The Nature of Homosexuality in Carlos Montenegro’s
Hombres sin mujer
University of California Los Angeles
note to the reader that opens his novel Hombres sin mujer, Carlos Montenegro
clearly states that the purpose of
his narrative is to denounce the injustices perpetrated by the Cuban
system in general, and the prison culture that forces inmates into
activity in particular. In his
contradictory conception of the nature of sexuality is present from
the very beginning of
even in the aforementioned note to the reader,
If, as the novel suggests, homosexuality is an unnatural and conditional state caused by the denigrating atmosphere of the prison, then the farther a man is from the prison environment (or perhaps the closer he is to a natural environment and his natural state), the more removed he would be from homosexual inclinations. The protagonist, Pascasio Speek, is representative of this “natural” man. On first entering the prison, his rural sensibilities are scandalized;
Cuando ingresó en el presidio su conciencia de hombre primitivo se asombró de que existiera tanto fango . . . Cada vez que se había acercado a alguien, le había descubierto, más o menos profunda la veta vergonzosa; algunas ya la traían de la calle, de la ciudad, y a él se le hacía como si todos estuvieran leprosos y lo fueran contaminar (15).
The notion of an infectious homosexuality is present here once again, and in this case it is directly linked not just to the prison, but to the city itself. The implication, thus, is that Pascasio, “un hombre primitivo” is pure, coming from a bucolic, although certainly exploitative background, where he was not exposed to such blatant homosexuality. As a physically powerful, virile, “primitive” black man, Pascasio falls in line with a character type customary to the criollista novel. As Carlos J. Alonso explains, in the 1920’s and 30’s (Hombres sin mujer was first published in 1938) the criollista movement, “put literature back in touch with an avowedly primeval essence whose power derived precisely from its primordial status, and which was constructed along various ethnic lines – the black, the Indian”(197). Pascasio embodies this autochthonous noble savagery, a quality which binds him to nature and the natural, and which on the surface, appears to be the strength which allows him to withstand the corrupting unnatural forces of the city and the prison for so long.
The closeness to nature that Pascasio evinces develops along two ostensibly incongruous lines that are also in accord with the criollista vision of nature. The natural environment is portrayed simultaneously as both “transcendent” and as a “man-eating vortex” in the criollista novel (Alonso 212). Similarly, as Emilio Bejel notes, “Pascasio’s ‘primitive’ trait has a paradoxical meaning, since on the one hand it implies his situation within the accepted sociosexual norms, and on the other his nearness to the ‘animalistic,’ the ‘bestial’” (86). Bejel goes on to state that, “these are the two sides of the concept of the ‘natural’ that are in conflict within Pascasio’s character and are in fact one of the central paradoxes of the text” (86). However, while both natural morality and natural savagery are at play in Pascasio’s character, this natural morality only “implies” a heterosexual standard. In a closer analysis of the representations of nature within the text, both those of a violent bestial nature and those of a harmonious nature have links to homosexual or pansexual desires or actions. Thus, “the two sides of the concept of the ‘natural’” are not truly in conflict, but rather in confluence within Pascasio’s character, and this confluence belies the supposed connection between the “natural” and the heteronormative.
Nature and (homo)sexuality converge from the very first chapter of Hombres sin mujer. Even as the narrator defends the concept of situational homosexuality by stating, “El hombre privado de mujer años tras años acaba por descubrir en otro hombre lo que echa de menos” (15), he goes on to associate these homosexual behaviors with the natural world beyond the walls of the penitentiary. “No importa que de pronto no se vea la carne: el sexo está en todo. El sexo está recóndito en la calceta de Juan; en aquél que tiene domesticada una araña . . . Está en todas partes: en los rincones, en las columnas, en dondequiera que cae un poco de sombra o de sol . . . ¡En el clima!” (15). The narrator constantly reinforces the fact that this sexual tension occurs in the absence of women and between men. Sex moves beyond more stereotypical homosexual imagery, such as “la calceta de Juan,” to permeate anywhere there is “un poco de sombra o de sol.” Although this expression links the sun, a natural force, to the homosexual activities occurring within the prison, the preceding list of man-made architectural elements suggests a removal of the sun from its natural context and confines it, and its association to homosexuality, within the boundaries of the prison walls. However, the fact that the climate expresses homosexual tensions indicates that these same-sex inclinations are not limited to the prison, but are part of nature itself and truly present everywhere under the sun, further fostering the criollista stereotype of a lusty tropical paradise. Additionally, the image of the inmate with the domesticated spider further links sexual desire, in this case homosexual desire, to nature. Domestication acts as a form of domination, and within the violent prison environment, sexual domination is a constant presence. In this instance, however, the loaded concepts of sex and domination are not linked to the human but to the animal, to a spider.
