In the search for identity

This article has been developed by Marta Hormaechea and Emma Santanach. Caution: readers may find sensitive content.

“I hope my story helps other people”. That is what Ivana concluded after talking to us, since her story is one of many changes: from living in Peru to moving to Spain, from working as an accountant to studying data analytics, and from being assigned male at birth to becoming who she is: a woman.

Originally from Chicama (Peru), she moved to Barcelona with her mother and siblings when she was a teenager. Ivana highlights that her mum “always instilled in us the importance of studying”, so she focused on her professional education “as a vital tool for my development in Catalonia both professionally and as a migrant”. For instance, she found a linguistic and cultural barrier when she arrived, and soon understood that Catalan was “essential to progress here”. Her interest in learning new languages and cultures prompted her to adapt to the new culture. 

However, moving to Barcelona was more than a geographical relocation; it was also the beginning of a personal journey, in which Ivana experienced all the changes “step by step”. “When I moved here, I was able to begin to define my sexual identity, and this made me feel a little more empowered”, she explains. “I came out first as a homosexual man. Many transgender people go through the same process”, she adds. 

Ivana could “reconnect” with her identity that she had left aside when she was 8 or 9 years old due to a traumatic experience. “I was chosen to participate in a parade in front of the authorities on the Independence Day of Peru. I didn’t want to, but my dad forced me to go. He made me go to the barber, so I had my head shaved”. The experience left a significant mark on her.

After some time, there was one point during her adult life in which she started to feel curious about “a more feminine performance”, a situation that triggered anxiety. “I never identified this anxiety as such, because indeed I was used to living with it since I was a child”. She eventually resorted to the Centre LGTBI de Barcelona, where she received support and went through a 9-month process to accept her identity, “as I was in a very big denial”. Receiving this kind of support was a turning point. “From there I took the decision to transition”.

Looking back, Ivana considers that, if she hadn’t moved to Barcelona, she either would not have come out or would have committed suicide, “which is the fate of many transgender women in Latin America”. According to her, the problem in Peru is the lack of institutional support. By contrast, in Spain, the rights of the LGBTI community are –to an extent– acknowledged in the system. Trànsit, for instance, is the medical unit within the Catalan public health system supporting trans people, and it was very important for Ivana in the process of changing her identity. 

But things are not all black and white. Even if Peru doesn’t have such institutional protection for LGBTI people, there is a certain cultural acceptance. “There is a social –not political– normalization, especially in your closer circles. At least that’s the way I perceived it in my experience as a trans child and teenager in Peru”. Even if violence against the community still exists, “the fight is there”. She underlines, however, that most of the time tolerance comes hidden behind jokes.

On the other hand, in Barcelona, there is still a long way to go when it comes to general information about trans realities. Not only did Ivana’s privileges as a man in a misogynistic society suddenly disappear, but she also started feeling constant gazes of rejection, desire or curiosity on the street. The fact that her identity was not invisible anymore was “the hardest element of my transition”. Moreover, in other European cities, this “was combined with the fact that I am brown”. Even within LGBTI communities, in fact, most movements are led by local, white people. Migrant members are still a minority who have to fight harder to find their voice and visibility, “just like other minorities within the community such as non-binary and intersexual people”.

Despite this reality, Ivana made Barcelona her refuge. “There is indeed a long way to go, but Barcelona is far ahead of other cities”. After Trànsit, she received essential support from Yes We Trans, the labour inclusion program run by Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gais, Trans, Bisexuales y más (FELGTBI+), which finally guided her in the third change and last step of this personal journey: finding a new professional career. 

Ivana joined CodeWomen to explore the world of data science.

Shortly after the process of her gender transition, Ivana suffered burnout at work. She decided to take time off, which brought her to MigraCode’s project CodeWomen as a way of exploring the world of data science. “CodeWomen represented for me an integration to another level, as a woman I felt welcomed by cis women and this was very necessary for my transition. In the end, I’m trans, but I’m a woman first”.  There she met not only cis, but also migrant and local women. “It was the fact of feeling included in all that variety, which is who I am”. She arrived there looking for a professional change, but actually the project also supported her in all the other changes of her personal journey.  

Her time off helped her realize that she needed to “start from scratch in a place where I could feel 100% Ivana, without the past”, without people who had known her as Ivan. So she found another job at Bayer. “I think this process of change after 12 years in one same company has also rounded my transition up. Now at work, everyone knows me as Ivana, I feel comfortable. I have found peace”.

Ivana has been able to finally stop and rest. But this is not the case for everybody within the trans+ community. She tells us how important it is to keep in mind those who are still struggling for acceptance in society. For instance, “there is still a whole group of women who don’t accept trans women, despite the fact that we live and feel exactly the same as other women”. On the other hand, she also wants to stress the situation of trans non-binary people –who don’t identify themselves as men or women–, as they are even “more frustrated”. According to Ivana, it is vital to create awareness of these hidden realities. “It’s very difficult to get treatment as a non-binary person, so respect for their pronouns must be naturalized”. In the end, our identity is the most precious thing we have and there is no such thing as right and wrong identities, each individual simply has to find their journey.