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Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene: The Rules of Desire in ‘Y Tu Mamá También’

Welcome to Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene, a series by Drew Burnett Gregory and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about queer sex scenes in film. Sometimes, we’ll tap writers we love to contribute to the series. This week, author of the memoir High-Risk Homosexual Edgar Gomez writes about the 2001 Alfonso Cuarón film Y Tu Mamá También.

A rich kid, a poor kid, and a Spanish woman with one month left to live set off on a weeklong road trip from Mexico City to a legendary beach in Oaxaca in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, a film responsible for countless sexual awakenings across Latin America since it was released in 2001. On their first day driving together, the Spanish woman, Luisa, overhears her new companions, teenage best friends Tenoch and Julio, call each other “Charolastras.”

“What is that about?” she asks. “Charo… charo what?”

Charolastras is their nickname for their friend group, they explain. It’s a combination of Mexican slang for space cowboy, and also a mispronunciation of the lyrics to Should I Stay or Should I Go (“Charolastra, charoloooo”). But more than that, to be a Charolastra is a way of life, complete with a manifesto and set of rules to live by.

The rules range from the self-reverential (Rule #1: “There’s no greater honor than being a Charolastra”) to the interpersonal (#5: “Thou shalt not screw another Charlostra’s girl”) and cultural criticism (Both rules #6 and #9 are: “Anyone who roots for Team America is a fag.”)

By this point in the film, viewers know everything they need to about the three protagonists.

Tenoch, the rich kid, is an aspiring writer and the wealthy son of a high-ranking politician.

Julio, the poor kid, comes from a humble, working-class family and often feels out of place in Tenoch’s world. At the wedding of one of Tenoch’s relatives, where the Mexican president is in attendance, he bonds more with the bartenders than any of the other guests.

And then there’s Luisa, a decade or so older than the friends, whose looming death sentence acts as a catalyst to their self-discovery, while at the same time we see her on a journey of her own.

Luisa has recently arrived in Mexico with her husband, Jana, who is Tenoch’s cousin. From the little we see of Jana, this dude is a man-child, a sulking narcissist, and a natural extension of Luisa’s tragic backstory: When Luisa was 10, her parents were killed in a car accident in Spain, and she was sent to live with her great aunt. After the aunt fell ill shortly afterward, Luisa became her caregiver until she was 20 years old, when the aunt died and Luisa married Jana. In early scenes, we see her rushing to clean a stain on his shirt, talking about having to set up their apartment in the city for the both of them between lining up interviews as a dental assistant, a career she stumbled into out of necessity when she was a teenager and needed to make money. The day before the road trip, she receives the double-blow that Jana is cheating on her and that she has late-stage cancer (the latter she keeps a secret from the boys). As she sits in the clinic’s lobby waiting to see a doctor, she fills out a quiz in a magazine titled: “Are you a Fully Realized Woman?” The quiz diagnoses her: “A woman afraid to claim her freedom.”

When I first saw the film, I was a closeted 13-year-old, afraid to claim my own freedom. In my memories, it’s the early 2000s. The only times I hear about gay people are when it’s about how they’re disgusting and all have AIDS, that if they look at you, you should look away. I’m visiting family in Nicaragua, watching Y Tu Mamá También on a clunky box television set with an older cousin in the middle of the night, his bedroom door locked. Our faces are inches from the screen, cracking up as the Charolastras list their rules, especially #7: Jerking off is amazing.

At that age, Tenoch and Julio were Gods to me: hilarious, political, sweaty. I would have followed them anywhere. What strikes me upon rewatching the film nearly 20 years later, however, is how childish they seem to me through adult eyes: naïve, awkward, immature. Back then, I had imagined Luisa agreed to go on a road trip with them because they were so cool and hot, but now I would guess that it’s more likely a combination of many other things: Perhaps she sees parts of herself in them, her connection to Tenoch’s bougie upper class world through Jano, the feeling of out-of-placeness Julio feels in it. Perhaps it’s their eagerness to please and earn her approval, telling her about their rules like eager puppies. Or maybe she just needs a ride.

Either way, it’s clear from the outset she’s aware she’s been invited on the road trip because they want to fuck her. There is something deeply alluring about Luisa. The swagger with which she struts around in baggy denim jeans and a gray tank top; the disarming boldness of her personality, like when she confronts the boys for spying on her crying alone in her room a day into the trip, smiling as she asks them, “You think it’s cool to spy on women?”

Luisa doesn’t have a lot of time left, and it’s fun to watch her transform from unfulfilled wife to someone who isn’t scared of cutting the bullshit and getting to the point. Which is why, I imagine, she decides to hook up with Tenoch quickly into the trip, and the following day, with Julio. Less because she’s attracted to them than to get the inevitable out of the way. These early sex scenes were incredibly sexy to young me, mostly because we get to see Diego Luna’s butt and Gael García Bernal’s pubes. I was so caught up in those images that I totally missed out on how awful the sex is, so bad that Luisa has to guide them by their hands throughout. They hump her like rabid dogs, try to eat her pussy through her clothes. Neither last more than a minute.

