Episode 3 transcript - have fun with fundamental rights
Colombe: Hi everyone. And welcome to our podcast the Equitist. This is episode three: how to have fun with fundamental rights? Today, we will try to understand how a more equitable world could look like and how to get there. I'm Colombe,
Andrea: And this is Andrea,
Colombe: And together, we will look at the roadmap on how to create a more fair world, a more United one. One where fundamental rights are always respected. As always, we try to draw on voices of people from all across the world that have a specific experience or expertise on a given topic. And today we will bring in Jade, a trans rights activists, a transgender person from Tunisia, who is now a refugee in Brazil. .
Andrea: Just before jumping into all of this, let me set the stage, Colombe. I think it's very important to share a few lines from our official manifesto of equitism, about freedom and rights. So as equitists we obviously stand for many, many things: economic rights, social rights, but I think on fundamental rights, we have a particularly detailed list because rights are many and often in the mainstream conversation, governments, politicians, about them. Of course, we all know about freedom of speech, freedom of movement, political freedom, but we know way less about freedom to love or the rights of privacies or the access to the internet or the rights of owning one's digital identity and even less about the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies or have autonomy over one's own body. And these are all fundamental rights in advanced society as we should be in 2022 should be granted to everyone.
Colombe: Exactly. So there are many, many rights. The list is endless. I could go on talking about them for hours, but for the sake of the listeners, let's start by focusing. In recent weeks, there have been a lot of crackdowns on LGBT rights across the world. So in Guatemala there's been a prohibition on same-sex marriage. In Texas in the U.S. Until this week, authorities could investigate parents who supported their trans children over all.
Andrea: This is horrible.
Colombe: It's insane. And those people could actually lose custody of their children just for accepting who their children were.
Andrea: It's like in the Medivial Times.
Colombe: And then for example, in Florida discussions, on sexual orientation or gender identity have been banned in schools, and this is not only stupid, it's also dangerous. It will isolate further youths that are already often discriminated against and isolated. And in addition to this trans rights, keep on being put on the top of the news in a very, very weird way. So whenever I hear personally about trans rights in the media, it's JK Rowling's latest, ridiculously stupid comments about protecting women or whatever. Or it's a deep dive analysis on a swimmer who participated in a swim team and got good results. So those are really small soundbites that somehow get people very excited about the trans community and trans rights topics, without ever actually talking about trans rights as a whole. So I thought we would take this podcast, Andrea and the time of this podcast to try to refocus a bit the discussion, to recenter the conversation, not around media soundbites, but to bring it back to the basics, and to actually talk about what it is to be a transgender person. What are some of the risks and issues that impact primarily transgender people and what is the situation across the world?
Andrea: I think this it's an incredibly important topic and I mean, you present a lot of issues. I'm sure there are many more that we're not even aware about. So let's really use this episode to deep-dive. I'm going to do another academic part of it . I'm gonna read the definition of who's a transgender person from the human rights campaign on this topic. So a transgender person is someone whose sex assigned at birth is different from who they know they are on the inside. It includes people who are medically transitioned to align their internal knowledge of their gender with their physical presentation. But it also includes thosewho have not, or will not medically transition as well as non binary or gender expansive people who do not exclusively identify as male or female.
Colombe: There's a lot to talk about here. So I thought we would talk about it in two ways. The first one is to learn a bit more about the challenges that trans people face in places that are theoretically less discriminatory towards them. And the second aspect we will tackle is to explore what life as a trans person is like when being yourself is basically considered a crime. And for this again, we'll bring in Jade who will tell us about his experience.
Andrea: Can't wait to meet him.
Colombe: But let's start with the first point. So Andrea already mentioned the human rights campaign group in the U.S. And they actually did quite a bit of research on the issues that trans people face there. One, there's a lack of legal protection. So there's no comprehensive non-discrimination law across the U.S., and this is not just a problem there, but across the world. The second one is poverty: around 29% of trans adults in the U.S. Live in poverty and for trans people of color, this rises a lot. It's 39% of black trans adults and 48% of Latinx trans adults that live in poverty.
Andrea: This is crazy crazy numbers.
Colombe: You have a lot of stigma, harassment, discrimination, and violence. So there's more than a majority, I think it's 54% of trans people that have experienced some form of intimate partner violence. 47% of trans people in the U.S. Have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime
Andrea: It's crazy that we never hear these numbers. We only, as you said, we only hear from JK Rowling. We hear some sports discussions, but we never hear about how deep is this issue.
