Inside jail, I began to look for ways to improve the lives of my trans companions: I took care of the HIV patients, who did not have help.
MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Being a transgender woman in Mexico is not easy, and when you decide to be, you lose everything: family, friends, job opportunities, and your dignity.
You are left with nothing.
At the age of nine, I left my home. From that moment, I began working in sexual services and using drugs.
Practically my entire life, I felt a sense of abandonment and loneliness, but the possibility of helping other transgender women gave my existence meaning.
My name is Kenya Cuevas, I am 48 years old, and I have been living with HIV since I was 13.
For most of my life, I was illiterate.
From 11 to 28 I lived on the streets begging to buy drugs. I wanted to die. I felt like nobody cared; nobody looked for me.
Many times I thought about committing suicide but did not dare to do it.
Years later, I ended up in jail. I served a sentence of 10 years, eight months, and seven days. I was charged with drug trafficking, a crime that I did not commit.
Discrimination meant that I had no access to a lawyer or a trial. They sentenced me directly, and that was it.
Inside the prison, I experienced extreme violence due to my gender expression.
Others sexually abused me and forced me to prostitute myself with other inmates.
Inside the jail, I began to look for ways to improve the lives of my transgender companions.
I took care of the HIV patients, who until that moment, did not have adequate supervision.
I urged them to get tested and take the appropriate medication.
In 2010, I got out of jail and decided to fight for the well-being of sex workers. I demanded tests for HIV, gave out condoms, and began to spread measures to prevent infections.
This project transformed my life. I stopped drugs and became a social activist who seeks to dignify the lives of transgender women in Mexico.
In 2016, someone murdered my friend Paola Buenrostro.
Paola and I worked together in the sex trade. This violent event rocked my life and compelled me to seek justice for her. This would become my new cause in my role as a social leader.
Months later, three subjects wanted to kill me. I decided to leave sex work to dedicate myself fully to creating the Casa de las Muñecas Tiresias Foundation.
It was time to make my dream come true.
Through my organization, transgender girls can have comprehensive support in the areas of education, counseling, finances, work, and healthcare.
I have also made an effort to rescue the bodies of many transgender girls to give them a dignified burial.
They are transgender women who have been killed or have died from HIV. Some are killed in the street and have no family. I claim them and give them a Christian burial.
It is a way to honor transgender women even after death.
We also help the inmates of the Santa Marta prison. We help transgender women with their cases and we teach the people in Bedroom 10, where the HIV-positive inmates are, about the law.
As the days went by, we realized that we had to offer a space where transgender women could live safely and with the right conditions for their rehabilitation. That is why I founded the Casa Hogar Paola Buenrostro in honor of my murdered friend.
It is the first hostel of its kind in Mexico. The hostel receives the girls who come out of jail, hospitals, or government institutions. In this way, they integrate into primary education, learn personal finance, and enter a job training program.
Entering the hostel means they can no longer do sex work. It is like a boarding school where the only obligation they have is to study and learn trades while caring for their physical and emotional health.
One way to dignify their lives is to understand that they can have endless professions and that selling their bodies and their dignity is not their only option.
There is power in being willing and I am a living example that we can survive one of the most violent jobs, with the most significant exposure to transfeminicide, to lead better lives.
Like anyone else’s, the life of transgender women is full of dreams shattered by a lack of empathy and education.
My biggest dream is to live in a respectful society that does not criminalize transgender people or any sector that is different from the established stereotype.
As long as society continues to behave in this way, our greatest revenge is to be happy.
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