For Dressing Like a Man.
A New Book on Transexuality.
By: Danae C. Diéguez.
The investigator and university professor, Julio Cesar González Pagés, surprises
us with a new work to be published in the coming International Book Fair of
Havana. With the title For Dressing like a Man, the author returns to us an
investigation about the events of Enriqueta Favez, first woman to work as a
doctor in Cuba. Author of works like En búsqueda de espacio (In the Search of
Space). Historia de mujeres en Cuba (Women's History in Cuba) of the editorial
house Ciencias Sociales, 2003 and Emigración de mujeres gallegas a Cuba
(Galician Women's Emigration to Cuba). Las hijas de Galicia (The Daughters of
Galicia) of the editorial house Ecovigo 2004, he admits that this is a story
that has obsessed for many years. He offered exclusive comments for Cubasí
Portal regarding this new publication.
- Julio Cesar, there’s a documentary of filmmaker Lídice Pérez entitled Favez that approaches this woman's problem in the XIX century, how do you believe this woman's figure is reflected in that work?
-I know Lídice with the previous version of this same documentary which was awarded in one of the cinema festivals with venue in Cuba. I was writing the book around that time about Enriqueta Favez and she asked me historical consultantship. I think Lídice’s documentary respects all that historical atmosphere in which Favez arrives in Cuba, there are some fields she didn’t want to tread into, that is, they are implicit. I think is part of the proposal she makes, she recreates the image greatly, the atmosphere, it’s a very beautiful documentary about Favez, excellent work, neatly produced but it does not plunges into the central issue. When Lídice was making this book she coincided with the time I was writing mine, there were some myths of the investigation itself which I was unable to put in the documentary. I was the historical adviser, but there were elements still half investigated and I’d thought it was too early to make them public, besides she already had her idea built around Favez as first doctor, that is she rescued Favez’s figure and that’s the importance of the documentary. For she is interested in seeing her under the light as a woman most of all, a woman who went beyond her time working as a doctor, as emigrant woman in an Island far from her culture. I think the documentary rescues that Favez who even us had been incapable to see, that is, there’s neither a visual image of her, there was nobody who came closer neither in cinema nor television.
- Do you believe Lídice’s position as female filmmaker has helped to understand the phenomenon better? I’m asking this because I know most of this woman’s bibliography it’s been written by men.
-I wouldn’t say a feminine vision, because behind the camera there might be a woman with a masculine vision as well, that is, we know that the masculine and the feminine features are built. In Lídice’s case there will always be a feminine vision because she is a woman who’s been concerned – not only in this documentary, but in everything she’s done, of rescuing that part, that woman's perspective.
As I already mentioned, she rescues the woman that was Enriqueta Favez, I believe she shows solidarity in the documentary, there is solidarity, that means that it must have been difficult for Lídice to become a documentary director in a country were men are predominant as filmmakers. I think Lídice dresses up for the battle, she establishes the parallel and leaves the polemic around Favez’s sexual option, although it appears within the documentary, it was not the main issue, but Favez’s transgression, the transgression as a woman and I think it’s a widely valid proposal. That’s why I think the documentary is good, I find it as an interesting proposal because this woman's life has many angles. There’s a theatre play performed by the group Rita Montaner about the figure of Favez, which is a feminist version. I do believe there are many Favez, her life offers many sides.
-Talk about us how did you begin this investigation, to your judgment what’s the most interesting thing in this history?
-This is a book I began more than nine years ago and the investigation finished a year ago. This edition will be on the Book Fair of Havana, it’s entitled For dressing Like a Man. When you write you also make commitments and I think that it has a commitment with sexual diversity, because it’s a book that deals with a contemporary debate, a debate which is Cuban but universal, that is, the rights of people who live with other sexual options.
The investigation proved me I had to look for more specialization in this topic of transexuality, Enriqueta Favez, was a transsexual woman, a woman who was born in a biological body that didn't belong to her psyche which is what we now denominate transexuality. In Favez’s trial, for example, for the first time it’s made a diagnosis from the transexuality jurisprudence, when she declares that it’s the spirit of a man caught in a woman’s body. Thus appears in documents of year 1829. I believe Favez’s life was alternatively shifted between a witch and a saint. That is, that viewpoint of the past which women see in black and white.
