The Cuban Sex Industry & Love: Race, Gender, Sexuality, And Citizenship

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In Cuba, a mulatta observed in close proximity to foreigners is perceived as an immediate threat by police. She is one out of the many women of color that are stereotyped to be a prostitute when stopped by law enforcement in touristic areas.

Furthermore, any Cuban officer that stops her can imprison her on any mere suspicion they may have—without any concrete evidence. Even though prostitution is not explicitly criminalized in Cuban law, officers can arrest anyone at their discretion if they are perceived to become a threat to the state. In comparison, white Cuban women are not viewed as a threat to the state, and their relationships with foreigners are observed as more genuine—as love.

The racial profiling conducted by the state is part of a larger colonial legacy that criminalizes the mulatta’s sexuality. Megan Daigle categorizes the mulatta as a “sexual facet of colonial violence, to the frequently intimate nature of the relationship between master and slave, colonizer and colonized.” She is the embodiment of a racial and gendered hierarchy where outside forces have always defined her body—but never her. The mulatta’s presumed deviant sexuality makes her incapable of love; consequently, Cuban society criminalizes her as an immediate prostitute in touristic areas.

Similar to the mulatta, the ideals of love fail to apply to local feminine queer Cuban men who pursue pingueros, male sex workers. Pingueros more commonly engage in homoerotic acts due to the larger monetary compensation provided by gay sex. The interplay between affective labor and intimacy blur the lines of love where queer men held high expectations of the pingueros they brought home after a few days of knowing them.

Within these experiences between pingueros and queer Cuban men, gender roles are reinforced as masculine men, pingueros, exert their dominance over feminine men, queer men, as a negotiation of masculine power. Nonetheless, these disillusioned relationships failed to meet the love expectations of queer men. Capitalism complicated romance as the commodification of sexual labor conflicted with the personal expectations of domestic relationships where pingueros thought of their work as a “game” and queer men sought genuine love in their relationships. Like the mulatta, the queer man fails to fit into the traditional image of love when in pursuit of pingueros in the Cuban sex industry, as love conflicts with incentive and expectation.

Embedded within Cuba’s sex industry, race, capitalism, sexuality, and gender hierarchies influence who is capable of love in Cuban society. Within these hierarchies, whiteness prevails in the ideal of love—and who the capable loving citizen is as it is influenced by colonial legacies that attribute a white heterosexual component to citizenship. The state and economic forces continue to enact this cycle of oppression through institutionalized violence and discrimination against gender, race, and sexuality. In this context, masculinity and nationalism enforce gender roles that create a double standard among the sexes. In this paper, I analyze how the ideal of love is relevant to the mulatta and queer identity in Cuba. I ask, how does the state influence who is considered a prostitute, and who is not? How are love and good citizenship related? Where does the queer identity fall in relation to sex tourism and love? How does sex tourism complicate the expectations of romance? In this analysis, I primarily utilize the work of Amalia Cabezas, Megan Daigle, and Noelle Stout to find answers to these questions. In addition, the work of various scholars associated with queer scholarship are referenced throughout this work. I aim to create a discussion among the work of various scholars to dig further into the ideal of love and its relationship with sex tourism in Cuba.

Colonialism plays a critical factor in the formation of the modern racial, sexual, and economic complexities involved with sex tourism. The sexual abuse of Diego Velázquez, a Spanish conquistador, of native women is a primary example of the colonizer’s subjugation of native women in Cuba. The conquistador held a barracks with his selection of native women for his sexual pleasure. The sexual abuse of native women by white colonizers was a common phenomenon; consequently, native women became objects of sexual pleasure at the expense of their own lives. Native women were avenues of conquest that perished from prolonged sexual abuse, and facilitated the spread of diseases in the colony.

With a decline of the native population, the Spanish sought a new free labor source—African slaves. The importation of slaves would contribute to the racial complexity and Spanish racial hierarchy established in the colony. Anxiety over racial miscegenation influenced the Spanish to prohibit interracial marriage, and marriages licenses were only provided to those that had pure blood—based on how European your bloodline is. The complexion of an individual’s skin defined them in colonial Cuba: the whiter you were, the more power you possessed. In addition, this power correlated with the ideal femininity, and who the moral expectations applied too. Upper-class women, white European women in this case, were expected to express the moral standards of womanhood; however, non-white women were vulnerable to the constant subjugation of the sexual desires of white men.

Colonial society did not expect women of color to fit into the same standards of white womanhood—their womanhood was always denied to them. Their alleged inferiority barred them from ever attaining the status as the ‘ideal citizen’ because their femininity was never considered ideal where gender and sexuality are the primary components of citizenship. This repeated cycle of abuse based on race, gender, and class is part of the larger colonial legacy dominated by hierarchies designed to subdue the less-desired individuals. These systems of oppression are evident in Cuba’s sex industry where the state has been a mediator for institutionalized violence and the exploitation of black women as a legacy of colonialism.

