Immigration and “Sexile”

     Immigration is particularly important to the trans community in the way that those of trans identity try to migrate to other countries in search of tolerance and acceptance. However, in certain cases, some trans immigrants find themselves exiles of their homelands, or “sexiles”, due to the intolerance and rejection of friends, family, and society in their countries of origin. 

The term “sexile” refers to those of trans identity who immigrate to the U.S. in search of tolerance, acceptance, and freedom from prosecution who become “exiled” from their homelands, culture, and families due to how they identify sexually. Seen by Jaime Cortez (author of “Sexile”) first as a title  to the essay by Pedro Bustos, “sexile” is a term used “to describe the state of people who had been cast out from the prickly bosom of their birth cultures and families. Sexile the word is full of longing, awareness, invention, and displacement” (Cortez 5). In Cortez’ graphic novel, “Sexile”, Cortez illustrates the immigration and gender exploration of Adela Vázquez, a trans woman immigrant from Cuba in 1980. For Adela and many others like her, being a “sexile” meant being forced (whether literally forced or being made to feel as if they were unable to stay) out of their homelands into another country, such as the U.S., and being unable to return to their homeland, their family, and their friends all because of how they identify sexually. “Exile is a bitch, baby. You can’t completely leave home. You’re always still arriving home” (Cortez 50). In immigrating to the U.S., Adela was able to find a place of tolerance and acceptance regarding her sexual identity, and was able to become her “true self” as a trans woman, by accepting that while she may be unable to “find the shore”, that “All the in-between places are my home. This beautiful freak body is home. And every day I love it…” (Cortez 64).  

     While some trans immigrants to the U.S. are able to find such acceptance and freedom in the U.S. as Adela, unfortunately, some are not as fortunate and placed in detention centers where they face further prosecution and violence. “Why were asylum seekers- people fleeing persecution in their homelands for freedom in the United States- locked up in detention centers? Why is rape so easy to commit in such a place and, on the rare occasion when it is prosecuted, so easily reduced to misdemeanor charges?” (Solomon 4). In this way, even the U.S.  has proved that while society may be more accepting of those of those of trans identity, the U.S. Immigration system is not so willing to accept trans immigrants. To further worsen trans immigrants’ experience, trans identifying individuals are not able to be placed with binary sexual identifying individuals (ex. a man that identifies as a women is not able to be placed with other men as it make the trans woman an even more vulnerable than they already are), and are placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day without the privileges of a normal detainee (i.e. no right to an attorney, no right to medical care, etc.). 

     The term “immigrant” is significant to the trans community in the way that it refers to the thousands of trans immigrants who try to find acceptance and tolerance that they can’t find in their homeland countries in the U.S. While some immigrants migrate and find acceptance, some only find more violence and discrimination. Some trans immigrants become what has been defined as a “sexile”, an exile of their homeland, friends, and/or family because of their sexual identity. Trans immigrants who flee their homeland seeking asylum (safety from discrimination and violence against them for being someone who identifies as trans) and then face discrimination and violence by the U.S. Immigration system is perhaps the biggest sign of proof that something has to be done about the U.S. Immigration system and the discrimination of those considered different from the “norm”.


Violence (blog post #1)

Throughout the semester we have been studying about different ways in which society views, reads, and categorize transexuality. Inside the nine readings we have done and videos watched outside of class a key concept I find significant in the course is violence. When you hear the term violence, physical harm comes to mind, but while reading “Sexile”, “Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossing”, watching Screaming Queens, and Transgression violence consisted of mental deterioration. Within the two readings and videos we see how transgender individuals fall victims of society, the law, and their nations. When focusing on trans studies, it is important to look at how we as a society label and try to categorize individuals into groups. Doing so could lead to violence, discrimination, and a target.

In Jaime Cortez, “Sexile” we read how Adela Vasquez was seen as a bastard child from birth because she was born from a single parent. Cortez writes, “I couldn’t wait to grow up because I knew that when I turned 10… my dick would fall off… my pussy would grow and finally I’d become a complete girl” (pg, 6). Here we see Vasquez officially stating she felt like she was born with the wrong body parts. Vasquez mentions that whenever a bully would pick on her she would seduce him and then blackmail him. Because dressing as a woman was illegal in Cuba, Vasquez decided to migrate to the U.S. because she was a “fag” (pg, 22). Vasequez and other trans individuals were taken to an army base where the bus with the migrates were welcomed by an angry mob ready to attack the trans. Violence waited outside the army base gates ready to attack any tans individual setting out. Unfortunately, Vasquez had to leave the base until the next morning, but because of the angry mob an officer offered to conceal her in an army truck until they passed the mob. To no surprise, the officer stopped the truck and exposed Vasquez to the mob. Vasquez remembers “fists, colors exploding in her head, and then nothing” (pg, 25). After making it to the U.S. Vasquez had to turn to sex in order to survive. This reminded me of the violence trans sex workers faced in the tenderloin, but had to still go out every night in order to make money to have a place to sleep and food to eat.

