Queer and Trans People of the Aztec Empire
Before we begin we at Latinx 4 Social Movement believe it’s important to note we don’t and probably never will fully understand the attitudes of pre-Colombian Nahuas towards individuals we now categorize as LGBQT+ or their roles in Nahua society. The racist, sexist, homophobic, religiously intolerant view of the Spanish invaders obscures the details, now largely lost to the passage of time.
Furthermore, it’s difficult, and possibly wrong, to impose our modern conceptualization of gender identity and ssexual orientation on the Nahuas, because we are fairly certain these two perspectives are not the same.
Broadly speaking, the Nahuas who helped the Spanish colonize other Nahuas were responsible for helping institute the European concept of homophobia and transphobia among their indigenous allies. However, we need to establish something right away. Not all Nahuas regarded these individuals the same way. Just as not all US citizens, Chicanx, Christians, etc. believed the same thing, so the hundreds of Nahua cities and towns had a variety of views, the nuances of which were effaced by conquest, leaving us in the dark today.
Xochiquetzal and Xochipilli (pronounced chee-kwey-zal and cheap-pill-lee) are often called siblings, but more accurately considered two complementary halves of one gender-fluid being. Both of them are deities (among other things) what we would term sexuality and identity, promoting non-procreative sex, leisure, pleasure, drugs and fun.
They served as patrons of of queer people. They were another example in a long line of the duality present in the Nahuas concept of existence. A concept of prontification through ritual.
The statue of Xochipilli (depicted on the right) has been said to be shown in the throes of entheogenic ecstasy, as psychoactive compounds were often used in many aforementioned rituals.
The key to understanding how Nauas might have perceived LGBTQ+ individuals is in the fact that the principal dichotomy in Mesoamerica was not good or evil. It was chaos and order, which were not in conflict with each other but instead powers that were in a constant search of balance. Before we go into more detail we must first talk about the Nahuas creation myth.
In the beginning was the void. It was at some ancient time in the Aztec creation story that the dual god, Ometecuhtli/Omecihuatl, created itself. In other words, the source of the universe was Ometecuhtli/Omecihuatl. This god was chaos and order, male and female, it was able to have children, It had four, which came to represent the four directions of north, south east, and west. Those deities were:
Xipe Totec (north)
Another major dichotomy was female/male (though not likely in the same binary construct we deal with today). Not separate, instead more complementary, two sides of the same being in a sense.
From the Codex Tudela and Florentine COdex (as well as a few other indigenous sources), we can deduce that the LGBTQ+ people were sorted into two broad categories (with other subcategories that we won’t get into at this time):
The Xochihuah and the Patlacheh. In Nahuatl, the “-eh” or “-huah” suffixes can be added to stems to create a word that means “ownder, possessor, sovereign, haver” of that stem. “Xochihuah,” then, means “possessor of Xoxhitl.”
Xochitl is “a flower” or “flowers,” depending on the context. So, Flower-possessor or Sovereign of flowers is one who has a flower. And from what we can guess, the term referred to a person assigned male at birth but was someone who behaved in ways typically associated with those assigned female.
Several sources, including Fernandez de Oviedo, tell us that children were sometimes recognized as trans by their parents. They were permitted to dress as girls or boys, learn their social roles, etc. This notion of xochihuah (trans-feminine) and conversely the term patlachtli (trans-masculine) as a broad label could help explain what confused and, at times, angered the Spanish.
Perhaps xochihuahqeh (the plural of xochihuah) labeled all people assigned male at birth who engaged in behaviors traditionally considered feminine, because they possessed an essence (the flower) that set them apart.
While there is still much we do not understand, and may never understand, about gender and orientation among the Nahuas, there were most certainly people that was trans, non-binary, gay, etc. in those societies.
They apparently enjoyed some freedom and positive recognition. At the very least, they were allowed to love.
“Two-Spirits Mexican Youth and Trabsgender Mixtec/Muxe Media: La Mission Two Spirits: Injunuity and Libertad’ by Gabriel S. Estrada
“Cassel’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit” by R Sparks
“Worlds Collide: Aztec Gender Parallelism and Spanish Patriachy” by Jayme Horne
“Construction of Homosexuality” by David Greenberg
“Xoxhipilli: El señor de las Flores” by Galería Arte Contemporáneo SMA
“Fighting with Femininity: Gender and War in Aztec Mexico” by Ceclia Klein