The struggle for transgender identity in Mexico

Mexico’s transgender and transexual community is demanding spaces free of violence in the face of hate crimes and discrimination

The struggle for transgender identity in Mexico
Contestant Anahi Cristobal Altuzar of Mexico prepares for the final show of the Miss International Queen 2018 transgender beauty pageant in Pattaya, Thailand - Photo: Soe Zeya Tun/REUTERS
English 12/10/2018 18:50 Laura Jiménez Mexico City Actualizada 20:49
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Beyond the controversy surrounding transgender contestants at the Miss Universe beauty pageant, Mexico’s transgender community is demanding spaces free of violence where they may live and develop like any other social group.

Jessica Marjane Durán, founder and coordinator of Mexico’s Trans Youth Network since 2014, underlined that “spaces for the participation of trans women must be made free of violence,” though she was also critical of the Miss Universe beauty pageant and the inclusion of two trans women from Spain and Mongolia in the pageant, which had never been done before.

“We need to ask ourselves to what extent these spaces have been helpful for us and where their interests lie. We should know that beauty pageants reproduce an ancient stereotype of women who compete for their personal image, and the struggle for transgender identity should not be limited to that. But the matter of hate crimes is even more worrying, and one of the most important problems that we need to address,” she stressed.

In an interview with EL UNIVERSAL, Marjane Durán insisted that “we should not condemn trans women to be defined by their personal image,” after explaining that one of the organization’s main goals was the defense of human rights, as well as the legal and affective support of transgender women.

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS has estimated that a transsexual’s life expectancy is of barely 35 years. This becomes clear when we observe cases of trans women who are murdered in our country,” she claimed.

One example is Alaska Bout, who was crowned Gay Queen of 2018 in Mexico and was found dead during the month of July in Veracruz, becoming the 15th transsexual woman to be murdered in the state this year.

Marjane Durán stated that discrimination has devastating effects in society because it translates into the victimization of sexual diversity through hate crimes. “How can we expect authorities to guarantee our right to life when impunity has been normalized?”

In August, the creation of a special attorney’s office specialized in crimes involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transvestite, transsexual, and inter-sexual community (LGBTTTI) was announced in Mexico City, meant to handle cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, though sex crimes and murder were not included.

In the opinion of Marjane Durán, the measure is insufficient to address the community’s struggles: “The laws exist, but they are rarely enforced,” she claimed. “We need to rethink the types of violence we suffer and think of ways to eradicate it. We need to deal with hate speech directly, because there is no way to uphold a neutral stance in this case. We need to foster empathy in society so that we may transform this social landscape that seems so full of uncertainty,” she highlighted.

Regarding the Miss Universe controversy, the director of the NGO “It Gets Better Mexico,” Alex Orué, expressed: “I do not enjoy spaces that objectify women’s bodies, but in this context, we need to understand the violence transgender and transsexual people face when their identities are put in question. There is no reason to deny their identities or the way they have chosen to express themselves.”

“In the end,” he added, “each of us has the right to live our own sexual and gender identity however we want, and to deny said right, even in a subtle way, is an act of violence that contributes to hate crimes,” he stressed.

It Gets Better Mexico is in charge of offering mental health support for the LGBTTTI community. Orué pointed out that racial and socioeconomic discrimination affected people differently than discrimination based on sexual orientation: “The main difference is that, when you get home, you find people living in the same context, while in other cases, we find homes that are openly hostile towards sexual diversity. It builds a feeling of loneliness and isolation that makes us vulnerable, not only regarding the damage it can do to our mental health and self-esteem, but also to physical violence and people who may want to take advantage of our situation.”

“It is very important for many people, specially trans women, to feel accepted as they are, and according to the gender they identify with. It is also important to stress that a surgery, hormone treatment, or an official ID card do not make you more or less of a women or man, because sexual identity transcends the genitalia you were born with,” Orué claimed.

Hate and discrimination have led the community to create their own safe spaces: “There are exclusive places for us, because the rest of society has no room for sexual diversity. We had to claim these sites to make them safe and turn them into places where we can live together and develop as people, because we couldn’t do it elsewhere,” he stated.

The Miss Universe beauty pageant changed its rules in 2012 after the Canadian contestant Jenna Talackova was exposed as a transgender woman and later expelled form the competition. Talackova sued the organization and the scandal led the institution to open its doors to transgender contestants.

This year, the first person to speak against the participation of transgender women in the pageant was the representative of Colombia, Valeria Morales, who criticized her countrywoman Ángela Ponce by saying that the contest was meant for “women who were born as women.”

Former Mexican beauty queen Lupita Jones aligned herself with this stance by saying that the competition should only feature contestants who were under equal conditions. Her statement was deemed trans-phobic by a large part of the Mexican people. “Comments such as these normalize homophobia and trans-phobia. It is dangerous to share this type of opinion. These claims are unworthy of respect, because they constitute a hate speech. Freedom of expression should have its limits, which should be set before speeches that promote hate or discrimination,” Orué claimed.

Some of the beauty pageants in Mexico that feature transsexual, transgender, and transvestite participants are Miss Trans Star, “Nuestra Belleza Gay” (Our Gay Beauty), and contests that take place in other states.


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