Private affairs: Adolescence and Sexuality
("Intimidades: Adolescencia y Sexualidad”)
Author: Aloyma Ravelo
Instituto Cubano del Libro
La Habana, Cuba, 2005,
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann
Before we go straight to the point…
This book has been conceived for you, for those of you who have left childhood behind and are entering another stage of life, filled with new experiences. Never before –- or after -– do so many changes occur in your body and soul, nor so many things to learn come your way. Maybe that’s why so many people in the world speak about you, from grandmothers to experts on the subject.
Not so long ago the term adolescence came up to identify these moments you are living through, times when happiness and heartache often interweave and unravel for no apparent reason.
Together with the pubertal shoot-up, bodily changes and a hormonal explosion –a revolution per se in every adolescent body– comes a sharp ‘growth’ they must face in terms of instruction and knowledge of all kinds that will equip them to perform as students and workers as well as at personal and social level.
Parents, teachers, doctors and professionals of various fields agree that the lack of reliable information is usually at the root of many of the problems we connect to adolescent sexuality.
You are most likely aware that when it comes to your own information about sexuality there are omissions and gaps you need to bridge with much-needed information of the type that makes it possible to piece together a personal script, the cornerstone of which is a sense of responsibility and self-love. It’s a fact that when you fail to pay careful attention to and love yourselves first, loving others proves impossible.
Modern thinking has helped break sexual stereotypes and a number of rigidities and severe controls. What’s best, furthermore, is that the atmosphere surrounding your life these days is much less confined, and all decisions are related first of all to individual responsibility.
Sexuality finds its stronghold in this period of life, and with a vengeance. All of a sudden you become a different person, with another face and another body, capable of fertilizing and being fertilized. This can be puzzling and scary. Few teenagers manage to stay clear of the complexes, anxieties and confusion that growing up entails, but they all demand independence at all costs.
The need to be closer to the opposite sex takes root, but many boys and girls don’t even know how to go about it, what to do when faced with the unexpected appearance of love to turn it into something gratifying, or how to deal with those intense sexual desires in a fruitful, pleasant manner.
A million things to be learned. It is at this point that I present you with this book, in hopes that it will provide the guidance you need in matters of sexuality.
You are all students with a given cultural level, a wonderful reality that it’s sure to work in your favor. Therefore, even if this book is written in a conversational style, in it you will find neither a recipe for behavior nor die-hard provisions. God forbid! My suggestions come from you, from both those letters you have sent me for 15 years –adding up to thirty thousand by now– and so many chats we’ve had all over Cuba.
It’s possible that certain topics in this book are still unrelated to some of you. However, it’s always important to keep up with things and satisfy your thirst for knowledge about sexuality, which no human being can disregard. I will never forget a comment made years ago by Dr. Celestino Alvarez Lajonchere, a professor who pioneered sexual education in our country: “It’s better to have information a year too soon than a day too late”. Life has proven him right.
If you’re familiar with the drama of a homosexual person, be that a girl friend, a good buddy or a close relative, your view about the matter is likely to have changed to the point that, since then, your understanding of and affection for that person are now very special. When you have a good grasp of the sometimes distressing reality they have to face, joking about it seems no longer funny, but profoundly unfair instead.
What follows is a letter by a lesbian, a sensitive and clever girl. May it touch
you deeply and find in your heart the solidarity and understanding she needs.
Her profound words demand that society make room for everyone without exception,
A lesbian love
A squeezing hand, an exchange of smiles and the complicity of a kiss reveal there’s love. But things get complicated when the person with whom we share these intimate expressions is someone of our same sex.
Feelings and illusions are sometimes so wonderful that we pay no heed to such differences… because we love, and love is therefore the only thing we have in mind, as well as in our heart and body. We love, and we are loved back…
Yet, there are the others… your boy and girl friends, classmates and teachers, even your own family, and the joy we share with our partner begins to cloud over as we realize we’re taking a different path, often by chance or unknowingly… Now we are the others, not them.
And then, no use denying it, you get scared, fearful of being rejected and feeling shame in your face or behind your back, although to some extent there’s a little more understanding these days about gay people, whatever their sex.
However, there’s the circus ‘freak’. And we see it in TV programs where you still find caricatures and mockery, some subtler than others, some coarser than others, but always detrimental…
And love also begins to feel social pressure. By that time –and I know because I’ve been there– neither affection nor physical attraction, let alone communication between the two girls, are enough to put up a fight for the duration…
You have to feel real love and be a very close-knit couple to come to terms with your preference and stand up for your legitimate right to love and be loved.
I can only say that I have no regrets about what I’ve done or the relationships I’ve had… albeit I no longer envision them as ideal as I used to, since in any kind of couple, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, the quality of love stems from love itself, from people and their ability to give and take, share, be faithful and straightforward…
One thing I can tell you, though: in order to take that decision, when you have understood that’s where your feelings and leanings lead you to, you must gather all your strength and muster your self-esteem and your dignity and courage, because you’re not a bad girl, nor are you any worse than the others.
Simply said, you’re a woman who found love in another woman. Just like there are men who love other men.
I think, for I have seen it too, that many people, men and women alike, who decide to join together before society, end up as liars and cheaters and remain united for reasons of routine, safety, and comfort, with no affection for each other.
Similarly, there are gays and lesbians whose relationship is based upon a similar set of interests. Those unions are worthless, as are any bonds built on material cravings for money, a house, a car, clothing, electronic appliances, fashion, and so on.
Loving is only possible, and this I know, when there’s love, when it doesn’t matter whether the person you love is ugly or pretty, black, brown, white, yellow or purple, tall or short, fat or thin, younger or older than you, because that person is at the top…
* You can find me in a novel that a friend of mine wrote, titled El Monte de Venus (Mount of Venus).
[The following poem is the caption to a photograph of two women kissing, in silhouette]
A girl shuts the door
To forget that she exists.
She grows tired.
A girl invented love for herself
In her own image
And has created another woman from her own ribs.
As a general rule, boys and girls still harbor a number of inadequate or mistaken concepts about homosexuality. Some believe it to be a disease or merely an abnormal behavior. A part of the population entertain homophobic beliefs –that is, they find homosexuals repulsive, reprehensible or unacceptable– and are therefore largely responsible that many of you feel uncomfortable about or give a cold shoulder to gays and lesbians. From a very early age we’re taught a wrong lesson: when a boy refuses to get into a fight with someone they call him a ‘sissy’ or a milksop, and when a girl is not as delicate as she’s supposed to be or bravely meets head-on with a boy’s bravado she can be labeled a tomboy.
Faggot and tomboy ["marica" and "marimacha"] are two words we frequently hear as children and teenagers in reference to people declared non grata, inappropriate, and different in a derogatory sense. For all the dreadful emotions they convey, we keep them close at hand in case we want to insult someone with the worst possible offense.
We are so inflexible that any man or woman edging on toward their late thirties while still single will make us wonder, and arouse twice as much suspicion if he or she lives with another person of the same sex.
Still, since the 1970s and based on countless studies on this issue, psychiatric associations from all over the world decided to no longer brand homosexuality as a disease, the first real step forward the recognition of gays and lesbians. Medical science settled accounts, but society is yet to treat them with all due respect. Although Cuba has witnessed a higher degree of tolerance since the 1990s, the matter seems to have somehow come to a standstill: we certainly know they exist and have the right to exist, but that’s it. Homosexuals have not found the acceptance they need from the heterosexual population.
