Deprogramming Machismo and Marianismo in Queer Relationships

Words by Maximiliano Nevarez

Edited by Abigail Vela

There’s a brand of toxic masculinity prevalent in Latinx communities called machismo. It is a set of expectations for males to exert dominance and superiority over women. Alternatively, marianismo is an idealized traditional feminine gender role characterized by submissiveness and sensitivity. Another set of behavior is called caballerismo, which encourages the positive and respectful aspects of traditional behavior. In different terms, it’s gentlemanly behavior without expectation of behavior in return and respecting their partner’s boundaries. Keep in mind that this behavior, while not inherently negative, could be masking a machiste attitude that can surface after long-term plans, emotional intimacy, or other commitments are established. 


Living in the Rio Grande Valley, many of these expectations transfer into our heritage and culture. Even people who are or feel completely disconnected from their culture will still be subjected to these roles because they’re intrinsically baked into their familial relationships. These roles and expectations adapt differently when presented in queer relationships and promote the negative traits I’ll be discussing. Being a member of the queer community living in the RGV, I’ve seen this affect my friends, my family, and myself. With these examples and explanations, I hope you’ll feel well-equipped to recognize and do something about that behavior.


Unsurprisingly, misogyny is the progenitor of the toxic behavior practiced in machismo and marianismo. It’s essential to understand how systematic and embedded these expectations are. The unfortunate truth is that they have become almost instinctual for some people raised in more traditional families. Several Latino families have habits, such as having harsher restrictions on assigned female/male at birth (AFAB) children, that don’t get broken because “that’s how they were raised.” Such excuses are a form of manipulation you will also see being used by a machiste partner. 


One example is guilting your partner into fitting these expectations of machismo or marianismo using traditional gender roles as a template. I have dated two men raised by quite traditional families, one a great example of caballerismo and the other exemplifying machismo. We will call them Julio and Keith, respectively. I went into both of these relationships unaware that the heteronormative “rules” I’ve seen would transfer to my queer relationship. While Julio displayed the traditional behavior of a male partner in a heteronormative relationship, he was always a gentleman and never pushed the expectations of marianismo on me. However, Keith displayed behavior of both roles and expected me to fit one or the other. They would explain the expectations, such as being the sole worker or emotional pillar of the relationship, like something I would be considered a failure for not doing. This system of expectations thrives on one partner dominating the other and forcing them into mutually exclusive and restrictive roles. Like misogyny, machismo and marianismo do not value equality of agency in a relationship. 


These two roles have different expectations that, regardless of what side of the system you’re on, can cause harm to your emotional development. A study found that masculine-presenting people are more likely to react angrily while feminine-presenting people are more likely to have hostile cynicism. Both reflect the negative impacts of machismo and marianismo due to being taught different ways to handle emotions.


In any traditional family, especially here in the valley, you will likely be raised to respect duty. Duty to your family and, eventually, your partner. Deflecting responsibility is a pillar of any unhealthy relationship, and that’s why duty is the biggest defense that someone adhering to these gender roles is likely to use. Anyone raised with these expectations will likely be taught that it’s their responsibility to fill out a certain role within their family. These lessons, even when worked against, can be used again at any point by a partner trying to enforce those expectations.


Both machismo and marianismo incentivize putting the duty to your family and partner above your hopes. This could be giving up on an artistic dream to make sure to be financially stable for the people expected to depend on you or choose not to work to be a house spouse. When not in a heteronormative relationship, these expectations can clash, causing a new set of issues. For example, two masculine presenting people who take part in machiste behavior and want to be the sole worker will have a power struggle.

Illustration of two Latinx men looking at each other intensely with a rainbow background. They are dressed in suits, with a bold red line connecting their hearts, representing their intensity.
Illustration by Sara Barriera.


Unfortunately, machismo is a practice that encourages apathy, which can boil over in many ways, ranging from scary to outright dangerous. While it is important to note that Latinas experience approximately the same amount of domestic violence as someone of any other heritage, what makes machismo and marianismo different is how they are experienced.

As stated before, machismo does not respect equality in agency. While people with expectations of marianismo on them might feel more comfortable showing emotion, they are also expected to be the emotional pillar of their relationship. 

Machismo expectations motivate emotional repression, which can boil into volatility. A friend down here in the Valley experienced this with a previous partner. We’ll call them Rosa and Natalia, respectively. While raised in similar environments and there being no masculine-presenting people in the relationship, Natalia still portrayed machiste behavior. Her lack of expression originally came off as mysterious, but as they got involved, Natalia displayed increasingly more intense emotional attachment in a short time. When Rosa expressed a boundary against this intensity, she was made to feel guilty because Natalia “was only trying to show her love.” From that point forward, Natalia also became more volatile, expressing a level of ownership over Rosa that people brushed off.


The biggest power you can give a system is not resisting it. Being in a space surrounded by a system that represses your self-expression, especially during your developmental years, will cause an almost instinctual repression of opinion when confronted with an uncomfortable situation. For machistes, this can be a repression of emotions centered around the toxic masculinity machismo stems from, and people with marianismo expectations are assumed to stay silent when an action breaches a boundary or otherwise disrespects them if it is in favor of a male counterpart.


It is not uncommon in toxic relationships to cause you to isolate yourself from your friends and family. Even if not pressured or encouraged to do so, it can be easy for someone taught these values to see their partner as their new top priority. Partnerships should never come at the cost of isolating yourself from your support systems. It could be because you feel responsible for your partner or because the people who know you would notice you acting against your own agency. This can often culminate in someone silencing themselves just to keep the peace.

Illustration of a Latinx woman with a bright red heart adorned with flowers that seems to be beaming. There is a rainbow background and text that translates to “Your future is not your past nor your present.”
Illustration by Sara Barriera.

You Make Your Own Role

The RGV is full of rich and beautiful culture, but that same culture comes with deep-rooted gender roles which take time to recognize and work on. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re acting against your wishes or boundaries because you feel at all responsible for meeting those expectations, that is a giant neon sign that you should examine your relationship. Your gut will know when something isn’t right.


Throughout your life, you will discover what you want from a partner. When queer and young, it can be easy to see these tropes and roles from your family and transfer them to something less heteronormative, but as people who know that’s not needed to be happy in a relationship, we have the power to see from outside the system and prove relationships are not determined by tradition, duty, or roles, but just people wanting to be themselves and happy 



If you or someone you know from the LGBTQIA+ community needs help navigating negative behavioral patterns in their relationships, reach out to: 


Casa Orgullo, the South Texas Counseling Agency, and Aqui Estamos RGV.

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