Accepted Paper:

Man created homophobia, God created transformistas: gender play, spirituality, and sexuality in Havana gay bars  


Cory Thorne (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Paper short abstract:

Through ethnographic research with male sex workers and transgendered performers in Havana's gay bars, I examine cross-cultural translations of sex tourism, religion, machismoism, and sexuality. Using this emic perspective, I will show how queer Cubans attempt to create and define their own utopia.

Paper long abstract:

Spirituality and gay popular culture are not mutually exclusive. Popular discourse on Santería and Cuban machismoism often assume otherwise, but as my godfather (padrino) reminds me: "Man created homophobia - God created transformistas." This is his lesson when, a few days after attending a drag show in Havana, I ask him if any santeros might be offended by what we saw. We attended one of the newly opened gay bars in Havana's Vedado neighbourhood, where it is now common to see gays, transformistas, and pingueros (male sex workers) interacting on the street. As with many drag shows, it opened with a recording of bâtá drums, and a man dressed in red and black (the colors of Elleguá/St. Anthony), reverently dancing across the stage, seeking permission for the show to begin. Turning to the audience, one cannot help but be struck by the seemingly conflicting images of spirituality and hedonism. The transformistas dance to an audience of young Cubans and older European and Canadian tourists, many involved in sex trade. This is a study in cultural translation and ethnography in a musical setting where spirituality, gender, sexuality, and ethics will be broken down and reconfigured through a queer Cuban lens. I will take on the vernacular argument - that which is argued by my friends at this event - that life in communist Cuba is easier if you are queer, that unlike for women or heterosexual men, queer Cubans are free to dream and create utopias.

Panel Gend005
Gender and power in communist and post-communist places