Of course, her plan to get the annoying part of the trip out of the way early backfires. Jealousies ensue between the boys leading to an explosive fight in the car. Luisa, dealing with much bigger shit and fed up with their adolescent egos and machismo, opens the car door and storms down the road screaming about how stupid their rules and manifesto are, that they’re the same as all other men, and they should just fuck each other, because that’s what they really want, right?

For a second, the two friends stop their fighting to share a passing glance of what appears to be recognition that she might be right. Then they forgive each other and hurry after her. As Tenoch and Julio try to convince Luisa to get in the car, the sexual tension that’s been building between them throughout the film lurks in the background: The earlier scenes of the two of them showering together, having a naked towel fight, masturbating at a pool side-by-side on parallel diving boards while telling each other about their sexual fantasies.

After much pleading, Luisa decides to continue the trip, since it’s almost over anyway, but not before making her own rules, beginning with #1, which may or may not be a foreshadow:

I’m not going to fuck either of you. You can fuck each other if you want. 

She also says she’s going to sunbathe nude and they better leave her to it in peace. She’ll be picking the music, and they’ll be doing all the cooking from now on. And if she tells them to shut up, she doesn’t want to hear another word.

“Yes!” the boys agree. “Anything you want!”

Soon after, they arrive at the beach, a secluded cove known to locals as Heaven’s Mouth. It more than lives up to its impressive name: the shimmering, turquoise waters frequented only by the town’s fishermen, the frothy waves crashing onto the shore, the feeling of awe that seems to course through Luisa, who walks straight into the ocean with her jeans on. As she stares out into the horizon, a light flashes in Luisa’s eyes that brings to mind Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic.” For Lorde, the erotic is, “an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”

That night at a nearby restaurant, in one of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes, Luisa says her final goodbyes to Jano inside of a private phone booth while Tenoch and Julio laugh and play pool in the background, oblivious of her quiet sobs as she speaks to her ex with tremendous generosity, telling him she’s not upset with him, that she hopes he isn’t upset with her for disappearing, that soon he’ll understand why she had to do what she did.

This brutal moment is followed by the film’s sexiest scene. It’s later in the night, and the three travelers are gathered around a dimly lit table at the restaurant, teasing each other and drinking, when Luisa gets up to put a song on the jukebox: Marco Antonio Solis’s “Si No Te Hubieras Ido,” a love ballad about a man who sees no point in living after his lover has left him. On the contrary, Luisa appears more alive than ever now that she’s ended things with Jano. The camera focuses on her swaying her hips to the opening guitar notes, then follows her as she turns around and slinks seductively back to the table holding a shot of mezcal in one hand, skin bronzed from the beach, all the while looking right into the eyes of the viewer. She is a woman unafraid of her erotic power. She is where she wants, doing what she wants with the short time she has left.

the three leads of Y tu mamá también dancing together

Back at the table, Luisa grabs Tenoch’s hair and Julio’s hand, pulling them up to dance, one behind her, the other in front, the song crescendoing to its melancholy chorus as the friends caress her body. Afterwards, in their rented room, Tenoch kisses Luisa while Julio buries his face in her ass. Unlike the previous sex scenes, where Luisa’s desires are an afterthought, this one is actually hot. Luisa writhes and moans as they turn her over, yank off her panties and finger her, the three of them standing up. But she’s already told them she isn’t going to fuck them. As they run their hands over her, she drops to her knees between the friends and lowers their briefs. Pulls out their dicks. Julio and Tenoch groan as she gives them head, their hands stiffly in the air, like they’re unsure where to put them now that she’s below them and it’s only the two of them up there. Little by little, the friends faces move closer to each other, their lips parted and gasping in pleasure. Then it happens: Julio places a hand on Tenoch’s cheek, and they kiss. Softly, tenderly.

The scene cuts to the following morning. The two friends are naked in bed, Luisa outside, eating breakfast. It’s unclear how far they went, but we do know a line has been crossed. Tenoch runs out of the room and vomits. Julio orders a beer.

I remember debating what happened with my cousin as the morning-after scene played out on screen. He insisted the friends were in the closet the whole time. “It’s fucked up,” he said. “That’s some nasty shit.” I argued that they couldn’t be, pointing out that they both hooked up with Luisa. At the time, I was in such denial about being gay that I needed Tenoch and Julio to be straight as confirmation of my own heterosexuality. I needed to believe you could be attracted to other boys, even kiss them, without that necessarily meaning anything.

