Bullfighting seems to be the most masculine of sports. However, it is also highly erotic in a barbaric sort of way. Bullfighters themselves exude sex. A few years ago in 2001, Patricia Nell Warren wrote The Wild Man, a book about a gay bullfighter who was deeply closeted during the reign of Generalissimo Francisco
Franco. I became fascinated with the sensuality and machismo of bullfighters. Warren, best known for The Front Runner, the ground-breaking novel about a gay athlete, created another gay sports figure in The Wild Man. With his overweening machismo, the complex hero, a closeted matador at the end of Franco's rule in Spain, is never entirely sympathetic but always fascinating. He is aware of the political and social changes of the 1960s but must face the conflict between the demands of his aristocratic family and the traditions of his sport, on the one hand, and his growing love for an idealistic young peasant on the other. Warren's overly romantic style sometimes threatens to turn this into a romance novel. The depiction of gay life under a right-wing dictatorship and the start of the ecological movement in Spain are often more absorbing than the love stories. In spite of stylistic flaws, Warren tells an absorbing story, and his characters transcend stereotypes in a setting that will be exotic to most American readers
Called the corrida de toros in Spanish, the bullfight takes place in a large outdoor arena known as the plaza de toros. The object is for one of the bullfighters (toreros)-the matador-to kill a wild bull, or toro, with a sword.
A modern bullfight consists of three stylized parts (tercios). When the bull enters the ring, toreros wave capes to prod it to charge; then the picadors administer pic (lance) thrusts, which tire the animal and cause him to lower his head; in the second part, the banderilleros come out and, while on the run, plant banderillas (short barbed sticks) on the withers of the bull; these often spur him into making livelier charges. In the final segment the matador-almost always a man, although some women have entered the sport in recent decades, amid controversy-holds the muleta, a small cloth cape, in one hand, and a sword in the other. Daring passes at the bull work to dominate the animal until it stands with feet square on the ground and head hung low; the matador must then approach the bull from the front and kill him by thrusting his sword between the shoulder blades and into the heart. A matador's performance requires great skill and courage, and successful matadors reap immense awards in money and adulation. Fighting bulls are bred and selected for spirit and strength.
The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete practiced bull leaping as part of religious ritual, and later Greeks and Romans also had rites that involved the slaughter of bulls. The Moors, who fought bulls from their horses and killed them with javelins, probably introduced the sport to Spain (c.11th cent.). Originally the central figure in the Spanish bullfight was the mounted torero; Francisco Romero is generally credited with being the first (c.1726) to fight on foot. Bullfighting is also popular in the Latin American countries of Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and in S France. The Portuguese practice a style of fighting from horseback in which the bull is not killed in the ring. Critics contend that bullfighting is an inhumane spectacle of animal torture; aficionados respond that it is a complex ritual central to Spanish culture.