Colombe: Exactly. So to continue on the research topics, beyond the lack of legal protection, incredibly high levels of poverty, stigma, harassment, discrimination, violence, there's also a lack of healthcare coverage. Not only do a lot of insurance companies or healthcare systems not cover a lot of health topics for trans people, but often service providers also deny services to trans people. And then there's a lack of accurate identity documents, and this can have an impact on everyone's life. So think about it. How often do you use your passport, your driving license? If you don't have access to accurate IDs, then it's extremely difficult to access emergency housing or other public services. So I just wanted to mention those issues, because although there have been some advances across the world recently, I think it's important to put it back in context. The real issues being trans people's fundamental rights and not respected. We don't have legal frameworks. We don't have proper political and social actions. So now let's welcome Jade!
Andrea: Of course, Jade is a wonderful activist, transgender activist. As we said before, here to flee Tunisia now lives in Brazil. He has a wonderful story full of hope, also full of obviously difficulties. And we are very, very honored and delighted to have him with us.
Colombe: Exactly. You for coming on The Equitist podcast with Andrea and I, it's a pleasure to have you with us.
Jade Esseyah: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure for me.
Colombe: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? I mentioned it in private, but our team in Tunisia has been speaking to us a lot about you and your journey and how inspirational it is. So I thought maybe it would be good if you could introduce yourself for the listeners.
Jade Esseyah: Okay. So my name is Jade, I'm transgender man from Tunisia. I'm 23 years old and now I am asylum seeker in Brazil, Sao Paulo, and I've been here now for four months and it's going good. Like I got my documents and I have now the right to finish my, like, transitioning, taking this testosterone uh, I currently got hired to a job
Jade Esseyah: Thank you so much. The fact that in Tunisia, the reason why I escape Tunisia, is being gay trans person like any part of the community is illegal and you could go to jail for three years or more. Many people, like they put them into prison just for this law. And, the fact that I started taking testosterone in Tunisia, with endocrinologist prescription, I didn't think of the consequences of my action, and I started to notice the changes like within few months and no one is taking, like, whenever I go to some places and they request my ID card, they don't take me seriously. Like, they be like, "oh, that's not you, that's your sister." I couldn't even like get some money bank transfer because they always ask about the ID cards.
And my parents was against this action also, we had some problems and, uh, I no longer live with them. So I had to move and I, my parents stopped talking to me. I wasn't able to finish my college degree. I had to drop out from college too, and I start like looking for a job and no one accepted to hire a trans person there.
And I just like found a job as a freelancer first, the graphic designer. And then, I worked as a customer service, you know, because they don't focus much, you know, the workers there. And, in I guess during June I received an email. And I've been like sending emails to many organizations all around the world since 2018. And no one responded maybe because it was during the pandemic. But I received an e-mail from them, like the last year in June with another organization in France. And they said that, they can help me like escape Tunisia and everything with another person in Tunisia. Like they got caught for being gay and everything, and they may go to prison as well. So...
Colombe: Oh, wow.
Jade Esseyah: Yeah, the plan, the plan first was going to France, Paris, but then the French visa can take many time. And like, it's not sure to get the visa. Um, the plan was going to, Brazil spend some time there and their like the way back home, we can like escape in the transit area. And talk to the border office and everything, you know. But by staying here in Brazil for like the first month, I was like, no, no, I'm staying here. It's much better.
Andrea: Thank you for this account. And I'm really sorry to hear this very difficult story. And I just want to ask you a question, because I think for many of our listeners, they're not familiar with the insights to share in Tunisia. How was for you to start the transition there? Is it something that, is there a network of people that do that? Is it an underground thing?
Jade Esseyah: I came out as a trans person publicly in August, 2018. And I received many, threat messages and like people, even like my friends, you know, like stopped talking to me and everything. So I had to seek for psychological support because I started to feel, depressed and the drain of energy and, you know, like, these black thoughts and everything. So I found this therapist and she was very like, how do I say, careful. I told her that I don't want to focus on my like trans identity. But all I want to focus on easing my mental state, you know, by understanding the mental state and by making yourself mentally stable, you can understand your decisions later in everything. So I called the therapist for at least, two years and a half. And I started to feel much, much better. And I wasn't like thinking of taking testosterone in Tunisia or doing anything related to transitioning in Tunisia because I didn't think that it's possible in any cases. So, there was that time in the first week of July, 2021. I had the session with my therapist asking me about my future, what are my plans and everything. And I told her that I'm working on collecting money so I can leave Tunisia. And then there, I can like in any other country, I can work on my transition. And she said that, "why don't you try with the basics here"? I said like, "like what"? She said, like, "you can go to like to gynecologists, you can go to endocrinologists and you can start the test and everything. So you don't lose time when you leave Tunisia, you know. We can then give you the support letters and everything." And I was like, "is this even possible here? Like, is there any endocrinologists that can prescribe me testosterone?" She said like "yeah, that's our job. Like we still have our patients to feel free with their body and everything. Like no doctor have the right to say no to you." but I was afraid because it's illegal.
