“Cambié de sexo, no de corazón”: Non-normative relationships in “House of Flowers”

Released in the Summer of 2018, Netflix original, “La Casa de las Flores” challenges the notion of the conservative, upper class Mexican family. In the series, the “modest” De la Mora family is faced by an array of legal, economic, and sexual issues. This essay will focus on the theme of gender dynamics to explore how the show challenges notion of Mexican family dynamics. Other Telenovelas like “La Vida en un Espejo” depicted a gay couple in 1999, much has changed in Mexico regarding LGBTQ+ rights. In 2006, same sex marriage became legal, and other rights have been granted to the LGBTQ+ community. Manolo Caro, creator of the show, uses his show to depict new portrayals of “standard” families in Latin America. He writes flawed characters, that spend their conforming to societal norms, only to break them in the name of freedom. Some of the storylines. This essay looks to explore the relationship between Maria Jose Riquelme, a transgender woman that was married to Paulina de la Mora. The story between the two reflect the transformation from rejection to acceptance and takes a bold step forward with the depiction of a non-normative relationship.

Caro opens the show with the following quote from Vincent Van Goh, “La normalidad es un camino pavimentado. Es cómodo para caminar, pero nunca crecerán flores en él”. This quote summarizes the next 13 chapters of the show. Throughout the first season we see the normalcy of de la Mora family crumble. But we also see them grow closer together despite all the problems surrounding their family. When the patriarch’s, Ernesto de la Mora, lover, Roberta, hangs herself in the de la Mora’s flower shop, secrets begin to unravel. Ernesto’s past clashes with the family’s pristine image. An illegitimate child between Ernesto and Roberta joins the family, an underground cabaret emerges as the reason for their wealth, and the patriarch is thrown into jail for fraud.

Along with the economic troubles of Ernesto we see other famiily members have their life shatter, but we see them develop, mature, and grow. For example, Julian de la Mora struggles with his sexuality and coming out to his family. Caro’s show focuses on the fragmentation of what is “normal” to highlight how love saves and binds the family unit closer together after each setback.

One very powerful storyline that exists within the show is the relationship between Paulina de la Mora and Maria Jose Riquelme. Both of them were married, when Paulina find Maria Jose trying her clothes, they separate. Maria Jose leaves for her home in Madrid. She is a lawyer, and she returns when she is called to help the de la Mora family bail Ernesto.

When Paulina sees her after her transition she says to Maria Jose, “Es que no me acostumbro, estas muy cambiado, perdon cambiada…Pues casi que sin darme cuenta éramos lesbianas”. They both laugh after that last line of dialogue. This joke that Caro writes in the end of their reunion scene shows the beginning of a tear in the conservative fabric of Mexican society. According to Chela Sandoval, associate professor at UC Santa Barbara, “The language of lovers can puncture through the everyday narratives that tie us to social time and space, to the descriptions, recitals, and plots that dull and order our senses insofar as such social narratives are tied to the law” (140–141). There exists love and affection, despite the distance. Love is a way that can help us interpret literature and media. The concept of love as a force of change is evident throughout the series. And Paulina’s comment takes a jab at the construct of gender. She thought she was a heterosexual woman, but now that she knows Maria Jose’s identity, she is starting to question her own place in the spectrum of gender. The language shared between both of these characters slowly starts to “puncture” the normalcy that characterizes their notions of self-identity. The joke raises the question of the fluidity of gender and tries to disassociate the connection between love and sexual attraction.

Before I continue, it is important to see how Manolo Caro casts Maria Jose. She is played by Spanish actor Paco Leon. Leon is a bi-sexual actor that is married to a woman and has a daughter. Given the recent portrayal of Marina in the Academy Award winning film, “Una Mujer Fantastica”, where the role of a Trans woman is played by a transgender actress, one would hope to see the trend continue. In an interview, Manolo answers the question, “Why did you pick Paco for the role?” by saying, “[El papel] esta hecho a la medida…suelo marcarle a los actors y decirles: “¿lo harías?”. From the get-go the choice has been made by the creator, writer, and director of the series, which makes it hard to refute the “why” behind the casting of Leon.

