GLAM Week: Alice Driver and the Courage and Struggle of LGBTQ Migrants

Silver City, NM- Alice Driver has dedicated her life to documenting the struggles of the oppressed. Working as a writer, editor and translator for a wide variety of publications, Driver’s latest project took her into Central America in the city of San Salvidor- the most dangerous city in the world. Driver’s mission was to chronicle the struggles of the trans gender migrants in Central America. While people who identify as tran can often face their own struggles in the United States, things are far worse for those in San Salvidor.

In the Latin American countries, trans people, specifically women, are not accepted, being denied even the most institutional of rights such as employment, healthcare and even education. Because of this, most trans women can only find jobs as sex workers, leading to a life of violence and sexual assault. According to Driver, many trans women contract AIDS or are HIV-positive due to their occupations and the lack of healthcare. Others become the victims of not only violence, but of an oppressive system. The average age of a trans woman in Mexico and Central America is only 32 years old.

Driver started the panel with the story of one woman, called Bianca, who was able to overcome many of the hardships faced by trans women in Latin America, due to family support. Her grandmother and taken her in and helped her attend a University. Despite the University attempting to kick her out multiple times, Bianca was able to graduate with a degree and get a job working in communications. Currently, Bianca serves as a public figure in the trans community, operating her own YouTube channel and doing her part to raise awareness of the struggles of trans women. However, Bianca is a rarity among trans women in that part of the world. Aside from Bianca, Driver stated that every other woman that she’d spoken to had been kicked out of their home at a young age and had been forced to start life as a sex worker. Driver told another story of a trans woman who had managed to migrate from Central America into Mexico, with her ultimate goal being to reach the United States border and request asylum. She documented being on a bus with this woman and observing the environment around her, with many staring at the woman and Driver said that some of the men on the bus were trying to determine whether or not she was a sex worker.

“You don’t go unnoticed traveling with a trans woman,” said Driver.

Driver had stated that this particular woman had recently contacted her from Facebook, stating that she was currently in Mexico and needed money to continue her journey, with Driver being placed in something of a tight spot, unable to interfere due to her occupation as a journalist. Many trans woman in that part of the world communicate over Facebook, often using false names to stay protected.

Driver told another account of a trans woman who had fought back against a man that had attacked, cutting him with a knife. The man had pressed charges against her and the courts had passed judgment in his favor. The woman was sent to prison, a male prison, for five years. There, she experienced a life of regular violence, sexual assault and group assaults. When she left, Driver said that the woman only weighed 75 lbs and believed that she had cancer, though she was unable to visit a doctor due to being a trans woman.

Among other experiences that Driver had observed involved being forced not to document a group of trans sex workers paying off one of the local gangs in order to continue living undisturbed in that part of the city. She also showed a photo of the means many trans women use to cross the border from Central America to Mexico. While there is an official checkpoint on a bridge, most choose the route that is safer for them by floating across the body of water underneath via inner tube. One last thing that Driver spoke about was that while trans women struggled merely to exist in that society, trans men more or less went unperceived, receiving the same rights as any other citizen. In some cases, families would even celebrate when one of their own transitioned from a woman to a man.

Driver’s project was designed to be in multiple parts, covering the struggles of Trans, LGBTQ+ and women and girls in different parts of the world for the online publication Longreads. Driver has written for The New York Times, CNN, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic and National Geographic en Espanol. She received a PhD in Hispanic Studies from the University of Kentucky in 2011. It was her parents that originally encouraged her to study Latin American culture and she currently lives in Mexico City. Her book, More of Less Dead: Femicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico was available for purchase after the event.

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