From Mexico to London: Latin American trans activist reflects on her childhood

By Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

Trigger Warning: This article discusses violence against transgender people

Candance or Candy Chávez is a Mexican activist who has been fighting for trans women’s rights for more than 6 years. She comes from Jalisco, Guadalajara, where around 12 to 15 trans women are murdered a year.

Candy has received threats and experienced physical attacks, which ultimately led her to decide to leave Mexico. She had to put her activist role of documenting the violence against trans women on hold, which she otherwise did in collaboration with the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People (RED LACTRANS): “I suffered threats from several powerful people and I preferred to leave before exposing my family or myself more.”

She moved to London looking for new opportunities,  where she is still involved in activism. Latin America, as she states, is a dangerous region for trans women. With her confident voice she introduces the spine-chilling result of her research: the life expectancy of a trans woman in Latin America is between 35 and 41 years. “Most of us die from violence, bad surgery, or poor medical treatment.” Her jaw tightened as she gave the figures. “In the last 5 years, nearly 300 trans women have been murdered in Mexico, at least one a week.”

In this interview, Candy opens a window to her childhood and adolescence. Both from her experience and her opinions, she highlights some of the issues trans kids have to face in Latin America.

What is your perception of trans childhoods and the role the media plays in it?

Since I was five, I knew I was a woman. To talk about trans childhoods is to talk about the recognition of children’s rights. Of children who are not comfortable with the gender that society wants to impose on them. Of children that should be allowed to recognize their own gender. Talking about trans childhoods is very important. The media doesn’t talk about it. They exclude or stigmatize it by saying that we want to impose a gender ideology on children. We are not an ideology, we are not an idea, we are an identity. I believe that the media should approach trans issues with much more respect, speaking from the experiential views from the trans community. Emphasizing we are not evil, we are not sick, we are different; but we are not wrong for who we are.

A huge part of my youth in Mexico, I lived with the anxiety of not identifying with whom I was meant to be, and not knowing what was happening. Society was always emphasizing that they were going to put me in a psychiatric hospital, that being trans was a mental illness. Then you start to live in fear. If we make being transgender visible, we make the new generations understand it as something normal. If we educate children outside this rhetoric of assault and violence, in a sphere of respect, affection and self-recognition, then we are going to raise happy kids free of judgment. Violence is something we learn, discrimination and stigma is something we learn. We are not born with them; they are taught to us.

What can parents or guardians do to create a childhood that is as safe as possible?

As parents, educate yourself. If you sense it, or your children at some point tell you that they feel like a different gender than they’ve been assigned, don’t judge. Because children don’t do things to be judged. Often, they don’t even understand that they are being judged. They understand what they feel. Before scandalizing, analyze it. Give the child the peace of mind that they can count on you. Investigate, talk about the topic. If you want to go to a therapist, do it. Look for a specialist to support you, but not the children, they are fine because they know what they want. The one who needs to understand this process is you. From there, perhaps the child chooses gender reaffirmation, and then you have the task of understanding and supporting them in a transition that will be less painful and more affirmative as a result of your support. Even for parents without LGBTI+ children, it is important that you learn about these topics, for instance through organizations working in the area.

What is your position on gender stereotypes?

It is very harmful to give objects or colors a gender because they are stereotypes. A trans girl can like cars and there’s nothing wrong with it. That a girl plays with cars or a boy plays with dolls has nothing to do with their gender identity or sexual orientation. All those are false associations we create, and they are still huge in Latin America. When we stop forcing those associations, we are going to allow children to freely develop their abilities and happily explore their capabilities.

What is your message to trans children?

We have to find ways to let them know that we exist, and that the adult trans community seeks the inclusion of trans children so that one day they feel comfortable in this world. Because there is nothing more terrible than living a childhood, adolescence and youth pigeonholed in something that you are not and not being able to express who you really are out of fear of being assaulted. I say this from personal experience.

Why a life in activism?

I am an activist because the first time I looked for work as a trans woman, they told me that my only job was going to be on a corner selling my body. I understood just as it happened to me, that it happens to many – many trans women have been deprived of their rights. Then something woke up in me, a feeling of screaming “I want to do something for others.” I do not want to speak from my position of privilege. I have a good family, I have not had to be immersed in the world of sex work and all these things that many trans women are involved in because they are neglected, stigmatized, physically and emotionally attacked or left behind in the social world. I have had the luck that many have been deprived of. I know the risks, I know that at some point I may have to be a little more controlled, but I will never stop.

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