[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for contributing several items on transgender persons in Guyana. This is the second of two posts.] In the Stabroek News column In the Diaspora, Alessandra Hereman writes about her experiences as a transgender woman. She advocates for acceptance and for changes in Guyana’s legislation. Below are excerpts from “Tolerance is for starters, but I prefer acceptance.” [Also see previous post “Transgender is not my only identity.”] Hereman writes:
[. . .] It’s been eight years since I first identified as a trans woman. It has been a liberating yet challenging journey. In 2012, I legally changed my name. The process was a relatively smooth one. The Justice of the Peace and staff told me what I had to do without questioning the name change. The clerk at the High Court also advised me to go and change my identification card at the Guyana Elections Commission. The Guyanese constitution does not allow trans or gender non-confirming people to change their gender markers on identification documents, nevertheless, the ability to change my name was/is a small victory for me.
Advocating for acceptance
I work for one of USAID health projects in Guyana, serving the needs of those who are made vulnerable to HIV, discrimination and violence because of their situations — family rejection, homelessness or unemployment. I work closely with healthcare providers and social protection officers to address stigma and discrimination and increase gender inclusivity and sensitivity in healthcare and social services delivery.
As a trans woman I am grateful for the support I receive from the people who accept me. Tolerance is for starters, but I prefer acceptance. I see tolerance as the halfway house between rejection and acceptance. Unfortunately, in most instances, tolerance does not shift a dominant status quo, it exists to stymie social progress, because all we do is “tolerate” without addressing differences, without recognizing, accepting, and celebrating those differences.
When people discriminate or stigmatise, it is often because they don’t understand a person or situation and their actions are guided by prejudice and stereotypes. But when I facilitate discussions around gender and sexuality, explaining that both exist on a spectrum, I can sense a shift in people’s attitudes. For me, acceptance is where people have an understanding of and a respect for diversity and they value inclusion.
In September I will be entering my final academic year at the University of Guyana, completing my undergraduate studies in Sociology. I am always conscious of the privileges I have, as I know the majority of my trans siblings experience greater difficulties in the areas of family, education, employment and relationships. My trans-sisters in Berbice have shared their experiences of abuse by law enforcement, including—wrongful detention because they happen to be trans and inhumane and degrading punishments like being stripped naked and forced to model.
Trans women live at the intersection of multiple oppressions: we are often victims of trans-misogyny and gender discrimination. We are robbed of educational opportunities because of a homophobic and transphobic learning environment, which results in unemployment, homelessness and the inability to access resources. These social determinants in turn negatively affect our health. According to reports, Trans women are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population; in the Americas including Latin America and the Caribbean, the average life expectancy of trans women is 35 years, and trans women have a global suicide rate between 20%-50%. [. . .]