Trans Profile – Ashley

We have a chat with Ashley. Jamaican. Transgender woman. Fashionista

Hi Ashley can you tell us a little about yourself? 

Here are 5 words that best describe who I am: Brave. Positive. Fashionista. Fun. Loving

How did you identify in your childhood/teenage years and what were some of the challenges you faced with your gender identity throughout your youth?

As a child growing up I always felt like a girl. I was always uncomfortable to do boy stuff but as I grow older I realize I am definitely a girl on the inside. Everything I do is natural. I was born this way. 

How has your identity, sexual orientation and gender expression changed or progressed through your adult-life?

Nothing much has changed as it relates to my gender identity and sexual orientation. I am more confident within myself and the decisions I made are truly how I feel in my heart. 

What is it like to identify as a transgender woman, living and working in Jamaica? What are some of the challenges you face?

 It’s very difficult because contrary to popular belief, trans women are not sex objects and prostitutes. This is not true. The opportunities are very limited. This is my life and I’m 100% responsible for every decision I make so I have to do whatever it takes to survive without selling my body. No judgment to those who choose that path though.

Tell us about your blog and your professional journey? (Check out her blog here)

I’ve always loveeeeeed fashion and dressing up growing up and because I never got to graduate from high school to become an accountant as planned. My love for fashion never dies so I decided to start a fashion blog in late 2011. With me being consistent with my blog it has given me alottt of opportunities some of which I capitalize from. I just want to keep on striving and dream big no matter what challenges or obstacles I may face ahead in life. 

Do you have a support network? What are some of the resources that help you navigate life in Jamaica as a transgender woman?

 My ONLY support is me, myself and God. No one gives me anything. Everything I achieve thus far is me believing in myself and go out there and making a way. 

What are some of the changes you wish to see regarding the accessibility to healthcare for transgender men and women in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean?

One of the most important changes is I would love to see is for trans women to be able to get hormone treatment here because as it is right now I don’t know of anyone or doctor that does that kind a treatments in Jamaica. 

Do you face any other challenges you wish to discuss further?

I don’t really face any other challenges and I’m thankful. I get criticism everyday when I’m going about my daily business. It’s my normal now because I’m grown and I have a strong unaffected spirit. 

What advice would you give to transgender men and women living Jamaica and the wider Caribbean?

Stay in school. Get an education. Believe in yourself. Don’t worry too much over people’s words. It’s powerless and does not matter. 

 

Bounty Killa and the Case of the Funny (as in “Funny”) DJ

He’s not a funny guy but him have some funny behaviour.

In Bounty Killa we may have found a future spokesperson on  matters relating to gender and sexuality. I would not have thought so myself, until I happened on Winford Williams’ On Stage interview with Tony Matterhorn. Please watch the video clip — the relevant portion ends at 2:42.

Here’s a quick summary. For years, Bounty Killa believed in Tony Matterhorn’s heterosexuality, despite all alleged evidence to the contrary — his gender expression. Bounty could tolerate the wigs, the animated body language, and lady-like gibberish (aka “woman attitude”). What he could not tolerate was a fan pic circulated on the web in which Matterhorn posed with two young women who, to someone’s eagle eye, appeared to be *drag queens.

That was too much! Somewhere you have to draw the line. He stated, emphatically, “Man nuh act suh. That is feminine gender!” **Almost, Bounty, almost! Let’s review your presentation and see what can be refined.

Gender – Right: Bounty’s mini-lecture demonstrated how gender is determined by social norms: how much we fall within a culture’s parameters of what is to be a man or woman. Wrong: Sorry, Bounty, but those parameters should not be allowed to limit those who don’t wish to fit within them.

Sexual orientation & gender expression – Bounty was right! There is a common misconception that how you present your gender in social settings — body language, speech, clothes etc. — dictates which gender you are attracted to. Therefore, a man who likes to wear skirts, or is too well-groomed must be a homosexual;  a grubby Levi’s aficionado, who would never take the front seat in a coaster, even if it could save his mother’s life, must be hetero.

