Isbel Diaz Torres

People are intelligent and they know how to adjust and even hide their opinions.

In the middle of the “Campaign against Homophobia,” I found myself immersed in a diatribe against homosexuals, transsexuals and transvestites.  A teacher earnestly advised us (his students) that we shouldn’t show up for the activity in the Vedado district on May 14.

The celebration is having greater visibility among the Cuban public.  The two man official media outlets on the island — the Granma newspaper and the Noticiero Nacional de Television (TV news) — have both featured it, which is very well received by LGBT activists in Cuba.  Other media agencies such as IPS have followed the event closely.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to keep up with the events due to questions of work; therefore I haven’t been able to weigh the social debate around the issue.  Yet it seems that sometimes it’s best to maintain a certain distance to get a better idea of the reactions of other segments of the population.

What happened recently was that we had stopped for a break during a training course, when the teacher — jokingly — said to all of us:  “Whatever you do, don’t show up in Vedado on May 14.”  The majority of the students found his suggestion curious, but I immediately understood what he meant.

That is the date that the National Center for Sexual Education, headed by Mariela Castro, chose to organize a huge conga line snaking down 23 Street from the Malecon seawall to the Pavilion Cuba exhibition center.  This is an activity that took place for the first time last year.

The teacher immediately explained the reason for his recommendation: “That’s limp-wrist day.”  It was then that the students, overwhelmingly males, began picking up on that derisive comment.  One of my classmates weighed in saying, “Don’t go to Vedado for anything, everybody who’s there that day is going to be outed.”

The event was then branded “International Feather Day,” “Bird Day,” “Cuban Bird Cage Day,” among other names.  It was curious to see the lack of originality or creativity in relation to past times when the animal names were more diverse.  I can remember epithets like grouper, mare, duck and goose – which are now absent.

This was followed by a more serious discussion in which some people, in a “scientific” tone, explained that, “Not all of them are plain weirdoes, some of them have genetic problems.”  But another guy interrupted saying, “Genetic or not, I think we should round them all up and beat the hell out of them with bats,” as he saw the need to make known his attitude on the matter.

Of the three women there, only one spoke, trying to stand up for gay people.  She asserted, “Despite their problems, fags are good people.” The teacher countered saying that she couldn’t generalize, and that many were good-for-nothings.

The discussion continued in that mixture of jest and seriousness in which Cubans almost always speak.  What subsequently came up in discussion were the issues of sex changes, Cher’s daughter/son (Chaz Bono), hermaphroditism, violence against transvestites and how Cuban society is lost.

What caught my attention was the mention of a supposedly official complaint by the National Association of Small Farmers for the use of May 17, “Campesino Day” in Cuba.

Even though I was tempted to jump in and give my position on many of the points, I remained silent.  It was a deeply homophobic environment, and I felt a mixture of fear and curiosity.  I feared what I expected would be a general reaction against me (including by the teacher), and at the same time it seemed useful to observe and note their opinions.

The operation of prejudice isn’t unalterable.  Sexual education somehow takes root in society.  Those of us interested in eliminating injustices and violence against certain social groups or individuals should also know how to evaluate the effectiveness of our strategies.

It’s also important to recognize that people are intelligent and they know how to adjust and even hide their opinions.  That’s why it was best not to intervene – for that reason and for the final grade the teacher will give me in a few days.

 


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

4 thoughts on “Heterosexuals against Homosexuals

  • January 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm
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    I am writing from Canada. I have been visiting Cuba for over 25 years and will be returning Feb. 23, 2012 for one month. I am gay man. I have seen a lot of very hopeful change for gay people in all those years. However, personal survival is very important. I admire Isbel’s courage in even writing about this subject, but he hasn’t made it clear to me why he is afraid. I think I can read between the lines, though. For years I lived in fear that I would be discovered and years ago in Canada, I could have been beaten and even imprisoned for being gay. That has all changed, due to the laws of our government. However, you can change the laws but you can’t legislate how people think and there is still homophobia in this country…although very limited and silent for the most part.

    Like all change, thinking about human sexuality changes slowly and with time. Cuba is on the right road and I look forward to walking down that road with Cubans for many (hopefully) years to come.

    Keep up the good work, Isbel!

    Jon
    d

  • September 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm
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    I can tell you that I never remain silent when people say cruel things. I am completely intolerant of racism, sexism, nationalism, other isms and war mongering. At 49 years of age, I can tell you I have little effect on people who say horrible things and I am beginning to wonder why I even argue. Don’t condemn Isbel for remaining silent. Sometimes I think I should remain silent, look at their honest cruelty as a helpful revelation, and stay away from them.

  • May 16, 2011 at 10:46 am
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    Hi Julio, you just said it: I was afraid. And afraid doesn’t need any further explanation, since it is always irrational. Nevertheless, fear is important for survival, it is a defense behavior.
    I partially don’t agree with your statement “Silence in away is equivalent to approval”. It doesn’t happen that way. This is an example: I don’t approve the situation, but I remained silent. It’s a fact.
    Now, I consider this experience as a chance to know about people. Most times people hide their real thoughts (not only in Cuba), and circumstances when they really show themselves are highly valuable. I took note of their phrases, their emotions. I learned. I think I gave them a chance to be themselves.
    And, what a surprise, this Saturday, in Pabellón Cuba, surrounded by hundreds of gays, I met one of my classmates. He is heterosexual, and was there with his girlfriend. He didn’t listen to the teacher and came. But more interesting: he didn´t need my speech to give his solidarity to the LGBT cause.

  • May 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm
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    Isbel

    “Even though I was tempted to jump in and give my position on many of the points, I remained silent. ”

    Would you have remained silent while someone else was raped? or any other injustice done in front of your own eyes?
    Discriminating against and old person or a person of a different race?

    Your silence was probably motivated by fear. And you do recognize it. I think I can understand what you are talking about. But by keeping yourself in silence you become an accomplice to what they said. Right?
    If they find no opposition then they will never know that not everyone agrees with them. That you all think the same. Silence in away is equivalent to approval.

    On the other hand here in this very public forum you express that you disagree with their statements. Is it because doing it this way you feel less fear? It is a more impersonal medium of communication.

    The same fear you talk about here many Cubans also feel with regards to many other things they believe are wrong with the system. So they have to simulate their agreement. How can we solve this?
    Can it be solve by laws?

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