Young MSM/Transgender want to be treated as citizens not potential HIV/AIDS victims

More and more I seem to be coming across young gay, transgender and bisexual youth who feel weary it seems from the over supply of pinch leave an inch condoms, pamphlets and paraphernalia on safer sex and AIDS and other related materials as multiple agencies jostle to reach what has basically become the same cohort on the face of it of males for the most part in the quest for HIV prevention but where are the more meaningful outreach and interventions for holistic development and nurture?

Some in the know may say that funding is hardly available for those kinds of developmental work (which maybe true in a sense but still sounds more like an apology for slackness and maintaining the old status quo) and indeed the more cynical would go as far as to say it is not the agencies involved best interest to do or offer such meaningful interventions as that will diminish their cohort of potential service users and thus nothing to report hence no need to prepare programs only to seek future funds, after all agencies exist to supposedly help but how many persons are actually being helped or impressive success stories to prove same while old narratives are still being used to suggest that gay/bi men do not have access to safer sex implements which is a lie.

CVM Newscast of the Cargill Avenue eviction where the truckmen/movers found and commented on the condoms they found
CVM Newscast of the Cargill Avenue eviction where the truckmen/movers found and commented on the condoms they found

also see: Homeless MSM/Trans youth draw attention in New Kingston

Homeless MSM having their version of fun recently by the infamous Gully nearing  the Island Car Rentals office
Homeless MSM having their version of fun recently by the infamous Gully nearing the Island Car Rentals office
From the Millsborough Avenue embarrasing eviction of some of the homeless MSM/Trans persons last year, condom wrapper is clearly visible
From the Millsborough Avenue embarrassing eviction of some of the homeless MSM/Trans persons last year, condom wrapper is clearly visible
More condom wrappers indicating that the men are only seen as HIV Prevention targets, what about other developmental work?
More condom wrappers indicating that the men are only seen as HIV Prevention targets, what about other developmental work?

The complaints and reports still come almost on a monthly basis these days of some homo-negative outcome somewhere on the island and the phone calls of requests for money or some form of assistance are growing in frequency too as economic issues abound. There agencies that run and managed by powerful gay persons who have the clout to solves this long standing matter of displacements seeing we have both hard and anecdotal evidence that tells us in no uncertain terms that those are visible consequences of stigma, homophobia and homo-negativity.

Take for example this flashback: UNIMPRESSED WITH THE CVM TV SHOW ON MSM HOMELESSNESS

The September 6th 2012 appearance of representatives from The National Council of Drug Abuse and AIDSFREEWORLD’s Maurice Tomlinson to address the recent public eviction of homeless MSM from Cargill Avenue was at best damage control to another embarrassment regarding the poor response from the relevant LGBT agencies. JFLAG WAS NOT PRESENT AT THIS CVM TV LIVE @ SEVEN Program The attempt to use old programmatic language by Maurice Tomlinson to suggest MSM have no access to condoms while the CVM newscast itself showed the movers holding the condoms in their hands they found on the site and saying the men were practising safer sex should be instructive to ALL in view.

Young gay men as indicated above are also becoming weary of the way they are viewed despite the aforementioned concerns in a group session over the past week some young men some of whom were teetering on homelessness were invited to a meeting called by a community influential who is concerned about the numbers of them on the streets mostly from Kingston, Portmore and Spanish Town (excluding the five who are helped by a church/LGBTQ group in an ongoing weed whacking project) where they aired some issues they had it was instructive that some of them had a barrage of condoms on their person and laughed at the exposure of them as they accidentally fell from a bag of one of the attendees. He joked “All dem do a full mi up wid boots” (all they do is full me up with condoms) “boots” is the colloquial expression for condoms but something happened after the initial laughter died down as it seems the realization that they were having trouble finding permanent shelter or other crisis issues ongoing were real and that “boots” cannot be a solution whenever they are met by the various outreach teams as part of the HIV prevention strategy. The homeless men for example who have been making the news in New Kingston have been receiving food items once a week but is that enough? They too have had loads of condoms thrown at them as we have seen repeatedly on the television newscasts and other videos covering them. What about the deeper issues and personal concerns they have. The men in the meeting of which I was present were asked to fill out a random list of what they require and their lists read as a call for items and things you and I may have probably not considered important as we enjoy those amenities or interactions on a daily basis and indeed take them for granted. The simple lament by the boots carrying man screams far more than just the obvious since they fell in such a great numbers, one could easily count thirty or so. The conversation continued after the list creation exercise and what came out was a stunner to me despite my knowledge of how some persons feel about the whole scenario as older displaced men in time have echoed a similar sentiment with some level of frustration.

