Although the formal existence of laws and public policies designed to address the specific needs of historically neglected social groups is not necessarily an indicator of social progress (given that there are dynamics that facilitate non-compliance in line with the priorities of privileged biopolitical subjects: partisan interests of hegemonic sectors that lead the production of economic capital), it could be argued that a lack of laws and policies is a direct reflection of the state's absence in terms of providing a concrete response and assistance based on recognition of these groups as political subjects.
This absence amplifies the gap that restricts access to economic and social rights. And this, in the context of a frenzied neoliberal system of production, translates into a deterioration of quality of life and increased precariousness.
To quote Alejandra Grange, a trans-feminist activist with Transitar Paraguay, "Maybe they aren't killing you with a bullet, but they might be killing you by systematically denying you access." This abrasive systematicity is manifested differently for each trans person based on the intersections they inhabit, and in higher rates of a lack of state protection for bodies that have been racialised. As demonstrated by black authors from multiple geopolitical frameworks, such as Angela Davis,1 as a result of colonial processes of social organisation, systemic racism has left their bodies subject to the most hostile margins, such as prison.
Maybe they aren't killing you with a bullet, but they might be killing you by systematically denying you access.
It is important to mention the continued existence of corporeal colonialism, given that its influence has consolidated cultural, institutional and political normalisation, excluding trans bodies from encompassing their own epistemologies (the absence of trans bodies in state or private tertiary education institutions, the impossibility of completing their studies), from declaring and making use of their rights (the absence of trans bodies in decision-making spaces), and obstructing access to the possibility of integral well-being (access to the institution of the family and affirmative affection, the home and health, in its broadest definition).
The dehumanisation of the trans body – transphobia – is nothing more than the pathologisation of gender diversity motivated by Catholic-Christian religious intolerance, whose genealogy can be traced back to Europe's colonisation of the territories of Abya Yala. A process through which binarism is installed: gender roles and corporal discipline based on genitalism. Necropolitical colonialism has not abandoned the foundations of these institutions. Moreover, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the continuation of the homogenisation and erasure of monstrified bodies and how this colonial hierarchisation of humanity has intensified its effects, entwined with the current dynamics.
Lockdown was declared in Paraguay on 11 March to the pandemic. The government decreed that all persons not engaged in essential work (linked to the food supply, both production and industry, the pharmaceutical sector, financial services, and the public sector, but with limitations) must stay at home. Restrictions on movement in public spaces have made it impossible for more than 90% of the transgender and travesti population, especially sex workers, to work. At the same time, historically brutal police control has intensified.
Restrictions on movement in public spaces have made it impossible for more than 90% of the transgender and travesti population, especially sex workers, to work.
As an emergency measure, the government is implementing a national emergency aid plan, providing a subsidy of 500,000 Paraguayan guaraníes (USD 77.63) for informal sector workers to purchase so-called “food kits”. However, this programme does not include the travesti2 and tran population, for several reasons.
On the one hand, Paraguay is one of the many countries that do not have effective policies in place to protect the rights of its transgender, travesti or non-binary citizens. There are no protection mechanisms, such as a comprehensive gender identity law covering multiple identities, or a law to protect against discriminatory practices motivated by transphobic hatred.
A comprehensive gender identity law covering the multiplicity of identity denominations, binary and non-binary, facilitates access to bureaucratic procedures of any institutional nature. Something which, in addition to being fundamental for access to a wide range of state services, is guaranteed, and does not represent an obstacle, for cisgender people, on the basis of genital-based binary gender identity. The impact of institutional misgenderisation has direct repercussions on mental health. Strictly imposed cisgenderisation is an obstacle to access.
Another obstacle to accessing the subsidy is the non-recognition of sex work itself, which is performed by the majority of the trans-female population.
At the same time, no comprehensive effort has been made to build access capacities: application forms must be submitted online. The majority of the trans population has not received computer training, due to discriminatory practices in education, as pointed out by research conducted by organisations of trans people such as REDLACTRANS.
