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I was born in Belize City, Belize. Belize is a Central American country bordering Mexico on the north, Guatemala on the West and South, and the enchanting Caribbean Sea on the East. Although geographically in Central America, it shares a colonial past with other Anglo-Caribbean islands. Fate had it that I moved in to live with my grandparents in Benque Viejo Del Carmen from an early age. Benque Viejo is the most western town in the Cayo District and borders Guatemala. Here in this small, fanatically religious town is where I grew up.

Before sharing my childhood experiences, let me share a bit about my grandmother and great-grandmother. My great-grandmother, of Mopan Mayan descent and who spoke more Mayan than Spanish, was a healer. People from the town and the surrounding villages came to her in times of sickness, for prayer, protection from evil spirits, blessings, and, very importantly, childbirth. Her house was always busy with the sick, the hopeful, and the expecting mothers. I remember her deep brown skin with deep creases that only old age can grant. She was loved and respected by all. There were no fees for her services, but she did accept gifts. The gifts were as varied as the reasons why people came to see her. Some would bring some eggs, a duck, a chicken, some corn, a plate of food, and her predilect a bottle of brandy. As much as people loved and respected her, and being my great-grandmother, she sometimes felt just out of reach. I admired her, but I also feared her. I loved her and respected her. She was a woman of few words.


My grandmother, who came from that direct line of matriarchs and healers, inherited the gift of healing. I frequently ventured with her into the forest to collect herbs, vines, and roots for her remedies. Remedies that family and friends alike learned to rely upon more than any medication from the pharmacy. She had a treatment at hand for all ailments. From my childhood years living with her, I learned to respect and admire nature. From her, I learned what herbs to pick and when was the best time to pick them. I learned snakes were more afraid of me than I could ever be of them. Whenever we encountered one on our way in the forest, she would tell me to allow the snake its space. I also learned that you collect from nature only what you need and that you also need to give back to nature. Since then, I have always been happiest when my hands can touch the earth, harvest what I sow in my garden, and feel the connection to Mother Earth that was instilled in me by my grandmother.


My grandfather had a ‘milpa’ where he would do some small-scale farming. Basically, it was to feed us and share with family and relatives. From him, I learned the satisfaction of sharing, of giving, and particularly of sharing food. At age 7, I was already walking with my grandparents to the milpa to help them with the chores. I would help plant the seeds. Sometimes, it was corn; others, beans or watermelons. The milpa had a variety of fruits and vegetables—enough to have fresh fruit and vegetables on our tables. My grandfather observed the sky and the stars daily. He meticulously followed the moon's phases and made notes every night in his logbook. From his observations, he deduced when to plant, harvest, and not to. Grandfather was so kind that he even returned his first harvest to Mother Earth. On the first harvest, we would always come back empty-handed. We would gather a few of the best samples of all there was to harvest. He would dig a hole in the middle of his milpa and bury the harvest. It was his way of saying thank you and giving back to Mother Nature.


We lived in a small hut. The walls were made of wooden sticks and covered with mud. The roof was made of thatch where all types of crawling creatures dwell. I was terrified of the scorpions who managed to always fall on top of me while I was sleeping. When bedtime came, I would roll out my ‘metate’ (a thin carpet made of straw), place a blanket on top, and cuddle myself to sleep with the stories that my grandfather recanted for me.

This was my childhood. It was a very simple, humble, and happy childhood.




Growing up, I also started to develop a sense of who I was. I did that by exploring being other people. I was always a famous singer or telenovela artist. For a short time, I was always Lucia Mendez, a Mexican pop singer and actress, and I would imitate her songs and acting. I utterly enjoyed being Diana Salazar, a character in one of her telenovelas that had telekinetic powers. We would be eating, and suddenly, I would start impersonating and going into a character. I would also lip-sing for my grandparents and sometimes even their friends. I had a blooming audience who even requested to see me imitate and sing the then-popular pop songs. I was blessed to grow up with grandparents who allowed me to be who I was and explore my identity and self without prejudice.


