Mariquita is a derogatory slang term in Spanish that defines an effeminate man. It could be translated in English as fairy, although there is no exact equivalence for its meaning. Mariquita was ignorantly used as an umbrella term during Franco’s Regime to label any male individual that did not act masculine; thus, putting together transsexuals, homosexuals and any other non-heteronormative identities as one big Otherness to be prosecuted.
Endangered Queer Identities: Mariquita (2018)
Research & Intervention proposal
“Cádiz is just full of hookers and fags” This is the popular legend that the Andalusian city of Cádiz (Spain) carries historically due to an anecdote that dates back to the XIX Century. (1) The primitive queer identities seem to have been forgotten by determined sectors of the modern LGBT collective, a post-structuralist figuring of identity. In order to understand the tensions between the modern and the traditional discourse of gender and sexuality in Cádiz, I have carried a historical investigation focused on the anachronic figure of the Andalusian “mariquita” as subject, as it is a living evidence of the intersectional oppression suffered during the Spanish dictatorship, and the subsequent marginalisation from certain modern gay collectives during the democracy, due to notions of gender, class, ethnicity and age. This investigation aims to shed light on the unexplored profile of mariquitas as very little has been documented about them, in order to claim the importance of these indigenous identities whose visibility is in danger of extinction within modern Andalusian gay culture.
I have had the honour of having the expert voice of Francisco Vázquez, philosophy and history Professor at the University of Cádiz, specialized in gender studies, that guides and enriches this investigation, together with first-hand testimonials of queer identities interviewed in Cádiz.
Mariquita is a derogatory slang term that defines an effeminate man. It could be translated in English as fairy, although there is no exact equivalence for its meaning. Mariquita was ignorantly used as an umbrella term during Franco’s Regime to label any male individual that did not act masculine; thus, putting together transsexuals, homosexuals and any other non-heteronormative identities as one big Otherness to be prosecuted. This misconception of homosexuality and transsexuality is evidenced in the lyrics of a traditional folk song:
“Do not call him a fairy, as he has a name of his own;
he’s not to be blamed for acting feminine,
as God wanted to make him a man,
while he was supposed to be born a woman.”
(Juan Valladares, No Decirle Mariquita)
Under this label, this collective encompasses a diverse social reality that ranges from the “transvestite” (now, generally, transsexual) to the effeminate. (Cáceres, Valcuende 2014). Generally, when in conversation with them, they use feminine and masculine pronouns indistinctively when referring to themselves.
Relying on Foucauldian analysis, I have studied the systems of oppression within Francoist Andalusia and within the post-Franco democracy. By analysing how power in practice works through the eyes of those sectors of society onto which power is executed, we can have a much more realistic vision on how the system actually works. (2) Therefore, in order to understand the discrimination that mariquitas often face nowadays, we need to take a diachronic look at their own history.
In Francoist Spain, “homosexual acts” were punished by law. However, the law of “Vagos y Maleantes” (1954), (3) as it used to be called, was executed based on class. Individuals who were arrested for homosexual acts but had a fixed job, or were known by the local pastor or other notable people within the neighbourhood, were usually absolved. However, those who were poor or had a wandering lifestyle were harshly punished and often faced prison.
Particularly in Andalusia nevertheless, mariquitas were much more present and accepted within the public life, as they usually found a legal loophole within the deeply rooted culture of religion and performance of Andalusia. Mariquitas were said to have masculine and feminine attributes; thus, they had specific associated tasks and roles in the labour and domestic sphere. An anonymous woman said “I prefer to have a mariquita at home as my assistant, as they have the sensibility of a woman, but the strength of a man!” Some of them used to be in charge of the process of undressing and dressing up the sculptures of virgins in churches, as seeing the naked figure of the Virgin Mary was considered sacrilegious for (straight) men. (Cáceres, Valcuende 2014) This character is portrayed in the film “Madre Amadísima (2009) (4). Others would make use of their artistic qualities and ingenuity to sing coplas, tell jokes, or any other sort of entertainment for the upper social classes that would perceive this figure as some kind of jester.
In Cádiz, Carnival used to be and still is, the most notable festivity in the city. During Francoism, it was the only time of the year where men were allowed to disguise themselves as women, an opportunity that some mariquitas took advantage of. Petróleo, a popular mariquita from a neighbourhood in Cádiz states in her interview “The first time I started dressing up with female clothing was during carnival” The subversive dimension of this festivity softened the way for future steps in the liberation of non-heteronormative individuals.