Prejudice still prevails across our country, sustained mainly by the following beliefs:
- All gays are womanish and effeminate, or all those who are effeminate or have certain delicate features are gay. - - A homoerotic sexual act, whether by force or by one’s own free will, turns males or females into homosexuals. - - Homosexuals are sexual perverts. - - Most gays are prostitutes. - - HIV/AIDS is a typical disease of homosexual males. - - Gays tend to be promiscuous and can’t be faithful. - Little is reported by the media on these minorities and the familial and social treatment they deserve. In brief, wrong ideas are still embedded in the public mind and keep going around from parent to child and friend to friend.
Many of these myths surrounding homosexuality have been already spelled out from A to Z by the scientific community. Generally speaking, it is known that just as seduction plays no role in its occurrence, neither does spending long periods of time with people of the same sex nor behaving as a homosexual during one’s teenage years turn anyone into a gay or a lesbian.
You’re not a homosexual just because you were raised in a single-parent home, your folks have an unstable relationship, or a strong bond existed between father and son or between mother and daughter.
There are many who wonder: are you born a homosexual or do you become one? Science has been so far unable to come up with a fully satisfactory answer. A lot of effort and resources have been devoted for years to shed light on the root causes of homosexuality. Blame for it has been equally laid on a different portion of the X chromosome, the structure of the hypothalamus, hormonal problems (to wit, having more or less hormones), and even psychological conditions, among other possible reasons. Finally, there has been widespread coverage of homosexuals whose X-rayed brains have shown chemical-genetic disorders. Nevertheless, this is but an assumption, for the truth is that the origins of homosexuality remain a mystery to science, even if the scholars are increasingly favoring the multi-causality theory; in other words, that it’s affected by a number of biological causes and other external ones, mainly of a social and cultural nature.
In the experience of various groups of psychotherapists in our continent and specifically in Cuba engaged on changing their homosexual patients’ wrong views, the heterosexual population is not the only one clinging to outdated ideas and stereotypes regarding homosexuals: they themselves feel quite confused at times. From individual psychotherapy with these male patients the following myths have come to the surface:
- A steady couple is just an unattainable pipe dream for homosexual males. - - The single purpose of having contacts with homosexual males is a genital relationship of some kind (manual, oral, coital). - - Homosexual males have no emotional, but only sexual, needs. - - It makes no difference to homosexual males who they have sex with; they are not choosy. - - Founding a family is only possible for heterosexual couples. - - Society as a whole rejects homosexuals; therefore, we have to establish closed communities and live apart. - What’s homosexuality?
Let’s go into this subject from another side by addressing the following questions: Is homosexuality a healthy or a pathological social behavior, a sexual variant or a deviance? Is it fair and unbiased to assess someone from a theoretical viewpoint which only takes into account the orientation of that person’s sexual appetite, be that as a homosexual or a bisexual?
After many years devoted to study sexuality in Cuba, Drs. Alicia González and Beatriz Castellanos remark the uselessness of defining what’s healthy or pathological about human sexuality on the basis of the techniques, methods, ways or manners of anyone’s sexual activity. We must pay attention instead to people’s motives, purposes and goals as well as to their ultimate results, that is, the psychological elements that establish why and to which end they have sex.
Dr. González, who is also the principal at the School of Sexuality and Sexual Education of ISPJAE (Higher Pedagogical Institute “Enrique José Varona”), makes it clear that’s the reason why, when it comes to the issue of what’s healthy or deviant about sexual relations, the question we must ask ourselves is summarized in the following statement by the German sexologist S. Schnabl: “Is the sexual act suitable to make them both feel pleased, happy, satisfied and fulfilled, to make love deeper and richer, to strengthen the bonds that join them, to take them to an existentially higher level? If the answer is yes, then there’s nothing wrong going on, regardless of the way their sexual act is performed”.
From this scientific opinion it may be deduced that a healthy sexuality covers as many forms of sexual interaction and communication as there are personalities and couples, so we can reach the conclusion that, as long as a sexual behavior brings satisfaction without detriment to an individual’s physical or psychological condition or to that of his/her partner or third parties, it is not to be questioned from a moral standpoint, whether between heterosexuals or homosexuals and notwithstanding how they go about it.
“Which are then the so-called pathological sexual conducts or deviances, a.k.a. paraphilias?,” I ask Dr. Beatriz Castellanos. She explains they respond in the main to pathological motivations linked solely with the self-satisfaction of an individual who, consequently, takes no heed whatsoever of his or her partner’s pleasure, spiritual enjoyment or physical and psychological integrity, inflicting instead more or less serious harm on them. Such is the case of pedophiles, rapists, masochists and flashers, to name a few.
I tell the experts that I like deep-sea diving, and one time as I was getting close to the shore I had the misfortune to bump into an exhibitionist who had noticed that I was swimming underwater with my mask on and blocked my path with the twisted purpose of making sure that I could notice his genitals,
“See, those individuals have a pathological personality,” Dr. González said, and added that as a rule they find it very hard to develop emotional ties with and relating to the person they choose as a target of their sexual demands, since they not only have mental barriers to establishing such relationships: they don’t need them, nor do they seek them. On the other hand, their sexual performance is unvaried and poor, always following a compulsive behavioral scheme that responds exclusively to their pathological urges to attain personal satisfaction.
With their commentary, the doctors made it clear that the deciding factor in a human being’s pathological behavior is not directly related to the orientation of his/her sexual drive in a homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual sense, for all three categories, as ancient as mankind itself, have been known to include both sexually deviant and totally healthy or ‘normal’ personalities, as we usually say.
Further, the specialists point out that if we make a retrospective analysis in this regard, we will realize that among heterosexuals and homosexuals alike there have been lowlifes, perverts, lechers, and even criminals; people who have led an ordinary personal, familial and community life every inch of the way, and people who have made history through their great works, whether in art, science, politics, literature or any other field of knowledge.
There is every indication that a mere analysis of people’s sexual preferences will provide no information about their personal qualities or flaws, for these depend on the personality to which their sexuality belongs. Accordingly, to appraise a human being on the basis of just one sphere of their life, sexual or otherwise, is no doubt a big mistake. By so doing we would be taking into consideration only a few sides of his/her personality and thus making an unjust, prejudiced assessment
With the aim of helping you understand in greater depth the key aspects of sexual orientation, Dr. Alicia González, also a member of the Cuban Sexual Education Program’s technical team, proceeds to highlight some of the results achieved by U.S. sexologists William Masters and Virginia Johnson in their 14-year-long research work, based upon a comparative study of heterosexual and homosexual couples and individuals:
Homosexuals and heterosexuals are equally able of having orgasms and developing a sexual response, independently of the kind of sexual activity or its triggering stimulus. Ergo, there’s no difference between them or in the physiological changes and reactions of their sexual conduct.
Both can establish permanent and solid emotional and spiritual bonds and, ultimately, steady and enriching relationships with their partners.
Due to their predilection for the most diverse erotic games and forms of foreplay (a substitute for intercourse), homosexuals are capable of reaching high levels of physical interaction with their partners, very often outstripping heterosexual couples since in general they never assume the role of a ‘spectator’ our culture assigns to the man in a sexual relation, a custom shown to be a potentially serious obstacle to its success (find a detailed discussion in Chapter 10).
