The life of Cuban transgenders have become considerably easier since Mariela Castro – daughter of current president Raul and niece of Fidel – is involved in improving the position of sexual minorities. Every year, five transgender people are allowed to have a government-funded sex change operation.
In Havana, Odette and Malú are eagerly awaiting the sex change operation which they are eligible for. Juani has already had an operation: he was Cuba’s first transgender.
Once per year, two top surgeons specialized in sex change operations – one from the Netherlands and one from the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium – are flown in from Europe to Cuba to perform the operations. The treatment programme the government provides for the lucky five includes psychological counselling, hormone treatments, the sex change operation and aftercare. The state picks up the tab for all the costs. Mariela Castro has become the Cuban patron saint for transgenders. She is not a transgender herself, but is highly involved in improving situations for the LGBTI community in her country.
But while Mariela Castro is unleashing a sexual revolution in the steadily more progressive ‘socialist paradise’, new opportunities clash with old issues. Poverty, limited employment and intolerance are still commonplace.