Coming Out At 81
I am a friend of life, at 80 life tells me to behave like a woman and
not like an old woman.
I went to Mexico because it has a magic that does not have any other
country in the world, but I insist, do not think it was vini, vidi e vinci. There were many years of fight, because Mexico
is a very unsociable country where it seems women have to be sweet and self-denying.
When you like something, you should do it all night long.
I've had to fight to be myself and to be respected. I'm proud to carry
this stigma and call myself a lesbian. I don't boast about it or broadcast it, but I don't deny it. I've had to confront society
and the Church, which says that homosexuals are damned. That's absurd. How can someone who's born like this be judged? I didn't
attend lesbian classes. No one taught me to be this way. I was born this way, from the moment I opened my eyes in this world.
I've never been to bed with a man. Never. That's how pure I am; I have nothing to be ashamed of. My gods made me the way I
At the beginning they wanted me to sing as sweet as a flower, even Ernesto
Alonso put me a strapless dress and high heels and as soon as I went down the stairs I fell. I didn't even make it to the
|Chavela Vargas (R) receives award from Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. Andrea Comas
At age 81, the legendary
Mexican singer Chavela Vargas,
an icon of several generations of Latin American lesbians, has finally come out of her transparent closet. What everybody
in Mexico and other points south have always known is now
official—Chavela is a dyke. What's new, and wonderful, is that she's proud of it.
Chavela, who was recently
awarded Spain's highest honor, the Great Cross of Isabel
la Católica, told the Madrid daily El País, "I've
had to fight to be myself and to be respected. I'm proud to carry this stigma and call myself a lesbian."
The rebellious daughter
of a Costa Rican rancher, Chavela, who was born in that country in 1919, ran away to Mexico
when she was 14 years old. In Mexico she began singing on
She began singing rather
late in life - past the age of thirty - but continued well into old age, charming audiences until she was well into her 70s
and retired in 1979, a victim of alcoholism, and returned in 1990 after accepting a role in the Werner Herzog film Scream
of Stone'. She also toured with the legendary José Alfredo Jiménez. Her first recordings appeared in 1961, and she became
quite popular during the 1960s and '70s, both in her native land as well as across the ocean in Spain and Europe. She contributed
a song to the soundtrack of Tacones Lejanos, and in 1993 she entered a recording studio for the first time in decades. In
2002, she played in the film Frida, about the artist Frida Kahlo, and in actual life she had an affair with Kahlo. Hard-living, drinking, and womanizing,
Chavela hit bottom and resurfaced more times that she now cares to remember.
"I'd get a new
car on Friday and by Monday I had nothing left; I'd get drunk and go sing on the streets and be late for the show. I used
to drink tequila. I drank everything I ever owned. That's why I left nothing over there," Chavela says, remembering her
life in Mexico, which ended in an alcoholic orgy that lasted almost 15 years, during which she seldom sang.
Spanish film director
Pedro Almodóvar tracked her down to an obscure
bar in a suburb of Mexico City a few years ago, and helped her rebuild her life
and her career. Last April, Chavela, who now lives in Spain
and does not drink, gave a triumphant concert before 20,000 people in Mexico City's
main plaza, the Zócalo.
Chavela still loves
guns, but she now claims it is not true that she once kidnapped a woman at gunpoint. It is said that her slight limp is the
result of having jumped out a window once when another woman disappointed her in love. This, Chavela does not deny.
Vargas is the Billie Holiday
of Mexico. If you've never heard her sing, do yourself a favor
and go get one of her CD's right now. My favorite is the classic Chavela
Vargas Le Canta a México, on the Orfeón label, but
any will do. And don't miss her two knockout contributions to The Songs of Almodóvar (Emd/Blue Note), a fab soundtrack
CD that also includes 50's Chilean crooner Lucho Gatica
and Cuban greats La Lupe and Bola de Nieve.
Vargas wrote some of the most erotic songs one woman has ever addressed to another. Paloma
Negra, her most famous song, manages to be humorous and heartbreaking, tender in one
breath and fierce in the next.
Chavela Vargas' case, most "boleros" are
written by (mostly self-declared heterosexual) men, and thus the object of love is usually a woman. So in general, Chavela
Vargas refused to change the gender of the texts of these songs (as some other singers have
chosen to do sometimes, according to their usually heterosexual orientation). Being a lesbian, this worked out rather
"conveniently" for her, to a certain point, except that she also had to maintain the male counterpart of the songs, creating
a sort of musical transvestism. For example, in her famous song "La Macorina", based on an Asturian poem by Alfonso
Camín, and for which she wrote the music, she "indirectly" (and probably at the same time proudly) sings that:
"Touch me here,
Touch me [...]
flesh of a breadfruit
of ripe guanabana
and your beautiful,
of that 'danzón'
I'm still simmering,
from the 'danzón'"
...though in this song
the male voice is never really referenced specifically.
What is a rather
oddly ironical fact is that Chavela Vargas suffered harsh years of alcoholism, which affected her voice, making it hoarser,
and which ended up making her abstract musical transvestism more convincing, to the point that when you hear her latest CDs,
a lot of people wonder if she is a man. And by the way, her latest CDs are basically the result of a comeback that openly
gay Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar promoted, since apparently he had always been a devoted fan of Chavela and was sad
to see how her difficulties had driven her away from her musical career, so he decided to help her rise from her own personal
hell, to let the world enjoy still a bit more of her talent. In a way like what happened between Dusty Springfield and the
openly gay Pet Shop Boys in the 1980's...
'Frida' Trailer No. 1
This film tells the true story of Mexican
painter and 20th century icon Frida Kahlo (Hayek), focusing on her often rocky relationship with husband Diego Rivera (Molina),
and their place in Mexican society. Included in the mix will be David Siqueiros (Banderas), Rivera's rival in the Mexican
art world, Tina Modotti (Judd), a famed Italian photographer, and Nelson Rockefeller (Norton), who famously contracted Rivera
to paint the lobby mural of Rockefeller Center, only to renege because it included a portrait of Lenin. Others in their social
circle included Russian leader and refugee Leon Trotsky (Rush) (soon before Stalin had him assassinated there), muralist Jean
Charlot, painter Pablo O'Higgins, composer Silvestre Revueltas, and photographer Edward Weston. In addition to being a great
artist, Frida Kahlo was also a bisexual and a communist, struggling with an abusive husband, a life of wracking pain following
a trolley accident, the amputation of a leg, and finally, drug and alcohol abuse that killed her at age 47.