Open secrets and hidden prejudices

Recuerdos vendidos en la Capilla de Montesión / CRISTINA PÉREZ

Homosexuality has been the subject of mistaken viewpoints in different areas, such as in cultural life. The position of the brotherhoods of Seville’s Holy Week in this matter is characterized by a rejection based on ignorance. Borja, a young member of a brotherhood, lives his sexual orientation based on the foundation of these religious organizations.

The bells of the Omnium Sanctorum Parish, announcing 10 o’clock at night, are the only sound
that dare run through the hustle and bustle of the surrounding bars full of people. The deep and metallic echo is not disturbing to anyone used to living on the central Feria street. For Borja, it’s even less so since his special bond with the sound is what has led him to live there for two years. His close relationship with the brotherhood of penance of Montesión is the main reason. “Feria Street is my life,” he says convinced, “as if I had been born here.”

“This looks like COPE, like Encarna Sánchez,” Borja laughs as he swiftly connects one cigarrette with another, as if they were appendixes of his hand. The soft but continuous murmur of one of the most characteristic streets of the city sneaks through the open balcony of his living room. Numerous paintings of virgins and Christs, of brotherhoods such as Montesión or Esperanza de Triana, decorate the walls, while the famous Cuatro dating TV show, First Dates, is broadcasting on a muted television. “Everyone has always known me as I’ve been. I have not hidden anything or been rejected or looked down on.” Borja talks about his sexual orientation without hesitation. “In my house, you say ‘maricón’, homosexual sounds like a diet, as Falete says.”

The Holy Week brotherhoods are, like it or not, one of the most characteristic features of the
personality of a multicultural city like Seville. In spite of this, its behavior and its relationship with the Church when dealing with controversial conflictive issues, such as homosexuality, are quite unknown. So, it is common to think that in brotherhoods there is an absolute rejection of homosexuals. However, other unknown aspects of the brotherhoods are not taken into account, such as Borja’s opinion. “A brotherhood without ‘maricones’ is not a brotherhood, and without them, they would not progress socially.” He discusses his experience of being a homosexual in a brotherhood and about whether he has felt more or less comfortable with it.

At present, there are more than 70 Holy Week brotherhoods in Seville, as well as numerous others such as the Rocío brotherhoods or Gloria brotherhoods. This explains why in the first half of 2017, 545 religious events were organized in the city, including Processions, Romerías or Vía Crucis. So, it is difficult to believe that there are not people of all sexual orientations participating in a fairly balanced proportion. For Borja, in fact, “99% of the members of brotherhoods are ‘maricones’.” Although there are not statistics, he knows what he is talking about, because of his dedication to the brotherhoods, which has demanded sacrifices for him, like missing birthdays or other important events, like the carnivals of Sanlúcar. “It’s something you do with such pleasure that when a brotherhood asks you, you do it for free. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of money on them because I’ve wanted to.” He has carried out numerous tasks, from dressing up the icons to helping assemble and decorate the brotherhood’s fair tent.

Borja has studied Fashion Design, Commerce, and Marketing, and has a Master’s Degree in Fashion Communication. Although he has never focused his work on Holy Week, he has done projects such as various mantles for the Virgen del Rosario de Montesión, but always free of charge. “It’s as if my mother asked me to,” he explains. She is, in fact, the one who planted the seed of his passion for the processions, taking him to see them as a child, though she saw them from a cultural and artistic perspective, and not out of devotion.

Chapel of Montesion / CRISTINA PÉREZ

Despite his involvement with the brotherhood of Montesión, Borja has never held a position nor
has he wanted to. Has homosexuality influenced that in some way? The answer is no. “Everyone knows the reality and respects it,” he explains. “In the world of brotherhoods, we are all the same, and being gay does not affect anything.” However, the Church and the diocesan norms do not allow homosexual persons to sit on a Governing Board, as well as divorced persons, single mothers, etc., Borja recalls. So, why is there a gap between the rules of the Church and their application within the brotherhoods? “This is the same as in politics, we all know that the President of the Government is stealing, but nobody says anything. There are laws that priests accept stating that men have to be with women, but it is not like that. They don’t even care. Whoever you want to know keeps it quiet, and who does not see it does not know. It’s an open secret,” says Borja.

Knowing this, it can be understandable that although homosexuality is accepted within brotherhoods, it is sometimes hidden or avoided. Borja has never felt the need to hide his orientation, as he says he has always been open. “I express it freely and many people do it,” he affirms. However, he knows that there are people who do avoid it. “About some people, it is known for sure that they are [homosexual]. But, there are many who you don’t know about, who hide it. I’m talking about influential people within the world of the brotherhoods, or in high positions, even priests,” Borja says. This is due to the existence of prejudices even with the acceptance of those “open secrets.” “There are people who would put their head in their hands if they knew what was going on, what has been done and what is still being done,” he says knowing what he is talking about. “But as long as you do not create scandals or make your private life public, you can live normally.”

Many of these prejudices come from sectors that still exist: “there are people who are very despotic and very old-fashioned, older people and young people who do not accept these things. Not only they do not accept it, but they make certain comments just to be funny. There is a lot of hypocrisy and there will continue to be.” However he thinks this is not necessarily related to the environment of the brotherhoods, since things like that happen everywhere. Borja dismisses the persistence of these comments, as even he laughs with his friends about things that happen in the brotherhoods. “All my friends involved in the brotherhoods are gay, and even we make comments like ‘You have to see the mess the ‘maricón’ has made sleeping with this guy or the other,’ and things like that.” He has always disregarded this type of comments because he focuses on the good, even though he has been a victim of some of them and a witness to others: “comments like the brotherhood’s fair tent looked like ‘Ítaca’.”

Members of the Brotherhood of Cerro del Águila during Seville’s Holy Week / ANTONIO PÉREZ

When asked about the negative comments by priests or bishops on homosexuality, Borja also downplays them. “The Church can say whatever it wants, but if we had to comply strictly to what they say, the brotherhoods would not exist anymore.” This is the reality of the concrete case of the brotherhoods of Holy Week, since even under the protection of the Church they have a differentiating factor. “The brotherhoods have evolved a lot. It is not the same to talk about them in the 80s as one of today. They have evolved little by little, thank God. Not as much as they should, but they are normalizing these things,” says Borja. “Prejudices can change, but they will always exist,” he adds. Although he is optimistic, the reality is still very marked by the mentality of past generations: “There are families who are unhappy all their lives because they don’t say, ‘I am gay.’ They marry women and have children because they belong to very traditional families and do not want to upset them.”

Despite the prejudices still standing, the erroneous view of homosexuality by these sectors can be compared to that of people outside them without prejudices about homosexuality or of homosexuals not related to that world. It is possible that sometimes an erroneous image of the brotherhoods is transmitted when taking the rule of the Church as a pretext. This is how Borja understands it: “I have been having lunch with priests and they have never said anything to me. There are people who do not understand this. The Church does not give me orders.”

Thus, external and internal prejudices have the same incorrect origin, they both judge the way a specific person lives their own homosexuality. When gay friends who are not part of brotherhoods ask Borja how he can be a part of one if the Church does not accept him, he does not know what to answer. “I have faith and devotion to my icons, but I do not know why. I do not even know,” he replies. Still, what he knows clearly is his place at all aspects of his life and how little he is influenced by prejudices. “The Church has not thrown me out. I’m not in the Vatican, I’m in a brotherhood,” he sentences.

Photographs of the images whorshiped by the
Brotherhood of Montesion on the walls of bar Casa Vizcaíno / CRISTINA PÉREZ