Once A Prisoner In Cuba, A Transgender Cuban Vows To Never Return
By NADEGE GREEN • JAN 4, 2016
Ana Marrero pulls back her shirt sleeve and holds out her left arm.
"Look, in Cuban prisons I tried on various occasions to kill myself with
knives," she says.
She counts the succession of healed scars on her forearm. They look like
horizontal tally marks.
"Uno, dos, tres, quarto, cinco, seis, siete, ocho."
These days, it's a lot easier to travel between the U.S. and Cuba, but
some Cubans have no interest in going back to their homeland.
That's especially true for many transgender Cubans like Marrero, 54, who
lived in Cuba in the sixties and seventies. Back then, the Cuban
government had very rigid gender expectations and it regularly sent gay
and transgender people to prisons and labor camps for leading a
so-called "deviant lifestyle."
"It was horrible," says Marrero, who fled Cuba in 1980 on the Mariel
boatlift. "We couldn't have a life. In those days the Cuban government
was very backward and cruel about homosexuality."
She says gay and transgender prisoners were at the mercy of cruel guards.
"I met a gay man who had naturally large breasts and that bothered the
prison authorities so much that they operated on him to get rid of those
breasts," she says.
Marrero identified as female from a very young age. In Cuba, she would
wear her mother's clothes and makeup — and she paid the consequences.
"From the age of 10 to the age of 18 I was usually in prison in Cuba.
For simply being who I am," she says.
That Cuba, the Cuba Marrero knew, is changing.
Mariela Castro, President Raul Castro's daughter, is director of the
government's National Center for Sex Education and she's a leading
advocate for the gay and transgender community in Cuba — even leading
anti-homophobia marches in Havana.
In 2013 Cuba's parliament passed a ban forbidding discrimination in the
workplace based on sexual orientation. Mariela Castro, who is also a
parliament member, voted against the ban because it didn't include
protections for transgender people.
Since 2008, Cuba has offered free sex changes through the public health
"In Cuba this is a slow process," Castro told Daily Xtra, a Canadian
website that covers the gay community. "We are trying to create a new
society, but changing people's conscience can be a slow process."
Castro added that in Cuba, homophobia and transphobia are still widespread.
Mariette Pathy Allen, an American photographer, has been photographing
transgender women in Cuba since 2013.
Allen says that for the women she's met, "it's a very hard life."
Despite some of the progress happening in the LGBT movement in Cuba,
many of the trans women Pathy photographs say they're still harassed and
detained by police. They also say they can't get jobs.
"A lot of them have no choice but to become prostitutes," says Allen.
And there are the threats of violence, especially outside Havana, in the
Earlier this year, a trans woman was stoned to death near the western
city of Pinar del Rio, according to Cuban media reports. Activists in
Cuba called it a hate crime.
Still, many point to Mariela Castro as a beacon of hope and perhaps
long-term change for trans Cubans.
In Miami, Ana Marrero says she knows there's an evolution happening in Cuba.
"Yes, Mariela Castro has changed and opened up a lot of things there,"
she says. "If Mariela Castro had been there when I was living there
maybe I wouldn't have had to come here."
Marrero says the transphobia she experienced living in Cuba, she also
experienced here early on in Miami's Cuban exile community.
She says Cuban-American police officers used to stop her and accuse her
of being a prostitute. They questioned her gender and made unwanted
sexual advances at her.
"I felt very powerless," she says.
Just as a shift is happening slowly in Cuba, Marrero says she's also
seeing more acceptance of transgender people in Miami.
"Today I can walk more freely. I can go where I want. And I can be who I
want to be, without facing so much discrimination," she says.
And even with U.S. and Cuba relations normalizing now, she still can't
bring herself to ever go back home.
"I suffered too much trauma in Cuba. It would cause me too much panic to
return there. I wouldn't go back even for a short visit."
Her resolve hardens when she looks down at her arm. The self-inflicted
scars left from her life in Cuba's prisons are a permanent reminder of a
time when she could not be free — being herself.
Source: Once A Prisoner In Cuba, A Transgender Cuban Vows To Never
Return | WLRN -