In Alisa Solomon, “Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossing” we read about violence both physically and mentally. In Solomon’s reading we read about Christina Madrazo, a transsexual woman from Mexico seeking asylum in the U.S. Madrazo did not receive asylum because she was trans and had two misdemeanor on her record. Madrazo was put into immigration detention where she says she was raped by a guard. Most of these detainees do not understand English and aren’t guaranteed attorneys. Trans are kept in solitary confinement for protection, but end up being locked up in a cell with no light or fresh air. INS personnel offer sex in exchange for early release, warning of transfers, or threats of deportation. Although the personnel don’t have access to these things the detainees don’t know that. As in the video Transgression we hear how Norma Ureiro was a victim of violence within the INS and physically abused by her parents. Ureiro says, “I was going crazy”.

Unfortunately, violence in the trans community is recurrent, but often unheard. Violence is a common factor in bibliographies of trans identified individuals. There aren’t many laws protecting hate crimes from making the trans community an easy target for violence. We often hear stories LGBTQ individuals committing suicide, running away from home, being forced out of their homes/communities, and or taken advantage of. In the cases Solomon and Cortez talk about violence is used against tans of color. Trans of color are easier to fall victims of violence because of their social class, lack of resources, and vulnerability. We heard how Norma Ureiro became victim of the Immigration system after being caught illegally in the U.S. We also saw how Adela Vasquez from “Sexile” was a victim of rejection and violence. Because of these stories I believe violence is a key concept for this course because we have heard and read different ways in which individuals of the trans community have fallen victims of violence physically and mentally.

TransLatina Organization in SF Bay Area

El/La is an organization for transgender Latinas (TransLatinas) and they work to reach the same vision and take action in order to build up their survival and improve their quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their mission states: “We work to build a world where we transLatinas feel we deserve to protect, love and develop ourselves. By building this base, we support transLatinas in protecting ourselves against violence, abuse and illness.” El/La community emerged in 2006 after the Proyecto ContraSIDA Por Vida (PCPV) lost it’s funding. Previously, PCPV provided a safe space, programs and services that promoted Latina/o bisexual, lesbian, transgender and gay individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area with debate and desire, intellectual thought, erotic imagination and heartfelt passion. Their programs consisted of various creative writing classes, social and political discussion groups, one-on-one counseling, condom distribution and outreach.  Going back to El/La they have similar programs about education about risks and finding resources to overcome personal barriers, as well as making themselves and allies visible by showing the world their experience and responding to attacks to their community. They have programs such as social networking and cultural activities, individual case management (health, relationships/violence, immigration, housing), and health promotion and life issues groups and workshops. They actually even have a Facebook page that has events (they had a Valentine’s event), videos, and articles.

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This group was mentioned at the end of the graphic novel “Sexile” and it does connect to the reading. I feel like all of the programs offered in this organization were unavailable to Adela when she went to America. She came to America beaten up, cold, and lonely. The only place that she could stay was at Fort Chaffee which was basically a prison for her. Adela got lucky coming across Luis from Havana. If she had not crossed paths with him then the story may have taken a different turn with her staying at Fort Chaffee for even longer. The programs at El/La offer a safe space to stay and even consultation on housing and immigration. They can also possibly someone a sense of belonging with their community that I bet is very welcoming. The other connection I saw was when Adela got STD’s. Fortunately, it wasn’t HIV but gonorrhea is still no joke. This is another case were Adela got lucky because imagine if the first STD she got was HIV, then the story would be over and the PCPV would have never been made. If Adela had the knowledge beforehand about the dangers of unprotected then her life would’ve have been much more comfortable during that period. There was also the fact that she had LOTS of sex according to Sexile so it’s a wonder that she only had one reported STD in the reading. However, I believe Adela’s experiences helped her led transgender HIV prevention programs at PCPV and educate everyone about the dangers of unprotected sex. I’ve provided links to the El/La blog and Facebook for those who are interested.



Discussion Questions Concerning “Sexile” by Jaime Cortez

1. “Sexile” begins with Vazquez stating that her “birth was revolutionary” (3). How does she continue to draw parallels between the Cuban revolution and her process of identifying as a woman? (In terms of power, transition, and even hope.) What does this say about the category of transgender in relation to Stryker’s definition of the term as “the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place” (Stryker 1)?

2. Among other things, Vazquez experiences a brand new economic system upon re-locating to America. How did the new-found freedoms (and constraints) of capitalism affect her life and sense of self? Do you see any ties that the author draws between capitalism, consumerism, freedom, drugs, sex, and the AIDS crisis? (E.g., “freedom was like a drug we didn’t know how to take,” “As a prostitute, I had no sexual freedom. I was a product, a service, an idea”) (42, 62).

3. Page 56 is the first time Vazquez uses the term “transgender.” Before this, she uses various terms such as gay, queer, and even “fag” to describe herself and other individuals she encountered in LA. Why do you think this is the first time she uses the term (more than halfway through the narrative)? How does this affect the rest of the narrative and the way she talks about herself? What light does it shed on the previous pages?

4. Vazquez insists that she is not gay (on page 9), but when the military’s psychiatrist evaluates her elligibility for the armed services, she is deemed a “homosexual” (page 14). What does this say about the relations (or lack thereof) between identity and institutional definitions of identity categories?

And an extra question because I felt it was necessary given the nature of the reading:

5. This narrative is clearly different from the rest of the texts we’ve read for this class in that it is presented as a graphic novel with illustrations throughout. How do these visuals add to the narrative? Particular pages of interest: 13, 27, 31, 60, connection between 50 and 64, etc.