Patagonia is at the bottom of the world. This land is shared by both Chile and Argentina, but was once ruled by the Mapuches, Selknam, and other various native groups. The “che” in Mapuche means person not Che Guevara, and the name Selknam means, “we are all equal.”
Today, everyone in Patagonia is not equal, celebrities like Ted Turner own millions of acres, the natives are nearly gone, and Patagonia is almost uninhabited. The region has less people per square mile than anywhere else on the continent.
Even here however, just like everywhere on earth, the LGBTQ community exists. A member of this community approached me in the blue-collar town of Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego. Here is an excerpt from his story, and it is all true. Manuel is a real man.
Rainbows occur everyday in Tierra del Fuego. This photo taken near Tolhuin.
“Manuel was a sensitive man. He stood about six feet tall and was well built, with light brown hair and soft, welcoming features. He told us his life story almost immediately.
“I am gay.” He told us. “Well, I was gay … I don’t know.”
We didn’t act surprised. He could see we didn’t care, and he opened up more.
“I always felt like a woman. My mom told me she knew I was a girl the whole time she was pregnant. I traded my action figures for dolls. But… When I was eight, some older ‘straight’ guys took me into to the woods and raped me. They called me ‘fag’ while they were doing it… I had ten brothers and sisters; my oldest was an alcoholic. He used to get drunk and beat me.”
When Manuel was older, he had worked in Europe and picked up some French and Italian. After Europe, he returned home to Argentina and became more feminine.
“I took all the ladies’ hormones—those things,” he told us. “I wore the heels, the dresses, all the jewelry.”
Transvestites are prevalent in Argentina. Most Argentinos seem to find transvestites amusing if not entertaining. There was a popular morning show hosted by Flor de la V, and she is the Argentine version of our Ru Paul. Every city in Argentina has a street, or five, where the transvestites work.”
Jackson carrying our puppy Cumbrecita who Manuel had given to us. She crossed an international border and found a home in Puerta Natales.
“He woke up at five and very quietly got dressed for work. Manuel worked at a factory that assembled various types of microwaves, TVs, and cellphones. The pay was pretty good in tax-free Tierra del Fuego, and he was making the equivalent of $1,800 a month. He told us that when he first started working, the guys gave him a hard time. He had to earn their respect. To do so, he kept bringing them candies. This morning he stuffed a few chocolates in his pocket and walked out the door.
When we woke up, the three of us decided to stay longer. We wanted to live in a poor shantytown community at the bottom of the world. We wanted to shit more in his shed out back. It was filled with guinea pigs, and they went, “qwee-qwee” when we did. We played with his dogs. I know Manuel felt cool that the three Americans were staying with the gay guy everyone turned their nose up to.
“A lot of them don’t like me,” he told us.
We sensed a slight unease because of obvious vulnerability. The response time on a police call is eternity, and Manuel had told us about some of his bad neighbors. The three of us jumped.
“Let’s go talk to them. We will kick their ass!” We yelled knowing it would never happen.
Manuel got flustered, saying we couldn’t, but it was clear from his smile that he liked having people stick up for him. He wasn’t used to it, and we already loved Manuel.”
Hitching a ride with a supposed professional futbol player. He had killed an amardillo for dinner and took me to Pilcaniyeu.
“Manuel was full of energy when he got off work. He had been gossiping all day about how three yankis were staying at his house. That is what Argentinos call people from the United States; the word is pronounced “janky.” Devin cooked a yellow curry, but it was too spicy for Lorena. Manuel said he liked it, but the spiciest food in Argentina is normally garlic.
The meal’s disappointment ended immediately, when Manuel pulled out a bunch of old dance songs that he liked; Whitney Houston was his favorite, and we had a party in his living room, everyone dancing together, except for Lorena who was too embarrassed. Manuel was filming it, and he kept repeating gleefully, “This has really happened … I will have it forever.”
He also told us that we could stay here forever and buy a plot of land next to his.
“They are trying to get people to move here. You can have your own place here; we will build it!’”
Manuel was and is a dreamer, but more so, Manuel was a real man. He faced and faces many challenges in his life, but he is constantly seeking out ways to improve his surroundings. Manuel is the light glowing at the bottom of the world. There are many ways to be a man…..
Just south of the Rio Negro with the gauchos, or Argentine cowboys. These guys lived close to Bariloche and liked to party.
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