One has nothing to do with the other. “He’s not a funny guy him just have funny behaviour”, is simply an on-the-path-to-enlightenment way to communicate that there is no set gay, bi, lesbian mode of gender expression. Rather, it is connected to gender identity: a transgender woman with a cisgender man would consider herself to be in a heterosexual relationship.

Bigotry & sexual orientation – “Suh wah, him a open closet….If him nuh prejudice, him open den.” Bounty Killa implied that if one was not prejudiced against LGBTQI persons then one must be numbered among the same. Wrong: Many of us have hoped and prayed that this was true but, alas, it is not so — we have many allies in Jamaica who remain that and nothing more.

Rather, there have been too many headlines about prominent anti-LGBTQI public figures  who were themselves more “open” than expected. Best to abandon this one, Bounty.

It will take some effort to get Bounty Killa fluent and ready to educate. TransWave is a safe, open, learning space. We’re here to help. For a brief primer on gender expression and similar terms, read our first post.

 

*A drag queen or king is someone who dresses as the other gender for performance purposes. Watch this great ABC News video for the definitions of that and similar terms. TransWave does not know whether the women pictured fit that definition. It’s not our business. 

**Kind of.

Boy or Girl?

In Western society, gender and sex are presented as synonymous, static concepts. I remember viewing pictures of a Girls and Boys Day that a friend took at the private pre-school his children attended. As you can do doubt guess, the girls were dressed in pretty pastel coloured frocks, wore tiaras, had tea and pastries. The boys rough and tumbled it outside in the yard, made toy vehicles with juice boxes, and ran around in their pants and shirts. It was a clear, if extremely limited, example of Jamaica’s take on gender: what is to be feminine vs masculine. It’s social.

Sex seems simpler. We are born, the doctors identify us as male or female by our external sex organs: penis or vulva (the outer part of the vagina). As we physically develop, our chromosomal and hormonal make-up will cooperate, and we’ll have the deepening voices or growing breasts that our parents, peers and general society expects. We take off from there, everything aligned from birth to death, with space for little variation.

That is a popular perception but it is not the reality. Our understanding of gender and sex is evolving but there are many facts that we do know.

Fact 1
Biological sex includes external and internal sex organs, as well as sex chromosomes and hormones. Some persons internal structure may not match the external. Others may be born with ambiguous genitalia: neither obviously male nor female. For others, such variations aren’t detectable until puberty. It’s not really a surprise to learn that, biologically, humans fall along a spectrum. For those who fall somewhere along the middle of the spectrum, the catch-all term is “intersex”.

Fact 2
For many of us how we feel and think about our gender matches our biological sex. For many, it doesn’t. It is even possible that one may not feel wholly male or female. This is called our gender identity. Transgender persons most obviously fall under this concept. One does not have to be intersex to be a transgender person.

Fact 3
How we present our gender to society is called gender expression. One may identify as a man but behave or dress like a woman as it is understood by one’s particular culture. We all express ourselves as a particular gender, to varying degrees. Gender identity is internal while gender expression is external.

Fact 4
Finally, there is our sexual orientation: who we are sexually and romantically attracted to. Those attracted to the opposite gender are heterosexual. (By this definition, a transgender man attracted to a woman would consider it a heterosexual relationship.) Those attracted to the same gender are homosexuals. Pansexuals are those who are attracted to all persons regardless of gender.

Here’s a useful visual aid for illustrating what’s known as the gender spectrum. Imagine it as a numbered scale from 10 – 0, left to right. Spend some time to consider where you would fall. (Feel free to share in comments!)

Biological Sex

Female <————————————–> Male

Gender Identity

Woman <————————————–> Man

Gender Expression

     Feminine <————————————-> Masculine

Sexual Orientation

Heterosexual <————————————–> Homosexual

All of this may be confusing at first. Learning a new language about how we relate to each other can be a hurdle for LGBTQI persons as well :-). It establishes how complex and beautiful an experience it is to be human. We excel at envisioning different ways to be on the earth. This is our right — and it’s a pretty harmless way of exercising it! However, we are aware of how others see this as disruptive, chaotic and “against nature”. Transgender, more so than other groups, bear the brunt of this stigma. TransWave is focused on presenting this trans* experience in all its complexity.