On LGBTQ History Month, we remember and celebrate those of us who lived our truths at a time when to do so was a dangerous thing.
As one who has been out for almost 50 years, and who is thankfully alive to tell his story, I have been fortunate to add my own gay history to our community’s record. In addition to my own writings, I was interviewed by several historians (mostly regarding Miami-Dade County’s “gay rights” campaign of 1977) and was recently featured in an LGBT history exhibit at the History Miami Museum. So, when it came time for me to contribute an article for this year’s LGBT History Month, I decided that this would be a good time to write about myself.
Though I was sexually attracted to other men from an early age, I did not come out as a gay man until 1973, when I was 20 and living in Miami. It was a rough time to be queer, and there were several choices that I could have made. I could have stayed firmly in the closet, only coming out for furtive sexual encounters. I could have married a woman, fathered children, and kept my desire for men deep in the back burner. Or I could have left Florida altogether and moved to a more accepting locale, like New York City or San Francisco. Instead, I decided to stay in Miami and to be as openly gay as I could be under the circumstances. When I finally moved (1978) I only got as far as the next (Broward) county, where I still live today.
Though Miami in 1973 seems oppressive by today’s standards, I thought it was a good place to live. Like other Cuban boys of that age, I worked, went to school, spent time with my family and did my best to lead a social life. The one thing that made my life different from others was the fact that I was gay, and my social consisted of various attempts to get laid. It was not as easy as going on Grindr. For one thing, like most single Cuban boys (and girls) who grew up in the seventies, I still lived with my often-disapproving parents. I also lacked a car at that time, which meant that I needed my friends’ vehicles, public transportation or my own two feet to get around.
Despite all that, I had a great time. I was young, cute, Cuban and an eager bottom. Tricks were ready to come by, whether they be boys my own age; older men delighted by the fact that I had a mind as well as a body; or tourists whose visits to Miami were not complete without taking a Cuban to bed. Not having a car, I cruised gay venues near my parents’ Little Havana home: the Warehouse VIII on Calle Ocho; the Second Landing on Le Jeune Road; the Nook in Coral Gables; or Bachelor’s Two in Coral Way. Sometimes I found my way to Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, or a cruisy woodsy area in Virginia Key. I would enter a bar, buy a beer, and nurse it for hours while I worked my magic. If bars failed me there was always the Club Miami Baths on Coral Way, where something was always going on. Sometimes I did not have to enter a bar to meet a trick; more than once I was picked up on 27th Avenue by “straight” Cubanos in search of a bi-curious experience. Since most of us lived with our parents, my tricks and I often make do with the back seat of a car or a Calle Ocho motel that rented by the hour.
Queer Cubans in 1970s Miami lived mostly in the closet, which is why it was so difficult to organize them politically. But their social and sexual lives were hardly oppressive or depressive. In addition to Miami’s many gay bars (more than there are today) and other cruisy spots, there were private homes where we socialized. I learned much from older, gay Cuban men, who experienced antigay oppression at the hands of Fidel Castro’s minions as well as from Florida’s equally homophobic leaders. This was still the age of gay bar and bath raids, like the one that temporarily closed the Club Miami in 1975.
As in traditional Latinx cultures, gay Cuban couples were often made up of “masculine” tops (“bugarrones”) and “feminine” bottoms (“maricones” or “locas”). In Miami as in Cuba, effeminate locas were more obvious and more visible than other queers and were often the only ones that most Miamians were aware of. On the other hand, more masculine men-loving men, like the men who picked me up on 27th Avenue, were convinced that they were straight, even when they were having sex with another man, if they were tops. Though I am a bottom, I never considered myself to be feminine or effeminate, though I tried to respect those who were or are.
My glory days as part of Miami’s queer Cuban community only lasted for a few years. After 1976 I found a partner, became an activist, and moved on to other things. Still, this was an interesting period of my life, and part of my own small contribution to South Florida’s LGBTQ history.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.