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Beso de los Exoticos
THE STAGE IS awash in hot-pink light, and the announcer is summoning his deepest, most dramatic voice. It's Friday night in the Arena México -- time for Viernes Espectacular, Mexico City's biggest wrestling event of the week. The crowd is buzzing in the cavernous old arena, children are squirming in the colorful seats and the star exótico of the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) is waiting to enter the ring. He is the Savage Strawberry, Mister Forbidden Love: Maximo.
He emerges in aviator shades and a white leather jacket speckled with rhinestones, collar turned up high. Lately, Maximo has been going for what he calls a gay Elvis look, growing sideburns and a pompadour under his trademark pink mohawk. The crowd shrieks and laughs and loses its mind as he bounds down the steps, past the lines of shimmying ring girls in bikinis. When the short, stocky wrestler leaps over the ropes and into the ring, the skirt on his purple Greco-Roman singlet flutters.
Once the three-on-three match begins, Maximo doesn't merely fling himself off the ropes like most wrestlers, he prances. Before launching himself out of the ring to torpedo one opponent, El Terrible, he looks to the crowd and lets his eyes linger, his expressive features visible from the farthest of the arena's 17,000 seats. With his foe cornered against the turnbuckles, Maximo stands, straddling him on the second rope. He holds the squirming El Terrible's head back and wags his tongue, taunting him as the audience chants BE-SO, BE-SO.
Then, finally, Maximo delivers the symbolic deathblow: a fat kiss on the mouth.
THE NEXT MORNING, Jose Cristian Alvarado Ruiz walks to the refrigerator, pulls out a beer and collapses into an easy chair. His pink mohawk is flat from sleep, and he's sore all over from a long Friday; before the match at Arena México, he fought two exhibitions at political rallies in Puebla. His wife is making instant coffee and preparing sandwiches with avocado and deli meat.
Mexico's professional wrestling tradition, known as lucha libre, is a deeply ingrained part of the national culture. Exóticos have long been a part of that tradition: wrestlers who dress in drag and kiss their rivals, never quite revealing whether the joke is on their opponents, themselves or conservative Mexican society at large. Most working today are gay members of an often ostracized minority for whom lucha libre is a statement of pride, or at least a campy, unrestrained extension of self. But the man who is Maximo isn't gay. He's the father of two boys and husband to a wife, India Sioux, who is also a wrestler. He's also a devout Catholic who prays at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Alvarado, 32, lives with his family in a simple two-bedroom apartment in a working-class neighborhood called San Felipe de Jesus. Next to the front door, in a pink suitcase, are his work clothes -- boots, one-shoulder singlets with sewn-on skirts (the color he wears depends on his mood) and Roman warrior-style wristbands. The white leather jacket that he wore the night before hangs casually over the bedroom door, rhinestones catching the sun that shines through the window.
He follows up the beer with a coffee. Alvarado does not have much downtime. Later this morning, he will trek back to Arena México for a workout. After that, he will ride atop a double-decker bus in Mexico City's gay pride parade.