Franco dies in 1975, and subsequently a process of renovation starts together with the Transition to democracy. The first LGBTI march in Spain takes place in 1977, where banners can be seen stating “We are not faggots, we are transsexuals”. (5) In 1987, transsexual identities are legally recognised. (6)
Generally, mariquitas don’t to recognise themselves within the modern LGBTQ+ community, with a few exceptions, as they are pre-identity. Their existence was a form of individual survival that they lived using performance, comedy and ingenuity as tools to achieve their own freedom, because their identity was developed within a political context where talking about “gay rights” made no sense, as an organised politic resistance was not possible. (Vázquez 2017)
Current tensions and scenario
The figure of the mariquita is an anachronic one. It’s existence today is seen by some men of the gay collective as a primitive, archaic stereotype that contributes to stigmatize the LGBT collective. In an attempt to gain acceptance from the heteropatriarchy, this collective of mariquitas is marginalised as it is seen as undermining the image of the modern gay individuals who act masculine, marry, raise kids and have a proper source of income that positions them in a middle-class standard, being more easily accepted under the eyes of a heteronormative society. Within that rejection, there is some rejection of class as well. Both, the mariquita and the modern gay man, are different ways of manifesting the transgression of heteronormativity; the mariquita manifested it in much harsher circumstances than the modern gay man obviously, thus it shouldn’t be rejected, but welcomed as part of our tradition, as they were the ones who resisted the regime (Vázquez 2017) and they incarnate a series of values that beneficiate the progress of our society
To briefly understand the tension between the modern gay man and the traditional figure of the mariquita, the Pride parade of any Andalusian city could be used as scenario. Throughout the last decades, the figure of the youthful, white, middle-class, gay man with a sculptural body has gradually started to appropriate the leadership of the Gay marches. Once an act of protest, the Pride Parade is being transformed into a commodified event, alienating the precursors of the initial movement amongst which, the mariquita was present. (7) Again, a masculine figure oppresses and invisibilizes the rest of realities. Being the Pride parade the greatest event to gain visibility within the LGBTQI+ community and towards the world thanks to the media, indigenous, alternative and intersectional realities should be identified and extolled to bring back some of the original meaning of queer liberation to the movement. By bringing out the collective of mariquitas, we would be promoting more positive values for the modern society, outlined in the following paragraphs, as these individuals represent a historical example of bravery, a futuristic approach of sexuality, and a more inclusive canon of femininity.
“Petróleo and Salvaora were spearheads in the conquest of rights. They fought for their liberty without losing who they were nor how they wanted to be seen by society.” Stated the mayor of Cádiz during an honouring ceremony during the LGBT pride month. (8) Their ingenuity and creativity stands out as they came up with tricks and quirks to survive within the Regime. Their acts could be considered as an individual battle for their own freedom and survival; however, their presence in the public life of the pre-democracy era was itself an act of subversion that became the spark that ignited the rise of the first political marches claiming human rights for LGTBI people. Nowadays, mariquitas such as Petróleo or Salvaora incarnate a great historical value that must not be forgotten, as they are the faces of the resistance wielded against the heteropatriarchal dictatorship and the ones who achieved the essential rights we have today as part of the LGBTIQ+ collective.
Furthermore, their anachronic presence in today’s society proposes a futuristic vision of sexuality and gender that generates debate. They developed an identity within an ignorant system where biological sex, gender and sexual orientation weren’t differentiated, and when no labels, referents or structured models were available; they simply fluctuated organically within the spectrums of gender and sexuality. Unconsciously, they created a fluid discourse of gender and sexual identity that clashes with the neatly structured narrative of today’s LGBT model. Their discourse incites us to question and revisit certain assumptions about the way we identify ourselves, with or without labels, and how we sexually interact with other individuals today. Brice Chamoleau talks about this futuristic approach in his book “Los Fantasmas Queer de la Democracia” (9)
The model of femininity that mariquitas incarnate is that of the women who share their same “ecological niche” within slum culture. (Vázquez 2017) A great number of women in Andalusia live in precarious conditions, however they fight against adversity with a very special sense of humour and positivity. This model of woman becomes an ideal, and its traits and patterns are repeated and impersonated by mariquitas as part of their own identity. Moreover, in transvestism performances where feminine traits are exaggerated, mariquitas tend to inspire themselves from female folk artists known for their strong personality, humbleness, and spontaneity, as opposed to the mediatized model of femininity perpetuated in commercials, cinema or classic drag shows, where beauty, glamour, money and youthfulness are presented the key values to success. Bella Tato (50), a folk transvestite corroborates this in the interview I carried out: “As you saw in my performance, I don’t imitate anyone, I have my own personality; however, I do inspire myself from artists with a strong temperament such as Lola Flores”.
The intrinsic lack of a sense of collectiveness among mariquitas that can be understood by looking back at their history (Vázquez 2017), hinders their representation within the LGBTIQ+ movement in Andalusia. My proposed design intervention has the aim of empowering and making mariquitas more visible by generating a feeling of collectiveness.
Looking at past interventions that had been made concerning the extolling or mediatization of mariquitas in the city of Cádiz, I would highlight 2 of them. The first one, the most recent one, is a public ceremony that took place in the City Hall of Cádiz, where the mayor awarded tribute plaques to Salvaora and Petróleo, 2 mariquitas from Cádiz, to publicly recognise their bravery. (8) Until then, these figures were just popularly known by the locals of the city; now a part of their history has been immortalised and propagated on a more global scale through social media.
