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A non-binary Cuban artist is born again in Spain

Nonardo Perea suffered persecution in his homeland

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Nonardo Perea (Photo courtesy of Nonardo Perea)

Nonardo Perea lives in Michel’s body. He uses it at will to be vulgar, angelic or diabolical, male or female. Nonardo can be whatever he wants. Michel, shy and withdrawn, hides behinds that alter ego that lends him his face and hands to show the world his claims as an artist.

Nonardo is an invention that comes to life in photographs, video art, performances, stories, installations, journalistic articles, ceramics, and whatever other format is possible, since Nonardo long ago lost any limits. His mind lost that ability as he reinvented himself as an empirical artist, as no one ever gave him the opportunity to attend art school.

He has been greatly misunderstood, mainly because his pieces overflowed with eroticism and Cuba is still too prudish to appreciate his queer art and his other works the regime has labeled as “politically incorrect.” Michel and Nonardo were discriminated against by society and the dictatorship that governs the country and represses anyone who does not agree with its dogmas.

Nonardo nevertheless overcame those barriers and began creating, without anyone’s guidance. He was first a writer and received some tools once he graduated from the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Literary Training Center in Havana. He won several competitions, such as the 2017 Franz Kafka Prize for his work “Los amores ejemplares” and the 2012 Félix Pita Rodríguez Prize for the novel “Donde el diablo puso la mano.”

In the visual arts, where he is usually very restless, he won the third prize for photography at the GendErotica Festival for “La casa por la ventana 2014” with his Vulgarmente Clásica project. He participated in the Bienal 00, organized by independent artists, with his “En la cama con Nonardo” project and presented Vulgarmente Clásica at Madrid’s La Neomudéjar Museum in 2019.

Nonardo belongs to the San Isidro Movement, a group of independent artists and intellectuals who fight for a democratic Cuba. That battle has also been fought through his art and in pursuit of LGBTQ rights, such as marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples, and an end to gender violence that remains a problem on the island.

Nonardo Perea used his art to highlight his opposition to Cubans voting on whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry. (Photo courtesy of Nonardo Perea)

Due to his work and political activism for a truly democratic Cuba, Nonardo suffered police harassment and Cuban state security agents threatened him with jail. Fearing for his life, he took refuge in Spain, a country where he feels he has been reform and from which he speaks with the Washington Blade.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Those who follow your art on social networks and off of them know you as Nonardo, but few know that your real name is Michel. How and why was Nonardo Perea born?

NONARDO PEREA: I remember starting my writing career and I needed another name that was not so common. I did a big search and I didn’t like any of them. I wanted a unique name if possible. One afternoon I was sitting in the living room of my house with my father and I told him about the need for a name. It was he who proposed Nonardo. At first it sounded a bit ugly to me, but then with Perea it seemed a little better. It had strength. I liked it because it began with “no”, denial, and was followed by “nardo”, flower, that is, Nonardo had a lot to do with me. Since then I started using it for all of my work, both literary and audiovisual.

BLADE: How does your artistic training take into account that you are an empirical creator?

PEREA: My artistic creation from the beginning was always very complicated, taking into account that I had to abandon my studies at an early age for inclusion reasons, so I have no academic training; then add to that that I am a very obvious gay. At one point in my teens I was seen as a person who was too feminine. The fact of looking like a woman was a problem when trying to fit in a macho and homophobic society. Where I first tried to break through was in writing. I started by attending literary workshops, where I won several contests quite quickly. I was never exempt from criticism and rejection of the themes that my narrations addressed, which almost always focused on LGBTQ issues and dirty realism. Many times I felt that being the way I am made many uncomfortable. But despite the rejections and bad times that I lived in various periods of my life, I continued doing narrative, and I also began to write articles about social issues for the Havana Times digital newspaper. Then, over time, I had the opportunity to apply to a video journalism workshop in Prague organized by the People in Need organization, and thanks to a woman I love very much, Clara González, who saw some potential in me, I was accepted to participate in the course, in which I learned some video editing, and received help with equipment that helped me to start doing audiovisual work with better quality. All my creative works have been done empirically, and above all I am an artist who works based on improvisation.

