Last year, by mid-June, a childhood memory came to mind as I finished working on a piece on Sylvia Rivera and her role as a pioneer Latina in the fight for LBTQ rights. I was seven or eight years old, and one day at school, during recess, I saw a group of three children playing, catching Pokemons. Neither of them was a friend of mine, I didn’t know their names, there was nothing odd in the way they were playing, but I felt there was something different about them. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I didn’t feel it was good or bad, just different. Almost two decades later, one of them, a full-grown transwoman, guided me on my research about Rivera. When I finished writing about her groundbreaking journey, I thanked Rivera for her life and work because it was one of the first stones that made my friend’s life possible today.
On this occasion, I wanted to highlight the extraordinary work of Camila Sosa Villada, Liniker, and Brigitte Baptiste, three extraordinary transgender Latinas who, from different fields, have continued the work once initiated by Rivera.
However, I decided to bring them together in this article for reasons beyond their work as activists. I wanted to highlight their work, craft, and everything that is part of their universes as individuals because I am convinced that understanding and embracing diversity goes far beyond sexuality and activism.
Camila Sosa Villada
Camila Sosa Villada is an Argentine writer and author of Las Malas. This novel borders on autofiction and tells the story of a group of sex workers in Parque Sarmiento, in the Argentine city of Córdoba.
Las Malas tells how circumstances and a shared experience cause these women to form, in one way or another, a strange family — a family in constant contact with violence because of their identities.
Camila’s pen demonstrates a unique talent for turning pain into beauty — heartbreaking beauty.
Literature has the power of showing us the inner world of people we will never know, and by doing that, it gives us the gift of a richer, fuller life. Even if this richness implies learning about pains and horrors you were incapable of imagining. But Las Malas also gives you a window to a sorority that stares at dread and death in the eye and smiles back with tenderness and mutual care. “In that transvestite house, sweetness still can intimidate death. In that house, even death can be beautiful”, says the novel.
Las Malas won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz award in 2020 (the prize given by the Guadalajara book fair, the biggest in the Spanish-speaking world) and was selected in 2019 as one of the best 100 books written by women in Spanish in the last 100 years by the Revista Arcadia.
Through her novel, this transgender Latina opened a spectrum of the literary world for many of us.
Liniker is a Brazilian singer representing the new genre “Música Preta Brasileira,” a trend of post-bossa nova urban popular music in Brazil.
Liniker became widely known with her first band, Liniker e os Caramelows, and their 2015 LP. Back then, Liniker had a slightly more androgynous look, combining elements such as a mustache, long skirt, a turban, and big jewelry. The combination of her look, explosive energy, and deep voice intrigued audiences, and the band’s blend of soul and funk conquered the charts, leading them to tour the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.
Amidst the fame, Liniker’s transition was a public affair and gave thousands of people in Brazil the chance to see themselves represented by someone who embodied success and respect in a country with the highest murder rate of transgender people in the region.
Despite the violence, Liniker’s songs speak of love because, despite the violence and the need to fight discrimination, for the singer, there is nothing more political than a black transgender Latina singing about love.
“Unfortunately, love, affection, and relationships are denied to us. So it is extremely political that I claim this place of affectionate exchange because I need and we need to talk about the fact that trans people love and have the right to be loved too,” she told Vice in an interview.
Liniker’s most recent project is the series September Mornings (Manhãs de Setembro), where she plays Cassandra, a trans singer who is finally getting her life together and living on her own when she finds out she has a ten-year-old son.
The series will premiere worldwide on June 25th on Amazon Prime Video.
Brigitte Baptiste is a Colombian biologist, former director of the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute (probably, Colombia’s most important research institute in biodiversity), and currently the director of the EAN University (a business and administration university in Bogotá). She was the first transgender director of both institutions and has been selected by Forbes as one of Colombia’s 50 most powerful women.
Baptiste was already a reference in the academic world when she began transitioning.
Her transition protected her in one way or another but did not exempt her from fierce criticism and attacks. One way or another, Baptiste gained a platform to stand out as a voice of authority and help educate the public about the queer essence of nature, the need for dialogue between science and politics, through an opinion column in the Colombian newspaper La República.
For many Colombians, Baptiste was the first transgender Latina to be recognized for her keen intellect, her knowledge, and her role as an educator, far from pejorative stereotypes. She has brought issues of diversity and embodiment to arenas once off-limits to the transgender community.
Baptiste forced much of straight and cis Colombian society to recognize sexual diversity and distinguish between gender and identity. However, it is clear that her achievements are still far from being the norm, and most transgender men and women in Colombia are systematically ostracized.
Today, Baptiste is the first trans director of a university in Colombian history. Her work focuses on shifting the focus of a business school from capitalism to building sustainable economies based on an understanding of ecology.
Her legacy has impacted biodiversity conservation, LGBTQ rights, and the way we think about business.