One, Two, Three Small Joys

Francisco Castro

HAVANA TIMES — Joys that burst right in front of your face, like soap bubbles, to leave you with a feeling of emptiness, of frustration, but joys nevertheless, fulfilling their mission of oxygenating the blood, of cleansing a bloodstream contaminated by the sloth, intolerance, stagnation, ignorance, opportunism, close-mindedness, fence-sitting…and a horrifyingly long list of other ills that surround us.

Today I will focus, therefore, on our moments of joy.

WARNING: This post condemns homophobia, and it is written by someone who is strongly homophilic. So, if you’re among those who still refuse to understand this, or feel uncomfortable with the whole issue, I suggest you stop reading now.

Right, now that that’s out of the way, I can speak to you about my first moment of joy with complete frankness:

I was heading back home at night, the movie I had just seen still fresh in my mind, when I saw two young men walking close by, ahead of me, holding hands.

We were walking down a street (Ayesteran) which isn’t very busy that late at night. The chances of anyone seeing the couple weren’t very high. Nevertheless, the fact these two young men were announcing their commitment this way in a public space (something which heterosexual couples do as a matter of routine), this fact alone, made me feel proud and inspired respect in me.

Walking towards us was an elderly gentleman. After he had passed the couple, he turned his head several times to look at them. As he approached me, he gave me a half-smiling look, and I sensed he was about to say something to me about the two, a typical gesture among Cubans.

I thought it was going to be the usual mocking remark, the kind of comment I confess I never react to, something I am not exactly proud of. However, what the man said would become the second moment of joy I want to tell you about. He said: “brave fellows like those are all you need to get a revolution started.”

I didn’t say anything. I only raised my eyebrows a bit, in a fleeting gesture that aims to convey understanding, without much commitment. I felt a sense of optimism welling up inside me.

Almost immediately after this, a garbage truck drove by and someone inside yelled: “Faggots!”

I experienced my third moment of joy when I realized that one of the characters in a Cuban television program, Primera Clase (“First Class”), is openly and outrageously gay.

People might say it is the typical caricature of the gay man which our patently homophobic television is comfortable broadcasting. But I only thought about that possibility with the second broadcast of the program.

I think this is so because, even though the character is a parody of a renowned fashion designer, there is no mockery surrounding the fact that he is homosexual (I am referring to the character, for I don’t know the sexual orientation of the man parodied).

The character is incorporated seamlessly into the program, full of extravagance and exaggerated glamour, a program which, thanks to the expertise and experience of its creators, doesn’t stumble, treading dangerously close to the line that separates these things from vulgarity and bad taste.

I wonder if this is precisely what explains the rather irregular airing of the program in Cuba. They had announced it would be aired every Sunday over the summer and, to date, they have only aired two episodes. Of course, as is often the case with Cuban television, we’ve been given no explanation for this.

The two episodes that were aired, however, showed me that, even in Cuba, with a good script, the stereotype of the gay man can be transformed into something which isn’t crass and offensive mockery. I’ll have to find out whether I’m alone in thinking this or if, on the contrary, I am not delusional and there are people working in Cuban television who are sufficiently intelligent to achieve such results.

Of course, that will depend on whether the show ever sees the light of day again, and things don’t look too pretty right now.

These are the fragile soap bubbles that end up bursting after carelessly floating about and leave us with an agreeable memory, a kind of sediment that, with time, becomes the impetus for action.

 (I dedicate this post to Ana Maria, who says my posts are often shrouded by a thick cloud of pessimism).

One thought on “One, Two, Three Small Joys

  • Your friend is correct: your posts, while always well written and thoughtful, are often shrouded in pessimism. But this one is different, almost optimistic.

    “Históricamente, Cuba había escapado siempre de la realidad gracias a la sátira y a la burla. Sin embargo, con Fidel Castro, el sentido del humor fue desapareciendo hasta quedar prohibido; con eso el pueblo cubano perdió una de sus pocas posibilidades de supervivencia; al quitarle la risa le quitaron al pueblo el más profundo sentido de las cosas.”
    ? Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls

    (“Historically, Cuba had always escaped reality through satire and mockery. However, under Fidel Castro, a sense of humor was prohibited and the Cuban people lost one of their few tools of survival, to outlaw laughter took from the people the deeper meaning of things. “)

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