In the XIX century this woman is viewed as a witch or as a saint and I think that sparked the authors’ interest, since everyone but a French Graciella who wrote a play entitled Enriqueta Favez the Man Woman, the rest authors who have approached the figure of Favez have been men, that is, it’s not a figure seen from a woman’s perspective and I think that’s why men have taken side defending her, as a woman who came to exercise medicine and philanthropy. In this book, I tell you in advance, it’s spoken of the first marriage in Cuba, I mean legally, because it takes place, because she’s dressed as a man; the first marriage between two women, in Baracoa, in 1819. When it was discovered, three years later, it becomes the most scandalous trial of the epoch. The Favez’s trial was very similar to inquisition, she suffered all sort of humiliations. Her life is also the life of a woman challenging her time, a woman who studied medicine at the Sorbonne of Paris, a woman who fought with Napoleon’s army, in the most important battles of Europe she emigrates to Guadalupe, then she came to Cuba, she is presented before a jury of people for example like Félix Varela, and the Bishop Espada, she is a very interesting character of her time because she passes her degree as surgeon and granted the protomedicate in the eastern region. She is a woman who validates her degree in a men's tribunals, which supposes that she was an excellent specialist in her medical field, an excellent warrior dressed as a man who has a relationship of mutual agreement, a lesbian relationship with a Cuban woman of the Eastern region, with Juana de León, from Baracoa, and that love was returned. There’s an entire bunch of letters you will read in the book. I always say I felt indebted of legitimating a history she didn't hide, she was judged by a tribunal, she was judged as a doctor, she was expelled, that is, she was forced the whole time for defending what she believed.
-As far as a I know almost nobody has treaded into the topic from that optics of her sexual condition.
-All works have attempted to hide it so far, literary works too. The Cuban writer Antonio Benítez Rojas who wrote, “Woman in a Battle Outfit” neither enters this list. I have an advantage, I am a historian, I review the documents, the book I’m presenting, is a book written from historical etiology, it’s a book that builds this history from documents, this book it’s completely based on the original letters, there is not literature in the book.
-I was about to ask that don't you play with fiction?
-No, I thought it in the beginning, but the history within the documents goes beyond all fiction. I realized that what it had been done in fiction was much less attractive for me. This book, for example, took me to places like New Orleans, where she was and where she died, to Mexico, Veracruz, Spain, Switzerland, where she was born, she was a woman that obsessed me and I was following her tracks for many years, trying to reconstruct her history. There were always things I left unconcluded, until I found her letters kept by a Cuban family who immigrated to New Orleans, I found out because I established a network and I paid them a visit and they had part of the lost letters between Juana and Enriqueta. With the help of a paleographer to decipher the complete trial, because it’s of a time as early as 1819, with words hard to understand for the calligraphy and I was able to translate everything into present Spanish, including the file of the trial. I searched in the press, in files of other trials, I followed the route through the whole town. I discovered several places of Cuba thanks to Enriqueta, I followed her track. I don't want to say things in advance, but Juana de León gets married later, there are descendants of her couple in the Eastern of the Island, that is, history goes on. There are descendants either from Favez as from Juana de León, in Switzerland and in Cuba and that is gist that they are living people who can help in some way nowadays to understand the phenomenon for which she was judged, continues to be a condition of the human being to qualify or disqualify a sector of the population with another sexual option, as it’s the case of transsexual and travesties.
- Your connection with CENESEX has something to do with the realization of this book?
-Yes, I thank the connection I had with the Cuban National Center of Sexual Education a lot and especially with its director Mariela Castro who invited me, when she knew I had written this book, to be part of the national commission of transexuality studies in Cuba. To debate with people who live today with this disphoria of the gender and have to live in an ongoing patriarchal, sexist society, it helped me to understand what happened to Enriqueta Favez in the XIX century. If the polemic still remains in Cuba, imagine in the XIX century, what was life for her. That helped me to seek new angles I wouldn’t have thought if I weren’t part of this commission. I have an anecdote for you, one day I had to deliver a conference where I spoke of Favez and there were over fifteen or sixteen transsexual in the public. For me it was impressive and even touching because I had never had the opportunity to speak for a public that belong to this reality Favez lived.
-Besides of all the satisfactions received when an investigation is over and is also tangible, transformed into a book, do you think this topic has contributed something special in your career and life?
- To me it has been a history that has brought out the best I have as a researcher and human being, because I’ve had to enter a world I hadn’t explored. I had made stories of suffragist, feminist, emigrant women, but not transsexual. Besides the transexuality from woman to man is harder, that is it’s an uncommon phenomenon, I think that it has to do with the fact that any action made by a woman is double, triply judged. We are always prepared for women with a well defined archetype and I believe this woman broke all the rules of social behavior. I’m convinced she is excellent for a fiction character.
- Haven’t you thought of proposing it to anybody?
-I am sure that after the launch of the book, and people read it possible ideas
of movie scripts will appear. It’s really a welcoming story, in fact as I was
writing it, researching, I saw myself as in a movie, I mean as a plot of
absurdity. This person judged by the world, traveling dissimilar and different
places. There is love, because there was love between these two women, there is
desperation for the break-up, there is the moral of the church, there are
patriarchate positions. A woman striped in public to really know her sex, after
she had declared she was a woman. I think this history will help many to
understand the phenomena we judge today are as old as ourselves and yet, we
continue being these puritans, we still think as centuries ago, although we
think ourselves modern and even postmodern. Bringing up this sort of story helps
you to reflect, I think art should have a commitment, either a documentary, a
book, it should have a social commitment, a commitment so that those people
living this reality can have with the work of filmmakers and artists a
reflection topic with their own lives.
Cubasi Translation Staff