Friday, April 04, 2014

International Transgender Day Of Visibility Keynote Address

International Transgender Day of Visibility
“Stand Against Transphobia”
March 31, 2014

National Library
Georgetown, Guyana

Keynote Address by Twinkle

Twinkle delivering the keynote address
Being a trans-woman in Guyana is challenging. I was born in 1993 with the assigned sex of male. At the age of 8, I knew that I was a girl trapped in a boy's body. Growing up knowing this was very difficult because my family was very strict and expected differently for their young boy child. Often I would change into my cousin's female clothing at nights, sleep and would wake up early to change before anyone in the home saw me. One morning I overslept and was found asleep in her clothing. I was beaten. From then I was often verbally abused and threaten to be put out of the home if I ever express my true self again.
I expressed myself only in dark places alone, away from my family and society.
At school, I adopted a male outlook and hid my identity as well as associated with the tough crew. This is because I knew how I would be treated if they knew who I really was. 
At age 15, having had no physical signs of male development, such as facial hair and voice changes as compared to my male cousins of the same age, I was taken to a doctor who prescribed testosterone. I was made to use this for 6 months.
With the treatment I developed masculine features, however inside I remained the same- female.
At age 17, I decided that I am a woman and will always be a woman. I was restricted from leaving the home. However, I went to parties, where for the first time I was free to express the inner me. This feeling of freedom was profoundly relieving, that I decided not to return home as it would have been back to a kind of prison.
I was now free to be me. Twinkle. 
As a trans-woman, I began dressing in women's clothing full time. This change brought new and different challenges, which not only affect me but every trans- woman in Guyana. Accessing public and private transportation became difficult where I was often left on the road stranded or some drivers would try to knock me over. In some instances drivers demand double and triple fares for transportation services. 
Employment opportunities are almost non-existing for trans-women, despite being qualified. This is because employers often stigmatize and fear us. They are against cross-dressing and feel that it is inappropriate and so would not employ us based on this. We need to live too, and to do that we need money, and are forced into sex work.  Doing sex work is very high risk and life threatening as there is violence from both clients and the police. There are instances where persons seek us out as clients but with the intention to rape, physically hurt and maim or even kill us.   
Healthcare providers often display negative attitudes and scorn towards us when we go to centers for medical care and treatment. This results in many trans- women feeling uncomfortable and unwanted to the extent where they refuse to access care and treatment services. Living a life filled with degradation and rejection from our loved ones, our families and society at large often finds many trans-women facing depression and suicide attempts. There are no mental health services available and often we are left to grapple with these issues alone. 
Many young trans-women suffer at the hands of their peers and teachers in school due to transphobic bullying. As a result many drop out of school. After realizing the value of education, many trans-women attempt to access education as adults. However, this is often not realized because cross-dressing is frowned upon in many institutions. Additionally, transphobic bullying is often perpetuated in these institutions by the students and educators.
Simply walking the streets is challenging where persons grope you to ascertain whether you are a “real woman or man; where verbal abuse is hurled at you; where threats are made; weapons drawn and physical violence often ensues. In many instances green lanterns meaning (beer bottles); wood; stones or anything handy are hurled along with the chorus of, "bun battie boy. Battie boy fi dead"  to harm and hurt you. In the last year alone, at least 4 trans-women were brutally murdered with no investigation to date nor anyone charged for their murders. Why does it have to be like this? Aren't we human beings too?
Complaints are often made to the police; however, they turn around and harass us, threatening to charge us for cross-dressing and buggery under the existing laws.  We are continuously denied our basic rights and are often pushed around. 
On this day, International Transgender Day of  Visibility 2014 I would also like to highlight the successes of trans women in Guyana despite the many challenges we face.  
We are still fighting to remove the laws which criminalize cross-dressing in Guyana. Last September, the Honorable Chief Justice, Ian Chang (ag) in his ruling stated that cross-dressing in a public place is an offence only if it is done for an improper purpose. There is no definition of "improper purpose" and so we are challenging this through the Court of Appeal. I am fearful for myself and other trans-women as I feel we can be picked up by the police “for an improper purpose” and prosecuted under the current laws at any time, simply because we cross-dress. 
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to highlight these issues with the hope that it will change the minds and hearts of those who discriminate against us.
It is my hope to see a Guyana where trans-women are recognized and treated equally, from childhood to adulthood. I would like a Guyana where trans-woman can access education, health, transportation, employment, police services and housing among other basic needs like everyone else. Where we are accepted by society and supported like every other Guyanese. Guyana is a diverse nation, land of six peoples, where in every race, you can find trans-women. 
Thank you.

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