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Gay Cuban Nation

Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook

Gay Cuban Nation by Emilio Bejel; University of Chicago Press; 257 p.; $19.

Emilio Bejel is professor of Spanish-American literature and literary theory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His best known-book, José Lezama Lima, Poet of the Image, is an in-depth study of the great gay Cuban author and his most famous novel, Paradiso (Paradise). Lezama Lima is only one of many Cuban and Cuban-American writers that Bejel analyzes in Gay Cuban Nation, the first major study of homosexuality in Cuban literature.

Scene from the film Gay Cuba

Previous studies of Cuban nationalism have dealt with such topics as race, class, the role of women and, of course, Cuba's historical masters/nemeses, Spain and the United States. In Gay Cuban Nation, Bejel "addresses the role of various definitions of homosexuality in Cuban nationalism [and] how different transformations of Cuban nationalism have attempted to define homosexuality."

Admittedly, the relationship between homosexuality and Cuban nationalism has been largely negative: As Bejel puts it, "Cuban nationhood has been defined, in part, by its rejection of gayness and queerness." Needless to say, "despite - or perhaps because of - the enormous efforts to expel the queer body, the specter of homosexuality has always haunted Cuban national discourse."

In the Cuban and Cuban-American cultures that I grew up in, artists and intellectuals were considered weak and effeminate, and warriors were seen as the epitomes of all that was good in Cuban national culture.

Ironically, Cuba's national hero, José Martí, was a poet and intellectual who was killed in the first military skirmish he took part in. Still, it might surprise some people to learn that Martí himself wrote about (female) homosexuality in his only novel, Amistad funesta (Fatal friendship).

Martí's own views on homosexuality, though certainly not gay-friendly, were mild compared to those of his contemporaries Benjamín de Céspedes and Enrique José Varona, who viewed homosexuality as essentially non-Cuban and the product of other races, classes or nations. (Chinese immigrants, who were mostly single men, were vilified for allegedly introducing homosexuality and drug addiction into the Pearl of the Antilles.)

Related Stories from the GayToday Archive:
Machos, Maricones and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality

Fresha y Chocolate

Before Night Falls

Related Sites:
Gay Cuba

Blacklight Online: Gay Cuban History

Frontline Distribution: Gay Cuba

GayToday does not endorse related sites.

All of this does not negate the fact that Cuba has a "markedly homoerotic culture" or that some of the island's greatest authors were or are gay or lesbian. Lezama Lima's Paradiso is an unquestioned literary classic, as is Hombres sin mujeres (Men without women), a gay prison novel by Carlos Montenegro, Cuba's Jean Genet.

Imagine Cuban literature without the likes of Lezama Lima, Montenegro, Virgilio Piñera, Severo Sarduy or Reinaldo Arenas, not to mention current wonders like Leonardo Padura Fuentes or Pedro de Jesús López Acosta.

To his credit, Bejel pays due attention to lesbian and/or feminist writers from Ofelia Rodriguez Acosta to Ena Lucía Portela Alzola. He also discusses the classic film Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and chocolate) and devotes a chapter to Cuban-American authors Elías Miguel Muñoz, Achy Obejas and Sonia Rivera-Valdés.

Though Gay Cuban Nation has some startling omissions - my favorite gay Cuban novel, Piñera's La carne de Renè (Renè's flesh) is only mentioned in passing - it deals with its chosen topic thoroughly and without obvious political bias. If there is anything that both sides of the Cuban Question agree on, it is their distrust and dislike of artists and intellectuals of a decidedly homoerotic vent. (Arenas found Miami's Cuban-Americans to be as homophobic as the Castro regime, which is why he spent the last years of his life in New York City.)

But times are a-changing, as shown when Havana's Casa de las Américas recently decided to honor the Cuban-American author Sonia Rivera-Valdés. Soon the time will come when Cuba's gays and lesbians will be recognized for their positive contributions to Cuba's national culture.
The Harvey Milk Institute Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Internet Research (Harrington Park Press; $14.95)

This book has a notably lengthy title, a reflection of our community's diversity. Edited by Alan Ellis, Liz Highleyman, Kevin Schaub and Melissa White, this Guide is an invaluable tool in an age when more of us are doing our research online.

It features general chapters on Internet research practice and tools as well as chapters dealing such fields as Queer Studies, Bisexual Studies, Transgender and Intersex Studies, Human Sexuality Studies, Liberal Arts, Social and Biological Sciences, Law and Philosophy and Health and Medicine. It is a useful resource and a sign of how GLBT studies have progressed during the last years.
Jesse Monteagudo is freelance writer who lives and writes in South Florida. He can be reached at

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