I am what I am
I am what I am
There are many ways of being transgender and many different experiences around the world.
Illustrations by Jason Barker
1 ‘You are shaming all men’
Cleo Quentaro, Uganda
‘My body has always been androgynous - between male and female. If you are transgender, it becomes you. In our culture, for a man to dress up as a woman is like shaming yourself to a woman, it is like you are shaming all men… You are such a loser. ‘I have been beaten up twice because I am transgender. At university boys knocked on my door because they saw me as easy… this was one of the worst moments for me when a boy raped me. That was how I lost my virginity, I didn’t agree to having sex. ‘I used contraceptives to try and make myself more female, but they can’t do it like real hormones. My family fully accept me now, my friends accept that I’m trans. Through my Facebook page I’ve really come out. Later when I started transitioning I had to answer lots of questions. People told me: “please be careful”.’
2 ‘We have put a foot inside the door’
Abhina Aher, India
‘I loved wearing my mother’s clothes – her jewellery, her make-up. At home, I danced in front of all the neighbours. This was what my mother did on stage. One day, she found out and was really angry about it. I had to promise 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 be like eveyone. I finished college and I started working as a software engineer. I felt very incomplete all the time – having something wrong with my body, not being myself.’ Abhina attempted suicide three times: ‘I could not die. And that was when things changed in my life, I thought that as I cannot die, I will try to live.’ Abhina joined a community of hijras, transsexuals, who traditionally have castration. ‘The operations are normally done by people with no medical training, and a lot of hijras die because of that.’ When there was official recognition of hijras as a ‘third gender’ with civil rights, she said: ‘We have put a foot inside a door, which is a door of hope, and we will open it – very soon.’
3 ‘I’m a very happy person’
Alva Funes, Uruguay
‘From the age of 9 or 10 I knew I was different. It wasn’t a problem for my family. They accepted me. I have a mother who is very loving – no father. I have brothers, and we are good friends. When I was 17, I lived as a feminine gay. Then I met 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. But my neighbours love me; they respect me. You can see that. 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 special plan. 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 was OK. But then I drank a cup of coffee and my heart started beating very fast. 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 make it easier for my parents by telling them I have a boyfriend. ‘The problem I am facing is very serious. 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, a female to male trans] was talking about a brother who took hormones for three years and died of bleeding. ‘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 difficult for my children’
‘In the school system I am still my children’s mother. The other children at the school ask about it because they see my female name but I look like a man. It’s very difficult for me and my children. If your gender identity is not recognized, you always have to explain: “I was this and now I am this.” You have to explain about 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 children. I went to the Sexology Clinic three times. I hated their questions. They were too interested in the fact that I have three children and I was married to a man. They were only interested in my sexual life.'
6 ‘Please do not kill yourself’
Kim Mukura, Uganda
‘Trans men are victims of rape and assault. They have money problems because they cannot get a job. Even when we have qualifications, we cannot get a job because these places discriminate against trans men. ‘We are the most at risk. We are gender minorities, minorities within minorities. ‘Problems with transitioning include depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, and thoughts about suicide. And then there is the problem of not getting hormones or surgery. But if you are a trans man, please do not kill yourself, please do not suffer. There is nothing wrong with you, you are not abnormal. Please love yourself – be proud to be trans.’
7 ‘I have balls'
Emily Quinn, US
‘I have balls. Not, like, basketballs, or footballs. I’m a girl who has testes. ‘I have not told anyone for 15 years. I was 10 when I found out I was intersex, but I didn’t begin to understand it until I was 22. ‘I have a condition called Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS). I have XY chromosomes and testes, but my body developed as a female. I don’t have a womb and I can never have children. ‘Perhaps you think intersex people are very unusual but we’re not. AIS people are about 1 in 20,000 births and intersex people are about 1 in every 2,000. ‘We are not very unusual but we are invisible. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shame and secrecy in our communities. So our doctors, parents, and friends tell us not to tell anyone about our conditions and this makes us feel shameful and bad. ‘When I found the AIS-DSD (Disorder of Sexual Development) Support Group, I began to meet people who understood me. I also joined Inter/Act, an amazing intersex youth advocacy group. There I started telling my story and, for the first time, found power as an intersex person.’
8 ‘Most trans men are invisible and alone’
Jack Byrne, Aotearoa/New Zealand
‘Most trans boys and men here still question their gender identity alone. They do not know that they have a community or a history and they have no words to describe who they are. This has a terrible effect on our physical and mental health.’
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2015/10/01/i-am-what-i-am/
(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).