Secondly, Carnival today in Cádiz still acts as a subversive festivity in which humour, performance and social protest merge together. Every year a series of people’s groupings dress up as a determined character and perform satirical lyrics at the Official Competition of Cádiz Carnival Groups. Compositor Selu García Cossio tends to portray an exaggerated version of marginal stereotypes from the folk culture of Cádiz such as the oratory cleaning ladies or alcoholic men. In 2006, Selu presented a hilarious depiction of the Cádiz mariquita in his grouping “Los Que Cosen Pa La Calle”, where the crude reality of these individuals was being subliminally narrated. This performative act introduced the queer protest in an unexpected environment, where people from all backgrounds laughed nervously, and reinforced the existence of the mariquita discourse within society.
Once their fight was publicly commemorated and a repeating pattern in a series of individuals that seem to share a similar historical background is detected, there should be a common visual identity and symbolism with which this group of individuals can feel represented, to generate a sense of collectiveness, using design as a tool to create a visually appealing and shocking identity; an identity designed to be immortalised by photographers in order to be able to gain a place within the media.
Exploring semiotics, I have designed a basic prototypical flag as an example that incarnates the folk element usually attributed to the female flamenco dresses from Andalusian culture, the white polka dots, printed onto a grey background symbolising the repression of “The Grey Ones”, the popular name given to the Armed Police of the Francoist State. (10) The grayscale image that results gives a sense of historical past, when contrasted with the colourful LGBT rainbow flags. When formatted into a physical flag, a few frills resembling again the flamenco dress, could be added to give it a less dramatic connotation, more suited to the common humoristic spirit of the mariquita. From here, a whole visual language could be constructed to communicate the collective’s identity, with a more active participation of mariquitas in the design process. This new visual language could be artificially introduced as an experiment in the next Pride parade of Cádiz, in the shape of flags, symbols, and banners held by volunteering mariquitas and observe how the rest of mariquitas and the media react.
Can a piece of speculative design incite the sense of community and the creation of community in the real world? Introducing a whole visual identity destined to represent the mariquitas as a collective could have these main scenarios:
- Ignored by the mariquitas and the media. The project remains documented as a speculative design or an experiment to inspire, be analysed or be revisited in the future, published as a book, exhibited in a museum or digital platforms.
- Ignored by the mariquitas but grabs the attention of the media. The project achieves a big part of its aim, the public documentation of an ungrouped social reality as part of an official Andalusian Queer culture to be easily spread and accessed from anywhere in the world. Hopefully, the mediatization of these identities could inspire other cultures to celebrate their own queer history by extolling their local queer identities, such as the xaniths from Omán (Wikan 1977) or the Philippine bakla (Tan 1995). This would serve as an exercise of introspection within our own culture, to detect indigenous or alternative models of non-heteronormativity that have been eclipsed by the globalised western model of gender and sexuality, and by other hegemonic sectors, in order to make them visible and empower them, thus promoting a more inclusive, intersectional and positive discourse within the global LGBTIQ+ collective.
- A symbolic amount of mariquitas realise their similarities and potential as a collective but don’t feel represented by the designed symbolism, so they take use of the new platform that has been propitiated, discard the old imagery and take ownership of the creation of their own visual identity as a collective. The newly created collective works together to achieve common interests.
- A symbolic amount of mariquitas realise their similarities and potential as a collective and accept the visual identity provided but the media does not pay attention. They do not have an impact on the rest of the world but they still have a platform that allows them to achieve objectives together within a local scale.
Francisco Vázquez García interviewed in December 2017, is recurrently quoted as (Vázquez, 2017)
Rafael Cáceres Feria and Rafael Valcuende del Río, authors of <<Globalization and sexual diversity, gays and mariquitas in Andalusia>> are recurrently quoted as (Cáceres, Valcuende 2014)
Cáceres Feria, R. and Valcuende Del Río, J. (2014). Globalization and sexual diversity, gays and mariquitas in Andalusia.
Capital, C. (2018). El alcalde rinde homenaje a ‘Petróleo’ y ‘Salvaora’. [online] Cádiz Directo. Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018].
Chamouleau, B. (2017). Tiran al maricón. Madrid, España: Ediciones Akal.
El Pais. (1987). Una sentencia del Supremo autoriza el cambio legal de sexo en España. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Dec. 2017].
En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Armed Police Corps. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2018].
Estape, L. and complet, V. (2015). LEY DE VAGOS Y MALEANTES. 1933, REVISADA EN 1954. [online] Leopoldest.blogspot.be. Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].
LaSexta (2018). Imágenes inéditas de la primera marcha del Orgullo LGTBI en España: "No somos maricones, somos transexuales". [online] laSexta.com. Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].
Madre Amadísima. (2009). [DVD] Directed by P. Távora. Spain.
Sessa, C. (2018). The Business of Pride: The Problem With Pink Capitalism. [online] The Odyssey Online. Available at: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2018].
thomson, p. and →, V. (2011). a Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis. [online] patter. Available at: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2018].
Valladares, J. (2001). No decirle mariquita.
Vázquez, F. (2015). The origins of a legend: Cadiz as city of “invertidos” (1898).