Many opt to stay longer periods of time with a single client in order to protect themselves from police raids and further harassment as well as maximize earnings. In this kind of work one must have his papers in order, and one cannot spend a lot of time in the same place. I go back to my hometown right after I spend time with a foreigner. With no cash on hand and no job, he wanted to make money so he could invest it in a bicycle workshop in his native town. While there is no explicit law regulating the activity of pingueros , authorities use other legal methods—as they do with jineteras —to keep a firm grip on areas with a high degree of tourist traffic.
Yamel explains:. Police are very corrupt but they are also pretty shrewd. They work in combination with clerks from places like the ice-cream parlour Bim bom and they tell us to leave their money with them so they can collect it later. They are constantly harassing us.
Aquí, en la lucha…! Pingueros and Contemporary Metaphors of Survival
By acting like tough enforcers, they can come to an agreement with us and increase regular access to bribes. In a highly bureaucratic system such as that of Cuba, public functionaries are poorly remunerated; as a result, corruption and inefficiency run rampant. Many pingueros interviewed for this article, especially those from the provinces, emphasized this point. In part, these conditions are responsible for the existence of an informal market for the sale of a temporary residency status in the capital, renewable on a regular basis every three months for 30 CUC. Ahmed explains: In order to return, I bought myself a three-month temporary residency and every time I renew it, I have to pay 30 CUC.
A number of popular metaphors capture the interactions of pingueros and foreigners. In this context, pingueros use the act of being penetrated to justify asking for more money or obtaining better dividends.
I always say that I am active and when I let them penetrate me I just make something up…that it is my first time and that I do it as a token of affection. I pretend to be nervous and reject them at first because afterwards I can get them to eat from the palm of my hand.
Otherwise, it seems too easy and they lose interest. The idea is to mellow them out so that they feel generous and pay more.
Bodies for Sale. Pinguerismo and Negotiated Masculinity in Contemporary Cuba
I make them think they are special, that it was my first time. In the end, they think they are in control. In this testimony there are several elements that deserve attention. This statement supports the testimony of some of my interviewees including Alejandro:.
A tourist who rents a beach house, a car, and takes you to discos can be more generous. Otherwise, you only get paid for the service.
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I feel that when they pay, we become more of an object to them and the treatment is different. But it depends on the Yuma because there are some who simply want to rip you off, giving you nickels and dimes or old rags that you cannot even sell in a moment of crisis. I hardly ever ask for money, I just ask if they can help me through a rough time.
We make plans and I share my life story, my hardships and needs. I pay attention to whether he wears brand-name clothes, what kind of car he drives, the places he takes me to eat and dance. The same dynamics have been documented by other researches in the Dominican Republic among the sanky pankys 15 , the equivalent of Cuban pingueros.
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According to Amalia Cabezas this is because a direct commercial transaction will call off other possibilities like marriage, trips abroad, and gifts and will identify the subjects as male prostitutes, something that they try to avoid Cabezas; On the other hand, it must be taken into account what clients expect from these subjects in terms of affection and seduction. However, romance is not always an effective strategy, particularly for those who come from the provinces. For them, their arrival in the capital is a difficult moment as Mario explains:.
When I got here I only had 60 pesos in my pocket. I travelled on the back of a truck like an animal. When I arrived, I was covered with grime. That night I made thirty bucks and I breathed again but I had to save a lot. I did not eat much. On days that I ate lunch, I would skip dinner. I wanted to save as much as possible so as not to be against the wall.
I have lost 15 pounds already, I look like a corpse. There are pingueros and pingueros. There are the cheap ones who do anybody, even for three bucks, but those are mostly the Palestinians 16 who have never seen 30 bucks in their lives. They have no respect for themselves and are affecting us because then Yumas want to spend a luxury night and pay a misery. But I understand them because some of them arrived in Havana without a penny and needed to make quick money. It happened to me too. I set my own fee upfront because I respect myself.
