It’s Complicated

by | May 26, 2021 | General | 6 comments

El Baile de los quarenta y uno (The Dance of the Forty-One) is a recent Mexican movie, dubbed in English, which is currently available on Netflix. My Latina spouse, Mirtha, read about it and proposed that we watch it on TV during the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada.

Here is the Wikipedia explanation of the real-life incident on which the movie is based:

During the presidency of Porfirio Diaz, an illegal police raid was carried out on November 17, 1901, against a private home in Mexico City, the site of a dance attended by a group of men, of whom nineteen were dressed in women’s clothing.

“The press was keen to report the incident, in spite of the government’s efforts to hush it up, since the participants belonged to the upper echelons of society. The list of the detainees was never published. Only 41 men were officially arrested. However, there were rumors that Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, son-in-law of President Diaz, was also in attendance. Of the 41 men arrested for “offense to morals and good manners,” most paid for their freedom and only [!] 12 were eventually sent to work in the Yucatan.

The movie begins with the courtship of Ignacio de la Torre, an aspiring politician, and Amada, the illegitimate (a term much used in the nineteenth century) daughter of Porfirio Diaz and an Indigenous woman, Rafaela Quinones. In a racist, patriarchal culture, Amada has an ambiguous social position: her father is powerful, but she is a woman born “out of wedlock,” and she is darker than her white half-brothers and sisters. Her own mother is not welcome at social events attended by Senor Diaz’s legitimate family.

Ignacio de la Torre promises Amada a respectable life, but she is his means of marrying into the First Family of his country, and she can serve as his “beard,” the wife who will presumably protect him from dangerous gossip. At night, he spends much time in an exclusive club of men-loving men, all of whom are sworn to silence about their activities.

Amada is no fool. She paces the floor in the echoing mansion her father has provided for herself, her husband, and all the children her father expects them to have. She opens desk drawers, and finds the love notes to Ignacio from “Eva” (Evaristo Rivas), the man with whom he dreams of eloping.

The men’s club is shown as a luxurious site of orgies and balls. In a room full of claw-foot bathtubs, naked men wash, massage, fellate and fuck each other in twosomes, threesomes, and foursomes. In the gaming room, they smoke and play cards. In the ballroom, they dance together in imitation of the social lives they conduct with their wives on more public occasions.

When Amada confronts Ignacio with the evidence of his secret life, he is furious. Getting caught wasn’t part of his plan. She is willing to continue playing the role of contented wife in public if he gives her a child to focus on. She prays over him, hoping that God will “cure” him. Ignacio gets violent. It seems clear that he only stops short of seriously beating her because he is afraid of what her father could do to him.

Amada invites Evaristo to visit her at home for tea and conversation, and Ignacio is mortified to find him there. Ignacio continues to spend much time at his club, and Amada complains to her father, who assigns bodyguards to follow Ignacio everywhere, supposedly for his safety. A big reveal and a public scandal seem inevitable.

The scriptwriter is a woman, and the viewpoint from which the melodrama is shown looks balanced: the eye of the camera is not completely on one side or the other. Ignacio’s desperation, and his love for “Eva,” are poignant, but so is Amada’s loneliness and humiliation. Even though Amada is warned by other society matrons that a new husband’s devotion declines over time, it seems unlikely she had the faintest suspicion that she would be effectively dumped right after the wedding night.

The true history of “forbidden love” in all its forms generally seems to be this messy. Before it was safe for anyone to admit that they were sexually attracted to members of their own gender, a supposedly heterosexual relationship made a good disguise. This meant that one person was the dupe, the one who was lured into a commitment that the other person never meant to honour.

Several gay ex-husbands I’ve known in real life have told me how disappointed they were when their ex-wives turned out to be “homophobic.” I always ask the man whether he warned the woman what she was getting into, and what he expected when he “came out” to her or she found evidence of his extramarital activities. Usually this happened when he was no longer willing to sneak out only on weekends, or no longer willing to hide his feelings for a Significant Other.

Thinking of the harm done by the gay men I know, I wouldn’t want them to stay “in the closet” forever because that would mean burying a part of themselves. On the other hand, I really wish that no one’s sexual awakening had to hurt anyone else.

There are also women-loving women—including me—who were previously married to men. In most cases that I know of, the marriage fell apart under its own weight before the ex-wife “came out” and began dating other women instead of repeating a losing formula and possibly having more children who (on average) would be their mother’s sole responsibility. There are exceptions to this rule. I heard of a woman who rebounded after a painful breakup with another woman by finding a dating site and quickly getting engaged to a local farmer who was looking for a wife. Before the wedding date, the woman realized that she had not really “straightened out,” and ghosted her fiance, leaving him wondering what happened.