This did not last very long. My parents were not happy with what was going on. I had to move in with them. I felt devastated by that decision. It was also the time I started going to high school. My high school years were the worst years of my life. I was constantly bullied, harassed, and targeted for jokes and pranks. On one occasion, the school had its weekly assembly (once a week, all students gather, typically outside, to sign the national anthem, read poems, sing songs, etc. ). I was on the podium as I was making a speech. The older boys, who constantly harassed me, decided to play a prank. They actually made a bet on who was brave enough to go and kiss me. Well, one of them did … went up, grabbed me, and kissed me right on the lips. I was paralyzed and could not do anything. Deep inside me, I wanted to walk to him, turn him around, and kiss him back, but in fact, I just stayed there, numb, paralyzed with fear and shame. Nothing came out of this event. No one was taken to the principal’s office; no one even asked me if I was okay… everyone pretended it never happened. Seeing that they got away with this, the group of bullies started to be even more cruel.


Things got so bad for me that I could not go to the bathroom. I wished I could have gone to the girl’s bathroom. But being in the last 80s and studying in a Catholic school, that was impossible. Going to the boy’s bathroom was a nightmare. I could get hit, called names, humiliated, and abused as they wished. My fear of going to the bathroom escalated to such a point that at age 14, I wanted to pee so badly, but my fear of stepping into the bathroom was so intense that I decided to pee on my clothes. That was better than the abuse I would always go through in the bathrooms. I could not wait to get out of there.


Two other significant events that marked my life were happening during this time. I had always been very feminine and was put on testosterone treatment to cure me. I hated the treatment. It was causing changes in my body that I detested. The doctor who gave me the treatment also asked me invasive questions. Questions about sexuality and if I have been touched. He would ask the questions while touching me. It was dirty, and it was abuse. At the same time, the local priest, to whom I had confessed my feelings, identity, and desires, constantly reminded me that I would go to hell and requested that I confess as frequently as possible. After each confession, he would come out and give me long hugs while swaying side to side against my body. That was my teenage years. I hated every second of it. I will save you the details of the daily horrors, but I escaped that nightmare as soon as I could. I left the town, I left the country, and decided to start a new somewhere else.




In my desperation, I migrated to Mexico, with no money and no survival skills. I ended up hungry and sleeping in the streets for several weeks. One day, I saw a group of young trans girls walking by. I did not have to call them. They came to me. They knew something was wrong and I needed help. That night, I slept in a hammock. They took me with them. I had found a family. I had found people who respected me and saw me for who I was.


Soon after I started working in the streets, offering my sexual services. Sex work was the most empowering thing that ever happened to me. It gave me autonomy and dignity. I had money to buy food to pay for a roof above my head, and I was in control. This is how I survived for many years of my early adult life. As a summary of those years, I used drugs, ended up in prison, and moved from city to city trying to find a home.


In 1995, I was diagnosed with HIV. I was told that I would live for approximately six months. I did not die. Then I was told maybe I had two years. I still did not die. Seeing that life gave me a second chance per se, I got involved in activism. I started volunteering in hospices and centers to care for people with HIV. At that time, there was little to do. Frequently, all we could offer was company and make sure people were comfortable. Provide them with a dignified death.


My activism went from local to national when I moved back to Belize. With a group of friends, we founded a network of people living with HIV. Soon enough, I catapulted to regional work in Central America and the Caribbean.


Fast track to today: I live in the Netherlands. I am married, we have two beautiful children, and we live with our two handsome dogs. I own a house and I am the executive director of an international nongovernmental organization that works on human rights, health, and movement building for trans, gender diverse, and intersex people. I have come to occupy spaces I never even knew existed. I have been lucky and privileged and love every minute of my life. I have been a global Fund board member and have spoken at UN meetings. I still have dreams that I am working on to make a reality.

I am ambitious.

I dream. 

I live!

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