The often secret wish to transform oneself into something quite different from what we are seems to be inherent to some human beings. In Cuba, the first notable example of transformism came from writer Severo Sarduy: he felt a unique devotion for “painted bodies” creating wonderful characters such as Cobra, Cocuyo and Colibri.
In the last couple of decades, and thanks to the tolerance exhibited by the State, this desire to change sex, transvestism, has manifested in Cuba as both transvestism and transexuality. Besides involving the circuit of personal freedom, transvestism transcends towards culture and identity in a global sense. Transexuality particularly impacts on social aspects, transforming the mentality of the environment or at the very least involving it in controversy.
As a symbol of these experiences, sometimes more dispersed and sometimes more organized, there is the case of Pedro Manuel González Reinoso (La Roxy). I first met him at UNEAC about twenty years ago. He was then a shy young man from the provinces, terribly contemplative and possessing great repressed intensity. Over time he has become a great friend to several important Cuban writers and for the rest of us he has become the mythical and everyday being named Pedrito.
In the midst of the Special Period in the 1990s, Pedrito left his job as an economist to take up hairdressing. He set up an underground beauty salon in his home in the city of Caibarien, known as the White City (Villa Clara province). In dealing with his clients, all hoping to achieve some different look, his fantasies were stimulated even further and the need to exteriorize these delirious beings struggling inside him grew.
For Pedro Manuel González Reinoso, transvestism became a very serious way to deal with reality and to take on the challenges of memories. He also assumes it as an almost infinite possibility to reveal his playful nature and bring it into contact with an audience, thereby enriching his aims.
And so the character that gave him fame inside and outside of Cuba was born: Roxana Rojo, a Russian woman who remained in Cuba, totally “Cubanized”. Her assumed experience is a powerful one. She had even been through the horror of concentration camps and she wanders through all these events that marked her as a human being.
Roxana Rojo appears as a character in 1994 and it is truly fascinating how Pedrito constructs her not just as a subject (the spiritual) but in terms of physical craftsmanship affected by the noticeable lack of resources at the time. Roxana was put together with scraps, a little from here, a little from there. With a lot of ingenuity, molding a body out of foam, stealing his mother’s stockings, he started wearing skirts and invented a new appearance for himself.
As he tells it, the transformation was difficult because of his circumstances: there were no wigs and he had to piece them together with some synthetic material, vegetal fibers similar to henequen, combing it out endlessly and then dying it. It was the same problem with fake nails. He used to make them out of plastic bags. It was a complicated process to prepare this new person for her stage debut.
Roxana Rojo never presented us with a stereotype: quite the opposite. She was a mass of contradictions and dreams that could touch on the most surprising fantasies. The decisive process happens in front of the dressing room mirror. It is the moment when one face is hidden in order to give way to a new one. So, bring on the eyelashes, makeup and lipstick that all come together to bring delight to the audiences waiting in their seats.
The appearances of Pedro Manuel González Reinoso took place at the Mejunje Cultural Center of Santa Clara, on Marta Abreu Street. Since the mid-1980s when it opened, it has been the pride of local residents. It is a cozy place and its bar called Tacones altos alludes to the Almodovar film of the same name. The center was home to Pedrito/Roxy’s one-man shows and he was also asked to entertain at national events such as small-format theatre festivals. Audiences enjoyed his shows which invited them to reflect upon some of the central issues in their lives.
These lives of Roxy Rojo were permeated with a sort of nostalgia, a complete love/hate relationship that Cubans have with the former USSR. We have to remember that this Russian woman makes her appearance just a few years after the fall of Eastern Europe when Cubans as a nation were suffering the ravages of that downfall.
At the Havana Book Fair of 2010, Vidas de Roxy (Roxy’s Lives) was presented, stripping bare the nature of this Russian woman to give us a biography of a totally fictitious person simmering with memories. She was here to stay among a group of Cubans who by now have no intention of saying goodbye to her.
Pedro Manuel has not limited himself to Roxy Rojo; his desires and ability to multiply into other characters has become reality. He also impersonates Cuban artists for whom he feels a lot of respect, such as actress Eslinda Núñez and country singer Celina González.
The work of this Pop artist has often managed to poke around in open wounds. In a macho society like the Cuban, his has clearly been an important battle to tear away old prejudices and to move forward to the acceptance of diversity among human beings. His values are a significant contribution in Cuba and his creations have affected our cultural processes.
In 2009, La Roxy went on a successful and controversial tour of several Cuban provinces, collecting new admirers in the squares where the shows were put on. Her character is well-known in New York and right now she is preparing to travel to Spain where a new edition of the book Vidas de Roxy will be written.