Gay life in Chile: Interview with Ivan from Santiago
Chile has come a long way since the dark days of the oppressive Pinochet years between 1973 and 1990, when gay people were detained and reportedly killed.
In just a few decades, the country has quickly evolved to having major gay events, a strong queer culture and is on the way to passing marriage equality laws. Santiago's gay scene is huge, with gay couples holding hands/kissing publicly in the streets and one of the largest gay clubs in the whole of South America, Il Divino, is in Viña del Mar. All the local gays guys we met in Chile were open and comfortable with their homosexuality.
In Santiago, we met Ivan who told us more about gay life in Chile, what it's like growing up gay here and what the gay scene of Santiago is like.
Hola Ivan, where are you from and what do you do?
Hello Nomadic Boys, I'm Ivan, 34 years old and originally from the south Chile in Puerto Montt. I grew up in Conception then moved to Santiago when I was a teenager where I have been living ever since. I recently set up a gay tour company aimed at gay travellers, called Pride Tours Chile.
My company offers fun and personalised services to the LGBTQ community travelling to Chile. We provide a variety of activities including bicycle/walking tours in Santiago, vineyard tours and tours further afield in the country. Our most popular tour is of Santiago's gay night life where we take you round the many bars and clubs in our Bellavista gaybourhood.
For your readers we are offering an exclusive 5% discount off all our tours if they quote “NOMADIC5” when booking.
Tell us about your coming out experience?
I come from a very religious background and was even a Jesuit boy growing up. I had my first sexual encounter with another man when I was 19, but my Catholic guilt did not allow me to accept being gay until I turned 24. That's how old I was when I came out and finally accepted it.
I came out to my friends and family when I was 26. There were a lot of tears and drama – my mother cried for a month. But over the years, everyone grew to accept it and now my mother is like my best friend. My father always accepted it, so no conversation was ever needed. He said he always knew.
My grandfather is actually a very cool man: when I was a little boy I used to love playing with Barbie dolls. Instead of telling me off for this, he bought me a gender neutral toy to play with: a giraffe! I loved it and at the same time, it stopped other children teasing me.
What's it like growing up gay in Chile?
I was a young boy during the Pinochet regime, when homosexuality was completely suppressed. During those times people simply did not believe gays even existed! Since those awful days, the Chilean LGBT community has started to gain more visibility: by encouraging more public debate about LGBT issues and increasing awareness about us. This has caused public opinion to shift in our favour, and in turn, Chilean society evolved to accept us, realising we did not choose to be this way.
Chile is still of course very conservative, which is the main reason I didn't come out until my mid twenties. This is also why LGBT laws are not as advanced as it should be in Chile compared to some of our neighbours.
Our path to change really started to get going in the 2000s, especially in 2010 when former President Sebastián Piñera had an openly gay man and famous Chilean activist, Luis Larraín Stieb, as his PR expert. Stieb went on to run the LGBT organisation called Fundación Iguales and is now a politician running for a seat in Congress. He is recognised as one of the Top 50 diversity figures in public life.
Also, every year for the International Day Against Homophobia Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) on 17 May, our government lights up our Moneda Palace in central Santiago with rainbow colours. A decade ago you wouldn't have seen anything like this at all anywhere in Chile, which goes to show how far we've evolved on LGBTQ rights today.
Have you ever experienced any homophobia growing up?
Luckily I've never been victim to any homophobia growing up, but I came out quite late and was always very straight acting.
After coming out, I experienced homophobia from family members, especially the older generation. I can almost excuse them because that is generational, so we've reluctantly learnt to live with each others' differing opinions of life.
More recently, an uncle kept making nasty homophobic comments at family gatherings, reciting verses from the Bible, which hurt me a lot. I eventually plucked up the courage to confront him about it. He responded by threatening to punch me for being disrespectful to him and to God. I pointed to my right cheek and told him to do it, then told him I would offer him the other cheek – a reference from Matthew 5:39 from the Bible, meaning I would not swoop to his level:
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also”
He just stood looking at me in horror, not knowing what to do and backed off. It was truly a beautiful and very satisfying moment: his face went pale white and he hasn't made any homophobic comments to me ever since.
How did you meet other guys growing up?
I grew up in Puerto Montt, a city in the South of Chile, which did not have any gay hangouts when I was growing up (today you'll find bars like Club Angels there). When I was coming out and discovering that aspect of my life, we only had chat websites like Gaydar.
