Wild Side

By: Marcelo Báez

The first time I ever went to a gay club was by mistake.

I was 13 and, along with Celso, a school friend, we decided to visit my godmother in the notoriously gay city of Guadalajara, Jalisco. At the time, both of us lived about an hour away in a nearby town, but Celso regularly spent his weekends in Guadalajara, so he was partially acquainted with the city. That useful detail convinced my godmother to hand us a set of house keys before letting us run loose in Mexico’s second-largest city. Of course, this was in late 1997, a time when most Mexican adults worried about their children getting run over by a bus instead of getting shot by a drug lord.

After dressing up in our Sunday’s best (but on a Saturday night) Celso and I walked towards the closest main avenue to find a taxi. Our party plan—if it can be called that— was almost non-existent. Since we didn’t know any locals, and since Celso’s knowledge of the city was mostly limited to the tourist traps, we came up with a silly idea: “Let’s just get in a cab and we’ll ask the driver to take us to a place of ambiente.” Naive as we were, we had no idea that “lugar de ambiente” (of lively atmosphere) was an older-than-dirt euphemism for gay bar. And, looking back, how could we not? On “El Noa Noa,” a classic song known by every Mexican ever, Juan Gabriel had been spelling it out for years: “This is a place of ambiente, where everything is different.”

But, to make the situation even more tragic, Celso was dressed as a normal teenager while I looked like I’d been left behind by a third-world circus. When a brave taxi driver finally picked us up, he probably found it completely logical that a guy in a black fur coat, tight pants, and studded shoes would want to go to a gay bar (for the record, I thought I looked very punk rock). But our half-ass plan still seemed better than no plan, so we got in the taxi with our noses proudly pointing towards the sky.

Minutes later, the taxi driver (whom, BTW, looked like Chompiras) dropped us off in front of Monica’s, one of Guadalajara’s longest-running drag clubs. A bunch of drag queens and gay men stood outside smoking—which, oddly, didn’t seem strange to us. Coming from a small town, we figured that most cool clubs in the big cities were filled with colorful characters. Quickly one older man read us and immediately poked fun: “Are you lost, damn kids?” he blurted out. A long “huh” unwillingly came out of my mouth until I was interrupted by the same man.

“Relax, kid. Look, if you get in, I’ll buy you a drink.”

“Uh, yeah, dude, how are we supposed to get in?” Celso retorted.

Neither of us had an ID, but I was already (still am) 5’10”, and Celso was even taller so, as if we were trying to get on carnival ride, I figured we wouldn’t get carded.

Even better: no one was guarding the door, so we simply walked in. Inside the club we were expecting to see all sorts of decadence and perversion, but, alas, most of the people inside were straight couples there for the drag performances.

“Y ahora con ustedes... ¡Rocío Dúrcal!” the DJ yelled over the bar noise.

Just so you know, in the curious psychedelia that is Mexico, watching live drag performances has been a hobby of many straight men and women for decades. For whatever reason, women are considered inferior impersonators and, for example, in Bellas de Noche, a popular "fichera" film, the plot revolves around the “scandalous” fact that a real woman is being allowed to perform along with a troupe of men in drag.

After seeing an entire roster of impersonators —essentially every artist from my mother's record collection— I decided to go walk around the bar. Abruptly, a man pulled on my arm and, just when I thought it was a bouncer on his way to give me the boot, it turned out to be the jester I had met outside of the club.

“You made it!” he said. “What’s your poison, kid?”

I knew —and still know— nothing about alcohol, but asked for a shot of Azteca de Oro. I could tell that man knew we were way over our head, but he seemed interested in seeing how our scenario would play out.

“What else is there to do around here?” I asked, trying to sound confident.

The man laughed before prodding: “Well, what are you into?”

“We were expecting something a little more decadent here, so... yeah. That.”

He cackled.

“Alright. Try El Taller. It’s not too far.”

After he gave me directions to the mysterious Taller, I thanked him for the shot, then walked around looking for Celso. He wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, but he came along anyway. At El Taller, we paid the $50 peso cover (it included a drink), and stepped in. The place was extremely dark, and I couldn’t fully make out anyone’s face. A few TV screens were playing vintage straight porn even when the clientele appeared to be mostly men and men in drag.

It wasn’t even midnight and El Taller seemed to be more of an after-hours place, which is probably why it was half empty. I’m not one to let a situation go to waste, so I started to walk towards the even-darker upstairs. Celso was understandably skirmish and refused to follow.

“I’ll finish my drink here, at the bar,” he said.

“Alright. Only come up if you don’t hear anything,” I joked.

Upstairs I noticed a set of bathroom-type stalls that didn’t seem to have any toilets in them. Props, I guessed. And just before going back down, I noticed an old Lou Reed poster on the wall.

I’d only recently discovered Reed thanks to an American hippie friend from California, but I still spoke to him.

“I see you’re still walking on the wild side, Lou,” I heard myself saying aloud, feeling clever.

Downstairs, Celso and I decided to get dinner before going back to my godmother's place.

We headed to a taquería on the corner.

We had tacos de chorizo.

They were good.

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.