María Peláe lives in Madrid, but is ‘malagueña’ through and through. A football-loving Malaga FC fan, singer and musician and, of course, a proud lesbian. She says that becoming a representative for the lesbian community was not her intention, rather it was something that happened so naturally that it barely tousled her long jet-black hair. It all began when she spoke up for lesbian visibility in the celebrity talent show Tu Cara me Suena (Your Face Sounds Familiar), in which her girlfriend, Alba Reig, also competed. Like any other gay or lesbian from Malaga, she’s spent her fair share of time in Plaza La Nogalera, and this year she will give the opening speech for Torremolinos Pride there. She speaks to SIX at Mitá con Tilde, the studio of the Malaga-based production company created by Unai Somoza and Edu Gómez.
–Would you ever have imagined that you would be giving the opening speech at Torremolinos Pride?
–Never. I’m on this journey where I never really intended to fly the flag for anything… it’s just that I’ve never lied about myself or about my life. So I never expected to get this honour, especially not in Torremolinos, which was the first gay scene I ever explored. Actually, I was even baptised in Torremolinos, a place that is an LGBT reference in the world and that has always been a tonic for freedom.
–You say you’re not a flag-bearer, but just that you never lied about your life. Nevertheless, a famous woman publicly saying that she is a lesbian continues to cause a stir, even more so than a gay man.
–I think that that’s exactly why it's so important to keep saying it, louder every time! The fact that people assume that I’m brave because I say that I’m in a relationship with a woman says a lot about the society we live in. And when it comes to comparisons within the LGBT community, we mustn’t forget that unfortunately women have even further to go. Not only is there discrimination for being part of the LGBT community, but you also have to bear in mind that our starting point is within a patriarchal society. People tell me that I’m not with a man because I’ve never tried it. There are still chauvinists around.
–Lesbians have less visibility than gay men - is that more to do with homophobia or sexism?
–It’s a combination of the two, and the end result is that we suffer. But it’s about time gay men reached out to lesbians too, because we’re part of the same community and it seems that sometimes that gets forgotten.
–In Tu Cara Me Suena you advocated lesbian visibility. It seemed impressive, but really you weren’t asking for anything that extraordinary…
–When I finished singing, I noticed that no one was really judging my performance. Instead, people were joking about who had the biggest banana - it was very phallocentric. But what they didn’t seem to realise was that they were saying it to someone who had a partner. I mean, hello? We were the first women to attend a prime time show as a couple. The fact that they didn’t take the opportunity to talk about it, and on top of that they decided to turn the conversation to penises… Well, you can imagine, when I sat down I said to Alba [Reig] “Listen, I have to say something,” I was livid.
–Do you wish you didn’t have to be constantly explaining this sort of thing?
–Yes, and it's not as though I go out looking for it. But if come across it, I have to explain that these things aren’t right. It’s worse if you don’t talk about it, because then you’re acting as if it didn’t exist.
–Do you think there is a sort of stalemate in the fight against hate speech?
–I have mixed feelings. On one hand, people are finally recognising when aggression is motivated by homophobia, something which didn’t always happen before. But on the other hand, it’s clear that there are people who may have felt embarrassed to say what they thought in the past, and now they don’t, because they have public representation. They used to keep their homophobic thoughts to themselves, but now there are people on TV endorsing their bullshit ideas. And of course, they speak up as well. The homophobes have always been there, they just didn’t always speak up. It’s the same with gender violence.
–Let’s go back to the comparison between men and women. Don’t you think that stereotyping is even more common with lesbians?
–Yes, you get all that “Oh but she doesn’t look it.” It’s because society expects certain standards of femininity. I get it a lot: “But you’re really feminine…”. It’s a question of role models. I don’t remember having any lesbian references until my sister came out to me. I remember thinking, "How strange. Just look, you, me... Who would have thought it?"
–Okay, let’s get into some lighter questions. Why are there so many lesbians in the musical world?
–I think it’s the guitar (she laughs).
–People have always associated lesbians with ‘folclóricas’ (the Spanish diva-like 'copla' singers). But what about in the world of singer-songwriters?
–I always say that there’s a lesbian card. You get it stamped when you do certain things.
–I’m going to be the most stereotypical lesbian in the world. Every time I play football - I’ve started playing again - we say that I’ve earned another month on my lesbian card. I mean, I love football, I was given a Malaga shirt and some boots for my last birthday. Not everyone knows this, but I played competitively until I was 18. I started playing again last year, and remembered why I loved it. Such a shame I had to stop at the time.
–Let’s get back to music. It's like an attraction, right?
–There’s definitely something. Maybe lesbians are so attached to music because we are very ‘sentimental’, because we move in together straight away and we need to tell everyone about it… (she laughs for a few seconds). No but really, there are lots of lesbians in businesses, you know. They just don’t talk about it. I mean, when I worked in offices I was aware of it.
–And what about the 'folklóricas' then? I’m fascinated by those celebrity gossip shows that continue to talk about the ‘special lady friend’.
–Yeah, or who hasn't kissed a friend. Either way, when it comes to these celebrities, you've got to remember that they revealed whatever they wanted to. They were a lot freer, despite the times. Do you remember the [charity football] match between 'folklóricas' and 'finolis'? What a dream! Those women really were role models.
–Hey, and I mean it might seem like gays and lesbians are worlds apart, but we find each other in the world of the 'folklóricas'.
–Of course. Every 'folklórica' has her gay and every gay his 'folklórica'.