Since the advent of mobile dating apps like Grindr and Hornet over the last decade, it has became much easier to meet other guys.
Today, I live in Santiago, a city with a large gay scene with plenty of gay hangouts for almost every day of the week, so meeting other gay guys here is easier than it's ever been.
Which are your favourite gay bars and clubs in Santiago?
There's actually quite a few to choose from. We have our own “gaybourhood” in Bellavista with many gay bars and clubs along the Bombero Nuñez street and around.
I love Farinelli and Dionisio for the drag shows – even if you don't speak very good Spanish you'll love it and guaranteed to laugh all night long. In terms of gay clubs in Santiago, my favourites are Barcelona at Bunker and Toby at Femme.
Are there any big gay events or parties in Chile?
The gay Pride Parade in Santiago is pretty big and has been going strong since 2006. It's called the Marcha del Orgullo and takes place on the last Saturday in June.
In November we have another annual parade called Open Mind Fest, which is one big electronic street party, sponsored by Movilh.
The Mister Gay Chile event is another big deal for us, especially when Pablo Salvador won the International Mr Gay Competition in 2009. This year's Chilean representative for the Mr Gay World competition in Spain was Juan Pedro Pavez Bohle, but sadly he lost to Mr Gay Philippines.
Where would you take a date for a romantic dinner in Santiago?
I would go to one of our many famous wineries outside Santiago in the Casablanca Valley for a wine tasting afternoon, then a romantic meal at the gay owned Sarita Colonia restaurant. I love this place, it's so unique with a quirky “Peruvian Transvestite” theme. They do the best ceviche in town, yummy cocktails and their “Princesa” fondue dessert is to die for!
What's your favourite Chilean food?
I love pastel de choclo (beef and corn pie). For Chileans this is comfort food and one of our most traditional foods.
I also love our sea food, which is famous as we have almost 3,000 miles of coastline! A popular recipe is machas a la paremsana which is razor clams baked in their shell, mixed with cheese and wine. One of the best places to try fresh Chilean seafood is at lunch time at one of the many small restaurants in the Mercado Central (Central Market) in Santiago.
Are there any famous gay Chilean celebrities?
We have quite a few. La Botota is one of our most famous drag queens who rose to fame via the reality TV shows and now performs at Fausto gay club in Santiago. And of course we all love Olympic gymnast Tomáz Gonzáles who is a smoking hot – he's not officially out, but he's well known in our gay scene.
Jordi Castel is a famous Chilean photographer and TV presenter who was one of the first celebrities to publicly come out on TV. José Jaime Parada Hoyl was our first openly gay politician to be elected to public office.
Others include journalists and TV personalities like Jose Antonio Neme, José Miguel Villouta, actor Iñigo Urrutia and dancer Rodrigo Díaz.
Any Chilean gay slang words LGBT travellers should know?
Our Chilean accent is famous as being one of the hardest to understand in Latin America, especially as we have many slang words. A few Chilean gay slang words you can learn to use on Grindr or, if a drag queen pulls you on stage(!)…
- hey gurrl: que tal hu-e-o-na
- boyfriend: pololo
- dick: pico or pichula or verga
- you whore/slut: que maraca
- versatile: moderno
- very kinky: super cochino
- lesbian: torta
- hangover: caña
Finally, we keep seeing the Indio Picaro everywhere we go in Chile with the large penis popping out. What's that about??!!
Oh my god, the Indio Pícaro!! Hahaha – this always baffles visitors and tourists in Chile.
This is a small wooden carved Chilean souvenir toy where you slide up the body and a large dick pops up. It's sold everywhere in artisan shops across Chile and you only find it here.
Indio Pícaro means “kinky Indian” and it all started as a joke back in the 1990s when an artisan was tasked to make an apache Indian-like toy for his boss. He added this tongue-in-cheek “feature” and became so popular, other people asked him to make one for them as well. He sold more and more and has become a popular souvenir ever since – even former USA Vice President Dan Quayle bought a few when he visited Chile.
You can find an almost life sized Indio Pícaro in Valparaiso's main market:
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FOR MORE INSPIRATION:
- Connect with Ivan on his Pride Tours Chile Facebook page – and if you quote “NOMADIC5” on any of their tours they can offer you a 5% discount!
- check out our gay guide to Valparaiso