Preface: Still rewriting. This section follows marriage equality and is before the seconds on labels and identity, homosexual rights activism, AIDS / HIV, lesbianism and feminism, and pride marches. It is designed to give some cultural context for what lesbians were doing and feeling, before doing a deep dive into some of the major formative issues of the period.
Everyday existence, Cultural life and depictions in literature, film, television and art
Attitudes in Spanish society were improving towards homosexuals. A 1994 study found that only 41% of Spaniards thought society was tolerant of the homosexuals, an improvement on 16% a decade earlier. This rarely translated into open acceptance of lesbians across all levels of society on a day-to-day basis, and there was still a lack of legal protections for lesbians in many areas.
Heterosexual behaviors started to change some during the 1990s on the part of both men and women. Pornography began to be much more acceptable across society for to consume. It also began to have greater diversity in the types of women depicted and the situations that they were depicted in. Pornography began to increase in circulation, some of it explicitly aimed at heterosexual women. At the same time, prostitution began to become more visible and slightly more acceptable. Most of the pornography was produced abroad, and when audiences began to fall, lesbians as subjects of imported pornography began to increase at the same moment that general visibility of lesbians in society was also increasing as a result of concentrated campaigns to fight homophobia by having people know the lesbians and gay men in their lives. The knock on effect of this was to tie lesbianism to sex acts and to male sexual desire in Spanish society, creating long term issues for lesbians as it gave men further reason to believe lesbians should be part of heterosexual male sexuality. It also gave straight women , many of whom were apolitical, a reason not to associate with lesbians because they were tied into depictions based on pornography.
Everyday life for lesbians could be and often was still a struggle in the early and mid-1990s, requiring them to be closeted or society still marginalizing and ignoring them and their struggles. Compulsory heterosexuality was often still an issue. In the early 1990s, it was estimated that 90% of Spanish lesbians had had sex with men and that 20% were married to men. Lesbians living together in this period were often viewed as primas, meaning cousins. Society could not get past the idea that women had their own sexuality that might be expressed in the home.
In places like Madrid, these cultural attitudes meant lesbians often had issues with feeling isolated both at work and within their families. This could manifest itself in several ways, including with lesbians turning to alcohol in Spain’s drinking culture as a method of coping. It could create nasty cycles, causing further problems for those lesbians. To counter this, some organizations like CRECUL, COGAM, CGL offered outings for lesbians that were alcohol free and free from political discussion. As part of trying to support the “pink trade” in support of lesbians, CRECUL launched a discount card for bars and bookstores in May 1995.
Girls and women playing football was still heavily stigmatized in the 1990s, with some fearing their family knowing they played on a team. To avoid detection, some of these players would have their teammates wash and store their kit between practices and matches. One of the reasons girls feared playing was a fear of being labeled either as not feminine enough for society or being called a lesbian. Lesbians playing in this period included Laura del Río, though she would not come out of the closet until much later. Footballing opportunities, like other sporting opportunities, began to again really expand in this period to tbe benefit of both girls and women more generally and lesbians more specifically, When a national football league was created with nine clubs for its inaugural season in 1989, the FC Barcelona team was one of its foundational members. The team was finally formally welcomed into Fútbol Club Barcelona as a women’s section in 2001. Lesbians who went on to play for the team included María Pilar León Cebrián and Ana Romero.
In all areas of sports, lesbians were frequently present in this period. They just would not be able to come out until much later. Gema Hassen-Bey won a bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Paralympics. Born in 1967 in Las Rozas de Madrid, she would not come out of the closet until the 2010s.
Some members of the community began to work more towards solidarity as a group, to gain strength in numbers, by living in close proximity to others like themselves. Gays and lesbians began moving into Chueca and Lavapiés in Madrid in the late 1980s because rent was low compared to other areas in centro that had already been gentrified. Both barrios had affordable commercial and residential properties.
Starting in the early 1990s, lesbian literature had lost its subversive elements and become more about normalization. This pattern would continue throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with lesbian characters coming out on numerous television series, movies and books. Their sexuality was not being used to suggest they were trying to undermine the dominant culture or that these women were unique, subverting cultural norms around womanhood; their sexuality was presented as a normal thing that should be accepted as one component identity for some Spanish women. Despite this though, such representations remained rare, particularly in LGBT narratives told by men and heterosexuals, continuing a silencing of lesbian identity through its lack of visibility at the center of cultural narratives; stories of gay men continued to dominate in the media, on television, in literature and at the movies. Lesbian writers themselves would not start coming out until the middle of this decade.
Andrea Luca. Gloria Fuertes, Ana María Moix, Ana Rosetti, Ester Tusquets, Carme Riera, Elana Fortún and Isabel Franc, all born during the Francoist period, were all important lesbian writers in the three eras of Spanish lesbian literature but none would come out of the closet until the 1990s; they had all remained quiet about their sexuality during the transition period and later. Victorina Durán died on 10 December 1993 in Madrid after a long battle with illness. In her later life, she focused exclusively on painting and having her work appear in exhibits.
Gloria Fuertes could still loom large as a literary giant in this period. A famous anctedote about her comes from this period. Gloria Fuertes was on a train with Francisco Nieva on their way to a conference in Albacete in the 1990s. According to Jorge de Cascante, Fuertes was reading the magazine Paris Match, when she yelled out ‘¡coño!’. Her companion asked her what was wrong. She showed him a group photo taken outside a restaurant and asked him who was in the photo. He responded with “Eres tú, hija, quién va a ser”, to which Fuertes then showed him the caption for the photo, “Marlon Brando con amigos”.
