Young and trans in Chile
The conservative country may be warming to gender rights, but transgender children still have to forge their own path for recognition
Selenna has never much liked her birthday. Despite her preference for dolls, the 8-year-old would always be given toy cars.
"Maybe they didn't notice," Selenna, who is trans, told The Associated Press. "But I was always (a girl)."
Selenna (center) and fellow transgender friend Mathilda (right). | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
In socially conservative Chile, life for transgender people can be an uphill battle. The Chilean government has historically been slow to pass progressive measures — in 2004, Chile became the last country in the Western hemisphere to legalize divorce. But, with help from trans people, their families, and advocates, gender rights awareness is growing.
In 2016, Chile's Senate Human Rights Commission approved a bill — first introduced in 2013 — to recognize the gender identity of transgender adults. The bill would allow trans adults to legally change their names and gender without having to get a judge's permission. The measure stalled in Chile's Congress for much of the following year due to challenges from the Roman Catholic Church, among other conservative factions. But in September 2017, Chilean lawmakers officially began debate on the Senate-approved Gender Identity Bill.
But if it has been difficult for trans adults to gain gender recognition, it is historically unheard of for children like Selenna.
Luna, a transgender girl, and her dog rest on her bed in Santiago, Chile. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Luna and her mother. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Monica Flores' 6-year-old daughter, Luna, is also transgender, but her official records list her as a boy. It was a fact the Chilean mother didn't think could be changed.
But, in 2015, after being publicly questioned by police in an airport about her young child's gender identity discrepancy, Flores decided it was time to take action.
"It was a distressing moment," Flores told The Associated Press. "I realized that it was urgent that the different institutions of our country could be trained about trans issues to avoid having children undergo these questionings."
Flores and her ex-husband filed a lawsuit to have Luna's name and gender changed on her birth certificate — and won.
"This girl's case touched my heart," the judge explained. "I couldn't allow her to continue living in the wrong body before society." Luna became the first minor in the country's history to be granted permission to change her birth certificate, The Associated Press reports.
Since the family's landmark victory, at least five other similar requests for gender registration changes have been filed for minors. Selenna's family also succeeded in changing her gender to female on her official documents.
Below, take a peek into the lives of Chile's transgender children, which, amid the identity workshops, pride parades, and legal battles, are still filled with beautifully ordinary moments of carefree play.
Selenna (right) plays at a museum with other transgender girls. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
A transgender woman stands with younger transgender girls at a Gay Pride march in Santiago. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Selenna (right) and a friend twirl in traditional Chilean dance costumes. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Selenna (left) plays cards with her transgender friends. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Chihiro, a 10-year-old transgender boy. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Angela, a transgender girl, and her family. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Selenna (center right) and other transgender girls march at a Gay Pride parade in Santiago. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Materials from a children's workshop on gender identity in Santiago. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Selenna rocks a giraffe costume at a dance party. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Mathilda, 6. | (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)