Cuba: Tearing Down Barriers (Part II)

Yusimi Rodríguez

Rene Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES — I conducted the first half of this interview in 2012, a few months after meeting my interviewee for the first time. His partner, my friend Michel, had described him as being homophobic, complaining that, even though they had a relationship, they never went out together. Being seen with Michel, who claims he didn’t come out of the closet because he was never in it in the first place and is proud of his sexual orientation, embarrassed him.

One day, however, my interviewee surprised him with the decision to move in with him, the first step towards tearing down a series of barriers set up by the prejudices of others – and his own. Then, he surprised me by agreeing to the first half of this interview (though, at the time, he did not want his real name to be published and hid his face behind Michel’s). This time around, Rene Rodriguez has gone further: he has not only allowed me to use his real name but also reveals his face to the camera without any fear.

HT: I am surprised at your willingness to be photographed. You didn’t want your name or face to appear in our first interview. What has changed?

Rene: Michel and I are much closer now. I’ve lost the fear I had then, my homophobia.

HT: You haven’t told your family, however. Are you planning on doing so at one point?

Rene: I haven’t thought about that yet. If they find out one day, then so be it.

HT: Generally, when people say “so-and-so is a man”, they mean to say he likes women and is completely heterosexual. A man who has relations with other men is not considered a man in the popular imaginary. Do you feel your masculinity diminished because you have a relationship with another male, do you feel less of a “man”?

Rene: Not one bit. I’m as much a man as the manliest of the lot. I don’t consider myself a homosexual, or biseuxal, or heterosexual for that matter. I consider myself a man, quite simply. I don’t believe in those kinds of labels.

HT: When you’re intimate, however, you assume he must play the role of the woman and you that of the man?

Rene: That has nothing to do with this. In a bed, or between four walls, anything goes, be it between two men, two women or a man and a woman. People could say: “Look, that one’s the male and that one’s the female,” but those are mere schemes. Ultimately, no one can truly know what happens between two people when they’re alone.

HT: At home, he gets to do the house chores because he’s more feminine, and you’re the bread-winner because you’re more masculine?

Rene: I don’t consider myself a male chauvinist, though Michel says I am. Before, I didn’t have a steady job and did all sorts of things to get by. I’d sell this and that, whatever I could get my hands on. I had more free time and I helped him out around the house a lot: I’d wash clothes, clean the house, I did everything except cook. Now, I have a job and it takes up more time. Now, I don’t even have time to make the bed.

HT: But you don’t consider yourself a male chauvinist.

Rene: No. I know he works a lot at home, but I work even more, even if it’s only four hours a day. I have to be out on the street in the hot sun, pushing a bread cart, interact with people. I get home dead tired. We’ve had several arguments because of this. All of our friends are on my side, they say I’m right.

HT: Months ago, you left him for a woman. Were you afraid of becoming a homosexual, did you feel curiosity over the life you could lead as a heterosexual? Did you miss women, the possibility of being a father?

Rene: I did it to have a child, Michel knows this. I spent forty days with that woman and I don’t regret it, but I realized I still loved him and I came back. He felt the same way, thank God, and we got back together.

HT: Two years ago, you were worried about being seen with him. Now, I see you together at public places and he is evidently gay – it would be hard for people to think you’re just friends. You also live here with him. The neighbors know you’re a couple. You’re no longer worried about what people think?

Rene: People will always talk. Ultimately, they don’t do anything for me. They can say what they want about me, I’m going to live my life. They’ll either get used to it or not, I don’t care. I still don’t feel ready to tell my family.

Rene Rodriguez

HT: Even though you go out together, I never see any displays of affection between you in public. Do you think it’s wrong for two men to hold hands, hug or kiss in public?

Rene: I don’t like doing it, with men or women. I don’t like that whole business of hugging and being all over one another.

HT: But you would hold hands with a woman.

Rene: Yes, I’ve done it.

HT: Not with a man, though.

