In Puerto Rico, a Trans Collective Is Reimagining Family Values

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] The full title of this article is “‘Here We Can Express Ourselves with Freedom.’ In Puerto Rico, a Trans Collective Is Reimagining Family Values.” Alejandra Rosa (TIME Magazine, June 29, 2021) reports on House of Grace, a collective founded by a transdisciplinary artist and activist María José.

Among the rocks of their Caribbean archipelago, a group of trans artists and creatives in Puerto Rico have found their safe port. It is a harbor offering them safety and affirmation amid choppy waters. Both a natural resource and cultural construct, it has an appropriately reverential name: House of Grace.

House of Grace was founded by María José, a transdisciplinary artist and activist, in the months after Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. In the midst of natural disasters and a global pandemic, when rains have flooded and the earth has been shaken, the dancers, performers and writers who make up the House have laid down collective roots, built trust and chosen one another.

Despite its name, the House is not a physical domicile but instead a group who work to take care of themselves, and to uplift each other’s power, beauty, and artistic talents amid a worsening culture of discrimination against queer and trans people. Over time, House of Grace has evolved into a tight-knit yet welcoming community—and a family.

“To me, a family is a group of people that are willing to support each other through the unpredictable, imperfect and complex experience of being human,” María José, 28, tells TIME. “A collective that will stand up for each other against any threat.” María José had first gathered the group to practice dancing as a language to express liberation. That was when Lú, a founding member of the House, first learned to vogue—an opportunity to embrace their gender identity. Lú now speaks of voguing with the same sparkle that they use to describe their House: “I was very discriminated against as a ballet dancer. I had always been very feminine, [and] was constantly told I had to be more masculine,” Lú explains. “In vogue I found a celebration of the nonbinary.”

“Being queer in Puerto Rico has always been a struggle, especially if there haven’t been [other] queer people in your family,” Lú continues. “On my family’s end, I have felt support, but we do not understand each other in the same way we get each other at House of Grace. It isn’t the same relationship.”

In essence, House of Grace has become a “chosen family”—a group that can coalesce alongside, or more often in the place of, its members’ biological relatives, and works to provide authentic kinship and the support to which queer individuals are often denied. It offers space for individuals to discover their truths, and to live them; to develop nuanced relationships and find partners in love and crime, teachers and students, cheerleaders and confidants and therapists and advocates.

Members of such families can take on heteronormative, hierarchical roles—such as those of “house parents” in the drag and ballroom scenes, for example—or work as a collective in which responsibilities are shared as equitably as possible. Many of the House of Grace’s members credit María José as a mom figure; to Lú, she is one who provided them tools to heal and cope with everything from a “lack of love” to a “[lack of] lunch.” (But the House, María José notes, aims to become a decentralized space in which all its members can parent each other.)

Trans people in Puerto Rico face systemic discrimination at work and public spaces, and are at a disproportionate risk of anti-gay and anti-trans violence and hate crimes. According to official records, 6 trans people on this island of only 3.1 million were killed in 2020—a devastating toll to begin with, and one that the queer community believe is drastically undercounted. It is believed that nearly 10% of last year’s officially reported femicides were transfemicides—such as the February 2020 murder of Alexa Negrón Luisiano, a killing which received much media attention but remains unsolved. This total is three times the toll of 2019. (Sexual harassment of trans people is equally widespread and ignored; Lú experienced it in a former workplace with few consequences—though, they note, fellow House of Grace members offered much emotional support.) [. . .]

For full article, see https://time.com/6071474/house-of-grace-trans-rights-puerto-rico/

[Photo above by Gabriella N. Báez—Magnum Foundation: Lú, House of Grace member, poses for a portrait on the beach near their apartment in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.]

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