Monday, December 7, 2009

About Mexican malls and New York closets

During my last visit to Mexico City I met a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. She chose the venue, Reforma 222, one of the newest malls in the City. I arrived sufficiently early to do some shopping. While I was in both Zara and Massimo Dutti, I noticed something quite interesting; nearly every man around me happened to be homosexual. I spent most of my shopping time –and money, for that matter- in Zara (as per usual) where I saw several gay individuals and couples shopping, ranging from ages 16 to 46 maybe. As I strolled through the mall waiting for my friend, I noticed that the café and the restaurants were largely populated by gays. It occurred to me that I was in a gay mall. I finally met my friend, and as we were enjoying our espressos at the Finca Santa Vera Cruz café, she explained to me that the gay community had become very fond of that mall because of its proximity to the Zona Rosa (the gay quarter in Mexico City).

I felt happy to see all those gay lads walking, shopping, holding hands with their boyfriends, knowing that the dark clouds of judgment, hatred and rejection were not over them. Later that week I had the chance to meet a dear friend I also hadn’t seen in several years. She lives in the Condesa quarter with her girlfriend. They have been together for a few years already. I asked them what it was like to be a lesbian couple in Mexico City. They said that in spite of the ever-increasing open mind of the people of the city, lesbians are still more rejected than male homosexuals. That is one of the reasons they live in the Condesa and not in las Lomas. And I understand that. If I were a lesbian I would rather live in the Lower East Side and not in the Upper East Side. At night my friend and her gf took me to a gay café in the Zona Rosa where we all enjoyed some amazing cappuccinos, and when I called the waiter to bring the check, he said that some gentleman who had been sitting at a table relatively close to ours had already taken care of our check. We inquired about such charitable act, and the waiter explained that it was because said gentleman had found me very handsome. I felt an inexplicable joy as I realized that my striking good looks could be translated in financial favors.

Mexico City’s Zona Rosa is very small compared to Paris’ Marais or New York’s Chelsea, where sexual emancipation is definitely stronger. I recently moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an area heavily populated by hipsters and young artists. There are, naturally, many homosexuals around, but not the Abercrombie kind, those belong in Chelsea. When I happen to think of this topic, I realize how open New York is… no wonder why so many homosexuals have come to this City in their search of haven from their ultra-conservative, fundamentalist families and/or societies.

Not too long ago, however, I met a Brazilian guy. He is 29 years old and lives with his twin brother and sister in law. He is gay and plans to stay closeted for the rest of his life because of the expectations his family and friends have on him. It doesn’t help to live on the shadow of his already-married twin brother. After hearing his story I started thinking of how hard it must be to live in such an emancipated place that serves as the refuge of many like him, yet he doesn’t allow himself the right to be who he is.

His situation (and that of many others) got me thinking about the price/value of life. Life is hard, complicated and expensive as it is; if we think of life in New York City, those three adjectives take a whole new meaning. Being single in New York is possibly one of the hardest experiences imaginable (during the fall-winter season only). Long and stressful commutes, jobs hanging by thin threads, neighbors from hell and NYC MTA weekend changes make life in New York one of the most complicated in the whole metropolitan world (what ever happened to la joie de vivre?). Ridiculously high prices in rent, groceries, transportation, cigarettes and clothes make Paris look like Latin America from the wallet perspective of a New Yorker.

New York is hard, complicated and expensive to all of those who inhabit it, regardless of race, age, immigration status, and sexual orientation. Therefore, it would be fair to think that the freedoms and privileges that come with living in this great city would also evenly apply to everyone who lives here. However, that is not the case for that Brazilian young man who can’t discuss anything about his sexuality with his family (slash roommates), who obviously can’t have any boys over and has to invent excuses for his lack of female company. He still pays the same amount for rent, as do his brother and sister in law, same utilities and lives in the same New York where all the beautiful boys party wildly in Chelsea every weekend.

What a bad investment, isn’t it? To pay such an elevated price to live a life that is half-lived; to suppress, self-oppress and repress personal expressions and character, and thus become depressed. Evidently, the price of living the expected version of one’s life is greater than just living one’s life, but really, does it have a good return on investment? Closets in New York are usually small and dark. Really, why live in a closet that costs as much as a whole apartment? Living up to others’ expectations can leave nothing but unreal satisfaction and empty rewards, because at the end, you’re living someone else’s idea, not a life.

Why hang yourself in a closet when you can freely shop in the mall?