"Defining Machismo, No Es Siempre Lo Mismo": Latino Sexual Minorities' Machoflexible Identities in Higher Education

By Peña-Talamantes, Abráham E. | Culture, Society and Masculinities, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

"Defining Machismo, No Es Siempre Lo Mismo": Latino Sexual Minorities' Machoflexible Identities in Higher Education


Peña-Talamantes, Abráham E., Culture, Society and Masculinities


Seven gay Latino undergraduates offer their individual definitions of machismo and speak to the ways in which they construct their own masculine identities on the college campus. Through a grounded theory analysis of in-depth interviews, photographs, and personal reflections, I identify three prominent themes that capture the complex interplay of gender and sexuality and the construction of seemingly progressive gendered sexual identities in a process I term machoflexibility. The forging of these machoflexible identities is made possible through the students' individual definitions of machismo, their reconstructions of a fluid masculinity spectrum, and finally their understanding of socially acceptable masculine performances that enhance their identities as men and downplay their sexual orientations. In dissociating themselves from more effeminate gay men and identifying themselves as real men, the participants ultimately fail to challenge the pervasive gender norms in their social environment, positioning masculinity as hierarchically superior to femininity and consequently reproducing heteronormativity.

Keywords: machismo, sexuality, identity, Latinos, higher education, qualitative methods

When speaking of men, the construct of machismo has long plagued the academic literature as non-Latino scholars have attempted to explain gender relations in Mexico and Latin America (González-López & Gutmann, 2005). Machismo refers to the conceptualization of men as dominant, aggressive, unemotional, and by assumption, heterosexual (Carrillo, 2002); a male who embodies these characteristics is called a macho. Yet, recent scholarship has criticized this long accepted concept claiming that it is limiting, biased, and flawed, as it attempts to make generalizations across various gender hierarchies in different Latino cultures (Arciniega et al., 2008; Baca Zinn, 1982; González-López & Gutmann, 2005). Despite the academic criticism, Latino men continue to reproduce the concept in their daily lives as their status in the larger society and interpersonal relationships depend on their ability to successfully perform their expected masculine roles and to remain accountable to the gendered understandings of what it means to be macho (Murray, 1995). The heavy emphasis on heterosexuality accompanying the concept of machismo becomes particularly detrimental to Latino men who may identify as, or be perceived as, homosexual.

It is at the intersection of gender and sexuality that I attempt to study the effects of machismo on the young gay Latino males whose cultural heritage has exposed them to the concept, and whose lives seem to be influenced by the socially constructed ideology of what the term entails. It is not the focus of this article to discuss whether the concept of machismo is legitimate, or simply imaginary and exploited. Instead, the emphasis lies in the concept of machismo as a social symbol individually defined by young Latino males seeking to forge identities as men. Using an interactionist analysis emerging from grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006), this study seeks to present the ways in which gay Latino males in higher education institutions conceptualize and reproduce the concept of machismo and how these definitions affect the construction of their individual identities as men.

Machismo and Heteronormativity

Machismo has been termed the Latin American equivalent of hegemonic masculinity (Kurtz, 1999). However, Latin American machismo does not stigmatize all men who have sex with men. Instead, sexual practices are gendered by Latino societies to allow the insertive partner in the sexual encounter (activo) to maintain a heterosexual identity, while the male who engages in receptive anal intercourse (pasivo) is labeled homosexual (Almaguer, 1991; Carrier, 1976,1995; Carrillo, 2002; Murray, 1995). The dichotomy of roles in sexual acts draws attention to the strict binary found in most Latino communities, generally termed machismo and marianismo. …

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