From the outset, director Alfonso Cuaron tests and questions collective sexual mores and taboos in Y Tu Mama Tamabien, forcing us to question, forcing us to think, forcing us to reevaluate. Full frontal nudity confronts us almost before the opening credits have finished. And given that graphic violence in U.S. media is an accepted norm but full frontal nudity for anyone, especially male genitalia, is not, gives us pause to consider which is the more harmful or hypcritical.
From a cultural standpoint, the camaraderie is similar to the European and Italian of my childhood and heritage where hugging, touching, and kissing on both cheeks between family and friends, male or female, is accepted and expected while certain men still exhibit what is stereotypically referred to as a macho mask separate from this social and very public affection.
The sex with their girlfriends gives Julio and Tenoch bragging rights between each other and among friends even though they are both still very inexperienced. However, they still flirt with homoerotic feelings and consequences that arise along their journey throughout the film that lead to homoerotic feelings and an encounter later in the film.
The homoerotic encounters between Julio and Tenoch, mutual masturbation (with thoughts of their girlfriends swimming through their heads) at the country club pool and swimming and horsing around naked in the showers, seemed natural and uninhibited enough, much like the homoerotic behavior exhibited in sports locker rooms from high school to professional sports. But even with the Latin openness to touching and kissing, there was an unspoken barrier that was rarely breached. Julio and Tenoch were ever the stereotypical macho Latin males, albeit clumsily learning what the rules are along the way. So such behavior may not be considered homoerotic in the strictest sense.
It is curious that this barrier to acceptance of homosexuality (or at the very least the sex act between males) exists in most societies immersed in traditional conservative religion. Occasional indigenous cultures and communities accept homosexual-like acts and third-fifth genders. Individuals are valued members of the community and of the culture when they surface in studies, be they U.S. military, with the Pashtun culture of Afganistan1 or the third gender of Oaxaca, Mexico2. In both cases, they are far removed from religious leaders to distribute punishment and they are strictly and specifically not labeled as homosexuals. The practice is neither shunned nor discouraged, and they are sometimes valued as gifted spiritual leaders. History is full of such examples.
Luisa, while on her own evolutionary journey, she exists to help Julio and Tenoch on their journey of mutual discovery as they attempt to redeem their individual masculinity with locker room braggadocio with tales of foreplay and sexual techniques designed to impress her or at least impress themselves. The two become increasingly aggressive with each other, attempting to retain and regain their fading “masculinity” in the presence of Luisa’s critical judgment of their individual sexual prowess. Following the first sexual encounter with Luisa, tales of sexual encounters with each other’s girlfriend begin to surface to compensate feelings of wounded masculine egos, which results in increasingly more violent fights.
Luisa finally asserts herself, evolving the journey into the unknown and the beach by guiding and mentoring Julio and Tenoch, as a teacher and a slightly elder equal, discusses oral sex and other sexual techniques to please a woman. Over tales of even more braggadocio, Julio and Tenoch admit to sex on more than one occasion with the other’s girlfriend. While this is an exploration of coming of age, which usually involves losing male virginity, in this case it is an opportunity for further sexual experience with an older woman that evolves into an occasion to become more sexually experienced, to test the boundaries of what seemed to be a lasting friendship.
Those boundaries are tested at the end, when in a slightly alcohol–induced arousal, they all find themselves in a room together, Julio and Tenoch waiting awkwardly for something to happen, when Luisa grabs them and begins oral sex with one of the two. It is here that passion ignites into what appears to be pure sensuality on the screen. The bodies of Tenoch and Julio meet at the mouth without any awkwardness as if all of the previous encounters with women, young and experienced, were mechanical.
And here is where the awkward distance begins. Throughout their young lives the two flirted with ideas that were both “masculine” and homoerotic in their contradictory Latin and Latin-American culture. What should have created a closer bond and friendship, severed it. It is interesting to note that even in our United States propaganda-saturated culture from the media, from advertising, from parents, from government, from everything, contradictions in that propaganda exist that flirt with the homoerotic while also emphasizing the conservatively and so-called traditional form of “masculine” and “feminine” behavior. The same contradictions exist in Latin culture as well, perpetuated by similar local and cultural propaganda institutions.
- Cardinalli, A. (n.d.). Pashtun Sexuality. Scribd. Retrieved September 1, 2012, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/39111225/Pashtun-Sexuality
- Wade, L. (n.d.). Muxes: A Third Gender in Oaxaca, Mexico » Sociological Images. The Society Pages. Retrieved June 22, 2012, from http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/06/22/a-third-gender-in-oaxaca-mexico/