Photographers' Blog

Repressed fear in a transgendered world

March 16, 2011

“Even Obama cares about us! The last time a gay leader was assassinated in Uganda, Obama asked [President] Pepe [Lobo] to protect us and investigate the crimes against us in Honduras,” says Bessy, a 31 year-old transsexual who does volunteer social work with the homosexual community during the day. For the last 11 years, Bessy has also been working nights as a prostitute on the streets.

Transgender Bessy, 31, puts on make up in Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011. According to leaders of LGBT organizations (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), 34 people have been murdered in the last 18 months. The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Honduran government sources have documented the assassination of 34 gays, transvestites, and transsexuals in the past 18 months. Some of them were killed with great sadism and cruelty. Three days before Christmas, murderers tied Lady Oscar to a chair and set fire to her. A week earlier the body of Luis Hernandez was found in a ditch, her face beaten until it was unrecognizable.

I meet them in the basement of a pool hall located in a dangerous neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. There, along narrow and dark stairways, are several rooms where Bessy, Patricia and Tiffany live.

“Today is Thursday, a good day to make some money,” they remark.

As they cross-dress before hitting the streets, I ask them about the violence. Patricia, a 24-year-old cosmetology student, answers, “On the street we’re insulted all the time. If we’re attacked, the police appear not to defend us but to join the attackers. We’re treated like dogs, not human beings. Last December attackers killed Riana, who lived here with us. Nobody has been accused, nobody. I don’t think this will change for the next 50 years.”

Transgenders Patricia (L), 24, and Tiffany, 19, put up make-up in Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011. According to leaders of LGBT organizations (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), 34 people have been murdered in the last 18 months. The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), have requested the government investigate the murders and safeguard the human rights of the LGBT community, local media reported.  REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Little by little their new look, hair and face colors motivate me to begin photographing.

With bras and pants adjusted they parade inside the tiny rooms converted into a runway, a fashion runway filled with laughter and horror stories. We spend the next two hours in what becomes a backstage for what was to come. I can feel only praise for the way they hide their repressed fear.

Transgender Bessy, 31, displays a flower tattoo and crucifix on her chest in Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011. According to leaders of LGBT organizations (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), 34 people have been murdered in the last 18 months. The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

“This is something that we do for money, and to denounce the machismo and cynicism that exists in the country. For sure many men who hate us when they’re with their families and friends will be among the six or seven clients we’ll attend to tonight.” After we get down from their luxury cars they point their fingers at us again, but then keep coming back.”

In spite of their photogenic looks and elicited empathy, it’s still difficult for me to work. There’s almost no room to stand, it’s nighttime and the room light is dim.

Transgender prostitute, Bessy, 31, gets ready to work on the streets of Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011.The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Tiffany, 19, an accountant who also studies cosmetology, tells me, “Our clients are all types. I’ve had some famous ones. There are mechanics, taxi drivers, young, old, poor, rich.” Tiffany practiced prostitution but left it after being run over, death threatened, and finally stabbed in the back. “I thank God for the support of my family, of my parents. They don’t want to see me on the street. They accept my condition and don’t want to hide it. They want to see me as a young, gay, decent professional. My father is going to help me open a beauty parlor. Nevertheless, the situation on the streets is terrible, and we don’t have to be prostituting ourselves to be attacked. They throw stones at us, ice cubes, beer bottles, and even darts with blood on them.”

Transvestite Tiffany, 19, shows the scar of a knife attack in Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011. According to leaders of LGBT organizations (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), 34 people have been murdered in the last 18 months. The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Before we leave, Bessy pauses in front of religious icons adorning a wall. Patricia crosses herself, but Tiffany decides to stay home. She’s thinking that maybe the others won’t be back. Her tone of voice changes. Bessy comments, “These crimes in Honduras are out of hate. This is a lay country, and the religious aspect is important in the social reactions that we provoke.”

I accompany them in a taxi to another desolate, dark place, to a street corner just two blocks from the office where I work. Inside the taxi the radio is playing a song by Calle 13, “…The bullets are as cheap as condoms, there’s little education, many cartridges, when you read little you shoot a lot…” Between giggles Patricia says, “That’s true. I had to go to Guatemala out of fear and threats after a friend was murdered and they cut out her tongue for having made accusations. When I was 11 I told my siblings that I like men, and they beat me in front of my mother. At 13 I had my first relation with a man, a relative. After that they threw me out of the house and I ended up on the street as a prostitute.”

