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Meet Félix, Havana's Gender-Fluid Diva Opening Cuban Eyes And Minds

There is little understanding of gender fluidity worldwide, and in Cuba there is no legal recognition of their identity. Journalist Ernesto J. Gómez Figueredo meets Félix and tries to explain the world from the point of view of gender fluidity.

Meet Félix, Havana's Gender-Fluid Diva Opening Cuban Eyes And Minds

Félix has taken over the Havana nocturnal scene to become the queen of the night

Ernesto J. Gómez Figueredo

HAVANA — She is the diva of Havana nights. Félix, owner of Pazillo bar. Félix, the homegirl. Félix, a young fighter.

"My family is small. My mom, my grandmother and me. There is also an occasional stepfather.”

Félix was born in a poor neighborhood called Santa Amalia, in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality of Havana. He comes from a black family with which he has had some disagreements.

"Nothing is perfect. My mother worries a little, but generally, she supports me. We buy clothes together, we do our nails together. My grandmother, who is in the early stages of dementia, sees everything as very artistic”.

Beyond stereotypes

Félix thinks that society has created a stereotype around the stories of gender-dissident people focused on abandonment, prostitution, drugs or suffering. But that is not his story. She is a fulfilled person. In 2016 he graduated from the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory specializing in lyrical singing. For several years she has taken over the Havana nocturnal scene to become the queen of the night.

Is La Diva here today?

Every Wednesday Félix gets ready and goes to work. The Pazillo bar has won over the LGBTQ+ public in the city and she is the hostess of the night. La Diva, they call her.

Dressed in a suit or in a miniskirt. With pants. Sometimes with makeup; others without. With a beard and red lipstick. The spirit of the party. Going from table to table. From person to person. Making them laugh, educating them. Teaching them to accept.

“I do customized entertainment. I try my best for people to feel included and have a good time. I tell them a joke or a love story. I also sing".

When one visits that corner of the Vedado neighborhood, the first thing customers ask is: "Is La Diva here today?"

Félix was born in a poor neighborhood called Santa Amalia

Ismario Rodríguez

Language matters

FundéuRAE, a foundation that promotes the use of Spanish with the support of the Royal Spanish Academy of language, defines the concept of “gender fluid” as a person who does not identify with a single gender identity but instead flows between them. With regard to this type of gender identity, psychologists and sexologists from the College of Psychology of Western Andalusia state that "gender fluid is an identity that is characterized by the fact that the person is changing, that is, flowing between two or more identities, for example, bigender and agender, or between identities within the man/woman binary or outside the normative ideas of man and woman”.

Therefore, gender fluidity does away with the thinking that defines gender identity as static and binary within the parameters of masculine and feminine. It is also recognized as a concept that can vary over time. Moreover, the Andalusian Psychology Group highlights that the diversity and complexity of the very definition of gender fluidity make it a unique experience for each person.

“Thus, there will be people who vary their gender expression according to identity and others who will undergo no changes in their clothing or behavior. There will also be those who decide to resort to hormonal treatment or surgical intervention, as well as those who decide not to. In this sense, in some cases there will be the fluidity of pronouns, a request not to use them, or a decision to keep the assigned ones”, they explain.

In Spanish, a gendered language, masculine is used as the default gender. For example, “todos” is used to say all, including male and female, while “todas” is only to say all females. Now the gender neutral “todes” is emerging more and more as “inclusive language” that does not rely on gender. Regarding the use of inclusive pronouns, Santiago Muñoz Machado, director of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), said in Cuba that if “inclusive language” prevails among Spanish speakers, RAE will have no choice but to assimilate it. But he said that for now, it is an extravagance that does not facilitate communication.

The important thing is to understand language as a social apparatus destined to evolve. It is not static or rigid. The words that people choose to refer to themselves must be respected.

"I am Félix, period."

For Félix, a gender-fluid person is someone who does not identify with one gender or another. An authentic being that flows with what they wish at each moment.