A connection between the bestial and the homosexual is omnipresent in the novel. While this relationship between man and beast does underscore the objectification or dehumanization of the inmates by the prison system (Tamayo Fernández 66), it also links them to the natural animal world and to homoeroticism. The very terms that the inmates use to denominate the stereotypical types of homosexuals among them are the names of different animals. The prisoners refer to those who take on the characteristically masculine or macho role of penetration during the sex act as “toros.” The prisoners who show the most brute force, often through acts of sexual violence, are denominated “los toros que más meaban” (102), evoking images of an animal marking his territory with his urine.
figure or name of the bull represents the aggressive male within
the language of the text, Pascasio’s fantasy of capturing and wrestling
bullock, a close relative of the bull, takes on new meaning. At the very beginning of the novel,
before Pascasio even meets Andrés, the adolescent who finally
bring his homosexual urges to the forefront, he dreams of being,
“¡Libre! . . . ¡Al sol
The narrator, recounting this fantasy through the perspective of Pascasio, goes on to directly connect the encounter with the bullock to a sexual encounter, albeit a heterosexual one. “ . . . y, rodando, rodando, no solo, sino con ella, con su hembra, hasta perderse en la yerba alta del río, o en los manglares . . . ” (15). The ellipses bridge the eroticized description of wrestling with a bullock to the actual introduction of a female sexual partner. The pause represented by this punctuation, however, allows for the interpretation of the sexual encounter with the women to act as justification, or a cover for the homoerotic passage just before it. The need to state that he is not alone but with a woman reinforces this interpretation, as does the fact that this sentence is immediately followed by the recounting of Pascasio’s initial discomfort at witnessing the rampant homosexuality within the prison. The ellipses act not simply as a transition, but as an awkward pause before a forced change of sexual object from the masculine “buey” to the feminine “hembra,” indicating a repressed homosexual drive. Thus, even the heterosexual part of the fantasy further conflates nature with homosexuality.
In addition to bulls, sharks are also representative of “machos” who engage in homosexual encounters. The inmates and the guards use this term to refer to “los incorrigibles,” the most dangerous prisoners deemed incapable of reform. When bringing Macaco, a new, psychologically ill prisoner to the section of the penitentiary inhabited by the “incorrigibles”, the corrupt guard Rompemontes yells, “¡Vaya, comida para los tiburones!”(101). The inmates then proceed to violently rape Macaco, leaving behind only “un cuerpo inerte” (114). Significantly, Macaco, though a nickname rather than a general term, is also the name of an animal, a type of monkey. Both the aggressors and the victims of this violent homosexual act take on attributes of the natural, primitive world of predator and prey through their animal nicknames.
image of a predator eating or attacking its prey, as in the case of
the “tiburones” and Macaco, is a recurring one which goes hand in
hand with the denomination of the aggressive, “macho,” as animal
when committing homosexual acts. These “tiburones” are explicitly “bestias hambrientas que se dispusieron
a saltar sobre su presa” (101).
Manuel Chiquito uses a
similar metaphor to show how he obtains the sexual services of the new
in order to satisfy his homosexual urges.
Thinking about how he will force Andrés to submit to his
Había que trabajarlo bajito, engañándolo; fingiéndole primero protección, después amistad; más tarde comprometerlo poco a poco, hasta que se ve enredado por todas partes, como una mosca en una telaraña, en tal forma que cuando se quisiera rehacer ya fuera tarde (31).
