Social Issues

Indigenous trans women in Colombia battle for acceptance

By Irene Escudero

Bogota, Jul 2 (EFE).- Known in their native language as “wërapara” (“not women”), the trans women of the Embera indigenous people of northwestern Colombia are speaking out against discrimination.

“To be a trans indigenous person in the community sometimes causes me shame,” Roxana Panchi, who lives on the Embera reserve of Karmata Rua in Antioquia province, tells Efe, referring to common taunts such as “you were born a man,” “you will never be a woman,” “how will you be a woman if you don’t have a vagina?”

Her response?

“I like men, I like to be penetrated. I am a woman, very much a woman.”

Roxana utters those words in the documentary “Wërapara, Trans Girls,” by Colombian director Claudia Fischer, which had its official premier Saturday in Bogota as part of Pride Month.

The film tells the story of Roxana and five other trans women of Karmata Rua: Marcela, Jaima, Gina, Alexa and Pamela.

Official surveys indicate that only 12 percent of Colombians are openly LGTB and indigenous lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people “are a minority within a minority” Fischer tells Efe.

Yet in Karmata Rua, “many, many boys who wanted to be girls came out and presented as trans,” she says.

“Many work harvesting coffee, with practically non-existent pay and subjected to discrimination and abuse, but the remarkable thing about this group of Emberas is that they remain in the community, devoting themselves to agriculture, weaving, making chakiras (jewelry of colored glass seed beads) or ceramics,” the filmmaker says.

“One sees that in our society there are sometimes much bigger difficulties to come out of the closet than those they have had inn theirs,” Fischer says, though the film does not minimize the hardships endured by the wërapara.

Fischer met the women three years ago in London, where she traveled at the invitation of Richard Battye and Liliana Sanguino to be a part of the interactive project WRAPAROUND, centered on the process of fashion designer Laura Laurens and the trans artisans of the Karmata Rua community.

The Colombian national ombud’s office has documented 48 murders of trans women in the last 18 months, while the Trans Community Network said that 11 trans women were slain last week, including a woman beaten to death on the street in Medellin by three men wielding chains.

“We have struggled to show people that we can be someone in life,” Alexa says.

Only 7 years old when her mother died, Alexa and her three younger siblings were left orphans with the suicide of their father just four years later.

Her father, she says, never knew the truth about her gender identity and didn’t like it when Alexa played with dolls.

The documentary begins with Alexa singing in Embera:

“Always woman, turned into the flower of the hummingbird,

Perfume with the scent of earth, clay woman,

Flower of the earth, trans girl, always woman,

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