The measures taken globally in response to the pandemic have increased the use of online platforms to access information and facilitate interaction at a time of social distancing. Technological devices that would benefit from free internet access, such as smartphones and laptops, are now indispensable. Bank cards and e-ticketing systems are also becoming more widely used as the health measures expand in scope. Although access to technological systems and devices today should be guaranteed for all, some do not have access due to discrimination.
At the same time, no comprehensive effort has been made to build access capacities: application forms must be submitted online. The majority of the trans population has not received computer training, due to discriminatory practices in education.
There is an urgent need to respond to this situation, since food is essential to survival. Without food, the body cannot operate and mental health also deteriorates. Without healthcare and hygiene measures, the body faces serious risks, especially in the present context. Precariousness in this sense, caused by systematic exclusion, is now a weapon for the genocide of trans bodies. Due to the lack of specific funds for assistance to this sector in Paraguay, at this time those who are mobilising to help people scrape by are trans activist organisations, which in order to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis generated by the restrictions on circulation are asking people for donations.
Welfare as an emergency strategy has taken a fundamental place against the necropolitics of confinement, even with limited resources and self-managed mobility. This is, however, insufficient as the lockdown has stretched on. It should be noted here that the Paraguayan government is considering the possibility of gradually relaxing the lockdown, taking measures to avoid crowds, and prioritising of course the schedules and spaces that make up the economic flow of its cisgender population.
It is not clear what effect the easing of the lockdown will have on trans bodies, and it is essential to mention here the pre-existing tense relations with the police, which also have militarised agents who have previously exercised concrete abuses of power and who are often not sanctioned institutionally, for the same logic that make it possible for them to carry out these tasks.
So, is there a remote possibility of reaching a balance that has historically not existed? As Mauro Cabral, a trans and intersex activist, has written about the resistance of cis bodies to the continued and insistent demands by trans bodies: the needs are the same, the transphobia is the same. A post-COVID-19 world must prioritise trans, travesti and non-binary bodies, to move in the direction of a transfeminist solidarity. It is cisgender bodies who have predominantly had opportunities to take part in institutional politics and who have inherited colonial privileges that today allow them access to work.
A post-COVID-19 world must prioritise trans, travesti and non-binary bodies, to move in the direction of a transfeminist sisterhood.
The call for the active and practical redistribution of those privileges inherited from colonialism is directed at cisgender readers: the transfeminist practice transcends the inherent limits of discourse and materialises in solidarity, which can be translated, but not limited, to recognising the impact and contribution of trans bodies to the economies of communities.
The importance of a specific trans work quota is now more urgent than ever, as well as updating the means and methodologies of remote training so that this can become a reality: it is necessary to facilitate conditions of access and to make resources available, to become an active agent of the necessary cultural changes, to draw up an anti-necropolitical timeline to dismantle all traces of historical and systemic asymmetry.
Integral and comprehensive quotas (scholarships) are fundamental, in remote training; this is an affirmative practice to help them survive, generating conditions for the development of skills and abilities.
And it is fundamental to mention here that those who do not actively dismantle the traces of necropolitics in their day-to-day practices are actively contributing to the perpetuation of the narratives of systemic precariousness and survival. Trans people deserve more and better; cisgender people must take responsibility for promoting and investing in trans talent as a redistributive practice that builds collective relationships.
We must weave networks of biopolitical prioritisation; daily affectivity with bodies must become conscious. Do you know trans people? Had you connected with trans people prior to the current pandemic? What can you do today, to prioritise the trans body that is closest to you? The impact of biopolitical neglect is combated by recognising the urgent need for care today.
Transitar Paraguay is a group of transgender, travesti and non-binary people that works with cultural institutions and independently to facilitate activist training and promote education with trans communities.
Casa Diversa is a community shelter and care space for trans people. It is currently receiving donations and can be contacted through its Facebook page.
- 1. Davis, A. (2000). Prison-industrial-complex. Place of publication not identified: Ak Press.
- 2. "Travesti" (in Spanish) is a trans identity in South America, especially in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The term has a political connotation since it claims the right to define oneself beyond the gender binary.