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The lights of Havana was soon a very distant image behind us.

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I looked at Michael stare straight ahead in fear, and even started contemplating organizing a jump from the car. Though we were in the middle of nowhere, but being lost in rural Cuba was better than being murdered by scary guy. At about All of a sudden a friendly face, he asked for 10 pesos, we gave it to him and got out of the car. As we walked down the driveway, we saw a crowd of men outside the house. There was a drag queen peeing on the side of the road.

Colonization of the Cuban Body: The Growth of Male Sex Work in Havana

There were lots of lights and music coming from behind the house. We asked around and were informed we had to wait for the party to be ready for us. So there, on a dark driveway outside some sort of gay fiesta in the middle of Buttfuck, Nowhere, Cuba, I welcomed in both and my 25th birthday.

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They finally let us inside around We had to walk through this bizarre stone hallway, lit with right lights and adorned with posters of Ricky Martin and David Beckham. On the other side of it, was the fiesta. A bar selling bottles of rum for 8 pesos, packs of cigarettes for 1… About men and 25 women I asked one guy where all the lesbians go. His response: It was a lot of fun, and almost impossible to describe.

People making out everywhere. About a dozen people dressed in costumes. I learned from the guy dressed as Mickey Mouse in a costume straight from Disney World that they were all going to participate in a costume contest. The winner got free entry to fiestas for a year they cost about 4 pesos each, which is two weeks pay to most Cubans.

I was obsessed with Mickey Mouse as a child, so ended up spending a good chunk of the night very drunkenly telling him this, and how it was just perfect I was spending my birthday blending the innocence of my childhood with the lack-there-of that has defined the first half of my twenties.

One of the Miami boys came, surprisingly with his wife. One pinguero told me that this was so that Fidel could not see what was really going on with the "chicos de la calle. This young man wanted to free Fidel the man from responsibility by believing that he had no knowledge of how bad the situation was on the street. The man who in told me "Fidel knows everything," had quite the opposite agenda: It is no coincidence that this pinguero who so hated Fidel also proudly displayed a U.

Materialism, especially adoration of U. Many of the pingueros blame either socialism or "Fidel" for their poverty, and they express their anti-"Fidel" sentiments with an adoration of U. Tommy Hilfiger clothing gives the illusion of the kind of prosperity which capitalism is imagined to bring. If socialism has brought poverty, capitalism must mean wealth.

Bodies for Sale. Pinguerismo and Negotiated Masculinity in Contemporary Cuba

Tommy Hilfiger is a symbol of that coming economic prosperity which some believe will accompany the death of Fidel and of the socialist experiment. Of course, these pingueros do not understand that the wealth which Tommy Hilfiger represents—with its advertisements of young men yachting off the coast of Nantucket—is well beyond what will ever be possible for the huge majority of capitalist citizens.

Even more adored than Tommy is Nike. New shoes, for young Habaneros, are rare and coveted jewels, and the wealthiest tourists don Nikes. The craving for shoes causes honest pingueros to do whatever they have to do, to steal from whomever they can, to get a pair of Nikes. The Nike obsession is beyond what we might call idolatry; one pinguero has a Nike swoosh made of pure gold embedded in his upper right incisor.

Every time he smiles, he promotes the values of consumption. He has willingly sacrificed his tooth to the proclamation of the pending capital onslaught. Both his gold Nike swoosh and his commodified body proclaim the triumph of capitalism.

A second consequence of the introduction of capitalism to the island has been what we might call the commodification of desire: Pingueros' ability to experience and explore their desires has been interrupted by their need to conform these desires to opportunities to make money, that is, to the needs of the market. A number of pingueros explained to me that they are unable to have sex—even with a young man or woman to whom they are physically attracted—unless there is a financial element. The "Father of the Pingueros" told me: So if you don't pay me, I would rather jerk off with a magazine alone at home, because having sex for money is my profession I would like to, but I can't have sex without money My heart won't let me.

