A Light Inside
Oftentimes transwomen play volley ball or other games such as Bingo before work for extra money. Since many of them live together in communal houses it is easy to organize afternoon games.
Katalina holds a newborn kitten after she found it on the street. She said that the mom had been killed by a car. She named her Michelle and feeds it milk in the hopes that she will survive.
In Peru, a country with a highly machismo, conservative, religious and transphobic culture, transgender women are extremely marginalized and discriminated by society.
Persecution begins early at home and school, causing them to abandon their families and studies. With few options or economic support, the majority fall into prostitution where they live in compromised conditions throughout their lives with limited opportunities for social security, higher education or employment outside the streets. With few avenues for upward mobility, they are sequestered in hostile environments characterized by rejection, fear and exploitation.
As transgender sex workers, they are easy targets of disease, violence from police, partners and clients and sexual and substance abuse. In fact, eighty percent of trans homicides worldwide occur in Latin America. Without legal protections or recognition, many cases of violence and death in Peru go undocumented, leaving these human rights violations invisible.
However, what is visible are photographs in traditional media that show them as hyper-sexualized, deconstructed objects only capable of prostitution. These stories dangerously focus on the superficiality of sex rather than the complexities of gender identity. As a way to combat these stereotypes, I have aimed my camera on their personal lives with friends, family and partners rather than their lives on the streets. When photographing the streets, I strive to convey the tight-knit connections between the women, the abuse by law enforcement, the discomforts of prostitution or the quiet, quirky moments that are hidden from mainstream media.
Though transwomen in Peru suffer rejection throughout their lives, what I have always noticed is a light inside of them. A light to be recognized, a light to keep fighting, a light to survive.
Oriana, right, hugs her now ex-boyfriend, Josue. Though he said that living with her helped him to lead a better life, he would also talk about how their relationship was not right under the eyes of God.
Yasuri, 24, right, who sleeps next to her boyfriend, moved to Lima at 17 because of bullying at home and school. Her mother, who she says is homophobic, would often beat her and her brother once cut her hair to the scalp. Though her boyfriend and her have been together for two years, she often says she is going to end it because he gets violent with her when he drinks or does drugs.
Transgender women are extremely marginalized and discriminated by Peruvian society. Persecution begins early, causing them to abandon their studies and families. With few options or support, many fall into prostitution.
Though prostitution in Peru is not illegal, many transwomen are frequently arrested in police raids. After trying to run away, Kiara is held by officers, who will take her to a police station for questioning. According to a study by Lima’s Cayetano Heredia University, the police force and the Catholic church are the two most homophobic institutions in Peru.
Identity in general is very strong. Nobody can deny you it, because it’s inside of you, said Ximena Salazar, an anthropologist at Lima’s Cayetano Heredia University.
According to Salazar, when people deny who they are, many problems such as self-rejection and self-destruction begin. After work Danuska, center, and her friends go out dancing at a club that features a night specifically for people from the LGBTQ community.
Briss’s room is left in shambles after a fight with her boyfriend, who punched the mirrors and threw furniture. Though their relationship is violent, Briss and her boyfriend have been dating off and on for several years. Though after every episode she says it’s the last time, somehow, he always comes back.
While working, Jordy, left, gives her friend a shoulder to cry on after finding out that her boyfriend was cheating on her.
[Sex work] is a complete social world. There is a network, friends, enemies, the family is there. Your real family rejects you so your family is also there, said Salazar.