buenos Aires, 1902). For a representation of
sexual visibility and prostitution around the city, see Pampeano, Las Aves Nocheras (Buenos Aires, 1901);
Cientofante, El moderno canfinflero (Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Criolla, 1901, reedited in 1906), Bartolome
Aprile, Decimas Argentinas (Buenos Aires, 1914); Marcos Baneghi, Las niñas de Pato Morto (Buenos
Aires: El Cosmos, 1891); Las Camareras (Buenos Aires: Francisco Matera, 1910).
110
Many plebeian comic oral expressions were based on the existence of sexual visibility due to
the unavailability of intimate private spaces. The German anthropologist Robert Lehmann-Nitsche,
registered oral comic poems repeated in the daily life that reflected this situation: a father witnesses the
sexual experience of his three daughters when they marry (Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 25-6, poem
72); different-sex partners that can be noticed by others when having sex (p. 13, poem 8 and 9; p. 21 poem
50 and 53; p. 174, poem 70 a) visibility of the vagina in public spaces (p. 18, poem 34; p. 20, poem 40).
The visibility of the penis and of male sexual advances and practices in public spaces were even more
frequent as a form of plebeian comedy, but this topic will be developed in the next chapter. Some
contemporary observers provide a clue to understand the material and spatial constraints operating on
sexuality. Criminologist Luis Drago, for instance, portrayed Buenos Aires as an overcrowded city where
“ambitions crush with each other and necessities accumulate” (“… donde las ambiciones se chocan y se
acumulan las necesidades…” Luis Drago, Los hombres de presa. Ensayo de antropología criminal (Buenos
Aires: Lajouane, 1888),133) referring to the way space and population shaped the experience of the poor.
An Italian author who had emigrated to Argentina feared that tenement houses were “the most devastating
image of moral and material disorder that crowding creates.” He argued that this kind of coexistence led to
“the promiscuity of the sexes” and also to “intolerable contacts.” He described the situation using the word
“nefarious,” a term that was used to refer to sodomy in the middle ages and that had become a general
expression for sexual debauchery (“..la mas desoladora imagen del desorden moral y material que el
amontonamiento produce, con las multiformes convivencias, con la promiscuidad de los sexos, con la
imposicion de contactos intolerables que determinana aquella delincuencia cuya denominación mostruosa y
nefanda hace horrorizar el hecho que expresa, palabra y hechos que debieran ser borrados de la historia de
la humanidad.” Oreste Ciatino, La delincuencia en Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires: Talleres Gráficos Juan
Perrotti, 1930). Apparently, what he considered immoral sexuality was caused by the promiscuity that was
taking place in tenement houses. The characteristics of tenement houses, which constituted a considerable
portion of the housing for poor people, were observed by some of the foreign travelers coming to Buenos
Aires. In Argentina and the Argentines, Thomas A. Turner – the British citizen mentioned at the beginning
of this chapter –published an account of the city in 1892 and provided a close description of the housing
situation of the popular classes. He denounced the increasing prices caused by market competition where
immigration made the available shelter scarce. According to his report, “rents were doubled, trebled, and
even quadrupled in the course of a couple of years.” (23) His visual impression of the distribution of
tenement houses was very telling: “Whole streets – miles – of dismal-looking tenements, held together
more by the natural cohesion of particles and the support derived from each other than by the quality of the
materials employed in their structure…” The situation became worse after the 1890s crisis, as Turner
continued explaining. Before that date, single floor tenements prevailed. After that year, upper-storey
houses became “the rule rather than the exception.” The British visitor did not find this to be a problem just
because of the living conditions, but also because “privacy is next to impossible.” He explained how people
from upper floors could overlook those who live below “and see everything that it is least desirable should
be seen – what their neighbors have for dinner, how they treat each other, where they sleep, where they
dine, what sort of furniture they have – in fact, nothing is hidden from prying eyes.” But the eyes were not
the only organs able to perceive others: “Every word spoken above whisper can be plainly heard.” The lack
of privacy could be explained because dwellings were “neither water-proof, draught-tight, nor tenable,
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cases projected to anthropomorphic representations of animal sexuality in the open.111

The police would usually report the sexual activity that provided the source for this comic

oral and textual tradition among the popular classes. According to these reports, men

were caught having sex with each other in multiple urban locations. Partners having sex

in public spaces knew that they could be caught in the act at any moment, but they did

not seem to care enough to quit doing it. The risk of exposure was relatively unavoidable

for people who lived in crowded spaces where privacy was a privilege. But plebeian

culture did not experience this constraint as a limitation; furthermore, the comic

exploitation of this situation shows that many plebeian men and women found exposure

amusing. Sex between men was performed in this context and was perceived as amusing

rather than condemned as a pathology.

The variety of public spaces where sex between men took place was remarkable.

This kind of sexual practices would take place in the streets of downtown Buenos Aires,

especially around the Paseo de Julio and the areas of female prostitution, which was

widespread throughout the city.112 The harbor seemed to be another place chosen by men

who wanted to have sex with other men and had no space of their own.113 Some men

engaging in these activities went to areas where they could hide a little better, like the

parks or the empty lots in the outskirts of the city. However, plebeian men did not seem

except during summer time, when one can put up with a few fissures in the walls, cracks in the roof, and
splits in the doors.”
111
Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 16, poem 27 and p. 17, poem 30.
112
For police – and other – reports about sex between men in the streets, see Arenaza, Menores
delincuentes, 16-7, 27 and 39-40. On the same topic, see also Archivo General de la Nación, Tribunales
Criminales, Letra C, 1896, “C.C. (a) ‘El Toscano y Chirino’ acusado de sodomía,” p. 1.
113
For male same-sex sexual practices in the harbor, see Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 38-9.
122
shy when it came to choosing a space to have sex with each other, they would even do it

in the city markets. Public urinals were also another famous place to seek for same-sex

sexual adventures.114 The visibility of this practice throughout the city suggests that

Veyga’s claim about lunfardo’s interest in same-sex sexuality should not be taken lightly.

Conclusion

Throughout this chapter, I show the social and cultural conditions leading to a

form of plebeian male sexuality where occasional sex regardless of the partner’s sex

became the dominant form. In order to portray plebeian sexual culture, I analyzed the

demographic, social and cultural background where it took place, combining elite and

plebeian representations. The resulting picture could be interpreted as part of a broader

culture of “male honor” that existed throughout Latin America and the Mediterranean. In

the next chapter, however, I will argue that male honor is not the best conceptual

framework to understand male plebeian sexuality in Buenos Aires between 1880 and

1930.

114
The same topic in the city markets, see Arenaza Menores Delincuentes, 82-3 about the Spineto
and for the Mercado Lorca see: Archivo General de la Nación, Tribunales Criminales, 1882, Letra D, “D.
Don R. denunciando un delito de sodomía ejercido a su hijo L. D.,” p. 1. For male same-sex in the empty
lots of the outskirts, see Arenaza, Menores Delincuentes, 27, 33 and 39-40. Arenaza also identifies other
places in Buenos Aires: “En Buenos Aires, como en todas las grandes ciudades del mundo, hay lugares o
sitios frecuentados por los pederastas, verdaderos mercados de la oferta y la demanda; por muchos años
gozó ese privilegio entre nosotros los bajos de la Recova, los jardines públicos y muy especialmente los
mingitorios del Paseo de Julio; hoy con los adelantos de la Metrópoli los mercados son varios, no siendo el
de menor importancia, por lo menos por la calidad de los councurrentes, uno ubicado en el Oeste de la
Capital, donde la persecución constante de la autoridad policial, le hará, sino desaparecer, por lo menos
cambiar de ubicación.” [In Buenos Aires, as in every other big city in the world, there are places or sites
frequented by the pederasts, [they are] real markets with demand and supply. For many years the canopied
walksides below the Recova, the public gardens and especially the urinals in the Paseo de Julio enjoyed
such a privilege among us; today with the growth of the Metropoli the markets are various, and the one
located to the West of the capital [very likely Once] should not be taken as minor one considering the kind
of patrons. Constant police persecution there will make it disappear or at least move to another location.]
(100).
123
Although this chapter stressed the importance of female prostitution and sex

between men, the magnitude of these phenomena is not clear. In the case of female

prostitution, there is more clarity because the representations are more overtly pointing

towards the importance of this activity. Figuring out the extension of sex between men,

however, requires a closer analysis that I will conduct in the next chapter.
124

CHAPTER III

URBAN MOBILITY AND PLEBEIAN MALE SEXUALITY

Introduction

After exploring the socio-cultural conditions leading to widespread female

prostitution and sex between plebeian men in the previous chapter, I will now investigate

reasons why men were engaging in these sexual activities as well as how these men

perceived those activities and the popularity of this sexual life. In seeking to answer these

questions, I will focus on the analysis of seventy files belonging to plebeian men who had

sex with both men and women in Buenos Aires between 1880 and 1930. Although

multiple primary sources offer references to the sexual life analyzed in this dissertation,

only a limited number of cases with information containing the social background of the

participants exist. In the case of these seventy men, I was able to retrieve data concerning

their jobs, family, daily lives and the ages of the men who engaged in recurrent sexual

adventures with people of either sex outside the realm of family life.

By comparing the trends suggested by these cases with the representations of

plebeian Buenos Aires found in other sources and the historiography of this city between

1880 and 1930, I will draw an analysis of some aspects of male plebeian sexuality that I

did not consider in the previous chapter. This analysis will focus on the socio-economic

characterization of a particular group of men in relation to the popular classes as a whole.

This will also be the basis for an exploration of plebeian moral standards and a critique of
125
the historiography of the urban lower strata in Buenos Aires during the late nineteenth

and early twenty centuries.

Out of my analysis emerges a picture of plebeian Buenos Aires where the

defining feature is social and geographic mobility, a multi-faceted phenomenon shaping

plebeian sexual life. Mobility brought a number of men across the Atlantic, and these

men were eager for sexual adventures. Job instability forced workers to move between

neighborhoods and circulate within the city and the rural hinterlands. This instability also

exposed plebeian men and women to temporary unemployment, and when in dire straits,

the poor frequently embraced robbery and prostitution as resources to resolve their

situation. This circulation also gave many individuals the freedom to lead a life without

the moral constraints imposed by family life. Plebeian men in Buenos Aires often found

themselves away from the vigilance of family and routinely forced to participate in the

urban underworld when in financial need. They were also encouraged by male plebeian

sociability to engage in sexual adventures where the act of penetrating was more relevant

than the gender of the sexual outlet. Geographic and social mobility bundled crime,

prostitution and male same-sex sexuality together.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, everything seemed to be

moving in Buenos Aires; the plebeian culture of sexuality was not exempt from this

characteristic. The city itself was created by an explosive growth of British investment,

trans-Atlantic migration and commerce between the Argentine hinterlands and the world

market. Buenos Aires seemed to be growing overnight largely because of an

unprecedented circulation of people, capital, and commodities. The Argentine elite

represented this rapid transformation both in terms of “progress” and “degeneration.”


126
Population and economic growth was positive, thus it was “progress.” The perceived

negative social consequences of the very same process, however, were presented as the

“degeneration” brought about by modernity. By disassociating what they saw in these

two opposing realms, they failed to understand their inextricable relationship. A

departure from this view, which continues to influence Argentine historiography, requires

an integrated analysis. This requires understanding how widespread criminality and

prostitution and sex between men in Buenos Aires were part of the urban explosion

within this hub that connected the agricultural hinterlands to the world market.1 In order

to explore this relationship, it is necessary to question the “progressive” nature of

economic growth.

Rather than being gradually “progressive,” economic growth was highly

convulsive. Cycles suddenly fluctuated between high growth rates and frequent crisis.

This convulsive character resulted from two recurrent cycles: the stop-and-go nature of

economic growth and the seasonal agrarian cycle. Both cycles forced people to move

between different locations and sectors of the economy, and this mobility undermined

their own moral understanding of the world. Although plebeian men and women believed

that robbing, having sex with people of the same gender, and exchanging sex for money

was wrong, they usually had the opportunity to commit as well as conceal these actions.

However, this should not be seen as a unilateral determination of the economy over

culture. As I explained in the last chapter, face-to-face interaction in male spaces of

sociability together with plebeian notions of gender was crucial in shaping constructs of

1
The changes in sexual culture related to the urban growth of Buenos Aires were part of world-
wide transformations that a number of historians have studied for a variety of countries. For a review of this
bibliography, see Timothy Gilfoyle, “Prostitutes in History: From Parables of Pornography to Metaphors of
Modernity,” The American Historical Review, 104, no. 1 (Feb. 1999): 117-141.
127
sexuality. The socio-economic context operated as both constraint and potential, and

plebeian men and women responded in different ways. Some people tried to avoid the

urban underworld and fought for a family life according to the moral standards of their

culture. Other people decided that under the given conditions they had no choice but to

engage in activities they despised. Finally, there were those who embraced prostitution,

crime and/or sex between men as liberating.

The general result, however, was that the relationship between plebeian culture

and its own norms was ambivalent. This ambivalence was a cultural response to the

socio-economic context, and it became inherent to plebeian culture. Plebeian sexual

culture should be analyzed with the effects of this normative ambivalence in mind so that

representations and norms are not reduced to a static understanding, but rather seen in

relation to the way they operated in the daily lives of these people.

The importance of mobility for male sexual life is not only present in all of the

primary sources that portray plebeian Buenos Aires; it is also a recurrent element

throughout the seventy cases of men who had sex with other men. It is not by chance that

the majority of these men had highly unstable jobs. In addition to having unstable jobs,

these men were usually among the younger tier of the workforce, and they were

frequently single. Their age was associated with job instability, as younger men and

women were more likely to have precarious jobs and constituted the lowest tier of the

workforce.

What this profile suggests is that rather than constituting a specific group within

the urban population, men who had sex with other men and with female prostitutes

followed a life that was pretty common for most other people in their social strata. The
128
fact that they were younger and had unstable jobs suggests that this kind of sexuality was

performed by most plebeian men at some time during their lives. Sex with other men and

with female prostitutes was more likely to happen when plebeian men were young and

hardship encouraged them to participate in the urban underworld.

Today, homosexuality and heterosexuality are usually stable references to

circumscribed groups of the population. On the contrary, between 1880 and 1930 in

Buenos Aires, sexual activities seemed to be distributed not according to different and

clearly differentiated social groups, but among age groups that were subjected to a

rotation that was part of the general urban motion affecting Buenos Aires. When we

consider the trajectory of some plebeian men on the streets of Buenos Aires, we can take

a different approach to studying the relationship between socio-geographic mobility and

sexuality in plebeian Buenos Aires.

Walking the streets

The case of J. A. (discussed in Chapter I) is illustrative of the relationship

between mobility and sexuality in Buenos Aires between 1880 and 1930. J. A. was a

young man who left his family in La Plata2 to find a job in the capital of Argentina. He

had only gone to school for a few years, and as was usual among boys from the popular

classes at the time, he began looking for a job. The prospects, however, were not very

promising. In just a few years, he had worked in a private school as a doorman, in a

2
The city of La Plata is approximately 30 miles Southwest of Buenos Aires. After the city of
Buenos Aires became a federal district in 1880, the province of Buenos Aires built the city of La Plata to
serve as capital. Governor Dardo Rocha officially founded the city of La Plata in 1882.
129
restaurant as waiter, in a print shop as a worker, and as an apprentice in a gunpowder

factory. These were all low-paid, unskilled jobs. In addition, employment was so unstable

that J. A. lacked a steady source of income. He was frequently forced to find a new job

and move to a different part of the city. It was not always easy to make ends meet, and J.

A. was found guilty of robbery twice during these years. In addition to robbing, J. A. also

tried to make money as a prostitute for male clients.

J. A. exemplifies a wider pattern exhibited by young single men who lived away

from their families. These young plebeian men entered the urban underworld encouraged

by economic uncertainty and their geographic mobility. The need to move and look for

new jobs exposed young male workers, most of whom had precarious jobs, to the urban

underworld of crime, prostitution and sex between men. Their mobility allowed them to

leave their past behind if and when they matured to more stable existence.

In the life of J. A., experiences such as switching jobs, robbing, and having sex

with men and women were inextricably related. He was not a “steadfast and hard

worker,” criminologists claimed. In fact, rather than working, “he liked the company of

boys in the streets; went to the theater and dancing clubs frequently” because he said

“you can have fun there.” It was in these excursions that J. A. encountered a world of sex

in public spaces and brothels. He visited brothels to have sex with female prostitutes and

claimed to have had sex with multiple girls in La Plata. Sometimes he turned to the

streets and locales of sociability to find entertainment, sex and economic opportunities.

It seems that he was also willing to cheat whoever he could to make ends meet.

One time he managed to convince a state agency to give him 55 pesos, and he used the

money to travel from Bahia Blanca – a harbor a few hundred miles south – to Buenos
130
Aires. Once he arrived in the big city, he spent the equivalent of several months’ wages

having fun, until he run out of money again.3 Professionals and state officials were

outraged with this behavior, although it was not rare among plebeian men and women.

They could not see how job instability created a situation in which workers did not value

jobs and preferred to enjoy their life whenever possible rather than submit to any

discipline.4

The case of J. A. was not an isolated one; other sources reveal the same pattern

among young plebeian men. In their reports, criminologists repeatedly blame instability

on the workers. “He has a great inclination towards wandering and he lacks work habits”

claims one report of a man who had sex with another man. “Inconstancy regarding work”

condemns another criminologist.5 Another report states: “He takes a job again but quits a

moment later,” which in the eyes of the criminologist meant “inconstancy and incapacity

for any regular job.”6 But these accusations were not merely aimed at inmates and

criminals. Accusing the totality of the popular classes of vagrancy and unwillingness to

work was one of the most common elite tropes in turn-of-the-century Argentina.7 Such

accusations were biased elite representations, but in a distorted manner they expressed a

3
Case 34.
4
Carlos Arenaza, for instance, complains that Antonio – an 18-year-old boy he described as
“mentally degenerated, alcoholic, without a fixed profession and a recidivist who committed several crimes
against property” – was an “irregular subject” because he “played cards and bet in horse races, [and] his
budget for expenses is always higher than the one for income.” See Menores Delincuentes, 102. (case 13).
Arenaza repeats the same kind of observation for other plebeian men: “His instinct of property manifested
itself since his early childhood through frequent robbery; he has no habits of saving and spends everything
he earns or steals.” (p. 97, case 17).
5
Ibid., 17-8.
6
Ibid., 27-8.
7
See Lila Caimari, Apenas un delincuente.
131
reality. As Salvatore argued, many workers “were not confined to a closed work place;”

on the contrary, “they wandered through dockyards, municipal markets, railroad stations,

construction sites.” Workers’ lack of work habits is not surprising; they “did not stay long

enough – in their works – to learn norms of punctuality, regularity and sobriety.”8 It is in

the context of this sociability that plebeian men entered the urban underworld where

criminality and sex with prostitutes and people of the same sex was a visible

phenomenon.

In 1896, Juan went to work in the printing workshop of a match factory in the

Barracas al Norte suburb.9 He arrived fifteen minutes late and the factory was shuttered.

He decided to wander the city in search of some other opportunity to make money in the

street’s informal economy. After walking for a while, Juan recalled at trial, he found a

man who offered to pay him for carrying straw and followed him to an empty lot where

the man raped him.10 According to a witness, however, Juan was actually willingly

seeking money through prostitution.11 In fact, the witness saw Juan in an area where

8
Ricardo Salvatore, “Criminology, Prison Reform, and the Buenos Aires Working Class.”
9
Today known simply as “Barracas.” The reason why in the past this neighborhood was known as
“al norte,” meaning in the north, is that there was also “Barracas al sud,” which is now called Avellaneda.
Barracas [al norte] is one of the first industrial poles developed after the crisis of 1890, located in the
southern border of Buenos Aires, west of La Boca, which is the neighborhood built by Italian immigrants
around the southeastern harbor of the city. The division between Barracas al norte and Barracas al sud or
Avellaneda– which since 1880 has been outside of the city district – is established by the Riachuelo, the
river known for its narrowness in comparison to the River Plate where it ends.
10
Juan recalled this story in a trial against the man who raped him. For his account of what
happened, see “B.C. por sodomía¨, Criminal, Letra B, No 1098, Leg. 2. (1896): 3.
11
The witness, J. C. was an Uruguayan worker “without fixed residence” who saw Juan pass by
the train station Tres esquinas where he was. According to J. C., “around three in the afternoon Juan told
him that he was going to mastúrbate a man who had promissed to give him fifty cents” [“que iba a hacerle
la “puñeta” a un hombre que le había prometido darle cincuenta centavos,” Ibid., 10.
132
12
female prostitutes and lunfardos gathered. The trial does not offer enough evidence to

determine whether Juan voluntarily sought commercial sex or if he was raped by the

accused. Either of the two scenarios, however, points to the association between job

instability, street circulation and public male same-sex sexuality.

It was while walking the streets of Buenos Aires that many plebeian men came in

contact with other men who sought to have sex with them. In the early twentieth century,

F.L. found sexual intimacy with other men in the streets of Buenos Aires in a similar

way. Unlike Juan, who needed to help his poor and single mother, F.L. belonged to a

family that was not in dire straits. His parents provided for his education for six years, a

prolonged time in relation to the average time spent in education among the lower strata.

But F.L was hearing impaired and could not understand the teacher properly. He was not

allowed to continue his education because he would disturb the class, and then escape to

wander around the city. After being expelled from school, he began working with his

father who was a shoe maker. His father, however, questioned his discipline as a worker,

as F. L. would skip many working days to explore the streets of Buenos Aires. It was

there that F.L. began having sex with other men.13

The experiences that J.A., Juan and F. L. had in the streets were part of a broader

urban landscape of sexual encounters and practices between people of the same and

different sex in public areas that materialized in the late nineteenth century and early

twentieth centuries. In the next sections, I explore the social background of the men
12
The station Tres esquinas was identified as such by two famous historians of Tango. See Hector
Bates and Luis Bates, La historia del tango y sus autores (Buenos Aires: Taller Gráfico de la Compañia
General Fabril Financiera, 1936), 23.
13
See Carlos de Arenaza, Menores Delincuentes, and Alfredo E. Oliverio, “Estudio Médico-
psicológico del menor F.L.” in Revista Penitenciaria, Año V, No. 1, (Septiembre 1909): 27-49.
133
involved in these sexual encounters in relation to the life of the popular classes in Buenos

Aires between 1880 and 1930.

Job Instability, Robbery and Male Sexuality

Many men in Buenos Aires were circulating throughout the city in search of jobs,

and this was a factor that encouraged the development of sex between men. This was the

case of Donato, for instance, who worked as a servant, carpenter and painter when he was

only 15-years-old.14 Another 14-year-old boy who had sex with men also “worked in

several factories and workshops.”15 The association of sex between men and prostitution

and the circulation of workers due to job market instability constitutes a pattern among

seventy cases of men who had sex with other men and women. Extracting information on

the age, nationality and jobs of male individuals who had sex with other men from a

variety of sources (ranging from journal articles and academic books to sodomy files and

a military summary investigation), I built a set of seventy cases. (See the appendix for a

closer study of this set.) It is quite telling that most of the men in these files had unstable

jobs:

1. Unemployed 6
2. Day laborers 15
3. Self-employed (street informal economy) 7
4. Apprentices 4
5. Craftsmen 6
6. Domestic servants 2
7. Service economy 7
8. Industrial Workers 3
9. Skilled workers 4
10. Cadets and soldiers 6

14
Carlos Arenaza, Menores Delincuentes 14-16.
15
Ibid., 31.
134
11. Unknown 10

Total 70

In the case of the first two categories, job instability is evident. These twenty-one

cases make up 35% of the total number of cases containing information about the age of

the individual. Although categories three to seven may not appear to be associated with

unstable employment at first sight, an analysis of the historiography shows how

inextricably related they were to such phenomenon. As I will explain later, self-

employment was usually not a permanent arrangement. Workers frequently perceived

this possibility as a temporary strategy to cope with seasonal unemployment. Apprentices

did not occupy permanent positions, and most craftsmen worked in small workshops only

when they were unable to find better-paid jobs in large-scale industries. Domestic

servants were usually hired without any contract and on a temporary basis. Workers in

the service economy were also employed temporarily in most cases, especially in the

cases of the individuals in the set, who worked as cooks, painters, dairy laborers and

other precarious jobs.

When the first seven categories of workers who experienced job instability are

considered together, they encompass 78.33% of the cases. While the situation of workers

in the service economy and industry is more ambiguous, historians have reported that

employment was precarious even in large-scale industries. Only skilled workers seemed

to have stable jobs at the time, and they constitute only four out of a total of 60 in the set.

Even if we include categories 8 to 9 as cases of men with stable employment, the two

categories only comprise 11.66% of the total set. The proportion of cadets and soldiers in
135
the set should not be considered representative of any trend. Their numbers express the

sources’ institutional origin rather than reflecting anything about the social background of

men who had sex with other men. In categories 1 to 9 the cases come from police,

penitentiary and judicial files that could have referred to a wide spectrum of individuals

throughout society. But the cases of soldiers and sailors having sex with other men for the

most part came from a collective summary investigation. The authorities conducting the

summary on same-sex sexuality among cadets could only include their own constituency,

which makes the percentage of soldiers and sailors in the set disproportionate. If the

proportion of workers affected by instability is considered in relation to a total that does

not include soldiers and sailors, their number constitutes an overwhelming majority.

As in the case of Juan, J. A. and F. L., the rest of these seventy men who had sex

with other men (and in most cases with women too, especially prostitutes) also

participated in the world of crime. Most of these men, in fact, were not in prison because

of their sexual activities. The majority were confined due to robbery, and only a few of

the files come from sodomy trials where adult men were accused of statutory rape rather

than same-sex sexuality per se. These cases express a juxtaposition of the male world of

petty robbers and temporary workers among whom same-sex sexuality and commercial

sex with women were common practices.

According to historian Julia Kirk Blackwelder, during the early twentieth century,

day laborers – the largest category in the set – “accounted for nine of every ten people

arrested for drunkenness or disorderly behavior and eight of every ten indicted for

criminal offences, while they accounted for one in ten or two in ten of the city’s

workforce during these years” The higher incidence of day laborers in criminal activities,
136
Blackwelder argues, was an outcome of the job instability these workers experienced.

“Most crimes in Buenos Aires were committed by men who had failed to achieve a

dependable level of wage earning or enter the better paying trades.”16

The association of the urban underworld with the sphere of prostitution and male

casual sexual encounters is not only present as a pattern just among these seventy men.

Plebeian representations also situated sex between men in association with female

prostitution, robbery, unstable jobs and circulation throughout the city. A poem written in

a plebeian chapbook summarizes the relationship between these phenomena using the

following metaphor:

Mundane vice/ follows the profane environment/ of opulence and


luxury/ in between the flux and reflux/ of human waves17

This “mundane vice” encouraged by urban circulation was certainly a result of

masses of people wandering adrift throughout the city. According to Sheriff José

Gregorio Rossi, the number of men circulating throughout the city and engaging in

occasional crime was quite significant. In his eyes, the ever-increasing crime rate was due

to “the heterogeneity and the continuous motion of city population.” A stream of men –

most of whom were foreign immigrant workers with unstable jobs – converging in the

capital city encouraged the growth of criminality. He argued that the police had files for

10,000 male “professional criminals,” but he speculated that there were probably 5,000 to

10,000 more male criminals unidentified by the police because they circulated in and out

16
Julia Kirk Blackwelder, “Urbanization, Crime and Policing. Buenos Aires, 1880-1914,” in The
Problem of Order in Changing Societies. Essays on Crime and Policing in Argentina and Uruguay, 1750-
1940 ed. Lyman Johnson (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990), 77.
17
Bartolomé Aprile, Decimas Argentinas (Buenos Aires: no editorial mentioned, 1914), 7.
137
18
of Buenos Aires. When he published these figures in the 1900s, the city had

approximately 800,000 inhabitants, from which 200,000 formed the male economically

active population.

Contrasting the male economically active population with his estimation of the

number of male criminals, Rossi argued that one in every 15 male adults was an “expert

criminal.” The reports on these criminals, however, show that they were not “experts” or

“professionals,” but rather occasional robbers who also worked intermittently and

sometimes exploited female prostitutes.19 In a study of urban problems in Buenos Aires,

Carl Solberg argues that “a problem more serious than pauperism was the rapidly rising

urban crime rate, particularly in Buenos Aires.” The crime rate grew throughout this

period: “[B]etween 1887 and 1912 the city’s population tripled while the number of

crimes reported increased seven times.” As a result, “by 1914 Buenos Aires was

notorious for its professional thieves, pickpockets, and racketeers.” 20

These thieves, pickpockets and racketeers formed the group of “lunfardos” that

many elite authors associated with male same-sex sexuality. These were the plebeian men

referenced by professionals, state officials and plebeian culture in the previous chapter. In

fact, the name Rossi gives to the stream of men he mentions in his article is “lunfardo

colony.” Men like J. A. formed part of a highly mobile workforce affected by seasonal

18
Ibid., 172.
19
The gallery of robbers mentioned in Chapter I also refers to hundreds of criminal profiles where
men robbed as part of their survival strategies but did not seem to dedicate their lives as “professionals” in
these activities. See Argentina. Policía de la Capital. Galería de ladrones de la capital. 1880 a 1887.
Publicación hecha durante la jefatura del Señor Coronel Don Aureliano Cuenca, por el Comisario de
Pesquizas Don José S. Alvarez. Tomo 1 (Buenos Aires: Imprenta del Departamento de Policía de la
Capital, 1887).

20
Carl Solberg, “Immigration and Urban Social Problems in Argentina and Chile, 1890-1914,” in
The Hispanic American Historical Review, 49, No 2. (May, 1969): 215-232. See especially page 220.
138
employment. Finding themselves frequently idle, male workers socialized in the streets

and bars making the city look like a flood of virile men. Male interaction in these spaces

is what led to a competition for masculinity, encouraging the formation of a cultural

pressure to penetrate others. It was in this context that sex between men became usual.

The group of petty criminals circulating throughout the city was difficult to

differentiate from workers. Working and robbing were not incompatible, and as

historians of crime argue, the lowest tier of the workforce usually participated in crime.

In the slang of the popular classes, the term “trabajo” was used indistinguishably for both

work and robbery.21 Job instability and temporary unemployment leading to crime were

part of the daily experience of workers in Buenos Aires during this period. In 1913,

Manuel Gálvez, a famous Catholic thinker concerned about the disintegrating impact of

late nineteenth-century economic development, complained about the “insecurity of

workers’ life.” He explained how “after being fired [workers] have to walk around,

fifteen days, a month, two months, even six months without finding an occupation,

strolling throughout the city from one end to the other.”22 In a plebeian joke, two men

discussed this situation:

Working

A – Are you doing anything now B?


B – Yes, I am busy all the time.
A – Doing what?

21
“Trabajar: Robar, en el sentido más amplio y general de la palabra.” [Work: robbing, in the
widest possible and more general sense of the word] Antonio Dellepiane, El idioma del delito. (Buenos
Aires: Arnoldo Moen, 1894), 97.
22
Ellos nos dirán cómo, después de ser despedidos deben pasearse, quince días, un mes, dos meses,
hasta seis meses sin hallar ocupación, recorriendo la ciudad de un cabo al otro....” Manuel Gálvez, La
inseguridad obrera. Informe sobre el paro forzoso (Buenos Aires: Boletín del Departamento Nacional del
Trabajo no. 22, 1913), 383.
139
23
B – Looking for a job.

The business of looking for a job encouraged the urban circulation of male

workers who frequently engaged in petty crime and all kinds of sexual activities. This

pattern of mobility suggests that the sexual adventures with men and women observed

among the seventy cases studied in this chapter were part of a wider plebeian experience.

In the following section, I will engage in a closer analysis of the socio-economic context

that fostered mobility in order to explore the information provided by the seventy cases

studied here and the broader urban landscape of Buenos Aires between 1880 and 1930.

Economic Fluctuations and the Popular Classes

Before proceeding further into the analysis of male plebeian sexuality, it is crucial

to understand the seasonal characteristics of the Buenos Aires economy. Urban mobility,

job instability and crime were associated with economic fluctuations. While a study of

plebeian sexuality and sociability cannot reduce the analysis of these phenomena to

economic fluctuations, a closer look at the economy provides an idea of the context

where plebeian culture developed. In addition, studying fluctuations offers a dynamic

alternative to the prevailing understanding of the class structure of Buenos Aires. The

concept of “popular classes” used in this dissertation is a product of such a dynamic

approach. Conceptualizing the urban lower strata as popular classes not only provides an

23
“Trabajando/ A - ¿Estás haciendo algo ahora, B? / B Si, todo el tiempo me encuentro ocupado./
A – En qué./ B – Buscando trabajo.” Juan de la Rosa, Chistes y cosas y quisicosas y risas y risotadas
recolectados por Juan de la Rosa. Sin que nadie me ayude y con permiso de mi mamá. Para diversión y
alegría de mis congéneres (Buenos Aires: A. E. Bunge, 1899), 38.
140
insight into the study of sexuality, but also illuminates the historiography of Buenos Aires

in a different way.

There are two major historiographic approaches to explaining the class structure

of Buenos Aires, and both are inadequate when exploring sexuality as it appears in the

sources considered in this study. One approach analyzes the urban lower strata using the

traditional concept of working class. Arguing that Buenos Aires was fully integrated into

the capitalist world market by the end of the nineteenth century, Marxist historiography

claims that porteño/a workers constituted a working class comparable to that of the major

industrial centers.24 Historian José Luis Romero criticized the use of the term “working

class” when discussing the urban lower strata of Buenos Aires from 1880 to 1930.

Romero argued that a multiplicity of groups existed among the urban poor as a result of

“alluvial” transformations driven by sudden economic growth and an unprecedented

migration wave. Industrial workers were not as significant in Buenos Aires as they were

in the industrial centers of the North Atlantic. In the capital of Argentina, these workers

formed just one among many of the other social groups of urban poor people. Using the

concept of “sectores populares,” Romero meant to capture a multiplicity of social groups.

Instead of limiting the analysis to a minority of stable, industrial workers, Romero’s

24
See: Ricardo Falcón, El mundo del trabajo urbano, 1890-1914 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de
América Latina, 1986); Ricardo Falcón, Los orígenes del movimiento obrero, 1857-1899 (Buenos Aires:
Centro Editor de América Latina, 1984); Marina Kabat, Del taller a la fábrica: Industria y clase obrera en
la rama del calzado, Buenos Aires 1870 – 1940 (Buenos Aires: Razón y Revolución, 2005); and the articles
published on this topic in the 2002 issue of Razón y Revolución: Juan Kornblitt, “La ley del más fuerte:
Molinos y centralización del capital, 1870-1920,” Martin Monsalve, “Inversiones sólidas, ganancias
líquidas: La explotación del petróleo en la Argentina hasta 1930,” Leonardo Grande Cobián, “El eslabón
perdido de la industria metalúrgica argentina,” and Rodolfo López, “Una de cal y una de arena: Acerca de
la industria de la construcción, Buenos Aires 1870-1940.” no. 9, (Fall 2002).
141
concept included artisans, street vendors, agricultural laborers and fundamentally the

middle classes.25

Although both approaches conceptualize some aspects of Buenos Aires class

structure, they both fail to capture important elements of plebeian life. Romero’s

approach and Marxist historiography fail to capture social and geographic mobility and

the blurred boundaries between workers and the urban underworld. As a result, neither of

these approaches can provide an adequate framework to analyze plebeian sociability and

sexual culture. By describing the urban lower strata as a stable working class, the

traditional Marxist approach fails to capture seasonal unemployment and its relation to

the agro-export economy. Romero’s alternative offers a more nuanced understanding of

the multifaceted character of the popular classes, but the word “sectores” presents the

different groups as clear-cut aggregates with no mutual relation when in reality, job

instability created a circulation of people moving between different branches of the

economy. Romero emphasized circulation only when it involved upward mobility. Such

mobility existed throughout the decades, but in the daily life of the popular classes, the

25
The idea of an “alluvial” transformation of Argentina due to migration, an idea that was crucial
for the development of the concept of “sectores populares” was developed for the first time in José Luis
Romero, Argentina: imágenes y perspectivas (Buenos Aires: Raigal, 1956). Romero worked on his
characterization of the class structure of Buenos Aires in a number of later works, such as: José Luis
Romero, Las ideas políticas en Argentina (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1975); also in José
Luis Romero, Latinoamerica: Las ciudades y las ideas (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1976). The most
important authors of these traditions are Leandro Gutierrez, “ Condiciones de la vida material de los
sectores populares en Buenos Aires, 1880-1914,” in Revista de Indias, Spain, (1981): 41, 163-164, 167-
202; and Leandro Gutierrez and Luis Alberto Romero, Sectores populares, cultura y politica: Buenos Aires
en la entreguerra (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1995). In the early 1980s, the historians at the PEHESA
group spread this concept through their work. See PEHESA: An Argentine Social-History Group, Latin
American Research Review, 18, No. 2. (1983): 118-124.
142
circulation between different but equally lower positions within the social structure

played a more important role. 26

26
Argentine historian Ricardo Salvatore studied the impact of cyclical fluctuations over the job
market through the exploration of job categories in the censuses. Defining casual laborers as those who
engage “for short periods of time in activities requiring no previous training or particular skills,” he found
three categories in the census of 1895 and 1914 that could be included within this definition: “peons,” “day
laborers,” (jornaleros), and “workers without fixed occupation.” The three categories included between 10
and 18 per cent of the population in the two censuses. In addition, as much as “45 per cent of the new jobs
created during this period fell under these categories.” These were not the only signs of the importance of
seasonal job market fluctuation. Salvatore also considered how other occupations were also affected by job
instability. Another important unstable portion of the job market belonged to unstable and unskilled
occupations with low wages – “such as domestic servant, messenger, gardener, stevedore, charcoal man,
cart-driver, waiter, clothes washer, and ironer” – and categories of disguised unemployment – “witch
doctor, street artist, boxer, flower vendor, bottle peddler, paper boy, street vendor, shoe shiner, and stable
boy.” These occupational categories “comprised at least another 11 to 12 percent of the new jobs created
between 1895 and 1914.” The analysis of census data, however, offers a limited understanding of the
cyclical nature of the economy, as this is not an aspect that turn-of-the-century demographers and
economists who wanted to promote an image of national progress sought to explore. Other sources suggest
that the seasonal nature of production and the job market was even greater than the census would let us
believe.
Much of the available statistical data concerning the urban job market confirm its unstable nature.
A survey of the National Department of Labor conducted in 1913 – Salvatore noticed – classified 50
percent of the workforce as workers who had no particular fixed job (obreros sin oficio). According to
Jeremy Adelman, a British historian, “Argentina’s labor market required a broad supply of unskilled
labourers to work on the railways, public works and construction as these activities responded to
investment flows.” Such flows contributed to the general tendency of economic fluctuation and contributed
to the general instability of the job market. As Michael Johns argues: “Dependence on the export sector
also translated into unpredictable government revenues and the stop-go nature of public works projects.”
See Michael Johns, “Industrial Capital and Economic Development in Turn of the Century Argentina, 194.
For an analysis of how the stop-go nature of public works projects affected the job market, see José
Panettieri, “Desocupación, subocupación, trabajo estacional,” 21-30. Adelman notices that a large supply of
workers was also needed “as a reserve of mobile labour to alleviate seasonal agricultural demand for
harvesters.” (Jeremy Adelman, Essays in Argentine Labour History, 14). In fact, as Salvatore notes, the
“seasonal nature of labor demand in the countryside added to the occupational and spatial mobility of the
city’s workforce.” Many urban workers would temporarily abandon their jobs to earn better wages
“shearing wool, threshing wheat, or harvesting corn.” (Ricardo Salvatore, “Criminology, Prison Reform,
and the Buenos Aires Working Class,” 283) In addition to the mobility of the workforce between urban and
rural areas within Argentina, there was also seasonal trans-Atlantic migration. In 1890, fifty thousand
temporary workers came to Argentina from Europe for the grain harvest and came back to their places of
origin a few months later. After their work in rural areas, “these workers had to return to the city and work
temporarily until their scheduled departure for Europe.” (283) In 1900, the number of people involved in
this form of trans-Atlantic seasonal migration doubled. (283) An analysis of the cyclical nature of the
economy and the instability of the job market should also take into account the characteristic of economic
growth during the period.
No matter how fast the Argentine economic growth rate between 1880 and 1930, it did not take
place gradually. On the contrary, it was subjected to important fluctuations. The British crisis of 1890
provoked the first important economic downturn of the period in the Argentine economy, and although the
impact of the crisis was felt only for a few years, in 1897 another crisis began, and the overall growth rate
did not recover until 1902. See Fernando Rocchi, Chimneys in the Desert: Industrialization in Argentina
During the Export-Boom Years, 1870-1930. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 43-8. In addition,
this period of crisis “coincided with one of the peaks in immigration” and it “generated tens of thousands of
143
Workers were compelled to circulate between different branches of the economy

because of economic fluctuations. Although large-scale industries employed a significant

portion of urban workers – a tendency that became increasingly important towards the

1920s – many people worked for small workshops when the fluctuations in industrial

production resulted in unemployment. According to Jeremy Adelman, the workshop “was

functional to the new booming industries” because it “offered employment to family

members laid-off because of economic crisis or strikes.” He argues that after “a brief

sojourn in the taller, the family member could re-enter the wage-labour market.” Not

only were workshops functional to the seasonal fluctuation affecting the largest

industries, but household production was also a part of the economy and “was really just

unemployed people, particularly affecting the situation of casual laborers.” (283). In a single day at the end
of 1891, the employers of the Buenos Aires harbor fired seven thousand construction workers. In his
message to the Congress in May 1891, President Carlos Pellegrini informed of a significant reduction of
personnel working for the city of Buenos Aires. Tramway and railway companies also fired many workers.
A significant part of the economy shut down. This crisis was so devastating that it ignited a political
rebellion demanding the modernization of the democratic system. In the years 1900 and 1901, the job
market was affected by another economic blow. The economy had grown fast and at a steady rate since
1902, but in 1913 another crisis began, and by 1917 the unemployment included 19% of the economically
active population. See Leandro Gutierrez, Trabajadores y marginales en Buenos Aires, 1880-1914 (Buenos
Aires: PEHESA-CISEA, 1980), 4-5. The reduction of the workforce in the construction industry was more
acute than in other branches of the economy. In August 1912, there were 34, 055 construction workers, but
only two years later the number had decreased to a figure as low as 14,942 in August 1914,. Workers in the
industries and transport did not suffer the impact of the crisis so strongly, but they were also affected: in the
same period their number dropped from 264, 067 to 222,613. See José Panettieri, “Desocupación,
subocupación, trabajo estacional,”,\ 24. The end of the war brought another period of fast economic
growth, but it ended again with the economic crisis of the 1930s. During the 1880-1930 period, the
economic crises were different from those that happened after the 1930s. Fluctuation between growth and
crisis was deeper than it would be after state intervention and import substitution industrialization became
dominant in the 1930s. See Guido di Tella and Manuel Zumelman, Los ciclos económicos argentinos
(Buenos Aires: Paidos, 1973). This means that in addition to the annual seasonal cycle of production,
violent upward and downward economic movements took place through the years, adding another
significant contribution to job instability. Hobart Spalding, La clase trabajadora argentina. Documentos
para su historia, 1890-1912 (Buenos Aires: Galerna, 1970), 34. Another way of exploring the effect of the
cyclical economic crisis over workers is to measure the evolution of their real wages. Although real wages
increased significantly throughout the period considered in this chapter, between 1880 and 1900 they were
subjected to deep fluctuations. The period between 1900 and 1913 showed a gradual growth of real wage
without major fluctuations, but from WWI to 1930, real wages were again subjected to deep upward and
downward movements. Fernando Rocchi, Chimneys in the Desert, see graphic in p. 51
144
a putting-out system which offered short term employment, say, between the harvests.”27

In addition, circulation between jobs was not limited to these two forms – large-scale

industries and workshops – but it also included many other possibilities.