BLADE: You have ventured into artistic genres as different as writing, journalism and acting. How do you define yourself as an artist and why?

PEREA: I am a person who cannot be inactive. I spend every day of my life thinking about doing something new. Sometimes I have so many things on my mind, and the fact that I can’t do everything I want to do makes me feel a bit frustrated. I have no words to define myself, I can only say that in some way my creative processes have helped me to cope with the life that I had to live, everything I have done and do has served as a way of escape from reality and everyday life, I could no longer live without creating.

BLADE: In a recent interview you precisely declared that your art was a process of liberating yourself. What exactly do you free yourself from when you create?

PEREA: I free myself from the day-to-day, the everyday, my fears and censorship.

BLADE: In most of your visual works you work with your own image. Why?

PEREA: I use myself as an artistic object because in Cuba I lived in solitude for a long time. I somehow isolated myself and created a space of comfort in my home, a place where I felt more free. The confinement somehow helped me to stay away from society that did not tire of making me feel bad about my obvious homosexual condition in much of my youth. My literary proposals and art in general, on the other hand, were not taken into account. I always perceived that most people underestimated me, and proposing someone to collaborate with me on erotic photographs without receiving anything in return was complicated, and still is. I have control over my body. If I want to undress in a photo or in a video, even if I feel sorry, I strip myself of complexes and do it. If I want to take a photograph that is too vulgar, I also do it. I do not have to request permission from anyone to do so. I don’t put up barriers. I take a risk, then I think that they say what they want. I understand that I am doing a job where I express my personal and social problems, as a human being.

BLADE: You identify yourself as an androgynous person. How many difficulties has that brought you considering that you have lived most of your life and developed your work in Cuba, a country where macho and homophobic ideals still predominate?

PEREA: I consider myself a non-binary androgynous person, because I do not identify with any sex. I can feel at ease as a girl as well as a boy. I have no problem with male or female pronouns. I do not like to victimize myself, but I can tell you that the road has been very difficult, and it has been not only for me, but for many other gays and lesbians who have chosen not to hide their sexual identity in their lives and have had to fight against the world. Being who I am in Cuba has not helped me much in terms of being able to be recognized for my work, but being who I am has helped me to strengthen myself and to understand that I do not need the approval of any institution to continue creating. I am a Cuban artist and like it or not, a large part of my work was created in Cuba.

BLADE: Many Cuban artists prefer to separate their creations from politics and even refuse to give their true judgment on the situation on the island. However, your work has a high dose of activism against the dictatorship and in defense of LGBTQ rights. What consequences, professional and personal, has being an artist labeled by the Cuban regime as “counterrevolutionary” brought you?

PEREA: The main consequence is that I had to go into exile; leave the country where I was born, abandon my mother and family, my friends, my dogs and a lifetime. But I think it had to be that way. There was no other way than to say goodbye, because under no circumstances was I going to allow my creative processes to stop, and above all I was going to continue doing my activism. I know that perhaps I was not going to be able to withstand so much pressure from state security agents, who wanted me to collaborate with them to expose my colleagues from the San Isidro Movement. If I returned to Cuba right now, I don’t know what my life would have been like from that moment on. If being a counterrevolutionary means saying what I think, and being in favor of oppressed minorities, and being against a dictatorship that has left Cuba and its people in a nameless misery for 61 years, then I am a counterrevolutionary and with great honor. I have nothing for which to thank that country, where I was always seen as a freak, and what little I got was thanks to my effort and dedication, because while in Cuba I received criticism and obstacles for everything, for this reason they are collecting what they sowed with me, they do not expect roses from me.

BLADE: In Cuba, to be accepted as part of the official LGBTQ movement you have to share the ideology of the dictatorship, the same one that put equal marriage to a popular vote and represses independent activists. In your opinion, what are the dangers of “politicizing” the struggle of the Cuban gay movement?

