University of Sussex
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The more feminine, the better!: Gender normativity among lesbian and bisexual women in Cuba

posted on 2023-06-10, 03:11 authored by Evelyn Browne
This thesis provides a critical ethnographic exploration of the lives of lesbian and bisexual women in Cuba, through the conceptual framework of gender normativity and homonormativity. It is based on interviews and ethnographic research with 33 self-identified lesbian and bisexual women and 23 policymakers, officials, academics, and other interlocutors, in Havana, Santa Clara, and Matanzas. Drawing on queer theory, it argues that Cuba’s strong patriarchal binary gender system provides a framework for normativity that lesbian and bisexual women navigate to gain moral respectability and social acceptance. Lesbian and bisexual Cuban women tend to uphold a narrow vision of normative femininity, which produces respectability and desirable social invisibility. Through traditional signifiers of gendered white moral respectability – femininity, having children, avoiding certain public spaces, (same-sex) marriage – women are able to access some level of normative invisibility and social acceptance. In contrast to a view of Cuba as increasingly tolerant and progressive for LGBTI people, this thesis shows that social and political support for lesbian and bisexual women relies on their correct performance of strict feminine norms. These findings resonate with recent literature arguing that Cuban approaches to LGBTI issues promote normalisation and normative incorporation of LGBTI citizens. This research develops the argument that normalisation of sexual diversity is built on a foundation of gender normativity, and excludes those who do not comply with gender norms, bringing a gendered analysis into the story of ‘gay rights’ in Cuba, which is often missing. Alongside other studies on lesbian and bisexual women across the world, this research shows that gender is key to understanding LGBTIQ experiences, shaping what is possible within lifeworlds, what is impossible, and what is aspirational. This contribution to the literature helps demonstrate how LGBTIQ lives are structured by gender norms, and why it is important to consider gender in our work.




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  • International Development Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

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