The renowned Cuban phallus, well-known in the gay world and about which writers such as Pau-Llosa, Stavans and Arenas have commented, is perhaps the one entirely Cuban resource that Cuba has left. Not only is the Cuban pinga powerful, capable of killing in a single thrust, as in Arenas' account, but it is a limitless resource. A university professor in Cuba explained that in the popular imagery, women sex workers are denigrated and their bodies are seen as dirty.
But men's bodies are not ruined with frequent use. In pinguerismo, he told me: It's not the same with a woman. When women prostitute themselves 'they are filthy, like a piece of rag. A lot of men say 'If I use it a lot prostituting myself, it doesn't get spent. The Cuban just gives his dick, and giving the dick doesn't mean a thing. So there is less political and cultural censure of male sex work than of its female counterpart.
- Colonization of the Cuban Body: The Growth of Male Sex Work in Havana.
- Colonization of the Cuban Body: The Growth of Male Sex Work in Havana | NACLA?
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The boys simply prove the power of their phalluses to each other and to themselves, while using the desire of the foreigners to relieve them of their dollars. Pingueros attract sex-tourism dollars to the state hotels and airline, and they multiply tourists' discretionary dollars by spending them in state stores—all the while, symbolically conquering the bodies of the foreign invaders, like any good Revolutionary Cuban man. It is little wonder then that for years the state seems to have left the pingueros alone while actively prosecuting both jineteras and "chulos" pimps.
Jineteros are also aggressively persecuted because they threaten tourism, since they are known for pulling scams on foreigners, though they also provide some legitimate services to them. Although I am assured that this is not law, police procedure is to harass and arrest any non-pinguero Cuban who is hanging around a tourist.
When I demanded that an officer inform me why he was arresting my Cuban friend who had been walking with me, I was told that it was to protect me from an inevitable robbery. Police demand their identity cards and interrogate any Cuban whose familial residence is not listed as Havana Province. To discourage internal migration in the Special Period, it is illegal for Cubans to reside in a province other than that of their family home.
Police will use this law to detain a pinguero sometimes overnight, especially if suspected of being a jinetero. This harassment is constant, but it seems to be more a performance of individual officers' macho power than the result of an official policy. There seems to be no real concerted effort to rid El Vedado of the pingueros, and in fact police stand and watch when their business is negotiated, so long as it remains in the strict confines of the two spaces just mentioned. Yet when I returned in the summer of there was a noticeable increase in the level of police activity at both Yara and Fiat.
And although tourists are generally untouchable, even I was approached at Yara and asked for my identification card. When I asked some of the workers why they thought the harassment had increased, I received two answers. Since November there have been double the police Every afternoon from about three until seven, the street in front of the studio and along 23rd past the Yara was closed to allow Fidel's motorcade to pass. At three police would sweep the area of pingueros and keep them away until the motorcade had passed.
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.
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.
Where Cuba’s Gays Meet Up
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.
Young Men for Hire in Havana – Havana Times
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. 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. 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.
Young Men for Hire in Havana
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. This is not to valorize sex work; rather it is simply to say that sex tourism per se is not the problem of the pingueros in Havana.
The problem first and foremost is poverty, the result, in small part, of the regime's own poor economic decisions over the years, and in large part, of global capitalism and its various transnational apparatuses.