Rene: No, I haven’t done that yet.

HT: Why?

Rene: I don’t know, I don’t have an answer for that. I’m not really interested in doing it. Besides, we live in a country where there are still a lot of barriers in that sense. Though you can force certain things, it’s better to respect traditions. If we’re among gays, we hold hands without any problems. We even embrace, though I don’t like that much. There are many rude people out on the street. You’ll always run into someone who says: “look at this guy, holding hands with another man, what the hell is that?” I have a rather strong character, so it’s best to avoid problems.

HT: Do you think it’s setting a bad example for kids?

Rene: No, I don’t think so. Kids can see you kiss a man on the street, or see two women kissing. When they grow up, what they become will not depend on what they saw but what was in them to begin with.

HT: What are your thoughts on gay marriage?

Rene: I support it. It’s a way of giving couples a legal framework and a more solid foundation for their relationship. It would make it easier for couples to leave the country together or adopt a child.

HT: Homosexual couples are not legally allowed to adopt in Cuba. If it ever became legal, would you adopt a child? Would you get married?

Rene: I wouldn’t get married, not now. I do like the idea of having a child, though.

HT: You would adopt a child with Michel?

Rene: I don’t think I would, because he has no patience and I’m still a kid myself. I’m only twenty-five. Maybe in ten years, when I’m more mature, more focused, when I have more time to devote to a child.

HT: But you would have no reservations about raising a child with another man.

Rene: Of course not, there’s nothing wrong with that.

HT: Did you tell the woman you were recently involved with that you had a relationship with another man? Would you tell a woman with whom you could have a relationship in the future?

Rene: I didn’t tell her and I don’t think I would tell a woman that in the future. Cuban society has changed a lot, people have more open minds, but some things are still difficult.

HT: Do you believe Cuban women are not ready to accept something like that?

Rene: Some are. Some are even willing to have a relationship with you, knowing you’re gay – but not the majority, maybe one in a hundred. I would consider part of a pleasant past, but I wouldn’t talk about it.

HT: What do you believe is harder in this country: being a homosexual or being bisexual?

Rene: Being anything is hard in this country.

HT: Beyond the future of your relationship with Michel, what kind of influence do think he’s had in your life?

Rene: A very good one. I keep telling him he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

HT: He told me, and you confirmed this a minute ago, that you’ve started writing. Does that have anything to do with him?

Rene: As a kid, I liked everything that had to do with art and cinema. Everything except painting. I like looking at paintings, but not painting them myself. I used to read a lot before. An uncle taught me. I started reading Soviet novels. I read a lot as a kid. Then I grew up and started hanging around delinquent types – they’re all in jail now. Had I remained in that world, I might have ended up in prison too. When I met Michel, my life changed completely. I found a kind of spiritual peace. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

HT: How do you see the future?

Rene: The future is uncertain; no one knows what’s going to happen. If it was entirely up to me, I would want for us to be together forever, no matter what.

Though Rene claims he does not care about what the neighbors think, Michel tells me they treat him with affection and show him the respect they would any other man.

2 thoughts on “Cuba: Tearing Down Barriers (Part II)

  • This is a very moving interview. It reminds me of what it was like growing up gay in Canada. Things are quite different now. My partner and I are married, living in a rural community in Ontario, Canada. But I can identify with him because there are still pockets of resistance especially in the church! That will soon change.
    I have seen a lot of change in Cuba in the 28 years I have been going there. Change comes slowly, but it comes. Rene, thank you for sharing your story!

  • I’m trying to look at this as a crystallized moment in Cuban history, but it’s a bit difficult. The interviewer’s job is to be neutral, but her relationship with the subjects perhaps clouds her judgment. It’s very clear throughout the piece that she is also bringing in her own preconceived notions about homosexuality to the interview (especially in the questions about gender roles in a gay relationship). An interesting read, but this shows Cuba still has a long way to go with LGBT rights and wider acceptance in society.

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