In its outward manifestation, homosexuality is not of necessity related to stereotypes such as effeminacy (in males) or masculinity (in females). There are homosexually-oriented men whose external deportment is perfectly masculine, as well as women who are 100 percent feminine, just as an effeminate individual is not necessarily a homosexual.
Being a homosexual is not in itself dangerous or ‘threatening’ to society, since a large number of them tend to have intimate and private relationships with adults of similar sexual orientation. On the other hand, the popular belief that they usually have a liking for boys or teenagers –more frequently seen among heterosexuals, conventional wisdom to the contrary– has been scientifically shown to be groundless.
“As is evidenced by these results, when a homosexual succeeds in creating an emotional sexual life with another similarly oriented adult and a private context –one that by no means damages their spiritual life– in which their bond proves more rewarding, the relationship makes it easier for that man or woman to fully fit in with and become a useful member of society,” says Dr. Beatriz Castellanos, director of ISPJAE’s Center for Educational Studies. She adds that, under these circumstances, homosexuals are by no means to be regarded as deviants or paraphiles and, therefore, there’s no reason for them to be discriminated against or pushed to one side by those around them.
“Of added significance,” she goes on, “because of so much prejudice against and stereotyping of homosexuals, people very often look down on them and become scornful, in many cases paving the way for these individuals to develop alienated and pathological personalities which may indeed give rise not only to disruption in their personal life but also to scandalous, shocking and in some instances deviant conducts, at times harmful to other people and definitely a hindrance to social adaptation.
These sexual education experts’ opinions zero in on the need to prevent cases of outright discrimination against gays and lesbians, an unfair and highly damaging attitude at that. They underscore that we have no right to marginalize a kindred human being just because his or her particular way of sexual expression is not to our liking, so long as it hurts no third parties. Within the framework of a proper behavior, each must be utterly free to decide how to live and express his or her sexuality.
Drs. González and Castellanos capped their comments with the assertion that
homosexuality is a many-sided and extremely complex phenomenon, what with every
gay and lesbian expressing his or her sexuality in a very personal way.
Consequently, we can only get them to lead a socially-friendly conduct by
allowing them to freely develop their sexuality and a harmonic personality
through which they learn to assume their sexual orientation maturely and
Things are not always what they seem to be
Studies made in various countries have it that, even though some homosexual men have effeminate manners, they account for no more than 15% of the homosexual population.
It’s also true, as authorities on the subject remark, that many totally straight men have either an effeminate tone to their voices or womanish gestures. Moreover, just as the number of lesbian women who look ‘manly’ is very low, neither is a woman with a certain mannish look necessarily a homosexual. Bear in mind there are homosexual doctors, attorneys, teamsters, professional athletes and politicians, just as there are heterosexual hairdressers or fashion designers. No occupational sector is strictly heterosexual or homosexual.
From another standpoint, research has shown there is not a single homosexual lifestyle befitting most gays and lesbians and their daily habits, a fact that comes as no surprise since some of them are homosexuals for life and others for a few years only. There are also many male and female homosexuals who are still "in the closet", trying to pass themselves off as heterosexuals in everyday life (including those who have married a man or a woman, as applicable).
Likewise, we find in this list those who openly acknowledge their
homosexuality, and others ranging from activists to conservatives to
conformists. Finally, there are some who keep an affective union throughout
their life with someone of the opposite sex, whereas certain homosexuals would
rather remain independent and have a greater proclivity for occasional sex. In a
nutshell, we could put forward any number of examples to show how diverse a
homosexual’s customs and styles of living can be.
All over the world, psychiatrists and psychologists specializing in this subject talk about how often they hear their gay and lesbian patients say they had been aware of their homosexuality already when they were five or six years old. Others, by contrast, declare that they were well into their twenties or even grown adults when they woke up to the realization of their true sexual identity.
Nonetheless – according to the experts’ experience – it’s not that simple for boys or girls to have such a clear idea of their sexual orientation. The feeling of being ‘different’ from other children which some adult homosexuals seem to reminisce about is not always an accurate indicator of the boy’s or girl’s future orientation, since many traditionally respectable people also felt "different" at an early age. Besides, an adult’s memories of his or her childhood, feelings and acts are most likely to be influenced by the social expectations about how a homosexual is supposed to feel.
Most studies on the topic of self-discovery of one’s homosexual identity indicate that, as a general rule, it happens during adolescence in the case of men and at a slightly later stage in the case of women.
Sexologist W. Masters has commented that, before adolescence, boys and girls are exposed to role models who are exclusively heterosexual –- as far as the eye can see, at least -– either at home, at school, on TV, in their textbooks, and in children’s literature as a whole. Added to our society’s instinctive presumption that everybody is heterosexual –- unless "proven" otherwise -– this means that children are all but invariably used to seeing themselves as heterosexuals bound to live their life in keeping with such roles.
How does anyone come to realize that he or she is a homosexual? The above-mentioned U.S. sexologist emphasizes that there’s no single mold which encompasses each and every case. Many gay men say that it was in their early teenage years that they first had some kind of sexual contact with a friend, which led them to think or suspect that maybe they were homosexual. Only after a period of confusion about their sexual identity did they really start seeing themselves as such, seeking the company of other homosexuals and thinking of ways to come to terms with their orientation in a heterosexual world.
Others contemplate their homosexuality even before they have an intimate experience with someone of the same sex, a suspicion they confirm by virtue of their positive bodily response during or following the sexual encounter or because they feel more at ease in the company of homosexual friends than they do with heterosexuals.
Pursuant to these facts, an inner battle frequently takes place in the mind of a homosexual. Self-awareness comes only in the wake of much mental dispute as the individual struggles to settle into the socially acceptable –- and accepted -– heterosexual pattern. After a period which may take years, and may even include one or more heterosexual experiences, the individual becomes convinced that fulfillment and happiness can solely be attained in a homosexual world.
As to lesbians, though some harbor no doubts about their sexual identity as early as in their teenage years, they usually cast out any thoughts along these lines, believing it’s just a phase they’re going through as befits a psychologically immature person. Sometimes they feel deeply about other women but stay clear of any physical contact with them, or perhaps engage in a true sexual experience the girl never describes as homosexual. Yet, all scholars agree that only after they have been involved with someone of the opposite sex do a very high number of lesbians embrace this sexual orientation.
Be that as it may, homosexuality is seldom a simple, linear issue. As Dr. W.
Masters asserts, there’s a big difference between discovering and accepting
homosexuality. To some gays and lesbians acceptance is no big deal, but many
choose denial and prefer to face the uncertain consequences of being a
homosexual in a heterosexual society, and more than just a few of them turn to
psychotherapy in hope of "getting over" this "awful" thing that’s happening to
them: they seem to only have eyes for people of their same sex.
Types of couples
Listed on the website Levox.com are various types of relationships which gays and lesbians commonly develop:
Closed couple: their relationship is very similar to the classic heterosexual
marriage. They get along fine in matters of sex, have very few friends, and
hardly ever go out with the specific intention of finding another partner.
- - Open couple: despite living together, they use to have sex with people other than their "official" partner, devoting to them a rather significant amount of time.
- - Functional gays/lesbians: they have not one but several sex partners that they frequently change without any major hitches. Younger in general than those in the two previous categories, they feel happy about themselves and are highly interested in sex.
- - Dysfunctional gays/lesbians: They rarely pair off and, for all their multiple sex partners and busy sex life, have a great many sexual problems.
