An oasis against prejudice
“We can live with differences. What’s important is to appreciate the differences between people instead of seeing them as something negative,” says one of the participants on the LIFS feminism course. This unique course has provided young people with a forum where they can fully be themselves.
Around 20 youngsters are sitting in a venue in Lima. There’s a relaxed atmosphere. Diakonia’s partner organization Lesbianas Independientes Feministas Socialistas (LIFS) is holding a course in feminism, and it’s the end-of-term session.
The meeting starts with the youngsters practising a few songs for the forthcoming Pride parade. LIFS has a group of drummers that always plays in the parade. You don’t need to be an expert to take part. The most important thing is that you want to.
“A body can never be wrong”
Esther Rodriguez, who’s holding the course, says that today’s topic is transfeminism (see fact box). The discussion gets started; not all participants are in agreement, but all opinions are welcomed and respected. The discussion concerns how the heterosexual norm prevents people from living life to the full, and how the rights of trans people (see fact box) are violated in society.
“People need to understand that biology is not a question of destiny,” says one of the young people, who is a trans woman. “When people say I was born in the wrong body, I think they’re wrong. I wasn’t born in the wrong body – it’s my body and a body can never be wrong.”
“How I then decide to change or use it is up to me. A person is a process. We all make changes over a lifetime, and for me, this change was necessary to be able to live as the person I am inside,” she continues.
Several participants agree.
“It’s not us who are the problem, it’s those who don’t respect people different to them who are the problem,” says one of the youngsters.
“We’re not violent, we don’t threaten people – they’re the ones who do that. We just want to live our lives and be respected just like everyone else.”
In Peru the rights of trans people are limited. It is illegal to change your name or gender in the state register. This limits access to work, care and education. Hate crimes against trans people are common. According to El Observatorio de Derechos LGBT y VIH 33 trans women have been murdered over the past two years.
Several of them have experienced discrimination. A young trans man was thrown off a bus, and another was thrown out of a lavatory.
“They said I wasn’t allowed to be there, despite me identifying as a woman.”
A third was spat at in the street.
The LIFS feminism course is a unique project. It offers an oasis against prejudice and discrimination. Eight times a term, youngsters come together to discuss various feminist theories. The course has been held for the past three years, and the number of participants has increased each year. Initially, the course was aimed at lesbian women, but the organizers noticed there was interest from trans and non-binary people, which is why they decided not to limit participation.
“I’ve always questioned the stereotype that we trans women are expected to follow. To be hyperfeminine and heteronormative. The course has taught me how to formulate arguments to be able to defend my position and the person I am. I can now say that I’m a trans- and Afro-feminist. I’ve learned about a lot of things that I didn’t understand previously,” says Isabella.
“The course has been very important to me too,” says Lourdes. “Previously, I didn’t understand that I was entitled to be who I am. That there isn’t anything wrong with me.”
Lourdes says that she’s from Puno and that her family have questioned her life choices and sexual orientation. When she lived at home, her parents wanted her to have plaits and a skirt, but Lourdes felt uncomfortable with that. She cut her hair short in protest against oppression by the patriarchy.
Created a safe space
“I didn’t know what feminism was before. The only thing I knew was that I felt I didn’t fit into the typical woman’s role. Through the course, I came to understand that the woman’s role is a constructed one and it’s society, not us, that constructs it,” says Lourdes.
Today, she lives in Lima and has her own clothing brand, “somos libres” (we are free). She says that the course and LIFS have helped her a great deal in terms of plucking up the courage to use her mode of expression in her designs.
“We can live with differences. We can take care of each other. What’s important is to check your privilege and appreciate the differences between people instead of seeing them as something negative. The course is proof that this is possible, and it’s only in this way that we can create something greater,” says Milli, who is working to get her university to respect her identity and register her under the name she identifies with.
“We’ve created a safe space where everyone trusts each other and we can be fully open about who we are. This is a big thing for us, as we face discrimination in so many situations,” concludes Isabella.