Wednesday 8 January 2014

Interview with Tamara Adrián

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Tamara Adrián, a prominent LGBT activist and law professor from Venezuela. She is also an international activist, being the current Trans Secretary of ILGA, the Chair of IDAHO-T, and a member of the BOD of WPATH, GATE, and GLISA. Hello Tamara!
Tamara: Hello, Monika. It is a pleasure to be with you today, and respond to your questions. I think young LGBT are needed of positive examples of life, so they may create and fulfill a plan of life that fully responds to their wishes and desires, and promote their abilities and dreams without discrimination.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Tamara: Well, I am a lawyer that graduated with honors in Venezuela; I have a Doctorate in Law with honors at Paris University, and I am a law professor, as well as a practitioner lawyer.
Within this context, I’ve been able to potentiate my activism, by means of both writing and action. Some people are only academics, the others are only activists. I think that when you are able to combine both, you may propose ideas from the academic point of view, and may defend them in the field with your activism.

Monika: In 2004 you challenged the High Court of Venezuela, requesting the legal change of your gender into a female. What has happened since then?
Tamara: Pretty much nothing: I file new arguments and reinstall the petition every six months in order to avoid preclusion, but nothing has happened. This is a very sad and unfortunate situation, as Venezuela was the very first country in the region and one of the first in the world to recognize the identity of trans people in 1997.
Following the standards of such time: after a GRS, from 1977 to 1988, more than 150 persons received their legal identity by means of a “marginal note” to their birth certificate. This means that the birth certificate was not changed nor amended, but that at the end of the original document it was said something like: “where you read male you must read female, and where you read Fernando you must read Maria”.
Consequently, there was no privacy assured, as every time you produced the birth certificate for any purpose, you had this note that disclosed all the history of the person. Thus, my action is aiming at receiving a new birth certificate, as it is the standard nowadays. And it is promoting the recognition of gender identity in spite of a GRS. My case is currently heard at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and the responses given so far by the State of Venezuela to this petition, are just incredibly poor and out of scope, trying to gain time.
Monika: In 2010 you applied for the position of judge of the Constitutional Tribunal of Venezuela? Was your application successful?
Tamara: I was classified among the top candidates taking into account my CV. However, this was a political process, and CV did not have anything to do with the final selection, but with your submission to the current party in power in Venezuela. As I am a free thinker, and I am not committed to the PSUV, which is the Chavist party in power since 1998, my name was excluded from the final list submitted to the National Assembly.

At the Copenhagen World Outgames 2009.

I really believe that they lost a unique opportunity to try to present themselves as socialists – which I believe they are not- to the international audience, by appointing me as a second alternate. They would have never asked me to effectively become a Judge.
But they may have said: look, we are so inclusive that we appointed a trans woman as Judge to the Supreme Court. The fact is that their prejudices are so big, that Venezuela is the only country in the region where no significant advancements have been made towards the LGBTI population.
When you see the region, you notice that about 70% of the population has equal legal rights: Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, and to a lesser extent, but on the way to discuss equal rights, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.
In Venezuela, no real advancement has been achieved: we have no recognition for same-sex couples, no recognition for the identity of trans people, no effective protection against discrimination. Sad, when it comes from a government that considers itself socialist.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Venezuelan society and in South America in general?
Tamara: Trans women – and let’s not exclude trans men - are the more vulnerable portion of all the LGBTI population. Exclusion, segregation, violence, killings, lack of opportunities for schools, work, lodging, health care, etc., is the day-to-day reality faced by most of us. If you add, in the case of Venezuela, the lack of recognition of gender identity, and the non-existence of any affirmative action in their favor, you have there a very difficult situation to overcome without courageous actions from governments that are really committed to secure equal rights.
But this may change very rapidly. The example is Argentina: they approved a Gender Identity Law in 2012, which allows trans people to get their gender identity legally recognized without any surgery, hormone treatment, or physical change, and without any medical or psychological report, by simple request to the civil registry officer. They give you a new birth certificate, new identity card, and passport, and change your historic documentation to match your name and gender, in a period of 15 working days.

In a year and a half, more than 3000 trans women and men have had their identity recognized. The result: crimes against the trans population dropped over 67%. Because there is a clear relation between citizenship and equal rights: if your identity is not recognized, you are somehow like an illegal immigrant in your own country. You are prevented to enjoy the most fundamental rights.
Monika: I must say that I do not know so much about the Venezuelan transgender movement. The only prominent person I know about is Esdras Parra, a famous poet, painter, and writer that died in 2004. At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Tamara: Thank you for recalling to my mind Esdras. In the sixties, she was one of the most prominent members of the cultural movement, Director of the National Review of Culture, by the time she did her transition. And she was fired, excluded from any possibility to continue with her work, and she had to change her work to become a translator. Somehow, she is the example of how trans persons are “socially punished” for being who they are.