If Andrés is the fly, then Manuel Chiquito is the spider weaving the web of deceit in which to trap him. Although Manuel Chiquito is not acting with the same brute force and violence as the “tiburones” he is still contriving to capture his prey, and associating an animal, a part of the natural world, with his efforts to do so.
Pascasio himself, while at first not fully taking on the role of a predator hunting Andrés, does take on a bestial character to protect him. When Candela, in an effort to help break down Andrés and make him more susceptible to Manuel Chiquito’s advances, forces Andrés into hard labor, Pascasio violently confronts Candela. Despite the gallons of boiling water that Candela throws on him, Pascasio holds his ground. This prompts one of the onlookers to shout, “¡Ese animal está cojeando!”(149). Pascasio is both literally and figuratively limping. He is weakened by the injuries he sustains in his fight to protect Andrés, the object of his affection. Additionally, he is about to fall in the sense that he is on the verge of giving in to his desire for Andrés. While Pascasio may be a limping animal rather than a violent predatory one, he is still an animal. His feelings for Andrés are linked to the bestial, natural part of his character.
this savage part of his nature that takes control of Pascasio when
he does attack Andrés. After
the incident with Candela, Pascasio is sent to a confined part of the
and tortured. Overwhelmed with feelings
of love and guilt, Andrés turns to Manuel Chiquito for help,
him sexual services in return for getting Pascasio released from his
punishment. When Pascasio walks in
on Manuel Chiquito collecting this debt, he falls into a jealous rage. “Su
pensamiento se había detenido, y sólo lo movía una
ciega e irrefrenable, como si estuviera poseído por su bestia
ancestral” (211). It
is the betrayal of a male love that finally
manages to completely transform Pascasio into the primitive, primeval
with which he has been associated all along. The narrator emphasizes
savage nature throughout Pascasio’s violent reaction to Manuel
Chiquito’s tryst with Andrés.
He describes our fallen hero
as a “bestia irritado,” and
hambrienta en caza.” “Si
lo hubieran soltado desnudo, en la selva, tal vez, hubiera caminado
dándole golpes en el pecho con los puños cerrados como un
body language completely changes;
“caminaba encorvado, alargando el cuello hacia adelante, dilatando las
ventanas de la nariz
not only the “macho” men who engage in homosexual
practices, however, who have a connection to the natural world. Those who take on the supposedly
feminine role, those who are penetrated, are also linked to nature
animal names. They are
or “carne de puerco”. It is, in fact, when Candela calls
Pascasio “yegua” that his inability to remain celibate and conform
to heterosocial norms is first questioned.
Pascasio’s prestige is dependent on his not engaging in
acts (1), and thus he responds with violence to
and involves himself in the world of the homosexual inmates, for the
to demonstrate that one is not a “yegua” is to show oneself to be a
“toro”. It is this
involvement which ultimately leads him to succumb to his repressed
desires. The narrator, speaking from
Pascasio’s point of view, compares the interpolative force of
Candela’s comment to another non-animal force of nature: a river; “Sabía por experiencia que caer en la boca de los
presos era lo
mismo que caer en un río sin saber nadar . . . Y ahora estaba
resbalando, con los pies ya en el agua, agarrándose para que el
no lo arrastrara” (16). The narrator and the inmates thus relate both
that which initiates and that which carries Pascasio through his voyage
homosexuality with forces of nature.