Andrea: To do such an act is illegal here - in Tunisia.
Jade Esseyah: Yes. Yes. And I was afraid that the doctor can. Like, I dunno, call someone, you know, like this overthinking stuff. And I had to look for an endocrinologist that is, uh, has like background in studying outside of Tunisia, working outside of Tunisia. And it was very hard for me to find one and imagine like all the trans people in Tunisia, not all of them, but most of them are taking hormones. Like trans men, trans women are taking hormones without medical prescription without medical checkups. And this is like very hard hormonal treatment can like, cause heart attacks, can cause liver diseases, or cause like kidney diseases And especially if that, you don't know what you have in your body even before taking the hormone.
Jade Esseyah: So, I had to find this doctor so other people can go to her too, so they can start do the checkups and everything. So I found this doctor and I told her that: here is the letter from the psychiatrist. I identify as a trans man and I'm mentally stable, and I am aware of my actions. And I would like to take testosterone and so, this is my psychiatrist's approval. And she said, "look okay, sure, no problem. We can start this by giving you these tests to run. And then after you come back to me, we can see like your doses and how are you going to take it. And everything." It was like this easy, and I didn't think of it, you know.
Colombe: I mean, it's great to hear that it was available, but. You know, being transgender is illegal, right? In Tunisia. So, how come, how do you think like that it was, I don't want to say easy because obviously it must have been a very difficult journey, but how, how did you manage to find those people so, so fast?
Jade Esseyah: Basically, the psychiatrist is working with many gay friendly organization. So, an organization sent me to the psychiatrist directly because they know that she's safe. And about the endocrinologist, she, as I said, she studied outside of Tunisia and she worked like for some time outside of Tunisia. So she's basically have the the knowledge about trans people and everything, but by taking testosterone, she taught me that I can't tell anyone that she's helping me because she can be at risk. I had to fake some stuff and saying that I have half testosterone level in my body, like just due to some hormonal stuff.
What happened is after taking the testosterone, I started to change. The voice, the face, the body, you know, in everything, which made me feel, not regret, but may made me think that I did this. So I have to warn other people that they don't have to do this as me too. Please be careful because you have to study the consequences because after changing, no one is going to help you there. You will have to leave your home. You will have to leave college or school. You will have to work at any field just to get the money so you can get the groceries, pay the rent.
Jade Esseyah: And I know it's hard to tell a transperson "Don't do the hormones" now, and especially the trans youth, because they suffered a lot and they waited a lot. Like, I feel the same, you know, and everyone is waiting for the day to take the hormones. But as like the experience that I had, I have to educate them and help them to be patient. Let's say I only advise them to start the therapy session, like for the first two years or three years, because that can be much helpful and can help them to understand more of their body, their thoughts and everything.
Colombe: No, but it's a very good point as well, right? Like in countries like Tunisia, where it's illegal to be who you are to be transgender, it's not only, I assume it's very difficult. I mean, you managed to find organizations that directed you towards a safe therapists that managed to direct you towards another doctor and so on, so like... There were a lot of steps to get there that were completely, I guess, under the radar kind of underground, but then what happens then? You said you had fall outs, it was, it was difficult to et cetera. So I guess like not only is it illegal in the first place, but then how, who is there to support you? And I guess this is when you, you chose to leave, as a result, to leave Tunisia?
Jade Esseyah: Yeah. Like I actually, I, I lost faith in leaving the country because there was no organization replying to my emails. So I was working with Booking.com like, uh, collecting money and just focusing on my future there. And that's it. And then, as I said, like during June or July, Rainbow Railroad like contacted me and said that they can help me to leave the country and everything. Which made me feel, um, I don't know how to explain the feeling too, because I already like planned my future, you know? And then after this email and this call from them, everything changed like 180 degree. And I didn't know what to do. Should I stay? Should I leave? And how am I going to tell my parents, because to leave the country, if you are under 35, your parents must sign a travel authorization because after the the revolution of Tunisia in 2011, many young people escaped to Libya and from Libya, they went to Syria to join ISIS. The government announced this law to stop young people from leaving the country and joining ISIS. If you are under 35 years old, your parents must sign this authorization so you can travel with no problem.