The ideal scenario would be a meeting place for group session and support meetings

Steady supply of food cooked or uncooked

Shelter and some sort of transitional living program towards independence

Educational or skills building opportunities

Guidance on developing and executing life plans through self efficacious activity not just limited to HIV prevention

Exploring the arts and possible skills linked to cross dressing aesthetics and affinity to cosmetics (drag culture, forced feminization and female cisgenderistic presentations for male to female transgender persons in the group)

But by the sound of the lament and the subsequent tete a tete the men are not satisfied; theirs is a perception that more privileged homosexuals control tons of money in funding and that the money is being spent on non essential things such as court cases, fat cat salaries and perks while persons who are on the lower socio totem pole are just relegated to being “victims” or service users and nothing more, doomed to get HIV (if they do not have it already) or waiting to die. Such were the tones in the ensuing discourse. Recent history has unfortunately given some credence to these perceptions as feelings of abandonment of the aforementioned homeless men in New Kingston still linger from the repeated news headlines, shenanigans and police interventions of that population and believe me word travels whenever there is any such occurrences. The men in the long and short of it want to be seen as human beings that deserve respect as one older person claims that there is favouritism as well in how interventions are carried out by some agencies and their representatives. Why are some powerful advocates and personalities in HIV/MSM prevention in particular refusing to go this route of real life changing intervention rollouts is still not clear to some, the departure of a Board Chair of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life also has not gone down so comfortably with myself and others as her stance on homelessness was supportive for the most part despite the run-ins with the men and the stoning incidents on their former offices at Upper Musgrave Avenue yet by the soundings out there one particular former chair but who still sits on the bench has been haggling against any such proactive moves to address homelessness which does not surprise me as he was the chair when the Safe House Pilot was closed with no psycho-social interventions allowed to stop the “bad behaviour” that was used a justification to take such final actions on a needed project.

My part in the whole affair however was to offer some encouragement to the lads in the scheme of things especially owing to the fact that one of the men’s friends was hospitalised recently for a brief illness but how can words heal when the real life toughness abounds and affect their present reality? Then we turn around and wonder why the anti social behaviours are happening when it is obviously clear to those looking that such are only means to an end to forget if only for a fleeting moment the worries of the hour. It is also interesting that as a group the men are indeed “rowdy” (word used by voices in the gay lobby to describe them also “maladjusted miscreants” showing the elitist side to this) but as individuals is it amazing what comes flying out of them in a one on one session discussing real life matters yet they are for all intents and purposes made to become martyrs in a sense for a cause that they might not have subscribed to in ordinary circumstances when asked to do so. Leaving them out in the cold for so long seems unethical on the face of it then allowing the numbers to reach levels where they can be used and paraded as “concerned” advocates make themselves look good in coming to their rescue. We are not fooled by the deception but let us see how long the using will take place and if really any proper productive end will come of the recently announced shelter idea, yet another one.