The urban poor also turned to the informal street economy when other jobs were

not available. Labor historians have not closely researched this survival alternative,

which was crucial for turn-of-the-century workers, because there are very few sources

providing statistical information about work in the streets. However, there are reasons to

believe that a significant portion of the lower strata would eventually survive through the

informal economy. Boys and young men prevailed in the informal economy, as Argentine

historian Juan Suriano has argued.28 In a study conducted by Jose Ingegnieros in 1908,

the physician argued that ten thousand boys worked selling newspapers in the streets of

Buenos Aires.29 Furthermore, Ricardo Salvatore has argued that while this instability

impacted the workforce as a whole, job instability especially affected women and the

youngest.

What the analysis of the Buenos Aires job market suggests is the existence of a

very fluid class structure, one where in the short term people moved mostly within

unskilled and low paid occupations rather than being driven by upward mobility.30

27
Jeremy Adelman, Essays in Argentine Labour History, 7.

28
Juan Suriano, “Niños trabajadores.”
29
José Ingenieros, “Los niños vendedores de diarios y la delincuencia precoz. Notas sobre una
encuesta efectuada en 1901,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. VII, (1908):
329-48.
30
The relations with production that these workers experienced also changed constantly. Workers
in large-scale industries were closer to the traditional proletariat of the Northern Atlantic economies. They
would sell their labor power to industrialists who owned the means of production. In small workshops, the
relations of production were very different. These workshops were usually also owned by workers
145
Despite the importance of horizontal mobility, the historiography of Buenos Aires has

usually emphasized vertical mobility from working to middle class status. This is the

result of focusing on long term development rather than exploring the sociability of the

popular classes, but it is also due to the historiographic understanding of the turn of the

nineteenth century to the twentieth century as an era of progress. The elite frequently

ignored issues such as seasonal unemployment and the highly mobile character of the

mobile force as things that fostered crime, arguing that there was no job scarcity in a

market where the demand for workers was higher than the supply. From their point of

view, it wasn’t easy to find workers, which was actually one of the reasons why a mass

migration had taken place beginning in the 1880s. Unfortunately, many historians still

considered turn-of-the-century unemployment rare for the same reasons. The demand for

workers was undeniable, but jobs would usually provide work only for a short period of

time, after which people were temporarily unemployed and left to find positions in

another economic activity.31

The root of unstable employment lay in the seasonal character of agro-export

production between 1880 and 1930. Most large-scale industries – such as working the

harbor, the railways and the meat packing companies – were subjected to the cycles of

rural production and thus offered temporary employment for a few months. Following the

themselves, or by incipient middle class families. In the informal economy, there was no distinction
between labor force and means of production. Men working in the informal economy were surviving
through commerce in the streets. Occasional robbery and prostitution implied still another very different
form of relating with the economic sphere in order to subsist.
31
For an analysis of Gálvez’s study and the conditions of seasonal unemployment, see: José
Panettieri, “Desocupación, subocupación, trabajo estacional, trabajo intermitente. De la crisis del ’90 a la
Primera Guerra Mundial,” in José Panetieri (ed.) Mercado de Trabajo y Paro Forzoso. Desde los
comienzos de la Argentina moderna hasta la crisis de los años ’30 (La Plata: Estudios e Investigaciones,
Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación, Universidad nacional de la Plata, 1990).
146
1880s generation of elite intellectuals, historians have labeled the years between 1880

and 1930 as a period of “progress.” The image of turn-of-the-century Argentina as a

liberal polity with a thriving economy has sometimes obscured the facts surrounding the

instability of the Argentine economy and its consequences for workers and the daily life

of the popular classes. Despite an overall high growth rate experienced by the Argentine

economy during this period, instability prevailed and it shaped the job market. As

economic historian Michael Johns explained, “labor was a flexible commodity absorbed

and released in accord with the significant seasonal and yearly fluctuations that jostled

Argentina’s rapidly growing but chronically unstable economy.” 32

In the context of a job market where seasonal employment was so important, the

magnitude of men with unstable jobs in the set of seventy men who had sex with other

men is not surprising. The set seemed to contain a higher proportion of men with unstable

jobs than what was usual in the general population of Buenos Aires. Only three

individuals out of sixty for whom there is information had jobs in the large-scale

industries, and only four were skilled laborers. The rest of the men were day laborers,

unemployed individuals, apprentices and individuals working in the informal economy.

Also, the individuals in the set were among the lowest-paid tier of the workforce. As I

argued, the composition of the sample is biased towards the lowest urban strata because

they had a higher participation in the urban underworld where sex between men was

more frequent.

The contrast between the set of men who had sex with other men and the general

characteristics of the Buenos Aires job market also reveals other things. Although the

32
Michael Johns, “Industrial Capital and Economic Development in Turn of the Century
Argentina,” Economic Geography, Vol. 68, No. 2, Industrial Geography (April, 1992), 193.
147
men in the set did not represent the whole of the popular classes (only those with more

unstable jobs), this should be seen in terms of the general dynamics of workforce

circulation. If sex between men was associated with unstable jobs and robbery, this

probably means that individuals were more likely to engage in this sexual activity when

they were located in a specific tier of the workforce. Throughout their lives, however,

plebeian men were likely to circulate between different tiers of the workforce as part of

the general circulation of workers in the job market. The association of sex between men

with a fluid group of individuals in constant change is probably what explains why

contemporaries described this sexual practice as widespread but failed to be precise about

the group they were describing. Lunfardos could be accused of performing same-sex

sexuality, but they were not easy to circumscribe as a group because they constituted an

unstable flux of people, a “human wave” as the plebeian poem stated.

Rather than identifying a clear-cut group, I have tried to define the contour of a

fluid phenomenon that was concentrated among certain people at some point of their

lives. In the next section, I will continue analyzing such contours by exploring the age of

the men in the set. An analysis of the age of the seventy men studied in this chapter in

relation to their sexual activities provides a closer idea of the dynamics of workforce

circulation. At the same time, this analysis will also suggest a more accurate

characterization of the plebeian men who had sex with female prostitutes and plebeian

men in the context of the urban underworld.


148
Age and Sex between Men

The age of the seventy men in the set suggests that the sexual life of men from the

popular classes was strongly age-structured. Male same-sex sexuality seemed to have a

higher incidence among the younger portion of the urban workforce. The average age of

the set of seventy men is 16.73 years.33 The data in the set, as well as a number of cultural

representations I will discuss throughout this section, present a world where sexual roles

were distributed according to the age of the partners. While both “active” and “passive”
33
The cases’ average deviation from the average age in the sample is 4.56 years, but most of the
deviation is due to the sodomy files. While the average deviation from the age average in the rest of the
cases is 2.97 years, in the sodomy cases the average deviation is 6.67 years. This illustrates how the age of
the male individuals involved in same-sex sexual practices varies according to the kind of sources; unlike
in the case of professions. In the case of professions, soldiers and sailors were over-represented because
their files originated in military documents. In the case of the age distribution of the sample, variation
according to the institutional origin of the source constitutes an important characteristic. Sodomy trials – 28
cases – have an average age of 18.35 years, although this figure obscures the importance of age difference
between accused individuals and victims. Those who were accused in these trials had an average of 26
years, whereas the victims’ average was 11.73 years. The gap between the two groups is directly related to
the nature of these trials. Sodomy as it was defined in the Argentine Penal code was comparable to the
present American legal definition of statutory rape, with the legal age of consent being 14 years. This
means that the information from these trials by definition limits the age of the victims to boys younger than
14 years old and includes accused men above the legal age. By itself, the average age of individuals in the
sodomy trials does not constitute a proper index of the age of male individuals who performed same-sex
sexuality. The files produced by the military academy have the same problem. They originate in a summary
conducted among cadets in a school with boys between 13 and 19 years old. Because individuals older and
younger than the school age could not be included, the average age of files is also institutionally biased.
Penitentiary files are also institutionally biased. Although the penitentiary confined adult men, the files
included in the sample come from the Revista Penitenciaria, a journal publishing studies of legal minors
confined in Marcos Paz, the major reformatory in Buenos Aires at the time. This is why the average age of
cases from this institution is 15.83 years. A significant portion of the files – 28 Cases – was taken from a
study on the “sexual pathology” of legal minors involved in criminal activities. Again, the average age of
13.35 years in this study are biased towards the young. Only a few files (# 32, 41 and 42) include adult men
whose age was not the result of an institutional selection due to legal or statutory definition of some kind.
Despite the fact that the institutions producing the files in the sample selected young individuals, there are
reasons to believe that young men were more likely to engage in same-sex sexuality in Buenos Aires during
this period. The men who participated in the world of robbery and prostitution were more likely to be
younger than those whose life was more oriented towards the family and enjoyed stable jobs. As Sandra
Gayol points out, patrons in the bars where male segregated sociability found a space were
disproportionately single and younger than the average man in plebeian Buenos Aires. When the British
visitor Turner describes the men in these male spaces of sociability, he also refers to their youth. This was a
city where most plebeian boys were already working at the age of nine years (see Juan Suriano, “Niños
trabajadores.”) And the younger the workers were, the more likely they were to suffer the impact of the
seasonal job market. If robbery and job instability were so closely related, as Blackwelder and Salvatore
claim, and children experienced instability to a higher degree, a representative sample of robbers should be
biased in favor of the younger individuals.
149
partners of same-sex sexual relations tended to be among the youngest workers, it was

usual for men who played the active role to be older than those who played the receptive

one. Age structured sexuality because younger men were socially vulnerable and highly

exposed to the world of male plebeian sociability (which I analyzed closer in the previous

chapter). As individuals grew older, they had access to relatively more secure jobs that

gave them an income steadier than that of their younger fellows. Comparatively, older

workers were less integrated into a segregated male sociability where mutual competition

encouraged all kinds of sexual activities, including sex between men and with female

prostitutes. The difference in the social condition of younger and older workers seemed to

have an important effect on sexuality.

The sources suggest that in many cases adult men did not find it problematic to

penetrate younger men, and took advantage of their vulnerability. In a culture where

gender-segregated sociability led men to compete for masculinity by displaying the

capacity to impose their sexuality on others, many men would take advantage of the

vulnerability of other men and penetrate them. One fundamental element of vulnerability

was age; in many cases, adult men forcibly penetrated younger ones. This was especially

the case among people who had violated “edicts” and were confined in police stations.

Although adult men sometimes penetrated minors, in most of the cases, the age

difference was between individuals who were only a few years distant from each other, to

the extent that frequently both individuals were legal minors.

In the set at large, the average age of those individuals who played the receptive

role in sexual intercourse with other men was 13.03 years, while the average age of the

individuals performing the insertive role was 21.4 years. This tendency is also expressed
150
in other information available in the set. Some of the files of individuals performing the

receptive role in sexual intercourse report the ages of the partners who penetrated them.

Out of seventeen files for which this information is available, sixteen cases reveal that the

insertive partner was older than the receptive one. In five cases, the age difference was 5

years or less (cases 49, 23, 11, 10, 8); in seven cases the difference was more than 5 years

(25, 30, 15, 24, 31, 6, 2); in four cases, the individual who played the insertive role was

older but the age difference was not reported (70, 45, 53, 51). Although this may suggest

that a difference of more than five years between the two sexual partners was not

unusual, all the cases where the age difference is larger are sodomy files. The distance

between the age of receptive and insertive partners in sodomy files is significantly larger

than in the rest of the set. In these files, the receptive role reported for minors had an

average age of 11.33, while the insertive role reported for adults had an average age of

25.18 years. If sodomy trials are left aside, the average age distance in the rest of the set

decreases: it is 19.08 for individuals performing penetration and 14.4 years for those who

played the receptive role.

Other sources where the age of the individuals was not determined by institutional

target confirm that the age difference between insertive and receptive partners was likely

to happen between youngsters in their late teens and younger boys. In a survey of 500

newspaper boys conducted by José Ingenieros in 1901, the author found that the older

group – who were still youngsters in their mid- to late- teens – usually penetrated those

who were a few years younger than them.34 Although it is difficult to assess with

34
José Ingenieros, “Los niños vendedores de diarios y la delincuencia precoz,”Archivos de
Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, 7 (1908): 329-348.
151
precision the exact age-difference between partners, all the sources indicate the existence

of an age-structured form of male same-sex sexuality. Individuals from very different

social origins perceived age as a factor in sexual relations among the younger portion of

the plebeian population.

A number of trials and summaries indicate that different authorities, state

officials, judges, victims and accused people believed that sex among the younger portion

of the population was usual and age structured in the manner explained above. In 1869,

for instance, the headmaster of a high school faced a denouncement of sodomy in his

school arguing that same-sex sexuality was common among students in most

institutions.35 Although this was a defensive claim, it is unlikely that the headmaster

would made such a pronouncement concerning the frequency of sex among the same-sex

youngsters if he were not sure that it would resonate for his audience. In 1880, the

authorities of a military academy conducted a summary investigation against a group of

students who were suspected of engaging in sodomy. One of the cadets in the summary

stated that “it is of public knowledge among his fellow students that there are cadets in

the [military] company willing to represent the role of the woman in [sexual]

intercourse.”36 The authorities took this statement seriously, and they began asking cadets

“if you know or have heard from any of the Cadets in your company, that among them

35
According to the headmaster, what has happened, should be seen as one of the many failures
commited by children, providing as an excuse [the fact] that in most schools these acts take place,” “tenía
que mirarse como una de las tantas faltas que cometen los niños y dando por escusación que en la mayor
parte de los Colegios tienen lugar semejantes actos.” Argentina. Archivo General de la Nación. Fondo
Tribunales Criminales. Letra G. Legajo 2, no 7, “contra Luis Galloso por sodomía,” (1869): 1.
36
“…por ser de publico conocimiento entre sus compañeros que hay aspirantes en la Compañía,
afectos a representar el papel de mujer, por efectuar el coito” and he quoted examples of some of the
students. Argentina. Archivo General del Ejército, Legajo 3035, Ibid., 10.
152
there were those who had illicit relationships, […] being prone to provide caresses to the

younger cadets.”37 The headmaster, the cadets and the authorities of the military academy

took for granted that older cadets were seeking to penetrate younger ones.

They were not the only ones who believed that same-sex sexuality was age

structured in these terms. In a sodomy trial taking place in 1896, the accused boy, the

legal experts and the judge seemed to take for granted that same-sex sexuality was

widespread among plebeian men and was age-structured. The accused boy, who was

between 13 and 17 years old and nicknamed “the Tuscan,” raped an 8-year-old boy while

they were playing seek and hide with other boys from the neighborhood. The judge

suspected that in this case, statutory rape had taken place without “discernment and

malice,”38 and he asked “the Tuscan” why he had penetrated the younger boy while in the

empty lot. According to the accused, “he had heard many times from his fellow workers

that men could play the role of women for money.”39 The two legal experts hired to

advise the judge about the “morality” of The Tuscan wrote a report arguing that he had

penetrated the younger boy as a result of the “refined perversion motivated by the home

environment, the corrupted examples of adults or the friends with whom he used to meet

for his child games.” They believed that “all these causes might have influenced his

37
“Si sabe o a [sic] oído a alguno de los Aspirantes de su compañía, que entre estos haya quienes
tengan relaciones ilícitas, y sean afectos a prodigar caricias a los más jóvenes de los Aspirantes…”
Argentina. Archivo General del Ejército, Legajo 3035, Ibid., 10.
38
“…discernimiento y malicia…” Argentina. Archivo General de la Nación. Fondo Tribunales
Criminales. Letra C. Legajo 2. “C.C. (a) ‘El Toscano y Chirino acusado de sodomía,” (1896): 39.
39
“había oído muchas veces a los compañeros de trabajo que los hombres podían hacer el papel de
mugeres [sic] por dinero.” Argentina. Archivo General de la Nación. Fondo Tribunales Criminales. Letra
C. Legajo 2. 1896, Ibid., 39.
153
40
customs to incline him to evil.” The judge agreed that his fellow workers had misled

The Tuscan into believing that penetrating younger boys constituted acceptable behavior.

Other sodomy trials also describe same-sex sexuality as an activity that older individuals

impose on younger ones through physical strength or economic means.

The case of a soldier who was caught when he was about to have sex with a boy

in 1901 suggests that some plebeian men had no qualms about having sex with boys who

occasionally worked as prostitutes. When the soldier was interrogated during the trial, he

claimed that the 9-year-old boy named W. S. presented himself as being “from the life,”41

a term that female prostitutes also used to describe their activity. We will never know if

the boy really said that, but if the accused man fabricated this lie to save himself, it was

because he expected the judge to believe that it was possible for a boy this age to work as

a prostitute. Either as truth or fabrication, when the accused blamed the victim for being a

prostitute, he was attempting to justify his actions according to his own understanding

rather than according to the law. From a legal point of view, the judge would find the

accused guilty even if the boy was actually a prostitute. The inability of the accused to

argue effectively suggests that he was strategizing according to his own cultural context.

It seems that among plebeian men, it was appropriate to have sex with minors if they

were prostitutes. A closer look at the discourse of the accused confirms this. He took the

boy behind the bushes of Plaza Lavalle and was caught on the spot by the police. In his

40
“ consecuencia de refinada perversion, motivada por el ambiente en que habiase desarrollado en
su hogar, por los ejemplos corrompidos de sus mayores o por los de los amigos con quienes formaba
reunion en sus juegos infantiles, causas todas que podian haber influido en sus costumbres para inclinarlo al
mal.” Ibid, 28.
41
“de la vida,” Argentina. Archivo General de la Nación. Fondo Tribunales Criminales. Letra D,
legajo 1, 1901, p. 11. See references to this term in Roberto Arlt, Los siete locos (Buenos Aires: Centro
Editor de Cultura, 2005 [1929]):15 and 31.
154
declaration, instead of denying his sexual interest in the boy, the soldier argued that

although he originally meant to penetrate W.S., he became uninterested once the boy

undressed and he realized that his body was “small and unworthy of attention.”42 Such a

claim implied that this adult man did not find it problematic to penetrate a young boy.

According to his words, the accused would only refuse to have sex with the boy if he did

not find him sexually attractive. This adult man was taking his sexual interest in boys for

granted. This was not an isolated case; other adult men also expressed such interest

explicitly or failed to conceal it.43

The particular location of this event suggests that the boy was actually seeking to

exchange sex for money. Plaza Lavalle was a well-known spot for female prostitutes, and

the boy was in need of money.44 He had abandoned his family and after a few days living

with his godfather, the man told him to return home. Instead, the boy went to a

prostitution area at 2:00 a.m. and approached an adult man, accompanying him to the

bushes without complaint. They passed by a policeman who asked them what they were

doing, and when the soldier claimed to be the father of the boy, he did not deny it or ask

the policeman for help to get out of the situation. It would be reasonable to infer that the

boy did not want to return home and was attempting to make some money through

prostitution. Homeless children who had abandoned their families were not rare in

42
“…era chico y no vaía la pena.” Archivo General de la Nación. Fondo Tribunales Criminales.
Letra D, legajo 1, Ibid., 12.
43
A 24-year-old man was not afraid to tell a physician that he was interested in “ephebes.” Amador
Lucero, Psicopatología Forense. Informes en materia criminal y civil (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Coni
Hermanos, 1917).
44
“According to a report from the Swiss cónsul at Buenos Aires in 1897, the traffickers [of white
slave trade] were largely Polish Jews; 2,200 girls appeared to have been crowded into brothels of the Calle
Lavalle alone, which had been nicknamed ‘the street of blood and tears.’” Alain Corbin, Women for Hire:
Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 287.
155
Buenos Aires at the time. The daily files of the downtown police station listed dozens of

run-away children reported everyday by their parents.45 In a city where prostitution

flourished due to male demand that did not seem to care much about the specific

characteristics of the sexual outlets, prostitution was a way of coping with poverty and

marginality for run-away children. In fact, there are several examples of adult men who

paid to penetrate boys.

Other descriptions of Buenos Aires also suggest that there were boys and adult

men having sex in the streets. In his novel about the life of an Italian male immigrant in

Buenos Aires, Eugenio Cambacérès invented the following scene with boys in the street:

They would play to being men and women; the older playing the
former role, and the younger the latter, and surrounded by a cloak of
shame, in the midst of darkness, infected by the poison of vice even in the
more intimate part of their souls, they would knock down each other in
couples imitating the example of their parents, making a parody of the
scenes of the rounded rooms of the tenement houses with all the
refinement of a precocious and profound corruption.46

Although this was a literary invention, when juxtaposed to similar situations in

the sodomy trials the paragraph suggests that the author was using real images to inspire

his narrative. In fact, Cambacérès wanted to be recognized as an example of naturalism, a

literary current known for stressing what late nineteenth-century intellectuals perceived

as social decadence related to modernization. In order to represent decadence effectively,

45
Argentina. Policía de la Capital. Comisaría Primera. Libro de Ordenes del Día.

46“Como murciélagos que ganan el refugio de sus nichos, a dormir, a jugar, antes que acabara el
sueño por rendirlos, tirábanse en fin acá y allá, por los rincones. Jugaban a los hombres y las mujeres;
hacían de ellos los mas grandes, de ellas los más pequeños, y, como en un manto de verguenza, envueltos
entre tinieblas, contagiados por el veneno del vicio hasta lo íntimo del alma, de a dos por el suelo,
revolcándose se ensayaban en imitar el ejemplo de sus padres, parodiaban las escenas de los cuartos
redondos de conventillo con todos los secretos refinamientos de una precoz y ya profunda corrupción.”
Eugenio Cambacérès, En la sangre (Buenos Aires: Colihue, 1996 [1887]), 54.
156
these authors would try to find examples of daily urban life that readers would find

veritable, rather than mere inventions.

In the 1920s, Roberto Arlt, an author who was also interested in representing

plebeian Buenos Aires, also provided a similar fictional representation. In this case, the

author did not belong to the naturalist current, but rather to a new form of plebeian

realism. Despite the difference in literary style, there is a similar representation of age-

structured sexuality that suggests this kind of fictional portrayal was not merely a result

of naturalism’s interest in showing “pathology” in relation to “social decadence.” Talking

about the mood of the young Endorsain – the main character in his famous “The Seven

Madmen” – Arlt says that his anguish

…drove him closer to the center of a silent crowd of terrible men


who during the day drag their misery along selling artifacts or bibles, in
the evening strolling throughout the urinals where they exhibit their
genitals to the lads who enter the restrooms urged by other similar
anxieties.47

This scene takes place in a novel about plebeian men who interact in an urban

world where crime and prostitution are not unusual. Arlt’s fictionalization of plebeian

culture was not meant to present events that were unlikely to happen. According to

Beatriz Sarlo, Arlt’s narrative should be taken as an attempt to capture what an “ideal

flâneur” would see when walking by the city.48 Later in the same novel, Arlt narrates a

scene in a plebeian bar where the interaction of these activities also coincides with an

47
“…lo niveló para el seno de una multitud silenciosa de hombres terribles que durante el día
arrastran su miseria vendiendo artefactos o biblias, recorriendo al anochecer los urinarios, donde exhiben
sus organos genitales a los mozalbetes que entran a los mingitorios acuciados por otras ansiedades
semejantes.” Roberto Arlt, Los siete locos (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de Cultura, 2005 [1929]), 70-1.

48
See Beatriz Sarlo, Una modernidad periférica: Buenos Aires 1920 y 1930 (Buenos Aires: Nueva
Visión, 1988). See Chapter 1 and more specifically pp. 16.
157
age-structured homoerotic interaction between a man and a boy. A band in the bar was

playing what Arlt called a “tango carcelario” or “penitentiary tango.” In the perception

of Endorsain, the music “sacralized the suffering of the whore and the horrible boredom

of [life in] the jail.”49 While listening to this tango in the company of plebeian patrons,

Endorsain watches a nearby table where “a black man stirred a minor’s rear.”50 Endorsain

continued watching these two characters and later observes: “the black man who was

touching the minor’s backside now put the hands of this [boy] in his shameful parts.”51

What is shocking from our present point of view is that these actions were taking place in

a public place in front of everybody. Although Endorsain and many others were

observing this behavior, in this fiction they do not find the scene reprehensible enough to

intervene. The lack of a moral concern that could prevent this sexual activity coincides

with what the sources discussed above also suggest.

These different sources where all kinds of individuals – both from the elite and

the popular classes – talk about age-structured, same-sex sexuality coincide with the

statements written by the elite that I used at the beginning of the second chapter. As I

explained, de Veyga believed that love among lunfardos – the name given to plebeian

men at the time – “is always initiated through homosexuality, and later, when they

reached the age of maturity, they search for the normal approach.” An analysis of all the

sources I have found shows that claiming the existence of an extended age-structured,

49
“divinizando el sufrimiento de la puta y el horrible aburrimiento de la cárcel…” Ibid., 119.
50
“…un negro le soliviantaba el trasero a un menor.” Ibid., 119.
51
“…el negro que le tocaba el trasero al menor ahora llevaba las manos de éste a sus partes
pudendas.” Ibid., 120.
158
same-sex sexuality fairs better in terms of competitive plausibility than explaining this

elite representation as a mere “exaggeration” based on a “homosexual panic.”

A number of factors form a pattern that gives competitive plausibility to my

hypothesis about age-structured, same-sex sexuality. Some of these factors are economic,

and others are cultural, but they seem woven in a way that allowed or even encouraged

older individuals to penetrate younger ones. As previously explained, a struggle for

masculinity among plebeian men frequently took place in gender-segregated spaces of

sociability. One of the main arenas of such struggles was sexuality: men had to show

others their sexual prowess in order to keep a male gender status. Although women were

the preferred sexual outlet identified by this male plebeian culture, they were not always

available. In the absence of women, the cultural imperative to penetrate others led men to

threaten each other. Since most men were seeking to penetrate others and reluctant to

accept the receptive role in sexual intercourse, it would be fair to assume that those who

were penetrated belonged to the more vulnerable group. The age structure of set, together

with the representations of men from the elite and the popular classes that confirm such a

structure, suggests that vulnerability was associated with age.

An important aspect of the vulnerability of younger individuals was related to

physical strength. From a total of twenty-seven cases of individuals performing the

receptive role, eighteen were penetrated forcibly.52 The recourse to violence – both

physical and symbolical – used to impose penetration on other men appears repeatedly in

plebeian cultural representations. While the age structure of male same-sex sexual

practices among the popular classes was related to the use of violence by older
52
See cases 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 25, 27, 45, 49, 53, 57, 60, 70 in the Appendix.
159
individuals, the use of male violence was not only directed against the younger

individuals. Rather it was part of a general struggle between men that took place in the

context of their competition for masculinity, a topic I discussed in the second chapter.

Boys and male adolescents were also vulnerable because they had left their

families, or because their plebeian families demanded that they contribute to the family

budget from a young age. Among the popular classes, most boys would go to school from

the time they were six-years-old, but only for a period of a few years. Boys would

become part of the economically active population at a young age. The job market was

unstable, but adult men had the better-paid and more stable jobs, whereas children were

more often fired, and most boys earned their money in the informal economy of the

streets.53 The economic needs of boys, the fact that they were not in a protective family

environment, and their physical weakness would make them vulnerable to sexual assault.

As several files show, adult men would take advantage of boys’ vulnerability not only

through physical strength, but also by offering them money in exchange for sex and

providing them with shelter when they were abandoned by their families or escaped their

homes.

The vulnerability of boys and male adolescents was also related to the fact that

their participation in the informal economy of the streets led them to occupy the same

spaces of marginality where urban crime and prostitution would take place and violence

among men was stronger. Juan Suriano, a historian who studied child labor in turn-of-

53
For an analysis of the situation of children in Buenos Aires during this period and their
participation in the informal economy of the streets, read the section “Los niños pobres: entre la calle, el
asilo y el trabajo, in Eduardo Ciafardo, Los niños en la ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1890-1910. (Buenos Aires:
Centro Editor de América Latina, 1992), 13-24.
160
the-century Buenos Aires, claimed that “in street life it was difficult to differentiate legal

and honest activities and other” activities related to marginality. There was no clear

boundary between a boy who would sell things in the street, a beggar boy and one who

was a vagrant. Boys would usually circulate between those categories, and they usually

participated in crime, rather than being subjected to work or school discipline.54 In the

context of street life, plebeian adult men would take advantage of their power over boys

and adolescents in the same way that they exploited women as pimps. This power,

however, was not related to some natural physical strength, but was the result of a

cultural use of male strength and a cultural use of adult male power in a specific socio-

economic context.

As I said before, in many cases, what drove boys and male adolescents to accept

being penetrated by others was their comparatively precarious economic situation rather

than physical strength. In fact, this is what happened with the case of Juan discussed

earlier in this chapter. He had sex with an adult man after he got to work late, found the

factory door closed, and decided to wander around the city in search of an alternative way

to make money. This boy was the son of a widow who worked at home. Considering that

the salaries of women in household-based labor were quite low in relation to the average

income of men, the boy probably felt pressured to help with the family budget. The

presence of money in these age-structured, sexual exchanges suggests that boys were

subject to economic pressure.

Commercial sex was common among plebeian boys and youngsters. In the case of

The Tuscan that I referenced above, after he had sex with the younger victim, he offered

54
See Juan Suriano, “Niños trabajadores,” 259. See also Eduardo Ciafardo, Ibid.
161
the boy five cents. The Tuscan gave his victim the money because he was following a

wider script. His fellow workers at the factory had clearly told him that money was a

crucial part of the transaction. Some boys and men reported that their first sexual

experiences took place when they were offered money to perform the receptive role.55 A

15-year-old adolescent reported how ‘easy’ it was to find other boys willing to play the

receptive role for money or material resources. While he was being interviewed at the

police station, he recalled an opportunity when he had an orange and gave it to another

boy who accepted it in exchange for performing the receptive role in an empty lot. In

another opportunity, J.V. did the same for a few marbles.56 The way in which J.V.

recalled his stories was part of the culture of bragging about sexual deeds. In these cases,

boys, adolescents and men used money and material resources as other tools in the

struggle for masculinity that would take place through sexuality. In another case, for

instance, two 14-year-old adolescents used money and resources in combination with

violence. They offered a 7-year-old neighbor money and candies if he accompanied them

to a square where they forced the boy to have sex. This use of money should be compared

with other situations within the male spaces of sociability.

In her study about male sociability, Sandra Gayol stated that money was a

fundamental tool in the struggle for masculinity. Male face-to-face interaction in bars was

mediated by the way plebeian men used money. “Being a man” implied having money to

invite others to drink alcohol; in fact, lacking the resources to do so could be problematic

55
Carlos Arenaza, “Estudio Médico-psicológico del menor F.L.” see cases in p. 27-8 and p. 83.
See also Argentina. Archivo General de la Nación. Letra B, legajo 13 criminal. 1879 B. A., acusado de
conato de sodomía y heridas al menor Francisco Liñero.”
56
Carlos Arenaza, Ibid., 16-7.
162
in the interaction between male friends and acquaintances. Gayol argues that for plebeian

men, this competition over the ability to pay for others in the bars was quite expensive.

But it was a socially necessary activity that men had to face if they wanted to be

considered equal social peers in the male urban spaces of sociability.57 Money was used

to substantiate the status of men in the eyes of other men.

However, being a man was not only about having money to pay for drinks; it was

also about having money to have sex with female prostitutes. Plebeian men seemed to

spend a significant amount of money paying for prostitutes, which was also important for

masculinity because having sex with many women was one of the most important ways

of being a man. The use of money in male same-sex sexuality does not seem different.

On the contrary, one reason why adolescents would use money and other resources to

penetrate younger individuals was probably due to the fact that they could not afford

paying for other men’s drinks or female prostitutes, which were more expensive.

Penetrating younger boys would give them an opportunity to prove their masculinity that

might not have been available otherwise. In fact, boys and adolescents seemed to struggle

with each other to be able to impose their sexual desire on others.

The struggle between boys and adolescents did not always involve a difference in

age, however. In one case, for instance, there is a conflict involving two 15-year-old

adolescents in the police station. One of them robs the poncho of his fellow inmate and

promises to return it if the victim agrees to have sex with him. Finally, the robber ends up

penetrating the other forcibly. The whole incident took place while they were confined in

a police station together with several other boys of approximately the same age who saw

57
See Gayol, Sociabilidad en Buenos Aires, 151.
163
everything and were called as witnesses at the trial. According to the version provided by

the accused, the victim accepted penetration in exchange for the return of the poncho.

While the accused did everything theatrically so the others could watch, the boy who was

represented as sexually defeated wanted to hide his acceptance.

However, in the struggle to achieve masculinity through sexual prowess, the

perception of social peers was not the only important feature. The cultural pressure to

penetrate others also involved the way individuals forged an image of themselves. In

many cases, boys, adolescents and men would engage in hidden sexual relationships or

would refrain from bragging about their sexual deeds with other men. The idea that they

had a sexual drive that needed to be released was not a mere abstract concept, but it

seemed to be internalized. Boys and adolescent men who felt the pressure to penetrate

others but might not have the opportunities to find sexual outlets, for instance, would

agree to have mutual penetration. There is not much information about this kind of

practice, but there is a sign that it was common: it had a given name that was known in

plebeian jargon. Plebeian boys and adolescents called it “la cambiadita,” meaning “the

little switching” of sexual roles.58 This custom was reported as an intimate arrangement

hidden from the view of others, which implies that the effect of sexual culture over

individuals also took place when others were not watching.

The switching of sexual roles, however, also reveals other things in terms of the

relationship between sexuality and age. Although boys and adolescents struggled for

achieving and keeping the status of manhood in the context of male sociability, there

seems to be a difference with adult men. The switching of sexual roles suggests that

58
Carlos Arenaza, Ibid., 104.
164
accepting the receptive role in sexual intercourse was not the same for adult men as it was

for younger male individuals. In fact, while boys and adolescents might refer to sexual

experiences where others penetrated them, adult men always disguised such experiences.

Although being penetrated by others was not necessarily acceptable for boys and

adolescents, they did not have the same level of peer pressure experienced by adult men.

In fact, in a number of cases it is clear that the boys and adolescents who accepted the

receptive role did it willingly because they enjoyed it or they wanted something in return.

And these boys did not consider themselves maricas. In fact, what the evidence suggests

is that many plebeian adult men had probably been penetrated by others at some point in

their lives, but they denied that such a thing had ever happened.

Sex between men seemed to prevail among the younger portion of the population,

especially when the receptive role was involved. But at some point, these youngsters

would become adults, and once they had grown up they would erase the “inconvenient”

activities performed in the past. The same was probably the case with adult workers who

had engaged in sex with other men when they were in financial need due to temporary

unemployment. Although there is reason to believe that sex between men was frequent,

there is not much evidence when it comes to adult men. The lack of evidence for adults

was not only because they concealed same-sex sexuality, but also because the state

focused on reporting about the sexuality of the youngest portion of the population.

Although sex between adult men was apparently less common than among boys

and adolescents, the underlying reasons for this tendency was material vulnerability in a

context where many plebeian men were eager to submit others to their sexual desire. The

attempt to impose penetration on vulnerable individuals was the reason for the existence
165
of age-structured, same-sex sexuality. As I argued, however, age did not make

individuals vulnerable only because the younger were physically weaker, but also – and

fundamentally – because younger individuals were more exposed to job instability and

thus were economically vulnerable. In this sense, it is not surprising that the set of

seventy individuals leans toward very young people with unstable jobs. Both the age and

the professional profile of the individual set were the result of this social vulnerability. As

I argued, the average age of the individuals in the set constitutes a fundamental point of

departure when considering the individuals in the set as representative of a larger social

phenomenon. Children were over-represented in the lower tier of the workforce, which

suggests that the profession and age of the set might be related to a social pattern shared

by the individuals in the set rather than being the exclusive result of institutional concerns

or randomness.

When seen in the light of age, the nationality of the individuals in the set also

seems to have a rationale.59 The majority of Argentines in the set is evident. At first sight,

this is surprising. The vast majority of the workers in Buenos Aires were foreigners,

especially in the lower and more unstable tiers of the workforce. However, young people

were more likely to be Argentines, as the following chart indicates:

59
Not all the files account for the nationality of the individuals they refer to. This information is
only available in 51 cases, 37 of which were Argentines, 6 Italians and 4 Spaniards. The figure for other
nationalities was not significant, including two Uruguayans, one Paraguayan and an English man. In at
least 20 of the remaining files there is information suggesting that the other 7 men were Argentines. In fact,
it is quite likely that a large proportion of the 20 cases where the nationality is not reported were also
Argentines, as nationality is stressed when officials deal with foreigners rather than with Argentines who
were culturally non-marked in terms of their origin.
166
Chart 3. Children in relation to the total Buenos Aires population.

Contrasting age in the set with the demographic profile of age for Buenos Aires as

a whole also reveals another thing: individuals younger than 16 (which is the operational

definition used for the graphic shown above) constituted a significant portion of the

population. In this sense, the low average age of individuals in the set is the result of an

urban context where the young were everywhere.60 This is an aspect of Buenos Aires’

demography that has been routinely overlooked by historians because they have stressed

the role of immigration in population growth. During the late nineteenth and early

60
The population between 0 and 20 years of age was more than half the total throughout the
period. In addition, the rest of the population was mostly between 20 and 30 years old. See Zulma L.
Recchini de Lattes and Alfredo E. Lattes, La Población de Argentina (Buenos Aires: INDEC, 1975). The
extreme youth of urban population aroused some concern among intellectuals and state officials. In the
1887 census, the authors had expected a raise in the average age. In spite of their desire, they noticed that
the population had “only slightly improved” since the 1869 census, as “the decreasing number of children
is insignificant.” In an effort to manipulate the numbers according to their desires, they recalculated the
percentages excluding those children younger than five years old, validating the operation with the
‘scientific’ concept of “average age.” “mejorado muy poco […] la disminucion de niños es insignificante
[…] edad media,” in: Argentina. Censo…1887. (13) The intelligentsia was proud of Buenos Aires’
population growth because they associated it with progress. The mass of children throughout the city,
however, was perceived as an obstacle for further national development.
167
twentieth centuries, however, the number of children was evident for contemporaries. In

an article published in the famous magazine Caras y Caretas in 1906, Gabriel Carrasco

represented children as a threatening flood:

The first and biggest demographic impression that any foreign perceives
as soon as he steps on Buenos Aires for the first time, is the legitimate
astonishment [they feel when watching] those flocks of children, like
doves in a trodden field, flying everywhere, filling all the entrances to
houses, abounding by the streets and sidewalks, overcrowding gardens,
packing tramways tightly, being compressed at schools. In some houses
from the suburbs they are so many that they give the impression of
exploiting anthills that are going out to the sun to expand the
superabundance of life.61

The author compares the proportion of children in Buenos Aires with two cities of the

North Atlantic economies seen as symbols of progress:

61
“La primera y más fuerte impresión demográfica que reciben los extranjeros al pisar por vez
primera a Buenos Aires, es el más legítimo asombro ante esas bandadas de chiquillos, que como palomas
en campo recién trillado, revolotean por todas partes, llenan los portales de las casas, pululan por las calles
y veredas, hinchen los jardines, abarrotan los tranvías, se apelmazan en las escuelas, y dan, en ciertas casas
de los suburbios, la idea de hormigueros reventados que salen a expandir ante el sol la superabundancia de
su vida.” Gabriel Carrasco, “Los progresos de Buenos Aires en 1906,” in Caras y Caretas. Semanario
festivo, literario, artístico y de Actualidades. Año IX, No. 430, Buenos Aires, 29 Diciembre de 1906.
Carrasco was not alone in representing children as a threat. As recent research has shown, state institutions
of social control associated urban unrest not only with sexual degeneracy, the poor and immigrants, but
also with children. Repressive institutions rather than the school system mediated the relationship between
the state and the disproportionate amount of young individuals in the population. Sandra Carli, Niñez,
pedagogía y política : transformaciones de los discursos acerca de la infancia en la historia de la
educación argentina entre 1880 y 1955 (Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires; Madrid: Miño y
Dávila, 2002); and José Luis Moreno, “Niñez y beneficencia: un acercamiento a los discursos y las
estrategias disciplinarias en torno a los niños adandondos en Buenos Aires de principios del siglo XX
(1900-1930),” and Fabio Adalberto González, “Corrupción y prostitución infantil en Buenos Aires (1870-
1904): una aproximación al tema,” in La política social antes de la política social: caridad, beneficencia y
política social en Buenos Aires, siglos XVII a XX, comp. José Luis Moreno (Buenos Aires: Trama
Editorial/Prometeo Libros, 2000). But the targeting of children was not a biased selection against an age-
group; the state was concerned about children because there were many, they lived in the streets and they
were associated with robbers and prostitutes. Targeting youngsters was not due to an arbitrary institutional
selection; rather, it was representative of their importance in the population at large and representative of
the magnitude of children among the poorest in the urban marginal underworld.
168

Figure 6: Gabriel Carrasco, “Los progresos de Buenos Aires en 1906.” In Caras y


Caretas. Semanario festivo, literario, artístico y de Actualidades. Año IX, No. 430,
Buenos Aires, 29 Diciembre de 1906.[Text: Paris 12, Chicago 24, Buenos Aires 52.
Number of existing children of one year or less by every thousand inhabitants in the
above-mentioned cities].

When compared to other primary and secondary sources, my analysis of the

seventy files suggests that the vulnerability of this young male population became a

fertile ground for their participation in an urban underworld where petty crime, sex

between men, and female prostitution co-existed. Considering that same-sex sexuality

was visible among this young population during this period, what is surprising is that

since they entered into adulthood, men presented themselves as if they had never

participated in this kind of sexual activity. Given the available information, the most

plausible conclusion is that these men concealed the sexual life of their earlier years.

There are reasons to believe that many of the men who once engaged in receptive anal

intercourse could easily deny it. In order to understand this topic, however, it is necessary
169
to take a brief detour through the sexual morality of the popular classes in their specific

urban context.

Plebeian Sexual Morality and Sex between Men

Plebeian men’s concealment of sexual activities that were not deemed appropriate

for men who wanted to keep their male status was closely associated to the conditions for

the rise of anonymity in Buenos Aires. As was the case in many other cities during the

late nineteenth century, Buenos Aires experienced explosive population growth (see the

statistics in Chapter II). In this context, face-to-face social relations lost its previous

importance and anonymity shaped the life of porteños/as. Although the rise of anonymity

was not peculiar to Buenos Aires, the phenomenon was stronger there than it was in

many other cities. The presence of a highly mobile workforce made it a city where social

bonds and encounters were permanently shifting. This gave most people the opportunity

to save face in innumerable situations, an opportunity that was not easily available in

other societies where social peers related to each other in a more stable manner. The

result of this was the emergence of a culture ambivalent about its own norms. Because it

was relatively easy to conceal one’s own actions, accepted norms were relatively easy to

bend. It is in this context that many men ended up having sex with other men, even when

such sexual activity was against the norms of plebeian sexual morality. An understanding

of the formation of this ambivalent sexual morality requires an analysis of Buenos Aires

and the experience of social circulation among workers.

Since the late nineteenth century, the world-wide rapid development of urban

centers lead to anonymity, which in turn affected sexual morality. Historians of sexuality
170
have studied how urbanization produced an anonymity that ultimately shaped the sphere

of sexuality.62 While the effects of urbanization during this period were not limited to

sexuality, classic sociologists observed that it was at the heart of what they identified as

the transition from tradition to modernity. In the absence of communal relationships

where all members knew each other, Durkheim noted how modern cities led to “anomic”

behavior.63 The recurrent association the city had with decadence in late nineteenth-

century Positivist thinking expressed how urbanization unleashed previous moral ties for

those city dwellers who in the midst of anonymous social interaction could avoid the

external judgment of social peers.64 This is also what Marx noted in a positive light when

he claimed that the bourgeoisie “has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the

urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of

the population from the idiocy of rural life.”65 The process of urbanization was

particularly acute in Buenos Aires and this played a crucial role in the daily experience of

the popular classes. In order to understand plebeian sexual morality, first we will explore

the particularity of Buenos Aires.

62
This topic is already present in early works on the history of sexuality, see for instance: John
D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity,” in: Ann Snitow, Christin Stansell, and Sharan Thompson,
Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality (New York: Montly Review Press, 1983). The effect of
anonymity on the social life of men who had sex with other men is already present in more recent works,
see for instance “‘Privacy Could Only Be Had in Public:’ Forging a Gay World in the Streets,” Chapter 7
of George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World,
1890-1940. (New York: Basic Books, 1994).
63
See Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society (New York: The Free Press, 1997). For
another analysis of the impact of anonymity on social life, see Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The
Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor, 1967).
64
For an analysis of this topic, see Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder,
1848-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
65
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr &
Company, 1906), 19.
171
The urbanization of Buenos Aires was different from that of the European centers

that inspired Marx, Durkheim and other turn-of-the-century classic sociologists. Buenos

Aires is similar to other Latin American cities where rapid urbanization was not driven by

industrialization but by the integration of an agro-export economy into the world market.

