An insider’s view of Mexico City’s LGBTQ+ community

An insider’s view of Mexico City’s LGBTQ+ community

One photographer’s intimate look inside communal joy and queer spirit in the Mexican capital.

One afternoon in 2021, photographer Mayan Toledano was sitting on a pile of clothes on the floor of her friend Havi’s home in Mexico City. Havi – a trans woman – had just undergone breast augmentation surgery, and was explaining how an American friend had helped make it possible by setting up a GoFundMe page. In its description, they had described the potential surgery as “gender affirming”, which tripped her up.

“Gender affirming… gender affirming,” Havi repeated to herself as she explained the post to Mayan. “I never understood what it means because I always had the affirmation that I was a woman, and now for the first time I realise what this set of words means – it’s for society to look at you as a woman. But I never needed that.”

It was a moment of honesty and connection between the two friends, which they both felt and reciprocated. “That conversation in particular was very eye-opening to me,” recalls Toledano. “We both cried, and it was very emotional and beautiful – she’s definitely someone I learned a lot from.”

Mavi Post Breast Augmentation Surgery, 2021

A photograph taken of Havi from that day – lying in the bath with her post-surgery breast hovering above the waterline, is the very first photograph featured in Mayan’s new photobook No Mames. Featuring intimate, joyous pictures of her queer friends and wider circle taken over the past six years, the book is an up-close-and-personal window into Mexico City’s LGBTQ+ community and scene.

Based mainly in New York, Mayan first visited Mexico City in 2017. Upon arrival she felt such an instant connection with its dense streets, countless cultural attractions, and the people who made up its queer community. “When I arrived there was this warm feeling that really drew me in,” she says. “I think the first year I came back maybe three or four times and gradually started this project – it wasn’t the idea or intention to make a book, it was just because I met a lot of people, I fell in love, I made great friends and I wanted to document the community.”

Maria Mariposa Face by Karla, 2019
Uma and Ada, Wearing Sentimiento by Maria Isas, Polanco, 2022

While New York can often feel hostile, unsupportive and individualistic, Mayan instead found Mexico City formed the antithesis of that. “A lot of people in the book are creatives, artists, musicians. I shot a lot of best friends, couples and roommates” she explains. “Sometimes in creative industries you can sense a feeling of competition – I felt like people are supporting one another and collaborating with one another, and that’s really what moves the city. There’s really this harmonic feeling of holding one another and I really love that.”

Taken at afterparties, hanging out in friends’ bedrooms and bathrooms, and featuring plenty of making out – the pictures celebrate that communal joy and queer spirit. But there’s a necessity to that closeness, support and solidarity. Although same sex relations are legal in the country, homophobic and transphobic attitudes persist – even worsening in areas. That is particularly true for trans people – Mexico is the second most dangerous country in the world to be transgender, with trans women overwhelmingly the most targeted for violence. One page at the back of the book is dedicated to the names of all the trans people who died last year.

Tiempos Kisses, Lomas de Tecamachalco, 2022

“When you hang out within the group there’s this feeling of protection, and you kind of have your own bubble,” Mayan says. “But I know stories through friends and some of the people I shot. There is a lot of death and they all know people who were hurt – in abusive relationships or [facing] brutality on the streets – so there is a fear, especially among trans women and it’s something that people talk about.”

No Mames then, throughout its pages creates a photographic safe space for Mayan’s sitters among its spreads, giving what is usually community on the fringes of society the chance to be the focus of her lens and fully express themselves within its pages. “I want to see someone for who they are, and what they want to show me – you can know someone for five years and still meet them for the first time the day [you photograph them],” she says. “The project really became a part of my life, and my life is in the book. It’s the people I love, it’s the people I hang out with, and it’s all these rooms that I was in.”

Ano, Centro, 2019

No Mames by Mayan Toledano is published by Damiani.

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