Some indigenous groups such as the aforementioned St Catherine weed whacking project group, Colour Pink (aligned to the aforementioned JASL) and Aphrodite’s PRIDE Jamaica of which I am performing Outreach and Facilitation duties for their Enterprise Training Project for more stable formerly displaced MSM/Trans and Lesbian individuals are addressing in their own way psycho-social issues and other concerns such as jobs and education development but we know where some of the blame of all this lies at the feet of these same agencies who only do enough to look as if they are addressing some issues but not with a view to adequately address what they take on only for the interventions to last out for experts have jobs it seems. Others seem more interested in media whoring possibly to satisfy a narcissistic complex at the expense of the least amongst us and then we wonder why we are here with an exploding displaced and homeless grouping and advocacy in limbo in the face of steady HIV/AIDS infection rates in the MSM cohort.

The APJ training for example we stay far away as a possible from an over preponderance of HIV messaging and instead go for positive reinforcement in terms of identity, coming out and so on.

Some things to think about but who is brave enough to say it openly when their snouts are in the troughs?

Integrity in advocacy anyone?

Peace and tolerance

H

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DSM-5 Falls Short on gender dysphoria revision, ICD 11 Update

image from GIRESUK (other images added as a visual aids for non experts on transgender issues understanding)

The following are aspects of the a presentation by a leading transgender and Gender Dysphoria Reform advocate, it is a summary by Kelly Winters Ph. D of recent changes to gender related diagnostic categories in the DSM-5, published last month by the American Psychiatric Association, and proposed changes for the ICD-11, scheduled for publication in 2015 by the World Health Organization.  It is based on proposed revisions to the ICD-11 presented by Drs. Geoffrey Reed, Peggy Cohen-Kettenis and Richard Krueger at the National Transgender Health Summit in Oakland last month and on discussions at the Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE) Civil Society Expert Working Group in Buenos Aires last April.

There are two primary issues in medical diagnostic policy for trans people. The first is harmful stigma and false stereotyping of mental defectiveness and sexual deviance, that was perpetuated by the former categories of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and Transvestic Fetishism (TF) in the DSM-IV-TR. The second is access to medically necessary hormonal and/or surgical transition care, for those trans and transsexual people who need them. The latter requires some kind of diagnostic coding, but coding that is congruent with medical transition care, not contradictory to it. I have long felt that these two issues must be addressed together –not one at the expense of the other, or to benefit part of the trans community at the expense of harming another.

also see from my sister blogs:  Being Transgender Is No Longer A Mental Disorder ?…………… and Gender Dysphoria Diagnosis to be Moved Out of Sexual Disorders Chapter of DSM-5 ……. The “D” Switcharoo? plus more HERE

The DSM-5 Falls Short, Despite Some Significant Improvements

The new revisions for the Gender Dysphoria diagnosis in the DSM-5 are mostly positive. However they do not go nearly far enough. The change in title from Gender Identity Disorder (intended by its authors to mean “disordered” gender identity) to Gender Dysphoria (from a Greek root for distress) is a significant step forward. It represents a historic shift from  gender identities that differ from birth assignment to distress with gender assignment and associated sex characteristics as the focus of the problem to be treated. This message is reinforced by the August 2012 Public Policy Statement from the American Psychiatric Association, affirming the medical necessity of hormonal and/or surgical transition care. In another positive change, the Gender Dysphoria category has been moved from the Sexual Disorders chapter of the DSM to a new chapter of its own. Non-binary queer-spectrum identities and expression are now acknowledged in the diagnostic criteria, and the APA Working Group has rejected pressure to add an “autogynephilia” specifier to falsely stereotype and sexualize trans women. Children can no longer be falsely diagnosed with this mental disorder label, strictly on the basis of nonconformity to birth assignment.

However, the fundamental problem remains that the need for medical transition treatment is still classed as a mental disorder. In the diagnostic criteria, desire for transition care is itself cast as symptomatic of mental illness, unfortunately reinforcing gender-reparative psychotherapies which suppress expression of this “desire” into the closet. The diagnostic criteria still contradict transition and still describe transition itself as symptomatic of mental illness. The criteria for children retain much of the archaic sexist language of the DSM-IV-TR that psychopathologizes gender nonconformity. Moreover, children who have happily socially transitioned are maligned by misgendering language in the new diagnosis.

