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The rough, rugged life of a transgender surviving in Ja

BY TANESHA MUNDLE
Staff reporter
mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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For 27 years, Sativa Ross wrestled with the decision of coming clean about her true identity while pretending to be enjoying the life of an ordinary man, living at the time, with his fiancée who had her heart set on having his children.

But unknown to Ross's fiancée —whom he had been with for six years — his family, friends and others, was that he had been living a life of misery and depression while suppressing his true identity as a transgender — an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity or expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

However, Ross, who has since changed his male christened name by deed pole to match his feminine outward appearance and sound, told the Jamaica Observer that she had battled with the decision daily mainly because of her Christian beliefs and the fact that she did not want to disappoint her loved ones.

“Religion is what kept me from accepting myself. I had to try to be a guy, but the longer you suppress who you really are is the more that person who you are truly is going to come out. You can't hide yourself,” she said.

But the intellectual transgender female who described herself as a homebody said she had recognised from as early as age four that she was different and came to the realisation that she could no longer continue to live a lie.

“It was difficult, the typical stuff that manifests itself — depression, hostility, feeling like you better off dead. But being a Christian, you know that was not an option because if you kill yourself you know you going hell, you going to burn,” she said.

Eventually in 2003, Ross confessed his feelings to his fiancée and thereafter came out to family and friends

“I was engaged at the time. I think that that was part of the pressure, because she wanted to get married and I am there wrestling: 'Lord Jesus, she wants kids and all of that; wa a go gwaan when I have kids? what de pickeney dem a go think when dem find out? What then? All those things were on my mind, so one day I broke down and told her and she freaked out,” she recalled.

But as expected, no one was happy with the shocking revelation and Ross not only lost his fiancee, but all his friends and family, including his mother, siblings and other relatives, who abandoned him.

“Let's say everybody took a hike. Only my father was there as my support system,” she said, while explaining that her mother did not stay away for long and that gradually she rebuilt her relationship with her siblings.

When asked about her friends then, she said: “I never recovered any. it was eye- opening; it just showed me who all of those people who I called friends are.”

Coming out also cost Ross, who works in the information technology field, her job.

“I was taking hormones and they noticed the physical changes. My face was changing, I was growing breasts and they were like, what the hell is going on? They started hearing rumours about me and they just came to me and say we downsizing the department and you have to go and that was it. Ever since then it has been hard to find employment,” she said.

Ross, who is employed part-time by an overseas company, said he has to hustle to survive.

But fast-forward 16 years later, Ross, who is now a full-blown transgender lesbian and saving towards a gender confirm surgery, is living, albeit not comfortably, but happy in her identity as a transgender lesbian. This, she says, may come as a surprise to many who assume that because she changed her identity, she is attracted to men.

“Your gender is completely different from your sexuality and I was never attracted to guys. People think that because you change into a woman you must be into men, but they don't realise that who you are in your mind don't define your sexuality.

“When you wake up in the morning and you become aware of your surroundings, you become aware of your sense of being who you are, you feel your body. For me, when I feel my body, what is between my legs, it does not feel natural ... it feels like it is something there that is foreign to my body,” she explained.

Ross, when asked about her current status, said she is single and has not been in a relationship since breaking off her engagement.

“I can't find anybody who is worthy of being in a relationship with,” she said, noting that a lot of the women whom she has met treat her as a novelty.

But Ross says she does not believe in embarking on meaningless relationships, as she hopes to settle down and have a family with children one day.

She also plans to travel overseas to do surgery to change her sex, but has no plans to do any other surgical procedures, because even though she would like bigger boobs, butt and some hips, she does not believe in putting artificial substances into her body.

In the meantime, Ross, who was a guest at a recent symposium hosted by the Jamaica Aids Support For Life at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in St Andrew, also sought to explain the horrors of being a transgered living in Jamaica.

“Well, for one, there is homelessness. Once you have come out there is a big chance you will be homeless, your parents may kick you out. People who you thought were your support system will abandon you and will no doubt be either fired or be made redundant. Some kind of excuse will be made to remove you from whatever job you had.

“It will be much harder for you to access medical services, like, let's say, you have an accident and you go to the emergency room and it is found out. you may very well be pushed to the end of the line and if you have been hospitalised, you may end up being placed in the men's ward even though you present yourself as female and identify as female,” she said.

In continuing, Ross said, “then there is the whole question of finding a job when you go looking for a one. If you don't pass, well, you won't make it through the door. and if you pass and you get to the interview process and once they do a little digging around that will be the end of it right there, because when they call your previous employer and they say, 'hold on, yuh sure say a the right person you a talk 'bout, 'cause I only know about a guy name such and such and they say hold on, there might be something inky here.”

Hiding one's former identify these days is now much harder with the onset of social media, she said, as once an employee goes searching, it is likely he will dig into the individual's past and find something.

“If you decide to go RDG (Registrar General Department) to get a deed poll, you are in for a whole mess of humiliation — delays upon delays and people will be there trying to convert you back, she said.

Ross said it took her two years to change her name, even though the process usually takes far less.

“Every time I went there I was being preached to, saying, 'you know say yuh ago burn a hell? yuh need fi change yuh life find and Jesus. That was it, and I only got through because a friend of mine saw me, and assisted.

“One hour later I walked out. all I needed to do was go to tax office and pay for a stamp duty and come back and that was it,” she said. “It only took knowing someone out there to bypass all of that crap and that is the reality at many of these social services.

“There are a lot of people who will try to convert you back; it is just hard people who think they know what is right for you,” Ross added.

In addition, she said that there is also the issue of safety.

“You have to make sure you have a whole lot of exits where you go. Wherever I go, I'm always making sure I know I have an exit, that is how most transgenders live. We are paranoid.

“I have a stun gun, three knives, I am armed to the teeth. and even though I am out there, all it takes is one person who knows me from my past to point out me and create a scene,” he said.

Asked if she has ever been attacked, Ross said that it had happened several times in the past, but they have reduced in recent years.

She recalled being chased by an angry mob in Half-Way-Tree, St Andrew, when she was transitioning, and again being attacked by another angry mob in her community while in her car at a service station. Ross said she had to speed out of the station and almost mowed down several individuals in her attempt to escape.

However, Ross says she has been living a relatively very peaceful life for years now, as she mostly stays inside her house and is very selective of places of entertainment when she needs to socialise, which is normally at a lounge as she does not party.

Is there anything that she would have done differently? “I would have come out earlier, I would have come out in my teens instead of wasting all those years pretending to be a male.”

She also expressed a wish for Jamaicans to treat persons like herself and other members of the LGBTQIA ( lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied) community like humans.


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