Andrea: It's crazy. We didn't know this.
Jade Esseyah: It's basically mostly related to any country without visa, like Turkey, like, the Serbia, like Japan, like Brazil, you know, if you've got the visa, you can like leave without your parents' authorization.
Andrea: Okay. Interesting. Thank you for explaining that. Can I ask you, why do you feel Brazil is so welcoming? What was the difference, compared to Tunisia?
Jade Esseyah: I don't know if it's like the same in all of Brazil, but I arrived to Sao Paulo. It's like a city full of good energy with love, especially the first month. I don't speak a word in Portuguese. I don't know anything about Brazil. I don't know nothing. And imagine like, just by the second month I had many friendships, I know everything about Sao Paulo. It's like many things changed in all of this just by asking people around, Hey, could you please like guide me where I go this way? What I should do?
Andrea: Beautiful to hear.
Jade Esseyah: There is also a collective of LGBT people that they are also helping me till now.
Jade Esseyah: Like they are the people who help me to get my refugee documents, like temporary refugee documents. I got a card to have the access to the public health system, to get the bank account. And now I'm able to get a job. Even like I thought of it, like what if I go to Paris is it going to be the same? Am I able to get all of these documents quickly how it's going to be like, you know? I was like, no, I'm just staying here. And I just started, and also to go to France, I had to wait six months and tell the French embassy, like approve my visa and go from Brazil to France. Why wasting the time? Yeah.
Colombe: The right to change your legal gender in Brazil is legal, right? And I read also that surgery is not required, which is something that is, makes the bar lower for people wishing to change their legal gender.
Jade Esseyah: Yeah, it was surprising to me too, because when I went to the federal police to submit my asylum request, the agent there he was like, I see that you are trans person. I said, yes. He said like, what's your social name? What do you want us to put as your social name? So people "can call you with it. And it was like, hold on, you do this. Like he said that, in your official documents you will have two names, the social name and the birth name, the social name. People would use only your social name, which is Jade, as a right, for every trans person here. And so they, take the decision to change their birth name definitively.
And especially, it's helping with the nonbinary people too, They think that they are able to choose both things. It's like going with all the members of the community and also for the surgery and for the transitioning. You can even do everything for free, through the public health system here in Brazil, which is great too.
Andrea: Very cool. It's good to hear Jade. And I'm sure we'll also discuss about this situation. Like actually there are things that can be improved in Brazil. And as you know, our organization's a lot about equity, so the idea of people having access to equitable rights and opportunities all over the planet and so on and so forth. So I was wondering from your perspective now that you're in Brazil, do you feel that you are, that you have the same access to opportunities and rights as peoplethat identify differently? Or do you think there's still much must be done even in a country like Brazil that seems to be more advanced than others on this topic?
Jade Esseyah: This is like a hard question, because... like, not all the countries are the same and you can find the good and the bad in all the cities in all the country. But what I confirm is that people here and transgender people here, have the right and it's a must for all the agencies and for all the companies to hire at least one or two trans people in their companies as diversity and inclusion program. There is like many consultants that go to all these companies here in Sao Paulo, and they'd be like, "How many trans people do you have here? How many gay people do you have here? How many black people do we have here?" And after these statistics, if they found like, there is like some, members are like missing or something, they do this consulting about how is it important to hire trans person. How is it important to hire a refugee here. It's changing a lot in Sao Paulo. I don't know about the other states because I didn't go there or I don't have friends from other states, but all I know about Sao Paolo, it's like a must for all the companies and agencies to hire like people from the community. And everyone must respect your gender identity and your sexual orientation and any kind of discrimination can get to, um, It's I guess it's illegal.
Colombe: That's great to hear. I mean, from Tunisia, it's a great step up. I guess when being trans is illegal and it's legal in Brazil. Brazil is one of the countries with the highest numbers proportionally, as well, of murders against trans people and the community in general. And the, the level of violence has risen quite a bit recently. Is it something that you feel? Or is it not the case or do you feel it less because you mentioned Sao Paulo was, very, very welcoming.