In Cuba’s sex industry, the ideal jinetera, female sex worker, is black. Amalia Cabezas highlights that “racists assumptions underpin the construction of jineterismo.” Vice is attributed to female blackness where they are painted as sexually deviant and immoral. This relation of morality and sexuality is similar to the stigmatization of queerness—Eithne Luibhéid describes that the presence of queerness “disrupts practices that remain normed around racialized heterosexuality.” Blackness does not fit into the image of the ideal citizen; there is something queer about blackness, not specifically to gay acts, but to the characteristics subconsciously attributed to it. The Cuban state automatically criminalizes the non-white woman as a prostitute while the white woman is viewed as the moral woman with genuine relationships. While non-white women in society are often depicted as morally disruptive, and, evidently, their sexuality is viewed as immoral based on racial prejudices that dominate Cuban society.

As mentioned before, the white woman continues to be portrayed as a good citizen, as they are not attributed to sex work in Cuba; in contrast, black femininity dominates the image of the immoral prostitute. Consequently, this image is reinforced by the state and the touristic industry. White women gain visibility when they are attributed to positively socially constructed images of the ideal citizen. Whereas, black women are demoralized by being attributed to negative images, in this case, prostitution. Prostitution is demoralized because it defies the traditional notions of marriage. This sexual image of women of color not only demoralizes them, but it leaves them out of the traditional images of marriage and family—further away from the ideals of love, as marriage and family are milestones in a person’s life representing symbolic acts of love.

Cuba’s economy is dominated by a mixed economy where there exists a limited capitalistic influence, and the state exerts control over certain sectors of the economy. As tourism is dominated by an all-inclusive touristic model, various touristic services have clustered within resorts; consequently, this has helped the Cuban government strictly enforce the separation of tourists and locals. The all-inclusive touristic model consists of resorts offering a variety of services as a package to tourists, at a lower rate than getting each individual service paid for, and the services are provided within the resort. However, the touristic industry markets desirability on the basis of race, gender, and beauty.

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Majority of resort workers have to undergo special training to provide excellent service to foreigners. Cabezas notes that typically “the school has strict regulations when it comes to physical appearance, with weight, age, and height requirements…not only are youth and aesthetics premium considerations, but so is race.” Various resorts have schools that teach employees how to provide excellent customer service. Cuban females with whiter complexions are dominant in jobs that require more interaction with foreigners; in contrast, darker colored females are placed in jobs that are less visible to tourists. The touristic industry influences who is visible and who is not through the racialization of labor. It feeds into societal expectations of beauty according to physical appearance; this controlled visibility constructs who is desirable to the foreigner.

The state has influenced the idea of the stereotypical prostitute as non-white, and it has continued its colonial legacy of institutionalized violence and discrimination against non-white femininity. Women are arrested by the state when they are seen traveling in touristic areas—especially talking to foreigners. However, dark-skinned women are incarcerated at a higher rate than white women by the police. Women of higher-income statuses that possess a white skin complexion have a higher probability of by-passing authorities; therefore, they have greater access to foreigners compared to women that are non-white. The police force enforces these recurring cycles of discrimination through the exploitation and racial profiling of women based on race. Cuban police officials are paid poorly and evidently target vulnerable victims to their power; consequently, corrupted officials exploit non-white women for their personal gain. Many accept discrete payments from women, via sexual labor or money, to protect them from prosecution.

Within the state’s police system, officials exploit the economic and social conditions of jineteras for their personal benefit. Although the Cuban Penal Code does not exclusively outlaw prostitution, it criminalizes anyone that exhibits behavior that poses a threat against the social moral code in Cuba. When women are prosecuted under this provision, they receive three warnings before they are sent to a four-year rehabilitation center. These camps are designed to ‘moralize’ deviant women for the good of the nation. As women of color are prosecuted for being sexually deviant, they are forced to conform to the demands of states—leaving whiteness to be attributed to the ideal citizen. Nonetheless, the state acts as a mediator for enforcing institutionalized violence and exploitation of women where its embedded colonial legacy fortifies the good white women—and demoralizes female blackness.

Within this demoralization of female blackness, the lines between romance and sex are blurred in Cuba’s sex industry. According to the research of Amalia Cabezas, many colored jineteras do not consider themselves prostitutes, and instead, as women looking for romantic encounters. Tourists approach them in pursuit of sexual encounters; in exchange, they receive, what they identify as, ‘gifts’ from foreigners in the form of monetary compensation or luxuries. Jineteras distance themselves from the identification as prostitutes by acting as personal companions to tourists. Nonetheless, in this case, jineteras of color are not defined by themselves, but the systems of oppression designed to subdue their authority under white patriarchal power.

Economic forces and the state market lighter-skinned Cuban women as desirable; whereas, the darker-skinned Cuban women’s sexuality is objectified and treated as a threat to the moral code of the country. As white Cuban women have greater access to foreigners, their relationships are viewed to be more legitimately romantic; in comparison, female black sexuality is categorized as immoral behavior. Furthermore, the state and economic forces attribute a darker colored women as the immoral prostitute, more concerned with sex, while lighter Cuban women continue to be categorized as the good citizen capable of romance.