Although there were some industries, most manufactured products were imported, and

the city’s growth was the result of its location as a node in the world market. Buenos

Aires was the only connection between the hinterlands of the whole country and trans-

Atlantic trade. All exports and imports went through the city’s harbor.

Although Buenos Aires’ nodal character was not rare for other Latin American

cities, the extent to which the Argentine capital monopolized the national market

probably has no parallel. From a geographic perspective, Buenos Aires was the only way

in and out of the country. In other coastal areas, cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro,

Lima and Santiago de Chile competed with other harbors within their nations. In the

River Plate area, the only region that could have competed with Buenos Aires at the time

– Uruguay – had split from the confederation earlier in the twentieth century and became

an independent country. Other harbors were built north and south of Buenos Aires, but to

this day, the strategic location of the capital city favors its own harbor.

Buenos Aires’ urbanization increased the strength of anonymity even more than

the industrial cities in the economic centers of the North Atlantic. In Buenos Aires, there

were not only masses of people who did not know each other due to their numbers, but

the tendency towards circulation increased anonymity further. It is crucial to understand

how important this circulation was in the life of workers before returning to an analysis

of its influence over sexual morality.


172
Historians have explored how the workers’ circulating between different jobs

affected their lives during this period. Ricardo Salvatore argues that “for the few

immigrants who wrote about their experiences, life in Argentina was presented as a long

journey through many places and occupations.” An Italian immigrant who arrived in

1890 described this type of long journey in a workers’ newspaper. The account illustrates

how workers experienced the economic fluctuations described above.

Pietro Biaba, the cousin of the Italian immigrant named Masaniello, had crossed

the Atlantic to come to Uruguay before Masaniello. Pietro worked for a while in a mine

until an explosion killed him. The employer owed him a significant amount of money,

but Pio’s family could not get him to pay despite the mediation of an Italian consul. The

Biabas sent Masaniello to Uruguay in an attempt to force the employer to pay the debt.

Once there, the Italian immigrant talked to the employer, but everything was denied and

the immigrant was sent to prison. The Italian consul saved Masaniello from prison, but

was unable to help him collect the debt from his cousin’s employer.

After working in a quarry and in the harbor of Montevideo, Masaniello decided to

cross the river, searching for better wages in Buenos Aires. When he landed on the other

side of the River Plate, he found a job in the construction of the railroad connecting

Argentina with Chile. Between 200 to 300 workers traveled with him from Buenos Aires

to the Chilean border to work on this enterprise. On the border, these workers found

themselves subjected to forced labor without pay. A few months later, Masaniello found

another job in Mendoza, but this time he was subjected to conditions of debt peonage.

After a short period, the company went bankrupt and all the people working there
173
decided to go back to Buenos Aires. Most of the Italians wanted to return to their own

country, but the exchange rate was not favorable and they had to stay in Argentina.

The experience of Masaniello was not an isolated case. Some historiographical

studies suggest that the level of geographic mobility and job instability evident in

Masaniello’s story was common among poor immigrants.66

In his comparative study of the residential patterns of Italian immigrants in

Buenos Aires and New York, the American historian Samuel Baily found that “once they

established themselves, immigrants frequently changed residence within the city or

moved on to another destination.” The analysis of samples of mutual aid societies led

Baily to conclude that this mobility was so important that it “had an impact on home

ownership, institution building, and community formation.”67 In the case of Buenos

Aires, 40 percent of the Italians who arrived in the city returned to Italy, and a much

smaller number departed to other locations in the Argentine hinterlands. However, most

of the residential mobility happened within the city, and in the case of Italians, they

would move only a few blocks. A sample of 377 members of Unione e Benevolenza

between 1895 and 1901 showed that 45 percent of Italians “moved one or more times

during this six-year period.”68 Baily did not explore how many times most of these

residents moved, but his study suggests that most people moved frequently due to job

instability. Baily argued that “a number of influences determined where an individual

would live”; however, “both the nature and location of work and the desire to live close

66
Hobart Spalding, La clase trabajadora argentina, 193-9.
67
Baily, Immigrants in the Land of Promise, 121.
68
Ibid., 137.
174
69
to one’s place of employment were among the most important.” This was because

Italian immigrants, “especially the large majority who worked long hours for low pay,

lived near their places of employment.”70 Thus, the high geographical mobility of Italian

immigrants, which was the single largest group of foreign nationals in Buenos Aires,

corroborates the importance of job instability in the life of the popular classes.

This analysis of the relationship between the instability of the job market and

residents’ mobility was not just the case with Italian immigrants. According to historian

José Moya, residential mobility was also high among Spaniards, the second largest group

of immigrants.71 The experience of these two groups of immigrants, who made up a

significant portion of the urban workforce, illustrates a general trend in the life of the

popular classes. This experience of mobilization had an impact in the life and culture of

those who were displaced, and it affected their sexuality.

Displacement and mobility strengthen urban anonymity and allowed people to

engage in experiences that they might not otherwise have been able to participate in.

Many women, for instance, worked as prostitutes when they felt that their closest

relatives could not judge them.72 Other women decided to cross-dress and live as men. In

a context where nobody knew them, it was easier to invent a new life.73 The anonymity

69
Ibid., 138.
70
Ibid.,139
71
José Moya, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930 (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1998), 177.
72
In fact, the majority of the prostitutes had come from other countries. In his book on prostitution,
Albert Londres claims that most of the immigrant women who became prostitutes in Buenos Aires did not
tell their families about that. See Albert Londres, The Road to Buenos Ayres.
73
See for instance the following cases of women who cross-dressed using spatial mobility as part
of their disguising strategy to pass as men: “La mujer-hombre. Carlos Lambra y sus discípulas,” Caras y
175
granted by trans-Atlantic displacement and internal urban mobility should not be taken as

the only reason why people engaged in prostitution and crime, as material factors such as

job instability also played a fundamental role. However, the normative laxity generated

by spatial mobility contributed to removing what individuals felt were moral obstacles to

engaging in certain practices.

Life stories written in affordable chapbooks reflect this trend when they spoke of

people who engaged in all kinds of non-normative activities because they felt safely

distant from their family and their cultural background. This was the world of “mundane

vice” formed by lunfardos, maricas and female prostitutes. In the context of the job

instability that forced many people into marginality, those who had lost touch with their

family and close networks did not feel the pressure of external judgment.74 In addition,

the circulation of “human waves” throughout the city allowed individuals to perform

actions that would disappear as soon as they had moved to another location.

The anecdote of a transient worker who almost lost his genitals illustrates how

geographic mobility affected sexual morality. This man was working alone in the fields

Caretas, Buenos Aires, 20th May 1905, Year VIII, No. 346, no page; “La mujer hombre,” Caras y Caretas,
Buenos Aires, 23rd December 1905, Year VIII, No. 377, no page; “Daine Vaccari. La mujer-hombre,”
Caras y Caretas, Buenos Aires 21st July 1906, Year IX, No. 407, no page; “La mujer-hombre. Doña
Virginia,” Caras y Caretas, Buenos Aires 29th December 1906, Year IX, No.430, no page.
74
José Ingenieros believed that the absence of family life was important to understand the sexual
life of men in Argentina. In a study of mature working-class men who stalked upper class women he
claimed that “none of them have a family living around them; and this lack of daily use of affective skills
could explain” their stalking [“ninguno de ellos tiene familia a su lado; esta falta de apliación diaria de las
aptitudes afectivas podría explicar la derivación pasional en proporciones mórbidas, hacia la persona que es
objeto de las persecuciones”]. See José Ingenieros, Psicopatología de las funciones sexuales. Nueva
clasificación genética,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias afines, Buenos Aires, Year IX,
1910, p. 63. Ingenieros’comment should be considered critically because it clearly implied a
pathologization of the effects of living away from one’s family; however, dismissing the comment entirely
would be problematic. What Ingenieros was expressing in a medicalized language was an existing
experience. As other sources mentioned in this chapter suggest, leaving away from one’s family allowed
the individual to escape the moral influence of close relatives who could not intervene.
176
in Luján, a town in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, installing a wire fence. Feeling sexually

aroused, the man decided to use the wrench to satisfy his desire. Unfortunately for him,

the wrench got stuck while he was using it for masturbation, and although the man tried

hard to free himself, he was unsuccessful. It was an embarrassing situation. The man

finally decided to look for help. He walked to the police station holding the wrench below

his pants. After blushing, the man explained what had happened to a policeman. The

medical examiner analyzed the situation closely together with other doctors who came to

solve the problem. They agreed that the only solution was to emasculate him. The man

with the stuck wrench did not find that option acceptable. One of the policemen decided

that he would try to cut through the wrench with a saw. The operation was successful and

the worker felt relieved. Soon after this incident, he left Luján and his geographic

mobility helped him to erase this embarrassing experience from his life. Immediately

after he was out of risk, he felt extremely happy because those who had witnessed his

“sin” could not tell others about it. Although he probably never forgot that he almost lost

his penis, the possibility of hiding his past actions probably undermined the social

pressure to conform to moral standards.75

Other life experiences of plebeian people indicate a similar morality. People could

adhere to moral standards, but anonymity and mobility prevented them from allowing

peer pressure to conform to those standards. Women could have sex for money

occasionally without being catalogued as prostitutes. Perhaps the example that illustrates
75
After the incident, [the patient rested for eight days in the hospital, and when the danger of
gangrene disappeared (…) he left with his secret to the province, cured of his body and senses.] “El
paciente reposó ocho días en la sala, y cuando desapareció el peligro de la gangrena […] se llevó el secreto
a la provincia, curado del cuerpo y de los sentidos…” Laurentino Mejías, La policía… por dentro: Mis
cuentos (Barcelona: Viuda de Luis Tasso, 1911), p. 87. For a complete account of this story read the
chapter titled [Profane Surgery], “Cirugía Profana,” 81-87.
177
the contradiction between moral standards and the lack of peer pressure is the

understanding of sexuality as “sinful.” When plebeian men and women wanted to talk

about having sex in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Buenos Aires, they

usually turned to two words: “cojer,” and “pecar.” Cojer is a slang word meaning “to

have sex” and it continues to be used by porteños/as today.76 It is the equivalent of the

slang word “fuck” in English. The meaning of pecar, however, is not so transparent. The

literal translation of pecar is to commit a sinful act, but plebeian men and women during

this period gave the word an alternative meaning that illuminates the sexual morality of

the popular classes. Pecar was a synonym of coger that implied a moral ambivalence

towards having sex, an ambivalence that was usually expressed through comedy. This is

the case in the following comic poem: “If you want to indulge yourself without

committing a sin / The best way is to take a shit.”77 In this joke, pecar or “committing a

sin” did not imply any kind of sin in general, but it was a specific reference to sensuous

indulgence.

There were other comic poems and riddles where pecar was used the same way.78

By referring to all forms of sexual activities with the term pecar, plebeian culture

76
The verb cojer appears innumerable times in the comic poems collected by Lehmann-Nitsche, as
in the following verse: “And old woman told me/ to fuck her/ and I told her/ not to fuck with me,” “Una
vieja me dijo/ Que la cogiera / Y yo le dije / Que no jodiera.” Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, poem 37,
pp. 18. For other references to the verb coger and the noun cogedor or cogedora, see pp. 33, 47, 75, 100,
124, 218, 307, 317, 317, etc.
77
“De los gustos sin pecar/ El mejor es el cagar.” Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, poem 224, p.
29.
78
See the mention of “pecadillos veniales” or “little venial sins” in Fray Perez, Cuentos Místicos
(Buenos Aires: Centro Teatral de Andrés Perez, 1900), 8. In the same comic poem, a man who has sex with
her girlfriend refers to this action saying “I had committed sin with my girlfriend one afternoon” or “he
pecado una tarde con mi novia,” see ibid p. 10. The same use of “pecar” meaning to have sex is used in the
following page in association with praying. A priest tells the man to pray the creed four times for having
committed sin six times with his girlfriend (“que por pecar seis veces con su novia rezara cuatro credos,”
178
revealed an inherently negative perception of sexuality as a whole. But plebeian men and

women did not seem to take such negative connotations seriously, as the word pecar was

exploited for comic purposes. The moral ambivalence in relation to sexuality that was

inherent in the use of pecar was manifest in many cultural expressions.

Most plebeian riddles played with the moral ambivalence regarding sexuality. All

riddles actually involved a relationship between the pure and the obscene. In his

collection of riddles, Lehmann-Nitsche divided them into two major categories: those

where the riddle itself was “innocent” and the right response was “obscene” and those

where the riddle was “obscene” but the answer was “innocent.” The following riddle is

an example of this combination: “Large and graceful/ I have it between my legs.”79 The

right answer is “the horse,” but the goal of the riddle was to express a double sexual

meaning.

The plebeian representation of the relationship between sexuality and the Catholic

Church was yet another field where the ambivalence of plebeian sexual morality

appeared clearly. Although plebeian culture was deeply shaped by a form of popular

Catholic religiosity, the attitude to the Catholic Church was highly ambivalent. The

institution was recognized as an important moral authority, but at the same time anti-

clericalism and iconoclasm were present everywhere in daily life. Plebeian men and

women accepted the idea that there was a moral division between good and evil, an idea

ibid., 11). For other examples of the use of “pecar” to represent sex, see also Pampeano, De Palermo a la
Avenida (Buenos Aires, 1902), 9 and La hija de Eva (Buenos Aires, 1899), 11 and 23. This use of the term
“pecar” was also known in Spain. A soft porn Spanish chapbook sold in Buenos Aires referred to the same
use, see the comic poem “Cantares,” in Para hombres solos, pica…pica… Eva y su amante, poesías
festivas para leer en la cama (Barcelona: Biblioteca Rosa, 1915).
79
Largo y lucido,/ Entre medio de las piernas lo tengo metido.” Lehmann-Nitsche, poem 32.a, pp.
158.
179
that the Catholic Church promoted. At the same time, the church was usually condemned

as hypocritical, and priests were usually viewed as sexual predators.80 The daily life of

the popular classes was plagued with ambivalent attitudes towards institutions and the

norms to which most plebeian men and women adhered.

When daily life threatened moral distinctions, plebeian men and women would

find a way of escaping by breaking their own moral rules without being noticed or judged

by others. Although robbing a priest was not morally acceptable, plebeian comedy could

bend its own cultural rules. A robber who stole a priest’s watch, for instance, developed a

strategy to gain the approval of his victim. While in the confession booth, the robber told

the priest that he had stolen a watch, but he failed to tell him that it was his watch. The

robber asked the priest if this action was sinful and the priest advised him to return the

watch. The robber then offered the watch to the priest, but the priest refused it, telling the

robber to return the object to its rightful owner. The robber tells the priest that he already

tried to give the watch to the owner who refused to take it; the priest then assures him that

in said case, his action does not count as a sin. Thus, the robber felt released and left with

both the priest’s watch and his moral approval.81

Although this was a fanciful story, the paradoxical relationship between a

violation of the church’s moral edict prohibiting theft and the endorsement of the priest as

the moral authority pardoning this violation captures the fundamental tension that

80
See Fray Morocho, Los Trapitos del Cura (osean) Las Verdades de un Sacristán (Buenos Aires:
Francisco Matera, 1910); “Vidalitas Anticlericales,” in José Arcidiácono, Colección de Vidalitas (Buenos
Aires: no editorial, 1903), 3; Manuel Cientofante, Contra-punto Clerical entre los renombrados frailes
Manuel González y José María Juncos (Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Humorística, 1907); and Los Crímenes
del Convento. Una Niña de 7 años violada por un diablo con sotana (Buenos Aires: no editorial, 1914).
81
“Robo y Absolución” in: Fray Pérez, De mi cartera: cuentos místicos (Buenos Aires: “Centro
Teatral” de Andrés Pérez, 1900), 3.
180
characterized plebeian culture. In fact, priests abound as characters in plebeian comedy

but are mocked because they ask people to conform to impossible moral standards. In

addition to mockery, priests were often accused of hypocrisy because despite their

preaching, they frequently broke the rules the same as everyone else. Priests were the

quintessential comic character because in the eyes of plebeian men and women, they

represented moral standards as well as their violation.

In a cultural context where many people experienced an ambiguous relationship

with their own values, plebeian representations expressed the contradiction between

cultural ideals and reality in a variety of ways. Although many plebeian men and women

felt disdain for female prostitutes, there were also positive comic representations of them.

Through these expressions, prostitutes proudly claimed to be economically independent

from men and assertively presented prostitution as a legitimate way of making money.

Jokes about prostitutes oscillate between condemnation and approval.82 Stories about

women who became prostitutes sometimes emphasized their moral laxity, but there were

also many stories where female prostitutes were perceived as victims or even as positive

figures. The same ambiguity regarding moral values was present in the representations of

maricas as I will show in the next chapter, and it seemed to have had an effect on sex

between men in general.

The representation of sex between men among the popular classes was

paradoxical. On the one hand, the records of oral culture left by Lehmann-Nitsche

explored in Chapter II show how frequently men bragged about sexual adventures

whenever they had penetrated other men. The same was the case in plebeian chapbooks.

82
See Lehman-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 13, 24, 38, 39, 46, 52, 56, 60-5, 80.
181
In many stories and jokes, plebeian men are presented in the “active” role, and the gender

of the sexual outlet was irrelevant, it could be a man or a woman. It is evident that

plebeian men were not ashamed of penetrating others, and this is why there are plebeian

representations of same-sex sexuality during this period. With the case of the “passive”

role, however, the situation is the opposite. With the exception of maricas, the

representations of plebeian men playing the receptive role in same-sex sexual intercourse

are almost completely absent from the available records. Considering that the popular

classes perceived the receptive role as emasculating, it is plausible that plebeian men

concealed their participation in a sexual activity that would have been damaging for their

male persona. The continuous circulation of people who did not stay long enough to

know about the lives of others constituted a favorable context for concealing the

shameful aspects of one’s sexual life. What age-structured sex between men suggests is

that young men played the receptive role because of their social vulnerability and shifted

to the insertive role later in life, denying what had happened in the past. This self-

representation of one’s sexual/gender identity may seem awkward for people who belong

to societies where norms are strongly enforced and internalized. But in a context such as

turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires where plebeian sexual morality was ambivalent

towards its own sexual norms, concealing the sexual past was easier.

Although there are not many representations of men willingly playing the

receptive role, the few available ones also suggest that it was usual for plebeian men to

conceal this kind of sexual activity. In plebeian representations, receptive partners of sex

between men were always “others.” This stigmatized sexual practice was always

performed by the upper classes, the clergy, and Brazilians. Although both the “active”
182
and “passive” roles were necessary for sex between men to happen, the role that was

perceived as positive appeared always in association with plebeian men, while the

stigmatized role was projected to “others.”

Presenting Brazilians as willing to accept being penetrated was a common trope in

plebeian culture. In a comic poem about the ways in which people from different

nationalities “fart,” the author claims that Brazilians are the worst because they lack anal

retention. With no further explanation, everyone “knew” that the poem was implying an

association between receptive sexual activity and lack of anal retention. After all, as

another comic poem claimed, doing it by the “rearguard” was the “latest fashion” in

Brazil. Among plebeian men in Buenos Aires, anal sex was referred to as “a la

Brasilera” or “the Brazilian way.” Yellow journalism frequently turned to this

association between the stigmatized receptive role and Brazil. The jokes even identified

the Brazilian flag with receptive anal intercourse. The Brazilian flag’s motto “Ordem e

Progreso” was maliciously interpreted as saying “Ojete en Peligro” or “Endangered

Ass.” Lehmann-Nitsche’s suggestion that the government ban these expressions illustrate

how commonplace these jokes were at the time.

If plebeian comedy laughed about Brazilians’ supposed interest in being

penetrated, radical politics frequently scorned the upper-classes and the clergy, claiming

they were “passive pederasts.” After President Juárez Celman was ousted by the 1890

revolution, a Socialist journal claimed that he “suffers from vices against nature.”83

According to the same journal, the bourgeoisie’s “hermetic underwear fabulously hides

83
La Montaña. Periódico Socialista Revolucionario (Quilmes: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes,
1996 [1897]), 50.
183
84
many pederasties.” The majority of passive partners, the journal claimed, belonged to

the upper classes.85 These associations between the upper classes and receptive anal

intercourse were also present in other Socialist and Anarchist published materials.

The projection of receptive anal intercourse to “others” suggests that plebeian

men concealed their own participation in this stigmatized practice. Plebeian men believed

that boys and teenagers usually acted “like women” in exchange for money. But

whenever plebeian men had to represent receptive partners, they seemed to choose distant

people rather than those they believed were likely to play that role. Projecting a

stigmatized sexual role to others was more revealing of plebeian men’s own sexual life

than that of the targeted groups.

Conclusion

By exploring the importance of mobility I have presented a dynamic image of

plebeian sexuality. This image combines the analysis of sexual culture with the analysis

of the socio-economic context where plebeian men lived. Considering plebeian

representations against the backdrop of daily life for the popular classes offers a window

into a distinct sexual world. Rather than living in a society where same-sex and different-

sex sexuality were performed by different groups of people, plebeian men seemed to

inhabit an urban landscape where such distinctions were blurred.

For the popular classes, the significant boundary was between “active” and

“passive” male partners rather than between homosexual and heterosexual men. The

84
Ibid., 118.
85
Ibid., 121 and 193.
184
existing bibliography about sexuality in the Mediterranean world and in Latin America

shows that the distinction between the sexual role of partners was relevant not only for

Buenos Aires, but for other areas as well. By examining the importance of mobility,

however, my work departs from the conventional wisdom of this Mediterranean sexual

paradigm. This paradigm is defined by the existence of a distinction between an “active”

partner, whose masculinity is not affected by same-sex sexuality, and the “passive”

partner, whose role is perceived as emasculatory. Assuming a shared cultural

background, it has been usually perceived as typical of the Mediterranean world. Seen in

the light of mobility in Buenos Aires, however, the division between roles seems

rhetorical rather than real. After analyzing the available sources, the most plausible

conclusion is that a significant number of plebeian men experienced a transition from an

early life where they performed the receptive sexual role with other men, to the late teens

and early twenties when they occasionally performed the “active” role, and then an adult

life where men usually engaged in sex with women but could still participate in same-sex

sexuality.

My analysis of sexuality among men from the popular classes in Buenos Aires

between 1880 and 1930 also provides an alternative for the analysis of gender and

sexuality based on the concept of “honor.” A large number of scholars who used the

concept of honor in their studies have ended up creating an image of Latin America as a

region where change throughout time and internal variations between regions is absent

from their analysis. As a result, honor seems a trans-historical quality that is somehow

essentially associated to all those living South of the Rio Grande since the beginning of

time. Such a generalization certainly expresses an existing continuity of cultural notions


185
of gender and sexuality throughout the region. The problem is that an approach of gender

and sexuality that only studies cultural representations fails to analyze the peculiarities of

each case.

By studying the urban context of Buenos Aires, I was able to provide an analysis

where plebeian men’s representations of themselves are not confused with their actual

sexual practices. I do not explore plebeian sexual norms by themselves, but on the

contrary, I have questioned the effectiveness of the enforcement of these norms. By

assessing the real impact of norms in the life of the popular classes rather than

understanding norms as abstract notions, the analysis of sexuality illuminates the life of

the popular classes.

Throughout the analysis of urban mobility, I provided a dynamic portrait of

sexual culture in plebeian Buenos Aires. The importance of mobility in a city with a

spastic economy and high, seasonal unemployment was crucial to explain the importance

of the urban underworld and the widespread practice of sex between men and female

prostitution. By focusing on how workers circulated throughout the city I was able to

contextualize the set of seventy men and explain how the available data suggests a wider

pattern of age-structured, male, same-sex sexuality. Younger men who had more unstable

jobs were likely to face a higher degree of anonymity, and they could engage in sexual

activities condemned by their own culture while still concealing those activities. After

some years, the same men could enjoy a more secure position in the job market while

presenting themselves as men who would only have sex with women or perform the

“active” role with other men.


186
By considering sexuality in relation to the circulation of a human wave of people,

this chapter weaves together an analysis of the social background of men who had sex

with other men, and at the same time, offered a picture of plebeian sexual morality. In the

next chapter, I will consider marica identity and its relationship with the popular classes,

taking into account the analysis of ambivalent morality among the popular classes.
187

CHAPTER IV

MARICAS SEXUAL AND SOCIAL LIFE IN PLEBEIAN BUENOS AIRES

Introduction

In this chapter, I will present an analysis of the life of maricas. The term maricas

has been used throughout the Spanish-speaking world for centuries, and it is still used

today in reference to effeminate gay men and transgendered people.1 The popularity of

the term over time and distance could be misleading if taken as evidence of an unchanged

marica identity. One of the goals of my research is to prove that maricas between the late

nineteenth and early twentieth century were very different than the maricas of today. The

category might be the same, but the meaning and the group of people referred to by that

category have both changed significantly. By focusing on the specifics of marica life

between 1880 and 1930, I will not only point out its historical specificity, but also take

advantage of the study of this group of people to illustrate and offer new insights into my

larger study of plebeian sexuality in Buenos Aires during this time.

1
A search on the web shows how popular the term is today, and also how it is used both in
derogatory and positive ways. Regarding the term travesti, it is an identity category that emerged in the
1970s in Argentina and other parts of Latin America. Travestis are transgendered people who – unlike
some transsexuals – do not transform their genitalia through a sex-change operation. In order to have a
body with feminine features, most travestis transform other parts of their bodies – such as their breasts and
buttocks – using silicone. Defining travesti identity, however, is beyond the scope of this dissertation. For a
discussion of travesti identity in Argentina see: Lohana Berkins and Josefina Fernández, La gesta del
nombre propio: informe sobre la situación de la comunidad travesti en la Argentina (Buenos Aires:
Madres de Plaza de Mayo, 2005). For an excellent study of travestis in Brazil, see Don Kulick, Travesti:
Sex, Gender and Cultre among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1998). The identity of vestidas in Mexico City also bears some similarities with travesties; see
Annick Prieur, Mema’s House, Mexico City: On Transvestites, Queens and Machos (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1998).
188
The mere mention of the term marica may seem a direct reference to the

Mediterranean sexual paradigm, but my analysis will actually present the life of maricas

in a very different light. I will argue that referring to this paradigm obscures the study of

sexual/gender identities rather than illuminating historical and geographic differences.

When analyzing Ibero-America (or Latin America) as a unified region, the analysis of

sexuality based on the Mediterranean paradigm has emphasized a striking division in

gender roles. According to this division, Latin American men define their male identity

as a form of masculinity where performing the penetrative role is crucial. As long as men

are not the receptive partners in sexual intercourse, their masculinity remains

unquestioned. This is why they can engage in some forms of same-sex, sexual intercourse

without losing their status as men in the eyes of others.

Within this framework, maricas are defined as male receptive partners with

effeminate manners. Unlike the ‘virile’ men who keep their masculinity when penetrating

other men, maricas lose their male identity because the receptive role in sexual

intercourse is stigmatized and associated with femininity. Due to the strong opposition of

sexual roles within the Mediterranean paradigm, maricas would not have sex with each

other as would modern gay men. On the contrary, they would seek to have sex with

masculine men who – unlike American heterosexual men – are willing to penetrate both

men and women. I will argue that using this paradigm to interpret the life of maricas in

Buenos Aires between 1880 and 1930 is misleading. Some aspects of the life and identity

of maricas may fit well within this paradigm, but many other fundamental characteristics

would be lost.
189
By identifying Southern Europe and Latin America as regions with a common and

internally homogeneous sexual paradigm, scholars risk ignoring regional peculiarities

over time as well as the relationship that these peculiarities bear with their socio-cultural

context. The Mediterranean sexual paradigm emerged as an attempt to capture the

cultural differences between Iberoamerica and the cultures of the Northern Atlantic

regarding sexuality, but it has contributed to the homogenization of regions with their

own internal variation.

While Marica life during this period in Buenos Aires and male homosexual

identity as described by the Mediterranean paradigm bear some similarities, for every

coincidence there are also significant divergent elements. Maricas viewed themselves as

receptive partners, and they were portrayed as such by plebeian culture. However, despite

this discourse evidence demonstrates that many actually found it pleasurable to penetrate

men. Moreover, many maricas frequently practiced sex with other maricas, and further

evidence suggests that a some of them had sex with women too. Some maricas were even

married to women and did not see their marica life as a permanent feature, but rather a

temporary adventure that could come to an end under certain circumstances. Therefore,

the sexual role performed by maricas was not as clear-cut as the Mediterranean paradigm

has usually argued.

The shifting sexual roles could be taken as evidence of an underlying homosexual

identity similar to that of gays in the United States today, but this comparison would also

be misleading if we consider that maricas’ sexual interest in men was not exclusive. In

addition, most maricas were cross-dressers, and the vast majority of them were

prostitutes. Therefore, rather than trying to fit marica life within the Mediterranean
190
paradigm or a modern homosexual identity, a historical analysis should explore the

peculiarity of this group of people in relation to their socio-cultural context.

This historical analysis of maricas in relation to their context also requires

departing from the study of this group as a “subculture” with a clear-cut “identity.”

Maricas shared a world of their own—a highly unstable world with many internal

conflicts. Sometimes the internal solidarity between maricas was weaker than the bonds

individual maricas had with members of the urban underworld, such as lunfardos and

female prostitutes. In the context of this loose solidarity between maricas and a strong

participation in the urban underworld, maricas did not define themselves exclusively

through sexuality, but also through their participation in robbery and the world of

commercial sex. This participation in the urban underworld marked the life of maricas as

much as their sexual roles, their appearance and their gender identity.

This is why it is so important to study maricas in the context of the life of the

popular classes. Marica life was not isolated from that of the urban lower strata; on the

contrary, it was a visible and integrated feature of the world of prostitutes and lunfardos.

A closer look at the life of one of them will paint a better picture of this group of people

known as maricas.

Aurora

When he migrated to Buenos Aires in 1898, a Paraguayan man who would later

adopt the female name of Aurora was not yet a marica.2 Back in Paraguay, he had never

2
Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y
Ciencias Afines, 2 (1903): 195-202.
191
cross-dressed; he kept a masculine appearance and only had sex with women. His life

changed dramatically after arriving in Buenos Aires, however. An analysis of the life of

this Paraguayan man who became a marica in Buenos Aires illustrates some of the most

important characteristics of marica life.

Like the other 3.5 million immigrants coming to Argentina between 1857 and

1930, the Paraguayan man expected to find a better life. As soon as he arrived, the man

found a room at an inexpensive inn in the Paseo de Julio, a boulevard famous for the

paradoxical coexistence of Parisian-style urban design and the city’s underworld. Despite

the city government’s attempt to build a Haussmanian boulevard displacing the poor,

Paseo de Julio remained packed with plebeian bars and brothels where people of various

nationalities gathered. Commercial sex thrived in the Paseo de Julio, and petty thieves

wandered around the area lying in wait for their prey. This was not the safest place for a

newcomer. Many immigrants reported being robbed and deceived in this area, even by

fellow countrymen who betrayed the trust placed in them by the newcomers. Like many

other immigrants, the Paraguayan man probably ended up in the Paseo de Julio because it

was close to the harbor. In fact, during this period, this is the place where most

immigrants would spend their first days in Argentina.3 What the Paraguayan man did not

know was that his life would change on this boulevard.

After finding a room, the Paraguayan man proceeded to look for a job, a task that

proved to be quite difficult. The demand for workers was high in Buenos Aires, but

things were poorly organized. Most jobs were not advertized in newspapers or by any

3
For an analysis of the social landscape of this area of the city and the prevalence of recently
arrived immigrants, see James Scobie, Buenos Aires: Plaza to Suburb, 1870-1910 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1974), 65-6.
192
4
other means. Employers hired gangs of workers in public spaces, or they relied on their

own workers to attract new ones. As historians of immigration argue, many positions in

the job market were filled through chain migration — connecting networks of relatives

who would come after each other. Even workers who had lived in Buenos Aires for a

while sometimes needed to walk through the city for several days or even weeks before

they could find a job. This is what happened to this Paraguayan man who came to Buenos

Aires in the last years of the nineteenth century. He was running out of money and began

to worry; he needed to find a solution to his financial situation soon.

One evening when the young man came back from his daily search for

employment, a passer-by called to him from behind. They chatted a while until the

passer-by propositioned the young man to have sex for money. His first reaction was

outrage, and he threatened the man with physical violence and denounced him publicly in

front of other people. Although the young immigrant was very angry, his interlocutor

managed to calm him down. Not only did he pay attention this time, but he “even listened

with interest at the explanations that [the other] began to provide about things that were

yet unknown by the young newcomer.”5 After the conversation with the stranger, he

finally accepted the proposition, driven either by curiosity or by the pressure to earn some

money.

4
See Manuel Galvez, La inseguridad de la vida obrera. Informe sobre el paro forzoso (Buenos
Aires: Alsina, 1913) and José Panettieri, “Desocupación, subocupación, trabajo estacional, trabajo
intermitente. De la crisis del ’90 a la Primera Guerra Mundial,” in José Panetieri (ed.) Mercado de Trabajo
y Paro Forzoso. Desde los comienzos de la Argentina moderna hasta la crisis de los años ’30 (La Plata:
Estudios e Investigaciones, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación, Universidad nacional de
la Plata, 1990).
5
“… hasta escuchado con interés en las explicaciones que le empieza a dar sobre estas cosas,
todavía ignoradas del joven recién llegado.” Ibid., 197.
193
After his first experience as a male prostitute, the young man felt repulsed by his

action and promised himself he would not engage in sex with men anymore. But that

soon changed. Out of monetary need and perhaps out of curiosity, he accepted another

sexual proposition. The second time he experienced “some degree of pleasure” and

thereafter decided to turn to prostitution whenever he needed money.6

But commercial sex also posed some difficulties. There were many maricas

competing for clients, and plebeian men preferred them because maricas were effeminate

and dressed like women. The Paraguayan man soon learned this lesson and began cross-

dressing, adopting the name of Aurora. This was not just a personal change, but a full

immersion into the Buenos Aires urban underworld that Aurora came to enjoy.

Aurora made friends and enemies among the maricas of Buenos Aires. The other

maricas were competitors, but they also helped him become a marica and gave him

advice. While maricas had to face mutual competition in the arena of commercial sex,

they also developed bonds of solidarity. Cross-dressing was an art, and maricas taught

Aurora how to dress and develop an appearance that could attract clients. When the

income from prostitution proved insufficient, Aurora’s marica friends found him/her a

job as hairdresser.7 Having arrived alone, Aurora soon found him/herself 8 surrounded by

6
[In this occasion, however, he did not experience physical repulsion in the sodomitic: ‘but on the
contrary, some degree of pleasure’] “En esta ocasión, por otra parte, ya no experimentó disgusto material
en el acto sodomita: ´más bien cierto placer´” Ibid., 198. Note that when de Veyga wrote “but on the
contrary some degree of pleasure” he meant that those were the actual words of the man who was telling
the story rather than his own.
7
Ibid., 195.
8
In this chapter I will refer to maricas using both the male and female pronouns. I have chosen to
refer to them like that in order to show the ambiguity that characterized their gender identity.
194
a network of maricas who both challenged him/her as competitors and offered

opportunities as friends.

As part of the integration into this new world, Aurora also developed bonds with

female prostitutes and lunfardos. In fact, the story of Aurora was recorded by Veyga

because he/she was caught by the police at a party in a brothel while attempting to pass as

a woman. The man Aurora was trying to seduce found out that he/she was a marica and a

scandal that attracted the attention of the police erupted. Aurora was taken to the police

station because he had a history as a robber.

Aurora’s story shares a number of common experiences with other maricas.

Aurora did not become a marica after a process of “coming out” to friends, family and

colleagues. He/she was actually far away from home and did not know anybody in

Buenos Aires before arriving. Becoming a marica and finding a place in a group of peers

implied entering into a new social network rather than disclosing one’s sexual interest in

people of the same sex to others. The transformation also implied accepting the loss of

male status in the eyes of others, as Aurora did in his first chat with the passer-by who

convinced him/her. Once the person had adopted the decision to abandon male status and

become part of the underworld, what followed was a transformation in appearance and

identity driven by the network of marica prostitutes and their clients. After adopting a

new identity, maricas were also likely to commit occasional robbery or help lunfardos in

their criminal activities.

Prostitution and robbery were not the only economic activities maricas

developed, however. Most maricas combined these two activities with participation in

specific niches of the urban job market. Despite the loss of gender status, maricas did not
195
necessarily suffer discrimination in the job market. In fact, their situation was ambiguous

and to some extent, it could even be said that there was some level of economic

advantage for those entering marica life. Aurora’s income as a prostitute and hairdresser,

for instance, was probably better than that of many other plebeian men and women, and

this seems to have been the case with many other maricas too. This does not mean that

becoming a marica did not imply difficulties. In the next sections, I will explore the

advantages and the perils of becoming and keeping the status of marica. In the context of

this analysis, I will analyze the life of maricas in relation to their integration into the

popular classes, and how they were viewed by plebeian men and women.

Who were the maricas?

In order to understand what the term marica meant between 1880 and 1930, I will

take into account the views of three social groups: (1.) scientists, professionals and state

officials; (2.) plebeian men and women; and, (3.) those who identified themselves as

maricas. Exploring the perceptions of these three groups is important for different

reasons. Marica was accepted as an identity category by the group this term refers to, the

maricas themselves. Unlike other studies of sexuality in Latin America that privilege the

point of view of scientific discourse when exploring terms such as “homosexual” or

“sexual invert,” this chapter defines the scope of the study in terms of the perceptions of

plebeian culture and the self-representation of maricas. In this chapter, I hope to prove

that the category “marica” captures the life of this group of people better than other

terms. Scientific categories like “sexual invert” or “pederast” are irrelevant to my study

because medicine, psychiatry and criminology had a limited impact on the culture of the
196
urban lower strata at this time. This does not mean that plebeian and scientific categories

were absolutely different. The three social groups I mentioned coincided in some of their

views about maricas, but they also perceived them in different ways. As a category, the

term marica only made sense in relation to what it meant to be a man and a woman for

different social groups during this period.

Against the expectations of plebeian culture, maricas refused to conceal the

performance of the receptive role. This was exactly the opposite of what most plebeian

men would do. In Chapter II, I explored how plebeian men proved their masculinity by

bragging about their sexual prowess. Penetrating others was one of the crucial sexual

practices associated with male status. As a consequence, most of the men who had

engaged in receptive anal intercourse preferred to conceal those experiences. Disclosing

information about their ‘passive’ role would be emasculating in the eyes of others, but

maricas did not seem to care. Instead of being proud of keeping a male status, maricas

embracd a relatively stigmatized sexual practice and frequently cross-dress,9 talk like

women and perform a range of activities perceived as shameful for the male gender.10

La Madrileña, for instance, had a “posture and feminine air” and “his high-pitched

voice and rhythmic walk with a marked swinging movement of the hips show at the first

sight a radical change of the nature of his sex.” Looking like this was not an easy task.

Describing the process of becoming a marica from a prejudiced stance, one of the

physicians said that in the case of La Madrileña “these habits [cross-dressing and
9
[Wearing a female dress is necessary for some inverts as a means to be able to satisfy their sexual
pleasures] “El uso del vestido femenino, es necesario para algunos invertidos como un medio de poder
satisfacer sus placeres sexuales.” Carlos Arenaza, Menores Delincuentes, 88, for examples of cross-
dressing among maricas; see also pp. 76-107 and 140.
10
Ibid., 124.
197
feminine appearance] were acquired in five years of consecutive practice of sexual

deviation and perverted genesic taste as well as an inclination for adopting the external

forms of the sex he pretends to represent.”11 When La Madrileña was confined in prison

for injuring another person, keeping the feminine air became more challenging, but

he/she still managed to do so. Despite being forced to dress like a man, he/she “awakened

the attention of the authorities due to […] [his/her] singularly feminine charm and grace

characteristics.” And as one of the medical examiners explained, “these [mannerisms

were] […] so notorious that it is easy to differentiate him from the bulk of his fellow

inmates’.”12 It was usual among maricas like La Madrileña to invest considerable time

and resources to maintain a feminine appearance.13 Carlos Arenaza argued that “feminine

manners, pose, style, are evident overall in [their] female garment.” Maricas experienced

a sexual pleasure associated with using a woman’s wardrobe, argued Arenaza; “it seems

that the friction and noise of silk, the obstruction of skirts, slips, etc., serve as stimulant.”

And once they became used to dressing like a woman, “the transformation is so radical,

11
“…su apostura, su aire mujeril y continente de afectada modestia, su voz chillona, y su andar
cadencioso con marcado movimiento de vaivén de las caderas, denuncian a primera vista, sino un cambio
radical y fundamental de su naturaleza y de su sexo, siquiera hábitos adquiridos en cinco años de
consecutiva práctica de la desviación sexual, gustos genésicos perversos, e inclinaciones por las formas
externas del sexo que pretende representar.” Juan Pablo Raffo and Carlos Arenaza, “Un caso de inversión
sexual,” in Revista Penitenciaria, Year IV, No. 2, 1908 (Buenos Aires: Tipografía de la Cárcel de
Encausados, May 1908), 56.
12
“Desde el momento de su ingreso a la casa, despertó la atención de sus autoridades por la
apostura, donaire y gestos singularmente femeninos que le caracterizan, de modo tan notorio, que, a
primera vista es fácil distinguirlo y diferenciarlo entre el común de sus compañeros de reclusión.” Juan
Pablo Raffo and Carlos Arenaza, “Un caso de inversión sexual,” in Revista Penitenciaria, Year IV, No. 2,
1908 (Buenos Aires: Tipografía de la Cárcel de Encausados, May 1908), 54. For other cases of effeminate
maricas, see Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 140-145.
13
See José Ingenieros, Psicopatología de las funciones sexuales. Nueva clasificación genética,”
Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Buenos Aires, Year IX, 1910, 24.
198
that illusion and deception can be complete.” Maricas would successfully pass as women

not only among ordinary men, but even among their clients.14

While passing as women cost maricas their male status, most of them were

unconcerned. But because in the eyes of plebeian culture maricas were not men anymore,

they could not enjoy the recognition granted to those with male status. If plebeian culture

perceived female prostitutes as ‘fallen’ women because they had lost their virginity,

maricas were ‘fallen’ men because they engaged in sexual practices that were culturally

forbidden for men. Thus they were stigmatized and stereotyped: Maricas were ‘like

women’15 because they had lost their male status and comparable to the female gender.

Unlike the scientific discourse at the time, however, plebeian culture never assumed that

the anatomy of maricas included acquired or inherited feminine anatomical traits. There

were some mid-nineteenth century European psychiatrists and criminologists who

believed that “sexual inversion” was a mental pathology with specific anatomical

manifestations, but this idea was losing ground in the late nineteenth-century.16 By the

14
“Las maneras femeninas, la pose, el cachet, se evidencian sobre todo al vestir el traje femenino,
parece que el roce y ruido de la seda, la traba de las polleras, de las enaguas, etc., les sirviera de
estimulante, y en esas condiciones la transformación es tan radical, que la ilusión y el engaño pueden ser
completos, no ya a los no habituados a tratar esta clase de gente, sino aún, a aquellos mismos que por la
naturaleza de sus funciones le frecuentan.” Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 87.
15
See Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 76-107.
16
For a history of the medicalization of same-sex sexual categories, see Jennifer Terry, An
American Obsession: Science, Medicine and Homosexuality in Modern Society (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1999), 42-62. In Argentina, physicians and other professionals agreed that “sexual
inversion” had no specific physical manifestation. Argentine psychiatry and criminology attributed
degeneracy to psychological traits by the early twentieth century. Francisco de Veyga argued that [sexual
activity has its organic base in the apparatus assigned for reproduction, but its leading center is in the brain,
where in addition to the formation of tendencies conducing to instinctual satisfaction regulating (we
observe that) volitive currents regulating and achieving the final aim are (also) formed. And there is
something else. In this relationship between organic centers of sexual life and mental life, the latter prevail
over the former. Their sovereignty (that of centers of mental life) is so absolute that functional aberrations
and deviations can only be attributed to them– in the absence of any alterations of the genital apparatus. It
would not be exaggerated to say that the reproductive morality of an individual is the direct outcome of its
199
1900s, when medical and psychiatric state institutions were consolidating in Buenos

Aires, scholars believed that “sexual inversion” belonged to the realm of mental

pathology independent from any physical trait. In one of his case studies of sexual

inversion, Francisco de Veyga clearly states that “the essential character of his pleasure is

in the psychological sphere.”17 Male “sexual inverts” were abnormal because they

adopted a female gender identity rather than accepting their socially assigned male status.