In an interview Leon said, “Comedy does not have to be synonymous with frivolizing subjects at all, it can also serve to tell deep things and to transmit values…” . Here comes the next important aspect that lets characters such as Maria Jose thrive in a show like “House of flowers”, Comedy. By using, as we saw in the reunion scene between the couple, subjects that are marginalized are able to poke fun at the strict norms imposed by society. In the show, when Maria Jose visits Ernesto in prison she downplays the negative treatment, she jokes, “Ya extrañaba yo el trato de la gente… las miradas, los cuchicheos, los piropos…”. Here we see how when she returns to Mexico Maria Jose reenters a toxic environment that strips her from her identity. In the next scene we see clearly the mistreatment towards Maria Jose even from the patriarch of the family.When Ernesto sees her he says, “¿De verdad creen…que algún juez la va a tomar en serio vestido de mujer?… Esto no es el cabaret. Pense que vendrias vestido de hombre.” Maria Jose responds, “Ernesto, esto no es un disfraz…”. In this exchange there is a dehuminzation of Maria Jose, that stems from fear and not from love. According to Ernesto the “costume” Maria Jose puts on still doesn’t make her a woman, rather it makes her a man cross dressing. For Ernesto a “man can continue to be a man despite not being sexually attracted to women (Carrillo 352). Carrillo’s point is in regard to homosexual identities in Mexico. For one part, Ernesto acknowledges that a “man” is not tied to his sexual attractions, but his comment implies that he believes men should still look like men in public. Characters like Maria Jose challenges this notion because one, she is a woman, but her pre-transition identity keeps caging her into the ideas of masculinity within Mexico. She is creating tension with the somewhat progressive idea that Carrillo proposes in, “Neither Macho nor maricones”.

In the final scene between Paulina and Maria Jose we do not know whether or not they will stay together. After deciding to take their son to Madrid, so he can receive discipline and learn to be a “man”, Paulina is prompted by her mom to go after her family. After reaching the airport the following exchange ensues:

P: ¿Lo intentamos?

MJ: Ya intenté vivir aquí cuando nos separamos, y no fue fácil. Aquí es difícil encontrar trabajo, y no es fácil para mí.

P: No. Yo no te estoy diciendo que intentes vivir en México de nuevo…que si lo intentamos juntas…de nuevo…somos una familia disfuncional, rara pero somos una familia.

MJ: No se, si al menos fueras lesbiana

[They kiss]

P: ¿Te quedas?

MJ: No lo se…

The ending is left ambiguous because the show is going against the typical Telenovela trope about love and its power to conquer everything. There exist doubts within Maria Jose. These doubts stem from the mistreatment during her time back. But under that she still cares for Paulina, and it is made evident through the show’s dialogue. In one instance Maria Jose says to Paulina, “Cambié de sexo pero no de corazón”. This line introduces a new type of “Romantic love” that is not seen in Telenovelas. In the show, as Sandoval states, “Romantic love provides one kind of entry to a form of being that breaks citizen-subject free from the ties that bind being, to thus enter the differential mode of consciousness, or to enter the… “gentleness of the abyss” (141). The relationship between these two characters, in the final moment, has enteres what Sandoval deems, The “abyss”. A place where the societal norms do not affect the love being shared. There exist no stereotypes of what love should be, in the “Abyss” love is in a pure state, where it retains a power to shift the way we imagine, conceive, and interact with relationships that lie outside of the norm. The fact that Maria Jose hesitates in her answer, shows that even though their love is true, the power of the society they love and live in, limits their liberty to form a family.

Caro’s definition of what “family” is a commentary on the importance “appearances” is given in Mexican society. By alluding to a family that is “weird” and “dysfunctional”, Caro acknowledges that their relationship is prohibited by the society they live in, but at the same time, their love is able to break them from the traditional norms that “bind” them. Maria Jose’s and Paulina’s love, “is another kind of love, a synchronic process that punctures through traditional, older narratives of love, that ruptures everyday being (142). In this case, the “everyday being” is the spectator of the show. Caro’s portrayal of a non-normative relationship forces the audience to rethink their notion of what a relationship is, and how love, sex, and attraction can be separated and molded in different ways.

Caro uses an intelligent set of characters, storylines, and jokes, to tell a story of a family, that breaks the mold. I applaud Caro for using comedy to tackle sensitive topics in a society such as Mexico. The relationship between Maria Jose and Mexico City, and Paulina depicts a struggle that many Trans women face in their day to day lives, acceptance. This show does not fall into the trap of clichés. “House of Flowers” challenges the genre of the Telenovela, and suggests that every family has secrets, but that these secrets are what make a family, human.

--

--

--

Recommended from Medium

Why the Last, Shittiest Ever Black Mirror Episode Is Definitely Its Best Ever Episode

Love Island Is The Most Important Show Of My Lifetime

Moon Knight — Review

Top Ten TV of 2020

Future of the Force Weekly Review

Mad Men: “Red In The Face”

Your Honor — it ends how it should have been all the way

The crew of the starship Enterprise is deeply bad at doing war.

Captain Jellico was right.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Saul Lopez

Saul Lopez

More from Medium

7 excellent UX books you should read

Netflix: “You” are the product.

Journey Mapping in UX design

Quick wins to make language more inclusive