By Any Other Name

Been getting a few complaints, and some praise, for the Dallas Observer's cover story last week, "Gay Caballeros." Some of the complaints have been along the lines of "How dare you write a story about homosexuality among Mexican immigrants without pointing out that not all gay Latinos or even gay men act like that?" We were accused of being sensationalistic, like those bad media folk who cover gay pride parades but only take pictures of men in drag.

We disagree, of course. We weren't covering the parade--that is, writing a story about all of gay Hispanic culture--but rather profiling one small, unfamiliar slice of it: those gay Dallas immigrants who engage in sex with men--only in the dominant role--and believe they are not gay because they are never penetrated. The story was about immigrants on the down-low and the possible effect their behavior is having on HIV transmission rates. If we didn't include enough disclaimers in there to make the story acceptable to everyone in the gay community, well, we're the Observer. We don't do PC. The story was about what it was about, nothing more. Don't like it? Really? We did.

Other complaints came about our sub-headline for the story: "Inside the secret world of Dallas' mayates." Thanks to a long conversation Buzz had with Eddie Gutiérrez, associate director of regional media for The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), we now realize that printing that word on our cover was a mistake. We apologize.

Here's the deal: Many of the people reporter Claiborne Smith interviewed for the story called themselves mayates, a term that some Spanish-speakers use to refer to straight-acting bisexual men who are considered heterosexual by themselves and others. In other idioms, the word means a drunk. So far, so good. What the editors didn't know--and Buzz is one of them--is that to some Spanish-speakers, mayate is a pejorative word equivalent to "faggot." To others, it's a derogatory term for a black person. It's also a name of a kind of beetle. The differences are regional. If we'd realized that, we wouldn't have put the word in a headline and would have noted the various meanings in the story. We didn't, and that's a screw-up, and we regret it. We're communicators, and it's our job to know what our words mean to the people we hope will read them.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams