Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

July 26, 1999.

THE REGIME GAVE UP, "AND NOW WE ARE MANY..." By Graciela Alfonso, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA - The decade of the '60's was a time of anxiety for the Cuban gays. The Marxist state's determination to sustain a 'germ-free environment' adequate for the creation of the "New Man" went so far as to attempt to eradicate "social scourges" and even led to the creation of a police organism with that objective.

The homosexuals were among those groups being persecuted. In that era it was enough to wear a tight pair of pants or to have effeminate mannerisms for an individual to end up in a police station and from there be placed in a "military unit for (agricultural) production assistance" (better known by their Spanish language acronym of UMAP) or into "schools of rehabilitation of homosexuals." Yes, even such a thing existed.

During that time in Cuba, which then had about 7,000,000 inhabitants, there was a homosexual population calculated to be about 50,000. But the state aimed at their extermination. By engaging them in hard labor and forcing them to listen to harsh words, so the state said, they could be converted into heterosexuals.

Almost 30 years later the balance seems to be tilted but not favorably for the government. The total of "locas" (Cuban slang for gay men, means literally "crazy girls") and lesbians in the country approaches half a million. And those who were then marginated now enjoy their free will. They now circulate through different downtown zones of the city during the night without any particular precautions.

"Ernest," 39, remembers that his oldest brother, also gay, committed suicide for fear of being arrested during a police raid.

Nowadays, other winds are blowing. Ernest can participate in "transformist shows" and make (romantic) conquests on the street. "The night belongs to us," he tells me. "You should spend some length of time with us (to find out stuff). Just now 'La Mora' ('the Moorish girl,' obviously a gay man's nickname) left here with a policeman."

"Omar" is a regular in this zone. He says he is not trying to catch a foreigner. "I need a steady relationship. I used to live with my life partner, and then a year ago he abandoned me for a worthless 'pájara' ('female songbird,' another derogatory Cuban slang term for gay men). But around here good matches do come by."

"Hermes," only 23, did not get to know the harassment. "Everything is different today. The state leaves us in peace because we are not a small group any more. If they choose to eliminate our presence from workplaces, many places will be empty."

They are not afraid of the reaction if a male finds out that they are not women. "I always wear a bandana around my neck. Those who approach me know what they are coming for. It (the bandana) is supposed to signify who I am and what my sexual preferences are. I am both active and passive."

Omar, 47, says, "What is most important is that we have found ourselves some space. It still hurts, though, to hear how abundant the appellations of a discriminatory nature are. I pray that they get to consider us as human beings. The Cuban social world is diverse and complex. But it is also ours."

Adonis has been cruising since he was 16 and he is now 34. "My father," he says, "is a (Communist) Party militant. And when he realized that I was able to 'dream dreams' he kicked me out of the house. Mom wanted to leave with me but I did not let her. I knew I was able to fend for myself. Now when I go home to give them money for cooking oil and soap, my father goes into the bedroom and doesn't come out while I am visiting. I don't hold a grudge against him. I believe it is not his fault that he is intolerant. And after all, he did me a favor..."

Maybe a sociologist can explain this phenomenon of these people who live inside men's bodies and dream of the women that they would like to be - whether anybody likes it or not.

Graciela Alfonso, Cuba Free Press.

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