So while a variety of turn-of-the-century scientific disciplines claimed a distinction

between the normal and the pathological, plebeian culture did not develop in this way.

Maricas were not “abnormal” from the point of view of plebeian men and women;

maricas were simply ‘like women’ because they refused to enact the gender/sexual

performance that defined the privileged male status. Maricas were the object of abuse,

contempt and ridicule because plebeian culture valued male status and many people

perceived men who abandoned their gender status in a negative way.

mental constitution.] “La actividad sexual tiene su base orgánica en el aparato destinado a la reproducción,
pero su centro dirigente está en el cerebro, en donde además de iniciarse las tendencias que conducen a la
satisfacción del instinto, se forman las corrientes volitivas que lo regulan y alcanzan hacia el objetivo final.
Y hay algo más. En esa última relación que mantienen entre si los centros orgánicos de la vida sexual con
los de la vida mental, los que priman por su acción son los últimos. Su soberanía es tan absoluta que, a ellos
solos, en ausencia de alteraciones de parte del aparato genital, se les puede imputar muchas desviaciones o
aberraciones de orden funcional, no siendo exagerado decir que la moralidad genésica de un individuo es
obra directa de la constitución mental.” Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” in Archivos
de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, 2 (1903): 194. The hegemonic interpretation led by José
Ingenieros preferred to detach pathologies from the realm of biology. In fact, in a 1905 congress in Rome,
Ingenieros criticized Cesare Lombroso’s belief that degeneracy was correlated to physical traits. Many of
the studies of sexual inverts by physicians and other professionals in Argentina explicitly claim that
physical features played no role; see, for instance, Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 124. Ingenieros
argues this explicitly in José Ingenieros, “Psicopatología de las funciones sexuales.Nueva clasificación
genética,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. IX, (1910): 24. The term
“psychic hermaphrodite” that Argentine physicians used frequently was an attempt to explain sexual
deviance detached from any physiological base. See Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 128. Inés and Lelé are
described with this category. For an analysis of the medicalization of homosexuality in other parts of Latin
America, see James Green, Beyond Carnival, 107-147.
17
“…lo esencial de su placer está en la esfera psicológica.” Francisco de Veyga, “Inversión sexual
congénita,” 1 (1902)” 46.
200
Within plebeian culture, male anatomy was a necessary requisite to adopt the

male gender status (although some women successfully passed as men during this period

as I explained in Chapter III) but anatomy was not enough. Together with physical

strength and sexual prowess, a third component of male gender status was anal virginity.

Like ‘honest’ women who were not supposed to have pre- or extra-marital sexual affairs,

‘real’ men were supposed to abstain from receptive anal sex.18 Compared to those who

had kept their male status, maricas offered themselves as sexual objects to men who

wanted to penetrate them. More important than their actual sexual performance, however,

was the fact that maricas would not conceal their participation in what was supposed to

be an emasculating sexual activity. Unlike other men and women who did conceal their

role as the receptive partner in sexual intercourse in order to keep their gender status,

maricas were unconcerned about the loss of male status that their identity implied.

Moreover, maricas were usually proud of their identity19 and many of them did not

hesitate to develop a public persona in a “militant” way.20 Mirroring the competition for

18
In his work on soldiers in late nineteenth-century Brazil, Peter Beattie also argues that “sodomy”
was associated with female prostitution. He states that military barracks “functioned as the male equivalent
of the bordello” because soldiers were associated with receptive sexual intercourse. Peter Beattie, “The
House, the Street, and the Barracks: Reform and Honorable Masculine Social Space in Brazil, 1864-1945,”
The Hispanic American Historical Review, 76, No. 3 (August, 1996): 442.
19
In Arenaza’s description of Inés, the author refers to this pride as “the psychic modality of the
marica who is extremely vain” or “la modalidad psíquica del marica vanidoso en extremo…” Arenaza,
Menores delincuentes, 127.
20
“…the sexual orientation is originally normal, but it has been deviated by education. The habit of
passive and active pederasty has given place to inverted feelings, deviating in a homosexual way the
original tendency. They form the large mass of militant homosexuals, and they all intend to make you
believe they are real born inverts (some end up believing so). They understand their acquired perversion as
something more legitimate because it is an inborn anomaly.” [“…la tendencia sexual es primitivamente
normal, pero ha sido desviada por la educación; el hábito de la pederastia activa o pasiva ha creado
sentimientos invertidos, desviando en sentido homosexual la primitiva tendencia. Componen la gran masa
de los homosexuales militantes, aunque todos pretenden hacer creer que son verdaderos invertidos
congénitos (y algunos acaban por creerlo), comprendiendo que su perversion adquirida es más disculpable
con el disfraz de la anomalía congenital.] José Ingenieros, “Psicopatología de las funciones sexuales. Nueva
201
21
male status among men, many maricas competed over their feminine appearance. In the

eyes of others, their gender was not legible as male despite their physical constitution.

From a medical and psychiatric perspective, these men had “inverted” their sexual

‘role.’ Maricas were “sexual inverts.” The scientific category, however, was not exactly

the same as the plebeian one. They certainly shared the idea that each sex was associated

with a sexual role and that failing to accept that role implied acting “like” the other sex.

Beyond that, however, the scientific and plebeian categories had different connotations.

From a scientific point of view, “inversion” was not only an abnormality, but also

implied a threat to the social order. On the contrary, plebeian culture never represented

maricas as a threat. Maricas were basically the object of perplexity and derision. They

were perceived as strange and funny creatures,22 which is why some of them were

clasificación genética,”Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. XI, (1910): 23-4.
According to Jorge Salessi, Ingenieros identifies “militancy” with the idea that homosexuals are born as
such because this idea was originally developed by the German homophile movement. See Jorge Salessi,
Médicos maleantes y maricas, and John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights
Movement, 1864-1935 (New York: Times Change Press, 1974). German and English homophile groups
were known in Argentina, see the anonymous review of the work of Et. Martin published in Lyon Medical,
“La Homosexualidad” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. VIII (1909): 125-6.
21
After interviewing Rosita de la Plata Veyga concluded that the most important satisfaction
she/he found in being a marica was to perform his/her role successfully, which implied being able to
achieve feminine appearance. Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos…, Vol. 2,
(1903): 202. This interest in keeping an adequate feminine appearance was shared by all the maricas
mentioned throughout this chapter.
22
For jokes about maricas, see Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 70, poem 234 (2) and (3), p.
101.In the play “Los Invertidos” when the maid tells Julián (one of the characters) that a relative who
already died acted like a marica, Julián’s response is “But he probably did it as a joke.” [“Pero lo haría de
broma”] J. Gonzalez Castillo, Los Invertidos (Buenos Aires, 1914), 12. Maricas are the object of jokes
throughout the play, see for instance p. 26 and 71-3. The multiplicity of plebeian terms used to refer to
maricas in a variety of contexts seemed to have a comic purpose, such as in the case of “minotauro” or
“minotaur” (73). This word combined the mythological character with the idea of “mino,” the male version
of “mina” (a word used to refer to female prostitutes or women who were part of the underworld, note that
today the term has lost this connotation and it refers to any woman). A similar case was “ministro” which
also combined the reference to “mino” confusing it with “minister.” Other seemingly comic words were
“manflora” or “manflorón,” see Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 312. Although sometimes comedy did
not refer to maricas explicitly, anal penetration was one of the most famous comic tropes, a topic I
discussed in Chapter II.
202
successful as actors, dancers, etc. Lele was a “specialist” in cross-dressing, singing verses

with a falsetto voice for a plebeian audience at the theater. Although Lele “can sing like a

man and dress as such, he prefers feminine roles, which he performs with greater success

and are more of his liking.” In fact, Lele’s success was so striking, the show ran for a

long time, “attracting a numerous audience of enthusiastic fans who would not spare

clapping, for which he takes care jealously and sensibly.”23 The enthusiastic audience that

allowed Lele to run a successful show for such a long time indicates that he/she was not

perceived as a threat.

Although losing male status and becoming a marica was shameful, as long as a

man kept his male status, maricas posed no threat for them. On the contrary, maricas

could amuse men and offer sexual services when there were no women available or

whenever men lacked money to pay for a prostitute. Professionals and state officials

denounced the male plebeian attitude towards maricas as abhorrent and pathological.24

But they did not believe that plebeian men who were willing to penetrate maricas were

“inverts,” because they had not inverted their sexual role. Rather, psychiatrists and

criminologists believed that plebeian men’s willingness to engage in masturbation and

penetrative sex with other men constituted a sexual ‘perversion.’ These professionals

resented the weakness of marital sexuality and the relative integration of maricas in

23
“Actuó públicamente, bailando, cantando y recitando con ruidoso éxito, él lo afirma,
manteniendo su nombre en el cartel por mucho tiempo y arrastrando un numeroso público de admiradores
entusiastas, que no le escatimaban el aplauso, por el que se muestra celoso y sensible. Es especialista en
coplas que canta vestido de mujer, con voz de falsete, y aunque puede cantar como hombre y vestido como
tal, prefiere los papeles femeninos que desempeña con mayor éxito y más gusto de su parte.” Carlos
Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 92-3.

24
See, for instante, Amador Lucero, Psicopatología Forense. Informes en materia criminal y civil
(Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Coni Hermanos, 1917), 19.
203
plebeian life. However, from the point of view of psychiatrists and criminologists,

plebeian masculinity could be even more problematic than “sexual inversion” in terms of

its social consequences.25 Plebeian perverse masculinity and the sexual inversion of

maricas were just two different manifestations of the racial inferiority of the foreign

popular classes.26

Despite their different views, plebeian men and scientists shared some common

elements in their understanding of maricas in particular and gender and sexuality in

general. Their understanding of role inversion was the result of their agreement about

what constituted a man and how fundamentally different it was from being a woman. A

man was sexually active, a woman passive. Men were violent, women submissive. Men

penetrated others, while women were the object of penetration. In terms of this binarian

distinction, maricas/inverts were lesser men. Maricas were men who wanted to be

women. They dressed like women, they acted like women, and what was more important,

they offered their bodies to other men like female prostitutes. Unlike real men, maricas

could not perform penetration on other men or women. As individuals who had lost their

25
This was not only the view of Argentine professionals like Veyga, but it was also present in the
work of criminologist in other countries, like Roumagnac in Mexico. See Carlos Roumagnac, Los criminals
en México: Ensayo de psicología criminal (Mexico: Tipografía “El Fénix,” 1904) and La estadística
criminal en México (Mexico: García Cubas, 1907). For an analysis of the work of Roumagnac, see Martin
Nesvig, “The Lure of the Perverse: Moral Negotiation of Pederasty in Porfirian Mexico,” Mexican
Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 16 (1), (2000): 1-37. Peter Beattie explains how penetration of other men as a
way to substantiate masculinity among social peers also threatened discipline in the army in the eyes of
Brazilian criminologists and state officials. See Petter Beattie, The Tribute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race
and Nation in Brazil, 1864-1945 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001).
26
See the analysis of Jorge Salessi, Médicos maleantes y maricas, about this topic. For another
analysis of the relationship between sexuality, gender and racial “inferiority,” see Gabriela Nouzeilles,
Ficciones Somáticas: Naturalismo, Nacionalismo y Políticas Médicas del Cuerpo, Argentina 1880-1910
(Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2000).
204
male status, maricas adopted many of the supposed feminine traits: they were weak, they

were cowards, they had no honor, and thus enjoyed scheming and gossiping.27

The life and self-representations of maricas both confirms and refutes this

stereotype. Although in many cases, maricas also represented themselves as individuals

who had lost their masculine status, their own lives were certainly more complex. Many

maricas had not only been married, they were sometimes previously known as

womanizers or men who asserted their gender status in the male urban spaces of

sociability.28 At some point in their lives, they abandoned the male status, becoming

maricas and joining others like them in close association with the world of lunfardos and

female prostitutes. Assuming a change in one’s sexual/gender identity in the eyes of

others had different consequences. Some maricas would dress “like women,” and

sometimes adopted a female persona. Other maricas, however, would keep a masculine

image despite their loss of the male gender status.29 When having sex, maricas usually

preferred to behave “like women,” performing receptive anal sex. But they did not

always fit the stereotype that outsiders assigned them. Some maricas penetrated other

men too.30 In fact, the maricas who penetrated other men were significant enough to have

27
Veyga repeats this view in all of the articles he wrote on the topic. Arenaza also believed that
maricas were [schemers, liers, gossipers and hypocrites who simulate a mellowness and goodness they
actually lack]; “individuos intrigantes, embusteros, chismosos e hipócritas, que simulan una suavidad y una
bondad que no tienen.” Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 90. In fact, Arenaza argues that this
characterization of maricas was shared by the “classic authors,” although he does not mention explicitly
who these authors were (128).
28
See for instance the case of Rosita de la Plata, Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual
adquirida,” Archivos…, Vol. 2, (1903): 202-4.
29
Arenaza refers to several of them; see Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 76-107.
30
See the case study of Inés, Carlos Arenaza, Ibid., 126. Manon [was passive first but then became
active] “…de pasivo que era se hizo activo.” Francisco de Veyga, “Inversión sexual congénita,” in
Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. 1, (1902). Carlos de Arenaza says the same
205
their own name. They were criticized by other maricas who referred to them using the

term “machonas,”31 which translates roughly as “virile woman.” Although probably less

common, it was not unusual for maricas to penetrate women too. 32 Being a marica, for

instance, had not prevented Lelé “from having totally satisfactory normal intercourse

with women of his like,” argued medical examiner Carlos Arenaza. In fact, the physician

continued, “he has even felt a strong inclination of a young lady with whom (he) fell in

love and possessed, living (her) very pleased with his perfectly male behavior.”33 José

Ingenieros, another researcher interested in “sexual inversion,” also believed that maricas

had sex with both men and women.34

about Inés who [without problems also became ‘active’, performing both roles in one session with
indulgent subjects who, like him, are willing to engage in the sexual act in alternative active and passive
positions.] “sin inconveniente se volvió a la vez ‘activo’, desempeñando ambos papeles en una misma
sesión, con sujetos complacientes que como él, se prestan a la realización del acto sexual, en actitudes
alternativas de actividad y pasividad.” (126).
31
Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 101. Arenaza classified them with the ‘scientific’ term
[psychic hermaphrodite] “hermafrodita psíquico].
32
[‘Inés’ maintains (he/she) has performed without difficulties and in a normal way intercourse
with women, but (Inés) expresses that it is more pleasing to him to be possesed by a man, even if that
pleasure does not come from an irresistible feeling or a passion that cannot be controlled by the power of
will, as in every moment (Inés) does not forget his male status] “‘Inés’ asegura haber efectuado sin tropiezo
y normalmente el coito con mujeres, pero manifiesta, que le és más agradable ser poseído por el hombre,
sin que tal placer tenga su origen en un sentimiento irresistible o en una pasión cuyo dominio no esté al
alcance del poder de la voluntad, pues en todo momento no olvida su carácter de hombre.” Carlos Arenaza,
Menores delincuentes, 126.
33
Ibid., 130.
34
In fact, Ingenieros followed a classification by Krafft-Ebing were the German psychiatrist
distinguished between four “types” of “uranists” (a positive term for “sexual inversion” invented by the
German homophile movement of the late nineteenth century). When uranists were “incomplete,”
Ingenieros argued, they ahd sex with individuals from both sexes. Only the “complete” uranist had sex
exclusively with people of the same sex. See José Ingenieros, “Patología de las funciones psicosexuales.
Nueva clasificación genetic,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Buenos Aires, Year
IX, (1910): 24.
206

Figure 7: Left: Francisco de Veyga, “Invertido sexual imitando a la mujer


honesta”[Sexual invert imitating an honest woman], Archivos de Psiquiatría,
Criminología y Ciencias Afines, vol. 1, 1902. Right: “Aurora” in Francisco de Veyga,
“La inversion sexual adquirida,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias
Afines, Vol. 2, (1903): 196.

Identity and Status

My analysis of the category “marica” refers to two concepts – identity and status

– in the context of both gender and sexuality. Sometimes I consider maricas as

individuals who lost their male “status,” whereas in other contexts I refer to them as

people with a specific kind of “sexual/gender identity.” I believe that the combination of

these different concepts is not contradictory for this study. In order to clarify my

approach and avoid eclecticism, I will explain my decision by referencing historiography.

Some historians of sexuality have pointed out the importance of distinguishing

between the category “homosexual” on one side and “sexual invert” on the other.

Whereas the former is an identity related to sexual identity, the latter is associated with
207
the inversion of gender roles. In the case of homosexuals, sexual practices define “who”

they are. On the contrary, “sexual inverts” engage in same-sex sexual practices, but those

practices are not what constitute their identity. The subjectivity of male inverts is shaped

by a feminine role in social life, and their sexual practices are just an outcome of that

role.

In Gay New York, George Chauncey traces the historical change in attitude

towards male same-sex sexuality that prevailed in this American city until the 1930s. By

the mid-twentieth century, this movement from a social classification based on a gender

role to another one based on sexual identity had more or less consolidated.35 Comparing

the United States with Latin America, many scholars have claimed that an identity based

on sexual orientation is characteristic of the Anglo region of the hemisphere, whereas the

inversion of the gender role falls south of the Rio Grande. The emergence of a Latin

American, gay identity comparable to that existing in the United States is considered a

phenomenon that only began in recent decades. In Latin America, many scholars argue,

the traditional machismo/marianismo dichotomy projects its influence into the distinction

between the “real” man who performs penetration and the partner playing the receptive

role who assumes a feminine self-identification.36 This model where people of the same

gender have sex with each other adopting opposing gender roles is in direct contrast with

the contemporary American gay egalitarian model where two people of the same sex

relate as equals, keeping their assigned gender identity. Although the egalitarian model
35
George Chauncey, Gay New York.
36
The clearest example of this perspective is Stephen Murray, Latin American male
Homosexualities (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995). For another similar approach, see
Joseph Carrier, De los otros: Intimacy and Homosexuality Among Mexican Men (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1995).
208
exists in contemporary Latin America, it supposedly prevails only in major cosmopolitan

urban contexts—especially among the middle to upper echelons of society. Although a

number of scholars have complicated this Latin/Anglo American distinction,37 the

opposition of gender hierarchical and egalitarian ways of organizing same-sex sexuality

remains hegemonic. Both sides of the opposition work as “ideal types” in the Weberian

sense. However, the everyday reality of same-sex sexuality may be complex and

characteristics of both models may be observed in Latin America, but the studies grasp

the complexity of reality only as an interaction of types. My analysis intends to question

this approach.

The first problem I identify in the use of ideal types of same-sex sexuality is the

underlying conceptualization of sexuality as an independent cultural sphere detached

from sociability. Consequently, this approach flattens the distinction between sexual

representations, identities and practices.

When the representations of male sexuality are contrasted with actual practices,

the validity of a Latin American ideal type of same-sex sexuality collapses. Plebeian men

and maricas in Buenos Aires could be seen as part of the wider Latin American pattern of

gender-structured, same-sex sexuality. This interpretation would, in fact, coincide with

the prevailing self-understanding of plebeian culture in Buenos Aires at the time.

Notwithstanding, an analysis of sexual practices (rather than an exclusive focus on

representations) provides a different picture. The plebeian representation of men as

individuals who only performed the “active” role was based on a denial of receptive anal

37
See Roger Lancaster, Life is Hard: Machismo, Danger and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); and Robert McKee Irwin, Edward J. McCaughan and
Michelle Rocio Nasser (eds.), The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, c. 1901 (New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
209
intercourse, a practice common among plebeian men but exclusively associated with

maricas. Beyond cultural expectations, many maricas actually performed the “active”

role that was supposed to be limited to “real” men.38 This distance between idealized

identity categories and actual sexual practices was not peculiar to Buenos Aires, but as

has been noted in many works of queer theory, instability and contradiction is inherent

within identity categories.

There is, however, a peculiar characteristic of Buenos Aires at the time. The

cultural taboo against male anal intercourse was threatened by specific social conditions:

too many men felt compelled to assert their masculinity through penetration in a city

where female sexual outlets were scarce. Some men would offer money in exchange for a

sexual outlet, and a city with systematic, seasonal unemployment provided fertile ground

for both male and female prostitution. Social conditions played a crucial role in forming a

cultural environment where men engaged in receptive anal intercourse while consciously

denying it. Concealing one’s sexual practices was not difficult in an urban environment

with high residential and geographic mobility. What we have, then, is a male gender

identity based on the denial of certain sexual practices associated with femininity.

Disclosure of receptive anal practices would then lead to a change in gender identity (as

maricas were “like women”), and this change also implied a loss of male status since

identity and status were inextricably related. Although the concept of status captures the

hierarchical aspect of plebeian culture, this gendered-structure hierarchy should not be

reduced to an abstract model of the macho who penetrates and the marica who is

38
See for instance Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 106.
210
penetrated. This reduction ignores the particular social conditions that affected both

identity and status.

The challenge of becoming a marica

Although many maricas did not seem concerned with the loss of male status that

their new identity implied, cultural disapproval was a challenge for those who wanted to

make a transition to a stigmatized identity. Before becoming a marica, it was necessary to

come to terms with the possibility of derision, abuse and even violence. In the jargon of

maricas, coming to terms with the cultural pressure inherent to losing male status was

known as “tirar la chancleta” or “throwing the sandals away.” A discussion of the use of

this phrase will provide a closer idea of its meaning.

In Los Invertidos [the inverts], a cross-dressing marica called Juanita criticizes

Dr. Flores because he conceals his sexual interest in other men and presents himself as a

family man in public.39 Unlike Dr. Flores, Juanita claims to have “thrown the sandals

away.” La Princesa de Borbon, another marica, argues with Juanita that disclosing his

participation in receptive sexual intercourse with other men could cost Dr. Flores his

reputation, ruin his career and destroy his family. Although this play was a work of

fiction, the risks threatening Dr. Flores existed in real life. The play was realistic to the

extent that La Princesa de Borbon was not just a character, but the name of a famous

marica who actually lived in Buenos Aires at the time.40 In addition, other examples of

39
José González Castillo, Los Invertidos. Drama realista en 3 actos, en prosa (Buenos Aires: n.p.,
1914), 41.
40
See Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 85-6.
211
men who faced a challenge similar to Dr. Flores exist. A married, wealthy man who did

not conceal his sexual interest in other men and moved in with a male partner actually

lost the support of his family and became impoverished. Veyga wrote about him and

claimed that his decision to disclose his partnership with another man was unusual for

somebody of his social position.41 Veyga argued that unlike La Princesa de Borbon, most

men coming from a comfortable social background would conceal their stigmatized

sexual life for fear of the social consequences that disclosure could provoke.

The case of Dr. Flores suggests that the obstacles maricas had to face to “throw

the sandals away” seemed to be stronger for middle and upper class men. Like the

characters who had “thrown the sandal” in Los Invertidos, most maricas belonged to the

lower strata. But becoming a marica could certainly cause the ruin of professional men,

state officials or merchants. The risk of economic reprimand or social censure, however,

did not always prevent men from privileged backgrounds from adopting marica

identities. Although Veyga and others claimed that they were doomed to end in ruin,42 a

few maricas even managed to succeed in important careers despite being publicly known

as such. In 1916, Manuel Oto Gil – a Spanish writer who published a book about his trip

to Argentina – denounced Buenos Aires as so ‘immoral’ that even a judge who was

41
Talking about this man, Veyga says: [the poor subject did not limit himself to taste this new kind
of pleasure in silence, as many do – or better said the immense majority – of this type of inverts – inverts
by perversión. On the contrary, he flaunted his life, becoming a flashy figure in the special environments
where he lives] “el pobre sujeto no se había limitado a saborear en silencio este nuevo género de placer,
como hacen tantos, la inmensa mayoría por mejor decir, de los invertidos de este género, - invertidos por
perversión, - sino que hizo ostentación de su vida, convirtiéndose en una figura llamativa en el medio
especial de su actuación.”Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos de Psiquiatría,
Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, (1903) 207.
42
This idea is also repeated many times in José González Castillo, Los Invertidos.
212
43
publicly known as a marica kept his job without a problem. A late nineteenth-century

Socialist newspaper denouncing upper-class moral hypocrisy claimed that there were

visible “pederasts” among elite men.44

The scarcity of sources describing the life of middle and upper class maricas for

this period, however, makes it difficult to know the obstacles they faced when adopting

this identity. On the one hand, Veyga’s pessimistic forecast for maricas was biased; it

was an attempt to portray Argentina in a positive light. On the other hand, Oto Gil and

the Socialists claimed that maricas could have important careers in Buenos Aires, and

they believed that such “tolerance” damaged the image of the country and/or its political

leaders. Although Veyga’s social attitude towards maricas was significantly different

than Oto Gil and the Socialists, they shared some things in common. All of them believed

that tolerating maricas was detrimental for the national image. If tolerance was

43
[In Buenos Aires nobody ignores that judge Lavallol stains – and in what a place, my God! – the
robe he was given to administer justice. Being so notorious the aberration of the bad judge it seems natural
for normal and caste people to be infuriated with this public man (…) who so badly represents his sex and
his class. […] But to make this piggy issue funny, those who have failed to become infuriated with
Lavallol, because of what he does, are infuriated with me because I said it.] “En Buenos Aires no hay quién
ignore que el juez Lavallol mancha – !y por qué sitio, Dios mío! – la toga que se le dió para administrar la
justicia. Parece lo natural que siendo notoria la aberración del mal juez, estuviera la gente normal y casta
indignada con este hombre público ( …) que tan mal parados deja a su sexo y a su clase. […] Pero para que
en este marrano asunto resulte todo invertido, los que no han acertado a indignarse con Lavallol, por lo que
hace, se indignant contra mi porque lo dije.” (Italics in the original) And on the next page, the author wrote
the following comic poem: [ [I think it is reasonable/ that if they put me in jail/ for saying he is… a bad
male/ he should be hanged for being such.] “Pues creo que es de razón/ que si a mí carcel me dan/ por decir
que es… mal varón,/ a él, por serlo, le ahorcáran.” Manuel Gil de Oto, …! Y aquí traigo los papeles!
Alegato documentado del autor de ‘La Argentina que yo he visto (Barcelona, (1916), 54-5.
44
José Ingenieros argued in 1897 that he knew “urnings, homosexuals, inverts or whatever you
want to call them to avoid the term pederast”. These men were from “good society,” even from the
“Christian association for the propagation of good customs.” It is true that this claim by Ingenieros was part
of an attempt to attack the elite, but it would seem that he was referring to men whose same-sex sexuality
was visible for others. “La media docena que he conocido de uranistas, homosexuals, invertidos, o como
quiera llamárseles para no decirles pederastas, eran todos individuos de la buena sociedad; !uno de ellos
miembro de la ‘Asociación Cristiana de propagación de las buenas costumbres’!!…” José Ingenieros, “Los
reptiles burgueses II: Los cerebros de la moral,” La Montaña, Año I, No. 5, (1897). In José Ingenieros and
Leopoldo Lugones (eds.) La Montaña: Periódico Socialista Revolucionario (Quilmes: Universidad
Nacional de Quilmes, 1996), 121.
213
detrimental for the public image, this probably had an effect on actual people. In fact,

when in 1905 a young man simulated a “sexual invert” to cultivate an image as a

decadent modern writer, his friends convinced him that such a move would actually hurt

his career. Although more conclusive evidence is needed to understand the challenges

that maricas from privileged backgrounds faced, it seems plausible to assume that their

situation was worse than that of plebeian men who wanted to “throw the sandal.”

Unlike men coming from privileged backgrounds, plebeian men did not run the

same economic risks when they became maricas. The life of a marica could even seem

economically appealing for plebeian men. The case of Aurora mentioned earlier in this

chapter provides an example of the economic incentives to becoming a marica.

According to Veyga, Aurora entered “into the career for the mere interest of profit,”

which was a biased claim because Veyga himself points out later in his account of

Aurora’s life story that he/she came to enjoy same-sex sexuality. Despite Veyga’s biased

representation of maricas as merely driven by materialistic impulses, however, it is

possible to see how the physician takes for granted that becoming a marica could make a

profitable career. In fact, Veyga does not just say that being a marica was profitable for

only Aurora: he classifies Aurora as belonging to a whole category of individuals whose

transition to marica life was based on economic interest. Veyga gives them the name

“professional inverts.”45 Aurora’s life confirms the relative economic benefits of marica

life; it was the participation in this life that helped him/her become a prostitute first and

45
[Aurora represents the professional invert who enters into the career for the mere interest of
profit and remains [in the career] only with such purpose] “ ‘Aurora’ representa el invertido profesional que
entra a la carrera por el solo interés del lucro y se mantiene en ella con ese solo propósito…” Francisco de
Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos…, Vol. 2, (1903): 195.
214
find a job as hairdresser later. The case of Aurora was very similar to many other maricas

who found a network of support among their peers. A brief analysis of these

opportunities is required to understand the economic incentives that encouraged men to

become maricas.

Between 1880 and 1930, maricas successfully occupied a number of occupational

niches within the Buenos Aires job market. Like Aurora, many maricas succeeded as

hairdressers. Manon is another marica who “performs the profession of lady’s hairdresser

in the most distinguished business of this city.”46 In fact, according to Veyga, “the art of

lady hairdresser […] is frequently performed by inverts.” This was the case not only in

the downtown businesses, but also in the convenience of private homes of “honest

people” and female prostitutes. It was easy for marica hairdressers to have “public

women” as their clients because of “the relationships they have with these people due to

thousand motives.”47 In addition to working as hairdressers, maricas also worked as

tailors, shop assistants and manicurists.48 Another frequent marica occupation was

46
“Ejerce la profesión de peinador de señoras en las principales peluquerías de esta ciudad.”
Francisco de Veyga, “Inversión sexual congénita,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias
Afines, vol. 1, (1902): 46.
47
“El arte de peinador de señoras […] es frecuentemente ejercido por invertidos; muchos de entre
ellos, cuando no encuentran trabajo en las casas del centro de la ciudad, sirven a domicilio en casas
particulares, de gente honesta o no. Su gran clientela en estos casos son las mujeres públicas, no siéndoles
difícil recibir sus llamados, en vista de las relaciones que mantienen con esta gente por mil motivos
diversos.” Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y
Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, (1903), 199. For cases of maricas working as hairdressers, see Carlos Arenaza,
Menores delincuentes, 141. For another analysis of this topic, see “Tráfico de peluqueros entre espacios y
clases sociales,” in Jorge Salessi, Medicos maleantes y maricas (Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 1995), 288-93.

48
“Dressmakers, hairdressers, florist, actors, actrices, etc.” [“modistos, peinadores, floristos,
actors, atrices, etc”] José Ingenieros, “Patología de las funciones psicosexuales. Nueva Clasificación
genetica,”Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines. Buenos Aires, year IX, 1910, p.
24.Rosita, a Spanish marica living in Buenos Aires, was a tailor, although the police report argued that this
profession was mostly a cover to avoid police persecution as a robber. See Carlos Arenaza, Menores
delincuentes, 140. Inés was a shop assistant. (125).
215
servant. “Invert servants are numerous in family homes, because this is one of their

favorite occupations.” Psychiatrists and criminologists were quite concerned about the

number of servants engaging in male same-sex sexual practices; they believed that the

numerous maricas working for honest families “initiated” young boys into sexual

inversion.49 The fear of marica servants, however, is not necessarily representative of

their participation in this kind of work. Although economically privileged families

wanted to have servants, they were always concerned about their influence on their

private lives. In any case, a general evaluation suggests that the employment

opportunities open for maricas were not negligible.

Unlike other cases where a social group occupies a specific niche when unable to

find regular jobs, apparently the job market did not marginalize maricas. Worker supply

was not sufficient in turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, and employers in need of people

were unlikely to engage in a close inspection of those they hired. Furthermore, circulation

between different jobs and geographic mobility complicated any attempt to scrutinize the

workforce. Although screening methods affecting maricas remain unknown, it is unlikely

that they suffered discrimination in the job market under these circumstances. In fact, in

Chapter I, I referred to the foreman who came to the city in search of workers and chose

49
[In respectable families, invert servants are numerous because this is one of their favourite
occupations. Having no qualms (these servants) to initiate some of the boys in the house (they serve) in
some of the most dangerous and degrading practices.] “En las casas de familia los sirvientes invertidos, que
son numerosos, pues este oficio es uno de sus predilectos, inician sin escrupulo alguno a los ninos de la
casa en las pr’acticas mas peligrosas, al mismo tiempo que degradantes.” Francisco de Veyga, “El sentido
moral y la conducta en los invertidos sexuales,” in Archivos, 1904, 23. For examples of maricas working as
servants, see Juan Pablo Raffo and Carlos Arenaza, “Un caso de inversión sexual,” in Revista Penitenciaria,
Year IV, No. 2, 1908 (Buenos Aires: Tipografía de la Cárcel de Encausados, May 1908), 55. Rosita de la
Plata also worked as a servant, Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos de
Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, 1903, 202. The same was the case with La Bella
Otero, Francisco de Veyga, “La Inversión sexual adquirida. Tipo profesional: un invertido comerciante.”
Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, 1903, 403. For another analysis of this
topic see “El foco de los sirvientes dentro de las clases altas,” Jorge Salesi, Medicos maleantes y maricas
(Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 1995), 293-7.
216
to hire a group of marica cross-dressers who publicly engaged in prostitution in the

downtown area. Although this is just a single example, it suggests that maricas were not

necessarily unfortunate when it came to looking for a job. In fact, maricas thrived in

occupations where personal history and reputation should have mattered the most, such

as hair-dressers or servants. Instead of concentrating in the industrial sector or in the

harbor, where recruiting through the work-gang minimized the screening of workers,

maricas usually found jobs where they had to engage in a personal relationship with

clients or employers with whom they shared a home.

One common denominator for marica occupations like hairdresser, manicurist,

and servant was their association with femininity. When Carlos Arenaza describes the

occupation of Inés, he stresses such an association. After explaining how Inés played

with dolls when he/she was a boy, Arenaza says that “today” this feminine tendency can

be observed in his occupation of shop assistant. ‘Feminine skills’ that helped him/her

present the merchandise in an artistic and attractive way meant he was very successful in

this occupation.`50 Since the Buenos Aires workforce was divided along gender lines,

maricas tended to fall on the side of jobs for women rather than jobs for men. This

tendency actually followed the pattern of being “like women,” but it should be noted that

within the scope of jobs associated with the female gender, maricas occupied a privileged

position. Female employment was prevalent in the lowest tier of the workforce.

Seamstress, laundress and other household-based occupations were popular among

women, and they were amongst the worst paid jobs. Although maricas worked in tasks

50
Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 125.
217
associated with femininity, jobs like hairdresser, manicurist, seamstress, and servant

enjoyed higher wages and sometimes required some level of qualification.

In addition to these occupations, maricas could also turn to alternative strategies

for survival. Along with women who were willing to abandon an “honest” life, the main

economic resource for maricas was prostitution.51 In a city famous for the male demand

for sex, maricas did not seem to have difficulties finding clients, and according to Donna

Guy, the police were more concerned with the social control of female prostitutes.52

However, women selling their bodies for sex enjoyed some privileges that maricas did

not. According to their testimony, maricas rarely worked as prostitutes in the city

51
In the 1960s Tulio Carella reconstructed the urban underworld of early twentieth-century Buenos
Aires using orally transmitted stories. According to this author “Foreign sailors, drugadicts -…- and sexual
perverts frequented [the places of entertainment in downtown Buenos Aires]. There were many couples of
men going in an out [of these places] without awakening any suspicion. And they would go to a cheap
hotel, seek refuge in the darkness of the quays or in the very same ships. This fraudulent prostitution was
not less frequent than the authentic feminine one, with the exception that money circulated the other way:
the ministro would pay and the antropófago would get the money. For some reason that has still not been
studied, and is still unknown, the places of bad fame attracted sexual deviants.” [“Marinos mercantes
extranjeros, aficionados a las drogas -…- y pervertidos sexuales, los frecuentaban. Repetidamente salían
parejas de hombres que no despertaban suspicacia alguna. Y se dirigían a un hotelucho, al reparo de la
oscuridad de los muelles, o a los buques mismos. Esta prostitución dolosa no era menos abundante que la
femenina auténtica, sólo que el dinero refluía en el sentido contrario: el ministro pagaba y el antropófago
recibía el dinero. Por alguna razón no estudiada aún, y que se mantiene en reserva, los sitios de mala fama
atraían a los desviados sexuales.”] Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña, 38. Ministro was another term for
maricas used at the time among lunfardos (See Luis Villamayor, El lenguaje del bajo fondo, 147), and
antropofago was a synonym for bufarrón, as explained in Chapter II. Although there were many cases in
which maricas paid plebeian men for sex, there are many sources suggesting that this was not the only way
it happened. In fact, it would seem that in most cases maricas were the ones who got the money. By
claiming that it was the other way round, Carella was probably projecting a tendency that was common at
the time when he wrote the book.
52
“Despite the evidence of extensive male prostitution and the role of males as sources of
contamination [the author is implying syphilis] for healthy prostitutes, no men were ever subjetcted to
municipal licensing or mandatory medical examination until the advent of mandatory prenuptial blod tests
after 1936. Higienistas knew that Buenos Aires had a significant homosexual population and that male
prostitutes found not only among streetwalkers soliciting sex but also within the supposedly all-female
bordellos. Although these men were studied as medical curiosities and efforts were made to identify the
environmental causes of their homosexuality, they were ignored as a source of illness.” Donna Guy, Sex &
Danger in Buenos Aires, 86; see also her analysis of this topic in page 87. Although I agree with the overall
analysis of Donna Guy, I did not find evidence showing that male prostitutes worked as such in bordellos,
it would seem, as I argue in the following sentences, that they were mostly in the streets.
218
brothels. In their frequent excursions to Brazil, some maricas were surprised to find that

women were not the only ones who worked as prostitutes in the brothels of that country.53

On the contrary, in Buenos Aires, marica prostitutes were visible in public areas, together

with streetwalkers, and in many cases the income from prostitution was not enough.

Although marica life was profoundly shaped by the experience of prostitution,

most maricas would alternate between exchanging sex for money and performing other

activities. Despite the competition, female prostitutes sometimes offered opportunities for

maricas. Some important female prostitutes and madams hired maricas as secretaries,

accountants, hairdressers and cleaning personnel.54 In addition, maricas frequently

befriended female prostitutes and sometimes lived in brothels.55 La madrileña fraternally

lived together with a female prostitute, sharing the same bed without experiencing sexual

53
In some autobiographical paragraphs written by Rosita, he/she says: [I have travelled a lot, and
in one of my trips to Brazil I saw an inverted house of prostitution, where passive and active pederasts went
to enjoy all the pleasures freely and naturally as if they were women.]“He viajado mucho, y en uno de mis
viajes al Brazil, he visto una casa de lenocinio al revés, donde concurrían pederastas pasivos y activos y
gozar de todos los placeres libremente y con la mayor naturalidad como si fueran mujeres.” Carlos
Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 142. The medical examiners who wrote about La Madrileña stated that
he/she would also frequently go to [Brazil in order to work in the masculine brothels of that republic that
according to V. are famous, luxurious and profitable.] “…emprender caravanas al Brazil para actuar en los
prostíbulos masculinos de esa república, al decir de V. afamados, lujosos y remuneradores.” Juan Pablo
Raffo and Carlos Arenaza, “Un caso de inversión sexual,” in Revista Penitenciaria, Year IV, No. 2, 1908
(Buenos Aires: Tipografía de la Cárcel de Encausados, May 1908), 59.
54
Recalling life in early twentieth-century urban underworld where tango music emerged, Tulio
Carella mentioned that in “almost all of the brothels there were pulgos who were in charge of cooking,
cleaning, doing the shopping and serving in the waiting room.” [“En casi todos los lenocinios había pulgos
que se encargaban de cocinar, limpiar, hacer los mandados y servir en el reservado.”] Tulio Carella,
Picaresca Porteña (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veinte, 1966), p. 25. According to a dictionary of lunfardo
language, “pulgo” meant “passive pederast,” see Luis Villamayor, El lenguaje del bajo fondo, vocabulario
lunfardo (Buenos Aires: Schapire, 1969 [1914]), 164.
55
“‘Aurora’ lives in a brothel of the so-called barrio latino” [“‘Aurora’ vive en un burdel del
llamado barrio latino” italics in the original] Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,”
Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, (1903), 199. In an orally transmitted
comic poem collected by Lehmann-Nitsche there was a reference to a “puto” or “faggot” (a derogative
plebeian term for maricas see the explanation of Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 312); living in a
brothel, 101, poem 252 (2) and (3).
219
56
desire. In the words of Veyga: “prostitutes of a certain category […] [hire maricas] as

secretaries, treating them […] with distinction and a trust that raises their [marica’s]

admiration.”57

But the association with female prostitutes was not the only social capital that

maricas enjoyed. They also associated with lunfardos and committed robbery,58 and in

some cases, assaulted men by themselves. Carlos Arenaza referred to the case of a marica

who ended up in prison, accused of robbery:

For several years [he/she] has lived off the product of her robberies.
Correctly and subtly dressed as a woman, she chooses the candidate who
will accompany her from a carriage. Once in the [the victim is in the]
carriage she steals the jewelry or the wallet while providing caresses.
Generally she is successful because even if the victim comes to realize
about the trickery, the ridiculous nature of the situation makes the person

56
“…por largo espacio de tiempo convivió fraternalmente con una mujer del oficio, sin que en
ninguna oportunidad, la vista de su cuerpo, sin duda no desprovisto de belleza, su desnudez o su
aproximación en tales condiciones, durmiendo en el mismo lecho, le provocaran deseos de orden
genésico.” Juan Pablo Raffo and Carlos Arenaza, “Un caso de inversión sexual,” in Revista Penitenciaria,
Year IV, No. 2, 1908 (Buenos Aires: Tipografía de la Cárcel de Encausados, May 1908), 55.

57
“Las procuradoras de cierta categoría al menos, se hacen un lujo en utilizarlos como secretarias,
tratándolos en ese caso con una distinction y una confianza que a ellos mismos admira.” [italics in the
original] Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y
Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, (1903), 199.
58
“The relationships that all of them [maricas] have with the lunfardo world are as intimate as the
ones we just pointed out in relation with prostitutes, showing thus, in fact, that it is not only ‘feeling’what
moves the soul of the invert.” [“Las relaciones que sostienen todos ellos con el mundo lunfardo son tan
íntimas como las que acabamos de señalar con las prostitutas, probando así, de hecho, que no es solo
‘sentimiento’ lo que agita el alma del invertido.” (199). In another article Veyga argued: “The world of
maricas is so inextricably linked to that of lunfardos and prostitutes that we can say it is part of both of
them. With the former [lunfardos] , [maricas] find the easier way of satisfying their tendencies. The
Lunfardo is pederast by condition and he knows how to exploit inverts by good or bad means. Prostitutes,
on another note, seek them as subalterns, especially madams.” [“El mundo de los maricas se encuentra,
además, tan íntimamente ligado con el de los lunfardos y el de la prostitución, que bien puede decirse que
forma parte de ambos. En el primero encuentra los elementos más fáciles para la satisfacción de sus
tenencias. El lunfardo es pederasta de condición y sabe explotar por las buenas o por las malas al invertido.
Las prostitutas por su parte, y especialmente las proxenetas, los buscan como subalternos…” Francisco de
Veyga, “El sentido moral y la conducta en los invertidos sexuales,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología
y Ciencias Afines, Vol. 2, (1903), 28. Veyga was not the only one who observed this relationship between
maricas, prostitutes and lunfardos. According to another criminologist, “the ‘plebeian’ invert is usually an
assistant of prostitutes and robbers.” [“el invertido ‘plebeyo’suele ser auxiliar de prostitutas y rufianes”]
See Eusebio Gomez, La mala vida (Buenos Aires: Juan Roldán, 1908), 191.
220
unable to denounce the robber. A good or a bad blow constitutes the only
further consequence of the episode. When things look bad, she gets down
off the carriage, quickly letting her veil and luxurious cloak act as a
costume, disappears and everything is over.59
These episodes where maricas disguised themselves as respectable ladies to rob

men eager to explore sexual adventures were very common according to Arenaza. “My

position as a medical examiner at the Buenos Aires Police,” he argued, “allowed me to

witness many of similar cases.”60 In fact, Arenaza did not just pronounce this in a general

statement; his knowledge of marica robberies seemed quite precise. In one of his

“studies” Arenaza claimed that Inés was not as courageous as he/she pretended. The

marica, he argued, “does not proceed in the same manner than many other inverts, [Inés]

does not want to be exposed to grave danger.” Other maricas would “practice the

specialty of the ‘knife’” instead, which involved being ready to attack the client with that

weapon.61 Comparing Inés with other marica robbers and claiming that he/she was

different suggests that Arenaza knew what he was saying. Robbery seemed so

widespread among maricas that they specialized in different kinds of attacks against

private property.62 Inés and Lelé, for instance, would not attack clients in carriages; they

59
“Desde hace varios años vive del producto de sus robos; correcta y sigilosamente vestido de
mujer, desde un carruaje elige al candidato a quien invita a acompañarla, una vez en el coche junto con las
primeras caricias le sustrae las alhajas o la cartera, generalmente tiene éxito, pues aún en el caso que
frecuentemente ocurre, de que el sujeto se llega a dar cuenta del engaño, lo ridícula de su situación le
inhabilita para hacer una denuncia, y un golpe bien o mal contestado es la consecuencia del episodio.
Cuando las cosas se presentan mal, se deja caer del carruaje, hace desaparecer rápidamente el velo y el
lujoso batón que le sirve de disfraz y asunto terminado.” Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 143.