PEREA: The danger is in seeing how it becomes politicized. While in Cuba, I never stopped going to the marches staged by CENESEX (the National Center for Sexual Education) and I will not forget how Mariela Castro (CENESEX’s director and the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro) herself politicized those mini-carnival marches with slogans in favor of the five spies imprisoned in the Empire (a reference to the U.S.), and with cries of “socialism yes and homophobia no.” I do not remember seeing any gay or lesbian carrying a sign demanding equal marriage, or demanding freedoms, or a law against gender violence. It is really pathetic considering that the system itself is the number one cause of the persistence of homophobia and constant abuse of people from the community, mainly transgender people, in Cuba, a country where your rights are constantly violated, either because of race or sexual orientation. Those marches were politicized by CENESEX itself in favor of a supposed socialism, which has never worked and will never work because that is a hybrid between communism and underdeveloped capitalism, and we all know that it is nothing other than a dictatorship, and of the crudest in history because it has managed to last for 61 years. If Mariela Castro and all her loyal followers politicize the march for their benefit, I don’t see why the community cannot independently arm its own fight in favor of the most basic rights of the LGBTQ community in Cuba.

IDAHOT, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade
A march in support of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia the National Center for Sexual Education organized in Havana on May 14, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BLADE: In what way has the forced exile that you have faced in Spain changed your work?

PEREA: Right now I continue to do what I want to do, regardless of being in Spain. I still feel that I am in Cuba. My vision as an artist has not changed much. I’ve only been here a year and seven months, although I believe that wherever I am, in some way my work will be linked to that of the island because I have not yet cut that umbilical cord that links me to the place where I was born and took my first steps. It is true that one acquires other mechanisms of creation and invoicing in the work while abroad, but at the moment I do not think that the focus of my work has changed much because of being in another country. Of course, here in Europe there are other problems that I may be able to take advantage of, but be that as it may, they will be appreciated from the perspective of an exiled Latin American artist.

BLADE: On a personal level, what has it been like to be a gay immigrant in Europe?

PEREA: I am very grateful for Spain, mainly for Madrid, which is the place where I have lived since I arrived in 2019. At the moment, I have not felt discriminated against because of my sexual orientation or because I am a foreigner. I have received emotional and legal support from the NGO Rescate, which welcomed me and where I have received the care that I never had in my own country. With all the social and political problems that may exist, it is in this country where I have somehow been able to know what true freedom is.

BLADE: What can we expect from Nonardo Perea in the near future?

PEREA: I am in another difficult moment in my life right now, because I cannot find a job, and I do not receive any money for my artistic work, so what I do is for the love of art and because I cannot stop building my own world. The COVID situation has managed to make things more difficult, not only for me but for everyone, but taking into account that I am an exile and that I have been here for a short time, it is very complicated. Even so, I eventually continue to make video art for the Vulgarmente Clásica audiovisual project, which I have been doing for several years. And more recently I started with a new project, “Maricón Tropical: Living in Madrid”, this one is a bit more comprehensive not to call it ambitious because I insert various artistic manifestations: Performance, audiovisual, literature, drawing and photography, and it is focused on my new life as an exile in Madrid, everything seen from a self-referential point of view, as are almost all my proposals.

BLADE: If you had to create a work that describes your life right now, what would it be like?

PEREA: I consider that my life, my true life, has started now, what it was before was not. For the purposes I was born on March 19, 2019, when I set foot in Spain. All the past is left behind. I want to imagine that the past was a bad dream. My “Maricón Tropical: Living in Madrid” project is a work that somehow reflects that past, which is unfortunately impossible to forget and it is also good that people know what that other life was like, but I focus more on the present, my current problems as a person who faces a new life as an adult who feels like a newborn. I can only tell you that my life’s work is in progress.

