Meet Tamara Adrián

t adrián

Lawyer and professor of commercial law at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) and at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), in 2004 Adrián was the first Venezuelan citizen appealing to the Constitutional Assembly for the recognition of her identity. In spite of having a gender reassignment surgery in 2002 in Thailand she still legally has a male’s name, the name she was born with. Until today she has not received any answer on her petition yet. On 18 October 2010 Adrián postulated as judge of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice with the side objective of also “claiming transsexuals’ rights and testing the tolerance of a country with homophobic institutions”. The resolution on her postulation (she has already passed the first selection phase) will probably be public by the end of the year. She is a lesbian, a feminist, a member of the Latin American and Caribbean Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-LAC board) and the founder of the DIVERLEX association (Difference and Equality through the Law) working for the implementation of legal measures protecting sex and gender related human rights.

From a legal point of view what is the situation of transsexuals and transgender in Venezuela?

We simply don’t exist. There exist no public politics for the recognition of one’s identity, nor for medical treatment or protection against discrimination in all fields: labour, studies, etc.

You underwent sex-reassignment surgery in 2002 but your ID still says you have a male’s name. What does this mean in your daily life?

For some day-to-day activities, like the gym or the grocery store, I use a fake ID, always letting civil servants know it is and that they can denounce me if they want to, which until now no one has. Anyway, my transsexuality is not visible so also when using my real ID people generally think that there is some mistake behind the name they see. At the same time I am a well known person in my country and that makes everything easier. But for the majority of the transsexuals in Venezuela daily life is not easy at all, that is why I am carrying out this struggle, for civil responsibility and for the respect of human rights, so other people in the future can achieve their constitutional right to the ‘self-determination’ more easily.

Before becoming Tamara you got married and had two children. How did they live the fact that their father is now a woman?

My ex wife took it in the wrong way and that made that for a long time I could not see my children. Now that they are grown up we gradually are starting to have a closer relationship. One of them studies cinema and the other attends international studies. Both careers need an understanding of differences at any level, so I think it is a challenge for them both to understand my choice. At present I live with a woman and her child.

According to the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently DSM IV) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) – the worldwide most used manual for mental disorders- transgenderism is a gender identity disorder (GID)…

Transsexuality was included in DSM-III-R as mental pathologies at the same time that homosexuality and lesbianism were removed. This is one of the inconsistencies of APA. DSM-IV included certain changes. And APA is willing to make some changes in DSM-V but keep it as a mental illness. We are fighting at the global level in order to depathologize it. And we have had some important gains: France, Holland and Spain are heading a campaign in order to require the World Health Organization to remove transsexuality from CID. This is impacting the discussions within APA’s committees

…the DSM interestingly states that “to make the diagnosis of GID there must be evidence of clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning”. What does that mean to you?

One of the most objectionable aspects of this GID is that all the symptoms are exclusively psycho-social ones, derived from isolation and discrimination.

Resuming, if you are discriminated against the one who has a problem is you, right?

Exactly. If I don’t have a job or I cannot continue at the school because I don’t feel well since I have to take a lot of crap, I have a psychological problem. A little perverted way of seeing it.

When you were young were you screwed around by your school mates for instance?

Not much, because I hided my true feelings and I acted pretty much as other guys did.

And at some point did you think you had a problem?

It is very hard to rationalize your feelings when you are young, you know. But I was certain about my feelings about 3 or 4, although I could not explain them.

Which are the practical consequences of being diagnosed as having a GID when accessing health care or when getting a job for instance?

A transsexual person in many countries, including the protocol applicable by some private institutions in Venezuela, has to go through a two-year process under psychiatric or psychological therapy. Only after the first year the person is “allowed” to access to the hormonal therapy service and after the second, if she or he wants to, to the genital reassignment service. In Venezuela this latter steps is no longer available, although some GRS were made during the 90ths. During all this period the person cannot work in a legal way since she or he has no identity nor can she or he move away from where the treatment takes place. And in Venezuela, this is the situation for lifetime. Basically, the entire process, as conceived, is a cavalry to discourage people to take the decision of changing their gender and at the same time a kind of revenge for trying to walk a different path from the assigned one. Pretty much the use of medicine as a repression took, as it was described by Foucault.

In your opinion is it necessary to belong either to a gender or the other?

No. I’m extremely respectful of those who decide not to stick with any gender.

So why did you decide to be a woman for yourself?

Besides the fact that it is priceless for me to look at myself in the mirror and see the person I feel I am, to me, being a lesbian and a feminist, it was a political choice. As it may be for those who decide to stay in any point of the gender continuum, although I recognize that it is much harder not to fit in a gender than to fit in one.

Where does your feminism come from?

I am a feminist since, as a child, I realized my mother was a frustrated woman because she didn’t make it to study medicine. Then I started to understand how the male-chauvinist system works.

Could you tell me one type of situation where you have felt treated differently as a woman and as a man?

Day-to-day life is much easier for men than for women. Even with regard to small things; for instance, a lot of times it is much easier and faster to get through an administrative request if you are a man, when the person that is treating with you is a woman. Contradictory, but true.

And is there something you have learned as a man that you consider significantly relevant for Tamara to adopt?

The sexist education makes it much easier for boys to accede to some skills, like spatial capacities through games such as lego, which are totally practice dependent and turn out to be very useful in life. These skills I was incited to improve when I was a child make me think about the necessity to find non gender- discriminant ways of educating children because we potentially all have the same capacities and it is all a matter of how they are strengthened or inhibited. If it were up to me, I would put an end to the dolls used as mechanisms to perpetuate gender stereotypes.

December 23rd: Adrián didn’t make it to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. Today the NGOs belonging to the network for Human Rights and Democracy (Red por los Derechos Humanos y la Democracia) have given a press conference (Adrían was its spokesperson) reporting how three laws just approved by the Venezuelan legislature pose serious threats to free speech and the work of civil society. Yesterday Human Rights Watch reported on the same issue.

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