Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Sexual Diversity in Revolutionary Times, 1959-2009

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Sexual Diversity in Revolutionary Times, 1959-2009

Article excerpt

Homosexuality (male and female), bisexuality, and expressions that break with traditional gender norms (such as ''transgender'') constitute what have been described as sexual minorities or dissident sexualities. All, like heterosexuality, are included in what is known today as sexual diversity, yet there has been remarkable academic silence on public treatment of sexual diversity and homoerotism. In Cuba, researchers from outside Cuba have often misread this silence because they are unfamiliar with our social, political, and historical heritage. The excessive politicization of homosexuality in Cuba during the first three decades after 1959, among other reasons, has considerably limited the study of this issue inside Cuba. The challenge here is to construct an approximation to the changing Cuban social imaginary since 1959 regarding expressions of sexual orientation and gender identities that differ from the heterosexual norm.

1960s: Homosexuality, Revolutionary Conciencia, and State Policy

The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 meant a radical change toward eliminating centuries of inequality in several spheres of society. The recognition of women's rights and the creation of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) were important examples of significant state commitment to transforming gender relations in a society marked by a profound machismo. The revolution widened women's rights, beyond their social origin or cultural level, in a process that Fidel Castro qualified as ''a revolution within the Revolution.''1 Racial inequity was also eradicated, and there were new laws explicitly banning such discrimination.2

But homosexuality did not receive the same treatment. From the very beginning, with increasing hostility from the United States, the terrorist attacks and the radical measures of the revolution, homosexuals were identified as counterrevolutionary elements to be purged or reformed, accused of not being ''virile enough'' to face the huge tasks to be undertaken in the revolutionary process.3 This perspective, shared by both leaders and most Cuban people, was not new. It was present in the nineteenth-century wars of independence against Spanish colonialism and in the very creation of the Cuban nation, as nationalist and patriotic speech and practice have always been associated with masculinity and virility.4 It is a perspective that draws on both Spanish and African influence, dating from colonial times and with its legacy enshrined in the new republic. In the Social Defense Code of 1938, article 490 established up to six months of prison time for ''any person who regularly participates in homosexual acts,'' who ''solicits another person,'' or who creates a ''public scandal'' through ''public display.'' Cuban legislation remained unchanged in these respects until 1979.5

The criminalization of homosexuality was the norm in legislation in the 1960s throughout the hemisphere. Medical sciences also provided ''proof'' to support the implementation of multiple discriminatory actions against homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people: sexology, in particular, defined homosexuality as a mental disorder until the World Health Organization removed it from that category on May 17, 1990.

Cuban society in 1959 had no sex education program, and sexuality was a taboo for the Cuban family. At the time, 26.3 percent of Cuba's population was unable to read or write, and less than half the population was functionally literate. The most prominent intellectuals reaffirmed the hygienist approach to homosexuality, common in the 1920s and 1930s, thus stigmatizing homosexuals in ideological and political terms and linking homosexuality with bourgeois vice, in contravention of socialist morality.6

Another important factor in the 1960s was the breaking offof political connections with the United States and the establishment of the U.S. blockade against Cuba, which led the country to a political rapprochement with the Soviet Union. …

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