60
Ibid., 144. See also, p. 140.
61
Ibid., 128.
62
Aurora was also involved in robbery in several occasions, although it is not clear if he robbed
people while disguised as a lady. See Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,” Archivos de
Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, (1903), 199.
221
robbed houses to obtain expensive female dresses that they could not have bought

otherwise.63

Soiza Reilly, a famous journalist and writer interested in the urban underworld of

early twentieth-century Buenos Aires, also illustrated the varied strategies maricas used

in their robberies. Maricas engaging in this line of criminal activities were known as “the

apaches,” a group that Juán José Soiza Reilly described as a “francmasonery” of robbers

who occupied a visible niche in the world of lunfardos.64 The number of cross-dressers

robbing throughout Buenos Aires in the early twentieth century amounted to three

thousand people, according to statistics that Soiza Reilly claimed to have obtained

through an officer at the division of investigations.65 Some of these robbers walked alone

in the streets seeking to approach passing men who looked wealthy. They would

introduce themselves to these men and tell them they were widows who had gotten lost in

the city while walking alone. Crying and hugging their victims, the fake widows made a

scene about their misfortune. Meanwhile, they took the wallets from the men’s pockets.

Soiza Reilly believed this strategy was quite successful. When Maricas touched

these men, the physical contact awakened sexual fantasies, a strategy these robbers used

consciously so that the distracted victims could not see what was happening. “Deep

inside every gentleman,” concluded Soiza Reilly, “there is a hidden swine.”66 “

63
See Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 123.
64
Juán José de Soiza Reilly, La escuela de los pillos (Buenos Aires/Montevideo: Vicente Matera,
Antonio de Angelis, 1920), 88.
65
Ibid., p. 92.
66
“En lo más profundo de cada caballero se oculta un sinvergüenza.” Juan José de Size Reilly, La
escuela de los pillos, 89.
222
Petronilla, the blondie” used a different strategy, relying more on crying alone

rather than erotic arousal. Her name was probably a comic reference, as Petronila was of

apparent African descent (I would rule out the possibility of a derogatory racist joke by

outsiders because maricas usually chose their own names, but there is no way to tell what

the relationship between her name and identity actually meant). As George Andrews

explained, there was still a relatively visible black community in early twentieth century

Buenos Aires,67 and many of them were servants of wealthy families. Petronilla assisted

at wakes, disguising herself as the aggrieved servant of deceased ladies. Crying was also

an opportunity for Petronilla to hug men and take their belongings.68 Other maricas

travelled in trains, usually looking for lonely affluent ranchers coming to Buenos Aires

who enjoyed the conversation and company of women.

The key for success seemed to be the inaccessibility of “respectable ladies.” It

would seem that “gentlemen” were not very vigilant if were accompanied by ladies who

were willing to talk and touch them. But not all robberies were based on some form of

hidden seduction. In some cases, the boldness of maricas apparently went even further.

Soiza Reilly claimed that “la Princesa de Borbón” falsified a document to pretend that

she was the widow of a soldier from the Paraguayan war (1864-1870). She supposedly

presented her story to the Congress so that they would give her a pension, passing as a

67
“The Afro-Argentines retreated into their last vocational preserve, domestic service. The national
census of 1895, though it provided no statistical information concerning race, noted in one of its chapters
that the great majority of blacks in the capital continued to work as domestic servants. Black and white
authors of the period noted how it was considered chic to employ retinues of well-dressed black servants.
So widespread was the phenomenon that the elengantly turned-out manservant was a frequent feature of
fiction and cartoons from the period.” George Reid Andrews, “Race versus Class Association: The Afro-
Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1850-1900,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 11 No. 1 (May, 1979), 25-6.
68
Ibid., p. 94.
223
69
lady until state officials discovered that her documentation was a fake. Although these

stories may illustrate Soiza Reilly’s sensationalist approach rather than events as they

actually happened, it would seem that he was exaggerating a real phenomenon rather than

inventing it.

Soiza Reilly referred to a wealth of details in his description of marica robbers. In

addition to telling the story of “Petronila de blondie,” the journalist also referred to

several other maricas, such as “La Choricera,” which translates roughly as “the woman

who makes sausages;” and “la Morosini.” He also knew some of the most famous

maricas mentioned in other sources: “La Princesa de Borbón;” “la Bella Otero,”

“Aurora;” and “Manon.”70 Soiza Reilly provided the addresses of some of these maricas

and knew about the houses they had sold, the scenes of their actions, the parties they

organized, the countries they visited, etc. The police, argued this journalist, had a large

number of files of these “masculine Eves,” and he provided the names of the policemen

in the division of robbery in case somebody wanted to find more information on the

topic.71 Soiza Reilly portrayed marica robbers similarly to criminologists; he knew that

maricas were part of the world of lunfardos, and he saw them as the negative side of

“progress” in Buenos Aires.

69
Ibid., p. 94.
70
Ibid., 88-95.
71
[Police stations control this picturesque type of criminals constantly. The industrious
investigators of the division of robbery directed by Viancarlos, de Alonso and Depaoli, know the files of
this masculine Eves by heart.] “La comisaría de investigaciones vigila constantemente a esta pintoresca
clase de ladrones. Los activos pesquisas de la sección ‘Robos y hurtos’al mando del jefe Viancarlos y de
Alonso y Depaoli, conocen de memoria los prontuarios de estas Evas hombrunas.” Ibid., 89.
224
Robbery, however, was probably just one of the many endeavors developed by

maricas. Most of them were alternatively involved in working for others, being self-

employed, or engaging in prostitution or robbery rather than specializing in any one of

these activities.72 Sometimes they would make a lot of money, which they usually wasted

on expensive female garments, luxurious parties and men – as they would also pay to

have sex with those they liked.73 Because of their irregular activities, the income of

maricas fluctuated dramatically, as is usually the case among those who engage in

prostitution. When compared to the opportunities available to plebeian men, however,

marica life would look tempting. Workers’ income was also irregular because of the

temporary nature of jobs, but the fluctuations were unlikely to reach levels that would

allow them to afford expensive clothes and parties. Although marica life did not offer a

secure and stable income, such a thing was available to a very limited number of people

among the lower strata anyway. As I argued in the previous chapter, it was common that

plebeian men were oriented towards short-term goals and enjoying life rather than

looking for stability, family life and saving. Thus, in the eyes of poor young men,

becoming a marica could look like a shortcut to make it to“la América.”

The economic opportunities and adventures that the life of a marica could offer to

plebeian men, however, should be contrasted with a number of obstacles that prevented

many people from adopting a marica identity. As was the case with female prostitutes,

72
See the case of Rosita who [has alternatively worked in the occupations of tailor, hairdresser for
prostitutes and manicurist.] “Ha desempeñado indistintamente las ocupaciones de sastre, peinador de
prostitutas y manicura.” Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 141.
73
Through prostitution and robbery, claims Rosita, he/she “made a lot of money and I would spend
all of it on a pretty young man I liked.” Ibid., 142. Wasting money seemed to be usual among maricas who
frequently organized expensive parties; see also, p. 89.
225
74
maricas were rejected by their families who felt embarrassed by their lives. Becoming a

marica implied abandoning family life to embrace a new network of people consisting of

other maricas, female prostitutes and lunfardos. Although this world of prostitutes and

robbers was integrated into the daily life of the popular classes, plebeian culture did not

approve of the urban underworld. However, as explored in the previous chapter, plebeian

culture was very ambivalent in relation to its own normative criteria.

In the previous chapter I explained the tensions inherent to plebeian morality in a context

where plebeian values were difficult to achieve. This tension affected the way plebeian

culture viewed maricas. They were referred to with derogatory terms and were usually

the object of laughter and derision. However, these plebeian attitudes towards maricas

could paradoxically become a factor favoring the transition from male status to marica

life. It was because maricas were the object of laughter that some of them could make

money as entertainers. Both the life of maricas and the plebeian views on them were

shaped by a strong ambivalence. This ambivalence was present in the ways maricas

presented themselves to others. Maricas usually concealed their lives from their family

members. In fact, many of these men only became maricas when they were far away

from their families.75 On the other hand, becoming a marica implied gaining social

74
See for instance Ibid., 79.
75
When Rosita became a marica he left his family. Only his/her mother continued seeing Rosita;
his brothers refused to have any contact with him/her. See Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 141-2.
See also the case of Rosita de la Plata, who became marica when his family left to Spain, Francisco de
Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II,
(1903), 202-3. Aurora also became marica when he/she was in Buenos Aires and far away from his/her
family in Paraguay, (197). In other cases, if the family was close, becoming a marica could imply severing
the bond with one’s own family, see pp. 206-8. See also the case of Manon, Francisco de Veyga, “Inversión
sexual congénita,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. I, (1902), 44.
226
support from other maricas and economic resources that would not be easily accessed

otherwise.

The case of Aurora and Rosita illustrate the ambiguity of marica life within

plebeian culture. Aurora and Rosita became maricas only when they were far from their

families; they did not want their parents and relatives to know about their lives. Despite

concealing their identities in their interaction with others in daily life, both Aurora and

Rosita seemed quite happy with their new personas. Aurora was an immigrant from

Paraguay and had no family ties in Buenos Aires. Back in his/her country, Aurora

frequently had sex with women and was known as a masculine man. In the case of Rosita

de la Plata, the adoption of a marica identity is even more clearly related to the absence

of his/her family. When his wife and children returned to Spain, this immigrant adopted

the name of Rosita, turned to prostitution and began to cross-dress. Despite this

transformation, Rosita claimed, he/she would go back to his/her previous life if his family

returned. But this relation between marica life and the distance from their families

because of the negative self-representation of their lives had a counterpart for Aurora and

Rosita. Both of them, Veyga claimed, had become “inverts” due to a “suggestion,” a term

revealing how the life of other maricas seemed exciting enough for newcomers to join

such a lifestyle. In an environment where maricas were visible and men propositioned

them to have sex for money, Aurora and Rosita decided to “imitate” the other maricas. In

fact, Veyga believed that this form of “imitation” driven by the lack of family ties and the

visibility of “vice” was one of the most important “causes” of “sexual inversion.” The

importance of “imitation” and “suggestion” was related to the supposed weakness of

these men. Their racial and individual ‘inferiority’ would facilitate sexual deviation.
227
A different reading of Veyga’s use of the concepts of “suggestion” and

“imitation,” however, indicates that despite the cultural pressure against becoming a

marica, there were other incentives. One reason for the “suggestion” was that people

found marica life to be a lot of fun.76 Men from a poor background could find alternative

forms of economic survival in marica life. Many of the newly arrived immigrants did not

know anybody in Buenos Aires, and the city could be very hostile to newcomers. Also,

while the world of maricas may have been full of deceptions, as physicians argued, it

offered a network of friends and people who gave support. And becoming a marica could

make one earn the appreciation of many plebeian men and women. Maricas were

considered amusing and artistically gifted. Plebeian men made fun of them, but they also

enjoyed going to their parties. Although plebeian men despised maricas, they also

frequently associated with them when they wanted to commit crime or have sex.

Cofradía: Rituals and Prostitution

While the network of maricas was not fully independent, maricas managed to

exist in a sphere that was more or less their own. Previously I discussed how maricas

were closely associated with female prostitutes, male robbers and workers and did not

have their own separated spaces of sociability. It was usual for them to celebrate their

parties in brothels and share their adventures with female prostitutes, and maricas built

strong emotional, economic and social ties with male robbers and pimps. Despite this

interrelation between them and the urban underworld, maricas operated within a sphere

76
Like the man who became a marica after going to some of their parties and observing that they
have a lot of fun, Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida” Archivos de Psiquiatría,
Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, (1903), 207.
228
of their own. Medical examiner Carlos Arenaza referred to this sphere in his description

of the life of Inés. The physician explained that it took Inés approximately one year to

enter “the world of inverts and pederasts.” First, Inés was introduced to some “friends” so

that he/she could find “social relations.” Inés appreciated the “comradeship” he/she saw

among maricas since it allowed him/her to “discover feelings, tastes, tendencies and

inclinations coinciding with her natural way of feeling the impressions and most intimate

pleasures of the spirit.” It was with them that Inés experienced a “comfortable” feeling of

belonging.77

In the jargon of the maricas, their own world was given the name “cofradía,”

which can be translated to English as brotherhood or guild. The term cofradía was very

common, but mostly used by maricas themselves rather than others. Physicians and

criminologists who wrote about the life of maricas were aware of the term, but other

people were not familiar with it. The term cofradía had religious overtones; it was used

by Catholics to refer to a brotherhood devoted to a specific religious figure (a saint,

Christ or the Virgin Mary). This suggests that maricas constructed a solid, collective

identity, one equivalent to that of mid-twentieth century homosexuals. But the cofradía

also had elements of internal cohesion as well as divisive tendencies because while

maricas supported each other they also had many conflicts. Lelé, for instance, believed

that conflicts between maricas were inherent to their life, and that is why he/she told a

77
“‘Inés’ está vinculado desde hace un año más o menos con el mundo de los invertidos y
pederastas donde comenzó su actuación, timidamente al principio, concretado a simples presentaciones de
‘amigos y amigas’y luego contrayendo conocimientos ‘relaciones sociales’, y compañerismos que le
agradaban y complacían, desde el momento que en este Nuevo comercio descubrió sentimientos, gustos,
tendencias e inclinaciones, que condecían con su natural modo de sentir las impresiones y los goces más
íntimos del esíritu. Es con ‘ellas y con ellos’ con quienes se encuentra cómodo y en su medio.” Carlos
Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 125.
229
medical examiner with a “malicious smile”: “That’s the way we are” and he/she added:

“our tongue spoils us, otherwise we would be excellent people.”78

An examination into the impact of commercial sex on the life of maricas would

shed some light on Lelé’s words. Prostitutes competed for clients and their income

depended more on antagonizing each other rather than cultivating solidarity.79 Although

the meaning of the term cofradía might indicate an exclusive collective identity, it was

primarily a way of referring to maricas as a group of prostitutes.80 Participation in

prostitution was more than sharing a specific trade; it created common interest but also

provoked quarrels. In order to understand how internal solidarity and divisive tendencies

interacted to shape the world of maricas, it is crucial to closely explore certain aspects of

their lives.

One of the most important practices leading to group cohesion among maricas

included rituals. These rituals cemented their collective life by building a shared

78
“‘Así somos nosotras’ nos dice sonriendo maliciosamente, ‘la lengua nos pierde’: ‘si no fuera
‘por eso’ seríamos excelentes personas’” Ibid., 129.
79
Competition between prostitutes existed in different regions and historical contexts. Although
competition has very different implications depending on the characteristic of the group and social context
where it takes place, the mutual struggle to secure clients seems to create a pattern of tensions among those
whose income depends on the money they make from commercial sex. In her study of twenty century
Chinese prostitution, Gail Hershatter explains that conflicts between courtesans in early twenty-century
Shanghai were very frequent, in fact they provided “endless material for tabloid gossip columns.” Gail
Hershatter, Dangerous Pleasures: Prostitution and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Shanghai (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1997), 135. Courtesans in Shanghai during this period were very different
from male and female prostitutes in Buenos Aires because they were supposed to have only one male client
for a long period of time rather than having multiple clients. Despite this difference, they still competed for
male clients in a manner similar to that of prostitutes in other places. Although competition between
prostitutes might lead to tensions, it is not always the result of purely individualistic impulses. In her study
of the history of prostitution in Nairobi, Luise White explains how competition and conflicts between
prostitutes in the 1930s were part of a collective attempt to regulate the market by establishing minimum
prices for sexual intercourse. Luise White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), 115-6.
80
See: Eusebio Gomez, La mala vida, and Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida,”
Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. 2, (1903), 198 and 203.
230
worldview and a common symbolic activity marking a separation between them and

others. One crucial ritual among maricas was the party. In their frequent parties maricas

dressed like women and socialized with the men they invited.81 La Teresita, for instance,

would throw memorable parties dressing with “female garments of scandalous luxury.”82

One particular form of party maricas organized to cement their bonds were the weddings

where they mocked the unions of men and women. The “bride” dressed in white just like

“respectable women,” and the group of maricas would even go to church to make their

performance more realistic.83 After church they organized a party and later the bride and

the groom spent the night together in a house specially prepared for this honeymoon.84

Weddings gathered maricas together on a festive occasion where they asserted their right

to act according to their own self-representations.

In addition to marriage, there were other rituals. Another common ritual among

maricas was the simulation of pregnancy and childcare.85 This simulation sometimes

81
Doctor Looyer, Los Grandes Misterios de la Mala Vida en Buenos Aires comparada con las
grandes Capitales Europeas. Cuadros del vicio y del crimen. Obra psicopatológica (Buenos Aires, Talleres
Gráficos de Rafael Palumbo, 1911), 165.

82
Prof Max-Bembo, La mala vida en Barcelona. Anormalidad, miseria y vicio (Barcelona: Casa
Editorial Maucci, 1912), 251.

83
“‘Weddings’ among sexual inverts are not rare indeed. This ceremony, however, is not
performed ordinarily but as an act of scandalous ostentation to publicize an existing or planned
concubinage…” [“El ‘casamiento’ de invertidos sexuales no es un hecho raro, por cierto, pero esta
ceremonia no se realize ordinariamente sino como acto de ostentación escandalosa, para hacer público un
amancebamiento existente o meditado…” ] Francisco de Veyga, “Invertido sexual imitando a la mujer
honesta,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. I, (1902), 371. See the case of
Aida in this article and the experience of Rosita, Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 93-4.
84
See Ibid., 93-4.
85
La Madrileña used to [simúlate birth with its consequent anguish, pain and ‘suites’] “simular el
parto con sus angustias, dolores y ‘suites’ consiguientes…” Juan Pablo Raffo and Carlos Arenaza, “Un
caso de inversión sexual,” in Revista Penitenciaria, Year IV, No. 2, 1908 (Buenos Aires: Tipografía de la
Cárcel de Encausados, May 1908), 59. In the play “Los invertidos,” one of the marica characters also
231
involved a prolonged and sophisticated display. In one case, for instance, La Bella Otero

used cushions of growing size in his/her stomach until the day of “birth” was set. Another

marica who played the role of the midwife came to the house and a doll became the

“daughter.” Although the economic resources that La Bella Otero and other maricas had

were not always sufficient, he/she managed to dress the doll with different expensive

garments in order to act out the mother-daughter bond.86 Marriage, pregnancy and

childcare were performed by individual maricas for the cofradía. Although maricas were

not concerned with concealing these activities, they were meant for themselves as a

group.

Marica rituals could be taken as a symptom of their internalization of plebeian

culture. It could be argued that they performed marriage and simulated pregnancy

because they needed to conform to the customs of plebeian Buenos Aires. This view,

however, would not take into account the meaning that maricas gave to these rituals. The

representations of marriage and pregnancy were not mere attempts to mimic the life of

couples formed by a man and a woman. Rather than imitating serious activities, marica

rituals were comic expressions meant to mock the importance of “real” marriages and

pregnancies. Maricas were unable to develop a counter-discourse that could confront

plebeian society and their gender/sexual rules, but their rituals showed that they did not

take those rules seriously. The expression of moral ambivalence in marica humor would

deepen the already ambivalent relationship that plebeian culture had with its own moral

simulates birth. See José González Castillo, Los Invertidos; see also Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes,
93-4.
86
See Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 94.
232
standards. The autobiography that La Bella Otero wrote for Doctor Veyga provides an

opportunity to explore the role of comedy in marica rituals:

I was born in 1880 in Madrid. I always believed I was a woman


and that is why I dress as such. I married in Seville and had two children.
The boy is 16 and pursues a military career in Paris. The girl is 15 and she
takes classes at the “Sacre Coeur” in Buenos Aires. They are pretty and
look like their father.
My husband died and I am a widow. Sometimes I want to die when
I remember him. I would look for matches or carbon to kill myself, but
those kinds of suicides seem to me characteristic of lower class people. As
I like flowers, I think it would be delightful to die asphyxiated by perfume.
In other occasions I would like to take the holy orders of a
Carmelite nun, because I am devoted to Saint Teresa of Jesus, as all
aristocratic women. I am not capable of renouncing the pleasure of the
world, however, and I stay at home working, sewing and embroidering for
the poor.

I am a woman who enjoys pleasure a lot and I accept it in all its


different forms. Some say that I am dissolute because of that, but I have
written the following poem for them, and I always repeat them this poem:

From Buen Retiro to the Alameda


the crazy tastes I come to satisfy.
Have it stiff my boys
I will give you pleasure with my hand.

With little umbrellas and jingle bells [different forms of


masturbation]
And even with the gloves I will do it,
And if you want, my boy,
Just to give you pleasure I will put it in my mouth.

But if my mouth is uncomfortable for you


You can give it to me from the back,
do not be afraid my boy,
I have no more folds [wrinkle] back there.

But if my mouth is uncomfortable for you


And you want to give it to me from the back
do not be afraid my boy
you will have a lot of pleasure soon.
233
I have been in Paris, where I danced in cabarets, which made
another woman who uses my name very envious [La Bella Otero was a
famous French actress].

Many men are discourteous with me. But it must be because they
want to be with me, and why can’t they do it? Because I can’t pay
attention to all my fans.

I do not want to have any more kids, as I have suffered a lot with
birthing pain although I was assisted by my friends Magda and Lucía [two
maricas], who do not understand much about birth, because they have not
been pregnant, their ovaries are sick.

I enjoy walking down Palermo, as the grass is more stimulating for


love than the soft bed.

This is my story and I have the honor of give it to doctor Veyga as


a present together with some pictures signed by me.

La Bella Otero87

87
“He nacido en Madrid, en el año de 1880. Siempre me he creido mujer, y por eso uso vestido de
mujer. Me casé en Sevilla y tuve dos hijos. El varón tiene 16 años y sigue la carrera military en París. La
niñita tiene 15 y se educa en el “Sacre-Coeur” de Buenos Aires. Son muy bonitos y parecidos a su papa./Mi
esposo ha muerto y soy viuda. A veces quiero morir, cuando me acuerdo de él. Buscaría los fósforos o el
carbon para matarme, pero esos suicidios me parecen propios de gente baja. Como me gustan las flores, me
parece que sería delicioso morir asfixiada por perfumes./ En otras ocasiones me gustaría tomar el hábito de
monja carmelita, porque soy devota de Santa Teresa de Jesús, lo mismo que todas las mujeres
aristocráticas. Pero como no soy capaz de renunciar a los placeres del mundo, me quedo en mi casa a
trabajar, haciendo costuras y bordados para los pobres./ Soy una mujer que me gusta mucho el placer y por
eso lo acepto bajo todas sus fases. Algunos dicen que por esto soy muy viciosa, pero yo les he escrito el
siguiente verso, y se lo digo siempre a todos: Del Buen Retiro a la Alameda/ los gustos locos me vengo a
hacer./ Muchachos míos ténganlo tieso /Que con la mano gusto os daré./ Con paragüitas y cascabeles
Y hasta con el guante yo os lo hare, / y si tu quieres, chinito mío, / por darte gusto la embocaré./ Si
con la boca yo te incomodo / Y por la espalda me quieres dar, / no tengas, chinito mío, / no tengo pliegues
ya por detrás. / Si con la boca yo te incomodo / y por atrás me quieres amar, / no tengas miedo, chinito mio,
/ que pronto mucho vas a gozar. /
He estado en París, donde bailé en los cafés-conciertos dándole mucha envidia a otra mujer que
usa mi mismo nombre para pasar por mí./ Muchos hombres jóvenes suelen ser descorteses conmigo. Pero
ha de ser de ganas de estar conmigo, y ?por qué no lo consiguen? Porque no puedo atender a todos mis
adoradores./ No quiero tener más hijos, pues me han hecho sufrir mucho los dolores del parto, aunque me
asistieron mis amigas Magda y Lucia, que no entienden de parto, porque nunca han estado embarazadas,
porque están enfermas de los ovarios. / Me subjuga pasear por Palermo, porque el pasto es más estimulante
para el amor que la mullida cama. / Esta es mi historia, y tengo el honor de regalarle al doctor Veyga
algunos retratos con mi dedicatoria./ La Bella Otero. Francisco de Veyga, “La Inversión sexual adquirida.
Tipo profesional: un invertido comerciante.” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol.
II, (1903), 495-6.
234
The role of comedy in marica life and rituals becomes evident in this

autobiography. Being “like a woman” is not something maricas took solemnly. Rather

than taking identity seriously and adopting a specific identity, maricas seemed to use

comedy as a way to explain themselves and others that did not fit the male/female

dichotomy so prevalent in plebeian culture. Maricas failed to be men because they

performed a feminine sexual role and adopted gender characteristics typical of women.

They could not become women, however, because plebeian culture understood sex as

closely related to anatomy. Maricas did not challenge the logic of plebeian sexual

culture. They failed to question the association of masculinity with penetration or the

association of femininity with anatomy. La Bella Otero was not taking her own words

seriously; she did not seem to believe she was a woman, but rather took gender as a joke

in itself. Maricas distanced themselves from plebeian gender notions by mocking them.

As a way of subverting gender performance, their mockery expressed a lack of

acceptance of the prevailing norms without actually questioning those norms at their

heart. In that sense, maricas were different from transsexuals or travestis who question

the biological understanding of sex, or modern homosexuals who question the idea that

each sex has to experience sexual desire for the “opposite” sex.

Although it is not possible to know exactly what La Bella Otero thought about

him/herself, my interpretation of the role of comedy seems plausible when we place

marica comedy in the context of plebeian comic expressions. Maricas actually

experienced a situation very similar to plebeian culture at large. Their failure to fit in the

categories of either man or woman was not very different from women’s occasional

“fall” into prostitution, men’s occasional anal receptive practices, circumstantial robbery
235
caused by job instability, etc. All of these plebeian challenges to their own norms would

usually encourage people to take matters jokingly rather than elaborating an alternative

ideology. This is exactly what seems to happen in the case of the tale of the robber who

seeks the approval of the priest whose watch he stole mentioned in an earlier chapter.

Instead of questioning the authority of the priest, the robber actually wants his approval.

So while the authority of the priest does not prevent him from stealing his watch, the

robber still feels the need to find pardon for his “sins.” Maricas seemed to do the same.

They were unable to fit into their own categories of what was right and wrong, but they

lived in an urban world where most people experienced the same challenge and joked

about it, and they followed the same trend. The failure to conform to one’s own norms

was probably the most important reason why comedy was so important among the

popular classes at this time.

Marica rituals should be understood in this context, as a form of mockery that

allowed maricas to carry on their lives without having to face their own judgment and

that of others. This does not mean maricas believed themselves to be wrong; on the

contrary, they were very assertive. As mostly individuals from the popular classes,

marica comedy seems to be a cynical response to what they experienced as an unsolvable

puzzle: how to fit into perceptions and norms that did not include them but were their

own. Rituals allowed maricas to play the game of identity without having to locate

themselves in a specific identity, a task they found difficult to perform.

Prostitution was one of the reasons why maricas had difficulty identifying as a

collective of individuals who shared some characteristics. It was usual among maricas to

compete for clothes, partners, and fundamentally, to compete for clients. Although they
236
would help each other learn the tricks of the trade (as we have seen in the case of

Aurora), they also harmed each other. In some cases, maricas even seemed to betray each

other to police agents.88 The internal solidarity of the cofradía existed, but it was fragile,

which suggests that maricas did not always understand themselves as people with a

common collective interest. Their internal conflicts were typical of any group, and it

could be argued that jealousy and betrayal exists in all human groups even when they

share an identity. However, conflicts among maricas were rooted in the very same bonds

they shared. Being part of the world of prostitution fragmented them, and at the same

time, their relation with female prostitutes, male robbers and pimps favored personal

alliances with people outside of the cofradía rather than the formation of bonds between

maricas.89 In this sense, we can contrast maricas with the life of travestis today. Despite

the competition generated by prostitution, present-day travestis share a common identity,

88
Veyga and Arenaza would insist on this in their articles and books, but it is not easy to tell if
their portrayal of maricas as traitors to their own kind was a prejudice or a representation of reality. See
Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias
Afines, Vol. II, (1903), and See Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes.
89
Rosita, a marica who was imprisoned, exchanged several letters with his/her lover José, who
seemed to be a lunfardo. Those letters express that a love bond between maricas and lunfardos was
possible, but they also show the conflicts between maricas. In one of the letters, Rosita is jealous because
José has broken a promise of fidelity. Rosita tells José: “My boy, stop deceiving me, aren’t my love and
kindness and body enough to satiate your never ending thirst of pleasure that you have to turn to inverts
who are inferior to me in everything? Tell me, what drives you to another love?, it cannot be your desire to
exhaust your tireless virility, as I have never denied you my body.” [“Nenito mío no me sigas engañando
no es suficiente mi cariño y vondad [sic] y mi cuerpo para saciar tu sed de placer tan inagotable, que tienes
que recurrir a otros invertidos inferior en todo a mí. Dime ¿que es lo que te arrastra hacia ese otro amor?, el
deseo de cansar tu incansable virilidad no sera; pues yo jamás te he negado mi cuerpo.”] Carlos Arenaza,
Menores delincuentes, 145. This kind of competition for male partners seems similar to the one Kulick
found among present-day travestis in Brazil: “There is continual, and sometimes quite fierce and brutal
competition among travesties over a limited number of boyfriends. (the only fights I have witnessed
between travestis have all been about boyfriends). Many of these boyfriends, once they have formed a
relationship with a travesti, remain in the boyfriend pool for many years, where they circulate among
travestis until they either settle down with one or -…- grow old and unattractive to be of much interest to
anyone, in which case they disappear from the travesty milieu.” Don Kulick, Travesti: Sex, Gener and
Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 106.
237
but this identity is cemented simultaneously by sharing bonds between them while being

unable – at least in most cases – to establish relations with people outside of their circle.90

However, this is not the case with maricas, who could easily establish bonds with all

kinds of people from the urban underworld.

Maricas and the Urban Underworld

The clearest indication of the strong relationship between maricas and the urban

underworld was their coexistence in the same urban spaces. This coexistence illustrates

the unity of the urban underworld and the integration of maricas into that world as

opposed to isolation in a closed cofradía. Many observers explained how the activities of

lunfardos, maricas and female prostitutes were interwoven in different parts of the city.

This was especially evident on the riverfront from the Paseo de Julio Boulevard (where

Aurora found a room after arriving from Paraguay) to Palermo Park in the downtown

area, around Plaza Lavalle - a couple of kilometers west of the river - and in the southern

neighborhood of La Boca.

Characterized by marginality and crime, the riverside avenue called Paseo de

Julio ran from the heart of downtown Buenos Aires towards the north and was the

location of numerous brothels and spaces for male and female prostitution.91 This

boulevard was also renowned for its network of petty criminals and the site of night

entertainment. It also hosted a permanent flow of workers: newly arrived immigrants and

90
Don Kulick, Travesti.
91
See Hector Bates and Luis Bates, La historia del tango: sus autores (Buenos Aires: Talleres
Gráficos de la Compañía General Fabril Financiera, 1936), 37; and Donna Guy, Sex & Danger in Buenos
Aires, 45.
238
sailors from the nearby port. In his memories about Buenos Aires in the 1880s, the retired

police agent Adolfo Batiz expressed his dislike for the gardens along the Paseo de Julio

because they were the “refuge of passive pederasts” who gathered every day, especially

around Plaza Mazzini, a few blocks away of the government house.92 Thomas Turner

described this area of the city in the 1890s when the city government was trying to

transform the place into a more pleasing environment for the eyes of the elite:

“Already the Paseo de Julio, formerly the riverside resort of the vilest
characters, and crowded with low fondas, dram-shops, queer shows, and
common lodging-houses, or conventillos, is being transformed into a wide,
well-lighted boulevard, paved with wood from the new Government
House to the Recoleta; while between the roadway and the fast-growing
port the paseo, or promenade, has been newly decorated with statues,
kiosks, fountains, etc.”93

The government attempted to reform the Paseo de Julio along the lines of the

Haussmanianization of Paris; however, it was not as successful as Turner claimed. Like

the French-influenced project to transform Rio de Janeiro, where poor inhabitants were

forcibly removed from some of the downtown districts,94 the elite plan to displace

prostitutes, petty criminals, and the poor from the Paseo de Julio was doomed to fail. A

transformation of the city entailed more than changing its architectural façade. After the

change in infrastructure, the permanence of the socio-cultural context only reinvigorated

92
Adolfo Batiz, Buenos Aires, la ribera y los prostíbulos en 1880 (Buenos Aires: Aga Taura, no
date), 25.
93
Turner, Argentina and the Argentines, 18. It would be an anachronism to interpret the meaning
of the word “queer” in this paragraph in relation to non-normative sexual/gender identities.
94
“…the renovation plan did not eliminate all overt evidence of chaos, poverty and urban decay
deemed inappropriate by Carioca high Society. Prostitution continued in parts of the downtown area. Crime
remained a threat to those who frequented the newly renovated areas of the city’s center. Poor men and
women, especially people of color, still peddled their wares on the streets.” James Green, Beyond Carnival,
18.
239
the previous underworld. The boulevard continued as a site for plebeian sociability

associated with marginality as well as male and female prostitution. In the 1900s,

criminological records usually identified the Paseo de Julio as a boulevard of dubious

“reputation.” It was the center for female “prostitutes, active and passive pederasts and

other people of ill repute.”95 There were innumerable cinemas, brothels and bars that

criminologists identified as “centers of corruption.”96 What is interesting about these

descriptions of the Paseo de Julio is that they confirm the existence of the same network

of marginal men and women identified by criminologists in their analyses of the lives of

lunfardos.97 An analysis of the urban experience of some of the individuals will provide a

closer look at the world of lunfardos, maricas and female prostitutes.

Recalling her sexual adventures, La Bella Otero expressed a taste for taking a

walk by Palermo “because grass is more stimulating for love than the spongy bed.”98 In

the poem that was part of the same autobiography cited earlier, La Bella Otero claimed

that he/she usually had sex with men throughout the northern side of the city, from Retiro

95
“…pederastas activos, pasivos y prostitutas, y en general gente de mal vivir.” Revista
Penitenciaria, Año V, No. 1, (September 1909), 38-9.
96
“…centros de corrupción…” Ibid.
97
An article in the newspaper of the Italian community in Buenos Aires also referred to the Paseo
de Julio as a place characterized by crime and prostitution. See “Paseo de Julio e Paseo Colón. Eccezioni
che confermano la regola. La mala vita cittadina. Depurazzione necessaria,” La Patria Degli Italiani:
L’Italia al Plata, Sabato 29 Nov. 1902, p. 2. For another alternative source describing the Paseo de Julio in
the same terms, see Manuel Bilvao, Buenos Aires desde su fundación hasta nuestros días (Buenos Aires:
Imprenta de Juan Alsina, 1902), 573.
98
“Me subyuga pasear en Palermo, porque el pasto es más estimulante para el amor que la mullida
cama.” Autobiography of La Bella Otero in: Francisco de Veyga, “La inversion sexual adquirida. Tipo
profesional: un invertido comerciante,” Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II,
(1903), 496.
240
99
to the Alameda. This area in the northern side of the city was also famous among

female prostitutes and their clients.100 The Paseo de Julio along the riverside from the

center to the north of the city, Retiro and Palermo in the northeast, and La Boca in the

southeast were the most popular areas for male same-sex cruising, and the streets of

Buenos Aires were crowded with men who were willing to have sex with other men. A

special meeting place for same-sex practices were the public urinals throughout the city.

In the language of lunfardos, urinals were called “lamp posts” because many plebeian

men believed that they attracted maricas in the same way that the lights attracted

insects.101 This metaphor created by lunfardos suggests that they knew quite a bit about

maricas and where they could be found.

Although lunfardos in many cases were willing to perform the insertive sexual

role with maricas, the bond between lunfardos and maricas was not merely sexual. As

Veyga claimed, maricas were in many cases “auxiliaries of crime and vice;” that is to

say, they would collaborate with robbers to help them commit different forms of crime

against property.102 In his study of Aurora, Veyga claimed that the “relationship that

[maricas] establish with the lunfardo world are as close as in the case of [female]

prostitutes.”103

99
“Del Buen Retiro a la Alameda/ los gustos locos me vengo a hacer...” [From the good Retiro to
the Alameda/ the crazy things I come to do...” Ibid., p. 495.
100
See Hector Bates and Luis Bates, La historia del tango, 37.
101
“Faroles,” see Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 100.
102
Francisco de Veyga, “Los auxiliaries del vicio y el delito,” Archivos de Psiquiatría,
Criminología y Ciencias Afines, V. 3, (1904), 289-313.
103
Francisco de Veyga, “La inversión sexual adquirida. Tipo de invertido profesional. Tipo de
invertido por sugestión. Tipo de invertido por causa de degeneración mental.” Archivos de Psiquiatría,
Criminología y Ciencias Afines, Vol. II, (1903), 199.
241
The coexistence of robbery and male and female commercial sex is not only

documented on the Paseo de Julio, but also in a number of other urban areas. One of

these was north of Rivadavia, the avenue that still divides Buenos Aires into two halves.

This area hosted several clusters of brothels where sex between men seemed to be usual

as well. A few blocks from the river coast but still in the downtown area, around the

corner from Paraguay and Maipú Street, a cluster of brothels with a majority of female

prostitutes who had migrated from the hinterlands could be found. Around the nearby

corner of Suipacha and Temple (today Viamonte) Streets was another cluster of

brothels.104 In 1885 a police raid on this group of brothels reported the arrest of 85

prostitutes and 24 female pimps.105 Tucuman Street at large, running from the river to the

west, just a few blocks away from the central plaza, was also known as a place for female

prostitution.106 Corrientes Avenue,107 parallel to Rivadavia four blocks to the North, was

another major prostitution area with a higher concentration in the block between the

streets of Florida and Esmeralda and the block between Libertad and Talcahuano.108 In

fact, the concentration of brothels and street prostitution on Libertad and Talcahuano

began in Corrientes and ended a few blocks towards the north, including the famous

Plaza Lavalle. Most prostitutes around the streets of Libertad and Talcahuano were

104
See Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña, 37-8.
105
Donna Guy, Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires, 54.
106
See the association of Tucuman street with prostitution in Puro Campo (Buenos Aires:
Biblioteca Criolla, no date), 5.
107
“the street of Florida until Corrientes around the place where the Politeama theater is located,”
[“la calle de la Florida por Corrientes hasta eso del Politeama…”] was a prostitution area. See Severus,
Faces del vicio (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Mendia y Martínez, 1891), 65.
108
Batiz, Buenos Aires, la ribera y los prostíbulos, describes all these areas in his impressions of
Buenos Aires in 1880.
242
109
Jewish women from Eastern Europe. All of these places of prostitution were at the

same time gathering places for “lunfardos,” also known as “canfinfleros.”

Criminological reports about male burglars who had sex with other men usually

referred to areas of female prostitution as places where same-sex sexual activity had

taken place.110 A sodomy trial from 1900 refers to a minor who offered sex to a soldier

who was sitting in Plaza Lavalle, the city square where female prostitutes probably

concentrated in high density. What is significant about this case is that the accused man

defended himself by saying that the boy claimed to be “in the life.” Even if the boy never

claimed such a thing, the fact that this soldier accused of sodomy expected the judge to

believe so suggests that finding male prostitutes there was not unusual.111

In a previous chapter, I referred to the case of J.A. who had sex for money with a

man that the criminologists described as a “passive pederast.” J.A. met with his client in

this area of downtown where female prostitutes gathered. The same area hosted the bar

where they went and the hotel where J.A. and his client ended up spending the night. In

the “Testament of Matilde,” the plebeian comic poem mentioned in the previous section,

109
Donna Guy Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires, 18.
110
In many cases, the reports do not refer to the specific names of the streets, but the descriptions
of the places are usually associated with female prostitution. It is frequent to find references to male same-
sex sexual practices in the streets that also make it clear that the same person also has sex with women.
(See, for instance, Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 16-7 and 39-40.) The references to street life as a
site of moral and sexual corruption suggest the same association in many other cases (see Carlos Arenaza,
16, 27 and 34-5).
111
Argentina. Archivo General de la Nación. Tribunales Criminales. 1901. Legra D, “D. M.,
Acusado de sodomía en la persona del menor W. G. S. el 18 de Diciembre de 1900,” 11.
243
female prostitutes and bufarrones are referred together with pimps in Plaza Lavalle and

Junin Street.112

The interaction between lunfardos, female prostitutes, and men who had sex with

men was not limited to the downtown area. The same people coexisted in many of the

poor suburbs beyond downtown. The older and closer suburban area, the La Boca

neighborhood in the southern extreme of the city’s jurisdiction, was also a famous

prostitution area, with a majority of Italian women in the trade.113 Maricas were also

visible in this neighborhood.114 Towards the southwest end of the city, the Barrio de las

Ranas was inhabited by people who made a living searching for discarded objects in the

city garbage that accumulated there. Prostitutes here were usually girls of a young age.

This slum offered men in search of sexual adventures the cheapest rates in the city. A

young man who frequented the female prostitutes in this area also engaged in sex with

other men, which suggests this was also an area where maricas also circulated.115 The

southern neighborhoods of Constitución and San Cristóbal were also famous for their

bars, brothels, and spots where lunfardos would meet.116 The west neighborhoods were

no exception to the widespread extension of marginality, crime and prostitution. After the

city began extending westwards in the 1900s, Junin Street became another cluster for

brothels. Although a section of the northern area – and especially Barrio Norte – was

112
Lehmann-Nitsche, Textos Eróticos, 103, poem 255.
113
José Sebastián Tallón, El tango en su etapa de música prohibida, 53-4 and 66-7.
114
Ibid., 66.
115
Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 40.
116
José Sebastián Tallón, El tango en su etapa, 49-50.
244
occupied by the residences of the elite, there were brothels in the area of Retiro and street

prostitution in the park between Retiro and Palermo and in Cabildo street in Belgrano.117

Again, police records also suggest that men had sex with other men in these suburban

areas.118

Conclusion

Although the term marica could be confusing because it is today a derogative

term to refer to homosexual men, the historical evidence shows that the term meant

something very different in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Buenos

Aires. Unlike contemporary homosexual men defined by their sexual orientation, maricas

challenged plebeian gender notions in a way that is closer to that of present-day travestis.

Identifying marica with travestis, however, would also constitute an anachronism, as they

did not see themselves as a separate group of people with a peculiar identity, but rather

explored their subjectivities through a playful relationship with plebeian sexual comedy.