Y Tu Mamá También relies on ambiguity: Partly, I presume, so that it could reach audiences who might not have watched the film had it been more explicitly gay. I know young me wouldn’t have dared to. But ambiguity is also a type of sexual representation that is distinctly Latin American, where the rules of machista culture dictate that if you are the man doing the penetrating, whether to a woman or another man, then you can still call yourself straight.

Julio and Tenoch kissing in Y Tu Mama Tambien

Since its release, a lot of the conversation around Y Tu Mamá También has echoed the one I had with my cousin, about whether that final threesome proves Tenoch and Julio are gay, or bi, or just got really drunk one night. Now that I’m older, I don’t really care for that kind of speculation. It reminds me both of my childhood fear that people were speculating about me, and of all the time I’ve wasted over the years pining over straight boys, when all along there have been queer people around who would’ve given me what I wanted if I’d only seen them.

In fact, whenever I revisit the film, I find my interest in Tenoch and Julio wane more and more. Their storyline of forbidden love across class differences isn’t nearly as compelling as Luisa’s journey to becoming fully realized, a journey that required her to first cut off the people in her life who weren’t serving her. I hesitate to call her a queer icon — though I do appreciate that of the three of them, she seems the most unfazed by the possibility of the friends being gay — but I am grateful she introduced me to the possibility of going away for a while, a necessary counter to the narratives pushed on queer people to stay where we’re not happy or wanted, to sacrifice our precious time to help others grow, even at the expense of our own growing.

Somewhere deep down, I must have internalized this lesson, because after I eventually came out of the closet in high school, I either cut off ties or put some distance between me and many of my relatives and straight friends. For the most part, it wasn’t personal. I wasn’t upset with them. I hope they understood that I just needed to be around people who could help me figure out gender and how to date and why we couldn’t donate blood, Latinx people no longer able to stomach the rules of machismo handed down to us: banish all femininity from yourself, stifle all your emotions except anger, never allow anyone to catch you being vulnerable.

It is a bitter truth that personal freedom often comes at a great cost. The boys stop being friends after the threesome. Luisa dies at the end. I essentially had to start over and slowly build a new community for myself. What isn’t talked about enough, though, are all the moments that make the cost worth it. Y Tu Mamá También provides glimpses of the freedom you can only get from letting go of societal restraints: Tenoch and Julio’s sweet first kiss, Luisa dancing to Marco Antonio Solis. The film comes in at under two hours, so we don’t get to see much more than that.

I could try to tell you more about the worth: the nights I spent running around with drag queens; the spiritual and political transformations I underwent as I realized the old systems weren’t made for me; the goofy, adventurous sex that left me craving the same gasping pleasure in all other aspects of my life. I want to know if that’s how Luisa felt, the day she arrived at Heaven’s Mouth and waded into the water, deciding how to spend the rest of her time. But mostly, I want to tell you how good it feels to wake up every morning and not have to live by somebody else’s rules.

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Edgar Gomez

Edgar Gomez (all pronouns) is a Florida-born writer with roots in Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. Their debut memoir, High-Risk Homosexual, received a 2023 American Book Award, a Stonewall Israel-Fishman Nonfiction Book Honor Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. Gomez’s second book, a darkly-comic memoir about trying to claw his family out of poverty in early 2000’s Florida titled Alligator Tears, will be out in February 2025 from Crown Publishing. He lives between New York and Puerto Rico and across social media @OtroEdgarGomez.

Edgar has written 1 article for us.


  1. I just referenced this movie to people the other day, most of whom did not know what I was talking about lol. If you’re a queer Latinx person of a certain age range, this movie is such a cultural touchstone.

    I let my membership lapse here for a couple of months, somewhat because I hadn’t been reading the site much lately, but I really appreciated this and have since resubscribed. Thank you.

  2. I love this movie. A few years ago I rewatched and I probably came away with the same feeling I feel now whenever I think about it. Luisa’s journey of reclaiming her freedom and femininity her way before she dies just hits for me. I think the first time I watched this movie it gave me the feeling, reading a lot of Isabell Allende books did, featuring women fighting for independence after multiple tragedies. Somehow I always felt those books were a bit queer… or I secretly wanted them to be.
    Tenoch and Julio definitely take a back burner in my memory – besides the sex scene – I think because I felt sadness the first time watching it that they had this intimate moment their friendship couldn’t withstand. I understand it’s the whole Latine machismo thing. I can’t remember the entire plot but maybe their journey was meant to end after this road trip anyway. I read a few years ago the guys wouldn’t mind a sequel. Honestly me either.

  3. Loved this! I haven’t seen this movie for years but it was one of the first queer films I ever saw and it made a big impression on me. I remember the conversation in a restaurant Tenoch and Julio have near the end of the film, where I always got the feeling Julio felt open about going for some kind of romantic relationship, but Tenoch (maybe with more to lose as a rich privileged kid) won’t consider it.

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