In the Wrong Society

Irina Echarry

In the Wrong Body.

HAVANA TIMES, August 25 — The story of a sex change is hitting the screens of cinemas across the country.  Is she Cuban?  Many people wonder about this who don’t know Mavi Sussel, the lead character.

In 1988, after suffering years of humiliation and cruel treatment that pushed her close to suicide, Mavi finally succeeds in getting the Cuban authorities to give her a sex reassignment operation.

It was assumed that all of her anguish would then disappear, but the documentary En el cuerpo equivocado (In the Wrong Body) reveals us something else.  “With their ingratitude, people didn’t allow me to develop… I didn’t want this… I had my illusions,” Mavi tells us while cleaning, cooking, caring for her aging mother, and buying food at the market.

The film’s director, Marylin Solaya, exhibits Mavi’s frustrations in her relationship.  She shows that though the man to whom Mavi is married recognizes and accepts her as a woman, his machismo doesn’t allow him to see her other than a traditional “housewife.”

Adelfa, a young man exiting the movie theater commented: “You could note a few shortcomings in the film, like the lack of a detailed explanation around the medical issues.  We were left waiting for something that would shore up the spiritual part…something that explained why she physically needed the operation.  We realized that she had a high percentage of feminine characteristics in her body, but I would have liked to have heard the view of a professional or have listened to she herself explain it.”

It’s true that attention is centered on her emotional state: “At school I had to be on the side of the males, though I never felt male and therefore I didn’t feel good around them.  I had to repress things about me that were natural, and all I got was the cold shoulder, taunts and abuse…  If people understood that you aren’t this way because you want to be, but rather you were born this way, they wouldn’t be so insensitive or talk such garbage…  It’s something that God puts in your path, you don’t choose it.”

The words of Mavis, the images that relate the rape that she suffered by an adult in school, as well as her loneliness and sadness make us think that the title of the film should be something different.  It’s the society that’s wrong, and society is made up of all of us who judge.  We don’t understand and we even hurt those who are different from the majority.  “Neither the homosexuals nor the heterosexuals accepted me; I was an outcast.  It was like I was some kind of weirdo in this society…”

Marilis and Alejandro, who went to the film’s premier on August 18 at the Chaplin Cinema, said, “It’s a tough story.  Sometimes we don’t realize how we make other people suffer, but the question is what right do we have to exclude or not respect others.  Who are we?   Who gave us that power?  I find it great that they’re showing this documentary in cinemas so that people can understand for once and for all that we’re not gods who can decide the fate of other people.”

Some of the best moments in the documentary are the counter-positioning made by the director between the testimony of Mavis (who wrote a letter to the World Health Organization and received careful attention from the Cuban Council of State, bouquets of flowers and the personal concern of Fidel Castro for her operation) with the words of Sisi, another woman in the body of a man.

Sisi admits to having been abused by the police for having shaved off her eyebrows and dressing like a woman and discusses having served time in the Combinado del Este Penitentiary because “there weren’t any reformatories for queers.”

The documentary includes good photographic work and travels to the inner world of a woman who is not happy with the role that she plays, who aspires to have a different life when she’s able to get a sex change and who has merged into the female stereotypes within the same society that excluded her when she had a man’s body.

One thought on “In the Wrong Society

  • How ironic that even though Mavis succeeded in obtaining a sex-change operation, she now feels herself trapped in another stereotypic role, as housewife! Still, she seems to have overcome great handicaps in becoming who she wants to be, feels herself to be. Kudos to the Revolution, and to most Cubans, for coming so far in overcoming the straight-jackets of sexual stereotyping. How has Cuba succeeded and, at least in this instance, advanced ahead of the Collosus to the North? I can’t help but feeling that one of the prime reasons is that religion does not hold as much power in Cuba as here, or maybe because there have always been a combination of religions in Cuba, both the Catholic Church and the African religions. In the case of Catholicism, there is a strong, if hidden, polytheistic element and, of course, polytheism is much more evident in the African religions, and, as we know, polytheism is much more tolerant and knowing of a plethora of sexual orientations and expressions than is the intollerant, monotheistic, sky god of the monotheists.

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