- - Asexual gay/lesbians: More reserved about their orientation than the homosexuals of other groups, they show little or no interest in having either sex or a steady partner, and tend to be something else than exclusively homosexual.
We can also find on this website the results of a wide-ranging survey conducted in Spain about the above types of relationships. For the most part, those homosexuals who live as a closed couple, whether gay or lesbian, are usually as happy and adjusted as heterosexual men and women, unlike asexual and dysfunctional individuals whose psychological self is less balanced than that of heterosexuals and who find it very hard to make headway in life. Dysfunctional men are “the most lonesome, restless, paranoid, depressed, distressed and unhappy”, whereas women in the same group are more likely than others to “have needed long-term professional assistance to overcome emotional disorders”. In addition to being lonely people, asexual individuals as a rule shy away from contact with others, have no interest in having sex with friends or mixing socially within the gay community. The largest percentage of suicidal individuals was found in this group.
[graphic of one man caressing the chest of another, from behind]
Two souls, two bodies, two men who love each other.
They are going to be expelled from the paradise that had fallen to their lot.
Pablo Milanés ‘Coming out of the closet’
For some years, gays and lesbians who make their sexual preference known quite naturally have been said to have "come out of the closet". Not that they go around announcing it to all and sundry –- neither are there any heterosexuals shouting, "I’m straight!" from the rooftops -– but they admit it to their bosom friends, maybe even to their closest fellow workers. This assumption of their true sexual orientation can come to the forefront in the wake of a lengthy awareness-raising process that starts by confiding in one’s best friend and is largely dependent on that friend’s acceptance or rejection. Maybe the great friendship between them leads that person to try to convince him or her to give up the homosexual track.
There are cases where, depending on how much affection and trust exist between them, the individual’s mother or other relatives are the first to hear the confession. Yet, the very fact that other people are let in on it reveals a decision sprung from a process of mulling over, not without some stress fueled by a society which gives the cold shoulder to gays and lesbians and a sense of foreboding about whether or not the homosexual will be accepted, especially by his or her loved ones.
It’s often easier for homosexual men and women to "come out of the closet" amid other gays and lesbians than in face of their heterosexual friends or in a family circle. Now and then they decide to adopt a seemingly heterosexual way of life in order to avoid social disapproval, rejection or questioning. Not everybody has the strength of mind to remain emotionally impassive when they find out that they are "the talk of the town" or the subject for criticism, let alone contempt, from classmates, coworkers, neighbors or even their own family.
Most international studies have it that not all homosexuals give in on a regular basis to the pleasures of the flesh. It’s common for them to spend some time without knowing anyone who arouses them. Surveys have shown that male homosexuals are more sexually active than lesbians and tend to have many more sex partners than them. This, in my opinion, is due to the fact that the latter follow "standards" based on the very roles attached to and assumed by women, namely being more romantic, faithful and responsible as to the risks they take in their sexual behavior if they frequently flit from one man to another, not to mention that many of them have no use for hanging out at public sites frequented by homosexuals to loiter and make new friends.
Some months ago I received a letter from a lesbian who, despite living in a municipality as densely populated as Centro Habana, was asking me for names and addresses of other homosexual girls so that she could make contact with them, since she knew none and thus felt very lonely. Unfortunately I couldn’t help her, because only a small number of the thousands of letters I’ve received were sent by homosexuals, and, to top it all off, most have no return address.
It’s possible that the difficulty of finding a partner makes lesbian love more lasting and loyal, or maybe there’s some other reason. At any rate, there is a trend among the most health-minded homosexuals to live as a closed couple built on ties of faithfulness, mainly to protect themselves against HIV and STDs.
It’s traditional to educate girls in the belief that feeling erotically attracted to another girl is eerie and gruesome. Bulletin No. 20 of the Red Cubana de Genero y Salud Reproductive (Cuban Network of Gender and Reproductive Health), devoted to lesbian women’s health, includes an article by Laura Eiven on how curiosity in this connection is deemed unhealthy and the most common questions asked about it.
She points out that the most serious situation is that of lesbians still "in the closet" with themselves, that is, those who deny their desires and feelings for other women and strive to stifle them, an act of repression as likely as any other to take a heavy toll in terms of physical and emotional health, social integration, and personal growth.
Even those who have welcomed themselves as lesbians can be exposed to "closet situations" among their family, neighbors, friends, classmates or coworkers, Laura remarks. Sometimes remaining "in the closet" is a functional response to both a ‘lesbophobic’ environment and to specific threats to the woman’s life and well-being. Regrettably, this intolerant and violent world where we live is to be held responsible for the existence of those "closets" in which so many women are wasting away. But it’s also very common to see cases –- mainly adult women who live in urban areas, are economically self-sufficient, and enjoy ethnic, racial and educational privileges -– where being ‘in the closet’ responds to mechanisms more closely related to the burden of accepting oneself as a lesbian or to fantasies of neglect or rejection by family or colleagues as a result from a prior troublesome relationship or low self-esteem.
The author states that fearing –- or refusing -– the loss of social privileges
granted by heterosexuality also plays a key role herein. When "coming out of the
closet" is possible but the woman fails to do so out of fear, insecurity, shame
or other similar reasons, she will pay dearly in terms of her physical and
My son is a gay??? My daughter is a lesbian??? Oh, God!!!
On account of the reasons we’ve been discussing in this chapter, "coming out of the closet" is not an easy thing to do in our context. All Cuban specialists entirely dedicated to these delicate issues agree that finding out a son or a daughter is a homosexual can be a real bombshell for parents, many of whom take, if not drag, the child to a psychologist to get him or her "to cure them of this illness". When faced with a child’s firm determination to be gay or lesbian, and that they're not going to try to change, the icy winds of incomprehension can make a mother, and especially a father, reach unimagined extremes, to the point that they stop speaking to their son or daughter and even throw them out. After some time, however, when the adults get gradually used to the reality of their child’s homosexuality, peace is restored and things return to normal, though by and large a dagger of disappointment remains forever plunged into –- mainly -– the father’s heart.
Dr. Lázaro Hernández Coterón is a doctor of my acquaintance whose primary, frequent job is to mediate between parents and their homosexual children. I think the event he has been through in the Clínica del Adolescente (Adolescent’s Clinic) are worth mentioning here. For over ten years, he’s been seeing boys and girls suffering from what he clinically calls Sexual Identity Disorders. Those children are referred there by psychologists and family doctors, and sometimes at their school’s request, albeit most are taken by their own parents, alarmed by what they describe as a certain mannerism or effeminacy in their sons and the presence of mannish gait in their daughters.
The specialist comments in this regard that these boys and girls are taken to his office at a very early stage, between the ages of two and seven, as soon as the family notices in them any sign out of keeping with the socially accepted gender-related behaviors.
He also receives cases of, for instance, children whose deportment goes repeatedly along these lines, usually before puberty. Very few of them are teenagers who, as a rule, are forced by their parents into seeing a doctor, since they consider themselves to be in need of none.
Besides, he says, most of his patients are males who are neither aware nor conscious of what homosexuality is about and feel at ease with their morphological sex. Nevertheless –- he goes on -– it’s their fathers and/or mothers who bring them to his office, upset that the way their children act, play or behave is different from that of their peers or of any previous or later offspring. For the most part, these parents have run out of possibilities within their reach, including scolding and grounding, and complain their child just doesn’t seem to overcome what they label his/her ‘problem’.