At the General Assembly of the Organization of American States 2011.

In general, the movement is quite incipient. However, I start to see some activists that are willing to do a job in the field. The main problem is related to the sequels of educational exclusion: if you do not have the theoretical tools in order to have an incidence, your action may remain limited.
This is why I encourage so many young trans people to study. Sometimes they tell me: Why if any way I would not have a job. And I tell them: it is in your hands to change the world. If you have the skills, and you are not hired, you may sue for discrimination; but if you do not have the skills, you will never be able to do it. And even if you are not immediately hired, you may be self-employed, create your own business, or have a much better position to change the world. Because in order to change the world, you must before change yourself.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Tamara: I think that my worst fears never got true. And I believe this happens to anyone. You are fearful of coming out because you think that the worst things will occur to you. In fact, some bad things may happen to you, but at the same time, so many wonderful things start to occur, and you realize that it was necessary to come out in order to become a real person, not a kind of impersonation. Not easy, I know, but necessary in order to grow up. Some people would tell you that it is necessary for you in order to accomplish your task in this world. In a way, I think that my task is to make people understand that gender is not sex.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a lovely lady yourself but what advice you would give to ladies with the fear of not passing as a woman?
Tamara: I think that the task is of the size of your dreams: to train your voice, to become a passable woman, to interiorize your identity to overcome this kind of cartoon you are at the beginning of your transition. In any event, everyone has to be clear about what she can and what she cannot change. And this would certainly help to pass, even if your body shape or your face is not helping you.

At the International Congress of Gender Identity in Barcelona,
Spain, 2010.

Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Tamara: In general, they respond to either a “caricaturesque” view of the trans population, pictured as men in drag, not as women living and struggling in a different body; or somehow as dangerous people, promoting discrimination and stigma.
Some pictures do try to go out of this stereotype, but just a few. But there are some exceptions, and there will be another one: they made a film based on my life, though it is a fiction that is trying to picture the situation faced by trans people during their transition. It is called Tamara, and the premiere will be at the end of 2014.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Tamara: Of course. It is necessary to be actively involved in politics, and furthermore, with a political party. For many years I thought the opposite, and I concentrated my action within the NGOs. But every time I had to get something I had to go and ask for it from the politicians.
And a few years ago, I thought: I must become then a politician, so I may directly take such actions that I am requesting from others. This is how I became a founder member of Voluntad Popular, a left democratic party, which is the only Venezuelan party having in its by-laws the pursuit of equal rights as a goal.
Within this party, I organized a social movement called Pro-Inclusion, aiming at promoting equal rights. This political activity was very rewarding, and many other LGBTI persons are now getting involved in the political activity. Of course, some critics tell me: you are now a politician, so, you cannot be a part of civil society anymore. As if this was not compatible. I think this is only a tool, another tool, for equality. Now I act as a scholar, activist, politician, and international advisor. Not easy!
Monika: Is there anyone in the Venezuelan transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the '60s and '70s for the gay activism?
Tamara: Well, sometimes people tell me that I am doing something similar things to what he did. 

Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda in Venezuela? 
Tamara: The three separate umbrellas for equality: a) full legal recognition of gender identity without any medical or surgical requirements, b) effective protection against discrimination; and c) affirmative actions to overcome the effects of social, cultural, educative, working, health care, exclusion.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Tamara: I would not have had the opportunity to be who I am should I did not have the amorous, loving, compassionate, and unconditional love of my wife. Yes, I am a lesbian trans woman.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Tamara: What I wear is what I know fits me well. This is a must. I may love things that do not fit me. This is the trick. Find your style. 

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Tamara: In general, I am not supportive of beauty pageants: I think they promote and exploit the worst part of gender stereotypes. Being Venezuelan, and having in the country the record of “misses” having win Miss Universe, Miss World, and other pageants, I have come to a point where I just hate them. But, as I always say: the fact that I dislike pageants does not give me the right to judge those who decide to be part of these contests. 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Tamara: Should I have the time!
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Tamara: Of course. On organizing the 2014 IDAHO-T day based on the idea of “freedom of expression”, aiming at getting international protection for trans people on the grounds of the treaties protecting freedom of expression, which is not limited to freedom of speech; on organizing the activities of the Trans Secretariat of ILGA for a worldwide network of trans people; in promoting trans participation in sports, with GLISA; on promoting changes with regard to ICD-2015 for WHO, to depatologize trans conditions; on creating a worldwide network for expanding the actions of WPATH around the world… well… so many things. I just need more people involved. I hope many of the persons that read this interview could be motivated to help!
Monika: Tamara, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Tamara Adrian.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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