Johnajohn, 1st non-binary person with university degree in Colombia
Cali, Colombia, Aug 22 (EFE).- Johnajohn Campo does not identify as either a man or a woman, and so when she – as she prefers to be called – graduated with a degree in Plastic Arts from Del Valle University in the city of Cali, she wanted the degree to recognize the fact that she was neither a male (maestro) nor a female (maestra) graduate but rather the first gender-free “maestre” in Colombia.
In Colombia, the rights of minorities have been steadily gaining more protections from the Constitutional Court. And Cali, the country’s third-largest city, has been the epicenter of those struggles, beginning with same-sex marriage and now with the recognition of guaranteed access to education for people with different ways of expressing – or refusing to select – their gender.
At age 39, Johnajohn, who was assigned masculine gender at birth and later transitioned to female but does not identify as either, has achieved another landmark advance for the LGBT community: having a professional academic program acknowledge a third or non-binary “gender.”
She said that the legal support of her university and Ruling 447 handed down in 2019 by the Constitutional Court – which for the first time permitted transsexuals to change their names in the Civil Register – were basic elements in the Education Ministry’s decision to approve her degree with the non-gender designation she had sought.
“I’m aware that as activists or artists we are doing pedagogical work and this academic title, quite beyond providing me with certification, sets a precedent by bringing two basic issues into public debate: the identifying name of people and the expression of non-binary gender, which are a social language construction,” Johnajohn told EFE.
She said she had felt since childhood that she did not fit into the traditional gender roles and, via her body, she represents a “multiplicity of expressions of gender” that she artistically reaffirms with her “performances.”
She filmed a documentary titled “Cross-dressing in precarious times: Family stories,” which explains what non-binariness actually means. “It’s not about hegemonic and stereotypical gender constructions. I’m a multiplicity of expressions, and so I construct myself from the standpoint of that non-binariness,” she said.
Her university career and training has allowed her to develop art with her body, her clothing, her body-language; creating plastic arts and relational art, which deal with the construction of a community fabric.
She said that within her family she encountered that barrier of prejudices and the defense of traditional values, but her pedagogical work has enabled her to find spaces for dialogue.
On the day of her graduation, for example, she attended the ceremony with her two mothers: her biological one, who is her emotional support within the home, and her trans mother, who suffered similar discrimination to Johnajohn during the 1970s.
In recent days, Johnajohn has been very active on the social networks. She looks happy in her black blazer, displaying her diploma with her legal name – John Freddy Campo – and her identity name, Johnajohn Campo, and she provides links to the numerous interviews she’s had with local media.
But she also posts negative comments and criticism that publications regarding her story and situation have received, comments such as: “If one doesn’t identify as either of the two genders, why is one seen as a woman?” and “Human stupidity has no limits,” as well as “And so, what is this satanic freak?”
But she says that these coarse comments don’t affect her.
Johnajohn admits that if she had heard such things when she began her transition, it would have been difficult to go out on the street and create her character because in Colombia people who don’t fit into society are disappeared.
The Trans Community Network, an organization that fights for the rights of the trans population, reported earlier this month that so far this year 27 trans women have been murdered because of their sexual identity. But the true figure, they said, is higher.
So, Johnajohn insists that the key is developing a teaching approach in different spaces within society, in fostering activism in neighborhoods and displaying and getting people acquainted with roles that are not traditional.
Today, she said, she feels happy about the road she’s opened up for those who come after her with the same needs. She also emphasized that Cali is the city where it happened, noting that “Cali is the capital of the resistance. Obviously, it’s a city in which there’s been structural violence against people of different kinds, but also there’s a social and political awareness.”