The first time I did the Puto Chant was at a game in 2008, but the real betrayal of it would not hit me until years later. As a gay Mexican, I didn’t understand the implications at the time. I was at my first professional game, a matchup between Chivas and Cruz Azul. The game was in Mexico City and my dad had gotten tickets through his friend; unfortunately, I, a die-hard Chivas fan, had ended up in Cruz Azul’s cheering section.
Mexican soccer doesn’t have the most family-friendly environment (which the chant has made crystal clear to the rest of the world). Especially not in la barra where I was sitting. I had gotten a new Chivas jersey outside the stadium, but my dad made me wear a sweater the entire game so no one would know I was rooting for the other side. I tried not to cheer when Chivas scored, and every time our keeper kicked off, I joined in on the chant.
I didn’t join due to any obligation or peer pressure. I did it because it was fun. I imagine that’s why most people do it. I loved watching Chivas games on TV and waiting to see just how loud we could get at each kickoff. There was something exciting about seeing it in person and being able to partake.
The rising tensions as thousands of fans begin the initial “eeeeehhhh!” that takes over the stadium, hands shaking out in front, culminating in the climactic “puto!” as the keeper kicks the ball. Being part of such a huge group event is exhilarating; it’s the reason mob mentalities exist. I felt no qualms about it—except for a slight hesitation at cursing in front of my dad.
At face value it was a betrayal against my own team’s player. But it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal. No goalkeepers had ever complained about the chant. The only qualms the media or fans had ever shown over it was when Mexico hosted the 2011 U-17 World Cup. The chant was changed to “Pluto” to cater to the young players and family-friendly crowds.
I did the chant two more times at games, and I’ll admit the veneer began to rub off a little. These were not Mexican league games, but matches with just a couple thousand people. It’s hard to hide behind the chant when it’s only a handful of people doing it, and when the players, less accustomed to it, are visibly upset by it. Each time my wife and I only did the chant a few times before we stopped.
As I remember it, when the backlash to the chant began picking up steam, it was primarily American fans complaining about it being used during a game against the US. My first issue with the backlash was the implication that there was some anti-American bias to it. Considering the chant by then had been used in Liga MX games for close to a decade, it was clearly not used specifically with Americans in mind.
I also resisted the suggestion that the chant was explicitly homophobic. As a gay Latina, I knew I’d never partake in that type of behavior. I never did the chant with that kind of malice; I never saw “puto” as a targeted insult. Even now, I don’t believe it was chosen for that reason; but it’s impossible to deny the connotations are there.
It’s easy for me to cop out and say I didn’t know because I didn’t grow up in Mexico. I moved to the US when I was eight years old, before learning the many intricacies of our curse words. And believe me; we have a lot of them.
That’s no excuse on my part. You should know the meanings of words before you shout them out at someone, jokingly or not. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was in projecting my intent to the fans that do the chant during league games, friendlies, or qualifiers. It was in believing that just because I did in jest, they were doing so as well. And to be honest, considering Mexico’s ongoing issues with homophobia, there was no reason to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
It still grates me to see Mexican fans universally labeled homophobic due to the chant. I can certainly understand the original pushback when we were criticized for it. Not only did we push back against the idea that Mexican fans were targeting the gay community, but we also resisted the implication that we were particularly worse than any other country.
Unfortunately, that didn’t lead to a nuanced discussion; it led to an irrational attachment to the chant which seemed to get louder in each successive match. Once you start disregarding other people’s feelings on behalf of a sporting ritual—you’re on the wrong side. Ever since the international community came out against the chant I stopped doing it.
The fact that so many have been hesitant to do the same just further proves me wrong. It shows how little they respect the gay community in Mexico. The fun of such a chant is in getting a whole crowd together as one, not in what you’re saying. It’s not that hard to replace a word in the chant. But they don’t. They know that word packs an extra punch. It packs an extra punch because they find gayness so abhorrent.
It’s disheartening to see the reaction to the chant criticism. Not only did the chants get louder, but the Mexican federation seemed to encourage it. Instead of imploring fans to stop, the FMF backed its fans fully. The FMF Secretary General had the following to say when appealing FIFA’s fines:
“We insist that it’s not a homophobic chant; just because it has that definition, especially when translated literally to English. Because of how the chant was born and how it has developed in this country, we insist that in Mexico, the word does not have a homophobic connotation.”
Thankfully, since then the FMF has changed its mind. It has come out officially against the chant and given officials permission to stop matches if it persists (though none have chosen to do so). Mexican clubs America and Tigres have committed to rebuilding a school for each game in which their home fans don’t do the chant.
At least the chant helped me get out of my denial and accept that my country has long ways to go when it comes to homophobia. And it shouldn’t have taken a chant for me to figure it out.
I wish that I had been more forward thinking and not participated in the chant or laughed when they started censoring it on TV. I wish I hadn’t been so angry when I saw others label my culture as homophobic. I see the way that gay people are still shown as caricatures on Mexican TV. I see the way those same fans reacted to Bianca Sierra and Stephany Mayor’s relationship. I remember the family members that refused to come to my wedding because they didn’t approve of my lifestyle.
It’s easy to lash out when we’re forced to face our flaws even when we’re hurt by them directly. This chant has become a national embarrassment and it should be. But it’s an opportunity to shed a light on Mexico’s bigger shame; on the passive and active aggressions that have let a homophobic mindset persist well into the 21st century. I hope that we’re able to wipe out the chant soon, but I worry that we’re too willfully blind and defensive to acknowledge the bigger picture and face the issue of homophobia head on.