Comparative Cuba experiences (Re: Cuba and gay men [was Tibet and gays])

Frances Bolton (PHI) fbolton at
Mon Jul 6 18:41:52 PDT 1998


I was thinking in particular of a meeting with students at the University. It was pretty surreal. Young Party functionaries who kept saying there's no sexism here, there's no racism here. All that's been eradicated by the Revolution. Meanwhile, a Black New Yorker kept asking why police asked him for his identity card whenever he was in a touristic area (I love that word--touristic). A Black Cuban said the same thing happens to him, but, since the police are polite about it, it doesn't count. Meanwhile, the North Americans are sitting there, looking at this diverse group of Cuban students, wondering why only the white guys are talking. We asked the women to join the conversation, and they giggled and held their boyfriends hands when they spoke. Maybe they were just young? Race was certainly discussed more than gender.

I skipped a visit to La Guintera community, and maybe that would have given me a different sense of Cuban women. But at the hospital and the neighborhood council visit, there were Cuban women present but the men gave all the presentations.

Cheers, Frances

On Mon, 6 Jul 1998, Jamie Owen Daniel wrote:

> Companeros,
> just a quick response to Frances' comments below about Cuban women
> sitting quietly next to their men: I don't know what meetings you were
> attending, but I was never present at any at which women weren't vocal,
> engaged, independent--and they certainly didn't hesitiate to respond with
> scathing sarcasm to any recalcitrant macho patronizing from the men
> present (these included trade union meetings, seminars and private parties
> with university people, and a meeting of employees at a medical clinic).
> Although one of the common expressions for being gutsy is still the
> masculinist "tiene cojones", I heard it used just as admiringly in
> reference to women as to men, i.e. "he/she's got balls!" (although
> everybody thought Madame Albright's use of it a few years back was pretty
> tacky and vulgar).
> I agree that the reintroduction of dollars has resulted in a
> reintroduction of consumerism among younger Cubans, or at least those in
> Havana. The translator I mentioned was around 40, however, and was not
> remotely
> interested in anything from the U.S. except our latest idioms. He asked
> me at one point whether the expression, "we're kicking your butt" would be
> a vulgar way of tranlating something Ricardo Alarcon had said in a speech
> about Helms-Burton.
> Ciao,
> Jamie
> On Mon, 6 Jul 1998, Frances Bolton (PHI) wrote:
> >
> > I just want to add some of my own observations to those of Jamie. I was
> > just in Cuba in acouple of weeks ago. There are gay bars (all discos, it
> > seemed, and as far as I could tell, all dollar businesses rather than peso
> > businesses.) There's a gay beach just outside Havana; I didn't go but I
> > was told it was really crowded by those who did go. I met a gay guy from
> > the US who told me the Havana gay scene was pretty extensive, and he felt
> > comfortable everywhere he went. He was staying in a private home, and said
> > the woman with whom he was staying didn't bat an eye when he'd bring men
> > home. I spent quite a bit of time with a het Cuban guy who took great
> > pains to assure me he wasn't homophobic.
> >
> > The comment of the gay man who said he wouldn't want to self-identify as
> > such is a familar one. You hear women there saying they don't identify as
> > feminist, they identify as revolutionaries. You hear the same thing from
> > afro-cubans, "we aren't afro-cuban, we are cuban." Of course, these are
> > the same women who sit in meetings next to their men, not saying a word,
> > only smiling appreciatively when a man says something. And these are the
> > same Afro-Cubans who cannot get a job waiting tables, driving taxis,
> > working the hotel at a desk, as a hotel maid, or a bartender. Can't
> > remember seeing any black prostitutes, either. Those being
> > the jobs that put one in a position to get dollars, hence they are the
> > most desireable jobs.
> >
> > All that is a way of saying that I'm not sure what's behind your friends
> > hestitation at calling himself gay. But, it might not necessarily be
> > revolutionary fervour (which still exists there, and how lovely when one
> > finds it. Most of the young people I spoke to on the street wanted to talk
> > about rap music, the Godfather movies, and Michael Jordan)
> >
> > By the way, Jamie, as of two weeks ago, strawberry and chocolate was still
> > being shown in the theatre across from Coppelia.
> >
> > Cheers,
> > Frances
> >
> > On Mon, 6 Jul 1998, Jamie Owen Daniel wrote:
> >
> > > Folks:
> > >
> > > In response to a number of comments recently, such as that below, on the
> > > Cuban policy on homosexuality (it's not merely Fidel's position!), I want
> > > to comment at some length:
> > >
> > <<SNIP>>>
> > > These hardline positions have changed in the last 15 years or so. In 1988
> > > the criminal code de-criminalized homosexuality, and it was increasingly
> > > mentioned as an "option" in official materials on sexuality to be used in
> > > schools. There has been much more mention of it in public discourse, esp.
> > > in films and literature; Strawberry and Chocolate was the most watched and
> > > discussed film in Cuba for months after it was released.
> > >
> > > When I was in Cuba last, in summer 1997, I had a long talk with a
> > > translator who was working with the group I was part of. He was pretty
> > > open about being gay, and offered to take the gay members of our group to
> > > a couple of underground gay clubs in Havana. When we talked, he said that
> > > there was a kind of unofficial but fairly widely practiced "don't ask,
> > > don't tell" policy in force, meaning that all kinds of gay men and
> > > lesbians were working in all kinds of positions and were not bothered as
> > > long as they didn't "make a big deal" of it. I asked him whether he'd
> > > prefer to be more openly gay at work, that is, to be able to
> > > self-identify as gay or queer. He said, somewhat surprisingly to some
> > > of our gay colleagues, that "he wouldn't want to self-identify as gay
> > > like they do in the U.S.", that is, to make it seem as if being gay was
> > > his primary identity. He said quite plainly, "I am a Cuban and I am a
> > > Revolutionary--that I am gay shouldn't make any difference
> > > to anyone except to me and whomever I love."
> >

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