All in all, when in a doctor’s office, boy’s parents tell very similar stories. They invariably start with dressing-downs or impositions: “You don’t do that”, or “That’s for a girl to do”. As the minor realizes that the grownups around him are not exactly thrilled with his games, he starts doing them behind their back. The use of lipstick, makeup, jewelry and women’s clothes is fairly commonplace, for they have a very good time with everything connected to a female’s looks and vanity.
The psychiatrist recalls the case of a boy who had a horse he played with all day long. His mother insistently groaned that her son “plays with his
horse nonstop, such a manly habit”. He never rode it, though. All the child did
was comb its mane and its long platinum-blonde tail.
Make my child change, doctor
Two parents arrive in a doctor’s office with their son; every now and then it’s the father, the mother and either’s new partner. They all come with the same yearning hope and a single request: “Doctor, make this child change”.
Their faces grow dark when the psychiatrist, Dr. Hernández Coterón, tells them
such is not the purpose of his consultation.
He can no more bring about such an effect than can the therapeutic services offered at the Adolescent’s Clinic can modify a child’s future sexual orientation which, incidentally, is impossible to pinpoint so early in their life. He explains to them that the roles assigned to men and women are but socio-cultural constructs which make us live under the constant pressure of powerful sexist stereotypes which demand girls to be tender, dependent and sentimental while forcing boys to be quite the opposite: brave, self-governing, bold…
Even though the psychiatrist’s follow-up of these cases has proved that between 88% and 92% of those children end up as homosexuals, it’s not until a person is 20 to 25 years old that his or her sexual orientation begins to take shape. Thus, no human being can be branded as anything at such an early age, nor can we talk about a clearly-defined sexual orientation before then and say the individual will grow to be homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual.
So saying, he explains that, precisely because they are boys and girls, his patients have in no way a clearly-defined sexual orientation; instead, all they do is show some disruption in the assumption of their gender roles and sexual identification. In other words, they lay aside the customary male and female molds and stereotypes, a fact which by no means makes them any better or worse, only different in their demeanor. Actually, it’s the adults who fail to cope with a child’s comportment not in accordance with the traditional one.
Making parents understand is a very hard task, only possible –- the expert remarks -– after a long time of clarification, not persuasion. He adds that, his efforts notwithstanding, he has talked to many parents who have blurted out things like (he quotes), “What you’re telling me is not what I expected to hear”, and some of them never come again.
Dr. Hernández Coterón notes that, except for seven girls, all his patients have
been boys in his many years as a doctor. Why so very few girls seems to be the
required question, and he answers that it’s not at all unusual these days to see
a girl running, jumping, competing with boys and even fighting against a boy in
self-defense. Whatever the case, it’s still unforgivable for a boy to take on
any traditionally female role.
The script of rejection
Every week the psychiatrist has one or two cases of a boy’s father with whom he has had an in-depth conversation, only to get a recitation of the usual script which goes like this: the father figure feels distinct or unconscious contempt for that boy whose conduct is contrary to his wishes, an approach taken by fathers of every cultural and economic standing. Some, not without pain, admit to the specialist that, should he fail to turn their boy into the he-man they expect, the child is "as good as dead" as far as they’re concerned, even if that’s a demand no one, specialist or otherwise, can possibly satisfy.
“If my son goes faggot, he will be no longer my son” is another phrase this experienced psychiatrist, graduated over 20 years ago, has more than once heard in his spacious office.
Dr. Hernández Coterón, whose therapy takes years and involves the whole family, helps his patients develop their ability to adapt to the surrounding environment, to understand their situation, and to learn how to defend and accept themselves, no matter what they want to be in the future. It’s quite important for a child to be independent, to feel motivated, to have interests, to design a plan for his or her life and, ultimately, attain a proper level of self-esteem. All these trainings and skills will allow them their own niche in a society where they can be useful both to themselves and to other people.
This therapy is extended to their parents, who eventually understand and accept their children as they are. Most importantly, they learn to coexist.
After years of therapeutic efforts, he states, you get to establish the necessary doctor-patient communication, mainly as the latter grow out of childhood. They trust him when they realize he can not only get their drift, and smooth things over with their folks, but also defend them and accept that they are homosexual. Hence, they keep dropping by for a chat about their accomplishments and problems even after they’re 18, the age limit at the Adolescent’s Clinic. Dr. Hernández is proud to say that he never loses contact with his former patients.
He equally maintains ties of friendship with many parents, more so with mothers,
who are, for the most part, more receptive and amenable. Not long ago, he
recalls, a former patient’s mother came to see him (that young man has a
homosexual partner nowadays) and told him: “He’s my son before anything else,
and I will accept him in every way and stand up for him wherever I have to. I’d
give him my own bedroom if that makes him happy and keeps him out of the
Starting a life
During my visit to the psychiatrist, he commented, too, that he has seen males who failed to come to terms with their own homosexuality when they were young and instead opted for religion, if not for sexual self-repression, to the extreme that they choose not to have any partner whatsoever.
According to international statistics, it’s common for some teenagers with a homosexual-like behavior to commit suicide when they fail to solve their conflict, which involves both their own family and society at large.
He reminds us that experts on this subject worldwide hold dissimilar views: some speak about a multiplicity of genders while others support the existence of a third sex, a matter of widespread debate and innumerable differing positions. In sum, they are nowhere near agreement. Rather, there are approaches and theories now discarded, now embraced, all far from any scientific consensus.
Beyond academic debate is many people’s real-life drama, that of human beings looking for some space. Beings, sexual like everybody else, with values, feelings and capabilities, by no means forced to put up with either derision or mockery.
In order for you to really fathom these teenagers’ quagmire and to gain some ground on the path toward a stance of respect for difference and diversity, I have no better argument than the following testimonies, forwarded by some of Dr. Hernández Coterón’s patients, which he kindly made available to me so you could read them.
I can’t adapt to the idea of not being a male. I want to get better, but to no avail. I don’t know how far I can go; sometimes I’d like to live without responsibilities, without problems. I’d like to act like a man. The world is like it is and not like you want it to be. Sometimes you don’t get what you want most in your life. I have resigned myself, but if I could change the world I would’ve been a woman rather than a man; I would’ve been happier in every way without making anyone suffer.
I, (…), hereby declare that my childhood was rather inactive, since I liked playing with dolls, or playing house or jacks… in short, all the games which girls played, hard as it was for me to play with other boys, which I only did when my dad threatened to spank me.
When my parents were not at home I would put on makeup, dress with my mom’s clothes and shoes, and wrap a towel around my head (to substitute for long hair).
At school I was a silent, shy boy; I tried to stay out of trouble, scared as I was of fighting with others, so I would hang around with the girls, and I turned effeminate as a result.
I found out I was gay in high school, during my first School-in-the-Countryside period . I realized I was very attracted to men as I saw them exercising or taking a shower.
I was so confused and alarmed. I had one or two girlfriends then, but nothing serious, until I met this man who not only became my sexual partner but also taught me things and took me to places frequented by homosexuals. It was a problem at home, for I would disappear for days on end or stay out until the early morning. Not to mention the countless times my folks would berate me when they saw me talking with another homosexual.
Things were becoming difficult for me, so I decided to tell my mom. She was deeply hurt as soon as I spilled the beans but had no negative reaction against me. On the contrary, she tried to help, and told me that seeing a psychologist was the only way to save me. That’s when she took me to the Adolescent’s Clinic, where I had a great time since the doctor opened my mom’s eyes to everything and she, in turn, helped some of my dearest relatives understand.
