The Vicious Cycle of Invisibility: How Trans Role Models Can Help Us Combat Transphobia

04/02/2015 06:11 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
reprodução/facebook/maria clara araújo

How can we combat transphobia? I've been looking for an answer to that question these days. I don't see this as an academic, abstract issue; I think that this is the time to give a voice to trans people and let them talk about it. What we need is to help each other fight, start listening to new voices and build a strong movement.

One of the main problems is that many of us don't live around trans people. Growing up, I never had trans people visiting my house. My family doesn't even know any trans people. This invisibility, propagated by the willing and unwitting actions of governments, media and authority figures, perpetuates the isolation of the trans community from mainstream culture. This segregation also comes with all the stigmas: In Brazilian popular culture, there's a tendency to associate trans people with HIV, promiscuity, drugs, psychological issues, prostitution or violent behavior. It's scary hearing people in Brazil say, "Trans people carry a razor blade. Be careful, and don't be around them." When we talk about them, that's what comes to our minds: people who work on the streets during the night, shaking their purses under the streetlights, hoping that the flickering light stays on because they need to be visible.

But what this popular image doesn't reveal is that trans people, on top of all the moral condemnation, are also being killed in Brazil. Every day.

They are isolated by the state, which is starting to develop public policies as if only now the trans community started to exist, after a soap opera showed that they are among us. They are isolated by those of us who don't question the status quo, who live in a world of rigid gender binaries, or when we identify a trans woman as a feminine man, which is wrong. We are not educated enough to see the big picture, let alone question it.

I'm pretty sure that what opened my eyes was my activism. I often hear statements like "Oh, you are one of those human rights activists, always being politically correct," as well as so many other things that people try to say to diminish and silence our voices. I see activism as the best way to change that, because when we ascend in our social and financial status, we also move away from isolation.

The other day I was at a poetry slam, and we were talking about sexual diversity. I have a lot of respect and admiration for people who are using public space for teaching, and this is happening in the city where I was born, Nova Iguaçu (in the state of Rio de Janeiro). I admit that our last poetry slam was binary; only gays and lesbians -- cisgender people -- were there. We didn't have any trans people in attendance. But it wasn't because Janaina, Matheus, Carol, Gabriel and the other organizers didn't want it. A girl took the microphone and made her point: "Why don't we have a trans person among us? Because it's later than 10 p.m. This is the time when they are working on the streets, working to survive."

In Brazil, the price of transgressing gender norms often entails rejection by society at large. A disproportionate number of trans people are relegated to working in drag entertainment or prostitution -- a kind of visibility that creates both vulnerability and stigma.

When the trans community is marginalized, they can't participate and make their voices heard when public policies are being discussed. And throughout all our lives, we are made to believe that this is going on because trans people are sick and promiscuous, among other negative stereotypes.

I'm proud of trans activist Maria Clara Araújo for all she has been doing, for all she says and represents. Recently she was admitted to the Federal University of Pernambuco and will be the first trans student studying education there. I'm also proud of Julia Dutra, the first trans person to become a public high school principal in Rio de Janeiro. Representation matters!

I'm proud of Dora Silva Santana, a black trans woman who is in Texas working on her doctorate degree. I'm also proud of MC Xuxu, a trans, feminist musician who does beautiful work in a prison facility for women, a place where they live in solitude, abandoned and rarely visited by their families; some of them haven't seen their parents for years.

Transphobia is inside all of us. It's our duty to change it. We've made great strides recently; we are speaking out about all those issues, and our movement is getting stronger each day. We belong to the Brazilian generation that came from nowhere, from places where our voices were never heard.

We now occupy positions in the best universities in Brazil, and we can confront the racist speech that comes from the same white, privileged people who have been controlling our country since 1500. They say we are presenting ourselves as victimized. I say we've had our mouths shut for our whole lives, and now we are speaking out. I believe that we can fight from both inside and outside the system. Each step is an important victory, and we can already witness some changes happening.

I dedicate this post to Maria Clara Araújo, Miriam, Dora, Julia Dutra, MC Xuxu and all trans people who are fighting every day. I'm so proud of all of you. You have taught me a lot, you make me rethink my own prejudices, and you are beautiful people, even if others would never say you are.

This blog post was originally published on HuffPost Brazil and was translated into English. It was edited for an American audience.