Havana’s First Transgender Wedding / Yoani Sánchez

Photo from Yoani's Twitter

He was nicknamed Cusio and he was the laughingstock of all the boys in the school, but entertained us girls with his stories; we loved his taste in clothes and his helpful nature. He was born in a neighborhood where men boasted of being macho, ready to pull a knife if anyone questioned their manhood.

He grew up in the eighties when the police picked up homosexuals walking along a public street and threw them in a paddy wagon. His adolescence was spent in a county where the official discourse had too many hairs on its chest and an excess of testosterone in its slogans. Thus, he suffered the unspeakable for being gay, but never wanted to leave his country, thinking, perhaps, that better times would come.

I lost track of him nearly a decade ago, but it is to him that I owe my predisposition to consider it a normal thing that two men would decide to love each other, or that two women would join their lives as a couple.

Almost a month ago the memory of Cusio returned in full force. I see him everywhere with his striking gestures and tight pants, his perennial smile that allowed him to overcome any outrage. He came strongly to mind when I accepted the unusual, irreverent and surprising proposal to be the matron of honor at the first wedding in Cuba between a transsexual and a gay man.

If my grandmother were alive she would put her hands on her head to see me engaged in something — as she would have said — so “shameful.” My elementary school classmates would discredit me as weak and confused, while those bullies I knew in my Cayo Hueso neighborhood would sharpen their knives.

However, annoyed reactions are not only in those faces that emerge from the past. Several of my freest friends stopped talking to me as a protest against such insolence.

But is it Wendy and Ignacio — the couple to whom I now have the pleasure of being the matron of honor — who reflect much of the suffering I knew in Cusio, a part of the torment he had to carry. To be a witness to this union between a girl who once had the name of a boy, and the HIV positive young man crushed both by homophobia and political intolerance, constitutes my personal way of honoring the boy who taught me to respect differences.

Wendy was born in the wrong body. Ignacio went to prison very young for handing out proclamations with the Declaration of Human Rights. They met last February, when she had already managed to have genital reassignment surgery and he had spent years battling HIV. They saw each other and a second later both knew they had fallen irredeemably into the black hole of love.

She worked for the Center for the Study of Sexuality (CENESEX), headed by Mariela Castro, and he published his chronicles on one of the digital sites the government brands as “enemies of the Revolution.” The obstacles on the path of their relationship did not end there, they were barely beginning.

When Raul Castro’s daughter learned that her protege was seeing a gay dissident, she forced her to decide whether to continue working in that official institution or to continue her relationship with Ignacio. One morning State Security took Wendy’s office computer to search for any “classified” information she might have sent to her lover. They told her she was no longer a trusted person and they could only offer her work cleaning the floor. She was out of there like a shot, her straight hair shining under the overpowering sun of her unemployment. He received her with a kiss and they set the wedding date.

Before leaving CENESEX, Wendy Iriepa had managed to have the surgery that aligned her mind with her body. She also achieved the dream of many Cuban transsexuals, having an identity card with a female name.  So that when they went together to the notary they were issued a marriage license without anyone realizing that her birth certificate said: “Sex: Masculine.” They signed for the first time on July 28, and yesterday, Saturday August 13, they formalized it.

Thus, they slipped through the gap left by the law, in a country where gay marriage is not allowed. But preventing them from validating their relationship in the eyes of the law, would have gone against Mariela Castro herself, who had given the order to issue Wendy an ID card as a woman. Although the National Assembly has not yet approved — or even discussed — the legalization of marriage between same-sex couples, Ignacio and Wendy managed to get ahead of the bureaucracy.

To me it was left only to support them in their decision, to watch them rise to the occasion before each new obstacle, to witness their happy smiles and to know they were already a couple. But they have faced it all, overcoming the mockery of many, the pressure of the political police who saw the wedding as a provocation, the discomfort of Mariela Castro whose absence at the Wedding Palace showed her disapproval.  We could celebrate thanks to the strength of their love that allowed them to ignore the anti-gay jokes, the insults, the testosterone-filled official discourse and the aggressive stance of the troublemakers common to every neighborhood.

In the midst of the ceremony I thought I saw a familiar face. I went to look at the grand staircase of the Palace but couldn’t find him. I don’t know, perhaps it was just a combination of the heat, the emotion and the short shot of rum I took before it all started. But I could have sworn it was Cusio. Smiling and gesticulating, in his tight pants… always up for a scandal.

From The Huffington Post: 14 August 2011