I still share my life and mix with other gays, behaving right like the next person because with them I don’t feel different, or strange or despised.
(Dean, before being treated in the Adolescent’s Clinic)
Believe me, doctor, it was no child’s play to write about such a sad thing for me. My parents divorced when I was very little, and I stayed at home with my mother and an overprotective aunt. I always was a weak boy; I don’t know why I just couldn’t mix with other boys.
It was some years before my mother got married again, and then they started to notice in me some things that were hardly appropriate to my sex. All during primary school I was everybody’s plaything. Still, I never learned to throw a punch or a stone, or to play baseball or marbles.
Since I was a little boy I’ve been vainly in and out of a lot of psychologists’ offices, trying to find a solution to the fix I’m in. I always thought my difficulties in mingling were unique. I first started to care for people of my own sex when I was in high school, but I merely took it for admiration, given that I’ve been in love with a number of beautiful girls, though I never felt sexually attracted to them.
I’m telling you all this because I trust you and I think you can help me. I wept bitter tears at the film Strawberry and Chocolate. That’s not what I want for me. Nor is it what my parents expect and have taught me. I often wonder, me, a faggot? Where’s the road to real happiness? I don’t think I can get over this. I don’t understand myself; I don’t even like faggots, and I’m scared of being one.
Doctor, God created man to unite with a woman and start a family, but what about love? Why does it play dirty tricks on us? There are times when I feel weak as a woman; other times I feel strong, up to a point.
Homosexuality would be a happy choice should society be ready to accept it. But then again, you fall in love with a man who’s not queer, and what do you do? I want to have children of my own who can have both a father and a mother, and be happy with my partner. If my family ever finds out about my inner feelings, my life would be meaningless.
I’m sort of noticing a girl at school lately. It’s not sexual attraction; just that she’s so different from others. She’s special to me. I’ve lost my bearings completely; I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I wonder, what did I do wrong?
(Dean, after being treated in the Adolescent’s Clinic)
Accepting myself! I never thought I could accept myself exactly as I am. I don’t know whether there’s any room for happiness in my life, but at least I have the right to try with all my might. I’ve had a sad past. I don’t think about the future; I just want to live the present and go on.
I’ve got a lot of self-confidence and I no longer feel like a loser, for being in love, however expressed, will never be a sin. I believe I’ve got a lot to give. Keeping my pride, respecting everybody and demanding their respect is a line I expect to always follow.
I guess that as society moves forward there will be more tolerance and understanding. I will never be a flasher or display shocking conduct. My intention is to keep studying, upgrade my qualifications and to learn more with each passing day. I intend to be admired by others on account of my knowledge and personal attitude. I don’t want anybody to ever point a faultfinding finger at me.
Every day I do my best to be more supportive and sympathetic. I want to be overwhelmed with joy and appreciate life’s many beautiful things to which I never paid heed, restrained as I was by shyness, fear of making a fool of myself, and the complex I had. Live your life and don’t give a hoot what other people might think.
Now, when go out, I walk neither quickly nor with my eyes fixed on the ground, but holding my head up high and watching everything around me. Being gay was not my choice, so why does this happen? God alone knows.
You’ve got feelings that spring up from deep down; if you hold them back, you become the most miserable person on Earth.
When the time comes to thank the Lord, I’ll always remember those who helped me
understand myself as well as countless other things you need so bad to start
living your life.
Gay sells too
“Beyond bones, muscles, spongy entrails, blood, water, veins, debris, and mysterious, unfathomable cavities, the body is, above everything else, a tale. Your body is formed as an expression of what we are and makes us different from others. The body of men and women is a cultural space where the discourse on what we deem to be masculine or feminine also takes shape”. These are the opening words of Master of Communications Isabel Moya Richard’s paper “Lo gay también vende” (Gay sells too), where she shows how men’s and women’s bodies are used in advertising campaigns to convey and impose an ideology, a way of life, roles, and stereotypes, and, at the same time, boost consumerism. She also lays a strong emphasis on how profitable gays and lesbians are in terms of profits for the big clothing and cosmetics companies.
On this matter she reminds that up to only a few years ago there were hardly any cosmetics for men other than some brands of perfume and deodorant. Yet, a demanding society that fosters youth as strongly as it belittles old age on one hand, and the need to find new products to sell on the other, have laid the foundations of a whole industry of cosmetics for men that comprises creams, bath gels, anti-wrinkle ointments, hair dyes, and so forth.
Imagery in the ads designed by big international man’s cosmetics and clothing consortia has gone from sexually ambiguous to homosexually explicit, an expedient to increase sales, Isabel points out, rather than a recognition of the homosexual population’s right of sexual choice.
She quotes Vicente Molina Foix in her paper to describe the situation in Spain:
“Homosexuality is fashionable, at least according to the heterosexual majority. The journal Zero itself carries in its pages an amazing amount of ‘non-tendentious’ advertising, including an ad by a major airline proud of having extended its cheap flight offers to same-sex couples. And turn on the TV set, where there’s no variety show without its own organic sissy, no after-dinner talk-show without a venomous armchair queer, and no self-respecting dramatic series without a pet-like gay character. Has macho country changed so much? Or are we still attached to plain fable?
In my opinion, there hasn’t been any deep change of attitude: just a handout, which we’ll call a quota to keep up with modern times. Homosexuals in Spain are receiving the percentage of tolerance allocated by a good conscience hastily brought up to date.”
Isabel Moya, also the director of Mujeres magazine, remarks that the technique of creating incentives based on the use –and abuse– of eroticism, libido and sexuality were ramrodded in the 1940s through commercial ads, mostly presented by women, ranging from veiled allusions to explicit images of males and females. Nonetheless, even if most of these pictures emphasize heterosexuality as the pattern regarded as typical, the use of vague images played an increasingly important role over the years until –and mainly– the late 1990s, when they faded out to make room for explicitly homosexual messages conveyed by the abovementioned communication strategy.
Further on she submits the following accurate comment by Fernando Javier Crecente Romero: “Homosexuality has been one great taboo in the world of publicity, but also a highly valuable gold mine that copywriters exploit on the grounds that this public segment is usually well-off and with the excuse that this kind of imagery is no longer a cause of social rejection”.
How is the body portrayed in these ads? To this question the Master in Communication replies that unlike back in the seventies, when the gay art images were dominated by the prevailing aesthetic ideal of a slim, very androgynous figure (it’s hard to tell a man from a woman just by the clothes) that even paved the way for the so-called ‘unisex’ fashion, the nineteen-nineties brought along the enthronement of plenty of muscle and little body hair.
Some people are of the opinion –she says– that things changed owing to the outbreak of AIDS and the resulting eagerness to have a healthy-looking body, the prelude to the ‘gay gym culture’ that soon expanded across society.
Such aesthetic criteria have spread to become virtually a canon of male beauty to gay and straight individuals alike, according to Isabel.
Even if it has no direct impact on our society, it’s important to keep this fact in mind, given the occasional, if indirect, access we have to such realities and, above all else, our need to understand the way sexuality is contemptuously manipulated and discrimination camouflages its ends with pretenses of ‘tolerance’.
For that reason, Isabel underlines, by assuming one’s sexual choice as a human right we remove from it all traces of contrivance, exoticism, deviousness, opportunism and fashionableness and may see it instead as people’s full-fledged expression in its entire diversity.
