Full Text: Selected Writings of Lohana Berkins

Booklet #12, for the month of April, features writings by the late Indigenous (Kolla) travesti activist Lohana Berkins. Berkins was one of the most prominent trans/travesti activists in all of Latin America, and this booklet brings together my translations of some of her writings from her years fighting against capitalism, against the gender binary, and against the political system of Argentina, where she lived and fought above all for the liberation of travesti sex workers like her. 

Her writing was, of necessity, mostly political writing. Even the brief play she wrote in 1993, titled "Una noche en la comisaria" (A Night at the Precinct), can be seen in this light. The play - whose text I have not been able to find, but which I managed to view part of on youtube (here) - mixed comedy and tragedy uproariously, it drew genuine laughter and joy out of the nightmare of the story of a mother going to bail her kid out of jail only to discover that her child is a travesti, and, of course, no child of hers will be a travesti, she says, what would the neighbors think, etc. This play was written for a conference where travesti activists were meeting with their cis gay activist counterparts to educate them and convince them to be allies. And when Berkins wrote of the play later, she mentioned it more as an organizing victory - because it got the gays to come on board with the notion of travesti rights - than as the literary triumph that it surely was. 

What I mean is that Berkins didn't have time. She died in 2016 at the age of 51; she was a sex worker out of necessity up until 2000 when she became the first travesti in Argentina to get a civil service job; and in total she spent nine and a half years in jail. As a result, the texts of Selected Writings of Lohana Berkins, are very much political tools; they are speeches, like the piece titled "Absolute Autonomy Over Our Bodies," which she gave at an international gathering of socialists in Brazil, addressing them to ask that they no longer ignore travestis and rather that they join in the revolutionary travesti struggle being carried out. They are also interviews, they are essays she published in newspapers, and, finally, there is the last communique she sent out her friends and comrades before passing away, which is the most moving page of writing I've ever read.

It's not the case that this writing lacks depth or that her language was chosen without intention. I think we see the opposite in these pieces; that though she had to improvise when delivering these words in speech and though she didn't have the luxury of time or the chance to write entire books, we can see that she acted with care and used different language depending on her audience, with the goal of both persuading them to join her cause and also quite simply to turn some tables over rhetorically, to provoke and thrill and allow herself the space to dream of a different life for travestis. And that's really what I take away from these writings, it's that for all the violence and horrors that she describes, Berkins never loses faith, she always brings us right before the revolution, so that we can almost see what is on the other side.

Note: I'm not attaching the text of my translations yet because I'm... not finished, but I'll send out an email update when that's up later this week. It's just that the translations took a lot of time and I was doing them (for no extra pay) in addition to the dozens of hours I put into the series this past month. Which if you haven't read the previous posts on here, I'm going to be rolling over the writer's fee for this month over to May's Booklet #13 which will feature poetry/prose in a speculative vein by Michelle Evans, who will be paid twice the usual writer's fee so that she can do her work and create original writing for the series.

Update: Full Text pdf is available as of May 7th