A transgender woman in Haiti has said she does not want to die in a man's body, and hopes to leave her native country to fulfill her dream of transitioning from being a man to a woman. Semi Alisha Fermond works with transgender people at Kay Trans Ayiti (the Creole name for Trans House Haiti) and is an activist with the UNDP and UNAIDS-supported organization Community Action for the Integration of Vulnerable Haitians (ACIFVH).
"We work specifically with transgender people. We try to integrate them into society, because they usually get thrown out of their homes because of their identity or when they declare their sexual orientation to their parents.
We are very exposed to HIV. So, I think we need to address the problem at the grassroots level, starting with educating parents to help their children live out their identities and not kick them out, because when there are fewer children on the streets, there is less HIV. And fewer transgender people will be forced into sex work for a living. It is important to note that in Haiti, when you are transgender, it is difficult to find a decent job to survive. Either you become a sex worker or you try to create an income generating activity, which is not easy.
Kay Trans Ayiti is a space where transgender people can come to seek assistance to deal with life's problems. We provide shelter, food and psychological support to help them overcome the painful and difficult experiences they have endured in the past.
Semi Alisha Fermond (left) visits a market in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.
In Haiti, there are no real laws protecting transgender people and this means we are often faced with difficult situations. For example, I am a very active trans woman and yet, legally, I am still not able to make changes in my official documents. The male gender still appears on my documents. Sometimes, during a routine security check, when I show my ID to the police, and especially because I dress as a woman, it is possible that I will be discriminated against. Some police officers might even hit me because of my appearance.
Respect us as human beings
If the trans community is more visible, it will help people who tend to judge us to better understand us. Right now, they don't understand our reality. However, I am not asking anyone to like us, only to respect us as human beings.
No matter what anyone says, I am a woman, although Haitian society defines me by my gender. I have always felt like a woman despite my male sex. I remember when I was a child, I didn't like to leave my house to go to school. I always stayed by myself. It was as if I was constantly stuck in someone else's skin.
Being young and aware of my reality, I decided to explain to my parents how I felt and who I really was. Even if it was a shock for them at first, they eventually accepted me fully. In that sense, I am proud to have had their support. At home, they see me as a woman. My mother calls me "my daughter" and my older sister calls me "sista". And my whole family, in the broadest sense, sees me as a woman.
I have this big dream of seeing myself transition. I don't want to die in this body and with this sex. No. When I die, I want people to see me in my coffin and say, 'Wow! That's a beautiful woman!’ I want them to forget about my male sex. My dream of making this transition takes away all my fears.
I will not stay in Haiti because I cannot transition here; we don’t have the appropriate services. I have to think about myself, but after I transition, I will come back to Haiti to continue this fight, so that the trans community can have what it deserves.
I have this strength and I am very proud to be involved in this fight. I wouldn't wish on any child what I have been through.”