On Sunday, November 17, 1901, police raided a private party and arrested forty-one men, nineteen of them were dressed as women. Those in drag were publicly humiliated by being forced to sweep the streets — “women’s work.” The 41 were taken to an army barracks and inducted into the Mexican army. At least some of them were then put on a train to Veracruz, sent by ship to the Yucatan, and made to serve in the army as it was putting down a Mayan insurgency.
Here is how El Popular reported the story on November 20:
Last Sunday night, the police of the Eighth Precinct were informed that in the house located at number 4 La Paaz Street, a ball was being held without the corresponding permit. They immediately moved in to surprise the culprits, and after having encountered numerous difficulties in trying to get the partygoers to open up, the police broke into the house’s patio where they found 42 individuals who were dancing to the excessively loud music of a local street band.
When they noted the presence of the police, some of those who were dressed in women’s clothing attempted to flee in order to change out of the clothes of the opposite sex; but as the police understood the gravity of the situation, they did not allow anyone to leave, and all 42 including those still dressed as women were taken to the station from which they were then sent to Belem Prison, charged with attacks on morality, and put at the disposition of the District Governor.
As a complement to the previous report, we will say that among those individuals dressed as women, several were recognized as dandies who are seen daily on Plateros Street.
These men wore elegant ladies’ gowns, wigs, false breasts, earrings, embroidered shoes, and a great deal of eye makeup and rouge on their faces.
Once the news hit the boulevards, all kinds of commentaries were made, and the conduct of those individuals was censured.
We will not provide our readers with further details because they are summarily disgusting.
It was said that many of those arrested came from highly respected families with ties to the government of dictator Porfirio Diaz. Some of the earliest newspaper reports, like this one, had it that 42 were arrested. That number later dropped to 41, which generated even more rumors. One had it that the elderly lady who owned the house was one of those arrested, and she was later released. Other, more sinister rumors had it that one of those arrested was one of Diaz’s nephews.
El Popular may have been reluctant to provide details, but in subsequent days it was happy to imagine the scene for its readers:
If only we had seen them in their resplendent hairdos, their fake cleavage, with their shiny sparkling earrings, with their falsies like the ones worn by anemic bimbos, with their corseted waists, their dancing-girl skirts like inverted tulips, their buttery tights, their shoes fringed with crimped gold thread and colored glass beads, and all of them bedaubed in white powder and rouge, prancing about in the fandango with their perfumed and curly mustaches.
On November 23, El Pas published this account of one group of prisoners being transferred to the train bound for Veracruz:
The men-only ball that was raided by the police continues provoking talk in all social circles, by virtue of the fact that many of those detained are perfectly well known, since among them are men who stroll day after day down the boulevards showing off their stylish and perfectly tailored suits and wearing sumptuous jewels.
As we stated in yesterday’s issue, 12 of those captured in the house on the fourth block of La Pazz were sent to Veracruz along with seven thieves who were also conscripted into the armed services.
At 5:30 in the morning, the hour at which attendance is taken in the 24th Battalion (that is being remitted to the port of Veracruz), those called on first were the 12 individuals who had been at the famed ball, and after number 13, who was apelado [a term for a rough, lower-class urban Mexican] was called, he replied on hearing his name, “Present, my Captain,but let me go on record as saying that I am being conscripted as a thief; but I’m not one of them,” and he pointed to the group of dancers.
This provoked the laughter of those present, because not even a thief was willing to be confused with the perfumed boys, as they are called by the soldiers from the barracks
A very amusing scene developed in the the barracks of the 24th Battalion when the repugnant ones arrived wearing their magnificent overcoats, along with hats and nice patent-leather shoes. The captain of the recruits made them all strip without delay, and then handed out the rough but honorable articles of clothing that are given to recruits.
With tears in their eyes, they stripped off all their clothes, some of them begging that they be allowed at least to keep their nice silk undergarments, a request that the captain denied, since, he told them, there they were just the same as everyone else. He didn’t even allow them to keep their socks, and they all began to cry as they put on the shoes that would replace their lovely patent leather ladies’ shoes.
The government paper, El Imparcial, took plains to deny that the army was foolish enough to send any girly-men to the front lines:
All of the prisoners have been sent to Yucatan, but not as it has been said to join the ranks of the valiant soldiers taking part in the campaign; they will be employed instead on such tasks as digging trenches, opening breaches, and raising temporary fortifications.
Today, the number 41 has become slang for homosexuality or, more specifically, “faggot” or maricon. As the former revolutionary general and National Defense Secretary Francisco L. Urquizo explained in 1965, “The influence of this tradition is so strong that even officialdom ignores the number 41. No division, regiment, or battalion of the army is given the number 41. From 40 they progress directly to 42. No payroll has a number 41. Municipal records show no houses with the number 41. No hotel or hospital has a room 41. Nobody celebrates their 41st birthday, going straight from 40 to 42. No vehicle is assigned a number plate with 41, and no police officer will accept a badge with that number.” Some of the early LGBT advocacy groups in Mexico incorporated the number into their names, just as many similar groups in the U.S. have leveraged “Stonewall” as a shorthand for the struggle for gay rights.