The narrator picks up this motif again towards the end of the
novel. After Pascasio realizes that
he has feelings for Andrés, the narrator comments,
“no podían detener el curso de la naturaleza,
Whereas the forceful torrent of the prisoner’s gossip and nature itself drag Pascasio into homosexuality, and the “macho” sexual aggressors act as predators trapping or attacking their sexual victims, La Morita, the homosexual who aims to attract the attentions of Pascasio, takes on the characteristics of treacherous plant life. Pascasio attacks La Morita in an attempt to stave off any further sexual advances from him, yet, after their fight and the subsequent accounting of it to the authorities, the protagonist finds himself strangely drawn to this thoroughly effeminate figure. “Se vio semejante a un pedazo de tierra en el que La Morita, como una planta, crecía, extendiendo dentro de él las raíces que le trepaban por el pecho, por los músculos de los brazos y por la garganta, hasta abrazarlo todo” (57). That La Morita is trapping Pascasio, perhaps against his will, does not change the fact that, within this image, the natural, supposedly pure world of plants and soil mixes with homoerotic imagery. As a plant, La Morita’s body grows larger, enters Pascasio’s body, and caresses every part of him. The simile which directly links Pascasio to “un pedazo de tierra,” to the very land itself, also marks him as an object of sexual desire to other men, for, while La Morita is feminized, he is still male. This sexually charged comparison of Pascasio to the land echoes the first altercation that he has with Candela. After Candela calls Pascasio “yegua,” he also calls him “mi tierra” (10). This is both an expression of affection and of possession. Thus, while Candela once again links Pascasio to the earth, this association does not evoke “natural” heterosexual “purity” but rather a homosexual relationship.
and gentle and even moral side of nature is, however, also
present within the novel. Whereas
the river of convict gossip threatens to drown Pascasio violently, in the context of the
inmates washing themselves, the image of a river becomes purifying,
idea of baptism. Under the showers,
por un minuto aquellos hombres parecieron otros, como desarraigados de todo lo inmoral, para entregarse ebrios a aquel goce simple que la naturaleza les deparaba. Si hubieron podido lanzarse a un río o al mar, se habrían sentido, acaso, completamente limpios y dichosos (80).
Nature, in the form of water, has the power to cleanse these men of their sins. Yet this purifying act of nature takes place in an entirely homoerotic setting. The showers are full of naked men eyeing each other lasciviously, and the description of the showers which precedes the comment on their purifying effects is full of sexual innuendo. “Los que habían logrado coger puestos bajo las duchas se frotaban el rostro, vuelto a lo alto, y con los ojos cerrados para recibir, plenos de euforia, la caricia del agua, a la que daban el pecho y las partes nobles” (79). The words “coger” and “frotar” are reminiscent of Pascasio’s fantasy about the bullock, but in this section of the text the eroticism is even more explicit. The water caresses the “partes nobles” of this group of nude male inmates, causing “euforia.” Thus, within the context of the showers, the purity of nature directly connects to homosexual activity.
Whereas the savage and primal aspects of nature lead to the dehumanization of the inmates, turning them into beasts, this softer more harmonious part of nature brings out their more humane sides while at the same time continuing to reference homosexuality. At night, before the prisoners go to sleep, some talk,
con las caras casi unidas, buscando en los ojos que tenían delante la imagen de ellos mismos; o tratando de arrancar una palabra que aún no había sido dicha, o repitiendo la pasión ya declarada. Sentimientos groseros que hacían vibrar el ancestro de los hombres primitivos, humanizándolos (33).
These images of close contact between inmates are loving and romantic rather than violent and savage. These men are gazing into each others eyes and declaring their passion for each other, rather than attacking or raping each other. Yet, just as violent homosexual acts were linked to primal man and nature, so too are these loving ones. Despite the fact that the narrator describes these inmates’ feelings as crude, these feelings none the less touch the “primitive” part of their natures. The difference is that this time the confluence of the natural and the homosexual humanizes the inmates rather than objectifying them.
savage, bestial nature bonds him to his homosexual
urges, yet his pure and moral side, also springing from his
“primitive” natural qualities, bears upon his attraction to and
seduction of Andrés as well.
