Gay life in Peru: interview with our friend Aaron from Lima
“A man who rides Peruvian paso horses is referred to as a “chalan” – not to be confused with a “chalon” – that’s Peruvian gay slang for a guy with a huge dick!”
Our Peruvian buddy Aaron from Lima is always keen to show off the highlights of his country.
Tourism in Peru has exploded over the past decade and alongside this, it has been one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Peru has historically been a very conservative society and quite hostile to its LGBT community.
For example, there are no laws in place for gay couples to enter into civil unions, let alone gay marriage. On top of that, laws meant to protect public morals are often used against gays and lesbians: a protest called Kisses Against Homophobia over the Valentine’s weekend in 2016 was brutally and violently interrupted by the police showing the government’s lack of progress in protecting its LGBT Peruvians.
However, fast forward a year and there is hope for change. More Peruvian politicians are slowly coming out to support the LGBT community. The Civil Union bill was reintroduced into Congress in late November 2016 with strong backing from President Kuczynski.
Then in January 2017, the same President issued a decree prohibiting all forms of discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Very slowly, Peru is evolving and getting ready to take her place in the pink limelight.
Our buddy Aaron grew up in Lima during the 1990s, long before any of this change was even dreamt of.
Aaron gave us the lowdown of what gay life is like in Peru and what it was like growing up gay in big city Lima.
#1 Buenos dias Aaron, where are you from and what do you do?
Hey boys, my name is Aaron Peiva Leyton, I’m 37 years old from Lima. My friends call me “El Cochorro”, which means “The Cub”.
I’m a private tour guide offering bespoke tours across the country as well as cooking classes at home with my mother. I also love Gloria Estefan, Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand. My big dream is to one day make a gay Peruvian version of Hairspray!
#2 When did you come out?
I was 17 when I came out to my friends and family. It was after a cheeky fling with a “straight” classmate at university (he’s now married to a woman). My friends always knew I was gay and never had any issues with it. Coming out to my family, however, was more difficult and it caused a big drama for a couple of days when I told them. But we powered through it and they've now come to respect my lifestyle. My family is my strongest support network.
I bring people to my home for cooking classes and for them to taste the best Pisco sour ever made – everyone always falls in love with my mama and her delicious ceviches.
#3 Have you ever experienced any homophobia growing up?
When I was young I would get mocked because I was in the school choir and would also hang out with girls. I also had cousins who would mock me because I never had a girlfriend and would pressure me about not getting married. Now we are cool and everyone is completely accepting of me.
Peru has always had quite a machismo society – similar to Mexico or Argentina. Growing up, you always hear horror stories on the news of gay guys being rejected by their very Catholic families or being beaten up for holding hands with their boyfriend in public. The “Besos Contra La Homophobia” (Kisses Against Homophobia) demonstration at Armory Plaza, Central Lima in February 2016 is a more recent example: police intervened and very violently shut it down:
#4 What was it like growing up gay in Peru?
Peru in the 1980s/1990s was a lot different. Back then, society was far less accepting of the LGBT community and therefore not as vocal.
Today, you see far more tolerance and respect towards us, but there is a lot of work still to be done, which needs to start at government level. It helps a lot that more and more gay issues are increasingly being reported in today's media, which helps to normalise us in society and gradually leads to acceptance.
#5 How did you meet guys growing up?
Growing up, I didn’t really explore the “gay world” until I was around 20. As soon as I came out, the first thing I did was to get a job at an Internet café so I could explore dating websites like Gaydar in private.
Today it’s so much easier for the younger generation with all the gay dating apps available. There are so many to choose from depending on what you’re interested in.
#6 Which are the best gay apps you would recommend to gay travellers coming to Peru to meet handsome charming locals like you?
Oh boys you make me blush! The gay dating apps are a good starting point. Growler, ManHunt and Scruff are the main ones for older men and Grindr and Hornet for younger.
There are more and more apps developing a social networking angle like Hornet, which are growing in popularity in Peru. Other new ones include Pepo and Blued.
You can also just put down your phone and come discover our gay scene in Miraflores and Barranco. We love meeting foreigners so you will quickly make lots of local Peruvian friends.
#7 What’s your favourite gay hangout in Lima?