Even though the LGBTQ community now enjoys a degree of social acceptance that our predecessors could only dream of, there is still a certain pressure on those who tell “queer stories” to make them as “positive” as possible. The lesbian romances from Cleis Press that enchanted me in the 1980s tend to end with all the loose ends wrapped up, the happy couple planning a future together, and the exes either supportive or at least resigned. Stories like this are comforting, but they don’t capture the complexity of real life. A poly, pansexual lifestyle is not for everyone, and a person who just discovered they have been deceived is unlikely to want an intimate connection with their deceiver’s side piece, or preferred lover.

Sexual ecstasy doesn’t rule out emotional pain. I wish more editors of erotic anthologies would recognize that showing some heartbreak is not a warning that Lust is a slippery slope to hell. Betrayal and disappointment can just be setbacks on the road to better things.


Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica ( Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links:


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    This is a wise and wonderful post, Jean.

    If anything, I think the erotica market has become even more insistent on sunny, unrealistic, uncomplicated endings to lesbian and gay stories.

    Sounds like a dynamite movie.

    • Jean Roberta

      Thank you, Lisabet! One of my pet peeves is the relentless emphasis that some editors put on “positivity” and happy endings. I’m sure they miss out on some intriguing stories that way.

  2. Henry Corrigan

    Greetings Jean! A beautifully thoughtful post. It made me want to rethink how I write LGBTQ stories going forward. Complications always make for better stories 🙂

  3. Rose

    Hello, Jean (hope you had a lovely Victoria Day, or as we sometimes called it, “Firecracker Day”),

    If I might put forward an opinion, strictly as an observer, and not knocking the romance genre (really…not), it seems to me that more and more, the general population has started equating erotica with romance (genre romance). The problem would seem to be that the romance genre requires a happily-ever-after, or happy-for-now, ending. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, for *that* genre. When the equating of romance with “love stories” occurs, that’s when it becomes prickly, because love stories (as I think of them, anyway) are about more than what is required by genre romance.

    Love stories, as I think of them, are “life” stories. Yes, there can be some “romantic” elements, but love stories are about much more. There are many complications involving the characters. There are tragedies, there’s comedy, there are everyday challenges, illnesses, death, betrayal, arguments, reconciliations, partings of the way, estrangements, family issues — basically a plethora of “shit happens” scenarios. But, by and large, life stories aren’t about *happily ever after* or even happy *for now.* They *can* end that way, but it’s the journey that shapes the characters who make it to the end of the story, whether alive or dead. Yes, I think a good love story can end “happily” or at least contentedly, even if there is a death (or deaths) at the conclusion, or somewhere along the way.

    This is just my opinion, and I could be totally wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I feel that genre romance stories end where the rest of the story — the much longer story — begins. Very often, the romances, no matter the pairings, end with a positive and generally uplifting, “I do,” in some form. Love stories, or life stories, often start with something akin to “I don’t know what to do,” and that question, in some form or others, continues throughout the story. Love and life are about decision making on a regular basis. This is because journeys of love and life constantly require the serial asking and answering of questions, the overcoming of both minor and major speed bumps. The questions never stop, nor do the challenges. It’s continual flux and the conclusion is never, ever set in stone. There is nothing formulaic about love and life in the real world, despite efforts on the part of some (or many) people, to impose some kind of formula that includes the idea that “your life will be perfect, if you…”

    Again, I should emphasize that I am not knocking genre romance, which seems to be absorbing the erotica label, only the emphasis that is placed (by the market mavens) on romance and love and sex always ending with a cheerful message of “this is the formula for happiness.”

    El Baile de los quarenta y uno (The Dance of the Forty-One) sounds like a much more engaging story for its complications and reflections of reality.

    Sorry for going on so (and there really is more I’d love to say, but I don’t want to be a total bore). I treat this blog the way I used to treat posts in Parlor and Writers, which don’t happen much anymore.

    Thank you, Jean, for the thoughtfulness and insights in your excellent post.

    Rose 😉

  4. Tig

    A sobering reminder and, from what I’ve learned from close friends, so true!

    Beautifully written, as always xxxx

  5. Jean Roberta

    A late thank you to Henry, Rose, and Tig for your comments! Sorry I’ve been so distracted with marking student essays in the last month to respond, even though I read your comments. It seems we’ve all noticed the relentless drift of the erotica genre into romance territory, and the general expectation of happy endings in fiction that don’t necessarily happen in real life. The story of a closeted gay man and his “beard,” the woman he uses as cover, resonates with me because I’ve heard these stories from gay-male friends. Even from that source, the situation sounds like torture for the fake girlfriend or bride. This is one of the reasons I really think that more sexual freedom and sexual honesty would lead to better relationships all around.

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