Part of Nonardo Perea‘s “Maricón Tropical: Living in Madrid” series (Photo courtesy of Nonardo Perea)
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Sports

Out Olympian Kenworthy & Paralympian Dunkin on Tokyo & LGBTQ Sports

“The fact that LGBTQ youth drop out of sports at twice the rate of their heterosexual & gender counterparts, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

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Screenshot via Los Angeles Blade

TOKYO – Gus Kenworthy is in Tokyo for the Summer Games, but not to compete. The  Olympic Gold Medalist recently joined Paralympian Gold Medalist Abby Dunkin in a Zoom conversation with Athlete Ally founder and executive director Hudson Taylor and the head of LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion for Procter & Gamble, Brent Miller. 

“I felt like I knew that if I came out, there must be someone else,” Kenworthy said. “I was like, there’s someone else in skiing or an action sports or another kid who is going to resonate with my story. And if I can even help one person, then it will be worth it.”

This group of athletes and allies tackled the difficult issues of coming out in sports, fears of rejection, suicide attempts and competing authentically as well as the controversy over transgender inclusion in sports, both at the Olympics and in high schools and colleges across the U.S. 

“Only 24% of LGBTQ youth participate in sports,” noted Taylor. “The fact that LGBTQ youth drop out of sports at twice the rate of their heterosexual and gender counterparts, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Dunkin credited Paralympian gold medalist Stephanie Wheeler as an inspiration both on the court and in everyday life as an out lesbian. 

“Stephanie really creates such a great environment for me and other athletes and also our staff, too, that were out at the time,” said Dunkin. “And that really impacted me to come out and be myself.“ Wheeler is also head coach of the Univ. of Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team. 

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, there are more than 142 out LGBTQ athletes competing in Tokyo, a record for any Olympic Games. And with trans nonbinary soccer player Quinn on their way to a potential gold medal, making history with out trans woman Laurel Hubbard and out trans BMX competitor Chelsea Wolfe in Tokyo, Miller says their first steps are inspiring to people all around the world, no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation is. 

“It’s about bringing people together, supporting people, creating mutual understanding, and really celebrating all of humanity,” Miller said. “And now for us, bringing those LGBTQ+ stories forward is critically important because we see the value of what sport can bring.”

Watch their conversation with sports editor Dawn Ennis by clicking here.

Equal Representation in Sports: Why LGBTQ+ Visibility Matters

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Arts & Entertainment

Rapper DaBaby pulled by Lollapalooza over homophobic comments

“Lollapalooza was founded on diversity, inclusivity, respect, and love. With that in mind, DaBaby will no longer be performing.”

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Screenshot from Rolling Stone Magazine's YouTube Channel

CHICAGO – In an announcement Sunday morning, the organizers of Chicago’s Lollapalooza Music Festival said they had pulled artist DaBaby from tonight’s closing show after a series of public homophobic remarks by the rapper last weekend in Miami at the Rolling Loud music festival.

On Twitter Lollapalooza officials wrote; “Lollapalooza was founded on diversity, inclusivity, respect, and love. With that in mind, DaBaby will no longer be performing at Grant Park tonight.  Young Thug will now perform at 9:00pm on the Bud Light Seltzer Stage, and G Herbo will perform at 4:00pm on the T-Mobile Stage.”

The Grammy-nominated rapper’s comments onstage at the Miami festival last weekend brought swift condemnation from other artists in the music industry including British Rockstar Elton John and Madonna among many others.

In the middle of his set last weekend in Miami the rapper told the crowd, “If you didn’t show up today with HIV/AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases, that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cellphone lighter up! Ladies, if your pussy smell like water, put your cellphone lighter up! Fellas, if you ain’t sucking dick in the parking lot, put your cellphone lighter up!”

DaBaby later issued an apology via Twitter that read, “Anybody who done ever been effected by AIDS/HIV y’all got the right to be upset, what I said was insensitive even though I have no intentions on offending anybody. So my apologies” However, the addendum in the same tweet of; “But the LGBT community… I ain’t trippin on y’all, do you. y’all business is y’all business.” was immediately decried as further proof of the rapper’s intolerance of the LGBTQ community.

