Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 13 October 1997

MACHOS, MARICONES & GAYS: CUBA AND HOMOSEXUALITY

By Ian Lumsden

Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook



MACHOS. MARICONES, AND GAYS: CUBA AND HOMOSEXUALITY By Ian Lumsden; Temple University Press; 263 pages; ISBN I-56639-370-1 cloth, I-56639- 371-X paper.


Studies of homosexuality in Cuba have run the gamut from the paeans of pro-Castro apologists to Nestor Almendros's thoroughly negative Conducta Impropia. In all cases, the books were colored by their authors' views on the Cuban Revolution and the still-frigid relationship between the United States and the Pearl of the Antilles.

No Cuban can be objective about Fidel Castro and his Revolution; certainly not one who, like myself, spent his formative years in the hothouse of Miami's Cuban exile community.

Fortunately, Ian Lumsden is a Canadian; this alone frees him from the U.S.'s continuing obsession with Fidel. Lumsden likes the Cuban people -- "among the warmest and most generous people in the world" in general and Cuban men -- who he rightly describes as "hot and handsome" in particular. A frequent visitor to the Island, Lumsden admired the Revolution and its beneficial effects on Cuban society, even as he remains critical of the regime's autocracy, bureaucracy and conformism.

Machos, Maricones, and Gays is the second of a three-volume study of homosexuality in Latin America: It was preceded by Homosexuality, Society, and the State in Mexico and will be followed by a similar study of homosexuality in Costa Rica. In all cases, because of the author's limited contacts with lesbian women, the scope is limited to gay males.

Gay opponents of the Revolution have blamed Cuba's negative treatment of its gays on the tyranny of the regime. On the contrary, Lumsden writes, Cuban homophobia predated the Revolution by centuries: "The oppression of homosexuals in contemporary Cuba cannot be fully understood without relating it to the ways in which male sexuality and gender identity were constructed prior to the revolution." Spanish Machismo, which continues to be a major component of the Cuban psyche, colors Cuban attitudes towards homosexuality, just as it does the status of women and relations between the sexes.

However, unlike North American puritanism, Cuban machismo seems less concerned with sexual relations between men than with traditional gender roles. Bugarrones, men who take the active role in male sex, retaine their male identity and macho privileges while maricones or locas, men who take the passive role, are despised and ridiculed as traitors to the sex. (A third category, conventionally discrete entendidos, resemble pre-Stonewall, North American gays.) Though Castro and his colleagues are relatively tolerant of homosexuality among their friends and allies, they share in their culture's prejudices against sex variance in men.

Still, the status of homosexuals in Cuba has steadily improved, as seen in the award-winning film Fresa Y Chocolate: "It was evident by the mid-1980s that Cuban gays had begun to feel much less intimidated by the state in relation to the way they publicly expressed the sexual dimension of their lives. ... More and more, young gays are developing a sense of gay identity and consciousness." The Catholic Church is not as powerful in Cuba as it in is other Latin countries, and many Cuban straights are civilizados (gay-friendly). Even the controversial policy of quarantining Cuban PWAs in sanatoria is viewed more favorably by Cuban gays than it is by outsiders who see it as proof of the regime's brutality. (They would be more appalled by the fact that many PWAs in the U.S. don't have health insurance.)

All in all, Lumsden concludes, "the current situation of Cuban gays is much more oppressive than the Cuban government is willing to acknowledge. Yet it is also much less restricted than it was a decade ago and much better than many émigré gays and lesbians are willing to concede in public."

Machos, Maricones, and Gays is sure to upset both sides of the Cuban Question, which speaks well for the author's thoroughness and his open-mindedness. Having left the land of my birth long before I became aware of my sexuality, I enjoyed Lumsden's description of gay life in Havana and the provinces -- a lifestyle that I might have shared had things turned out differently. After all, blood is thicker than water or politics, and Cuban machismo is as potent in Little Havana as it is in "Big" Havana. (Lumsden cites me[!] as the authority on this matter.) If this madness ever ends, gay Cubanos from both sides of the Florida Straits will be able to come together once more. Adding to Machos, Maricones and Gay's value as a resource on gay Cuban life is a comprehensive bibliography, an essay on santeria by Tomas Fernandez Robaina, and the "Manifesto of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Cuba."

BRIEF VIEWS: Anthologies are very popular these days, and they run the gamut from collections of coming out stories (again!) to such esoteric compilations as Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation.

Having contributed to quite a few anthologies myself, I cannot criticize a genre that allows me and so many other writers to express ourselves. In a community where there are as many ways of being queer as there are queer beings, an anthology gives the reader a greater and fairer representation than would a book that is written by only one person.

Richard Kasak Books is perhaps the leading publisher of erotic literature, especially through its Badboy (gay), Rosebud (lesbian) and Rhinoceros (straight) lines. A Movement of Eros: 25 Years of Lesbian Erotica, edited by Heather Findlay and Flashpoint: Gay Male Sexual Writing, edited by Michael Bronski are excellent overviews of lesbian and gay erotica. Bronski does double duty as editor of the Lambda Literary Award-winning Taking Liberties: Gay Men's Essays on Politics Culture & Sex, a nonfiction collection. Also from Kasak are two erotic fairy tale collections edited by Michael Ford -- Once Upon A Time: Erotic Fairy Tales For Women and Happily Ever After: Erotic Fairy Tales For Men -- the latter one featuring my version of The Prince and thePauper. These Kasak anthologies are $12.95 each and worth the price.

Alyson Publications is famous for its anthologies, as three recent publications (at $11.95 each) prove. Generation Q, edited by Robin Bernstein and Seth Clark Silberman is the most ambitious one, for in it "gays, lesbians, and bisexuals born around 1969's Stonewall riots tell their stories of growing up in the age of information." Naughty boys will prefer Nature in the Raw: Gay Erotic Fiction From Freshmen Magazine edited by Gerry Kroll. My favorite is Swords of the Rainbow, edited by Jewelle Gomez and the late Eric Garber, a collection of queer science fiction and fantasy.

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