117
“In those heroic times there were many places of licentiousness and decadence, as well as
dancing halls, among which there were some famous for their fun and large constituency, like the one in
Lorea square, today named Congreso; the shoe store in Estados Unidos and Solís; another one in front of
Concepción square, in Pavón and Buen Orden; the Tancredi, in la Boca; Cabildo street in Belgrano; the
Nani, Zani, la Violeta, or the ones located in some neighborhoods known as Las Tres Esquinas, La Batería
and the Ensenada, which were later the refuge of the first babblings of tango.” [“En aquellos heroicos
tiempos eran muchos los lugares de libertinaje y perdición, así como también las casas de bailes, entre las
que se destacaban por su concurrencia y amenidad, la ubicada en la plaza Lorea, hoy Congreso; la
alpargatería de Estados Unidos y Solís; otra situada frente a la plaza Concepción, en Pavón y Bueno Orden;
el Tancredi, de la Boca, la calle Cabildo en Belgrano; el Nani, Zani, la Violeta, o las ubicadas en
determinados barrios que las gentes identificaban como Las Tres Esquinas, La Batería y la Ensenada, y que
más tarde sirvieron también de refugio a los primeros balbuceos del tango.”] Hector Bates and Luis Bates,
La historia del tango: sus autores (Buenos Aires: Talleres Gráficos de la Compañía General Fabril
Financiera, 1936), 23.
118
See Carlos Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, 40.
245
Maricas were a historical gender/sexual identity that deserve exploration on its own, as a

specific cultural category.

A closer look at the life of maricas shows that they do not fit the pattern of the

active/passive partner or a clear-cut separation of same and different-sex sexualities.

Understanding the cofradía requires an exploration of the social context so that marica

life is not reduced to a relationship within the sphere of sexuality and gender, but rather

viewed in the context of marica’s relationship with the urban underworld of lunfardos

and female prostitutes. Marica as a category only makes sense through a relational

understanding rather than an attempt to reduce the category to a model. Just like same-

sex sexuality among lunfardos, the exploration of the sexual and social life of maricas

expresses the need to consider sexuality in relation to the socio-cultural constraints that

stem from categories, representations and practices.


246

CHAPTER V

THE TRANSFORMATION OF SEXUALITY IN BUENOS AIRES


AFTER THE 1930S

Introduction

In late nineteenth and early twentieth century Buenos Aires, same-sex sexuality

and different-sex sexuality were not clearly differentiated among the popular classes.

Most men and women were married, but their daily sociability was collective rather than

familiar, and the daily worlds of men and women were apart from each other. My

analysis of the sources indicates is that it was usual for plebeian men – even those who

were married to women – to spend most of the day with other men, to seek the company

of female prostitutes, and to occasionally engage in sex with other men. This meant that

there was no clear distinction between “homosexual” and “heterosexual” practices. At

this point in time, the sexualities we perceive today as clearly different were intertwined

in an undistinguishable way. Even maricas, who have sometimes been portrayed as being

exclusively interested in sex with men, did not seem to put themselves completely outside

the realm of sex between people of a different gender. In addition to having sex with

women, maricas did not have their own separate subculture; they shared their social

space with female prostitutes, petty thieves and pimps known as lunfardos. Furthermore,

this underworld of maricas, female prostitutes and lunfardos was not separated from the

larger sociability of the popular classes. On the contrary, because of job instability and

other factors I explained in the previous chapters, most plebeian men and women entered
247
and left the urban underworld as part of a general geographical mobility that

characterized plebeian culture at that time. The underworld and the workers were not two

different groups, but people who could have a job at some point and then enter the trade

of lunfardos at another.

Sex between men was more frequent within the underworld, but because the

boundaries of the underworld and the life of workers was so fluid, sex between men was

integrated into the very sociability of the popular classes. This situation began to

gradually change in the 1920s, and by the 1940s it was clear that the sociability of the

urban lower strata was significantly different.

From the 1920s to the 1940s family sociability became stronger, while the urban

underworld went into open decline. In this new context, it seems that same-sex sexuality

and different-sex sexuality would be increasingly differentiated rather than integrated into

the same sociability, as had been the case before. Professionals and state officials

promoted the nuclear family as the ideal, and while this was certainly a stereotype, the

evidence I consider in this chapter suggests that crime, prostitution and same-sex

sexuality were increasingly marginalized from mainstream, working-class sociability.

There were probably a large number of alternative families: those formed by single

women with their children, several generations living under the same roof, single people

living alone or with others who were not blood relatives, etc.1 Yet while not all working-

class people had an “ideal” family structure, by the mid-twentieth century their

sociability seemed different from the earlier part of the century. In this new context,

crime, prostitution and same-sex sexuality declined. Men continued to look for

1
See Rosa Aboy, “‘The Right to a Home:’ Public Housing in Post-World War II Buenos Aires,”
Journal of Urban History, 33 No. 3 (2007): 493-518.
248
prostitutes, but the frequency and visibility of prostitution did not seem to be the same as

in the past. Whereas early twentieth century plebeian men were proud to brag about their

relations with female prostitutes, in the mid-twentieth century, working class men

apparently kept a relatively low profile. Only young men were expected to have frequent

contact with prostitutes, and even they were supposed to avoid this topic unless they were

with their male peers.

Something similar happened with same-sex sexuality. Some working class men

were still willing to penetrate homosexuals, but now these men shared little with them

outside of furtive sex. They were not the early twentieth century lunfardos who did more

than just have sex with maricas but also established bonds because they shared the

sociability of the urban underworld. Unlike the early twentieth century maricas who were

integrated into plebeian life, mid-twentieth century homosexuals gradually developed

their own subculture. The unifying network of crime and the underworld that integrated

lunfardos, maricas and prostitutes disappeared. The increasing industrial production for

the local market suggests that by the 1940s, the number of workers with stable jobs may

have grown significantly. These workers seemed to spend a significant amount of their

leisure time not in the urban underworld but involved in sports and with their families.

Unlike maricas, most homosexual men in the 1940s and 1950s did not seem to work as

prostitutes, and in general they did not seem to be involved in crime. While homosexual

men might have shared some cruising areas with female prostitutes, the worlds of these

two groups were now clearly separated.

Hence, by the 1940s, Buenos Aires had moved from a society where the

underworld and workers were integrated to a city where workers seemed to have little or
249
no connection with the underworld; they had become “decent.” This transformation

contributed to the gradual isolation of homosexuals from working-class sociability, which

in time encouraged homosexuals to assert their identity and form a separate subculture.

Corroborating the transformations that gradually emerged from the 1920s to the

1940s in detail, however, is beyond the scope of this dissertation. Rather than presenting

a final interpretation of the historical transformation of sexuality in Buenos Aires, my

goal in this chapter is to trace some of the probable major trends suggested by a limited

number of sources. The evidence and the picture of Buenos Aires I infer from these

sources throughout the chapter are far from conclusive and require further research. The

goal of this chapter, however, is to.emphasize the peculiarity of the previous period, and

at the same time, provide grounds for future exploration. The information I present

suggests the growing importance of families, the decline of the underworld, and an

increasing division between same-sex and different-sex sexuality; however, the

emergence of this new cultural trends needs further corroboration. Even if the existence

of these trends is confirmed, it is still necessary to establish the nature, pace and precise

characteristics of the historical transformations I present here as hypothesis.

Family Sociability, Peronism, and Historiography

It seems that family sociability was gradually strengthened between the 1920s and

the 1940s. A number of factors converging in Buenos Aires during this period suggest

that change. The demographic transition affecting urban Argentina is perhaps one of the
250
most important issues to consider when studying the transformations of the lower strata.2

This transition involved a demographic shift in the gender imbalance that was

characteristic of the period between 1880-1930. The late nineteenth and early twentieth

century migration wave from southern Europe shaped a city where a disproportionate

number of people were young male immigrants in search of sexual adventures. The

decline of trans-Atlantic migration after the 1930s reverted the previous imbalance.

Migration to Buenos Aires did not stop after the 1930s, but the new wave was

fundamentally different. After the 1930s, migration to Buenos Aires came from other

parts of Argentina rather than Europe, and most of the people were women from the

hinterlands.3 The arrival of a mass of women gradually compensated for the former

disproportion of men, creating a new gender balance in the demography of Buenos

Aires.4 This factor could have contributed to the strengthening of family sociability, and

it is important to analyze the issue closer.

Internal migration in the 1930s is a major topic in the historiography of Argentina

because of the role it played in the realm of politics, but the disproportionate numbers of

women in this migration wave has been overlooked until very recently. Gino Germani,

2
For an analysis of the demographic transition in the 1930s, which involved the decrease in
fertility rates and immigration together with the improvement of the life expectancy, see Zulma Recchini de
Lattes and Alfredo E. Lattes, La Población de Argentina (Buenos Aires: Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas
y Censos, 1975).
3
“Women made up the majority of the internal migrants into the capital in these years.” Richard
Walter, Politics and Urban Growth in Buenos Aires, 1910-1942 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2002), 248.
4
In their analysis of migratory waves within Argentina, the Lattes’ explain that Argentine men
migrated to other parts of the country significantly more than women between 1869 and 1914. Towards the
mid-twentieth century, however, the tendency had become the opposite: female internal migration was
larger than its male counterpart. The prevalence of women was especially acute in the case of migration to
Buenos Aires, the region of the country with the higher proportion of female immigrants. See Zulma
Recchini de Lattes and Alfredo E. Lattes, La Población de Argentina, 111.
251
the first professional sociologist who published a comprehensive study on the nature of

Peronism, paid special attention to the migration from the provinces to Buenos Aires,

identifying the phenomenon as crucial for the emergence of a social base for Peronism.

But women as a fundamental aspect of that migration were ignored in Germani’s

analysis, as well as in other classic analyses of Peronism.5

5
According to Germani, internal migration was crucial in the constitution of the social base of
Peronism. See Gino Germani, Política y Sociedad en una época de transición (Buenos Aires: Paidós,
1962). See also Gino Germani, Estructura Social de la Argentina: Análisis Estadístico (Buenos Aires:
Solar, 1987 [1955]). As Murmis and Portantiero explain, this hypothesis was not only Germani’s idea. The
representation of populism as a regime supported by masses of “new” workers recently joining
industrialization in the “underdeveloped” regions was a widespread idea in mid-twentieth century social
sciences. See “Heterogeneidad obrera y nacionalismo popular” in Miguel Murmis and Juan Carlos
Portantiero, Estudios sobre los orígenes del peronismo (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2004 [1971]), 114-120.
Germani’s analysis became a classical approach to the study of the emergence of Peronism. As Murmis and
Portantiero explain, this hypothesis was not only Germani’s idea. The representation of populism as a
regime supported by masses of “new” workers recently joining industrialization in the “underdeveloped”
regions was a widespread idea in mid-twentieth century social sciences. See “Heterogeneidad obrera y
nacionalismo popular” in Miguel Murmis and Juan Carlos Portantiero, Estudios sobre los orígenes del
peronismo (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2004 [1971]), 114-120. For an analysis of the different views on
Peronism, see Mariano Plotkin, “The Changing Perceptions of Peronism: A Review Essay,” in Peronism
and Argentina, ed. James Brennan (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1998), 29. See also Federico
Neiburg, Los intelectuales y la invención del peronismo: estudios de antropología social y cultural (Buenos
Aires: Alianza, 1998). Since the 1930s, migration from the hinterlands had been growing in Buenos Aires,
but on 17 October 1945, a mass of “cabecitas negras” or “little black heads” spontaneously gathered in
Plaza de Mayo. The demonstration became a historical milestone because of the large number of workers
who met in the main square of the city, a place with symbolical importance for national politics. Workers
demanded that the government released Perón, who had been incarcerated by the military regime, and they
not only achieved the liberation of the general, but also helped Perón win the election and become president
for the next ten years. For a detailed analysis of this event see Felix Luna, El 45: crónica de un año
decisivo (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1972); Juan Carlos Torre, La vieja guardia syndical y Perón: Sobre
el surgimiento del peronismo (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1990) and Daniel James, Resistance and
Integration: Peronism and the Argentine Working Class, 1946-1976 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988). The government of Perón was one of the most important events in the history of Argentina.
The new regime achieved unprecedented levels of social redistribution, achieving the social and political
integration of the lower classes. Because of their role in the emergence of Peronism, the demonstration of
1945 in which immigrants from the hinterlands became suddenly visible as a collective represented a major
change in national history.
In the eyes of the privileged, the demonstration was an invading army of irrational and darker
people who were supporting a demagogic general like Perón. The elite and the middle class had been
building a seemingly impossible alliance between socialists, communists, conservatives and liberals. This
multi-party alliance demanded the end of the dictatorship, and it failed to foresee the emergence of
Peronism. Perón had occupied several positions in the 1943-1946 dictatorship, and from his role as
secretary of labor he developed a successful strategy to gain the support of workers. As a leader, he settled
a large number of conflicts between workers and employers. But for the first time, an agency of the state
was siding with the workers, forcing employers to grant significant raises and improvements in labor
conditions. At the same time, Perón was in charge of repressing the most radical sections of the working
252
The idea that a lot of the support for Peronism and the majority of immigrants

from the hinterlands were actually women was ignored by Peronists and the opposition;

in some cases it was even ignored by some of the classic scholars in the field who studied

the emergence and development of the movement. While this may have been mentioned

incidentally, the social and political implications of female migration were dismissed as

irrelevant.6 Because politics was perceived as a fundamentally male phenomenon (a topic

class movement. While communists, anarchists and socialists faced increasing violence against them, the
unions who were willing to work under the umbrella of the dictatorship obtained new rights for their
workers. No political force across the political spectrum saw the accumulation of power by Perón, but the
regime was aware of his growing influence. Some of the officials from the GOU who concentrated most of
the power between 1943 and 1946 feared that Perón’s influence could end undermining their own power,
and Perón was thus sent to prison. But it was too late; a mass of workers demanded his release and the
opening of elections with Perón as a candidate. The opposition to the government was shocked to see that
such a mass of ‘uneducated’ and ‘dark’ workers had successfully defeated the dictatorship. Those workers
had achieved what several opposition parties could not. Conservatives and liberals feared the social
demands behind the new force, whereas socialists and communists saw the popular support for a general
who had been part of the dictatorship as a fascistic move. The emerging Peronism did certainly not fit the
program of popular front that the communist party was promoting internationally to fight the rise of Nazi-
fascism. Popular front politics had worked better in other countries in Latin America and Europe, such as
Chile and France, but in Argentina they became a fiasco. The presence of Peronism occupied the place that
the Left had sought, and thus the Left identified Peron as a fascist leader.
As a progressive sociologist inspired in the tradition of classical sociology, Gino Germani wanted
to explain how a country like Argentina with a long and established tradition of progressive politics had
given birth to what he perceived as a fascist phenomenon. He found the answer in the irrationality of the
mass of workers from the hinterland. Unlike the European workers who had crossed the Atlantic, Germani
argued, the newly arrived immigrants from the provinces had no previous political experience. The new
wave was coming from backward regions where local bosses managed politics through clientelism and
demagogy. Germani believed that these immigrants had grown in a “traditional” society or Gemeinschaft
(following the categorization by Ferdinand Tönnies), and they had brought their backward politics to
Buenos Aires providing the social base for Peronism. In contrast, the former wave of European immigrants
had brought radical politics from Europe, such as socialism, communism and anarchism, viewed as
progressive movements by Germani. Especially in the case of moderated socialism, he saw them as aiming
towards the construction of a modern liberal democracy with a welfare state. The irrationality of the new
immigrants from the hinterlands had ruined this project that Germani and many others the wide spectrum of
the Left had dreamt for Argentina.
Peronism itself did not entirely reject the image that others attributed to the movement. Whereas
Perón and his wife Eva dismissed the representations of the Left, they portrayed themselves as the leaders
of the “descamisados” or “shirtless,” a word that referred to the mass of workers who demanded better
standards of living. These “descamisados” were the same ones who middle and upper class people referred
to with the term “cabecitas negras;” they were the immigrants from the hinterlands. Regardless, both
Peronism and the opposition represented these mass of workers as an overwhelmingly masculine group.
6
For an analysis of female internal migration and its role in historiography, see Omar Acha,
“Migración interna y formación de parejas en Buenos Aires en los años del primer peronismo: una
253
I will explore later in this chapter), the political force that drove the destiny of the nation

could not be formed by women. The importance of women, however, found expression in

innumerable ways. In 1952, for instance, when Perón sought re-election after six years of

presidency, he realized that the best way to secure his victory was to legalize the female

vote, appropriating a long tradition of independent and socialist feminism demanding this

reform since the early twentieth century. Women overwhelmingly voted for Perón, and

he became president again until the coup of 1955 against his government.7 Since the

1970s, a number of historians presented alternative explanations for the emergence of

Peronism, questioning Germani’s interpretation attributing the emergence of this political

movement to internal migration from the hinterlands. Despite the profusion of new

interpretations, the importance of women continued to be overlooked.

In their famous 1973 sociological study of Peronism, Miguel Murmis and Juan

Carlos Portantiero showed how Germani’s interpretation was based on prejudice more

than data.8 Analyzing the unions that supported and opposed Perón, the two authors came

to the conclusion that the leader had actually gathered support from a large portion of the

old unions that Germani had identified with the upwardly-mobile, European working

class. Germani’s claim that immigrants from the hinterlands had supported Perón because

they were politically uneducated due to their background from backward regions was

perspective de historia social sobre una zona popular,” Anuario del Instituto de Estudios Históricos y
Sociales, (Tandil: Universidad del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires) Forthcoming.
7
In the elections of 1951when Perón was re-elected, women went to vote more than men (93.85%
of the women voted, while voting men were a little over two percent less: 91.45% of the men voted). While
more than 465,000 women voted for Perón, around 382,000 men voted for him. See Walter Little,
“Electoral Aspects of Peronism, 1946-1954,” cited in Omar Acha, “Migración interna y formación de
parejas en Buenos Aires.”
8
See Miguel Murmis and Juan Carlos Portantiero, Estudios sobre los orígenes del peronismo.
254
exposed as an ethnocentric bias. Murmis and Portantiero argued that Peronism was not a

totally new phenomenon as Germani believed; on the contrary, it only deepened forms of

state intervention that had been growing since the 1930s. Perón’s skillful command of a

longer transformation that was maturing in the mid-1940s gave him the power to become

a successful and charismatic leader. These two sociologists argued that differentiating

migration from the hinterlands from European migration in terms of their political role

was analytically wrong. By the 1940s, both migration waves had built unions where the

distinction between the two groups was irrelevant. European and internal migration had

become integrated. However, because they ignored women as social actors and accepted

Peronism as a male-driven social force, Murmis and Portantiero failed to see how

European and internal migration were integrated in daily life and not only in the realms

of politics.

In a recent study, Omar Acha has argued that the major mechanism for the

integration of European and internal migration was marriage.9 Most of the scholars who

studied internal migration and its role in the emergence of Peronism reported

disproportionate numbers of women, but they failed to draw any conclusions from that

fact. Studying statistical data on marriage in two important working-class neighborhoods

(Villa Crespo and Chacarita), Acha argues that in the context of a growing family

sociability, a large portion of these women from the hinterlands married men who were

either European or the second and third generation of the 1880-1930 trans-Atlantic

9
Omar Acha, “Migración interna y formación de parejas en Buenos Aires.”
255
10
wave. It seems that this was one of the most important elements leading to the

integration of people who had arrived to Buenos Aires from different locations and in

different moments.

Acha’s conclusions are fundamental for my study because they not only mark the

growing integration of different ethnic groups, but also the growing importance of family

life. The high proportion of immigrant women was fundamental in a city where men had

been the majority for several decades. In a city like Santiago de Chile, where a similar

wave of female migration from the hinterlands had taken place beginning in the late

nineteenth century, the results were different from Buenos Aires because of a lack of a

significantly large trans-Atlantic, male migration. Elizabeth Hutchison tells the story of a

Santiago where women’s rights became crucial in working class conflicts, and she

provides an interesting analysis of a city where women were the majority of the

population.11 In Buenos Aires, female migration from the hinterlands after the 1930s had

a different effect as it compensated a previous imbalance in the opposite direction.

Moreover, the growing balance between men and women came together with state

measures to protect working class families, rising male wages to sustain wives and

children, more and better jobs for poor women, maternal rights, an increase in the number

of children studying at schools, and an expectable decrease in the importance of crime

and prostitution. All these elements reshaped the landscape of Buenos Aires, creating

10
“[T]he surplus of women from the hinterlands married men from the city of Buenos Aires or
foreign men;” “[El plus de mujeres del interior contrajo matrimonio con varones de la ciudad de Buenos
Aires o extranjeros.” Omar Acha, “Migración interna y formación de parejas en Buenos Aires.”
11
Elizabeth Hutchison, Labors Appropriate to Their Sex: Gender, Labor, and Politics in Urban
Chile (1900-1930) (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); See Chapter 1, “Gender, Industrialization and
Urban Change in Santiago,” 19-35.
256
new forms of sociability and having an important effect on the culture of gender and

sexuality. A closer analysis of the social situation of the Buenos Aires working class and

its impact on families is fundamental for my study.

The Strengthening of Family Sociability

An important factor in understanding the transformation of sexuality among the

popular classes that took place around the 1930s was the change in the Buenos Aires job

market. World War I and the world economic crisis of the early 1930s deeply

transformed the Argentine economy. Although Buenos Aires already had an agro-export

industry and factories producing for the local market before WWI, during the second and

third decade of the twentieth century industrial employment became increasingly

important within the local job market.12 The consolidation of import-substitution

industrialization taking off in the 1930s created a new context where workers could find

more stable employment.13 This transformation of the job market after the 1930s virtually

destroyed the world of turn-of-the-century plebeian sociability. In the words of Juan José

12
See Adolfo Dorfman, Historia de la industria argentina (Buenos Aires: Solar/Hachette, 1970);
Fernando Rocchi, Chimneys in the Desert: Industrialization in Argentina During the Export-Boom Years,
1870-1930 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006); and Marina Kabat, Del taller a la fabrica : proceso
de trabajo, industria y clase obrera en al rama del calzado, Buenos Aires, 1870-1940 (Avellaneda: Razón
y Revolución, 2005).
13
Industrialization [gained an intensity and decisive rhythm since 1930/35, and although in the last
eight years it has been less significant, it provoked the incorporation of a considerable portion of those
migrating to the cities into industrial labor] “cobró una intensidad y un ritmo más decisivos desde 1930/35,
y aunque en los últimos ocho años fue menor, significó la incorporación a ocupaciones fabriles de una
considerable porción inmigrada a las ciudades.” Gino Germani, Política y Sociedad, 346. Daniel James
explained this process in more detail: “The number of industrial establishments increased from 38,456 in
1935 to 86,440 in 1946. At the same time the number of industrial workers proper increased from 435,816
to 1,056,673 in 1946. The internal composition of this industrial labor force had also changed. New
members were now drawn from the interior provinces of Argentina rather than from oversees immigration,
which had effectively ceased after 1930.” See Daniel James, Resistance and Integration: Peronism and the
Argentine Working Class, 1946-1976 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 8.
257
14
Sebreli, “the compadrito [or lunfardo] became a worker.” Unlike the old exporting

industries, the new factories could have provided year round employment that probably

allowed workers to abandon the urban underworld and settle down. Further research on

the transformation of the job market is required due to the importance this may have had

in relation to the culture of the lower strata. Job instability in late nineteenth and early

twentieth century Buenos Aires put workers in circulation and forced some to embrace

prostitution and crime. At the same time, it contributed to many plebeian men and women

developing ambivalent attitudes towards their own moral standards regarding sexuality.

By the mid-twentieth century, however, job instability and geographical

mobility apparently declined. In addition, workers’ income experienced a significant

increase during the 1920s and 1940s.15 Peron’s arrival in 1946 meant the working class

benefited from the redistribution of wealth carried on by the populist state.16 As Murmis

14
“El arrabal, las ‘orillas,’ zonas baldías donde la sociedad preindustrial arrojaba sus propias
escorias, se transformaban, por la expansión industrial, en zonas fabriles; los marginales, los orilleros que
eran sus pobladores, fueron absorbidos, en buena parte, por la plena ocupación que otorgaban las nuevas
fuentes de trabajo. La urbanización del arrabal era, en cierto modo, un proceso similar al que, años antes,
significó el alambrado en el campo. Del mismo modo en que la estancia transformó al gaucho en peón, la
fabrica transformaba al compadrito en obrero. No había lugar para la aventura del coraje personal del
malevo frente a la organización técnica del trabajo, o la militancia sindical. Al lumpen que rechazaba la
proletarización sólo le quedaba una opción: ingresar en la delincuencia bajo formas más organizadas,
también estas, al fin, productos de la modernización.” Juan José Sebreli, Buenos Aires, Vida Cotidiana y
Alienación (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2003 [1964]), 122-3.
15
For a reference about the increase in real wages since the late 1910s and during the 1920s, see
Fernando Rocchi, Chimneys in the Desert: Industrialization in Argentina During the Export Boom Years,
1870-1930 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 51.
16
“Real wages for industrial workers increased by 53% between 1946 and 1949. Although real
wages would decline with the economic crisis of the regime’s last years, the shift of national income
towards workers was to be unaffected. Between 1946 and 1949 the share of wages in the national income
increased from 40,1% to 49%.” Daniel James, Resistance and Integration: Peronism and the Argentine
Working Class, 1946-1976 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 11.
258
and Portantiero argue, income redistribution did not happen precisely in the 1930s;17

rather, during the 1920s working class income had already experienced a substantial rise,

and the 1940s strengthened that trend significantly. Furthermore, higher working class

income by itself does not necessarily generate any kind of social change. The increase in

working class income did, however, take place in relation to a number of socio cultural

transformations. In this context, the rise in income seems to have strengthened workers’

family life;18 the substantial raise during the 1920s and 1940s probably made it easier for

male workers to maintain their families and stop perceiving the role of provider as a

burden.19

Another important socio-cultural transformation leading to the strengthening of

family life was related to childhood. Turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires provided an urban

context where children wandered the streets and participated in the job market at an early

age. The raise in workers’ income that was consolidated by the 1940s probably made it

possible for families to take care of children until later in life. Children not only began

entering the job market at a later age; they were also integrated into new spaces. Between

the 1920s and the 1940s, schools for children expanded significantly, and attendance was

17
Miguel Murmis and Juan Carlos Portantiero, Estudios sobre los origenes del peronismo (Buenos
Aires: Siglo Veintiuno Argentina, 1971).
18
For the decline of the world of lunfardos since the 1930s, see also Tulio Carella, Picarezca
porteña (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veinte, 1966), 32-5.
19
It is important to note that the improvement of the living standard among the urban poor was
especially significant in the areas that favored the strengthening of family life. For instance, rents became
much more affordable than any other products: “One of the first decisions of the Peronist administration
was to maintain from 1946-1955 two laws that had been passed in 1943 that froze rents and prohibited
eviction. As Juan Carlos torre and Elisa Pastoriza have signaled, this measure allowed rents to increase
only 27 percent during those years, compared with a general increase in the cost of living of 700 percent.”
Rosa Aboy, “‘The Right to a Home:’ Public Housing in Post-World War II Buenos Aires,” Journal of
Urban History, 33, No. 3 (2007): 503. Not only renting became easier for workers, a large portion of
working-class families became home owners for the first time, according to Aboy.
259
20
gradually prolonged. After the 1930s, the male spaces of sociability were probably not

the place where children grew up. This process may have been gradual, but observing the

situation at the beginning of the century and in the 1950s provides an indication of the

changes. By the 1950s, children’s lives seemed to develop within the realm of working

class families.21

The change in children’s sociability most likely strengthened family life and

can be grasped through the transformation of all forms of legislation applying to them.

The state gradually protected children from labor, from all forms of social and sexual

abuse.22 It seems that the rise in working class income was not independent from these

transformations. In his study of child labor, Osvaldo Suriano argued that with decreasing

immigration after WWI, the elite and the state became aware of the need to reproduce the

workforce through families. It is in this context that the state increasingly protected

children from labor, developed policies and legislation to drive children out of the streets

20
See Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento: Peronismo y orden familiar, 1946-1955. (Buenos
Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2006), 23. See also Héctor Rubén Cucuzza (ed.), Estudios de historia
de la educación durante el primer peronismo, 1943-1955 (Buenos Aires: Los Libros del Riel, 1997);
Adriana Puiggrós and Sandra Carli, eds., Discursos pedagógicos e imaginario social en el peronismo,
1945-1955 (Buenos Aires: Galerna, 1995).
21
For an analysis of this transformation, see Sandra Carli, Niñez, pedagogía y política:
transformaciones de los discursos acerca de la infancia en la historia de la educación argentina entre
1880 y 1955 (Buenos Aires: Miño y Dávila, 2002); see also, Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento,
especially Chapter Three: “La primacía de la infancia y la naturaleza de los vínculos filiales,” 103-138.
22
In 1907, the state passed the first law banning child labor, but as Osvaldo Suriano argued, the
state only began to enforce this law towards the late teens. In 1919 the congress passed the Patronato de
Menores law, which allowed the state to intervene if there was any reason to believe that parents were not
fulfilling their role. In 1936 – same year of the abolition of prostitution according to law 12.331 – the
enforcement of state control over parents was aided by the creation of the Dirección Nacional de
Maternidad e Infancia. See Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento, 110 -6; María Marta Aversa, “Infancia
abandonada y delincuente. De la tutela provisoria al patronato Público (1910-1931),” in Las políticas
sociales en perspectiva histórica. Argentina, 1870-1952, ed. Daniel Lvovich y Juan Suriano (Buenos Aires:
Prometeo Libros, 2005), 89-108; and Donna Guy, “The State, the Family, and Marginal Children in Latin
America,” in Tobias Hecht, Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society (Madison:
The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002),156-160.
260
and backed a higher working class income that meant parents were better able to support

children.23 Women probably experienced a relatively similar transition placing them

back into family life.24 Increasing male wages could allow some of them to be maintained

by men. While I’m not suggesting that women suddenly stopped participating in wage

labor, it seems that in some cases, the rise in female income and their increasing job

security could contribute to strengthening family life.25 By the 1950s, female prostitution

did not seem as widespread as it was in the past. While it continued to exist, its nature

probably changed significantly: it could have become an occasional activity, mostly

among single women, and especially among poor single female immigrants from the

23
Juan Suriano, “Niños trabajadores: una aproximación al trabajo infantil en la industria porteña de
principios de siglo,” in Mundo urbano y cultura popular. Estudios de historia social argentina ed. Diego
Armus (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1990), 270-7.
24
In his analysis of the oral history of Doña María, a Peronist labor activist, Daniel James claims
that family life was a fundamental influence for her worldview. In a speech Doña María made for rallying
women to the Partido Laborista, she states “The home is the place where the great national principles are
nourished.” (38) James considers how this view is central for her life and that of many other women at the
time: “During the crucial decade of 1945-1955, Peronism, through its political and cultural institutions,
both mobilized and legitimized women as actors within a newly enlarged public sphere. At the same time,
it attempted to redefine appropriate forms of behavior and appropriate divisions between public and private.
While the traditional subordination of women to men was denounced, many of the traditional virtues
associated with women were reaffirmed within a reworked ideology of domesticity. By the early 1950s, at
the height of Evita Peron’s influence, women’s work outside the home was expressly condemned, and
women’s political activity was sharply distinguished from that of men. Politics was considered to be an
inherently masculine preserve which women were ill-adapted to handle. Women’s political activity was
taken to derive from their unique virtues as mothers, wives, and guardians of the hearth. They were
intrinsically unselfish, capable of self-sacrifice, and communal in nature, not the greedy individualists
symbolized by men in politics. Their nurturing role at home was taken, by extension, to be a metaphor for
their unique role as guardians of the nation.” Daniel James, “‘Tales Told Out on the Borderlands,’ Doña
María’s Story, Oral History, and Issues of Gender,” in The Gendered Worls of Latin American Women
Workers ed. John French and Daniel James (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 42-3. For further
reading about Doña María’s story, see Daniel James, Doña María’s Story: Life History, Memory and
Political Identity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000).
25
For an analysis of the relationship between work and family among women, see also Isabella
Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento, 31-34.
261
26
hinterlands who worked as servants in private homes. The gradual decline of female

prostitution may have eroded the urban underworld described in Chapter II.27

Changes in legislation also suggest that female prostitution declined. In 1936,

regulated prostitution came to an end. The congress passed an abolitionist law 12.331.28

According to the new legislation, the state could not regulate prostitution any more,

neither through medical checks nor police control. Although the law did not technically

ban prostitution – as it did with prohibitionists’ legislation – legislators expected the state

to discourage its existence. The exploitation of female prostitutes by pimps was

penalized, and the white slave trade was also legally condemned. In legal terms, female

prostitutes could not be prosecuted. They were defined as victims and the state assumed

the obligation of providing economic means for women to leave prostitution. Actual

26
In 1947, a report about the life of prostitutes claimed that of a total of 742, more than half of
them (420 women, or 56.6%) were servants, and most of the rest of them had other professions. Only 63
women (8.5% of the total) had no other occupations. See Pedro Casazza, El patotero y la ley de profilaxis
social. Proceso del ‘Bañado de Flores’ (Buenos Aires: 1951). Andrés Carretero argues that the availability
of jobs for women during the mid-twentieth century allowed them to choose alternative means of survival.
Commercial sex was an activity that women working in other jobs could develop to make some extra
money, but the number of full time prostitutes declined. See Andrés Carretero, Prostitución en Buenos
Aires (Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1995), 184-8. In his 1966 study of urban life and tango, Tulio Carella
claimed that after the abolition of prostitution in the 1930s, this profession was “officially supressed” and
former prostitutes became maids. He explains “prostitutes were forced to integrate into the so-called decent
social life.” Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña, 32-5.
27
In their study of tango in the early twentieth Century, José Gobello and José Barcía also establish
a contrast between the visibility of prostitution and urban crime in the 1920s and the dissapearance of these
activities in the mid-twentieth century. See José Gobello and José Barcia, Tango y Milonguita (Buenos
Aires: República de San Telmo, 1972), 11-21.
28
Instituto Argentino de Estudios Legislativos, La Ley no. 12.331 de profilaxis antivenérea. La
legislación sanitaria y el régimen federal. Los sistemas legislativos en materia de prostitución. El delito de
contagio venéreo. El certificado prenupcial. El delito de rufianería (Buenos Aires: Talleres Gráficos de la
Compañía Impresora Argentina, 1945). For a history of the battles between contending social and political
forces that led to the passing of this law, see Donna Guy, Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution,
Family and Nation in Argentina (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), 131-5 and Natalia
Milanesio, “Redefining men’s sexuality, resignifying male bodies: the Argentine law of anti-venereal
prophylaxis, 1936,” in Gender and History 17, no. 2 (2005): 463-491.
262
police procedures or state measures did not necessarily follow the spirit of the law, and

despite the abolitionist spirit of the legislation, the police usually acted as if prostitution

had been banned.29 The police now persecuted female prostitutes as people who had

violated the law, even if that was not formally the case.30 But what is more important is

not the spirit of the law or its actual application by different branches of the state; it is the

fact that prostitutes were visibly less in numbers.31 Working class men who were willing

to have sex with them would complain that such an exchange of money for sex had now

become difficult for those with meager incomes.32 When Perón asked people to send

letters with suggestions, José V. L., vice president of the Agrupación Peronista

Ferroviaria (a union of railway workers) decided to complain about the scarcity of female

prostitutes, arguing that the state should “organize and determine the location and

29
For a discussion of the legislation on prostitution and the enactment of abolition, see Karin
Gramático, “Obreras, prostitutas y mal venéreo. Un estado en busca de la profilaxis” in Historia de las
mujeres en la Argentina. Siglo XX. Tomo II, ed. Fernanda Gil Lozano, Valeria Pita and María Ini (Buenos
Aires: Taurus, 2000).

30
For an analysis of state intervention and the contending interpretations of the law, see “Ejercicio
de la prostitución: alcances de la ley de Profilaxis Social,” Revista Penal y Penitenciaria, Buenos Aires,
Ministerio de Justicia e Instrucción Pública. Dirección General de Institutos Penales, (1940): 63-76.
31
Although prostitution continued to exist, it was less visible. Tulio Carella argues that by “the mid
twentieth century street prostitution had almost completely disappeared” [“Al promediar el siglo el amor
callejero había desaparecido casi por complete.” Tulio Carella, Picarezca Porteña, 48]. The author argues
that occasional prostitution existed in a few parts of the city, but even that was challenged by an increasing
repression: “Well known professional [prostitutes] disappeared from the Capital and Great Buenos Aires.
Did they disappear? Did they marry? Did they take a job?” [“Las profesionales conocidas desaparecieron
de la Capital y el Gran Buenos Aires. ¿Desaparecieron? ¿Se casaron, se habían puesto a trabajar?” 49] His
answer is that some of them began working on the roads offering their services to truck drivers, but it is
hard to imagine that their new niche could have employed all of them. In any case, the discussion of
prostitution in the 1950s by Carella shows his surprise about the almost disappearance of prostitution as it
was known in the early twentieth century and the shift towards occasional prostitution by women who had
other means of survival.

32
In a letter to Perón written in 1951 G. S., a worker from Buenos Aires, complained about the
unaffordable price of prostitutes, which he believed were only available for wealthy people. See Fondo de
la Secretaría Técnica, box 58, folder 11,185, Archivo General de la Nación.
263
functioning of brothels” to make sure that every man could have access to readily

available sexual services so that youth gangs would not rape women and minors of both

sexes.33 Although working class men had relatively more money, female prostitutes did

not seem to be available anymore.

The political debates about prostitution that took place under Peronism also

suggest the decrease in the social importance of this activity. Towards the mid-1950s,

female prostitution became a topic of intense political debate. The Peronist regime

wanted to return to regulationist legislation.34 The abolitionist legislation had been

interpreted as a prohibition and was now perceived by the regime as socially problematic.

State officials believed that it was the ban on prostitution that actually encouraged the

growth of male homosexuality.35 Due to a lack of female sexual outlets, they argued, men

were having sex with homosexuals or raping women. The problem was believed to be

especially acute among the male youth.36 Married adult men could have sex with their

33
"Organizar y determinar el lugar y funcionamiento de prostíbulos, como defensa para la
honestidad de la familia, ya que a diario ocurren atentados de patotas contra mujeres indefensas de todas las
edades y niños de ambos sexos. Esto debe hacerse a pesar de las críticas que hubiere, como también dar
mayor publicidad a las penas a aplicarse a los que atentan contra el pudor e integridad de la mujer.” José V.
L., vicepresidente de la Agrupación Peronista Ferroviaria, Dock Sud, BA. Box 56, file 9.800, Fondo de la
Secretaría Técnica, Archivo General de la Nación.

34
See Nicolás Greco, “La ley abolicionista 12331 de Profilaxis de las enfermedades venéreas debe
reformarse”, en Archivo de la Secretaría de Salud Pública de la Nación, Noviembre 1948.
35
In a report that Cesario Utrilla wrote to Angel Gabriel Borlenghi, the minister of Internal Affairs,
he claimed that it was necessary to lift the ban on prostitution so that the youth would not be corrupted by
homosexuals. See AGN-SecretaríaTécnica, box 306, note 12.099 Cesario Utrilla, de CF.
36
See Pedro Casazza, El patotero y la ley. During the Peronist era there were a number of sexual
scandals involving sex between men where “homosexuals” were considered responsible for “degenerating”
the youth. See for instance the news about the murder of the Belgian homosexual Leopoldo Buffin de
Chasal in La Razón, (15 and 16 September 1947); Parlamento, 1, no. 3 (27 September 1947); La Prensa,
(15 September 1957). The idea of homosexuals degenerating the youth was a recurrent representation in
many of the scandals in reference to homosexuality that the newspapers would publish; see “Apresaron a
varios amorales que se habían organizado en banda,” La Razón, (19 July 1951); “Varios amorales robaban
en casas de departamentos,” El Lider, (18 March 1948); "Fue condenado a doce años de prisión un
264
wives, but young unmarried men were expected to have sex with women while

respectable young women were supposed to achieve marriage as virgins.37 The role of

female prostitutes was to fill the gap between male demand and lack of available,

respectable women. If prostitutes did not exist, many people reasoned, then men were

going to penetrate whomever they could. Many scholars and state officials were

concerned with the emergence of patotas, or gangs, formed by young men who raped

women.38 Exonerating young men from their responsibility, politicians, journalists and

scholars argued that the youth were sexually starving due to the ban on prostitution.

Many believed that in the absence of female prostitutes, homosexuals could pervert the

youth, and as Donna Guy argues,,the Peronist regime perceived this as a threat to

“normal” families.39 What has not been discussed in depth is the relationship this debate

peligroso corruptor de menores", Democracia, (28 December 1954); "Intensifica la policía Federal su
acción contra los amorales", El Líder, (28 December 1954); "Nuevos procedimientos permitieron detener a
otros 50 amorales", Democracia, (30 December 1954); "Se logró capturar a un peligroso sujeto. Atacó al
marinero que lo detuvo cuando atentaba contra un menor", El Líder, (22 November 1954).

37
In his account of middle-class morality in mid-twentieth-century Buenos Aires, Sebreli argues
that families had [transformed their daughters in semi-virgins who masturbated their boyfriends in the
cinema seats or in the living-room sofas] “…convirtiendo a sus hijas en vírgenes a medias que masturbaban
a sus novios en la butaca del cine o en el sofa de la sala…” Juan José Sebreli, Buenos Aires, Vida
Cotidiana, 85. Although Sebreli was talking only about the middle-class, he claims that at this time, the
working class aspired to achieve middle-class morality and did not have a very different viewpoint on
sexuality.
38
For public expressions of concern about youth male gangs, see “A los 16 años capitaneaba una
banda de asaltantes,” El Mundo, (29 March 1931), 8; “Patotas de muchachones por el centro de la ciudad,”
(30 September, 1944), 8; Pedro Casazza, El patotero y la ley; “Hay una crisis de adolescencia, con Hondas
raíces patológicas, que induce a la criminalidad,” La Razón, (13 February, 1950); “La patota y otros males”
Democracia, (26 December, 1954); “En el interior del país se inició la campaña moralizadora” El Lider,
(21 January 1954); Roberto Valguer (pseudonym), “Desde la cuerda floja,” El Pueblo, (2 January, 1954);
“El respeto a la mujer,” El Pueblo, (3 July, 1954); “No somos un pueblo de viciosos y corrompidos,” El
Pueblo, (4 July, 1954); “Una patota en acción,” Clarín, (24 January 1954), 4; “Atacados por una patota
murió un hombre y otro result con heridas,” Clarín, (29 March 1954).
39
“That Perón wanted to open the bawdy houses to save men from homosexuality gave a clear
indication that something had happened to Argentine society, politics, and culture after 1936, and the Law
of Social Prophylaxis had been identified as the source of the problem. Men had changed their habits and
customs, and their new behavior troubled politicians and higienistas. Without the bordello, men rather than
265
has with the legislation of prostitution and the actual situation of prostitution and

homosexuality.

Although the defense of prostitution as a deterrent of homosexuality was

ideological, it was probably a distorted expression of the low numbers of prostitutes in

the context of a cultural conflict generated by the construction of a male profuse sexual

life in opposition to female restraint. A critique by socialist-feminist politician Alicia

Moreau de Justo suggests this contradiction. In January 1955 she denounced the Peronist

attempt to regulate prostitution. First of all, she claimed that there was no actual legal

ban. Prohibition had become a reality due to the way the abolitionist law had been

interpreted, but the law itself did not allow the prosecution of prostitutes. Although

prostitution had been prosecuted, Moreau de Justo argued that the real reason explaining

its decline was not any kind of police or state interference. On the contrary, she argued

that many women had abandoned prostitution because of increasing job opportunities,

the development of labor legislation that allowed them a more secure position in the job

market, and the increase in female wages. It seems that Buenos Aires had changed from

being the Mecca of the trans-Atlantic, white slave trade to a city where female

prostitution was rare. And one of the possible reasons behind this was that women were

probably unwilling to get money through sex if they could do something else. In fact,

Moreau de Justo argued that only a draft could revive female prostitution, and she

wondered if the Peronist regime was willing to go so far. 40

women became sources of social danger. Deprived of sexual commerce, men found other amusements,
potentially more dangerous than sex and tango dancing.” Donna Guy, Sex and Danger, 182.
40
Moreau de Justo’s critique could sound exaggerated: the Peronist regime never had in mind
forcing women back into prostitution. Her words, however, suggest the decline of female prostitution. as it
266
In addition to the decline of female prostitution and child labor, other factors also seem to

have strengthened family sociability. There are signs that robbery and urban crime in

general declined steadily until it probably became rare in the 1940s and 1950s.41 Job

instability may have decreased with increasing industrialization. The new economic

paradigm probably allowed workers to find positions with year-round jobs. My

had existed at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. It also seems that such probable decline
was not a mere by-product of the 1936 law. On the contrary, it is likely that it was the result of a deeper
socio-cultural transformation that also caused the demise of urban marginality as a whole. See Alicia
Moreau de Justo, “De nuevo la prostitución reglamentada,” Nuevas Bases, Organo del Partido Socialista,
no 72, (January 1955), 1 and 3.

