New Translations - Lohana Berkins
Hi! I wanted to share some of my latest work with you. Over the past few months, since I finished translating Este suelo secreto by Esdras Parra, I've been researching further about other trans writers from Latin America, and I've learned that there's a vast body of creative work by trans people from across the region that is going without recognition. I've started looking at the sketch comedy work of Alejandra Bogue (Mexico) and the travesti newspaper El Teje which was edited by Marlene Wayar (Argentina). But for now I've chosen to focus on translating work by the writer and activist Lohana Berkins (Bolivia-Argentina), who passed away earlier this year.

I'm attaching a brief essay by Berkins that I translated from Spanish for you to read. I'll be reading and translating more of her work in the coming months, but I think I'm already getting a sense for her writing. The essay here is very analytical, she cuts right to the heart of things working from her own observations as an activist rather than from sources about her experiences. But it's not enough for her to note the issues before her, she pulls them apart piece by piece to show us the interconnections at play - arguing that violence against trans people flows from stereotypes about us which flow from our betrayal of the gender binary that is imposed by the patriarchy and reinforced by cisgender women who themselves are oppressed by the patriarchy. Berkins even begins to offer a path forward, proposing to her fellow travestis (a word roughly approximate, as Berkins notes at the end of the essay, to transgender) that they can start to fight back against the patriarchy (and its tools: a gender binary that makes all others outcasts, repression by the police, etc.) by reflecting on their own internal sense gender identity and choosing a gender outside the binary if it is appropriate for them.

It's an important essay, but not one that is beyond criticism. For example, Berkins makes a passing mention of the land rights of Bolivian women, presumably referring to the specific rights of Indigenous Bolivian women with respect to their ancestral lands. But why doesn't Berkins discuss the ways that race influences the social construction of gender (a relationship so close that race often obliterates what we expect from the gender binary, as in the way Black cisgender women are affected by transmisogyny)  or the ways that violence against trans women (and surely this holds true in Argentina as it does across Latin America and the United States) largely and predictably is enacted along racial lines, with Black trans women and Indigenous trans women consistently facing the most horrific levels of violence. Simply talking about patriarchy doesn't begin to explain the ways that trans women of color experience in the world. At best, I think, this essay had a singular focus and later I'll find others by Berkins that do discuss race; but at worst I worry this avoidance of race echoes the way that racism across the Americas is ignored, at all levels of society, because of the destructive, pervasive, convenient ideal many of these countries promote of being beyond or having transcended race when, in fact, even the violence carried out by their governments clearly falls along racial lines. In any case, I'll keep reading Lohana Berkins over the next months and reflecting on her work; maybe in the end I'll have a book or a collection of translated essays with criticism like this to share with you.

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