More troubling is false-positive diagnosis for those who have happily completed transition. Thus, the GD diagnosis, and its controversial post-transition specifier, continue to contradict the proven efficacy of medical transition treatments.  This contradiction may be used to support gender conversion/reparative psychotherapies– practices described as no longer ethical in the current WPATH Standards of Care.

Finally, the Transvestic Disorder category in the DSM-5 is even more harmful than its predecessor, Transvestic Fetishism. Punitive and scientifically capricious, it only serves to punish nonconformity to assigned birth roles and has no relevance to established definition of mental disorder. The Transvestic Disorder category has been expanded in the DSM-5 to implicate trans men as well as trans women, with a new specifier of “autoandrophilia,” apparently pulled from thin air without supporting research or clinical evidence.

The ICD-11, a Historic New Approach

icd-11-book-cover

The 11th Revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11) is scheduled for publication in 2015 by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is a global diagnostic manual that contains chapters for both physical medical conditions and mental conditions. In contrast to the DSM-5, the ICD-11 holds promise for unprecedented forward progress on both issues of social stigma and barriers to medical transition care.  At the National Transgender Health Summit in Oakland last month, members of the ICD-11 Working Group for Sexual Disorders and Sexual Health confirmed proposals for  substantive changes in gender and transition related codings.

The Working Group has proposed a historic shift of transition related categories, now labeled “Gender Incongruence,”  out of the Mental and Behavioural Disorders chapter (called F-Codes) entirely. It is to be placed in a new, non-psychiatric chapter, called “Certain conditions related to sexual health.” The Incongruence title is distinct from DSM-5 dysphoria title, to clarify that this is no longer a mental disorder coding.  They have also proposed to eliminate victimless sexual paraphilia categories from the manual, including: F65.1: Transvestic fetishism. A similar category describing dual gender individuals, F64.1: Dual-role Transvestism, would be deleted as well. These changes have the potential for enormous progress in reducing both stigma and barriers to medical transition care, for those who need it.

When implemented, they would effectively obsolete the new psychopathology categories of Gender Dysphoria and Transvestic Disorder in the DSM-5.

There are also questions and shortcomings in the current  ICD-11 proposals.  While the proposed children’s coding of  Gender Incongruence of Childhood is no longer a mental disorder label,  any pathologizing coding of happy gender nonconforming or socially transitioned children, who are too young to need any medical transition or puberty-blocking treatment, is highly controversial among clinicians, families and community members.  The diagnostic criteria for children, like those in the DSM-5, still emphasize nonconformity to anachronistic gender stereotypes as symptomatic of sickness. The adult and adolescent criteria have copied ambiguous language from the DSM-5 that cast desire for transition, in itself, as pathological. Worse yet, false-positive diagnosis of happy post-transition subjects inadvertently contradicts rather than supports medical transition care.

The ICD-11 Working Group for Sexual Disorders and Sexual Health should be commended for advancing these historic reforms. However, it is important that Group members listen to the remaining concerns of community members and supportive care providers.  Adults and adolescents needing access to medical transition care, or pubescent youth needing puberty blocking medications, require a clearer description of the problem to be treated. Young children, who may only need information, monitoring and support, have very different diagnostic needs and diagnostic risks than adults and adolescents.

Thoughts on “coming out” as Transgender to family

As coming out day approaches on October 11th here are some suggestions for coming out specifically for transgender issues, these are NOT hard and fast rules but just some tips, the FINAL decision is left up to the individual

Here is a leading transgender expert who shared this is me some time ago and was posted on sister blog GLBTQJA on blogger some time ago.