41
Enrique Aftalion, a professor of law at the University of Buenos Aires, argued that criminality
had gradually declined from the early to the mid twentieth century in Buenos Aires. Summarizing the
tendency expressed by criminal statistics during these decades, he noticed that there were “no abrupt
‘oscilations’ of numbers, but rather a ‘tendencial curve’ oriented towards the gradual decline in
delinquency.” [no se advierte en el movimiento de los guarismos ‘oscilasciones’ muy bruscas, sino más
bien una ‘curva tendencial,’ orientada hacia una paulatina declinación de la delincuencia]. Enrique
Aftalion, La delincuencia en Argentina (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de la Universidad, 1955) stressed this in
the original, p. 81. As evidence to support his argument, this scholar used a comparison of the proportion of
reported criminal acts in relation to the total number of people living in Buenos Aires. According to this
statistic, in 1923 there were a total of 12.029 criminal acts and the city was inhabited by 1,770,000 people.
This means that criminal acts were 6.70% of the number of inhabitants. Between the 1920s and the 1950s,
the percentage decreased, reaching 4.68% in 1953. What this means is that the number of reported criminal
acts by the 1950s was only approximately two-thirds of what it had been during the twenties. Despite the
tendency towards a gradual decline of crime, Aftalion noted, the years after the crisis of the 1930s saw an
increase in criminal acts (with peaks of more than 8 and 9 % between 1931 and 1936) that constituted an
exception to the general tendency (see statistic in p. 80). A closer analysis of these figures confirms
Aftalion’s hypothesis. As historians of crime have noted, the number of reported crimes is not necessarily
representative of what actually happens because crimes are not always reported. Statistics of crime may
express real transformations in the dimension of crime, but they can also express a variation in the efficacy
of the police as an institution of social control. In the case of Argentina during this period, however, it
would seem that the police became more efficient precisely at the same time that crime was decreasing in
importance. As I explained in Chapter Two, the police were overwhelmed in early twentieth-century
Buenos Aires. There are no many studies about social control between 1920 and 1950 in Buenos Aires, but
there is a historiographical agreement about the growth of the state and its intervention in civil society
during this period. In her history of the penitentiary, Lila Caimari shows that Peronism increased the
funding for the penitentiary and paid closer attention to the development of crime. Finally, an analysis of
the figures presented by Aftalion should take into account that there is not just a change in the number of
criminal acts, but also in the kind of acts and the groups involved in them. Aftalion argued that criminal
acts had decreased sharply among minors in the 1950s, while they grew in numbers among women. In
terms of the kind of criminal activities, by the mid-twentieth century, robbery had lost its previous
importance. Aftalion emphasized other crimes, such as quarrels and slanderous allegations (see pp. 82-7).
Aftalion explained that unlike in the early twentieth century, there were no major bands of organized crime
at the time he wrote the book (pp. 93-4), and he attributed the declining importance of robbery to full
employment (pp. 55-7).
267
hypothesis is that with the increasing importance of the local economy as a market for

industrial commodities, production became stable and replaced the seasonal fluctuations

that characterized turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires. With stable jobs, workers probably

did not need to circulate throughout the streets of Buenos Aires as much as in the past,

when they wandered throughout the urban underworld and male homosocial spaces of

sociability. Workers might not have needed to turn to robbery or the informal economy as

a way of coping with seasonal unemployment. Away from crime and the urban spaces of

sociability crowded by single men, fatherhood most likely became more important as a

role for men.

The consolidation and “normalization” of working-class family life can be

observed at many levels.42 Since the 1930s, census records show a “demographic

transition” where family size diminished significantly.43 Beginning with a national

average of 6.1 people per family unit in 1869 when the first census was conducted, the

figure declined to 4.3 in the 1947 census:44

42
Isabella Cosse argues that “domesticity” became one of the most important cultural ideas among
the working and the middle-class in Buenos Aires during the first two presidencies of Perón (1946-1955).
See Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento, 29-40. See also José Luis Moreno, Historia de la familia en el
Río de La Plata (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2004); and Marcela Nari, Políticas de Maternidad, 171-222.
For an analysis of sexuality and family life in Buenos Aires in the 1930s, see Barrancos, Dora, “Moral
sexual, sexualidad y mujeres trabajadoras en el período de entreguerras”, en Fernando Devoto y Marta
Madero, dirs., Historia de la vida privada en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Taurus, 1999).
43
Birth rates descended below 30 per thousand, the [threshold indicating that a given population
practices a volutary limitation of birth in a widespread and efficient manner] “umbral indicative de que una
población practica la limitación volutaria de los nacimientos en forma generalizada y eficaz.” Susana
Torrado, Historia de la familia en la Argentina moderna, 1870-2000 (Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Flor,
2003), 323.
44
The chart was elaborated with information taken from Gino Germani, Política y sociedad en una
época de transición: de la sociedad tradicional a la sociedad de masas (Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1968), 340.
268
Chart 4. Decreasing size of family units in Argentina.

In the case of Buenos Aires, after the 1930s, family size was even smaller than the

national average, especially among the recently consolidated middle-class. The number

of people per family unit in a middle-class district, for instance, had decreased from 3.9

in 1936 to 3.2 in 1947. Although working-class families were more numerous, the

evolution of family size among workers experienced an even deeper diminution when

compared to past figures. In a district inhabited primarily by working-class families, the

number of people per unit had dropped from 4.3 in 1936 to 3.5 in 1947.45 Another

indicator of this general trend was the number of children per woman, which was reduced

45
Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento, 28.
269
46
by half, from 3.4 in 1914 to 1.5 in 1947. Rosa Aboy’s research suggests that these

smaller families now inhabited private houses or apartments rather than crowded

tenements, as had been the case before the 1930s.47 In a statistical study of the economic

conditions of the working class conducted by the National Department of Labor in 1937,

the government reported that the majority of workers lived in families with four to five

members in individual apartments of one to two rooms. By the late 1940s, the average

working class family was even smaller, and private houses were now common.48

In addition, there were also changes in the use of leisure time with the emergence

of popular sports. Men probably spent more time at home or with their families, as a

famous phrase by Peron suggests: “from home to work and from work to home.”

Although the assertion was normative rather than descriptive, Perón could encourage

male workers to do so because family sociability seemed crucial among the working-

class.49

46
Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento, 27; see also Gino Germani, “La familia en transición en
Argentina,” in: Gino Germani, Política y Sociedad, 338-355.
47
See Rosa Aboy, “‘The Right to a Home.’”
48
For an analysis of the evolution of the one-family house since the early twentieth century until it
became common among the working class in the late 1940s, see: Susana Torrado, Historia de la familia,
386-94.
49
“The glorification of popular lifestyles and habits implied a political style and idiom well in tune
with popular sensibilities. Whether it was in symbolically striking the pose of the descamisado (shirtless
one) in a political rally, or in the nature of the imagery used in his speeches, Perón had an ability to
communicate to working-class audiences which his rivals lacked. The poet Luis Franco commented
cryptically on Peron’s ‘spiritual affinity with tango lyrics.’ His ability to use this affinity to establish a bond
with his audience was clearly shown in his speech to those assembled in Plaza de Mayo on 17 October
1945. Towards the end of that speech Perón evoked the image of his mother, ‘mi vieja’: ‘I said to you a
little while ago that I would embrace you as I would my mother because you have had the same griefs and
the same thoughts that my poor old lady must have felt in these days.’ The reference is apparently
gratuitous, the empty phraseology of someone who could think of nothing better to say until we recognize
that the sentiments echo exactly a dominant refrain of tango – the poor grief-laden mother whose pain
symbolizes the pain of her children, of all the poor. Peron’s identification of his own mother with the poor
establishes a sentimental identity between himself and his audience; with this tone of nostalgia he was
270
Some authors, like Juan José Sebreli, recall that the number of adult married men

spending time in bars, streets and other public spaces decreased.50 Instead, the

neighborhood club, where the whole family participated, flourished in many

neighborhoods. Male leisure was not entirely shared with the family, but male spaces had

changed. Rather than tango dancing places, brothels and exclusively male bars where

sexual adventures took place, now sports seemed dominant. In the 1920s, boxing became

a popular sport and the relationship with this sport helped working-class men to

substantiate their masculinity through a non-sexual activity. From the 1930s onward, the

importance of boxing was replaced by soccer, a sport that continues to attract the

attention of almost all working and middle class men to this day.51

The understanding of masculinity probably changed. My hypothesis is that

working-class men increasingly viewed their masculine status as something that was

touching an important sensibility in Argentine popular culture of the period. Significantly, too, the speech
ended on another ‘tangoesque’ note. Perón reminded his audience as they were about to leave the Plaza,
‘remember that among you there are many women workers who have to be protected here and in life by
you same workers.’ The theme of the threat to the women of the working class, and the need to protect their
women, was also a constant theme of both tango and other forms of popular culture.” Daniel James, Doña
María’s Story, 22-3. It should be noted that the tango sensibilities mentioned by James in this paragraph are
not those of turn-of-the-century tango explored in Chapter Two, but a new kind of tango that was depurated
from its ‘original sins’ in order to fit into the new ideals of sexual conformity, domesticy and family life.
For an analysis of this change in the nature of tango, see Donna Guy, “Tango, Gender and Politics,”
especially Chapter 5, pp.141-174.
50
“La vida en el barrio también contribuyó a esta intimidad con los compañeros, en una época en
que los obreros vivían generalmente cerca de la fábrica donde trabajaban y prolongaban los contactos en la
misma calle, en el mismo almacén. Este hábito desapareció cuando el desarrollo industrial requirió mayor
cantidad de mano de obra y la crisis de la vivienda en la capital y, a la vez, la probabilidad de comprar
terrenos a plazos y hacerse una casita llevaron a los obreros a los suburbios.” Juan José Sebreli, Buenos
Aires, alienación, 135. For an analysis of the relationship between masculinity and fatherhood in relation to
the strengthening of family sociability, see Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento, 32.
51
The growing importance of sports in male sociability was expressed through the increasing space
that newspapers devoted to the topic. See Silvia Saítta, Regueros de Tinta: El diario Crítica en la década
del 20 (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1998), 93-100. For a historical analysis of the relationship between
soccer and masculinity, see Eduardo Archetti, Masculinities: Football, Polo and the Tango in Argentina
(Oxford: Berg, 1999).
271
substantiated through their capacity to provide for the economic needs of their families.

Although male sexual impulse was still conceived as stronger than that of women, being

a man was probably not anymore simply a matter of being able to penetrate others. The

exclusive association of receptive anal intercourse with homosexuality – with the

“active” male partner maintaining his male status – continued to exist, but now

penetrating another man was not something working-class men were willing to brag

about. In fact, those men who continued to have sex with homosexuals were apparently

limited to certain social groups, and they preferred concealing their participation as

“active” partners in same-sex sexual intercourse.52

It seems that by the mid-twentieth century, men who had sex with homosexuals

apparently belonged to more circumscribed social groups. According to homosexual men,

the group of men who sought to have sex with them was mostly formed by young, single,

male immigrants from the hinterlands. Homosexual men even had a name for these men.

They were the “chongos.”53 The category of chongo emphasized masculinity in relation

to class, as many homosexual men believed that working-class men were more

52
In the autobiographical texts by homosexual men, they represent the “non-homosexual” men
with whom they have sex as unwilling to engage in intercourse. Homosexual men are always trying to
convince them and follow a seducing ritual, whereas the “non-homosexual” partners act out some kind of
reluctance before accepting, expressing a psychological difficulty engaging in same-sex sexuality. In order
to have sex with homosexuals, even as active partners, these men – usually referred as “chongos” – have to
overcome some internal obstacles. See, for instance, the description of this kind of seduction in the tale
written by Correas, Los reportajes de Felix Chaneton, (Buenos Aires: Celtia, 1984), 39 or the novel by
Oscar Hermes Villordo, La brasa en la mano, (Buenos Aires: Bruguera, 1983), 28 and 58; and Jamandreu,
Memorias: la cabeza contra el suelo (Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1981), 56.
53
In a quite prejudiced and eroticized representation of chongos, Carlos Correas says: “I used to sit
down in a bench in Puente Alsina train station so I could see the chongos leave in the crowded trains,
hanging from the handles and the windows, going to the miserable villas and little towns I dreamt about.”
[“yo iba a sentarme en un banco del andén de la estación Puente Alsina para ver a los chongos irse en los
trenes de trocha angosta, amontonados en los estribos y en las ventanas, hacia las villas y los pueblitos cuya
miseria me hacía sonar.”] Carlos Correas, Los reportajes de Felix Chaneton, 103. For other representations
of chongos in the autobiographies of homosexual men, see Villordo, La brasa en la mano, 28-41.
272
masculine. However, chongos were not only represented as workers; they were also

portrayed usually (but not exclusively) as darker people from the hinterlands. They were

frequently young, single, migrant workers and 18-year-old boys who had been drafted

from the provinces to serve in the military facilities of Buenos Aires for one year. From

the prejudiced point of view of porteños, especially among the middle-class, people from

the hinterlands were brutes. Homosexual men sometimes eroticized this prejudice

associating men from the hinterlands with a rough type of masculinity. Unlike the

category of lunfardo that applied to a wide variety of men from the lower strata, the

category of chongo was circumscribed to a smaller group of men. This suggests that the

circle of those who welcomed the advances of homosexual men was smaller. It was

apparently formed in its majority by those who lived far from their families because they

had migrated. This does not mean that chongos were the only ones willing to have sex

with homosexuals, but sex between men did not seem to be as visible as in the past when

trans-Atlantic migration was at its peak, when Buenos Aires was a city with a high

proportion of men and family life was weaker. This also seemed to be the case with male

sex with female prostitutes; it seemed not as widespread as in the past, and it was usually

more popular among single men.

The change in sexual practices seemed to result from wider social changes that

gradually undermined the urban underworld of turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires.

Geographic mobility encouraged by job instability, for instance, may have come to an

end towards the 1930s with the consolidation of the famous barrios.54 People would live

54
According to James Scobie, the first step into the formation of working and middle-class
neighborhoods in the suburbs came with the division into lots for sale and the availability of mortgages
since 1905. However, public transportation was not sufficiently developed and did not become affordable
273
for many years in the barrios, developing a bond with neighbors who knew each other

closely. Social peers now were more likely to have a watchful eye on the activities of

others.55 The circulation and anonymity that characterized turn-of-the-century Buenos

Aires probably disappeared. This seems to have contributed to the development of a more

strict relationship with social norms.56

for middle and working class people until later. The high prices of streetcars constituted a major difficulty
for low income people who were thus forced to live close to their jobs in the crowded downtown area. The
formation of neighborhoods in the suburbs was taking place by the 1910s, but the consolidation was
gradual because most people built their homes by themselves, working on the weekends and saving money
for the materials throughout the years. See James Scobie, Buenos Aires: Plaza to Suburb, 1870-1910 (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 160-207.
55
“Relations [with people living] beyond the neighborhood were scarce for working-class families,
they [relations] were reduced to relatives. In contrast to the restricted upper-class neighborhoods,
neighborhood bonds were unavoidable [for working-class families]. When it was not possible to pay
someone who could solve a problem, help from neighbors was a necessity. Visiting and partying [with the
neighbors] were not usual activities – due to the uncomfortable characteristics of working-class housing.
However, the household door was always symbolically opened in proletarian homes: neighbors freely
circulated in an out [of one’s house] and they shared the problems of private life with no secrecy. This
openness would lead to the loss of intimacy, but on the other hand, it favored spontaneity, frankness and
solidarity. The lack of household space – and the consequent crowding between family members –
contributed to fights as well as the necessary reconciliations.” [“Las relaciones fuera del círculo del barrio
eran escasas, se reducían para la familia obrera a los parientes, en tanto que, contrariamente a las de los
barrios herméticos de las clases altas, los vínculos de vecindad se hacían inevitable. Cuando no se podía
pagar a otro para que solucionara las dificultades, se hacía necesaria la ayuda del vecino. Si las visitas y las
fiestas – dadas las incomodidades de la vivienda obrera – no eran frencuentes, en cambio la puerta de casa
permanecía simbólicamente abierta en los hogares proletarios: los vecinos entraban y salían libremente y
los problemas de la vida privada eran compartidos sin ninguna reserva. Esta apertura, por un lado,
provocaba la pérdida de la intimidad y, por otro, favorecía la espontaneidad, la franqueza y la solidaridad.
La falta de espacio de la vivienda – con la promiscuidad entre los miembros de la familia – contribuía a las
peleas así como también a la necesaria reconciliación.” Juan José Sebreli, Buenos Aires, alienación, 141].
In 1951, for instance, the police entered the house of a male cross-dresser who was having sex with another
man after the neighbors reported him. The newspaper article suggests that neighbors policed each other.
See “El hombre que fingíase mujer para estafar a enloquecidos enamorados, fue seminarista, robó a un
sacerdote y es padre de dos hijos,” La Razón, 14 August 1951; and also “Vistiendo ropas femeninas, un
hábil ladrón enamoró a un joven al que pensaba despojar,” Clarín, 18 August 1951.
56
An analysis of the literary work of Emma Barrandéguy reveals the strengthening of social
norms. Barrandéguy was a middle-class woman from the hinterlands who moved to Buenos Aires and
married an American man. Throughout her autobiographical work she repeatedly referred to her lack of
interest for this man. Barrandéguy was more interested in having casual sexual encounters and intellectual
debates with other men and women rather than spending her life with her American husband. Reflecting on
the reasons why she married rather than following her genuine interests, she explains to one of the men she
dated, “I realize that the impossibility of breaking with that [family] network must have been the result of a
permanent desire for conformity, [I did not want others] to think wrongly about me.” “Reconozco (…) que
la imposibilidad de romper esa red debe de haber surgido del deseo permanente de quedar bien, de que no
274
Since the 1930s, scientific representations of deviance and religious imperatives

against sins became stronger among the working class. If sexual comedy was pervasive

throughout turn-of-the-century oral and written plebeian culture, it seems that now the

working class began buying other types of magazines and books with a substantially

different content. I did not find anything like the old plebeian chapbooks and other

vehicles of expression for sexual comedy after the 1930s. Instead, it seems that a new line

of chapbooks emphasizing love as a means to form a family became widespread,

especially among female audiences.57 In addition, new magazines explaining hygienic

and eugenics for a wider audience became common. The popularization of scientific

ideas on deviance in the media and affordable books expressed a growing distinction

between pathology and normality among the working and middle class. If pathology and

normality were elite categories in turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, it is likely that by the

1940s they had become a common reference for everybody.

The Emergence of Homosexual identity

In Chapter IV, I concluded that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,

men who had sex with other men did not constitute a separate group of people with a

distinct “homosexual” identity in Argentina. Sex between men seemed integrated into the

daily life of the urban lower strata. The evidence suggests that it was common among

piensen mal de mí.” Emma Barrandéguy, Habitaciones (Buenos Aires: Catalogos, 2002 [c.1950]), 53. The
author repeats the pressure she felt to conform to family life in different parts of her autobiographical
comments; see pp. 70, 76, and 129-131. When Barrandéguy had an affair with a woman, despite being in
love with her, she told herself that she could have never shared a life with a female partner, despite the fact
that she perceived her marriage as a mistake, see pp. 120-2.
57
See Beatriz Sarlo’s analysis of these new chapbooks emerging in the 1920s. Beatriz Sarlo, El
imperio de los sentimientos (Buenos Aires: Catalogos, 1985).
275
workers, criminals, and pimps. The same men who had sex with one another also

frequently engaged in sexual intercourse with women, especially with female prostitutes.

The distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality was not clearly drawn in this

era. In Buenos Aires, homosexuality as a distinct identity only began to emerge gradually

between the 1920s and the 1940s.

By the 1920s the identity of some men who engaged in sex with other men

seemed different from that of the maricas described in the previous chapter. In the work

of Roberto Arlt in the 1920s, there is already a representation of a homosexual man

where the defining feature is effeminacy in dress, manners and speech. In Arlt’s

representation, there is no cross-dressing, and prostitution does not play a role as it did in

the past.58 This representation coincides with some comics published by Crítica, the most

popular newspaper among working-class audiences:

58
Roberto Arlt, El juguete rabioso (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1995 [1926]), 86-95.
276

Figure 8: Cut from the comic “The enemies of box” or “Los enemigos del box” by
Lanteri, Crítica, frontpage, 9th February 1921.

One effeminate man says: “- Have you seen how gross men have become with

this issue of boxing?” And the other one answers: “- Oh, don’t tell me anything about

those brutes, as if there was no other possible entertainment.”59 The dialogue suggests an

increasing distance between maricas and plebeian men, at least in the eyes of the man

59
“The enemies of box” or “Los enemigos del box” by Lanteri, Crítica, frontpage, (9 February
1921). For other similar comics of maricas, see “Recomiendo los comicios,” by Taborda, Crítica, (March,
1924): 5; and “Nomenclatura hípica,” (May, 1925): 6, 9.
277
who draw these characters. Rather than enjoying themselves with maricas, now men

from the urban lower strata formed the audience of boxing. Maricas are represented in

opposition to the masculinity attributed to sports. In other literary representations of the

1920s, men interested in sex with men also appear effeminate but dress as men; they have

jobs but they have difficulty relating with “normal” men.60 These representations of

homosexual men gradually replaced the old representations of maricas as cross-dressers

and prostitutes integrated into the daily life of the urban lower strata. The representation

of homosexual men as people with a distinct identity also existed in the 1930s.61 It

became popular by the 1950s. After the 1930s, men who had sex with women and those

who had sex with men apparently began to constitute two separate groups of people. In

the early 1940s, for instance, a homosexual man named Paco Jamandreu had a dream

suggesting the formation of a homosexual identity that contrasts with the normative

family model of sexuality. Paco wrote about this dream in the opening page of his

autobiography, using the images he dreamt about to explain what it meant for him to be a

homosexual man. He had imagined himself spitting up at the sun. Huge gray cars passed

by very closely, threatening him while he stood alone in a crossroad. Drivers insulted

him, shouting “horrible things.” He wanted to run away, but the attempt was futile. A

woman emerged from a window, offering to have sex and thus “normalize” him. Paco

refused and continued running throughout the city while people pointed at him. Finally,

60
See “Riverita” in Roberto Mariani, Cuentos de oficina (Buenos Aires: EUDEBA, 1965 [1925]),
51-61.
61
See, for instance, Bernardo Kordon’s representations of homosexual men in the 1930s: Bernardo
Kordon, Reina del Plata (Buenos Aires: Jorge Alvarez, 1946), 64-9.
278
his nightmare came to an end when he touched the body of another young man who had

spent the night with him. He woke up smiling.62

What stands out in this dream is the boundary between homosexuality on one side

and “normal” society on the other, which is represented by the sun, drivers and the

woman. Paco Jamandreu presents himself as somebody who is “different” and despised

by society. He can only express this different self positively through sexual relations with

another man. This experience of stigmatization is especially interesting because Paco was

not a marginal person. At the time he had this dream, he was already a famous cartoonist

and stage designer. A few years later, Paco Jamandreu became Eva Perón’s exclusive

fashion designer and friend. But despite being immensely successful, Paco led a life as a

homosexual within a subculture that was separate from the dominant model of

heterosexual family life. This suggests a new historical phenomenon and very different

from early twentieth-century maricas. One of the indicators of the moral strength of

social norms, especially those promoted by science and religion through all kinds of

media, was the emergence of the concept of amorales. This idea referred to men who

accepted receptive sexual intercourse from other men, whereas those who performed the

“active” role were not included. The term in itself is revealing of the new socio-cultural

developments. Amorales were those outside of the prevailing morality. That is to say, on

the one hand, there were those who supposedly followed the life of the majority, living in

“normal” families; on the other hand, there were those who violated morality by deciding

62
Paco Jamandreu, Memorias: la cabeza contra el suelo, 7-8.
279
to remain outside of family life, engaging in receptive sexual intercourse with other

men.63

Male Homosexuality, the Working-Class and Sexual Pathology

In the eyes of the working class, homosexuals seemed very different from turn-

of-the-century maricas; they continued to be amusing and in some cases, they still

succeeded as artists, dancers and musicians64 as the activities of these professions were

supposed to fit their feminine nature. But now working-class culture developed a tension

in relation to homosexuals. Their visibility was considered dangerous, and it would seem

that family men and women required the state to attack the world of homosexuals.65 In

this context, many homosexual men began concealing their identity.

In his autobiography, Oscar Hermes Villordo describes homosexuals such as

himself as fireflies amidst the darkness of the night. Other homosexual autobiographies,

such as the ones written by the sociologist Juan José Sebrelli and the existentialist writer

63
This opposition between a family-oriented moral majority and a minority of maricas who led the
lifestyle of outsiders is expressed in the autobiographies written by homosexual men. This is evident, for
instance, in the way Carlos Correas described one of his first encounters with a marica. Correas appears as
the average boy from a middle-class neighborhood who feels himself as the opposite of the marica. In
order to become a homosexual, Correas expected the marica to [destroy my resistance, my family bonds
and my friendships] “destruir mis resistencias, mis lazos familiares y de amistad.” Carlos Correas, Los
reportajes de Felix Chaneton, 32.
64
Some of the most famous artists were homosexuals, such as Miguel de Molina. For a narrative of
Molina’s life in Buenos Aires, see Miguel de Molina, Botín de guerra: autobiografía (Barcelona: Planeta,
1998).
65
See for instance “Debe prohibirse la entrada al país de ciertas revistas pornográficas,” en El
Lider, (23 January 1952); Hector Petrocelli, “Recuperación nacional y policía de costumbres,” El Pueblo,
12 March 1954; “La pornografía y los católicos,” El Pueblo, (14 March 1954); R. Valguer, “No somos un
pueblo de viciosos ni de corrompidos,” El Pueblo, (4 July 1954), “Reacción contra la procacidad,” Noticias
Gráficas, (19 July 1954), “En nombre del buen gusto y la dignidad se prohibe la ejecución de dos tangos,”
El Laborista, (10 July 1955).
280
Renato Pellegrini, describe how homosexual men developed internal jargon, body

expressions, and codes in order to cruise the streets without being noticed undesired by

others who might threaten them.66 They also developed personal networks to support

each other in the face of an unwelcoming environment.

Although the evidence suggests that homosexuals were isolated from working-

class social life and forced to hide their sexuality and any cultural manifestation

associated with same-sex relations, they did not necessarily internalize widespread

prejudices. Some homosexuals did not agree with the hegemonic view that they were

“pathological” or “amoral” subjects. In fact, rather than accept these negative

representations, they were proud of their sexuality and their life. For instance, the popular

sensationalist magazine Esto Es complained that “overt” homosexual men would send

letters to the reader columns asking to be “treated as some kind of minority and [to have]

their right to happiness recognized.”67 During the 1950s, homosexual men not only began

to write and publish about their own lives for the first time, but also embraced theories

such as French existentialism in order to understand themselves in a positive light.68 In

fact, one of the most famous existentialist intellectuals, Juan José Sebreli, developed his

66
For representations of these codes, expressions and internal jargon, see for instance Oscar
Hermes Villordo, La brasa en la mano (Buenos Aires: Bruguera, 1983), 41; Juan José Sebreli, El tiempo de
una vida (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2005), 213-220; and Renato Pellegrini, Asfalto (Buenos Aires:
Tirso, 2004), 97-9.
67
“francos homosexuales, que piden una especie de tratamiento de minoría y el reconocimiento de
su derecho a la felicidad.” Esto Es, No 61, (25 December 1951).
68
As it is with the case of Renato Pellegrini, Asfalto; and Carlos Correas, Reportajes de Felix
Chaneton. See Also Sebreli’s analysis of the literary and philosophical work of Carlos Correas, Juan José
Sebreli, El tiempo de una vida (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2005), 201-211.
281
69
understanding of this intellectual approach through his own homosexuality. When Zully

Moreno – a famous movie actress – spoke pejoratively of homosexuals in front of Paco

Jamandreu, he told her:

- My darling – I told her – you should know that if they did not exist there
would be no cinema, no ballet, no music and there wouldn’t even be some
great leaders. Don’t you know, my darling, that homosexuals won the last
war [? They were] maricones as you say, because nobody understands, the
ones who got out of jail abandoning their homes in New York, London or
Paris formed the first lines of a winner army […]. Have you ever heard of
Benavente, Chejov, García Lorca, Gide? Have you ever been told that
there was a genious named Michelangelo? What did they tell you about
Greek society? Or do you think Athens was founded at the beginning of
this century? Did you ever know who Charlemagne was? Who do you
think are the geniouses of present Italian cinema? Who is Pasolini? Who is
Visconti? Have you ever heard of Walt Whitman, Louis XVI, Cicero? Do
you know, you my love who everything judges, that everything you buy in
Paris was invented by people like that? Pefumes and silk, shoes and coats,
fashionable fabricas and creams. You see how you need homosexuals, and
they don’t need you. If you think so bad about them you should not use
anything produced by their hands. Then you, my darling, would not be
able to dress anything but [the things you can find] in Las Filipinas o El
gran barato [name of cheap bad-quality stores]. And who knows [if even
there you could find clothes made by heterosexual people].70

69
See Sebreli’s explanation of his understanding of existentialism in relation with his life
experience – and that of some of his friends – as a homosexual. Juan José Sebreli, El tiempo de una vida
(Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2005), 183-211.
70
“- Usted mi querida – le dije – tendría que saber que si ellos no existieran no habría cine, ni
ballet, ni música, ni siquiera grandes jerarcas. O usted no sabe, mi querida, que la última guerra la ganaron
homosexuales, maricones como usted dice, porque nada entiende, los que salieron de las cárceles
abandonando sus hogares de Nueva York, de Londres o París, formaron las primeras filas de un ejército
que fue vencedor? Sintió usted hablar alguna vez de Benavente, Chejov, García Lorca, Gide? Le dijeron
alguna vez que hubo un genio que se llamó Miguel Ángel? Qué le contaron de la sociedad griega? O usted
cree que Atenas se fundó a principios de siglo? Supo alguna vez quien fue Carlomagno? Qué cree usted
que son los genios del cine italiano de hoy? Quién es Pasolini? Quién es Visconti? Ha oido hablar de Walt
Whitman, de Luis XVI, de Cicerón? Sabe, usted, mi amor, que todo lo pregona que todo lo que usted
compra en París, está inventado por gente así? Perfumes y sedas, zapatos y abrigos, estampados y cremas.
Ya ve como usted necesita de los homosexuales, y no ellos de usted. Si usted piensa tan mal de ellos no
debería usar nada que salga de sus manos. Entonces usted, mi querida, no se podría vestir nada más que en
Las Filipinas o El gran barato. Y eso quíen sabe.” Paco Jamandreu, Memorias: la cabeza contra el suelo,
92-3.
282
The autobiographies of homosexual men suggest that these kinds of responses

were not unusual among them. In some cases, they translated foreign authors who had

spoken positively about homosexuality. More importantly, homosexual men did not

merely resist the hegemonic social prejudices about same-sex sexuality in intellectual,

political, or theoretical terms; rather, they were defiant in everyday attitudes. In the letters

to the editor published in Esto Es, a reader complained about an incident involving two

effeminate men. He was observing them with disgust when they noticed him. Instead of

feeling ashamed, as the reader expected, the homosexual men accentuated their

effeminate mannerisms and laughed at him. Another letter to the editor, written under the

pseudonym “Free Thinker,” asserted that the problem with homosexuals was that they:

…do not limit themselves to their circles, but instead they try by every
possible means to widen their influence, conquering new accomplices
among normal people and claiming that their abnormality constitutes a
sign of superior humanity.71

These kinds of denunciations seemed to pop up frequently in this popular

magazine.72 Other newspapers complained about the widespread circulation of literary

and scientific works where homosexuality was defended as a valid sexual alternative.

See, for instance, the following comic in the fascist newspaper El Pampero where

“sodomy” is associated with the “Jewry” and the decadence of modern society:

71
“…no se limita a actuar en su círculo, sino que trata por todos los medios de ensancharlo,
conquistando nuevos secuaces entre la gente normal y pregonando su anomalía como signo de humanidad
superior.” Esto Es, No 57, (28 December 1954).
72
See, for instance, Esto Es, no. 37, (10 Auguast 1954); Esto Es, no. 43, (21 September 1954);
Esto Es, no. 57, (28 December1954); Esto Es, no. 61, (25 January 1955).
283

Figure 9: “Dejar Constancia” by Muñiz, El Pampero, 31st agost 1943. [Text: “When
the invaders took Paris without even shooting once, all the aristocratic sodomites of
which we [also] suffer became hysterical and issued telegrams and manifestos ‘in defense
of art, to save works of arts and respect civilization.’ But when the Jewry bombed the city
of Giotto de Fra Angélico, of Leonardo, of Michelangelo and hundreds of other artists
more, the cradle and base of the West, their destructors were congratulated.”]
284
Text: “When the invaders took Paris without even shooting once, all the
aristocratic sodomites of which we [also] suffer became hysterical and issued
telegrams and manifestos ‘in defense of art, to save works of arts and respect
civilization.’ But when the Jewry bombed the city of Giotto de Fra Angélico, of
Leonardo, of Michelangelo and hundreds of other artists more, the cradle and base
of the West, their destructors were congratulated.”73

Many texts portraying homosexuality in a positive light began to circulate among

homosexual men in mid-twentieth century Buenos Aires.74 One text vindicating

homosexuality probably circulated by the 1930s,75 and by the late 1950s, the number of

published texts representing homosexuality positively was becoming accessible to

middle-class homosexual men. Together with a mass of homosexual men, these writers

were purported to be part of an international plot of homosexuals whose deviance would

undermine the Argentine nation. Another major newspaper denounced:

73
“Dejar Constancia” by Muñiz, El Pampero, (31 August 1943).
74
SIGLA (Society for the Integration of Argentine Gays and Lesbians) has preserved a list of
books donated to them by a homosexual man who bought them in the 1950s. The list reveals the existence
of a significant number of books vindicating homosexuality. One of those books was the Spanish
translation of The Homosexual in America by Cory, a well known treatise among gay and lesbian groups in
the United States (Donald Webster Cory, El homosexual en norteamerica (Mexico: Compañia General de
Ediciones, 1952). Some Argentine homosexuals also knew the work of the Italian writer Pier Paolo
Pasolini. By the 1950s, the man who donated the books to SIGLA owned Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Ragazzi di
vita (Milano: Garzanti, 1955). Another famous author among homosexual men was Thomas Mann,
especially his book on La muerte en Venecia. The trial of Oscar Wilde also attracted interest, and there was
an account of the event translated to Spanish read by Argentine homosexuals: Frank Harris, Vida y
confesiones de Oscar Wilde (Buenos Aires: Emece, 1944). The work of Carlo Coccioli was probably
interesting for those who had strong Catholic roots; homosexuals would read Carlo Coccioli, La difícil
esperanza: novela (Mexico: Compañia General de Ediciones, 1956). Classic Greek authors who talked
about homosexuality were also famous, as well as modernists such as Paul Verlaine. Garcia Lorca was also
widely read, although his poems talking about homosexuality were not so well known. Homosexuals in
Buenos Aires read a wide variety of authors who vindicated homosexuality in different languages.
Although some books were not available in Argentina, they would buy them when they travelled abroad
and circulate them once they returned. This is what happened with the issue about homosexuality published
by the French magazine Crapouillot in 1955, no 30. This issue was dedicated to the lives and art of famous
homosexuals - Cocteau, Gide, Fersen, Wilde, Genet. Another French magazine with some circulation in
Buenos Aires was Arcadie. In his autobiography, Jamandreu mentions authors like Roger Peyreffite, Jean
Genet, Paul Verlaine and Jean Cocteau. See Paco Jamandreu, Memorias, 94.
75
The most famous work vindicating same-sex sexuality in the 1930s was that of Alberto Nin
Frias, Alexis o el significado del temperament urano (Madrid: Morata, 1932).
285
Day by day, the city – especially downtown – is becoming the favorite
place for pederasts from this and other countries. International
homosexuals swarmed throughout her [the city]. 76

The supposed international plot was a rhetorical exaggeration that emerged

throughout the Americas by the mid-twentieth century. The same view would soon shape

international Cold War discourse.77 Nevertheless, it seems that homosexual men were

defiant and constructed their collective identity not via the internalization of widespread

negative social attitudes; on the contrary, some of the evidence suggests a positive

assertion of a shared subculture that they believed only tolerant, educated, and open-

minded people could understand.

I stress homosexuals’ positive self-understanding because it is important to

consider the possibility that this collective sexual identity was not a mere by-product of a

repressive society. Understanding repression as the driving force in the construction of

sexuality obscures the historical constitution of sexual identities. The prejudices against

homosexual men were not the major driving force in the construction of a homosexual

subculture. The decisive element leading homosexual men to conceive of themselves as a

group who shared a common experience may have been the formation of their own space

of sociability as a relatively independent sphere.

76
"La ciudad, sobre todo el centro de la ciudad, cada días se conviert más en el lugar preferido por
los pederastas, de este país y de otros. En ella ya pululan homosexuales internacionales”. In: “Degenerado:
cuatro criminales, un culpable,” Parlamento, Year 1, No 3, (21/27 September 1947).

77
For an analysis of the representations of homosexuality as a threat in Cold War American
discourse, see “The Homosexual Menace: The Politics of Sexuality in Cold War America,” in John
D’Emilio, Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics and the University (New York: Routledge,
1992); and David Johnson, The Lavender Scare: the Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the
Federal Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). For an analysis of the same topic in
Brazil, see Benjamin Cowan, “Sex and the Security State: Gender, Sexuality and ‘Subversion’ at Brazil’s
Escola Superior de Guerra, 1964-1985,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 16, no. 2 (May 2007): 459-81.
286
Early twentieth-century maricas also responded against prejudices, but they

would apparently do so in a very different way. Intellectual criticism was unusual, and

early twentieth-century maricas were not interested in refuting “abnormality.” Because

the idea of abnormality was absent from early twentieth-century plebeian culture,

maricas would not take it seriously. At this time, maricas made fun of social norms and

the attitude of physicians. Their comic responses were not exclusively related to their

group, but were a shared form of expression among the urban lower strata. “Throwing the

sandals” meant to lose one’s scruples; it did not imply the constitution of an alternative

point of view. Mid-twentieth-century homosexuals seem to have developed other

strategies to face discrimination and prejudice. While making fun of those who attacked

them and responding with effeminate gestures continued to be a form of resistance, new

strategies appeared. Homosexuals developed an ideological defense drawn from a vast

literature. They began to see themselves as a minority, as they claimed in the letters they

sent to the magazine Esto Es.78

In their autobiographies, homosexual men explained how they met with one

another in private apartments or how they kept a boundary between themselves and

others in the public sphere through common codes and jargon.79 In public interaction, for

instance, a homosexual man could tell another one that a third man also belonged to their

group by mentioning the fact that he “understood English.” The rest of the people took

this message literally, whereas the message’s recipient knew that it was a reference to

78
See quote 67.
79
The topic of having an apartment of one’s own in order to avoid the risks of street cruising and
socializing is narrated in all the autobiographical texts written by homosexual men; see, for instance,
Villordo, La brasa en la mano, 61-2 and 71, Jamandreu, Memorias, 58.
287
homosexuality. Only homosexual men “understood” such codes – they were entendidos

as we say in Spanish. The association of homosexuality with “understanding” had

additional implications. It seems that homosexuals perceived themselves as a group of

people who “understood” that there was nothing pathological involved in their sexual

practices. My hypothesis is that the establishment of a network that formed a relatively

autonomous subculture gave homosexual men a sense of community, a sense that the

prejudice against them helped to reinforce. Above all, this sense of community stemmed

from sharing a space outside of working and middle-class sociability.

As it seemed to be the case with female prostitution and child labor, increasing

state measures condemning male same-sex sexuality also paralleled the apparently

declining tolerance in civil society. In 1933, the Buenos Aires sheriff passed an edict

against male homosexuals for the first time. The edict ordered all police stations to keep

track of all “pederasts,” sending them to a special investigation division.80 Evidence

suggests, however, that the police persecuted same-sex sexuality even before the edict

itself was issued. According to a French magazine, a few months before the edict came

into effect, a number of Argentine homosexuals had already migrated to Barcelona.

Although it is not possible to know how many homosexual men had gone to Spain, it was

enough to have an impact in Barcelona’s nightlife and attract the attention of a French

journalist who wrote four articles about them.81

80
“Detención de pederastas activos o pasivos – Procedimiento. Orden del día 17 octubre de 1933.
En lo sucesivo, cuando sean detenidos por contravención policial sujetos conocidos como pederastas
activos o pasivos, deberán ser remitidios con la respectiva remisión a la División Investigaciones, en lugar
de la Alcaidía de Contraventores. Oportunamente, la División Investigaciones enviará a los mismos a
aquella Alcaidía.” Revista de Policía, Year XXXVI, no 849 (1 November 1933), 830
81
“On a fermé,” in Détective: Le grand hebdomadaire des faits divers, no. 249 (3 August, 1933);
no. 250 (10 August 1933); no. 251 (17 August 1933); no. 252 (24 August 1933).
288
By the 1950s, police raids against homosexuals were quite frequent, especially

when the state needed to show off how it “protected” families and youth against the

corruption of homosexuals.82 In addition to being repressed by the police, homosexuals

were also deprived of some of their civil rights. A number of laws banned the

homosexual vote.83 In fact, the state became more eager to intervene in social life.

The 1930s marked the end of the liberal state. The liberal idea of refraining

from state intervention in civil society expressed by Alberdi in his conceptualization of

the “open republic” came to an end. In the sphere of politics, General Uriburu deposed

Irigoyen, replacing a legally elected and constitutional government by de facto military

rule. Although there was a later return to democracy, the years between 1930 and 1943

became known as the “infamous decade” because governments were either run by the

military or elected through fraudulent means that favored the landed elite’s political

hegemony. In this context, the state not only became increasingly repressive and willing

to intervene in social life, but the changes in the sociability of the working class probably

allowed that intervention to take place with some level of support from working-class

families.

The 1930 coup did not only bring the end of liberal democracy in Argentina,

but it also propitiated the reconciliation between the elite and the Catholic Church, a

change that would also affect sexual culture. Until 1930, the Argentine elite had been

quite anti-clerical, and radical ideologies also spread anti-clericalism among the urban

82
“In late December 1954 the Buenos Aires federal police began rounding up presumed sexual
deviants, mostly male homosexuals identified in the press as amorales.” Donna Guy, Sex and Danger, 180.
This police raids were broadly publicized in the major newspapers, such as, La Prensa and Clarín.
83
See for instance Congreso de la Nación, Ley 11,738 (1933), article 6.1, and Congreso de la
Nación, Decreto 11,976 (1945), article 3.
289
poor. After the 1930s, this situation changed dramatically. The growing influence of

Catholicism on the state created an impulse for the “defense” of families. After the 1930s,

Catholicism not only played a role in terms of its increasing influence on the design of

new policies, but the importance of Catholic organizations in civil society also became

crucial. In 1934, the Congreso Eucarístico Internacional was celebrated in Buenos Aires,

drawing conservative Catholic activists from all over the country and the world. The

activism of the Acción Católica was felt throughout society; Catholicism began to voice

its opposition to any threat to “traditional” gender roles.