Nevertheless –she concludes– the way these advertising campaigns are using the issue of homosexuality proves that ‘gay sells too’, but ‘macho is still in charge’.
Sexual violence [excerpt, Chapter 12]
I’d like to finish this last –- but not least -– chapter by presenting you with the story of María Inés, a 34-year-old woman trapped inside a cycle of violence.
A homemaker and the mother of two little boys, she’s gone so far as to hate sex, what with the countless times her husband has forced her into it despite her objections. What’s more, her particular aversion to intercourse, a long-rejected activity, has caused her to shun any kind of sexual desire. María Inés never says no, though, believing it’s just one more duty in a list of obligations that marriage brings with it.
Her husband is a violent man, so she fears saying no will only fuel his anger and bows instead, quietly and submissively, to a sexual manipulation she endures without a word of complaint. Should María Inés be told that she’s a victim of sexual violence, it’s more than likely that she’d look confused and ask something like, “Who, me?”.
The incidence of this type of violence between partners, whether or not linked by marriage, is not exactly known because many women are simply unaware of the fact that they’re being submitted to violence when arm-twisted into a sexual act they’re unwilling to perform. It’s also a form of hushed-up abuse that women of all ages usually draw a veil over.
From the legal viewpoint, sexual violence is any action that requires an individual to have a sex-related contact, either physical or verbal, or otherwise have another kind of sex-related interaction with another person, or that requires an individual to have a sex-related relation involving other people, through the use of force, intimidation, coercion, blackmail, bribery, threats, deception or any other means that cancel or limit that individual’s willingness.
Alejandro Caral, First-degree specialist in Forensic Medicine, provides important comments about sexual violence, one of the various forms of violence against women which remains largely unknown.
“Many people,” he remarks, “think that sexual violence is not as common as, say, physical or psychological; however, studies made in Cuba and other countries prove them wrong: it can happen as often. This is due to the fact that women zealously put these events behind them on the grounds that, firstly, it’s a matter of privacy and, secondly, they generally harbor ‘feelings of guilt’ when they’re assaulted and therefore fear social censure. What’s equally important, victims have been unable to acknowledge their situation as one of violence, much less that they have the right to report the event.
In Latin America, according to UNICEF statistics, only one of every three cases of sexual abuse is reported, and 80% of these reports involve girls and teenagers.
As stated by this expert from the Forensic Medicine Institute, among the various types of sexual mistreatment is rape, either attempted or consummated, a form of aggression whose impact goes way beyond violence proper, coming as a terrible blow to the victims’ liberty and dignity and creating a complex set of disorders in their integrity and their home, workplace, school and social environment.
Cuba’s Criminal Law defines as crime a number of acts based on sex. Title XI of the Penal Code, ‘Crimes against the normal development of sexual relations and against family, childhood and youth’, brings together all offenses that may be committed as regards this domain, namely:
Chapter 1: Crimes against the normal development of sexual relations, including rape, pederasty, lascivious abuse, procurement, trafficking in people and sexual offense.
Chapter 2: Crimes against the normal development of family.
Chapter 3: Crimes against the normal development of childhood and youth.
Each of the above crime figures are described in detail in our Penal Code, and there’s also the Resolution of the Council of State to sanction and put into effect the “National Action Plan to Follow Up on the Beijing Conference”, telltale signs of a political willingness to do away with any kind of oppression for reasons of class, gender and race.
Frequency and characteristics
In his Master’s Degree thesis work "Characterization of sexual violence from a gender-based perspective", Dr. Alejandro Caral identifies both the victim’s and the victimizer’s socio-demographic features according to their sex and the most frequent forms of sexual violence.
Girls were victims of lascivious abuse and corruption of minors, whereas young female adults were victims of rape or attempted rape and procurement. The underage girls were students, and the adult women were single, unemployed, and with a primary education. The offenders in turn were young, single, unemployed men with neither a criminal record nor any mental disorder.
On the basis of the evidence he gathered, Dr. Caral could verify that rape –- attempted or consummated -– happen as a rule in the open, at night or in the early morning, by an unknown person who resorts to physical violence. Lascivious abuse and corruption of minors, on the other hand, usually take place during the daytime, in a house other than that of the victim’s, by someone related to his or her interpersonal environment who uses no physical violence.
It’s important that people in general, and young people in particular, be acquainted with these findings about the victimizers’ mindset. As pointed out by Dr. Caral, conventional wisdom has it that the individual who commits this type of crime is mentally ill or crazy, or someone with a sexual disorder, emphasizing that his research revealed that only 0.86% of the victimizers (one case) had a mental illness.
Further studies made in other countries agree that very few of the victimizers have a mental problem.
Drs. Gliceria Lleó and Ernesto Pérez are also experts at the Forensic Medicine Institute. They carried out a research on sexual mistreatment and concluded, among other things, that most adult victims of sexual crimes are single women under 30 who have a job or go to school.
Besides, their study shows the victimizers to be young, mostly single men with a secondary education who have a job and whose age is similar to their victim’s. They mainly committed their crime in isolated places, at night or in the early morning, and by gory means.
For all, that rape figures in Cuba are nowhere near the rates of other countries in the region and our laws are extremely harsh with rapists, I included this topic in the book with the intention of warning young girls and women (though boys are not without risk either) to take good care not to get in a tight spot.
I advice you to stay away from unsafe dark, isolated places when it’s late at night and you’re all alone, and be always wary of any adult suspiciously kind or "affectionate". You must also keep in mind that the victimizer is sometimes a person known to your family, who visits your home and is often in friendly terms with the girl or teenager he’s set his sight on. The bottom line is: the minor knows him and, for that reason, coming from someone never expected to nurse such intentions, the sexual assault usually comes as a surprise. At times, this despicable, rapacious character "works" on his victim, giving her gifts or making her feel special with his deference.
One of the Cuadernos de Sexualidad (Notebooks on Sexuality) made by the Colombian Ministry of National Education as part of its sexual instruction program offers a number of tips to prevent sexual abuse:
→ Reinforce in girls and teenagers the need for and right to communication with
family members, teachers, doctors and other qualified people, and encourage them
to say what they think and feel as well as to hear what the other person thinks
and feels. This is pivotal to provide an atmosphere of confidence in their
family and, particularly, their parents.
→ Instill in them the following convictions: “My sexuality is valuable and belongs to me; I must protect it and share it only of my own free will”, and “I can and must say NO whenever I want to”. By strengthening the right and ability to express it we provide girls and teenagers with a certain tool to defend themselves from sexual abuse. Parents and other relatives in general must specifically instruct their daughters to decline any gift or invitation from strangers or even from someone they know, for that person might expect something in return.
→ Girls and teenagers must be fully convinced that they can count on their family, teachers and other people they may talk to before or after they were sexually abused, which will help them prevent the event or else get over the resulting trauma.
→ Any dialogue on the subject should be based on affection, respect and serenity to keep the minor from panicking (a reaction that even leads them to be scared or leery of any physical or verbal token of affection or esteem). Reinforcing their rights to and feelings of safety is what matters.
Letter to the parents
This book can’t be ended without going over some issues closely related to the parent-child relationship, for one way or another the problems teenagers talk about in their letters concern you as much as it concerns them. Some of the conflicts they describe even involve you directly.
Moreover, we should bear in mind the central role a family plays in their children’s education. After all, today’s teenagers are tomorrow’s parents. It’s a single issue seen from different angles. Understanding this helps us all.
