The Mary Renault Society

The Triangle Area of North Carolina

Sexing the Aztecs

Sun God, why have you abandoned us?

Since the Aztecs/Mexica arrived in the valley of Mexico and established the city of Tenochtitlan in the Fourteenth Century, others have attempted to define the group as sexually suspect. This talk shows the ways that various individuals from other Nahuatl-speaking nations of central Mexico to Spanish conquerors and Catholic clerics to Twenty First Century filmmakers have sexed the Aztecs. At the time of the Spanish conquest, though, the method for sexing the Aztecs changed through the incorporation of ethnographic observation. With the use of this term, I suggest that the power of ethnography links with the ability to represent observation as objective fact when it instead creates for us the fiction of the desiring indigenous individual, a fiction promulgated by the need for the colonizer to produce a stable subject over whom to rule. This ethnographic observation was in full force in the early sixteenth century, when both Spanish and indigenous ethnographers engaged in a taxonomic revolution that changed indigenous concepts of sacrifice to sin and, eventually, to sex, and it remains in full force in the early Twenty-First Century.

Aztec Art 1 Aztec Art 2 Aztec Art 3


Dr. Pete Sigal

Dr. Pete Sigal is a professor of Latin American history and the history of sexuality at Duke University. The relationships between gender, sexuality, and colonialism have intrigued him since he began his first book on Maya sexuality. He recently published a study on the interaction of writing and sexual representation in sixteenth and seventeenth-century indigenous Nahua societies of Mexico (The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture, Duke University Press, 2011), which won the Erminie Wheeler Voegelin Award from the American Society of Ethnohistory, for the best book published in 2011.

Dr. Sigal is currently working on a study of “ethnopornography,” the relationship between the colonial and ethnographic gaze and sexuality throughout the world (a project begun as a joint venture with the late anthropologist, Neil Whitehead); and engaging in research on the position of the hyper-masculinized Aztec warrior in early modern literature from Europe and the Americas. He has moved from studying sexual desires in indigenous communities to examining the early modern cultural processes that created global concepts of modern sexuality, gender, masculinity, and femininity. He is, along with Jocelyn Olcott and John D. French, senior editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review. He is author of From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire (University of Texas Press, 2000), and editor of Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America (University of Chicago Press, 2003).

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