The IV International Feminist Book Fair, with over 300 booksellers, was held in Atarazanas, Barcelona in 1990. The Baños Orientales had been closed earlier in the year, and in memory of their importance to feminist women and lesbians, “A Night of Mediterranean Music” took place where the Baños Orienteles used to be. The baths would continue in feminist and lesbian historical memory when they were mentioned at the 2013 exhibition Mujeres bajo sospecha. Memoria y sexualidad (1930-1980) at the Ateneo de Madrid organized by UNED sociology professor Raquel Osborne.
Berkana opened in 1993 in Madrid. This was the first homosexual bookstore to open in Spain. In the stores early years, there were very few available titles and many members of Spain’s lesbian and gay community were scared to be seen going inside because of continued stigmatization of the homosexual community. It went on to become the largest and most influential LGBT bookstore in Spain. Mili Hernández, the owner of Berkana, was one of the most influential lesbians in the 1990s. She was one of the first people to put LGBT reference materials in the window of a shop.
Editoriales Egales is an LGBT publishing house that was created in November 1995 as a joint venture between two lesbian oriented bookstores, the Madrid based Berkana and the Barcelona based Cómplices. The publisher was created because the bookstores realized there were limited options for young Spanish and Latin American feminists to get published and to get recognized. This was also part of an effort to increase visibility and normalize homosexuality for lesbian and gay readers.
One important aspect of the late 1980s and early 1990s was that it began a period of art production that was more explicitly lesbian and female focused. This differed from the past, where such works would be critiqued differently or were not perceived through a lesbian, homosexual or queer lens and the artists themselves did not present their work as such.
KGLB (Colectivo de Gays y Lesbianas de Burgos) were a group that played an important role during the 1990s in creating queer related imagery that impacted other artists around the country. They were joined by other influential groups like Lesbianas Sin Duda, Radical Gai and GtQ-MAD (Grupo de Trabajo Queer de Madrid).
One group that would play an active an important role in the 1990s in terms or providing art for Pride in Madrid and elsewhere was Lesbianas Sin Dudas (LSD), a lesbian activist organization, but not in the institutionalized sense. LSD was founded in 1993 in the barrio of Lavapies in Madrid. Instead of working from the inside, LSD worked in challenging political ideas in society. The group sometimes said their acronym said for different things like Lesbianas Sin Dinero. Lesbianas Sin Duda was an artist collective founded in 1993 in the barrio of Lavapies in Madrid. Members included Estíbaliz Sadaba, Virginia Villaplana, Itziar Okariz, Azucena Vietes, Fefa Vila, Beatriz Preciado, Carmela García, María José Belbel, Marisa Maza, Liliana Couso Domínguez, Floy Krouchi, Katuxa Guede, Pilar Vázquez and Arantza Gaztañaga. They were identified as more explicitly queer than many of their contemporaries in their conceptual and theoretical approaches to art and activism. The work of LSD artists often showcased the power of friendship as a motif. The body of work produced by LSD artists also included photographic depictions of lesbians, acknowledging their existence and challenging a status quo that often denies them visibility. Menstruosidades y Es-cultura lesbiana in 1995 was one of the most important exhibitions for LSD photographers. Some of the photos were then used at the 1996 EuroGayPride in Copenhagen, where they were enlarged. The piece “Desnudar el desnudo” was published in the Barcelona based magazine El Viejo Topo in December 1995.
During 1993 and continuing into the next few years, LSD worked on drawing attention to the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and on lesbians through art. They teamed up with a number of other organizations as part of these efforts, including ACT UP (France) and La Radical. They held photography exhibits, designed posters and created fanzines inspired by Barbara Kruguer as part of these efforts. One of their goals was to stop allowing others in the broader AIDS and HIV activist community to represent lesbians and lesbian sexual activities, and to give lesbians their own voice in describing their sexual practices as it related to AIDS and HIV.
Plastics were one of the mediums used by some lesbians in this period, with Cabello/Carceller being among the most prominent lesbian artists using this material. Cabello/Carceller used plastics to create art featuring the shape of female genitalia as part of their attempts to normalize women’s sexuality, and specifically lesbian women’s sexuality. Among their most important works in plastics were 1994’s “Ya no me importa tu mirada” and 1996’s “acércate, deséame, ámame, sí….pero cállate”.
Spanish films continued to show problematic, male-centric and conservative depictions of lesbians until the mid-1990s, when the first liberal depictions of lesbians by lesbian film makers would begin to be released. Influential films of this type included 1996’s Costa Brava by director Marta Balletbó-Coll and Ana Simón Cerezo. The plot involved a teacher at the Universitat de Barcelona, before moving plot wise to the United States and her relationship with a tour guide named Anna.
The Mostra Internacional de Cinema de Gai i Lesbià Fire!! was held in Barcelona in 1995. Organized by Casal Lambda, it was one of the first LGBT film festivals organized in Spain. The festival name is a tribute to the late 1990s New York gay magazine created by African American Richard Bruce Nugent with the same name. The event continued for over 25 years, with most of its primary organizers being men.
Despite public television having started broadcasting regularly since 1956, the first lesbians would not appear on Spanish television until 1995 when Mar de Dudas introduced the lesbian couple Olga and Monica. Their plot line revolved around having a child and finding a semen donor; the show was novel in that viewers were allowed to choose the couple’s semen donors. While only lasting one season, Mar de Dudas‘s lesbian characters generated intense debate around them and lesbianism in Spain.
Nissaga de poder, produced by TV3 and running from January 1996 to May 1998 in the Catalan language, used a format similar to the American serial drama, Falcon Crest. The show followed the Montsolís family; Núria Prims played the family’s youngest daughter, Mariona, who fell in love with her best friend Inéz, played by Alicia González Láa. In the series finale, Mariona informs her family of her intention to go to the Netherlands so she can marry Inés.