“If I want to feel more feminine today, I assume it. If I feel more masculine, that's fine. Depends on how my day is."

Félix doesn't think he has an identity. You don't have to feel it either.

“I am Félix, period. Félix with a skirt. Félix with pants. Félix in a dress. Félix in a suit. It depends on the circumstances, the moment and whatever I feel like wearing, using or being. Whoever I want to be with, it can be with a man, with a woman or with another fluid person.”

For some people, hiding is not an option.

They can refer to her as a woman or as a man. He prefers to be referred to as Félix.

“For me, it was a process of self-discovery. I always thought I was gay. But I have noticed that I am also attracted to women. One thing has nothing to do with the other."

Gender identity is independent of sexual orientation. Essentially, when talking about gender fluidity there are incorrect associations about the sexual orientation of these people. In this regard, the American Psychological Association states that gender identity and sexual orientation are different things: “Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person, whereas gender identity refers to one’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else.”

So a gender-fluid person, sometimes incorrectly included within the trans spectrum, can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual, just like the rest of people who identify with other gender identities.

"I am Félix, period. Félix with a skirt. Félix with pants. Félix in a dress. Félix in a suit."

Ismario Rodríguez

No recognition in Cuba

To date, in Cuba, the existing curriculum on sex education often tends to exclude LGBTQ+ people or even stigmatize them. They often face bullying and are at increased risk of self-harm or suicide due to social rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is imperative to provide comprehensive sexuality education that meets their needs.

On February 26, 2021, the Ministry of Education approved a "Comprehensive Sexuality Education Program with a focus on gender issues, and sexual and reproductive rights," which was later put on hold indefinitely due to pressure from religious and conservative groups.

From a legal point of view, in Cuba these people continue to lack recognition within the identity they assume.

Félix never came out of the closet. He was in a glass cabinet. In a showcase, on display.

“I was always very effeminate. Sometimes I was a bit withdrawn because of the bullying. I was very quiet not to attract attention. When I grew a little older and entered art school, which is always a little more open than the rest, I had the courage to fully become myself, who I am now. I'm still discovering the world, my world."

For some people, hiding is not an option.

The risk of violence

People ask weird questions.

— What’s your name?

— Félix.

— And why Félix, if you're dressed as a woman?

— I am not dressed like a woman. I am dressed like me.

“When I put on some clothes, they stop being female or male. They’re my clothes," she explains.

These questions seem not to faze her. But on several occasions the situation became violent.

Not long ago Félix was at a party far from the city. It was close to 10 p.m. He hurt his ankle, an old injury. When he tried to get home, no taxi wanted to take him because he only had 700 pesos ($29).

I am not dressed like a woman. I am dressed like me.

He finally managed to stop one and pay the driver. But Félix noticed that the car had turned off the main avenue.

“I got really scared. Everything looked like he wanted to assault me, rape me, or worse," Félix says.

The police stopped the car because it was speeding and Félix quickly got out and explained to the officers what was happening. They paid no attention to him.

When the driver saw that he was telling the police what was happening, he punched Félix in the face.

“They handcuffed both of us. They took us to the station. They gave us a fine for public violence.”

That day Félix was wearing a skirt.

Long-suffering person

"I am a long-suffering person," Félix says.

She has a deep inner world. The type of person who feels everything she does. Living every experience intensely. He is also a fighter.

Félix has had to "fight" for his name, for his right to be, for his family, but above all for himself. She knows she won't feel fulfilled until she stops trying to please everyone. Be who he is by himself, for her.

"I am a long-suffering person," he repeats while singing songs of disconsolate Cuban divas like Queen of Latin soul La Lupe, bolero singer Elena Burke, and singer and pianist Bola de Nieve.

Félix interrupts the tune and says: “Come to think of it, I don't have any real problems in my life. I am a long-suffering person, but I'm happy”.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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