Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — The testimonies that I viewed in the documentary Take the Flame confirm that it’s not necessary to respond to the imposed models of femininity or masculinity to be fast, agile, strong, perceptive or to play as a team.
The constant displays of affection and joy that the contending athletes lavished on each other and were received from the public during the Gay Games in 2010 were another detail of great value; these were direct responses to the violent, predatory and dehumanizing forms of competition promoted in the traditional areas of sports.
The issue of gay life has spread into many areas of Western society: art, entertainment, marriage, the church, the military and many more – while sports have remained a “safe haven.”
One of the people interviewed in the documentary pointed out that “while lesbians and gay men have made significant achievements in many other ways, none of them have come out of the closet as part of a US Olympic team, for example.”
American Football League player David Kopay was the first professional athlete to come out, in 1975. He waited for others to follow, but he admitted: “Thirty years later and nothing has changed. Many of them come out, but only after they’ve retired.”
Others are forced to come out when they’re discovered in some “illegal affair,” as was the case with tennis player Martina Navratilova and professional baseball player Billy Bean, who recounted their experiences on film.
Cuba… homosexuality… sports…
Any such event is unthinkable in Cuba, and not only for economic reasons. I can only think of the herculean efforts made by CENESEX every year to ensure its small multicolored conga line is able to march down just four blocks in the Vedado neighborhood (an event that I always enjoy and in which I have actively participated).
Indeed, each year there’s a growing scope of the “Day Against Homophobia,” led by Mariela Castro, to the delight of many people in Cuba’s incipient LGBT community, but I can’t imagine a larger action outside the discourse of health care institutions.
The most that I could do in terms of sports as a child was contentedly participate in a drill team. I was always terrible in sports, and my classmates knew it, which is why they never chose me for their soccer or baseball teams.
So, is there a natural or social selection that relegates a portion of the men who are gay to remain outside of sports?
The media, for their part and at their discretion, reinforce the appearance of each athlete’s “masculinity” or “femininity” according to their biological sex. This is most marked, at least to me, in the case of women.
If a female has ways and manners that go outside of the socially accepted gender code, then they immediately pull out the makeup, put her in clothes with plunging necklines, take her to some celebration like she was a Barbie doll, or make it perfectly clear on Women’s Day or on Mother’s Day that she’s married and has children.
These ridiculous efforts, of course, involve the complicity of the athletes themselves as well as their coaches and families.
Does anyone know of an athlete on the island who is openly gay or lesbian? This is a rhetorical question, I’m asking so that no one answers, lest I get a slap on the wrist for intruding into the private lives of individuals, who I recognize as having every right to stay in the closet or to merely conduct their sexual lives or manage their image public as best they understand.
What I want to highlight here though is the absence of that debate in Cuban society.
In 2006 a small group of homosexuals and scholars on LGBT issues in Cuba who were close to and/or members of CENESEX attended the Gay Games in Montreal, Canada. It was a delegation that went without any athletes…?!
I never learned about anything concerning that delegation, even though at that time we already had some Internet access. According to the AP, “The most important part of their participation was to be a presentation by Mariela Castro, the director of CENESEX and daughter of President Raul Castro.”
I found it valuable that people sensitive to Cuban LGBT issues attended the event, but obviously they missed out on having athletes in the delegation, unless the effort was trying to explain the causes that prevented the participation of gay athletes from Cuba.
In any case, it’s clear that up until now there has been no intention to publicly discuss such a possibility, not even adding an always necessary critical look at these events, which usually tend toward consumerism, the trivialization of the principles of the LGBT struggle, or their pursuing equal rights to the maximum without proposing a real paradigm shift in human and social relations.
Nevertheless, and though this debate has not been proposed by institutions, we as people who are interested can always address the issues that interest us from the perspective that interests us. Maybe I’ll have to go out and look for a certain baseball player I once knew… maybe he’ll be interested in saying something, or participating in the 2014 Gay Games.