I am what I am
Illustrations by Jason Barker
1 ‘You are shaming all men’
Cleo Quentaro, Uganda
‘My body has always been androgynous, in between. If you are transgender it becomes you. In our culture, for a man to dress up as a woman is like degrading yourself to a woman, it is like an abuse to all men in society, it is like you are shaming all men… You are such a loser.
‘I have been beaten up twice because I am transgender. On campus I had boys knocking on my door because they saw me as an easy alternative... this was one of the lowest moments for me, a boy raping me. That was how I lost my virginity, without my consent.
‘I used contraceptives to try and feminize myself, but they can’t do it like real hormones. My family fully accept me now, my friends have come to accept I’m trans. Through my Facebook [page] I’ve really come out. Later when I started transitioning I had to answer lots of questions. I had a community telling me: “please be careful”.’
2 ‘We have put a foot inside the door’
Abhina Aher, India
‘I used to love to wear the clothes that my mother used to wear – her jewellery, her make-up. At home, I used to have grand performances, calling all the neighbours and dancing in front of them, replicating what my mother was doing on stage. One day, she found out and got really mad about it. I had to pledge that I would never do that again.
‘For 10 to 15 years, I had to watch myself, how I walk, how I talk, how I behave, to fit in. I finished college and I started working as a software engineer. There was a huge feeling of incompleteness all the time – having something wrong with your body, not being able to connect with your soul.’
Abhina attempted suicide three times: ‘I could not die. And that was the turning point in my life, I thought that since I could not die, let me try to live now.’
Abhina joined a community of hijras, who traditionally go for castration. ‘The operations are normally done by quacks, and a lot of hijras die because of that.’
On official recognition of hijras as a ‘third gender’ with civil rights, she says: ‘We have put a foot inside a door, which is a door of hope, and we will open it – very soon.’
Source: npr, Parallels, ‘A journey of pain and beauty’ by Julie McCarthy, nin.tl/becoming-trans-in-india
3 ‘I’m a very happy person’
Alva Funes, Uruguay
‘From the age of 9 or 10 I knew I was different. It didn’t bother my family. They accepted me. I have a mother who is very loving – no father. I have brothers, and we get on. When I was 17, I lived as a feminine gay. Then I got to know a trans person.
‘I live independently as a trans person. I have worked in cabarets all over Uruguay. For 14 years now I have worked on the streets. I don’t talk about my business with my mother. I keep my life and my family separate. It’s my code. But my neighbours love me; they respect me. You can tell. I live the life I like; I am a very happy person. I feel my sexuality and live it fully. To keep going, you need to look after your body and know how to look after your client; you need to talk to him. I don’t have a strategy as such. It just comes naturally…’
4 ‘The doctor told me it was very dangerous’
‘I decided this year to take hormone injections. In the beginning my body’s reaction was OK, but then I drank a cup of coffee and my body went into palpitations. The doctor told me it was very dangerous. My friends accept me as I am, they take care of me. I have not told my family I am transgender. I’m not ready. My mother asked me if I had a boyfriend. She is always asking me when I am going to get married. I just give my parents a sense of security by telling them I have a boyfriend.
‘The problem I am facing is pretty big, I fear. I’m a boy who likes boys – ‘trans gay’, they call it. Lots of people talk about LGBT organizations but they do not pay attention to the T. Yesterday a “brother” [an FtM trans youth] was talking about a brother who had been taking hormones for three years and had just died of a visceral haemorrhage.
‘Why do we have to suffer so much? Why did they give me this body? Why am I like this? Another brother told me, “Even if I kill myself, even if I die, I want to die with a flat chest.”’
5 ‘It’s awkward for my kids’
‘I am still listed in the school system as [my children’s ] mum. The others kids at the school ask about it because they see the [female] name [yet I have a male appearance]. It’s very awkward for me and my kids. If you don’t have your gender identity recognized you always have to explain: “I used to be so-and-so and now I am so-and-so.” You have to “out” yourself all the time and sometimes it makes you feel afraid… The idea that trans people should not have kids is an insult to my three kids; the mental diagnosis [of transgender] is completely demeaning and gives you a big dose of low self-esteem. I went to the Sexology Clinic three times. I hated their questions. They were overly fascinated by the fact that I have three kids and I used to be married to a guy. They focused only on my sexual life…’
6 ‘Please do not kill yourself’
Kim Mukura, Uganda
‘Trans men are victims of corrective rape, have been assaulted, victims of battering. They find themselves in financial incapacitation because they are not able to access employment. Even when we have qualifications, we cannot be employed because these places do not have non-discriminatory policies.
‘We are the most at risk, the most vulnerable. We are gender minorities, minorities within minorities.
‘Issues around transitioning include depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, suicidal tendencies and then there is the limitation of not being able to access hormones, surgery…
But if you are a trans man, please do not kill yourself, please do not suffer. You are not supposed to suffer, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not abnormal. Please love yourself – be proudly trans.’
7 ‘I have balls’
Emily Quinn, US
‘I have balls. Not, like, basketballs, or footballs. I’m a girl who has testes.
‘I’ve kept this fact quiet for many years, 15 to be exact. I was 10 when I found out I was intersex, but it wasn’t until I was 22 that I even began to understand what that means.
‘I have a condition called Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS). I have XY chromosomes and internal testes, but my body is entirely unresponsive to testosterone, and externally I developed as a female. Internally, I don’t have a uterus or ovaries, which means that I can never have biological children.
‘You might think intersex people are like unicorns, so rare that you’ve only heard about us in books and fairy tales. I like to think we are pretty freaking magical, but we’re actually not that rare. My AIS friends and I represent an estimated 1 in 20,000 births and intersex people in general occur in about 1 in every 2,000.
‘We are not rare, just invisible. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shame and secrecy within our communities, perpetuating the invisibility. So many intersex people like me have been instructed by our doctors, parents and friends not to tell anyone about our conditions, which makes us feel shameful and unworthy.
‘It wasn’t until I found the AIS-DSD (Disorder of Sexual Development) Support Group that I began to meet people who understood what I was going through. I also joined Inter/Act, an amazing intersex youth advocacy group. There I started telling my story and, for the first time, became empowered as an intersex person.’
8 ‘Most are invisible and alone’
Jack Byrne, Aotearoa/New Zealand
‘Invisibility of trans men and trans masculine people is another form of violence – and has devastating impacts on our physical and mental health. The majority of trans boys and men in this region still question their gender identity alone, with no knowledge that they have a community or a history and no words to describe who they are.’