A. B. Kaplan (Transgender Health)

Before you come out:I think it’s important to start with thinking about the purpose of your communication, and that is just to come out to them, to come out of hiding and let them know who you are and what you’ve been struggling with. I’m making the assumption that you also wish to remain as close as possible to your family, and be accepted and hopefully supported by them in the future.

There’s also the question of if you should come out at all. If you are dependent on your parents/family (under 18, or if they are paying for college, etc…) then you need to think of the very real possibility of their cutting you out or off. The last thing you want to be is a homeless transgendered youth. If this is the case, then it may be wiser to spend some time finding and getting support before proceeding.

If you decide that the time is right and it’s safe to come out to them then…

The Vehicle:

My experience has been with Transgendered clients, that a letter works best. The letter has several advantages over face to face communications.

You get to take your time and think about what to say and word it perfectly.

You can have a friend, therapist or supportive person read it over first and give you feedback.

You can’t be interrupted.

The recipient can go back and read it again and take their time with it.

Why a letter and not an email? Well, it’s more personal, email can be a little cold.

What to say:

I’m of the school of thought that you should just say it in your own words as clearly and plainly as possible. I think it can be good to also include the following:

Reassurance that you love them and want to remain connected and hope that they will be supportive.

Reassurance that this is not their “fault”.

A little bit about your struggle with gender over the years, your experience, coping, isolation, etc… (be specific! It will help them empathize with you)

A few recommendations of books, articles or support groups in their area

and I recommend to ask them specifically not to respond right away, but to take some time (a week) before they respond. Let them sit with it. This will weed out any immediate bad response and let them cool down.

Just as you would tailor a cover letter for a job you may need to tailor your coming out letter for different family members. Your parents are two (or maybe more than two) separate people, invite them to respond individually.

What not to say:

No need to talk about specific long term plans/timetables or surgeries in your coming-out letter. Remember, the purpose of the letter is to let your family know that you are transgendered. Period. Future plans are better left for future communications. Why? Because just digesting the fact that one has a trans son/daughter/brother/sister is enough to begin with. Remember, you’ve had a lot of time to think about this and are ready to move ahead. They are just learning of this for the first time and need to absorb it. I think its ok to gently allude to the fact that changes might be coming in the future, but I wouldn’t go father than that in your first communication on this topic.

There is no need to go into the etiology of transsexualism here. There are too many conflicting theories biological and otherwise, and even if you knew the origin of your being transgendered, it wouldn’t change it.

Afterwards:

If you get a positive response that’s great! Otherwise stay calm, even if you get a negative first response. Give them time.

Don’t be reactive to a negative response. Be the adult (or if you don’t feel it, just pretend). Remember the long term goal is to have them be connected to you and supportive. Keep the long term goal in mind in all your communications with them.

It does happen sometimes that parents have a very negative response and even reject you outright. This can be very hurtful and disappointing. When this happens, again, don’t be reactive no matter how you feel. Keep the long term goal in mind. It’s easy to “write them off”, but ultimately unsatisfying if you want to have your family.

A few things to do with a negative reaction:

Communicate that you are open and ready to talk when they are,

Be empathic with their difficulty in accepting/understanding/assimilating this information. Understand that they need time and may have a religious/cultural basis of understanding that can’t be overcome quickly.

Express your wish and hope that it will change over time.

Ask what you can do to help them accept this?

Other Approaches:

You know your family best, so keep that in mind when crafting your coming out communication.

Here are some other perspectives on how to come out to your family:

coming out, hormone, surgery, and other letters

http://www.videojug.com/interview/how-to-come-out-to-your-family-and-friends-as-transgender video ‘How To Come Out To Your Family And Friends As Transgender’

http://www.hrc.org/issues/3455.htm

Article ‘Coming Out to Family as Transgender’ from The Human Rights Campaign

http://www.tsroadmap.com/family/index.html

Transsexual Road Map – Family issues

 

What needs to be done to help Transsexuals In Jamaica

Coming on the heels of the Miss Jamaica Universe’s group basically disagreeing with the inclusion of a previously booted transgender entrant in Canada albeit she allegedly was not clear on filling out the entry form to say she was born female, a local transgender voice has prepared a post to add her voice to the furore to look at related issues as this time.

