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Identity

The Queer Dancers Fighting to Take Part in an Annual Gender-Bending Celebration

A new documentary, "Our Fire Blooms," follows gay men and trans womens’ struggles to participate in their town's annual festival, despite mounting resistance.

by Genevieve Roudané
Jul 19 2016, 5:38pm

Photo by Catalina Ausin

Chiapa de Corzo, like many towns in Mexico, holds an annual festival in honor of its patron saint, St. Sebastian. But the Fiesta Grande in Chiapa de Corzo is different: On this date, a traditional character called the chunta is represented by hundreds of men (and some women), who dress as a female character called the chunta and dance through the streets.

This role has typically been played by straight, cisgender men dressed as women—but in recent years, gay men and trans women have fought for their place in the chunta tradition, despite mounting resistance. An upcoming documentary film, Our Fire Blooms, goes behind the scenes with the dancers.

A chunta dancer puts the finishing touches on his eyebrows before heading out to join hundreds of other dancers of all genders and sexual orientations in the annual Fiesta Grande celebration held in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Genevieve Roudané.

Fabulous nails, the perfect tool for applying fabulous eyelashes. Photo by Genevieve Roudané.

"The chunta represents how the world should be: we all help each other" says Isauro Vidal as he gets his makeup done by his friend Domingo Flores. Photo by Genevieve Roudané.

"I get a lot of criticism because I accept gays in my gang," says Esther Noreiga (center), pictured here with her son and grandson. Esther created her own "gang," or group, of chunta, where dancers of all gender identities and sexual orientations are welcomed to participate in the tradition. Photo by Genevieve Roudané.

"Times are evolving, and I think we should all evolve with the times," says Sarai Hernández, a local hairdresser and chunta dancer. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with the increasing diversity of the chunta: Some accuse gay and trans dancers of "distorting" the tradition, previously upheld by straight men. Photo by Catalina Ausin.

"It's a magical, mystical world. At some point, you forget who you are," says Domingo Flores, chunta dancer and protagonist of a new documentary on the chunta called Our Fire Blooms. Photo by Catalina Ausin.

"The Fiesta Grande is the beating heart of Chiapas (Mexico)," says José Eliezer Esponda Cáceres (left), as he and fellow chunta dancer Josué Moisés visit an altar to pay their respects during the festival. Photo by Cecilia Monroy Cuevas.

The Fiesta Grande is a syncretic mix of Catholic indigenous spirituality, and the chunta dance from homemade altar to homemade altar. Here, an altar to Saint Antonio Abad is lush with flowers and candles. Photo by Catalina Ausin.

"I've been working hard all year to save up for my dress," says Salomé Trujillo, chunta dancer and member of Esther Noreiga's gang. Photo by Catalina Ausin.

The gender-bending tradition of the chunta dancers is a deep part of the town's tradition, and many begin participating from a young age. Photo by Catalina Ausin.

That look you get when you're magic and you know it. Photo by Catalina Ausin.

Some believe that the chunta tradition is a symbolic representation tied to an ancient calendar in which, once a year, everything is turned upside down. Photo by Cecilia Monroy Cuevas.

The chunta tradition means many things to many people—but everyone knows that to truly understand it, you have to live it. Photo by Catalina Ausin.

"Trans and proud!" a banner from the first GLBT pride parade held in Chiapas, Mexico, in 2014. There is a long history of violence against members of the GLBT community, and trans women in particular in Chiapas. Activists continue to fight for basic rights and recognition, both inside and outside the festival. Photo by Genevieve Roudané.