“Trans and black: I’m the worst combination in the world.”
With this disarming statement Julie introduced herself to me one morning, at the premises of Athens Solidarity Center of SolidarityNow, in the center of Athens. She smiled we shook hands and sat down. Before me, was a tall, impressive woman, with long black hair in fine braids, framing her beautiful face.
“My name is Julie and I am 33 years old. I was born in a communist, socialist country, Cuba, and if you are a trans person, this is really bad.” I didn’t make it to ask why, the explanations were given to me right away. “People do not understand that you are different. They believe that if you want to change your gender, you should be crazy. There is so much discrimination, bullying, police persecution and torture.. . In Cuba, people who decide to change their gender have no possibilities to find a job and be good in society. For the society trans are rubbish. In Cuba you see NO trans people, either man or woman working. Never. Gender-affirming surgery is banned. So, you can do it only illegally, at home. You know, you pay for the doctor and all this.. Many times there are complications and things are getting more difficult. Before the surgery I decided to take hormones for the breast. A friend of mine told me what to do. Without doctor prescription, nor advice.. it was a very traumatic experience. I was taking bigger doses of hormones and I was fainted in the streets, it was horrible. But I had no other way.
I was born in a disrupted family: my father was alcoholic, slacked my mother every time when I was very young. The brother of my father abused me when I was 9 years old, fortunately he is in jail. My family didn’t understand that my mind was not with my body. My father was behaving as an animal. He didn’t accept me, he was beating me. My mother, even though she didn’t accept me, she was protecting me. This is why she decided to take me and move to another city to look for better opportunities for me, because I had a lot of stress.. The only thing she wished was me to study, to “become something”. She knew that for people like me, there were no future in Cuba. In this city I went high school and finished the extra year in which students, who have graduated with good grades, teach younger pupils. I liked, it was very interesting. After that, the people who worked at school proposed me to continue to teach but I said no, I wanted to do other things. I wasn’t open there, I was feeling different, I didn’t want to shame. I was feeling necessary to transform me, to put my lashes, the nails, to be comfortable with myself..
Many times I was wondering what is the meaning of being a woman. The woman for me is a symbol. When I started this change of my life, I admired the beauty of the woman. I wasn’t in love with women, but I admire the image of the woman, the hair, the nails, the body, the form of speech, the projection in the society. And slowly-slowly I understood that I was THAT woman and I would fight to gain the image I want.
In 2009, I went to Havana, the capital of Cuba, alone, to study the German language. First, I started to study computer sciences, but I had a lot of problems with my eye, so I decided to study languages because I’m very good to communication with people. The only way to “open my way to life” is to speak other languages and understand the culture of other people.. As I was one of the best students of my class, I received a visa to go to Germany to continue my studies. I had the opportunity to stay in Germany but I was very anxious about my mother. My mother is everything for me. She was alone, old and sick. So, I returned home to finish my studies. However, it was quite clear to me that I couldn’t live in Cuba anymore, because I have been in Germany.. for me it was another world, free, totally different. When I graduated from the university, I worked as a tour guide in Varadero (everybody has to provide some years of social service in Cuba. For women are 3 years and or men 2 years, as they also have obligatory military service. For the trans it is a little bit problem, because as a trans person you cannot go to military).
In 2019, I decided to go to Germany. The problem is that you cannot travel without visa directly to Germany. The only way was through Russia: from a communist country to a (more) communist country. So, I went to Moscow and stayed there for about one year. I found job, but they fired me when they found out I was trans. But why? I was very good at my job.. Another day, police caught me, told me bullshits, got me in the car, made sex and left me 20km out of Moscow, without clothes in the snow… It was terrible. (..)
I needed to go to Germany, that was my plan. But the problem was always the passport. In Cuba, sex-change is banned, so you cannot change your name in official documents. So, in each airport I had the same problem.. from Russia airport they sent me to Turkey. From Turkey to Serbia and then to Macedonia. There, the police told me that I could travel to Germany only through Greece where I could reach on foot through Bulgaria. So I walked.. Everyday I was promising to myself that I will not die, I will manage to arrive in Germany. (..)
When I came in Greece, I was sleeping on the streets, I had no house, no food, no job, I was returning to the ground, I was very bad. The police caught me, sent me to Petrou Ralli 24, for one month, I was alone in jail with men. Every time is the same. They didn’t know what Trans is. Then, they wanted to send me to Amygdaleza and didn’t know if I should go with the men or women. I started to have depression and anxiety. Fortunately, after my release, an organisation helped me. I started sessions with a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker and a lawyer, they provided me a house and my situation started to improve. (…)
I have experienced a lot of discrimination. Not only in Cuba, but also here, in Greece. For example, the only job I find (and not always and not easy) is in cleaning companies. I want to find a job and people do not accept me. because I’m trans and black. My mother tongue is Spanish. I speak German, English and I’m learning Greek. I applied for a job and passed in high scores in a Spanish language test in a well-known sales company. When they saw the male name in my documents, they didn’t proceed with the placement. This is what always happens. Although I have the skills and the legal document to work, they didn’t accept me. The same thing is happening when I’m looking for a house. Although we have agreed on everything on the phone, when I give my papers, they change their mind. I’m black and trans. It is terrible. But what I can do? I was born like this! People do not understand. You come to Europe for freedom, to be safe and people continue to discriminate against you. I want to work. To wake up at 8am to go to my work, to go back home in the afternoon, to be well. I promised to my mum to be well. If I don’t work, how will I manage to live in dignity?
People from NGOs have helped me a lot. They do not just do their job; they always go the extra mile. They are always there for me, anytime. I came to the Solidarity Now last year. Another organisation sent me here to see the lawyer for the asylum procedure. Then I started sessions with the social worker and the employability counselor. They have helped me a lot. We created a CV, we apply for jobs, they advise and coach me for the interviews, we check the documents etc. I also took my first certification in economics! My plan is to start the public evening school to learn the Greek language. Now I feel strong enough to start again my life, a new life in Greece”.
Athens Solidarity Centre, from August 2022 to July 2023, is funded by the EEA Grants programme “Local development and poverty reduction”. The Fund Operator is SOL Crowe, in cooperation with HumanRights360. More information about the programme: www.asylumandmigration-eeagrants.gr