Jade Esseyah: Oh, this is like a question that many people ask me, like why you choose Brazil? You can see that the crime rates here like is very high in everything. But what I learned here is that Brazil is very strict with the statistics. They do the statistics, like all the time and they are, let's say visible. Like they show the word their statistics and they do this statistics to improve themselves. But if let's say any other countries are not doing the statistic. If all the countries around the world do their statistics, Brazil won't be the highest country in the world.
Colombe: Well, thank you so much for explaining a bit of the situation in Brazil as well, Jade. There's 13 countries in the world in which there are specific laws that criminalizes trans people, punishes them with prison or other, and in many, many others transgender rights and not respect. And I think something else that came out that for me, was extremely interesting and important to hear in order to understand how to better the world in a way is that, you know, some countries have theoretically worse data: as you mentioned, Brazil, compiles a lot of data and so on. But it was however much easier for you to get there and to have access to your rights and to be able to build your life there than to other countries, just because of very long refugee processes of the fact that like, it just didn't happen and so on. so I mean, that's something else to be said for Brazil, to be honest is the fact that you were able to go and start your new life there quite fast. Otherwise you would have to wait so much longer, as you mentioned for France, for example. And asking people to wait for so long is especially when you're young. I mean, you mentioned you're 23, right? You want to be able to start your life.
Jade Esseyah: Exactly. Once you submit your refugee requests, like today you get your temporary stay in Brazil for one year and you can do anything with it. For example, the process in Europe is much longer. You have to wait, this document and this document and this document, so you can't work, so you can't study.
Colombe: After how long did you get your refugee status?
Jade Esseyah: So there is this document called refugee protocol. I got it on the same day that I submitted my refugee request.
Jade Esseyah: The refugee protocol is this document that protects you. And, it's like visa to stay in Brazil for like one year. Uh, with this document, if they give you like a list of your rights, that to now like according to this law, you have the right to, and to and this and this and this. And also they mentioned that if you know something, if you know someone who is coming to this territory, and can make a threat to your life and can like, do anything bad to you, regarding your sexual orientation, gender identity in anything from your home country, you have to declare to the federal justice so they can stop them like crossing or entering Brazil.
And after like one month and two weeks, I got the temporary residenceship here. And they said that I have until the meeting, with the federal justice. They can like take the decision if like they are going to approve my refugee status or not. And once my refugee status is approved, I will get permanent residenceship, and after four years I can submit for the Brazilian citizenship.
Andrea: Thank you Jade for this explanation, I think is very useful. In case our listeners wants to go through the same system, or as we said before, if we try to improve the words, the beat and try to export this. Good practice across the planet is very useful tool, to starting to know them better. Thank you for your very, first of all, moving story, and congratulations for your courage. I'm very happy to hear that at the end, you find a very good place to stay, for the foreseeable future. And I hope that your story would inspire many more people to, if needed, leave the country because they are better countries around the can welcome them. But anyway, also just explore the options, and understand what it takes to finally achieve your result and go through a transition like the one you had.
Jade Esseyah: Thank you so much.
It's an honor. Thank you for letting me like speak up. Yeah. Wow.
Andrea: This was a very very eye opening experience. I think that each and every one of the listeners will probably go home with a new perspective on the situation. And I think there many more people should know about the situation of transgender rights across the planet. It's one of the biggest black holes, I think public knowledge and public debate. And this must change.
Colombe: Just the personal experience of Jade of going to Brazil and then deciding to stay in Brazil because actually the framework was better, faster for Jade to start a life sooner after having to wait for so long was, was very inspiring and showed me that, you know, beyond the legal protections, the legal systems, you also need to be able to implement them fast.
So in this episode, we talked about fundamental rights and we talked about the issues trans people face in places that theoretically should not be too shit, but are pretty shitty. We then talked about people who had to flee their country. We talked with Jade about what it's like to be trans when being trans is potentially life-threatening or a criminal offense in your country. I hope that out of this episode: one you're inspired by Jade and his story, and I hope that it will help all of us in refocusing the discussion.
Andrea: Absolutely. Thank you for these wise words Colombe and to all our listeners. Thank you for listening to this. Please like, and share our podcast with your friends. Put comments if you can. And the next episode will go up very soon. It will probably be about South Africa and the truth and reconciliation situation that happened in the country post apartheid, so it was going to be very, very interesting. And we're going to work very hard to make it a hit for you.