Within this discourse of Cuban sex tourism, masculinity and nationalism create a double standard between males and females. Female sex workers are expected to act socially morally and acceptably; whereas, male sex workers “are perceived as a powerful extension of Cuban nation identity, vanquishing the foreign intruder.” Strict gender roles confine women to a sphere of private influence where the men conquer the public sphere. Daigle describes this as “Cuban machismo.” Thus, Cuban nationalism expects Cuban men to act as the conquerors of foreign women while Cuban women are not to be colonized by the foreigner. Compared to white Cubans, Cubans of color are still racially profiled at higher rates, however, not so much for sex work. Nonetheless, female sexual rights are less regulated by the individual, but the state. The state control’s the bodies of females for the best interest of the country—to preserve the continual enforcement of Cuban patriarchal power.

Cuban nationalistic masculinity not only subordinates Cuban women; it is intended to sexually subdue foreign women as an act of power. Women of color in colonies often were sexually abused by white men, and they were treated as objects of desire. The state wants Cuban men to reconquer the foreigner—creating a reoccurring cycle of colonization through sex tourism. Furthermore, in this process, males become less visible in sex work compared to women. Rooted from a legacy of racial hierarchies, white Cuban men view relationships with black women as undermining to their authority. Cuban patriarchal power criminalizes deviant female sexuality, but patronizes the Cuban male’s objectification of foreign women. For women are expected to act morally; and when compounded with racism, it reinforces the stigmatized image of black femininity in sex work.

As Cuba adopted a mixed economy system, social space for queer individuals emerged. As John D’Emilio explains in his work, Capitalism and Gay Identity, capitalistic forces opened social space for gay men to explore their identity in society, and they were less confined to just their sexual behavior. Nonetheless, Cuban sex tourism complicates the queer identity as men negotiate masculinity in order to enforce social roles and exert their masculine power over feminine queer men. However, these queer social spaces are dominated by whiteness where strong anti-blackness sentiments prevail. Furthermore, queer women are absent in the discussion of gay identity in sex tourism. As explained by D’Emilio, gay white men dominate queer social spaces where women and men of color are often invisible.

However, in this process, queer local Cuban men sought an affective relationship from dominant masculine men. Based off of the desirability of lighter-skinned individuals, queer Cuban gay men commonly desired men of lighter skin complexions and exposed an anti-black component to desire in the queer community. The visibility of men of color are often limited in these accounts, as whiteness dominates queer spaces. This connects back to John D’Emilio’s point where queer spaces are dominated by the white gay identity. Furthermore, the commodification of homoerotic labor complicated queer men’s expectations of love.

While queer Cuban men had control over the rules of these relationships, masculine men treated their sexual acts with feminine queer men as an act of power—an exertion of masculinity. Pingueros tended to negotiate their masculinity through the enforcement of gender roles in their relationships with local queer men. Feminine queer men would complement pingueros by completing stereotypical female roles in the household; for example, they would cook for them and do their laundry. By reinforcing stereotypical gender roles in their relationship, pingueros exerted power over feminine queer men; consequently, the line between love and commodified gay sex where blurred. Pingueros kept playing their “game” of having sex with their clients and moving on with someone else—conflicting with the queer man’s hope of a long stable relationship.

Both queer men and women of color are casted apart from the ideals of love and good citizenship. The mulatta is defined as a prostitute for her sexual deviancy in the eyes of the colonizer—but she has never been able to define herself. She seeks to find love, but the state depicts her as incapable of having genuine relationships—for she is labeled as immoral by Cuban society. Not only does the mulatta not qualify as an ideal citizen, she is criminalized for the color of her skin, and continues to be treated as an object of sexual desire by her colonizers. The queer man seeks long-term relationships with pingueros who only want to have sex and control their effeminate partners.

The commodification of homosexual sex is treated as an act by pingueros, but to queer men, it is tied to their personal identity and desire of love. Queerness does not fit into this frame of citizenship for it defies heteronormative expectations. It defies the traditional notions of love, family, and marriage. And just like the mulatta, they both are cast out of romance and good citizenship—both of them are seen as immoral by the state. In both of these instances, love is not an option in the mists of racial, gender, sexual, and economic hierarchies—but simple acts that generate revenue in Cuba’s sex industry.

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“The Cuban Sex Industry & Love: Race, Gender, Sexuality, And Citizenship.” WritingBros, 19 Apr. 2021, writingbros.com/essay-examples/the-cuban-sex-industry-love-race-gender-sexuality-and-citizenship/
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The Cuban Sex Industry & Love: Race, Gender, Sexuality, And Citizenship [Internet]. WritingBros. 2021 Apr 19 [cited 2021 Jun 21]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/the-cuban-sex-industry-love-race-gender-sexuality-and-citizenship/
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