By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Ignacio doesn't consider himself gay, because he is always activo when he's with another man. Among mayates, there is one stark rule: The activo partner--or the person whom gay American men call a "top"--maintains his sense of masculinity, while the person who's being penetrated does not. And among recent Hispanic immigrants, who don't own much, manhood is a crucial possession. Mayates may think that letting another man give them a blowjob or giving anal sex to another man doesn't constitute cheating on their wives or girlfriends back in their own countries. And according to researchers who've studied male Hispanic immigrants and HIV transmission, the fact that many of them live in a small apartment to save money means that they sometimes end up having sex with one another. According to these researchers, being a mayate isn't a fixed sexual identity; it's the result of living in cramped quarters in areas of town where there aren't nearly as many women as there are other men who've just arrived from Mexico.
And although they may have heard of AIDS and other STDs, they may be entirely unaware of how the diseases propagate; they may think that being activo guarantees they won't get infected by an STD. If they happen to have caught something, they may feel trapped when they go home to Mexico and their wives or girlfriends ask them why they want to use a condom all of a sudden. The sharp rise in HIV infection among Latinas indicates that the usual suspects when women become infected--prostitution and injecting drugs--explain only part of the increase.
Ignacio may seem like a man on the down-low, a cliquish subculture played up in the media of men who meet to have sex with one another while not telling their wives or girlfriends about their gay lives. There are, in fact, bars in Dallas where mayates hang out, though they are far more invisible and alien to native Texans than the gargantuan Tejano bars off Northwest Highway and Stemmons Freeway. There are even rituals they employ at the end of the night, when it's time to end up alone or with someone.
But Ignacio isn't on the down-low; in fact, there isn't even a Spanish phrase for it. But he knew how to get to the virtually hidden places where the mayates hook up.
Once you've dodged the many trucks darting in and out of the parking lot, you pay the $5 cover charge and get a little blue ticket in return. But you don't actually get in until a man has patted you down to determine if the bulge in your front pocket is a cell phone or a gun.
Compared with Bamboleo's, Fiebre Latino is, as they say in Mexico, "un otro rollo," another thing altogether. After he told me he wasn't gay, Ignacio left Bamboleo's and headed toward Fiebre. I went there because AIDS workers from AIDS Arms, UT-Southwestern Medical Center and the Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse had all told me about it in unabashedly negative terms. They say that Fiebre Latino's owner refuses to let them distribute safe-sex material or test the patrons for HIV, if they're willing. Fiebre Latino's owner, listed as Dhanesh Ganesh in public documents, didn't respond to requests for comment.
Ignacio was inside, chatting up a woman at the little rectangular bar. He didn't want to be bothered, and, as I soon learned, when a woman at Fiebre Latino is talking to a man, she doesn't want to be bothered, either. A newcomer to Fiebre Latino might wonder how a proper seduction could possibly occur here. Old gum lies matted in the thin carpet. The walls of brown wood paneling seem to trap the musty cigarette and beer odor, and the cloth of the booth seats is ripped off in little patches. The bar stools wobble, and you might be offered drugs in the bathroom--"coke, X, ice, anything you'd like, werito [little blondie]."
The DJ booth is a tall, boxy glass structure, like a telephone booth, and when a CD skips, it keeps on skipping until one of the two female bartenders rushes over to correct the problem. A broad-shouldered young Mexican was standing by the booth; he asked if I liked the women there. "They do whatever you want them to," he said.
After the bartender fixed the CD problem, Fiebre Latino returned to the party mood induced by the throbbing, relentlessly cheery ranchera music. But even with music so familiar to its patrons and the kind of uninhibited circle dancing that takes place at Bamboleo's, there's a noticeable tension: No one pays much attention to the women parading around, even though they've put so much work into their performance. My first time there, I sat at the bar until a dolled-up young woman wearing a low-cut, tight black dress and more makeup than a stage actress motioned excitedly for me to come and see her. The vast majority of the women at Fiebre Latino are actually men, but she in particular carried off the act rather well, despite her husky voice. I met only one woman there who described herself as a gay man dressed up as a woman; all the others felt that through a trick of nature, they happened to be born into a man's body. Whatever their particular orientation, the women at Fiebre Latino all aim for glamour, and Fiebre is known among a certain segment of Hispanic immigrants for offering sophisticated women, even if the surroundings aren't exactly deluxe. "The women here cost you, but they're nice," one man at the bar said to me after I asked if he was a regular there. He meant they look nice; he wasn't saying they're sweet.