Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba. A Spanish version of this story can be found here.
HAVANA, Cuba – National Coming Out Day, as it is called in the U.S., is celebrated on Oct. 11 as an event that promotes the visibility of LGBTI+ people and calls attention to silence; one of the most deeply ingrained forms of homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia.
A group of American activists designated Oct. 11 in 1988, the first anniversary of a national march in Washington that was able to draw half a million participants to demand LGBTI+ equality.
“It is imperative that we come out and we let people know who we are and that we calm their fears and stereotypes,” said Robert Eichberg, speaking about the celebration’s goals a few years later.
Eichberg was one of the promoters of National Coming Out Day along with the lesbian activist Jean O’Leary. He died from AIDS in 1995.
In Cuba, unlike other countries, especially those in Europe, the celebration of Oct. 11 has not taken off. Some activists, however, this Sunday on social media shared their experiences in the closet or photos in public places that affirm themselves as LGBTI+ people.
They celebrated the day designed to leave behind the invisibility and assimilation demanded by a heterosexual and cisgender society that the notion of the closet expresses with particular force.
This is how we came out of the closet in Cuba
“My great exit from this showcase, as (Pedro) Lemebel called it, was in the military,” recalled Ulises Padrón on his Facebook page.
The activist decided to disclose his sexual orientation to an army colonel.
“He made me pick up my belongings and I was sleeping in the infirmary for about a week until he decided what to do with me,” he wrote.
Ulises began to “invent illnesses” in order to be sent to the hospital and get away from the typical homophobia in his barracks. “It was the moment that I understood that heteronormativity is never going to make concessions to difference because the only thing it owes is itself.”
“The truth is that it spared me reading and participating in a history course in which I won some place and they gave us a tour of other units. The major considered me different when I returned, but with the same homophobia. Only now he wasn’t a stranger who continued abusing his authority. It was he who previously held a repudiation rally in front of my classmates’ parents, parents who I knew for my entire life and they did not believe what he said. A timid Ulises began a hard year and ended it as a faggot.”
Raúl Soublett, a teacher and activist, remembers his coming out as a “stage of my life that was crucial, decisive, difficult but necessary to be able to live without fear.”
“Telling my mom and dad that I liked men made me feel free, but at the same time I could not hide. I could not deny that I was very scared of the repercussions that it was going to bring,” he said on Facebook.
Raúl had to go back into the closet a bit later. His family kept pressuring (him) and he inadvertently hid his sexual orientation again to protect himself.
“At the same time I was realizing that I didn’t have a life. I was able to fight for this freedom that I wanted. I was facing and surviving those threats that obviously mounted. Bit by bit I stopped feeling afraid, ashamed. I didn’t care very much about what people thought of me. All of this was a process in which I was able to accept myself, get to know myself, eliminate certain things that only replicated themselves for me to pretend who I wasn’t.”
“Aware of all the dangers and threats to our rights, I think that the world is going to change bit by bit and we are progressing towards this. It is my optimistic side that wants this to be true,” concludes his post.
Other activists preferred to show themselves with their partners or with rainbow flags in pictures they posted on Facebook and Twitter. Adiel González Maimó and Yasmín Portales, members of the 11M Platform, one of the few organized independent LGBTI+ groups in Cuba that is currently active, did exactly that.
“Q de Cuir” magazine, a digital publication dedicated to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, also published testimonies about the closet. It asked those who were interviewed to discuss “the most difficult coming out” and “the most unexpected coming out.”
Tropicana, a trans woman, told “Q de Cuir” that she never needed to come out of the closet. “It was so noticeable to me, you saw it coming how I was going to be,” she said.
“I lived with my grandparents, they were my life, they were my parents. The most painful part was the day that my grandparents took all of my things from me. I am talking about the 80s, when things were seen from a very different point of view and to be homosexual in that time was the worst.
Lisney Romero, a lesbian from Guantánamo, told “Q de Cuir” that she was afraid of her father’s reaction, but her mother ultimately attacked her more.
“My mom, who had always had a bit of a more open mind, told me when she began to realize things that this was a stage, that I would outgrow it, that I had always had a boyfriend and that I was a ‘filthy pig.’ I then had the attitude of telling everybody that I was a lesbian.”
Iracema Díaz from Ciego de Ávila in central Cuba told her “unexpected coming out.”
“I was in the Guard Corps, I arrived with a very intense stomach ache, my mom accompanied me, I could barely speak, the guard’s doctor immediately referred me to the gynecologist. They thought that it was an ectopic pregnancy, I assured them that was not the case, but I did not know how to explain that my last partner was a woman and not a man. The words did not come out, I started the sentence and I could not finish it.”
“It was my mother who finally told the doctor, who was very surprised. There was silence because the doctor looked like they were in shock. They were very nervous and they smiled a lot! They were young, they looked at us as if they were doubting us and maybe they thought that it was a joke from the beginning. The only thing that was left was to ask, ‘Seriously?'”