Not only the bodies but even the desire of the pingueros has been configured to turn them into sex machines, functionaries of a sex tourist industry, and indirectly, of the foreign capitalists whose investments in hotels are reaping rapidly expropriated and exported profits. This commodification reaches not only the bodies and desires of the pingueros, but also their sexual and gender identities, and this is a third consequence of capitalist incursion.

For sex workers, identity functions like a packaging label on a product: It informs potential consumers of what they can expect if they purchase that product.


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This is one of the functions which the label "pinguero" serves. Already widely disseminated among privileged white capitalist males who can afford to travel, the category pinguero allows the workers to be marketed externally, letting the traveler know what to ask for, where to get it, and what to expect. Though Cuban men are not accustomed to having to declare themselves members of a category other than "hombre," despite adolescent homoerotic experimentation, the needs of the market insist that they concretize themselves as sex workers for male tourists.

So capitalism, through the logic of market relations, has claimed these young men from a world of relatively nebulous and permissive sexual experimentation and forced them into a concrete category which announces to themselves, to each other and to their clients that their sexual being and their bodies are inextricably linked to their economic function. The transformation of sex, body and desire into a marketable product is precisely what I mean by "commodification of desire," and the construction of an economic category—the pinguero—to contain that product is what I mean by "commodification of identity.

Many of them want a holiday romance, or even a long-term relationship with a Cuban man, and so they want, and will ask for, a "gay" Cuban.

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And because this is what the customers ask for, the workers sometimes change their labels to accommodate. I have heard more than one pinguero talking to a tourist, and when asked "Eres gay? But the Cuban did not mean the same thing by "gay" as did the tourist; for the latter, often from Europe or Canada, "gay" is a concrete category of sexual identity and preference. But Cubans are accustomed to defining themselves sexually in terms of what they do, not what they are i. But under the pressure of the market, even this is changing. A change in the understanding of the foreign category "gay," from a kind of sexual behavior to a kind of gendered being, will demonstrate this tendency in capitalism.

My older informants, those who came to sexual maturity before the Special Period, spoke of masculine sexual identity in terms of behavior. But younger Cuban men, whose puberty had come after the onset of the Special Period, tended more to speak of pinguerismo and gay as ontological categories; language of doing gives way to language of being.

When I asked if gay Cubans were still considered hombres, he stated: This young man was only 18 at the time of the interview, hence he would have been nine at the initiation of the Special Period and 12 when the dollar was legalized. His sexual identity formation occurred fully within the context of capitalist incursion and sex tourism, and it is therefore no accident that he believes that there is a part of him which is gay in his being, in his heart. In the case of pinguerismo in Havana, the resource to be exploited is the male body, and it must be concretized as a commodity before it is of use in the attraction of sex tourists.

Whether or not "Fidel knows everything," the Cuban state is not to "blame" for pinguerismo. Indeed, for some young men it provides a constructive function, allowing them to experiment in homoerotic activity and giving them a sense of community with other workers. One young man came to Yara "to get a change of life, to try everything. Before, I didn't know about the gay world. I want to know the world. I didn't come because of financial need. I haven't earned the money that I wanted, but I have had lots of experiences, good ones as well as bad ones, with friendships in the gay world.

Because selling your body is one of the worst things in the world, but it's what gets the most money here in Cuba. I'm here because of financial need I feel scared and ashamed. I always feel ashamed. And most also feel a gratitude to the tourists who hire them, for without sex tourists these generally homeless men would likely not eat that day and not have a room in which to sleep.

Havana, Cuba Male Escorts

By special arrangement, GlobalPost is presenting six stories that emerged from their trip. The introductory piece is by Stephen Kinzer , the former New York Times foreign correspondent who was the students' journalism professor. The five that follow were written by his students. Photos were taken by students working under the guidance of prize-winning photographer Essdras Suarez.

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