Never Give Up

By: Felipe Vilcachagua and MaR León, IMPACTA CRSs, Lima, Peru

Stephanie Peña, a participant in the AMP study at the Impacta-Barranco site and an Impacta CAB member, shares with us how she dealt with discrimination and violence for being a transgender woman, and her experience as a clinical trial participant.

Stephanie was born 33 years ago in Quillabamba (in the Cusco province of Peru). From an early age, she broke stereotypes. "When I was a girl, my gender identity was not so marked as relating to women - in a country like Peru - with cooking and dolls. I liked soccer, I liked cars... but I also liked dolls. I cried about playing soccer, but I also liked being very feminine."

At the age of 6, she knew that she was different. She used to take baths with underwear, so as not to see her sexual organs. Her childhood was peaceful, thanks to the care of her father. However, she knew that being different "was a sin" when she went to the city of Cusco, a cosmopolitan but conservative city. "Homosexuals, transgender women and lesbians will not enter the Kingdom of God", "Lower your pants. Let's rape her…" - the previous phrases marked her life. Her eyes redden when she remembers that she suffered severe depression, to the point of trying to commit suicide.

This is me

When she became a legal adult, she came out of the closet with her parents as bisexual so that it would be "less painful for them". The lack of transgender role models and the little information she found forced her to investigate the transgender world on the internet. This is how two trans YouTubers became her "mothers," and were the source of inspiration for Stephanie to create her own channel on YouTube. Sometime later, Dr. Javier Salvatierra of the Impacta-San Miguel CRS guided her in the use of hormone therapy as part of her gender transition process.

Stephanie is one of the few transgender women visible in Peru who has a degree in psychology. She worked in a health center and in a public university, where she endured the heteronormativity of her co-workers. She did not give up. Currently, she works as a psychologist in a non-governmental organization aimed at the gay and transgender population, which receives funding through the Global Fund. "I'm helping people who at some point felt lonely like me."

Since 2016, her YouTube channel "Teffy Lu," has become her main project, whose videos have exceeded 9000 visits. Through this channel, she shares her personal experiences and knowledge of psychology; explains the transition process of a transgender woman; coming out of the closet; hormone therapy; sexual relations for transgender women; and other topics such as depression.

IMPACTA: I feel at home

She remembers how she started her participation in clinical trials. Almost all her youth, she thought she lived with HIV. But through the TRANS PREP project from IMPACTA, she had her first HIV test, learned she did not have HIV, and learned about HIV prevention strategies. At the end of TRANS PREP, IMPACTA recruiter Lucho Castro talked to her about the AMP Study and that’s how this story begins. She initially accepted so she could have the periodic HIV tests, but through the study she learned more about her sexual health and how to prevent HIV. The attention of all the professionals at the site influenced her personal self-care.

"At IMPACTA I feel at home. From Martin the patient advocate, the doctors, nurses, recruiters and tutors: they all have been very respectful to me. They treat me like a friend, as if we have known each other forever. Now I take the issue of HIV more seriously. I think it's important to take care of yourself, to love your life."

With her participation in the AMP Study, Stephanie has shown a lot of responsibility in the fulfillment of her goal to educate others, and she has shared information about the trials at IMPACTA with her friends and peers. This attitude, combined with her professional experience, made her eligible to join the Community Advisory Committee. For her, the CAC is a space for professional growth and an opportunity to contribute to the prevention and control of HIV and TB in different populations. "Through the CAB we can contribute to science, and care for all populations: gay, transgender and cisgender, without distinctions."

Now Stephanie counts the days to experiencing her new life with a new identification document where her chosen name is recognized. She dreams of being listened to through her channel on YouTube, and she continues to contribute to achieving new HIV prevention strategies in her roles as a trial participant and member of the CAB. "The key is not to surrender: love and take care of oneself."






Felipe Vilcachagua is the Retention Coordinator, and MaR Leon is the Head of Community Involvement at the IMPACTA Barranco and San Miguel CRSs in Lima, Peru.