From Noun to Verb: Three Parallel Lives of Beauty, Competitiveness, and Empowerment


By: Carolina Arredondo Villar, Lucía Ruíz Escalante, Carlos Vela Vela, Association Civil Selma Amazonica CRS, Iquitos, Peru

The value of stories lies in learning from brave people who share their so-called life lessons and how they have overcome life’s challenges. These three survival stories lead us to understand the urgency of leaving speech behind and taking action, that is, transforming nouns into verbs.

“Some people mistake nudity for sensuality and vulgarity. Stay a mystery!”

- Carolina Herrera

 

BEAUTY + INTELLIGENCE = POWER

Chris Martínez presentation MA2018
Chris Martínez presentation MA2018 Click for high-res version

Since 2015, Chris Martínez dreamt about becoming a queen after watching Lady Jeri crowned as Miss Amazonas, but there was a huge obstacle Chris had to overcome: her shyness. She had never participated in any play in high school, nor being a contestant for any beauty pageant. She had actually refused to run for Miss Belén Trans. Then, her mother and sister encouraged her. At that moment, Miss Amazonas 2018 Queen was born, bringing the crown back to Belén after 11 years of absence.

It was difficult for Chris to accept herself, and the process began with a hormone treatment at the age of 17. The following year she began her transformation to become a trans woman. Were there any jokes? Yes there were, and they were indeed as numerous as the love of her family was huge, which was Chris’ source of power to face life. Likewise, Chris has Francesca, her transgender sister who always supports and accompanies her.

Dragon fantasy costume show
Dragon fantasy costume show Click for high-res version

The Beauty Academy (a component of the Miss Amazonas pageant) was very difficult for Chris because it demanded her time and sacrifice, which in exchange gave her information and empowerment. It was great. Now Chris wants to follow this method to strengthen herself and help other transgender women by giving motivational speeches on the advantages and disadvantages of hormone treatment. “There is very little known about this topic, but by 2019 I’ll start this path at the Asociación Civil Selva Amazónica,” she said.  Chris will also carry out sensitization work about the importance of participating as volunteers in the research for solutions to prevent HIV.

Chris thinks about modeling in Lima, plans she’ll carry out in the future. Chris is convinced that physical beauty is accompanied by intellectual beauty, your education, which she defines as the glamor of  women.

Like many others, Chris Martínez considers that Angela Ponce’s participation in the Miss Universe 2018 pageant (representing Spain) has opened a wide door for transgender women. She also thinks that this fact will help to unite the Iquitos trans community,  minimizing the fears of coming out and making themselves visible to society. For that purpose, Chris will continue to help empower others through beauty, knowledge, and acceptance of themselves, because it is not only about a face or a body, but also about education, and there ismuch to learn!

Chris Martínez, Miss Amazonas 2018
Chris Martínez, Miss Amazonas 2018 Click for high-res version

“We cannot allow others’ limited perceptions to define us."

- Virginia Satir

 

KNOWLEDGE CREATES COMPETITIVENESS

Cristina Vela, previously runner-up for “Miss Amazonas 2016,” is currently hostess of the Asociación Civil Selva Amazónica. She has worked in many  places where she had played a role as a male, but knew herself to be a transgender woman. For Cristina, education is the engine for change in the world.

The first challenge of her life was to accept herself. It was difficult because she didn’t know who she was, she didn’t know what a “trans girl” was, and she was not comfortable with her gender. Nowadays, she knows she is a transgender woman and why she is living day after day. Knowledge was the key to her liberation.

Cristina states that competitiveness has meant improving herself to overcome the difficult circumstances she has faced along her way. Therefore, she faces obstacles and challenges, including within her family, and responds with defiance on a daily basis, because it has been neither easy nor impossible at all.

Cristina Vela, hostess at ACSA
Cristina Vela, hostess at ACSA Click for high-res version

Cris works at a store in Iquitos where she was required to have a short hairstyle, and when she asked her boss if the company would hire a trans girl as allowed by law, she was told “absolutely not” and that they would take her application but wouldn’t hire her. This affected Cris’ self-esteem, since she had to play a role that was not true to herself. To be a contestant in “Miss Amazonas 2016,” Cris joined the Beauty Academy, empowered herself, acquired knowledge, and changed.

Cris has been working for two years at the Asociación Civil Selva Amazónica as hostess and it’s a great opportunity to empower herself and widen her knowledge. She works in a comfortable environment, because her co-workers treat her as a transgender woman.

Cris says, “The trans community is in the process of strengthening itself and gaining acceptance from society. If they have no rights, they cannot move forward or evolve. Transgender women are often labeled as thieves, “peperas” [women hired to attract men at parties, bars or clubs and then drug and rob them], or sex workers, however there are many trans women who don’t do any of that.”

“Those who don’t move  do not notice their chains."

- Rosa Luxemburgo

 

BUILDING IDENTITY TO EMPOWER

Fiorella Jiménez is a spokesperson for Kallpa, and jointly works with CHERL and the Office of the Public Defender in Loreto-Perú on the defense of the community. She doesn’t consider herself as a role model, but she does desire to become a reference for her community.

Fiorella Jiménez, transgender woman leader
Fiorella Jiménez, transgender woman leader Click for high-res version

Fiorella’s at Ayacucho, in Mesa de Kallpa, to share experiences using a methodology guide to implement a comprehensive sexual education program with CHERL and the Office of the Public Defender. She has been working on this since she was 15 years old and in high school. Her life has not been easy, especially regarding her family; she got away for a while, but now they live together once again.

“Up until now, the topic (empowerment) has been difficult. I am focusing on working with trans women, and it is twice as difficult because there are only a few trans women participating in this topic. Why? It’s a matter of stigma and discrimination. The trans women exclude themselves because of their work, and they are more concerned about doing well. If they were properly directed, we would do greater things,” she said.

However, discrimination is not only experienced externally, but also internally because there are those who say they are transgender but do not transition and live openly as transgender people. It is a challenge to build a self-identity that includes the concept of “trans” and to live with the suffering of not knowing who you are. For Fiorella, transgender women may be directed and empowered to know and enforce their rights from this moment on, and then they can dialogue with the authorities to propose changes.

Fiorella has a great concern about the absence of regional ordinances that directly endorse transgender women. There are ordinances about discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity that are more focused on the gay community, and the trans communities don’t consider themselves included. In the health sector, for example, many women stop coming to medical facilities because they are badly treated. “Using the bathroom is a small thing but causes great damage,” she stated.

Empowering contestants for “Miss Amazonas 2018”
Empowering contestants for “Miss Amazonas 2018” Click for high-res version

Fiorella shared that an example of a positive response from an authority is that her social name is respected, and she is acknowledged in her study center. On the other hand, she received a negative answer when she tried to talk to the dean of a local university and the members of the university assembly but they refused to receive her because of being transgender.

Participating in “Miss Amazonas 2015” contributed to her empowerment. Through the Beauty Academy she had the opportunity to receive support,  and since then she has had the opportunity to empower other contestants. In 2019, she plans to develop a personal project with transgender women.

 

 

 

 

Carolina Arredondo Villar, Communication expert on Community Education, Asociación Civil Selva Amazónica

Lucía Ruíz Escalante, Chief of the Community Education Area, Asociación Civil Selva Amazónica.

Carlos Vela, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator, Asociación Civil Selva Amazónica.