Yesterday’s Homophobia / Regina Coyula

Several friends who follow the blog have asked me why I haven’t commented on Fidel’s statements about the persecution of homosexuals in an interview with the director of the Mexican daily La Jornada. My casual access to the web makes commenting on any current them delayed. But three years ago I followed with great interest the debate set off by the appearance on television of three officials who were responsible for political homophobia in the cultural environment. The “Little Email War,” called that because the controversy was carried out in emails, is considered the official end of the unsigned statement on behalf of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC).

The government took note of how volatile intellectuals can be. But despite this unusual protest, followed with careful attention by the majority of the debaters located in Cuba, angry and concerned by the reappearance of the visible face of repression; but taking care to mention the origin of that policy, as if Pavón, Serguera and Quesada, the Turkish heads of the Five Great years, the black decade or the dark half-century — if you prefer — were the managers of cultural politics, where the parameterization, UMAP, (the concentration camps for homosexuals and other undesirables), and the sharply focused search for “ideological deviations,” were only some of its manifestations.

Those who joined in the debate from abroad, feeling freer, pointed upward, and some even rebuked those here in Cuba for being cowards.

It was a space for catharsis, but many also saw in that Pandora’s box the possibility of a critical revision of the cultural politics of the Cuban Revolution.

Despite the fact that their ears must have been burning, having provoked the animated debate, Pavón, Serguera and Quesada had to remain, vilified, in the shade — whether to prevent an outburst, or through the instinct for self-preservation — where they escaped taking part in the “orientations.”

That was in 2007. Now, in 2010, Fidel’s statements appear. It is not good enough to say that he was very busy with some imminent aggression or with the many plans to attack him. It is an interesting approach to avoiding his historical responsibility. and to confront him with his own words, there are his speeches from March 13 at the closure of the Cultural Congress in Havana in 1968. It would have been better to have offered an apology, and not the cliched, “I didn’t know but as I am the boss, I’m responsible.”

This time there will be no electronic debate. Why? Perhaps some encrypted comment among those excluded back then, those suspected of collaborating with the enemy, today almost all are recipients of the National Culture prizes: some “language of the mute,” or those subliminal signals with which those who fear being monitored communicate.

I will leave you with an anecdote.

In my office there was a bookseller who allowed me to meet Luis Cernuda, Bulgakov and Kundera among others. There I also saw an example of Lezama’s Oppiano Licario. The bookseller, as you can already imagine, had “politically incorrect” works.

In 1988, the poet Delfín Prats from Holguin won the Critics Prize with his poetry collection, To Celebrate the Ascent of Icarus, and José Luis Moreno del Toro, a poet and doctor also from Holguin, who worked with me, on the night of the awards brought Delfín to my house. It was a time of celebration and joy, because the prize came to be a vindication for Delfín, a homosexual and poet from a provincial city. But it was also a trap. In the midst of the toasts, after he had inscribed to me a copy of his newly awarded book, I told him I had a present for him and put into his hands, Language of Mutes, his David Prize poetry collection from 1968. Delfín looked at me, looked at the book, and began to weep. It was the first time he had seen his book in print, because that notebook in a landscape format, never circulated, had been turned into pulp for containing homosexual poems.

September 18, 2010