The renaissance of Catholicism did not only take place among the elite; a large

portion of activists came from the middle-class, and working-class Catholic associations

also experienced a new boom. In fact, the social view of Catholicism became so

hegemonic by the 1940s that it would be later constitute the base of Peronist social

policies and worldview.84

The indications of a possible development of stricter moral codes during the

1930s can be observed not only through the influence of the Catholic Church and the

state transformation and changes in sexual legislation. In addition, a cascade of books and

magazines on sexual morality began to promote sexual conformity, restraint, family life,

sex within marriage for both men and women, and parenthood rather than life in the

84
See Loris Zanatta, Del estado liberal a la nación católica: iglesia y ejército en los orígenes del
peronismo, 1930-1943 (Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 1996); and Omar Acha,
“‘Organicemos la contrarrevolución’: discursos católicos sobre la familia, la reproducción y los generos a
través de Criterio (1928-1943)” in Cuerpos, generos e identidades: estudios de historia de género en
Argentina ed. Paula Halperín and Omar Acha (Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Signo, 2001); Omar Acha,
“Catolicismo social y feminidad en la década de 1930: de ‘damas’ a ‘mujeresm,’” ibid.
290
85
streets. There was a wave of manuals explaining the right way of forming a family, with

a special focus on the correct norms to follow when it came to sex within marriage.86

Some of these books were produced locally, while others were a translation of European

or American texts. In all the cases, however, the books were sold for a price accessible to

working-class families, and it is clear the audience was working-class men and women.

In fact, there were not only books on marriage and family life promoting all kinds of

moral regulations; there was also a growing field of magazines popularizing medical,

85
For an analysis of this popular bibliography, see Hugo Vezzetti, “Las promesas de la sexología,”
in Hugo Vezzetti, Aventuras de Freud en el país de los argentinos (Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1996). See also
Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento, 34. In his study of the history of psychoanalysis in Argentina,
Mariano Ben Plotkin argues that despite the theoretical diversity, Argentine psychoanalysis opted for a
traditional approach regarding family structure and the role of women in society. See Mariano Ben Plotkin,
Freud in the Pampas. The Emergence of a Psychoanalitic Culture in Argentina (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2001).
86
One of the most famous manuals was Theodor Hendrik van de Velde, El matrimonio perfecto:
estudio de su fisiología y su técnica (Buenos Aires: Claridad, 1955). This book was reedited several times,
the first time in 1939, and then in 1948, 1955 and 1960. Editorial Claridad was directed by the Socialists,
who kept a crucial role in the divulgation of “science” despite the fact that their role in politics was not
significant. Their books were widely read by the working and middle classes; they were affordable and
meant for a wide audience. Claridad also translated and published other works by the same author, such as
Theodor Hendrik van de Velde, Aversión y atracción en el matrimonio (Buenos Aires: Claridad, 1948); and
Theodor Hendrik van de Velde, Fertilidad y esterilidad en el matrimonio (Buenos Aires: Claridad, 1949).
There were innumerable works advising men and women how to manage their sexual and affective life. See
for instance, F Charmot, El amor humano: de la infancia al matrimonio (Buenos Aires: Difusión, 1944);
Lázaro Sirlin, Hacia la cultura sexual: estudio de la educación sexual desde sus comienzos hasta el
matrimonio, ética y edad del matrimonio, el problema sexual (Buenos Aires: Claridad, 1940); Enrique Díaz
de Guijarro, La reforma del matrimonio civil por las leyes eugénicas (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de la
Universidad, 1938); John Levy; Ruth Learned Munroe; L Salom, La felicidad en el matrimonio (Buenos
Aires: J. Gil, 1940); Herman H Rubin, Eugenesia y armonía sexual: enciclopedia para el matrimonio:
sorprendentes descubrimientos médicos, prevención de enfermedades y consejos para los desórdenes
comunes (Buenos Aires: Claridad, 1941); Paul Häberlin, Problemas del matrimonio (Buenos Aires: Argos,
1948); Alpherat, Triunfe en el amor y en el matrimonio por el horóscopo (Buenos Aires: Acuario, 1959);
Fons Jansen, Amor: en busca de una actitud espiritual Christiana en el noviazgo y el matrimonio (Buenos
Aires: C. Lohlé, 1960); Wilhelm Schmidt, Amor, matrimonio y familia: conferencias pronunciadas en
Viena (Buenos Aires: Difusión, 1941); Wilhelm Stekel; Mika Etchebehere, El matrimonio moderno
(Buenos Aires: Imán, 1943); Juan Lazarte, La Revolución sexual de nuestro tiempo: psicosociología y
crisis del matrimonio (Buenos Aires: Nervio, 1932); Rafael V Sorol, Anatomía del matrimonio (Buenos
Aires: Editorial Universitaria, 1955); Ellen Karolina Sofia Key, Amor y matrimonio (Buenos Aires:
Partenon, 1945); Pedro Figueroa Casas, Lo que debe saber el matrimonio sin hijos (Buenos Aires: El
Ateneo, 1951); Theodor Bovet; H Landschutz; M Martínez; El matrimonio: El gran misterio. Manual
para esposos y sus consejeros (Buenos Aires: El Ateneo, 1959).
291
psychiatric and criminological knowledge. These magazines promoted health as

something that could only be achieved by submitting to moral standards centered in

family life. The most evident example is “Viva Cien Anos” or “Live One Hundred

Years.”87 In order to live long, people were encouraged to marry with the “right” partner,

which was defined in multiple ways. The right marriage was between mates who were

STD-free; younger women should couple with older men and people of “appropriate”

social origin, and sexuality had to be oriented towards reproduction.

Professionals associated with ideologies from the whole political spectrum

promoted this advice. The most conservative advisors would indicate women should

abstain from sex if the purpose was anything other than having children. Some on the

political left assumed that female sexuality was a natural development. With the growth

of psychoanalysis, some professionals – especially socialists – claimed that women who

were unable to achieve sexual satisfaction would become hysterical as a consequence of

repressed sexual drives. However, the recognition and legitimacy of female sexuality did

not mean that women were encouraged to have sex outside of marriage. On the contrary,

women had to marry at a younger age than men, which meant they could satisfy their

sexual impulses within marriage. This sexual trajectory, some professionals argued,

would promote a healthy life.88

87
See, for instance, the following articles published in Viva Cien Años: Luis Bisch, “Los hijos
consolidan la felicidad del matrimonio” 1, no. 1 (October 1934); Hernani Mandolini, “Amor y
Matrimonio,” 13 Julio Endora, “La locura y los conflictos familiares,” 3, no. 1 (1936):22; Gonzalo Bosch,
“Los celos son estados afectivos en desequilibrio,” 3, no. 5 (1936): 297; Mariano Barilari, “El secreto:
comprenderse,” 3, no. 7 (1936): 412; Mario Alzua, “¿Todos pueden casarse?,” 3, no. 5 (1937): 308; W.
Benthin, “¿Con quién casarse? Fundamentos e impedimentos,” 3, no. 1 (1937): 766; W. Benthin, “¿A qué
edad debemos casarnos?,” 3, no. 12 (1937): 800.
88
The left-wing magazine Hombre de America conducted a survey that is illustrative of their
thinking about sexuality in relation to family life. It was called [Survey on sexual life, marriage and sexual
292
The new family ideology promoted by manuals and magazines sold to a

massive audience was not always as anti-sexual as the elite representations in turn-of-the-

century Buenos Aires. In fact, there were a number of serial publications that developed

columns where specialists responded to the questions of people who “needed guidance”

in order to develop a “healthy sexual life.”89 In these columns, the specialists repeatedly

encouraged their audience not only to send them letters, but also to lose their fears and

express their feelings openly in order to receive the best advice.90 In these

recommendations, professionals did not discourage masturbation but explained that

sexual intercourse was preferable if available. Young women who wrote claiming that

they were sexually desperate were actually told to marry a male partner for life and have

sex only with him.91 This would solve their problems, although female masturbation was

education] “Encuesta sobre la vida sexual, matrimonio y educación sexual.” The title itself implies that
sexual life and marriage are inseparable, and in fact, the questions assume such unity. After asking
interviewees if they were satisfied with their sexual life in question Number One, the survey asked if they
had received a sexual education that had made them able to enjoy all of the possibilities of life. Question
Number Four plainly assumed that sexual life was taking place within marriage and asked what
interviewees thought about that institution. If readers were unhappy with marriage as the institution to
mediate sexuality, the survey asked them what alternative they proposed. See Hombre de América, Año 1,
no 1, (1940):21.
89
One example of this is the magazine Hombre de América.
90
In one of the responses, the writer tells a man who sent a letter asking about his sexual problems:
[Why do you have so many qualms to speak clearly about what happens and worries you so much? You
should consider that you are writing to friends who are trying to understand and help. Be more confident
and write again trying to do it clearly.] “¿Por qué tiene tantos reparos para hablar claramente de lo que le
pasa y que tanto le preocupa? Ud. Debe tener en cuenta que al escribirnos lo hace dirigiéndose a amigos
que tratarán de comprenderlo y ayudarle. Tenga más confianza y vuélvanos a escribir procurando ser más
claro.” In “Consultorio Psico-Sexual,” Hombre de América, no. 3, (April 1940): 34.
91
The erotic dreams that torment you and the sexual obsession you experience are the natural
consequences of your spinsterhood and the sexual abstinence in which it condemns you to live. If you
follow this path you could acquire a serious neurosis which you should avoid trying to achieve a normal
sexual life as soon as possible. That is the only possible remedy for your problems] “Esos sueños eróticos
que tanto la atormentan y la obsesión sexual con que vive son las consecuencias naturales de su soltería y
de la abstinencia sexual a que ésta la condena. Siguiendo por ese camino, usted puede llegar a adquirir
alguna neurosis seria que debe tratar de evitar procurando realizar una vida sexual normal cuando antes.
293
not really condemned but seen as “natural” if it was not performed excessively (in which

case it threatened to become a vice – for both men and women).

The acceptance of sexual expression within the boundaries of marriage,

however, was in direct contrast with the revulsion that these professionals expressed for

any form of same-sex sexuality. Some publications oriented to vast working-class

audiences, professionals encouraged families to watch for signs of homosexuality in their

children, especially during adolescence.92 In the case of homosexuality, parents were

supposed to look for help according to their beliefs. Surprisingly, advisors in publications

with a massive audience told parents to turn to either psychiatrists or priests. The

attribution of amorality and abnormality are usually mixed in these claims against same-

sex sexuality, and its incompatibility was not of interest to the writers. Diverging

epistemologies seemed to have formed a united front under the banner of preventing

homosexuality, even when they had opposing views on many other topics.

With the increasing institutionalization and cultural legitimacy of

psychoanalysis came the intervention of this discipline as yet another authoritative

discourse in the realm of sexual advice. The Revista de Psicoanálisis published numerous

articles explaining the “causes” of homosexuality and the ways to treat this form of

Ese es el único remedio posible para sus males.” In “Consultorio Psicosexual” Hombre de América, no. 6,
(Agosto 1940): 33.
92
See for instance Rafael Ramallón, “43 millones de anomalías del instinto sexual,” Viva Cien
Años 5, no. 7 (July 1938). For an analysis of this bibliography and its relationship with the condemnation of
homosexuality in academic journals, see: Marisa Miranda, “Prostitución y homosexualidad en Argentina: el
discurso eugénico como sustrato teórico de biopolíticas represivas, 1930-1983,” in Darwinismo social y
eugenesia en el mundo latino, ed. Marisa Miranda and Gustavo Vallejo (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2005).
The famous publishing house “Tor” offered a number of books protecting people from the social threat of
homosexuality. These texts had an important impact because Tor was probably the largest popularizing
publishing house, with an amazing distribution and very low prices that presented a wide audience with
books popularizing all kinds of scientific disciplines and artistic expressions. See J. Gomez Nerea, Freud y
las degeneraciones (Buenos Aires: Tor, circa 1940).
294
sexual desire as well as how to prevent it from happening to young people.93

Psychoanalysts began treating homosexuals, whose anonymous lives they described in

the analysis of their cases published in academic journals. These cases illustrated how

some middle-class families seemed to have followed advice and watched for signs of

homosexuality. A worried mother, for instance, searched the private correspondence of

her son finding that he was in love with another man. The young man, who was studying

and whose family expected him to become a successful professional and family man, told

his story to the psychoanalyst and expressed his discomfort with being homosexual.94

Homosexual men, however, would not always express such discomfort with

their identity. The pressure to conform to moral standards and conceal one’s sexual

interest in other men was apparently stronger for middle-class men. Working-class

families did not seem to welcome homosexual men, but these men had more options to

engage in an independent life that did not require limiting their visibility so much. From

the 1930s on, homosexual culture was probably divided along class lines.

93
In the second number of the Revista de Psicoanálisis, Arnaldo Rascovsky, one of the founders of
psychoanalysis in Argentina, wrote an article meant to popularize this discipline’s views of children’s
sexual development. In this article, Rascovsky reproduces the traditional Freudian view where
homosexuality is a stage in the development of normal individuals who finally reach heterosexual desire
when adults. Adult homosexuals, thus, are presented as cases of arrested development; that is to say,
individuals who have remained in a stage that normal development should overcome. See Arnaldo
Rascovsky, “Consideraciónes psicosomáticas sobre la evolución sexual del niño,” Revista de Psicoanálisis,
Año 1, no. 2, (1943): 198-9. For other articles on homosexuality (both male and female) see Angel Garma,
“Paranoia y homosexualidad,” Revista de Psicoanálisis, Año 1, no. 4, (1944): 555-78; Edmund Bergler,
“La respectiva importancia de la realidad y la fantasía en la genesis de la homosexualidad femenina,”
Revista de Psicoanálisis, Año 2, no. 3 (1946): 514-42; Marie Langer, “Psicoanálisis de una mujer
homosexual,” Revista de Psicoanálisis, Año 5, no. 3 (1948): 565-77; Luis Rascovsky, “Psicodinamismos
en un caso de homosexualidad femenina,” Revista de Psicoanálisis, Año 10, no. 1 (1953): 75-89. One of
the more famous sexologists in the 1940s claimed that [for psychoanalysts, the most interesting treatment –
of homosexuality – according to its causes, is psychotherapy.] “Para los psicoanalistas, el tratamiento más
interesante [de la homosexualidad], de acuerdo a las causas, es la psicoterapia.” Juan Lazarte, “La
intersexualidad y los estados intersexuales,” Hombre de América, no. 4 (1940): 36.
94
David Liberman, “Génesis de las elecciones de objeto en un homosexual,” Revista de
Psicoanálisis 8 (1950): 478-513.
295
Working-Class and Middle-Class Male Homosexuality

In Asphalt, a novel written by Relato Pellegrini, the author describes an

encounter with a middle-class homosexual man who explains how class boundaries

defined different sexual identities in the early 1940s. The novel is based on Pellegrini’s

own experience when he arrived in Buenos Aires after abandoning his school and family

in Cordoba at age 17.

The first days after arriving to the city were tough for Pellegrini. Being alone in

the city with only a little money, he was unable to resolve his desperate financial

situation. He found several men with whom he had sex in hotels where he was able to

stay overnight, but he could not find anyone who could help him. One day he was

cruising on the corner of Corrientes and Bernardo de Yrigoyen,95 a famous spot among

homosexuals. A man pulled him into a taxi and explained to him that he was almost taken

by the police, as there were several undercover agents watching homosexual cruising in

the area. Pellegrini was grateful and accepted the invitation to share a drink in a nearby

pub. The man asked him if he was “homosexual,” a word unfamiliar to Pellegrini. He

asked if he meant “invert,” which gave the man the opportunity to explain how he

perceived the boundaries between different types of men who had sex with other men.

The man argued:

Inverts are those that people refer to as marica or puto [faggot]. They are
something like the degeneration of homosexuality. Because of them the

95
This place is right across the Obelisk, and the corner used to be occupied by “El Trust Joyero
Relojero,” one of the most famous jewelry stores in the city for several decades until it closed and the build
a MacDonald’s.
296
plebe makes no difference. They call everybody putos [faggots] and that’s
it.96

Although the actual line marking the difference between homosexuals on one

hand and inverts, maricas or putos on the other is not clearly expressed in these words, it

seems that the boundaries were firm in the eyes of this fictional character.97 Homosexuals

such as himself were respectable people, unlike the others who were degenerates and had

given male, same-sex sexuality a bad name.98 The reason why homosexuals were

respectable is because they would choose to play it safe, concealing their identities, living

as entendidos. In most cases, homosexuals kept a masculine façade and a double life.99

Being in the closet, however, did not mean that they found their sexual identity

problematic. They believed that it was necessary to do so because ignorant people were

unable to distinguish between them and the sexually degenerated version of same-sex

sexuality represented by maricas. Instead of identifying their context as one of socially

constructed discrimination, middle-class homosexuals believed that maricas were

responsible for their fate. If maricas could behave and stop their perverse sexual

96
“Al invertido la gente llama marica o puto. Resultan algo así como la degeneración del
homosexualismo. Por culpa de ellos el vulgo no establece distingos. Llama putos a todos y se acabó.”
Renato Pellegrini, Asfalto, 108. I interviewed the author who claims that this situation was a real
experience.
97
In fact, this is a distinction that the senior homosexual men I interviewed stressed from either a
middle-class or a working-class point of view.
98
In fact, Paco Jamandreu referred constantly to this distinction between the lower class effeminate
marica and the middle-class masculine homosexual throughout his autobiography. See, for instance, Paco
Jamandreu, Memorias, 144.
99
This is the case of the main character in Oscar Hermes Villordo, La brasa en la mano (Buenos
Aires: Bruguera, 1983). Two of the men I interviewed also had this approach towards their identity, and in
their stories it became clear that this was a generalized pattern. It is also the case with some of the
interviews I consulted from the Oral Archive of SIGLA (Sociedad de Integración Gay Lésbica Argentina).
297
promenades and act as “normal” people, then everybody would understand that sex

between men could be pure and even edifying.100

Maricas apparently viewed the situation very differently. They could have been

more visible than homosexuals because they engaged in a feminine gender performance.

The attitudes of both homosexuals and maricas could be responses to very different

contexts, rather than an opposition between cowards who lived in the closet and heroes

who were willing to struggle in the face of social intolerance. Homosexuals seemed to be

middle-class men who had been raised in more culturally conservative families and were

worried about their status in the eyes of others. For these families, a homosexual member

could ruin their reputation.101 Sebreli believed that the middle-class had only recently

achieved an upward mobility differentiating them from the poor, and they reaffirmed

their difference by presenting themselves as morally superior to the working class.102 In

this context, adopting open effeminate mannerisms could harm not only one’s

relationship with the family, but also access to jobs and the social capital available

through social networks. Middle-class homosexuals might have been unwilling to face

this fate. Following the moral standards of their class, they probably believed that

socially unacceptable behavior should be kept from everyone’s sight.

100
An example of this moral judgment of middle-class homosexuals against maricas can be found
in the autobiographical texts I have referred to throughout this chapter. In his autobiography, Jamandreu
says [I’ve always hated effeminacy [mariconeo]. Homosexuals are normal human beings. Pansies make me
sick.] “Yo odié siempre el mariconeo. El homosexual es un ser normal, correcto. El maricón me dá asco.”
Paco Jamandreu, Memorias, 92.
101
See Juan José Sebreli, Buenos Aires, vida cotidiana, 88-9.
102
Sebreli explores this throughout his chapter on middle class morality, Ibid., 78-108.
298
The situation was apparently very different for maricas, who seemed to be

mostly of working-class origin.103 Their families’ perception of them was not necessarily

too different from that of middle-class families. Both the working and the middle classes

rejected same-sex sexuality as a vice, a form of pathology and an immoral activity.

However, it might have been easier for maricas to abandon their families and depend on

themselves. Some social scientists have argued that people of working-class origin are

sometimes forced to become self-sufficient at an earlier age.

The case was very different for middle-class homosexuals. Middle-class

youngsters remained tied to their families until later in life, especially if they studied at

the university and wished to become professionals, or if they wanted to inherit the family

business. In addition to the pressure to satisfy their families, middle-class homosexuals

faced other pressures. They needed to lead a double life in order to avoid having

problems in their jobs and to sustain the networks crucial for their social advancement.

Professionals, bankers, teachers, merchants and others in middle-class positions were

forced to keep the right appearance in the eyes of others at the risk of losing their jobs.

Maricas did not face this problem.

Conclusion

If the transition traced in this chapter as a hypothesis could be corroborated, it

would seem that sex between men and the identities developed in relation to these

specific sexual practices had been historically shaped by the transformations in the

103
In his narrative, Correas emphasized the working-class origin of maricas. See Carlos Correas,
Los Reportajes de Felix Chaneton, 122-5.
299
sociability of the urban lower strata. My hypothesis is that the changing class-structure of

Buenos Aires affected the way people interacted with each other, and in that context,

different forms of sociability arose. This should not be taken as a mere determination

from class transformations, but rather as the result of major changes in society, culture

and politics of which sexuality was an aspect. Instead of approaching sexuality as an

autonomous sphere understood through the construction of abstract identity-models, I

have developed an analysis where sexuality constitutes one of the many threads in a

broader socio-cultural process affected by transformations.

Through this approach, I have presented the ways in which sex between men

gradually might have become a source for the construction of gradually exclusive

homosexual and marica identities. These identities most likely emerged in a context

where individuals experienced the formation of relatively separate spheres of life that

differentiated them from family sociability. Some sources suggest that family sociability

became increasingly important among both the middle and working classes after the

1930s, men who had sex with other men were probably perceived as outsiders. Some

homosexuals increasingly felt that they were part of a collective or minority.

The changes affecting same-sex sexuality probably shaped the life and sexuality

of other men and women from the urban working class, as well as the middle class.

Buenos Aires apparently experienced a shift between the 1920s and 1930s, from the

prevalence of an urban underworld of marginality towards a different type of working

and middle-class sociability. In this new sociability, family life was crucial while

prostitution, crime and same-sex sexuality became unusual. This transformation was

possible because of the gradual stabilization of the job market, the end of workers’
300
circulation throughout the city, the growing possibilities for women and the general

increase in the income of the lower strata. Working-class families became increasingly

able to own their home, send children to school and refrain from participating in crime

and prostitution as survival strategies. All of these changes together led to a shift in the

way the state and the urban population approached sexual morality and daily sociability.
301

CONCLUSION

Throughout my dissertation, I approached sexuality as a social sphere shaped by

urban sociability. The specific sexual practices, representations and identities I explored

were the result of a complex interaction of a number of diverse factors: the demographic

structure, the nature of the job market and the broader socioeconomic context, the

characteristics of family life, and the culture of the popular classes and its way of

understanding masculinity and femininity. Throughout this study, I presented the features

affecting male sexuality among the urban lower strata in relationship to a larger urban

sociability.

This historical approach provides a picture of sexual practices and identities that

is very different from that of discourse analysis. The exploration of sexuality through

discourse analysis often implied an almost exclusive focus on how the elite, professionals

and the state viewed the sexuality of the popular classes. Instead of conducting a history

of sexual practices and identities, discourse analysis has carried on a history of the

perception of others who observed the situation “from above,” leaving their impressions

written in medical and criminological representations. My claim, however, is that

discourse analysis poses problems even within this limited scope, as it cannot account

properly for ideological distortions. The ideological character of elite and professional

sources only makes sense in contrast to an understanding of social reality; it cannot be

inferred from an internal understanding of the history of science and elite thinking. A

socio-cultural history of sexuality, on the contrary, provides a very different view. It is


302
not only able to put state and elite discourse in context, but it also illuminates the life of

the popular classes. This should not imply a return to traditional social history when

cultural aspects were sometimes dismissed as irrelevant. On the contrary, it implies

integrating the study of culture and society from different angles into a historical

narrative.

Choosing an analysis across very different types of sources with both qualitative

and quantitative information on sociability, economic and demographic structure and the

culture of gender and sexuality implies selecting a focus. In this dissertation, the focus

integrating dissimilar data was sex between men, but I have also given closer

consideration to male sexuality, and more generally, to the sexual and gender culture of

the popular classes. The study of sex between men tied different threads into a unified

social process throughout all of the chapters and constituted a major point of reference

Once I ordered the empirical evidence concerning sex between men, it was

evident that it occupied a different place at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth

century than it did in the mid-twentieth century. In turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires,

nobody would draw a conclusion about gender/sexual identity from same-sex sexual

practices, which is the fundamental characteristic of modern homosexual identity. Having

receptive sexual intercourse with other men was a crucial aspect of the identity of

maricas, but their identity was not just the result of a “sexual orientation” or a specific

role in sexual intercourse. On the contrary, maricas identified themselves and were

represented by others through their participation in the urban underworld of robbery and

female prostitution. Cross-dressing, exchanging sex for money and thievery was a

fundamental part of being a marica. Sex with other men may have been a vital aspect of
303
marica identity, but it played a very different role than it plays today in the definition of

the heterosexual/homosexual divide.

In fact, between 1880 and 1930, a division between heterosexual and homosexual

people would not have made sense, despite the fact that the term homosexual was used

sometimes as an adjective to qualify same-sex sexuality. Claiming that the modern

American representation of homosexuality made no sense for this time period is not

merely saying that the “word” did not exist; it implies a departure from a nominalist

approach. A considerable number of plebeian men engaged indistinctly in the penetration

of both female and male sexual outlets, believing that they preserved their male status as

long as they were the “active” partner. These men were neither heterosexuals nor

homosexuals. The best term to describe them is “lunfardos,” a category that despite its

sexual implications was not based in a specific association with sexual practices.

Lunfardos were men – usually single and young – affected by an unstable job market,

willing to engage in assault against private property and exploit female prostitutes. These

men were frequently eager to have sex with women and men, but that was not what made

them lunfardos.

Instead of exploring the social life of those men who accepted the role of “active”

partner in same-sex sexual intercourse, many scholars have characterized this cultural

belief common across Latin America in abstract terms, as a gender-hierarchical type of

homosexuality. By classifying sexuality into abstract models, however, they have failed

to understand the interrelationship between sexuality, society and culture.

In contrast to this approach, I have stressed the importance of distinguishing

between representations and practices, and how they relate in different cultural contexts.
304
Although plebeian men who engaged in sex with other men usually claimed to only act

like a “man” rather than accepting the receptive role associated with being “like a

woman,” examining different types of information revealed that these men were probably

concealing their actual participation in stigmatized forms of sexual intercourse. It seems

that it was not unusual for plebeian men to opt or be forced to perform the receptive role,

especially among the youngsters and those who had the most unstable jobs. And this

portion of plebeian men was not a clear-cut group differentiated from the rest of the

popular classes; but rather this probably represented a moment in the life of most

plebeian men.

What this means is that the gender-hierarchical model of male same-sex sexuality

was (at least in Buenos Aires at this time) a myth resulting from concealing information,

which was facilitated by anonymity and encouraged by the stigmatization of what was

viewed as having sex “like a woman.” In fact, although maricas were associated with the

exclusive practice of this ‘female role,’ they usually engaged in the ‘male’ or ‘active role’

too. It would seem that they even had sexual relations with women. In order to

understand the interplay of representations and practices in this turn-of-the-century

plebeian world, it is necessary to carry on a contextual analysis, rather than establishing

abstract models that reinforce plebeian representations assuming that they were accurate

descriptions of social life. In my research, all representations were contrasted with

practices and socio-cultural processes to illuminate the way they related to social reality.

This allowed a reading of the sources against the grain in a way that discourse analysis

and the modeling of sexuality into abstract types usually fails to accomplish.
305
The analysis of sexuality from this point of view also contributes to our

understanding of the historiography of the popular classes. Despite the interest in

integrating the study of sexuality into the heart of the social sciences by showing how

sexuality affects social and cultural life, the scholarship about this topic is usually a

specialty relegated to a separate field. In many cases, by confining themselves to the

study of sexual representations, scholars interested in the study of sexuality fail to show

how their field of study can contribute to the exploration of broader social processes. I

believe that the answer to this conundrum lies in the further exploration of a socio-

cultural approach to the history of sexuality.

This perspective also prevents understanding sexuality as a realm marked by an

evolution from a repressive past to a progressive present. Although Michel Focault

warned historians about this view, the analysis of texts produced by professionals and the

state carried on with no other element of contrast makes it difficult to develop an

alternative interpretation of the transformations of sexuality throughout time. This is why

the study of sexuality—and especially the study of sex between people of the same

gender—still constitutes sometimes a study of state repression, social persecution and

negative cultural perceptions. The enterprise of finding how sexual identities emerged at

a certain time in history fails to achieve its goals without the analysis of sociability.

Exploring the social construction of sexual identity requires an exploration of the

relationship between sexuality and sociability through the lens of a differentiation

between practices, representations and identities and grounding the analysis of social and

cultural data by integrating multiple sources.


306
Throughout this exploration, I considered the transformation of sexual life and its

implications for society. From the 1920s to the 1940s, the definition of masculinity and

the understanding of sex between men in Buenos Aires changed significantly among the

urban lower strata. The definition of masculinity through profuse sexual activity leading

to sex with female prostitutes and men declined. Being sexually active continued to be

important for a man, but by the 1940s, other more important issues had probably

consolidated a new understanding of masculinity among the working and middle class.

Now men derived their sense of masculinity from sports, fatherhood and the role of

breadwinner. These new sets of issues had been absent from turn-of-the-century plebeian

sociability, and it emerged as the result of major transformations in the social structure of

Buenos Aires. Understanding that social structure was fundamental because the same

cultural feature can achieve a completely different effect in different social contexts, as it

was the case with female sexual restraint.

Between 1880 and 1930, the idea that “respectable” women were supposed to

refrain from sexual activity outside marriage encouraged prostitution, whereas the same

idea strengthened family life after the 1930s. In the first period, female confinement at

home reinforced the scarcity of sexual outlets eagerly demanded by a disproportionate

number of plebeian men who were willing to pay for it. A male sexual demand fostered

by peer pressure together with limited job opportunities for women encouraged

prostitution. Between the 1920s and the 1940s, social transformations intertwined with

female sexual restraint in a different manner. Due to a disproportionate migration of

women coming from the hinterlands and the end of trans-Atlantic migration, Buenos

Aires reached a demographic balance in the proportion of men and women. In addition,
307
women enjoyed more opportunities in the expanding industrial economy that took them

away from prostitution. Female sexual restraint became a crucial vehicle for the

constitution of family sociability. Understanding the changing consequences of female

sexual restraint requires an exploration of the interaction between material constraints

and cultural representations. Without an analysis of this context, female sexual restraint

would be perceived as the same throughout time.

This impossibility of perceiving historical change has strongly affected the study

of sex between men. Because the term marica continues to exist today as pejorative

reference, only an analysis of the practices, identities and social context can draw

historical change. A strict nominalist approach would conclude that there is no change

because there is no variation in the category used to refer to a group of people. But this

implies ignoring how the relationship between same-sex sexuality and sociability has

evolved throughout time. A careful look into the life of the subjects referred to as maricas

at the turn-of-the-century, and maricas from the mid-twentieth and the twenty-first

century reveals how the same term can refer to different groups of people. From 1880 to

1930, the word marica referred to effeminate, male, cross-dressers who usually worked

as prostitutes and participated in the urban underworld of lunfardos and prostitutes. And

the term marica did not encompass the totality of male same-sex sexuality. Many

plebeian men would have sex with each other without drawing the conclusion that this

deviated them in any sense from mainstream male identity. By the 1950s, it seems that

maricas could not survive through prostitution; they cross-dressed only in private and as

their relation with the world of crime had been apparently severed, some sources suggest

that they began to cement a relatively autonomous urban subculture. In addition, there
308
were men who had sex with other men but refused to be labeled maricas. These men

were usually middle-class “homosexuals” who kept a low profile, intending to present

themselves to the world as masculine and who also formed a relatively autonomous

subculture.

Today, in the twenty-first century, the word marica has yet another meaning. It

constitutes a derogative term used to discriminate against gay men and travestis, although

anyone today perceives these two groups as fundamentally different. Gay and travesti

identity have little in common with marica and homosexual identity from former periods.

Hence, confusing these very different groups of people throughout history because they

share the same label conflates a variety of identities, practices and representations into a

uniform and unchanged phenomenon. Such an approach prevents the study of sexuality

as historical.

Disconnecting sexual identities from their context erases the importance of

historical change. Without an understanding of context and change, the history of

sexuality fails to contribute to the larger historiography of sociability. Focusing on the

study of sociability, I have decided to walk a different path. My analysis of sexuality

illuminated how robbery, female prostitution and sex between men were interwoven

activities, sharing a common ground in the urban underworld of a port hub of an agro-

export economy. This kind of analysis, I hope, could be the basis for a comparison of the

history of sexuality in different parts of the Americas and the Atlantic world through an

approach that does not focus in abstract models – such as the opposition of gay modern

American identity vs. gender-hierarchical Latin American same-sex sexuality. On the

contrary, it illuminates the similarities and differences of sexuality within an inter-


309
connected, world socio-economic and cultural order developed in uneven and combined

ways and in constant transformation.


310

APPENDIX

SET OF 70 CASES OF PLEBEIAN MEN WHO HAD SEX WITH OTHER MEN

Archives:

Archivo General de La Nación. Fondo Tribunales Criminales. (AGN.FTC)

Archivo General del Ejercito. (AGE)

Books:

Carlos de Arenaza, Menores delincuentes, su psicopatología sexual (Buenos Aires: Jesus

Menendez, 1919). (C.A.)

Amador Lucero, Psicopatología Forense. Informes en materia criminal y civil (Buenos

Aires: Imprenta de Coni Hermanos, 1917). (A.L.)

Journals:

Revista Penitenciaria. (R.P.)

Archivos de Psiquiatría, Criminología y Ciencias Afines. (A.P.C.C.A.)

Cases in the set:

Number. Year. Name (alias), Source. Page Number.

1. 1876. Ignacio E., AGN. FTC. Letra E. “E. Ignacio profugo por delito de sodomía

cometido en la persona del menor Manuel V.”


311
2. 1876. Manuel V., AGN. FTC. Letra E. “E. Ignacio profugo por delito de sodomía

cometido en la persona del menor Manuel V.”

3. 1877. Basilio P., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “Basilio P. Por sodomía en la persona del

menor Castro.”

4. 1877. Germán C., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “Basilio P. Por sodomía en la persona del

menor Castro.”

5. 1879. Alejandro B. AGN. FTC. Letra B. “B. Alejandro, acusado de conato de

sodomía y heridas al menor Francisco L.”

6. 1879. Francisco L. AGN. FTC. Letra B. “B. Alejandro, acusado de conato de

sodomía y heridas al menor Francisco L.”

7. 1880. Cesar C., AGE. Legajo Personal de Cesar C. No. 3035. “Sumario instruido

a los aspirantes Don Cesar C. y Don Felipe G. acusados de sodomía en la tarde

del día siete del més de noviembre de 1880.”

8. 1880. Enrique S., AGE. Legajo Personal de Cesar C. No. 3035. “Sumario

instruido a los aspirantes Don Cesar C. y Don Felipe G. acusados de sodomía en

la tarde del día siete del més de noviembre de 1880.”

9. 1880. Felipe T., AGE. Legajo Personal de Cesar C. No. 3035. “Sumario instruido

a los aspirantes Don Cesar C. y Don Felipe G. acusados de sodomía en la tarde

del día siete del més de noviembre de 1880.”

10. 1880. Manuel M., AGE. Legajo Personal de Cesar C. No. 3035. “Sumario

instruido a los aspirantes Don Cesar C. y Don Felipe G. acusados de sodomía en

la tarde del día siete del més de noviembre de 1880.”


312
11. 1880. Manuel S., AGE. Legajo Personal de Cesar C. No. 3035. “Sumario

instruido a los aspirantes Don Cesar C. y Don Felipe G. acusados de sodomía en

la tarde del día siete del més de noviembre de 1880.”

12. 1882. Luis D., AGN. FTC. Letra D. “D. Don Roque denunciando un delito de

sodomía ejercido a su hijo Luis D.,” p. 1-8.

13. 1885. Ramón M., AGN. FTC. Letra C. “Proceso seguido contra C. Segundino

acusado de haber cometido actos de pederastia en la persona del menor Ramón

M.”

14. 1886. B. M., AGN. FTC. Letra C. “Sumario levantado con motivo de la tentativa

desodomía en la persona del menor de 7 años Francisco C.,” p. 2.

15. 1886. Francisco C., AGN. FTC. Letra C. “Sumario levantado con motivo de

latentativa de sodomía en la persona del menor de 7 años Francisco C.,” p. 3.

16. 1886. Marcelino O., AGN. FTC. Letra C. “Sumario levantado con motivo de

latentativa de sodomía en la persona del menor de 7 años Francisco C.,” p. 2.

17. 1888. Juan Bautista C., AGN. FTC. Letra C. “C. Don J. denunciando el acto de

ederastia cometido en la persona de su hijo Juan Bautista,” p. 3.

18. 1892. Antonio B. AGN. FTC. Letra B. “Proceso instruido a B. Antonio, ‘Sección

19 al 28 de nov.,’ por el delito de Sodomía cometido en la persona del menor

Camilo Chiavarena.”

19. 1892. Camilo C., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “Proceso instruido a B. Antonio, ‘Sección

19 al 28 de nov.,’ por el delito de Sodomía cometido en la persona del menor

Camilo Chiavarena.”
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20. 1892. Eduardo B., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “B. Eduardo sobre sobre sodomía al

menorJ.,” p. 4.

21. 1896. C. C. (alias: El Toscano and Chirino), AGN. FTC. Letra C. “C. C. (a) El

Toscano y Chirino acusado de sodomía,” p. 1-14.

22. 1896. Carlos B., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “B. C. por sodomía,” p. 5-40.

23. 1896. José M., AGN. FTC. Letra C. “C. C. (a) El Toscano y Chirino acusado

desodomía,” p. 1.

24. 1896. Juan T., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “B. C. por sodomía,” p. 1-3.

25. 1899. Rosendo P., AGN. FTC. Letra B. Leg. 48. “Proceso seguido contra B. S.

Porsodomía en la persona del menor R. P.,” p. 1.

26. 1899. Saturnino B., AGN. FTC. Letra B. Leg. 48. “Proceso seguido contra

B.Saturnino Por sodomía en la persona del menor R. P.,” p. 7.

27. 1900. José T. AGN. FTC. Leg. 2. “P. N. por sodomía en la persona de J. T.,” p.

4-6.

28. 1901. Adolfo B., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “B. Adolfo o R. J. o F. M. por Sodomia

almenor Silvino C.,” p. 1.

29. 1901. Manuel D., AGN. FTC. Letra D. “Acusado de sodomía en la persona del

menor Wenceslao G. S. el 18 de Diciembre de 1900,” p. 11-22.

30. 1901. Silvino C., AGN. FTC. Letra B. “B. Adolfo o R. J. o F. M. por Sodomia

almenor Silvino C.,” p1-10.

31. 1901. Wenceslao G. S., AGN. FTC. Letra D. “Acusado de sodomía en la persona

del menor Wenceslao G. S. el 18 de Diciembre de 1900,” p. 10.

32. 1902. Unknown, A.P.C.C.A., Vol. 1, pp. 618-621.


314
33. 1905. H. D., R. P., Año I, No. 1, pp. 66-81.

34. 1906. M. P. O J. A., R. P., Año II, No. 2, pp. 206-225. case 87, same than: 1919.

Manuel, C. A. pp. 95-6.

35. 1908. A.C.P., R. P., Año IV, No. 1, pp. 106-113.

36. 1908. E. R., R. P., Año IV, No. 1, pp. 117-21.

37. 1908. Nicolás P., AGN. FTC. Leg. 2. “P. N. por sodomía en la persona de J. T.,”

p. 1-4.

38. 1909. Enrique C., AGN. FTC. Letra C. “C. Enrique acusado de violación del

menor Julio L.”

39. 1909. F. L., R. P., Año V, No. 1, pp. 27-49.

40. 1909. J.J.V., R. P., Año V, No. 1, pp. 59-63; also in: 1919. J. V., C. A. pp. 116-7.

41. 1917. J. B., A. L., pp. 61-4.

42. 1917. Unknown, A. L., pp. 17-37.

43. 1919. (alias: El Pibe), C. A. pp. 105.

44. 1919. Adolfo S. (alias: El Peludo), C. A. pp. 17-8.

45. 1919. Albino S., C. A. p. 79.

46. 1919. Alejandro A., C. A. (alias: La Vieja, Chivita). p. 39.

47. 1919. Alejandro A., C. A. pp. 35-6.

48. 1919. Alfonso R., C. A. pp. 38-9.

49. 1919. Alfredo A. (alias: El Rusito) , C. A. pp. 111.

50. 1919. Antonio B., C. A. pp. 102.

51. 1919. Carlos C. (alias: El Loquito), C. A. pp. 25-31.

52. 1919. Domingo C., C. A. p. 83.


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53. 1919. Emilio L., C. A. p. 79.

54. 1919. Francisco A., C. A. pp. 104-5.

55. 1919. Francisco Alberto B (alias Gurrumina), C. A. p. 83.

56. 1919. Froilan C., C. A. pp. 104.

57. 1919. Genaro (alias: Doccica), C.A . pp. 111.

58. 1919. José P., C. A. pp. 39-40.

59. 1919. José R., C. A. p. 16.

60. 1919. José T., C. A. pp. 111.

61. 1919. Luis S., C. A. p. 18.

62. 1919. Luis S., C. A. pp. 84.

63. 1919. Luis S., C. A. pp. 92.

64. 1919. M. M., C. A. pp. 31-34.

65. 1919. Ramón F., C. A. pp. 83-4.

66. 1919. Raul N., C. A. p. 17.

67. 1919. Simón M, C. A. p. 35.

68. 1919. Simón M., C. A. pp. 81-2.

69. 1919. Vicente C., C. A. pp. 82-3.

70. 1919. Vicente, C.A. pp. 110-1.


316
Source: 19. 15v 49. 13
20. 20a 50. 18
Archivo General de la
Nación: Sodomy Trials 21. 13a 51. 15
(A: accused / V: victim) 22. 21a 52. 14
Archivo General del
Ejército: Summary 23. 8v 53. 17
Investigation 24. 12v 54. 12
Archivos de Psiquiatría,
Criminología y Ciencias 25. 6v 55. N/A
Afines 26. 19a 56. 16
Revista Penitenciaria
Amador Lucero, 27. 15v 57. 16
Psicopatología Forense. 28. 40a 58. 12
Carlos de Arenaza,
Menores delincuentes, 29. 42a 59. 12
su psicopatología sexual 30. 9v 60. 15
1. 29a 31. 9v 61. 14
2. 14v 32. 27 62. 11
3. 37a 33. 14 63. 14
4. 14v 34. 16 64. 14
5. 28a 35. 16 65. 14
6. 16v 36. 16 66. 13
7. 19 37. 15a 67. 15
8. 13 38. 14a 68. 15
9. 19 39. 18 69. 13
10. 12 40. 15 70. 14
11. 14 41. 27
12. 10v 42. 24
13. 14v 43. 16
14. 14a 44. 16
15. 7v 45. 18
16. 14a 46. N/A
17. 12v 47. 12
18. 47a 48. 15
317
19. 15 RIP 49. 13 RP
Reportedsexual 20. 20 IP 50. 18 IP
activity:
21. 13 IP 51. 15 RP
Receptive Partner: RP 22. 21 IP 52. 14 RP
Insertive Partner: IP 23. 8 RP 53. 17 RP
24. 12 RP 54. 12 RIP
Receptive and
Insertive Partner: 25. 6 RP 55. N/A RIP
RIP
26. 19 IP 56. 16 IP
Possible Receptive 27. 15 RP 57. 16 RP
Partner: PRP
28. 40 IP 58. 12 RIP
Homoerotic contact
without sexual
29. 42 IP 59. 12 RP
intercourse: HC 30. 9 RP 60. 15 RP
 
31. 9 RP 61. 14 RP
1. 29 IP
32. 27 IP 62. 11 PRP
2. 14 RP
33. 14 RP 63. 14 N/A
3. 37 IP
34. 16 IP 64. 14 HC
4. 14 RP
35. 16 RIP 65. 14 PRP
5. 28 IP
36. 16 IP 66. 13 N/A
6. 16 RP
37. 15 IP 67. 15 PRP
7. 19 IP
38. 14 IP 68. 15 RP
8. 13 RP
39. 18 RIP 69. 13 RIP
9. 19 IP
40. 15 IP 70. 14
10. 12 RP
41. 27 IP
11. 14 RP
42. 24 IP
12. 10 PRP
43. 16 IP
13. 14 RP
44. 16 IP
14. 14 IP
45. 18 RP
15. 7 RP
46. N/A
16. 14 IP
47. 12 HC
17. 12 RP