Women in Battle Dress
Women in Battle Dress / Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna
Posted on June 10, 2014
HAVANA, Cuba – Lolita, Alejandra, Samantha, Paloma, and África María are
drag queens who stamp their feet on every Havana street corner during
the night, while the city sleeps. Some with warrior faces and others as
shy princesses patrol the streets and avenues of a broken Havana.
Lady Gaga is not the icon for them anymore. She has been replaced by
Conchita Wurst, the “bearded Austrian” who won the Eurovision Festival.
They don’t believe in political surgery or the “factory of genders” that
the National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX) proposes, after
converting Adela, a transsexual from Caibarién, into the first delegate
of Popular Power.
In the stories of these drag queens we find dysfunctional homes, school
drop- outs, sexual violation by a relative, and above all, humiliation
and rejection since childhood for being different.
As they consider themselves to be in the wrong body, they have
transformed it with accessories, paper-mache tits, hormones, or surgery.
The will to live has allowed some of them to work in hospitals, as
hairdressers, or by singing in small clubs. For others, prostitution has
been their lifesaver.
Africa Maria is an athletic “Negro” of 27 years. Her corn-blonde wig
contrasts with her dark skin. With her spike heels and fleshy lips
painted red, she goes out every night, from the male chauvinist district
of Los Sitios in Central Havana up to the slums of Vedado. Her theater
of operation is 23rd Street. Africa tells us, “We have displaced the
hookers from the streets. They don’t consider us true women, because the
men who look for us know very well who we are. They come in search of a
And she adds, “I came out of the closet when I was 17. I didn’t finish
sports school since my father, an awesome solider with medals, who was
ascending the ranks, kicked me out into the street. And since then I
have not stopped selling my skin. And I’m proud, because in Cuba, to be
black, gay, and a transvestite, you have to have big balls.”
Samantha, who considers herself one of the most sought-after
transvestites of homoerotic Havana, agrees.
“We render a service, we relieve our clients’ tensions. And no one
imagines the dangers we face. Cubans have forgotten the fear of AIDS,
that we can get infected. But that’s not our greatest fear. The worst is
the macho abusers who abuse us. We walk with a pocket knife or a
scissors to defend ourselves. Similarly, a tourist or the police can
hurt us. We gamble with life. Although sometimes we experience the
tenderness of a desperate Negro, who searches in us for the fantasy of
enjoying a white women, a pleasure, sometimes unattainable, because of
the racial prejudice in our society.”
Lolita, Alejandra, Samantha, Paloma and Africa Maria warm up Havana,
with the steam of their bodies. Every day they look at the sea, at the
hope of the arrival of a cruise ship full of sailors. They don’t give
up. They are “women in battle dress,” who don’t fear the night.
Friday, May 30, 2014, Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna
Translated by: Alberto and Regina Anavy
1 June 2014
Source: Women in Battle Dress / Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna | Translating