‘We are all Jamaicans!’ - Transgender woman pleads for tolerance
For 27-year-old Ashley Gordon, living as a transgender woman in Jamaica has been a difficult journey filled with hostility, discrimination and challenges. But Ashley says she keeps a close relationship with God and is never afraid of what people think or say about her.
"We are humans. We are just the same as everybody else - working, trying to make a positive impact in society. Not every trans is loud or vulgar. There are really nice trans women out there; you just have to get to know them," Gordon told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
"I'm in a space where I try to be as free as possible when it comes to my peace of mind. If I have to care about what people think, it's a lot; as long as you are not harming anybody or breaking the law.
"It's hard for a trans, whether man or woman. Being just a gay person in Jamaica is hard. Probably I make it look easy, but trust me, it's not," she said.
Gordon is a fashion blogger who wanted to become an accountant, but she argued that Jamaica is not yet open enough for her to operate in a traditional work setting.
According to Gordon, among the biggest challenges trans people in Jamaica face are economic hardships and discrimination.
"As a trans, the opportunities are very, very limited. You have to have a hustler's mentality where you at least have a talent, have a passion for something, and try to turn that into something that you can make money from because that's the only way you can survive as a trans. Or if you have a lover who's going to take care of you," said Gordon.
With a 2016 study finding a high HIV infection rate among transgender women in Jamaica, Gordon said her last test was negative, and she has not followed other trans Jamaicans who have turned to the commercial sex trade.
"Sex work will never be an option for me. I have never been interested in doing sex work. I'm not judging, let's be clear, because a person has to do what they have to do to survive. I wouldn't judge because I know people who do it, but that's not for me," said Gordon.
Most have migrated
She added that the trans population is very present in Jamaica, but most of those who want to live openly, like her, have opted to migrate because most of Jamaica's laws do not take their needs into consideration.
"I face difficulties with people and certain places that I go to use my identification (which shows male) as most places don't want to process the documents or use it. But I have never had any issues with government-run facilities using my ID.
"I know it's not a possibility when it comes to me changing my ID with the laws ... there are a lot of difficulties there."
Gordon told The Sunday Gleaner that she has not done the gender reassignment surgery but that is not an issue for her in relationships.
"If somebody tries to approach me at a bar, sometimes they genuinely don't know, but because I have friends who have lost their lives because of misleading guys, I try not to go down that road so I always keep it 100 and let them know. I have never been in a situation where they found out and it got really violent, thankfully," said Gordon.
In the meantime, a clinical psychologist, who has worked with several trans in Jamaica, said many will start the gender reassignment process here then go abroad to complete it.
"Transgender people are way ahead of the religious people and the authorities in terms of doing what can be done here and then moving overseas for the surgery," said the psychologist whose name is being withheld.
"It's counselling, gender identity disorder, and you want to ensure that the person is really having a problem and cannot cope and so need to have the gender reassignment surgery. Once that assessment is done, the psychological counselling is offered and then hormone therapy on which gender the person is moving towards, and then there are timelines and the person will go overseas to have the surgery," added the doctor.