In Search of My 'North'--The Story of One Transgender Latina

In Search of My 'North' By Gretta Estrada as told to Victoria Ruiz

My name is Gretta and I was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I was raised by my maternal grandmother who took care of me because my mother had to emigrate to the US when I was a year old. When I turned 13, my grandmother died and I was left without anyone to take care of me. I decided to go to school, and for years I had to withstand mockery from classmates who were aware that I liked boys. My family always rejected me because of my femininity (I am a transgender woman but they don't see it that way). One of my uncles threw me out of his house because, as he says to this day, he “didn’t want homosexuals in his family.”

Because of their ignorance and apathy towards me, I ended up living on the streets, seeking help from transgender girls I knew and who eventually got me involved in prostitution as a means of survival, and there I was introduced to the underworld of drugs. I was persecuted by the police and the military because of my gender identity.

At 15, I started taking hormones and my physique took a drastic change from child to woman. Looking female was dangerous for me, as I was harassed by people who took advantage of my economic and emotional poverty. At that time in my country, the whole LGBT community was treated horribly by the authorities and the community in general. We were threatened by our own families, by gangs and the police. Though I had better luck than others, I still had to endure harassment, persecution, abuse, violence, mistreatment and humiliation from the drug addicts and drunks that I met on the streets. Many times I had to witness the murder of so many of the women who at some point had given me their help and support.

I came to California when I was 19, and thought I would find the land of opportunity. However, at that time there was so much stigma against the LGBT community that it was difficult for us to find work, housing or basic services. But I was determined to not be deterred by any adversity, and so I did everything from work as a day laborer to cleaning floors. As a result of trusting unscrupulous people and because of my low self-esteem, I contracted HIV. When I got the diagnosis I thought I would die in a few months, and even considered suicide by throwing myself in front of a train. I actually had a lot of scenarios for exactly how I would kill myself.

Luckily, those times are behind me now. Today, I’m hopeful that someday a cure will be found for HIV/AIDS. I'm also very focused on educating and supporting other girls and women who, like me, are trying to find their way North.

Nov. 12-19 is Transgender Awareness Week and Nov. 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance,  a worldwide gathering of trans and allied communities to memorialize victims of anti-trans hatred or prejudice. Events and vigils will be held nationwide. A longer version of Gretta's story will run in the December issue of Adelante Magazine.