I also feel is an opportune moment to help sensitize the public including L, B and G populations about transgenderism and transsexuals as several misconceptions abound and frankly there maybe many persons who identify as GLB but who maybe in fact transgender but do not know it or have sought the necessary consultations to find out.

see a previous post on the Jenna matter from Canada on my sister blog GLBTQ Jamaica on Blogger:

Transphobia: Miss Jamaica Universe Pageant rep says no to transgender entrant in Canada beauty contest

Miss Laura wrote:

Take the buggery law off the books; the buggery law hampers education about this topic. Jamaican’s on a whole consider transgender and transsexuals to be homosexuals. They are not aware that being transgender or transsexual is about a person’s gender Identity their sense of self and not sexual preference. Here in Jamaica people tend to group anything that is not considered normal (gay’s, Lesbians, transvestites, transgender, transsexuals, cross-dressers and the list goes on to be all homosexuals or as it is called (batty man, and sodomites).
Removal of the buggery law would open a door not for just gay men and women but it would also allow transgender people to feel a certain level of security knowing that the law is now on their side and can enjoy equal rights and protection.
I have heard people say that there are no transgender people in Jamaica. That’s just ridiculous and ignorant why would they state this as a fact? Well it is simple most transgender people don’t even know they are transgender or transsexual. They automatically are grouped with the gay community. Many transgender and transsexuals adopt the “GAY Life Style” hoping they would fit into the social landscape where there is friendship and protection and the possibility of feeling less of a freak and more of a normal human being.

Once the buggery law is repealed we can begin to make change in the way how people treat and associate the transgender community with homosexuals and lesbians.


What changes need to be made?
1. The health care system where transgender people can access to counselling, hormone treatments, and Sex Reassignment Surgery. At this time there are no health organisations offering transgender Services Island wide. Many transgender people access hormones mainly on the black market and or through if they are lucky a doctor who is willing to treat them on the QT. Some if they happen to have the financial resources access hormones by purchasing them online.

Many transgender people are often too poor because they cannot get jobs because of their transgender status. Many resort to prostitution due to being ejected from their families and have nowhere to go but the streets. Transgender and transsexuals seek refuge within gay communities as a means to survive.
Those lucky enough to leave the country and make their way to the US or the UK where they can access treatment and live in relative peace. Unlike here in Jamaica where you will most likely be beaten or killed because Jamaican s confuse gender with sexuality.

2. Educating the public about transgender and transsexuals will bring greater enlightenment to the masses, and change the lives of many who are wrestling with a gender identity conflict. Many transgender or transsexuals know they are different from an early age. Little boys seen playing with dolls many not be gay but might be or most likely are transgender or transsexual. Educating people of this will greatly improve the lives of these young children and lead them to a better quality of life and most likely a productive one and far from the thought of suicide.

3. Amendments to Labor laws preventing the discrimination against transgender and transsexual people in the workplace or from being denied job placements in both public and private sector organisations due to their lifestyle or mode of dress e.g. a transsexual living as a woman, dressing as a woman, but may not look feminine . Such a person would be seen as a freak and be automatically turn down for a job placement. Most transsexual’s transition late in life and this tends to be the norm in some cases some transition early in life if they have the support of family.

image from: transgenderzone.com

Late transitioning

A late transition equals less chance of passing unless that person had many expensive surgeries to undo the many years of testosterone exposure. Where early transition starting in the teenage years can have a favourable outcome where the masculine features can be reversed and made feminine under the effects of oestrogen will most of the time produce a passable young woman.