Once out of the taxi they introduce me to other transsexuals already there. I explain the story I’m working on and the majority accept to be photographed.

Transgenders walk while waiting for sex customers on a street in Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011. According to leaders of LGBT organizations (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), 34 people have been murdered in the last 18 months. The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

I begin to photograph and realize the risk I’m in at being seen by their clients. They probably will feel threatened, but my idea is not to photograph them or their cars. Their clients begin to arrive on motorcycles and in vehicles with tinted windows. My subjects get into the cars, step out, and back in again. The police patrol the area.

“Hey Bessy, don’t get mad but how much do you charge for your services?” I ask.

“No problem,” she says. “We charge 1000 lempiras (50 dollars) for two or three hours of full service, and half for oral sex.”

“And that is enough to live on, and maybe pay for implants?”

“Barely enough to live on, and almost nothing for implants,” she answers. “A buttocks or breast implant costs around 100,000 lempiras (5,000 dollars) in Honduras, but they do a bad job. Anyway for that you have to find a good client. I like to get it done in Spain.”

A transgender looks at herself in the window of a car while waiting for sex customers on a street  in Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011. According to leaders of LGBT organizations (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders), 34 people have been murdered in the last 18 months. The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

One transsexual of the group tells me, “Hey, you’re good at taking photos. You look like a photographer!” They all laugh. She begins to take off her clothes and tells me to photograph her, but only once she’s cross-dressed. Once in her underwear she looks at herself in a car mirror. The others laugh as they yell at her, “Hey! Didn’t you want to be photographed?”

They invite me to a protest demonstration they plan in a few days, and to visit the grave of a young gay activist who was murdered. “We protest on the 13th day of every month against impunity, in front of the justice ministry.”

Jose Zambrano, leader of APUVIMEH, a Honduran organization that works with HIV positive people, places flowers on the grave of gay activist Walter Trochez, 25, while a young friend of Trochez watches, at Amor Eterno cementery in Tegucigalpa March 15, 2011. Trochez's body was found shot in the head with signs of torture and  on December 13, 2009. According to APUVIMEH 34 gays, transvestites, and transsexuals have been murdered in the past 18 months. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Later, when we leave the street corner I say goodbye. One of them says, “Don’t put my name in quotation marks!”

Comments
2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Thank you so much for this article! I’m transsexual and whenever I read about transsexual sex workers in Latin America, South Asia, or anywhere else my heart is always pounding and I think, those are my people. Most news articles, especially from North American or European sources, don’t talk about them as people, though. You let us inside their world and showed us their strength, hardship, and glory; and for that I, on behalf of myself and all my transsexual brothers and sisters (no matter what we do or why), thank you.

(Oh, and you came close by showing one of them fixing up her hair, but thank you for not choosing a photo of one of them putting on makeup; it’s an infamous cliché for any news story about transsexual women and I was happy not to see it here. Keep it up!)

(Okay, one last thing: thanks for the closing quote. I know it strikes fear into my heart to imagine myself being mentioned in a news article with my name in quotation marks, or with the wrong pronouns, etc. Thanks for not only being respectful, but for airing their wishes as well.)

Posted by Tina_Russell | Report as abusive
 

http://blogs.reuters.com/photo/2011/03/1 6/repressed-fear-in-a-transgendered-worl d/

Re: Repressed fear in a transgendered world
MAR 16, 2011 17:34 EDT

Hi, I work for the National Immigrant Justice Center, I run the Asylum Documentation Project for the National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities- My project provides documentation on human right abuses for sexual minorities and those with HIV/AIDS who are seeking asylum based on sexual orientation and HIV status- Part of my job is supporting asylum seekers who are in deportation proceedings in detention centers all over the US.

Your article caught my eye and I would like to be able to use it to support asylum seekers from Honduras. For purposes of asylum, I need to have a date of publication and the name of the person who wrote the article- Is this something you can provide me with, so I can use it in support of LGBT cases from Honduras?

Sincerely,

Dusty Araujo
Asylum Documentation Coordinator
National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities
National Immigrant Justice Center, A Heartland Alliance Partner
PO Box 558
San Francisco, CA 94104
tel: 415-398-2759, Fax: 415- 398-4635
e-m: daraujo@heartlandalliance.org
http://www.immigrantjustice.org/resource spolicy/napso/napsmtest.html

Posted by NIJCSF | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/