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I always knew I was really a girl. From as young as I can remember I used to dress up in my mother's clothes. But I came from a small town — San Felipe — where things like this aren't accepted. So when I was nine years old my mother sent me to live with my father in Valparaiso. They were separated, you see. It cost a lot for my mother — God rest her soul — to accept my homosexuality.
Until I was 35 she still hoped I'd get married. My dad, on the other hand, never understood; he sent me to a Catholic boarding school run by nuns. I think he thought they could beat it out of me. I worked as a prostitute for almost 40 years — mostly here in Valparaiso, but also in Santiago. I started when I was Transvestites have no choice: no one will employ us. I used to solicit customers on the streets near the National Congress building; the girl prostitutes would have one corner and the transvestites another.
Most of the prostitutes are working to help their families or to feed their drug habits. Don't go trying to talk to any of them while they're working though: often they're high and can get quite aggressive. That said, it's not safe for them to work the streets either. Recently, my organisation, Alianza Tran [Transvestite Alliance], discussed the possibility of lobbying for a red-light zone. Then we realised that being in one spot, where everyone knew where we were, would just make us more vulnerable to attack.
So now everybody works independently. We sometimes pay for protection, but generally everyone looks after everyone else — us and the girl prostitutes together. During Augusto Pinochet's military government [from to ] the abuse of sex workers — especially sexual minorities — was terrible. Many transvestites were tortured during the dictatorship. I had friends who were taken by the police and never seen again. I was only 16 or 17 when it all started.
The authorities used to do all sorts of horrendous things to us. Once a police officer broke my fingers just because he saw me painting my nails. Back then it was more common for transvestites to work in brothels, which meant the police could raid us any time they wanted. On one occasion they took us back to the police station and for three nights subjected us to fake executions.