They [foreigners] come looking for affection, caresses—they love to be kissed—and that has a price. By pretending to be [sincerely] affectionate, they are just trying to pay less. They promise you the moon and then they dump you. Time is money. He is happy with some consumer goods that he considers valuable:. Sometimes I bargain over some clothes in addition to charging some cash. I sell it to them as if I operated an exclusive boutique. This model of success inspired by high levels of consumerism and access to goods and services that are not readily available to the majority of the population awakens in many youngsters the desire to imitate others who, because of their involvement in these activities, boast their exceptional buying power.
Alejandro explains:. I arrived in Havana in at the age of I had studied Italian language because I wanted to work in tourism. Like any other young person, I wanted to go out, have fun.
I had friends who were jineteros and they had money and motorcycles, and good clothing, and beautiful women and I wanted to be like them and to have what they had. While pingueros take active part in the economy of pleasure linked to tourism, they also sell clothes and electronics like cell phones that tourists give them in their home towns when they are short of cash. Likewise in Havana, there is a underground economy that provides bed and board to those coming from the provinces with little money. Alejandro lives in this popular neighbourhood, characterized by a high concentration of people and crammed housing.
He described his daily routine to me:.
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I wake up as soon as my neighbours in the tenement house next door start blasting their music around 10am. The owner is a toothless old woman who rents rooms to pingueros. People say she used to be a madam in a brothel before the Revolution and that afterwards they tried to rehabilitate her. She sells boxed lunches of pork or pasta that are cheaper than eating out. I hardly go out during the day to save money and avoid the police. The idea is to pass the time, so I workout, sleep a lot to recover my strength and about 7pm I shower and smother my body in cream and cologne to smell good.
Around 10pm, I hit the streets and sometimes I come back or not depending on whom I do.
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Pingueros have a marked interest in designer labels and make a cult of their bodies using transnational referents that are popularized by global stars from the world of entertainment. The impact of globalization in Cuba has been felt not only in the rise of an emergent tourism economy that has brought large dividends to some social elites as a result of complex processes of increasing social inequality and decapitalization that affect the majority of the population, but it has also generated an economy of pleasure for gay tourists accessible to all income levels.
Together with a cheap street sex market in Old Havana and El Vedado, there is an exclusive pinguero service that caters to the needs of elegant private parties. These services are featured in catalogues available to moneyed international gay customers. He explains the dynamics of this service:. My fee starts at dollars and I make lots of money in a month.
They call me on my cell and arrange a date. I go to fancy places in Miramar, where there is privacy. It is interesting the way they have to name the performances of these subjects and their symbolic implications. Apparently, pingueros structure their gender negotiation by allotting varying degrees of masculinity to themselves and their paying partners depending on the kind of relationship both establish. In fact, some of them came to Habana as pimps of their girlfriends before engaging themselves in sexual encounters with foreign tourists men or women.
This is the case of Reinier:. She only had one skirt made by her grandmother and a pair of dress shoes that she had to share with her sister, so they had to take turns going out at night. We rented separate rooms at an apartment on K and 17 St in El Vedado at 1. The night of their arrival they went to El Johnny , a discotheque in Miramar:.
She went out with an Italian guy and took him to the rented room in El Vedado. He paid her 70 bucks and she came to my room to show me the booty. She had this rancid smell, and I was so disgusted that I asked her to take a shower.
Next day we went shopping. Something similar happened to Alejandro and his girlfriend who shared a similar arrangement. He told me that one of the toughest moments for him was when he chanced upon his girlfriend while out with a male tourist: Both Alejandro and Reinier told me that their lives got complicated when the families of their girlfriends began to torpedo their relationships.
As to Reinier, problems with his in-laws took a different course: They even convinced her to marry a yuma which she finally did. After that, I continued in la lucha on my own until now. I never imagined that I had to sleep with a man, let alone that I was going to make a living out of it. Everything was strange to me, seeing men kissing. It came as a blow to me until I got used to it.
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