Book review: TransCuba, by Mariette Pathy Allen

Allen TransCubaAllen, Mariette Pathy. TransCuba. Daylight Community Arts Foundation. 2014. $45.00. 142p. HC. ISBN 978-0988983137.

Until recently, Cuba would have been one of the last places imaginable to be featured in a coffee-table book of art photographs of people who are transgender. Wendy Watriss says in introductory comments, “A deep-seated macho culture was reinforced by the moral puritanism that has characterized communist rule throughout the world.” At the end of the book, there are interviews with Allen’s subjects whose experiences amply illustrate that observation. The text throughout is in English and Spanish.

Among the Cuban government’s recent developments is a change in how LGBT people are officially viewed, led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro Espin. Allen’s photographs document this new openness in scenes of homes and families, both in Havana and in smaller communities. There are also nudes and scenes of prostitutes waiting for work. A few photographs are of performers.

This is Allen’s third book portraying people who are transgender. Her empathy for her subjects has enabled the viewer to see them as ordinary and interesting, not exotic or other. At the same time, the book is a portrait of a nation in the midst of many changes, as Allen puts it, “I see transgender Cubans as a metaphor for Cuba itself: people living between genders in a country moving between doctrines.”

In addition to those who enjoy photography as art, TransCuba will appeal to readers interested in LGBT experiences, or in Cuba as it evolves. TransCuba is less consciously art than Transfigurations, an oversize book of black and photographs of people in transition, published in 2011. Libraries that are developing collections on gender identity will want TransCuba for its affirming and un-sensationalized portrayal of transgender individuals.

Carolyn Caywood, retired from Virginia Beach Public Library


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