Desperate for Life

“On our erotic adventure, Hiram and I went as far as the Isle of Pines, where we could enjoy entire regiments. The recruits desperate for sex, woke up the entire camp when we arrived . . . All dictatorships are sexually repressive and anti-life. All affirmations of life are diametrically opposed to dogmatic regimes. It was logical for Fidel Castro to persecute us, not to let us fuck, and to try to suppress any public display of the life force” (92-92)

Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls is the story of a Cuban gay exile from birth to death. Arenas chronicles in detail his life on the island of Cuba, from the erotic to the despair and destruction. Most intriguing about his memoir is the irony. Not just the erotic being in the midst of despair, but the overthrowing of one dictator to only be controlled by another. The enforcers of the anti-homosexual revolution engaging in sexual relations is an outstanding paradox in the book and movie. I will discuss the portrayal of the paradox of Arenas and his friends having sex with military officers.

In the movie Arenas and his friends are confronted by an army regiment after dark. The scene begins in a menacing tone, but then Arenas boldly flirts with the head of the regiment. The next scene shows all of the men running around a fire naked. These men were repressed by the revolution and had no outlet. They were turning to the literal antithesis of their revolution, which they were charged with keeping intact, for release.

Arenas directly links the erotic and sex to life, and Castro’s suppression of sexual freedom is a suppression to their very life force. Arenas and his friends enjoying the erotic out of these army men’s desperation is another irony. This is due to the fact that Arenas and his friends are also desperate, their desperation is to live freely. They are taking their life back from their oppressors in a sense by enjoying the erotic from them.  Furthermore, in the movie it is significant that the director did not simply show a sex scene, which he placed throughout the movie. Rather, they are running around a fire. Fire, which symbolizes passion but also destruction. The men were playing with fire in the literal and figurative sense. They were living out their passions but could so easily be destroyed by the men they were expressing their passions with.

Arenas’s memoir was shocking, but revealed a truth about life in Cuba that is often overlooked. Island life in general, which is often romanticized is seen through a clearer lens in his memoir. Through his own sexual history, he reinforces the idea of the erotic being essential to life. Arenas expresses how desperate island residents are, but also their will to live. Moreover, his sexual relations with men from the regiment exemplify how their will to live and to have access to their life source made it worth risking everything for.

2 thoughts on “Desperate for Life

  1. I think it’s interesting that you point out the irony in the suppression of desire and eroticism albeit its ability to be carried out through the oppressor. It points to a subversion or usurpation of the regime’s power but not only by its subjects, but also through its overseers.

  2. I also found it interesting how you paired the idea of eroticism and sexuality (both considered free) with the police state of Cuba. I think it also important to note the irony of the Cuban residents being unable to escape the small island, despite the beaches being open to tourists and the island’s close proximity to the United States.

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