After a recent, somewhat hysterical spate of Citizen’s Voice comments about the supposed misuse of the terms “drag queen” and “female impersonator” around here — which, by many, many accounts are interchangeable — I decided to excavate an old image from an interesting evening in Havana in 2008 that featured just that.
An elderly writer from New York City and I became acquainted during a trip to see Raul Castro speak on the 55th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in Santiago de Cuba, and once back in the capital, she invited me out to “dinner and a show.” Believe you me, I had no idea I was going to a Cuban drag show, particularly with a 70ish-year-old New Yorker. The dinner and the company were great, and the show was too. I had never kept track of Cuba’s attitude toward gays on the island, but I assumed it was abysmal. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d explain to my friends and family had I been scooped up in some late-night raid of an underground gay bar. Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly that eventful.
So after doing a little research this week, I learned that homosexuality was “decriminalized” in 1979, while public, outward displays remain illegal. Having said that, when Raul Castro assumed power in 2008, the gay community in Cuba began to enjoy at least some freedom. This is in stark contrast to the 1960s and 1970s when the Cuban government rounded up anyone falling into the LGBT category and threw them into concentration camp-style prisons. Today, bars and other specific locations draw a huge amount of gay Cubans without incident.
I don’t recall my “date” that night referring to the onstage talent as “drag queens” or “female impersonators,” but you could tell they were having fun, which reminds me of seeing our local rock star, “Sushi,” Saturday night in that big red shoe. You see, I’ve known her for nearly 20 years and according to her, there is no difference between the terms. The same was said by Joey Schroeder, owner of the Bourbon Street Pub for the past couple decades. But then, what would they know?