I like Picas Bar in Barranco. It’s gay friendly with a mixed crowd just under the “Puente de los Suspiros” (Bridge of Sighs). It's very trendy and plays cool music. It's owned by Congressman Carlos Bruce who came out in May 2014 and was the first openly gay member of Congress in Peru.
In terms of gay bars in Lima, the “scene” here is made up primarily of 3 places in Miraflores: the usual circuit on weekends is to head to Lola's Bar first from around 11pm to 1pm, then to Vale Todos (Downtown) club till around 4am, and if you still wanna party, head to Legendaris Nightclub after 4am.
In Downtown Lima, there's another gay bar called Sagitario Discoteca, which is not as popular as the ones in Miraflores.
#8 Where is the most romantic place in Lima you would take a date?
I would first take my date for dinner at La Rosa Nautica restaurant in Miraflores. It's my favourite place because the food is delicious and the location on the pier with sea view makes it extremely romantic.
Then we would go for an evening walk through Barranco, a very bohemian neighbourhood, full of colour and street art. We would cross the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros) holding hands and our breath: the myth is if you hold hands and cross it holding your breath, you will have eternal love.
#9 Where is the most romantic place in Peru you’d take a date?
I know it sounds so obvious, but it has to be Machu Picchu. It’s one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been to. At the same time, it’s so mysterious. I would follow this with the luxurious Belmond train ride back to Cusco from Aguas Calientes.
#10 Are there any famous gay Peruvian celebrities?
There are a handful and I'm very proud of every single one of them. The more people in the public eye who come out helps Peruvian society evolve and see we are normal and not a perversion or anything to be ashamed of.
Mario Testino is probably the most well known internationally. He is a fashion photographer who did the famous Vanity Fair portraits of Princess Diana in 1997, which were her last official portraits before her death. There's an excellent museum dedicated to him in Barranco called MATE, which I highly recommend.
I really admire Beto Ortiz, who is an outspoken gay journalist and one of the few media personalities who dared to criticise former President Fujimori’s government in the 2000s. He's also done some really funny YouTube videos challenging gay stereotypes.
Ricardo Moran is a famous writer and director who famously came out during the Civil Union debates in March 2015. He's now part of the judging team on the “Yo Soy (Peru)” game show and he just opened a talent school in Lima. I also adore Bruno Pinasco, a pretty actor and host of the TV show “Cinescape” who famously came out on his social media in late 2016.
#11 But Aaron, no mention of the famous naked Peruvian chef?
Franco Noriega! He's a model and chef with 2 restaurants in New York. He became famous after Mario Testino introduced him to Dolce & Gabbana. He also cooked with Ellen live on her show.
He is not openly gay, but we think he may be. He avoids giving a straight answer when he's interviewed about it. Check out his famous chia pudding recipe video and see what you think…that's if you can concentrate on anything other than his bulge!
#12 Any Peruvian slang words gay travellers should learn?
Absolutely – here's a few so you can show off when you meet gay Peruvians:
- “Hola Querida!” is our way of saying “Hey gurrrrrrl!”
- loca: a gay guy (similar to “maricon”)
- lexere/leca: lesbian
- traca: transexual
- camionera: lesbian that looks like a man
- divina/regia: a gorgeous looking gay guy
- flete: male prostitute
- brichero/a: guy or girl looking for a green card
- chalon: guy with a big dick
#13 Finally, we heard a rumour that ceviche is the Peruvian viagra?
That’s absolutely right boys! The “leche de tigre” (tiger’s milk) lime/fish marinade from the ceviche is our very own magical blue pill according to folklore! People traditionally drink it for its alleged sexual potency.
Wash it down with a few Pisco sours and you’re sorted for the night!
You can connect with Aaron on his Facebook profile, Instagram account and also watch his inspiring video:
For more inspiration:
- get inspired with our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu review with Journeyou
- learn more about Peru with our 10 interesting facts about Peru you didn't know
- discover delicious Peruvian food and try our recipes for Peruvian ceviche and Pisco Sour
- use our Peru gay friendly travel itinerary and our 5 unique gay friendly hotels in Peru
- find the gay scene with our gay city guides to Lima, Cusco and Arequipa
- we give you the lowdown about whether Lake Titicaca is worth visiting