4. Amendments allowing transgender or transsexual men and women to have the same equal right like every other non transgender or transsexual man or woman.This means individuals should have the right to marry like non transgender /transsexual people. Have the right to have their identity papers altered to fit their chosen gender Identity without being judged and told that what you’re doing in the eyes of God is wrong.
Transgender/transsexual people should have the right to equal opportunities like all other peoples that make up our diverse culture.

ENDS

Over the many years of LGBT advocacy in Jamaica transgenderism has been given a back seat for too long and while a few voices speak intermittently on the issues surrounding same it is not enough to properly help the public to understand that there are many identities that abound in the human species and deciphering them is a must for us to co-exist. Major advocates seem not to have time to deal with this matter as decriminalizing buggery is far more important than the other inter and intra community matters that are parallel to men who have sex with men issues. Miss Laura is one of the few voices who have been consistent on the matter from the ground up.

Let us continue to listen to that voice and learn as only she can tell it from her own realities as a transwoman in Jamaica.

Miss Laura can be reached through this email lgbtevent@gmail.com

Peace and tolerance

H

Trinidadian Transgender sister …… WOW

Should you ask, Jenny Jagdeo will tell you that she’s “a woman who has had corrective surgery”.
She untangles the gender bender from a breezy balcony in San Fernando, while the after-work traffic beeps and buzzes in the background.

(OMG she is FIIIEEERRRCCCCEEE!!!)

“I tell people that I was born a woman in a man’s body,” she explains with a voice of half-husk, half brass. “At no point in my life have I ever seen myself as being male.”
Her hands are soft. There’s no squareness of jaw or suppressed stubble to whisper that she is anything other than her image suggests. Her body and lashes are both extra long with a gentle curve. She’s gorgeous when she smiles. And the 35-year-old pulls no punches while sharing a story of equal parts heartbreak and triumph.
It started in Friendship Village. She describes her childhood as “perfect”. But that isn’t because she had once been a perfect little boy. Jenny now reminisces that neither neighbours nor schoolmates gave her a hard time.

“They could see a difference in me but they never discriminated against me in any way. It was like a little girl growing up in front them. I didn’t play boyish games, wear boyish clothes or do boyish things,” she remembers. “At that tender age it was there.”
But when, around 12, a rush of hormones washed sexual attraction to the surface, Jenny struggled.

“When puberty takes you and you start feeling attracted to a certain sex,” she explains, “that is when you realise: ‘well now trouble start’.”
Jenny had heard about men who had sex with other men. But even as a preteen she knew that her dilemma wasn’t just about who she would eventually sleep with. It went to the core of how she felt who she was. She makes the distinction with halting clarity.
“There are gays who are guys that like other guys. Transvestites are males who dress like females. Being transsexual, though, is being a woman but not having the body of a woman. I could not live in a man’s body and be with a man. If I had to do that I would rather die. I had the choice of being gay. That was so depressing to me that it made me sick.”
Her adolescence was traumatic, culminating with a suicide attempt at 18. The sex reassignment surgeries she’d researched and longed for felt like fiction. One saw the odd cross dresser sashaying around San Fernando. But she was clear that duct tape and eye shadow wouldn’t make her whole.

Jenny guesses that her parents and siblings had long reconciled that she was homosexual. But until she opened up to a psychiatrist after trying to kill herself, she hadn’t let anyone on that her raging, internal conflict was about gender rather than sexuality. She acknowledges that when she started wearing women’s clothes, it was traumatic for her family.
“That went down rocky roads,” she says with a loaded chuckle. “My father sought help from aunts and my grandmother. His friends and people in the public would tell him: ‘your son gay’, ‘your son dressing like a woman’ or ‘something is wrong with your child’. But I had my family’s support even though it was stressful on them,” she says.
By then, abuse from strangers was secondary to the savage war waged between her body and mind.
“I reached a stage where I decided that this is my life and no one is going to take it away,” she says.
Resolve was informed by hope. The psychologist and two psychiatrists who treated her over the course of three years had named her internal war: gender identity disorder.
Jenny also found a friend who understood and inspired her. That friend had had a sex change.
“You can’t just wake up one morning and say you want the operation,” Jenny says. The journey began with the detailed reports of her mental health caregivers. She was then referred to a doctor who performed a “hormone transplant”. This involved removing the testicles and starting a course of female hormones. For Jenny it was a second puberty-just as dramatic but a better fit.
They were subtle, valued changes. Small breasts. Smoother skin. Less facial hair. Mood swings. Two years on she had a surgery to create a vagina.

