On Holy Monday, 1796, in Mexico City, Gregoria Piedra was seen taking the Eucharist out of their mouth after receiving Holy Communion. This act was made more egregious because Piedra was dressed as a man. The witness to the act said Piedra held her gaze, revealed their disguise and ran out of the church laughing.
The parish priest went to the Holy Office and demanded that Piedra be arrested for such a sacrilegious crime. When they found Piedra, still dressed in men’s clothing, they were watching the Holy Monday procession and blowing out the candles of those who were in the procession. Piedra was detained in the court jail while the inquisitors gathered more information. In order to determine whether crimes against the faith had been committed, they specifically sought information on Pierre's Catholic faith. Upon further investigation it was found that Piedra had been incarcerated several times for various offenses, among them provocation, dressing as a man, and taking communion multiple times.
Piedra was well known in the neighborhood. According to neighbors they were more of a man than a woman. Piedra was known by the nickname “la Macho” because of their masculine physical appearance and demeanor. They had many female companions and were seen more often in the company of women than men. Piedra often played pelota, had no address or occupation, and it was rumored that they had served in the military as a man, either in the cavalry or the regiment of the pardos.
Though Piedra was seen as insolent, irreverent and mischievous, the inquisitors did not have enough evidence to charge them with crimes against the faith. Piedra’s actions were seen as those of a delinquent rather than a sinner, since Piedra was still a devout and practicing Catholic. However, the investigation had revealed Piedra’s “inclination towards women,” which caused a considerable amount of confusion. What was the crime? Under whose jurisdiction did it fall? Since it was not a crime of faith the Holy Office did not want to deal with it, and the Royal Court had no legal precedent to follow so they did not know what to do with Piedra either.
Piedra was held in jail while the case was pushed between the Royal Court and the Holy Office, sometimes being forgotten altogether in the bureaucracy of the colonial government, until 1798, at which point Piedra was transferred to a women’s correctional facility. Though purported to be an institution that educated and reformed inmates, it was really a penitentiary: fellow inmates were thieves, adulterers, and murderers. Piedra was sentenced to eight years in prison for crimes of a “dissolute” and “perverted” woman.
Carrera, Magali M. Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.
Ludlow, Ursula Camba. “Gregoria la Macho y su “inclinación a las mujeres”: reflexiones en torno a la sexualidad marginal en Nueva España, 1796-1806.” Colonial Latin America Historical Review (Fall 2003) 479-97.
Penyak, Lee. “Criminal Sexuality in Central Mexico 1750-1850.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Connecticut, 1993.
Archivo General de la Nación Mexico City, Inquisición vol. 1349, exp. 28, fol. 337, fol. 344