For many years now, whenever a boy or a girl comes to see us, we seize the opportunity to talk with their parents, and the results are always better than when we don’t. This doesn’t mean that we shift our attention away from the teenagers or stop counting on them for every step we need to take.
So, why is there so much friction and trouble between each other?
At first, the relationship between parents and children is very close. The adults’ devotion to and love for their little ones is easily perceived when the latter become fathers and mothers themselves later on.
As the child grows and starts participating in school, sports and social activities, his or her interest for many things of the outside world increases and a gradual separation takes place which becomes all the more obvious when they’re teenagers and start seeking independence and individualization. It’s around this time when they feel embarrassed by the very same cuddles they used to love in previous years and shun kissing and playing like the plague. Girls no longer like to sit on their father’s lap. They become unsociable and self-centered, and change so quickly and frequently that mom and dad are left with their mouth fallen open in astonishment, without a clue as to how or why their child is different from that of earlier days.
Neither figures out what’s going on. Things at home turn odd: peace, tenderness and understanding seem to have flown away from the family circle. Children refuse to go out with their parents or to be led by them, in their minds the rarely-voiced perception that their folks, no matter how young they can still be, are old-fashioned and outdated.
Such being the case, parents get upset, suffer a great deal, and see in their child a cold, scheming, selfish, uncaring, ungrateful, stubborn person, just to cite a few adjectives. Generally speaking, this doesn’t tally with reality. What happens is that at these ages there’s a psychological "split-up" which may even be necessary for the boy or girl to attain adulthood. Then everything goes back to normal and a peaceful, loving atmosphere is restored. On one hand, the child is more mature and his attitude, when all’s said and done, is nothing but a mirror of many moral standards he or she learned as a youngster. On the other hand, parents have learned to treat their offspring as adult,s a very pleasant rapprochement which makes everybody happy.
I think adolescence is life’s most difficult stage to understand due to its constant unfolding, as befits hormonal development and taking into account the effects of a set of conduct-shaping social factors.
Centuries ago, teenagers were different from those we see today. During feudalism, the son would always be with and learn from his father, becoming an adult without any serious difficulties. To some extent, maturity was marked by the individual’s ability and training.
Present-day parents grumble, and rightly so, that they were different, a claim forever to be seen from one generation to another. We must be optimistic, instead of sweating over small differences which are only normal to boot.
It’s advisable not to mistake this process with moral and ideological deviations teenagers may undergo which may even compromise the full development of their personality. By this we mean criminal behavior and other symptoms of failure to adjust, like drinking or taking illegal drugs, of which much is said, mainly through the mass media. Succumbing to such habits can cause a serious disruption in, if not jeopardizing, any teenager’s life. This is not to be misread as the psychological phenomena of ordinary adolescence.
I understand the problem lies precisely in being able to distinguish one thing from the other, an even harder task when some kind of improper conduct develops in combination with other common, or at least acceptable, comportment.
It’s important to remember that parents must be on top of things irrespective of their child’s initial lack of understanding. It’s also necessary, if not indispensable, to change the method applied from when that child was a baby. Now, it’s about someone who takes offense at the slightest warning of danger or possible mistake and who is eager to make a lot of decisions about his or her life regardless of their lack of experience.
How many times have the following and other similar phrases been heard?: “Dad, I know what I’m doing, I’m not a fool”, or “Look, mom, I’m not a little girl anymore; nothing’s going to happen to me just because I come home a little late”.
It’s true that all this can be quite distressing to any family, but we insist that the methods of control have to be different from those used when the children are in primary schoo. As they grow up, parents have to learn to change their treatment and concessions. A child’s degree of liberty at 12 can’t be expected to be the same at 15, and so it goes from one year to the next.
The question of ethical values, personal responsibility, formal education and respect for other people, regardless of their age, arouses interest too. A whole chapter could be devoted to each of these issues –- partly covered by this book -– but it’s impossible to satisfy every human expectation and concern with just a few paragraphs. Still, we’d like to say something about how much it means to children that their parents be able to set a good example while raising them from their tender infancy until they reach maturity. There are no two ways about it.
There may be faults or negative influences at any given time, but a well-oriented, lovingly designed continuous education works wonders for teenagers. When they grow up in the bosom of a family of properly principled, thoughtful people who care about one another and also see to it that the children be aware of their doings and their life in general, it’s more than likely that they will stay clear of problems in the future.
Children thoroughly enjoy this part of a smooth day-to-day exchange abounding in human experience, and like to listen to their folks when they talk about their job and what their day was like or telling stories of their grandparents or anecdotes about the children themselves when they were babies. It’s easy these days to awaken interest and curiosity in a child, inasmuch as they hear and see their parents’ positive qualities and add them to their own life, which is richer in fantasies than we can imagine. Hence the importance of children’s stories. Whatever the heroes they look up to and cherish say or do is engraved in their memory and their heart. It's interesting how a child likes to hear the same story a hundred times, to the extent that they learn it by memory and can correct their father or mother when they leave out a detail or make any change.
We have gone all the way back to a child’s first years because the sooner we engage in the great battle the easier it is for us to win. Some people employ inadmissible arguments to justify the lack of communication with their children: insufficient time, too many responsibilities, exhaustion, etc. A personality never awaits the right time to develop itself; its formation begins from day one and nothing will stop it, so there’s no use in delaying its outset while in the process of waiting for better conditions. The parents’ overall performance must be based first and foremost on an all-embracing attention to their children’s affairs. A close, warm, affectionate, straightforward bond allows to put a limit on a minor’s behavior, demand discipline as befits his or her age, and implement corrective measures if need be.
No matter how much you love your children, you shouldn’t try to please them all the time. A just and firm "NO" now and then educates more than many unconscious and undeserved "YESES". To this end, you have to encourage feelings of trust in them, respect for and love for their parents. When the time of their psychological "take-off" arrives, the adolescent is furnished with many positive elements to make their entry into adulthood. Their fondest and most beloved childhood memories will be with them, never to be forgotten, albeit it’s only natural that life will demand great efforts from them and put most of their values and abilities to the test along the way.
Knowing all this is crucial to young couples. A child must not be born by chance or mistake, but rather be the product of a serious, well-thought decision taken by both members and based upon profound convictions about the meaning of raising children and taking on parental duties. Satisfying the child’s material needs is important, but not everything by a long shot. There are people who think that living to a fault and rolling in money is what counts, but that’s useless and even counterproductive when it comes to educating children, because such a lifestyle forges neither their character nor their personality.
Providing an education, giving affection and setting examples are priceless tools that no largesse or openhandedness will ever replace, although it’s true that a gift may bring with it a message of fraternity and acknowledgement and therefore be encouraging to the child who receives it.
As to me, I take great pleasure in talking with both parents when they come to my office searching for guidance and help. It’s not always the case, though, for sometimes they’re divorced or separated and it’s not unusual to realize the estrangement has extended to their children. Being a good, efficient and caring parent is a duty as much filial as it is social in nature. Trying to know and understand your offspring, sharing their concerns, and enjoying their company, all turn parenthood into an agreeable experience that other emotions find it hard to replace.
We had intended to write a message for the parents of teenaged children and ended up instead by addressing those young men and women soon to become parents. We can only hope we succeeded in conveying to you some ideas that invite reflection and careful consideration of these consequential issues.
Doctor Elsa Gutiérrez Baró