It takes time to adjust. At first the rooms that would suddenly go silent when she entered, then fill with hushed gossip, were difficult.
“It was so uncomfortable because you would see the lips moving and not be sure what they were saying. Half way into a session I used to want to leave but then I realised I had to make myself comfortable for other people to be comfortable with me. If I show fear, fear will always be there,” she reasons.
She accepted an invitation to a new church on that premise. Although she grew up Hindu, Jenny was open to Christian fellowship. She assumed the invitation was a gesture of acceptance. It turned out to be a campaign to have her revert. And it ended badly when a group rallied to get her thrown out. Jenny assures that the experience didn’t shake her faith.
“What did I do that was so wrong?” she asks. “What evil have I done to anyone?”
She’s had her share of taunts and they’ve overwhelmingly come from women.
“Men are mostly fascinated,” she says, “but some women have some sort of jealousy that you can transform into a beautiful woman and they aren’t. But why is that? These women do not take the time to make themselves look good because they say they have a husband and children. No, love. That is not true. How hard is it to keep your hair beautifully groomed, wear lovely clothes and put some make-up on your face? True beauty comes from the inside. But these people do not focus on that. They’d rather ridicule you.”
Then there are the men. Screening romantic partners is a painstaking job. She says she “interviews” them to be clear about their intentions. Asked at what point she reveals that she was born physically male, Jenny responds that there’s no need.
“Everybody in San Fernando knows me. It’s no big secret,” she says. Jenny’s pet peeve is that many view her as a novelty. She supposes that the terms “sex change” and “transsexual” create the impression in men’s minds that she has undergone a transformation solely for the sake of sleeping with them.

“It’s not like you’re a woman and they treat you like a woman. They treat you like a sex object and expect you to be some sort of sex siren. But what can I do that a normal woman can’t?” she asks.
What of the sexual identity of men who are interested in her? Jenny denies that they are homosexual and says that she tries to weed out the bisexuals.
“A homosexual is a homosexual. He only wants to be with men and can’t stand the sight of a woman. As for bisexuals, the minute I find out that he may want to see me as a man too, I put a full stop. I express and show myself as a woman and when a man looks at me he is straight to the bone. His friend might tell him ‘boy, I see you talking to that thing. You know that was a man’ and wonder if he is gay. But there is nothing about being gay in that,” she sets out.
Jenny is also resolute about demanding blood tests for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) when a relationship progresses. It doesn’t endear her to some suitors but she says that she has seen the ravages of AIDS and, besides, has enough on her plate without throwing HIV into the mix.
She acknowledges that many of her transgender peers find themselves either involved in sex work or being supported by men because they can’t find mainstream jobs. Jenny has channeled training in dress making, hair styling and make-up application into a career. She is in high demand, designing and sewing for everything from bridal parties to beauty pageants and working as a freelance make-up artist in “Hair by Jowelle” a high end salon owned by Trinidad’s most famous transsexual.

The positive, if not smooth, trajectory of her life was jolted by a devastating medical condition this year. A pinched nerve that had been wrongly diagnosed as arthritis for a couple years suddenly rendered her paralysed in the lower body. She was told that it would have to heal itself. After a few miserable, immobile weeks, she decided it was time to walk. And she did. Now she uses a stick. To passersby it’s a tragedy. Her doctors know it’s a triumph.
“Through willpower we can do anything,” she says. “The greatest power on this earth is your mind.”
Life has taught her that through hard lessons.