Michael J. Stern, a Los Angeles attorney and a former federal prosecutor who is now a noted featured columnist for USA Today blasted DaBaby’s ‘apology;’

In his response to Dababy’s remarks Elton John, who founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, a nonprofit organization which funds frontline partners to prevent infections, fight stigma and provide care for the most vulnerable groups affected by HIV, responded in a lengthy series of tweets:

Madonna took to her Instagram telling the rapper to “know your facts,” before spreading misinformation. 

“AIDs is not transmitted by standing next to someone in a crowd,” she wrote on Instagram. “I want to put my cellphone lighter up and pray for your ignorance, No one dies of AIDS in 2 or 3 weeks anymore. Thank God.”

This year’s Lollapalooza festival, which is one of the first major festivals to return in full force since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, concludes Sunday with headlining performances by musical acts Brockhampton, the Foo Fighters, and Modest Mouse.

Dua Lipa ‘Horrified’ at DaBaby’s Homophobic Remarks at Rolling Loud | RS News 7/28/21

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Sports

IOC: ‘Trans Women Are Women’ Laurel Hubbard set to make sports history

Laurel Hubbard is set to make sports history on Monday and the International Olympic Committee clearly has her back

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Screenshot via CBS Sports

TOKYO – The director of medicine and science for the International Olympic Committee praised weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s “courage and tenacity” as she prepares for her upcoming competition as the world’s first out transgender woman Olympian. 

In speaking to reporters in Tokyo Thursday, Dr. Richard Budgett directly addressed those who have attacked and mocked the 43-year-old New Zealander and claimed she shouldn’t be competing with cisgender women, saying  “everyone agrees that trans women are women.”

“To put it in a nutshell,” he said, “the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015. There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation. So Laurel Hubbard is a woman, is competing under the rules of her federation and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games.”

Hubbard herself has not made any public comments except for a statement following her qualifying for the Summer Games, saying she was “humbled” by the support which had helped her “through the darkness” following a near career-ending injury in Australia in 2018.

Reports around the world have claimed Hubbard is the first trans Olympic athlete, which is actually not the case. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinn, a trans nonbinary soccer midfielder for Team Canada, last Wednesday became the first out trans athlete ever to complete in the Olympic Games. They posted about it on Instagram, saying, “I feel proud seeing ‘Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation. I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.”

The IOC is expected to review and likely revise its policies on transgender participation following Tokyo. Trans athlete and researcher Joanna Harper, who has advised the organization and other sports policy groups, told the Los Angeles Blade her recommendation will be for the IOC to continue to regulate trans athletes sport-by-sport. “There shouldn’t be a one-size fits all policy,” said Harper. 

She also noted how the mainstream cisgender media is consumed with coverage of Hubbard and missing out on the bigger picture, and what it will mean for the next generation watching on TV and online. 
“The lack of attention paid to Quinn and to Chelsea Wolfe has been interesting,” said Harper.

“A few news outlets have commented on their presence in Tokyo and in Quinn’s case the comments have been mostly favorable. On the other hand, the storm of mostly negative press heaped on Laurel Hubbard has been disappointing, although predictable. I hope that the negative press that Laurel has gotten won’t dissuade young trans athletes from following their dreams. I think that the next trans woman to compete in the games will get less negative press, and eventually (although probably not in my life) there will come a time when trans women in sport generate little or no controversy.”

Hubbard issued a statement Friday via the New Zealand Olympic Committee in which she said: “The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals and our values. I commend the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.”

According to a French news outlet, NZOC spokesperson Ashley Abbott told reporters the committee had seen a “particularly high level of interest” in Hubbard’s Olympic debut, and much of it has been negative.

“Certainly we have seen a groundswell of comment about it and a lot of it is inappropriate,” Abbott said. “Our view is that we’ve got a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and it’s our role to support all eligible athletes on our team. In terms of social media, we won’t be engaging in any kind of negative debate.”

Abbott reminded the media that the NZOC’s job was to support its athletes, including Hubbard. “We all need to remember that there’s a person behind all these technical questions,” she said. “As an organization we would look to shield our athlete, or any athlete, from anything negative in the social media space. We don’t condone cyberbullying in any way.”

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