TransCuba: Photographer Mariette Pathy Allen Explores a Hidden Havana Subculture
By Jerry Portwood
For more than 30 years, New York based photographer and painter Mariette Pathy Allen has been documenting transgender culture worldwide; in 2004 she won the Lambda Literary Award for her monograph The Gender Frontier. In her new publication, TransCuba, Allen focuses on the transgender community of Cuba, especially its growing visibility and acceptance in a country whose government is transitioning into a more relaxed model of communism under Raúl Castro’s presidency.
The central subjects of TransCuba are Amanda, Nomi, and Malu, three remarkable people with whom Allen formed close bonds during visits she made to Cuba in 2012 and 2013. Allen photographed them in the privacy of their homes, at restaurants and clubs, at the beach, on the streets of Havana, and at performances and special events. The transgender people Allen depicts inTransCuba savor their new freedom to be themselves publicly, while continuing to overcome challenges such as health issues, and lack of steady work. The photographs, and supporting interviews, provide an intimate and multi-layered portrait of Cuba and this special community of people that is very different from the stereotypical, one-dimensional depiction of transgender people we are so often accustomed to seeing in photographs and in films.
An excerpt from Mariela Castro Espin, who is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana, is included in the book: "We dedicate this day to families because we want families to be conscious of their great social responsibility, so that all of our families, all of the people with the great social responsibility of being a parent, realize that their can't be any form of discrimination in the family, discrimination based in the prejudice that we've inherited from dominant societies."