Richard Grant:

Then he dropped a bomb into my brain. “Many narcos are bisexual and they are my specialty, you might say. At a certain point in the night, with all the drinking and the cocaine, another side of them comes out. And they’re risk-takers by nature. They don’t expect to live long and they will try anything. You know how there is an active and passive position in homosexual intercourse? Well, the narcos are always passives. Always, always.”

“How interesting. Why do you think that is?”

“I think it’s the eroticism of the reversal for them. Normally they are the chingón, the one screwing over other people, the hombre muy macho, and it excites them to turn the whole thing around.”

This was an unforeseen facet of Mexican machismo but in general I was growing very tired of it. At first it seemed amusing and outlandish, the way they growled and swaggered and cursed and talked about their testicles and each other’s mothers all the time. Nowhere in the world had I encountered men more fixated on either subject. The bus driver between Creel and Batopilas, I remember, had a separate wife and family at both ends of his route and a withered bull’s scrotum hanging from his rearview mirror, which he would stroke for luck before swinging the bus around the next hairpin curve.

Then it got wearying, the constant crude sexual bantering and self-aggrandizement of the macho, his contempt for women, his bristling pride and enjoyment of violence, his needless cruelty to dogs and horses and livestock.

…Most long journeys have their sour, depressive times and mine arrived with a vengeance in Baborigame. I was tired and run down and my body ached all over from being rattled and jolted. The constant breaking down of the Suburban wasn’t helping but what I really lost tolerance for, as I chauffeured Isidro on his rounds, met his friends, and dodged his enemies, was Mexican machismo. I came to hate it with as much venom as the most strident lesbian feminist. It was the root of the worst evil in Mexico, I decided, the real reason why men killed each other and raped women in such horrifying numbers. Not that those numbers are available. According to Mary Jordan of the Washington Post, fewer than 1 percent of rapes are reported in Mexico, because it is not treated seriously as a crime and because rape victims who do go to the police are usually mocked and blamed for inviting the crime, and are sometimes raped by the police, who get aroused hearing the victim’s story. In the Sierra Madre the practice known as rapato, where a man kidnaps a girl and forces her to marry him, is still commonplace. Raping an underage girl is not against the law in many Mexican states if the rapist marries her.

…”In a world of chingónes…” wrote Octavio Paz, “ruled by violence and suspicion—a world in which no one opens out or surrenders himself—ideas and accomplishment count for little. The only thing of value is manliness, personal strength, a capacity for imposing oneself on others.”

…There speaks the true macho. How dare she sleep with another man before she met me? The man must be humiliated and the woman deserves to die for such an affront to my masculinity.

Machismo came to Mexico from Spain, a Spain that had been under heavy Moorish or Arab influence for seven centuries when Columbus set sail. This is not to say that Native American societies weren’t patriarchal or oppressive toward women, but the men weren’t macho in the Spanish way. Spaniards, like Arabs, believed that women were inferior wanton creatures whose sexuality needed to be strictly controlled and firmly dominated, and that women from other cultures were fair game for rape. Octavio Paz in his analysis of Mexican machismo points to the old Spanish saying, “A woman’s place is in the home, with a broken leg,” and identifies the conquistador as the model for the Mexican macho, the original chingón, the hard isolate killer who raped and seized Indian women and so brought the mestizo Mexican race into being… If you looked at it in this light, disapproving of Mexican machismo was like disapproving of weather or plate tectonics. But I couldn’t help feeling outraged that the punishment for stealing a cow was more serious than the punishment for rape in most of Mexico. I still recoiled at the idea of a raped teenage girl being forced to marry her rapist, like Chana in Babarigame and thousands of others every year. I still thought it was indefensible that so many unfaithful husbands and boyfriends thought women should be beaten or killed for infidelity. It was pointless to make these judgments. It was none of my business. But I couldn’t help making them.