As Pascasio serves food to his fellow inmates, he cruelly toys
them, leading them to believe that they will receive the one good piece
in the pot, and then dashing their hopes by only serving them a meager
ration. The narrator blames this
cruelty and lack of morality on Pascasio’s extended abstinence stating, “la abstinencia fue poco a poco limando sus impulses
hasta convertir su energía en una fuerza pasiva, tarada de la
de todo lo que está descentrado, fuera
If taunting other prisoners with a morsel of food that they will not be able to eat demonstrates savage cruelty, then giving this food to a starving inmate should demonstrate the “sabia armonía de la naturaleza.” Thus, when Pascasio gives the piece of meat he uses to toy with his fellow inmates to Andrés, who is purposefully being denied his proper ration of food by Manuel Chiquito’s cronies, one can consider his actions to be moral and in accordance with nature. Yet this action is also an expression of his love and desire for Andrés. Pascasio essentially woos Andrés with food. After giving Andrés the extra meat, Pascasio realizes that he has entered into the same type of homosexual behavior as his fellow inmates; “se veía manchado, a punto de sentirse pegajoso, semejante a sus compañeros que despreciaba” (125). He recognizes that this favor he shows Andrés, although coming from a more innocent and loving place than the favors proffered by Manuel Chiquito, has the same end goal: the seduction of another male inmate. Nevertheless, this type of seduction follows the moral guidelines of his “hermoso primitivismo,” despite Pascasio’s guilt at feeling “manchado” for having these homosexual urges.
The manner in which Pascasio expresses his joy at finally releasing his pent up sexual tension through his feelings with Andrés further associates a kind and beautiful nature with homosexual love. Contemplating his act of kindness towards Andrés, Pascasio moves away from feeling guilty and dirty, and starts to understand his romantic feelings. He becomes elated. “Era como si le hubiera llegado la libertad y fuera a hacer su camino hacia los campos maravillosos de sus sueños” (124). Previously, Pascasio’s dream about the countryside expressed a repressed desire to engage in homosexual activity, and in that scenario, the “campos” were filled with the sexually charged, animal violence of wrestling with a bullock. Now that Pascasio is no longer repressing his urges and does not have to employ an animal representative of a man, as he has feelings for a man of flesh and blood, the countryside of his dreams becomes marvelous instead of violent. Pascasio’s homosexual urges develop into more complicated homoerotic feelings and even love for another man. Nature still links him to homosexual behavior, but this time it is liberating rather than savage.
When Pascasio continues his seduction of Andrés, he relies on feeling and impulse rather than logical calculation. He is guided by his primitive nature. After Pascasio fights against Candela to protect him, Andrés tries to thank his champion. Before he can finish his sentence, however, “el brazo de Pascasio lo había envuelto y atraído hacia si, confundiendo las dos bocas. Andrés no opuso resistencia alguna: cerró los ojos abandonándose, hasta que Pascasio asombrado de lo que hacía lo soltó” (152). Pascasio is barely even aware of what he is doing. He is confused and surprised by his actions. Enrique J. Pujals comments that in this scene “Pascasio actuaba así impulsado por el instinto . . . Las fuerzas interiores tantas veces reprimidas se desbordaron” (125). Instead of repressing his instincts, that which comes naturally to him, Pascasio finally succumbs to his true desires. These desires for another man are a part of his primitiveness and closeness to nature finally released within the prison atmosphere, not unnatural desires created by it.
La teoría de Montenegro queda debilitada por el hecho de que, en varios momentos se refieren a él <<como una mujer>> (pg. 83) (2), y otras como un <<pájaro legítimo>> (pg. 84), y por las fugas referencias que él mismo hace de la vida fuera del presidio de otros homosexuales conocidos, lo cual de una ligera impresión de tener una historia anterior a relación con este mundo y de cierta <<legitimidad>> en su actitud homosexual (74).
That La Morita is a homosexual “legítimo” would indicate that the others with whom he is compared are simply situational homosexuals. However, at the same time, that there can be such a thing as a “legitimate” homosexual underscores the fact that homosexuality does not necessarily have to be situational. La Morita likely comes from an urban environment and does not share the same ties to the primordial as does Pascasio, thus La Morita’s “legitimate” homosexuality may be linked to an urban environment and a distance from the natural. Nevertheless, La Morita’s homosexuality is intrinsic to him, constituting a part of his own human nature and not a behavior acquired in prison.
too, demonstrates that homosexuality can be innate rather
than acquired. After first
encountering the desire that he stirs in his fellow inmates,
questions his own sexuality. The
narrator, penetrating Andrés’ unconscious asks, “¿Sería posible que en él hubiera un
anormal?” (53). The
question is not whether or not
Andrés will turn into a homosexual, un “anormal,” but whether one is already existent
inside of him. Later, as
Andrés, broken down by hard labor, contemplates his options in
the prisoners who desire him sexually, he reminisces about the
contact he has already experienced in prison;
No se hacía ilusiones; en los quince días que llevaba en el presidio había encontrado algo ambiguo dentro de sí. No se olvidaba de cuando fue besado por Matienzo; cuando, en el baño, la presión y la mirada de Pascasio primero, y después la atención general de los presos, le sacaron del cuerpo un extraño rubor femenino (95).
