Some have asked, “Hey, so were there gay, trans, non-binary, or otherwise queer folx in pre-Colombian Mesoamerica, especially in the Aztec Empire?”
Or words to that effect, heh. Grab your flowers and wild cocoa beans, friends. Here we go!
First off, it’s important to note we don’t and probably never will fully understand the attitudes of pre-Colombian Nahuas toward individuals we now call LGBTQ+ or their roles in Nahua society. The racist, sexist, homophobic, religiously intolerant lens of the Spanish obscures the particulars, leaving only a few tantalizing clues.
Furthermore, it’s risky to impose our MODERN conceptualization of gender identity and sexual orientation on the Nahuas, because we’re pretty sure these two perspectives are NOT the same.
What does seem clear is that Nahuas understood gender and orientation in ways the conquering Spaniards didn’t.
Broadly speaking, the Spanish — and the converted Nahuas who helped them grapple with the conquered, decimated culture — witnessed “same-sex” sexual interactions and individuals performing gender roles that didn’t conform to the “biological” (assigned) sex that the Spanish perceived.
Their reaction to this behavior was predictable — they abhorred, decried and punished it — but their perception of support for their homophobia and transphobia among their indigenous allies was also complicated by something we need to establish right away.
Not all Nahuas regarded these individuals the same way.
It’s easy to look back at a civilization and generalize. But just as not all US citizens, Chicanos, Christians, etc. believe the same things, so the hundreds of Nahua cities and towns had varieties of views, the nuances of which were effaced by Conquest.
They didn’t all worship the same. They didn’t all treat queer folx the same.
Thus, we have reports from Spanish conquerors of punishments for gay sex and transgender behavior, but we also have reports of queer folx deeply incorporated into social structures (temples, armies, families, etc.).
When we stop thinking monolithically, we see both views could be true.
Key to how Nahuas might’ve perceived LGBTQ+ individuals is the fact that the principal dichotomy in Mesoamerica wasn’t GOOD/EVIL. It was CHAOS/ORDER, which weren’t in conflict, but instead…