By Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban society still has a lot of hang-ups about the subject of homosexuality, although on a personal level, many people believe that everyone should have the freedom to choose who they want to be with, that human values aren’t defined by somebody’s sexual preference.
People still talk about Luanda Perez Hernandez (56 years old), a woman who decided to fight for her happiness in spite of the prejudice a machista and homophobic generation hold. Working in a Catholic church was her refuge during her marriage. She lives in a small town in the Artemisa province.
HT: When did you begin to work in the Catholic Church?
Luanda Perez: When I was 34 years old. I used to work every day as the priest’s secretary. There were different community projects there: people donated clothes and food to prisoners’ families, to the elderly and the poorest. It was a job I really enjoyed a lot; also because it meant that I was out of the house for most of the day, I had a rocky marriage.
HT: Did you get married very young?
LP: My eldest sister forced me to marry Reinaldo when I was 19 years old. She was seeing different attitudes in me. I studied accounting and my tutor back then was called Mercedes, I have never forgotten her. Everybody said that she was a lesbian. My family has always been very worried about what society says, it was the ‘70s, there was a lot of prejudice and especially a lot of homophobia. My sister realized that I was interested in Mercedes and told me that that was immoral, disgusting, the worst thing a human being could feel. So then I thought that my parents didn’t deserve that pain, I was so ashamed that I hid this desire for many many years, I didn’t have my own opinion about it either. They then immediately got everything ready for the wedding. I never heard from Mercedes again, someone told me she had gone to the United States.
HT: Your life then been passed next to someone who you were never interested in. Did you ever meet another woman?
LP: At the church, we had a computer, materials and resources to help people who needed it. A girl from the town went to see me to help her with her final project. I was 43 years old. She used to go everyday to look for information. At the weekend, we would run into each other somewhere in town until she started to take a place in my life and I began to think about her, I also realized that she felt the same way. We began a secret relationship. When I used to come home at night, my husband didn’t even ask where I was but I still hated lying to him, plus it went against all of my principles. At the church, I stopped taking communion, I knew that I was in sin. One day, I confessed to the priest and I told him everything I felt, he told me that I was excommunicated, but I had already been so for some time. I gave him all of my keys, he insisted that I stay, I was his secretary at the end of the day, he came to visit me more than once because he needed me. We had a really beautiful relationship, I always supported him, I even stayed with him at the hospital when he needed an exam done or if he was admitted. Later, he asked to be freed from his duties and he went to Havana, he was a special person.
HT: Did you tell your husband how you felt?
LP: We constantly had communication problems, the relationship had been going badly for quite a while. Yes, I wanted to, we’d lived together for 25 years, he’s the father of my two children, but I never loved him or wanted him. I tried to salvage our relationship several times. When I told him I wanted to get divorced, he really suffered. I hid from him the fact that there was Lilliam. The next day, he gave me the keys to the house. When a week had passed, he came to tell me that he had a right to co-live with us, he had read up on his rights with a lawyer.
HT: Did your family know what was going on?
LP: My family didn’t support me, my daughter was 8 years old, I went crazy, everyone in the town knew about my relationship. Those were awful days. I consulted with a lawyer and he told me that my ex-husband did have a right to live with me. I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to go to court with my kids either. So I decided to give him half the house. I was very hurt and censored mainly by my family, I was a disgrace for them. My brother even went so far to say that he would prefer I had cancer than hear about this immorality.
HT: Have you ever regretted your decision?
LP: I don’t regret it, what I do regret is that I did this with Lilliam, I should have been a bit more selective. The relationship was amazing at the beginning, but then I didn’t have her support and I came to heads with society on my own. My children have always consoled me.
HT: What happened with your sister?
LP: When she found out, she kept quiet. I don’t blame her because I know that she had been greatly influenced by my family. I suffered a lot, I lost weight, and my hair started falling out. We didn’t see each other for two years. She’s always asking for my forgiveness. My daughter has also suffered, she was the only one who gave me strength to go on; she had problems at school, a boy threw a stone at her back and shouted that I was no good. I had to go in and see the director and teacher; she didn’t have to pay for the consequences of her mother’s decision.
HT: Did you have financial problems when you found yourself alone?
LP: When I left the church, I lost my job. We didn’t have any money. I sold my clothes and sometimes I exchanged things for food for my children. I started to work in an agricultural company, a little far from home. During that time, my girl stayed on and didn’t have lunch at school; I didn’t have anyone to help me. I asked a colleague to get me a job in the town and thank God I was able to start working just a few blocks away from the school. There, I also met excellent people who accepted me as I am, they helped me both emotionally and financially.
HT: Have you gone back to the church?
LP: Yes, I continue to have God in my heart and I try to read God’s word and live in harmony with Him, God is love and he is wherever love is. I’m not a prostitute, I don’t take drugs, I don’t hurt anyone, I help everyone the same. My pride and joy are my two children, they are my raison d’etre and they understand my life. I have gone to church when I have wanted to, I kneel down in front of the image of Christ, but a little far away, if I can I always sit on the last bench, God is for everyone, not only the chosen ones. I try to forget the past but I still live with a lot of resentment and hurt inside. I don’t know how to forgive.
HT: What do you think about everything you have experienced?
LP: I know that I have gone through very difficult, sad, heartbreaking times, but God only gives you one shot at life. It’s more important to be happy being yourself than living in the closet inventing who you are. Fourteen years have gone by and I am proud of my children, my new partner, my job and my home. I’m not afraid of anything. People respect me because they see my values and feelings. I have never had problems with the authorities or my neighbors. My sexual preference is different but that doesn’t mean I have a contagious disease. I have enough strength to go on through life; I knew that I would find happiness one day.