Andrés’ sexual ambiguity is something found within him, not imposed upon him. Being an adolescent, his youth enters into this equation. He has not yet had time to form himself into a “macho” man, a fact that allows him to more easily embrace his femininity and the sexual inclinations that accompany it. This may indicate that his homosexuality is more likely to come out in prison, under the lustful gaze of the other men and in the absence of women. At the same time, it also implies that Andrés has the innate capacity to be homosexual or at least to engage in homosexual actions. The gaze and pressures of the other prisoners are only extracting pre-existing feminine qualities from Andrés, not forcing them onto or into him in the first place. The narrator alludes to the fact that if Andrés had remained out of prison, his “masculine” heterosexual side may have overtaken his “feminine” homosexual side, but this in turn continues to indicate that this homosexual side was a part of his nature even before he entered into the penitentiary. Thus, the narrator contradicts his own stance on the nature of homosexuality in prison. While he presents Andrés’ sexual development as situational, he nonetheless underscores that homosexual tendencies in this character are natural and innate until they are suppressed by societal teachings, and that the situational sex in which an inmate engages while in prison does contribute to the sexual identity of that inmate.
Morita, however, Andrés does not hold the same connection
to primitive nature as does Pascasio.
Andrés is white, weak, and anything but brutish or savage. He completely lacks the “primeval
essence” (Alonso 197) that marks Pascasio. This
could once again lead to the
characterization of homosexuality as “natural” only to those who
are removed from their primal connection to the land and natural man. Yet, the narrator states that Pascasio
himself is possessed of an intrinsic homosexual instinct as well. He affirms that Pascasio has deep
feelings for Andrés, that this beast of a man has succumbed to,
lo vergonzante, ¡la enfermedad del presidio! . . . Decididamente estaba loco; y ahora reconocía que ya lo estaba desde el día en que fijó los ojos en el muchacho; acaso, desde antes, desde que le pegó a La Morita; tal vez desde siempre. Probablemente la tara había nacida con él y por eso llegó al presidio convertido en un basilisco contra todo lo que le parecía anormal (126).
Pascasio most likely always had innate homosexual urges. He was born with them. This sexuality naturally formed part of his person until he was made aware that it was “anormal” and “vergonzante.” Thus, he overcompensated for his own sexual identity and bisexual nature by lashing out at the homosexuality that he was forced to face when he was imprisoned. Even though he equates his homosexuality to mental illness, aware that he “estaba loco,” he is also aware that this illness comes to him naturally and forms a part of his essential being. Pascasio, the natural man, is naturally homosexual.
Montenegro, from the very outset of Hombres sin mujer,
claims that prison homosexuality is an
unnatural vice caused only by the situation of incarceration in which
no women to act as sexual outlets for the men, his treatment of nature
natural within the novel contradicts this very standpoint.
Nature, both human and environmental,
savage and moral, is consistently linked to homoeroticism and
acts. Pascasio, the
“primitive” man who acts in accordance with the “wise harmony
of nature” and who initially abhors homosexuality, in the end
that he has always been repressing his innate homosexual impulses. Thus, Hombres sin mujer
expresses a very different view of the nature of
Alonso, Carlos J. “The Criollista Novel.” The
Bejel, Emilio. Gay
Montenegro, Carlos. Hombres sin mujer. México: Editorial Oasis, 1981.
Pujals, Enrique J. La obra narrativa de Carlos Montenegro. Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1980.
Tamayo Fernández, Caridad. Hombres sin mujer y mujeres sin hombre: Tanteos al universo carcelario en la novela hispanoamericana. Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2005.