A transwoman gets ready for the evning in her room. The majority of transwomen in downtown Lima live in communal homes as they often face housing discrimination.
Tamara, a 27 years old transwoman, quit school in the 5th grade because her classmates constantly teased and insulted her. At 16 she began sniffing glue to deal with loneliness and depression. At 18 she began prostituting. Though she has looked for other work she says that people think transwomen have diseases and are vulgar, so they are turned away.
"The feeling is inexplainable. We leave the stage and girls are applauding, they admire you. You feel good about yourself and you feel good about society."
"Identity in general is very strong. Nobody can deny you it, because it's inside of you."
Broken beer bottles and their entrails paint the floor of an LGBTQ nightclub. Substance abuse is very common as a way to cope with the harsh work and living environments.
Though prostitution in Peru is not illegal, many transwomen are oftentimes taken by police ("serenazgos" - municipal police officers) on the basis of not being able to show valid id cards. According to a study by the Peruvian Cayetano Heredia University, serenazgos and the Catholic Church are the two most homofobic institutions in Peru.
Josue (left), Oriana's (right) now ex-boyfriend, leans in to kiss her before she leaves for work. Though he said that living with her helped him to lead a better life, he would also talk about how their relationship was not right under the eyes of God.
After resisting sexual relation with a client without a condom, Tamara was injured with a broken glass that he threw at her face.
Tamara comforts her mother, Evila (right), after fighting. Though many transwomen don't have support from family, Tamara has a very close relationship with her mother who is a lesbian.
Colombian transwomen, Karen, is comforted by her mother, who flew to Peru after hearing that Karen was shot by a police officer. "In this country for the fact of being trans, you are not valued as a human being. Even though I was between life and death I was still considered guilty."
Nearly every week, Yasuri visits the Baquijano Cemetery to leave flowers and pray at a Peruvian saint's tomb. She said that she can no longer stand prostitution. "It makes me sick", she said, as she dreams of having a family and getting married one day.
Katalina holds a newborn kitten whose mum had been killed by a car. She named her Michelle and feeds her with milk in the hopes that she will survive.
© Danielle Villasana
In Peru, a country with a highly machismo, conservative, religious and transphobic culture, transgender women are extremely marginalized and discriminated against in society. Persecution begins early, causing them to abandon their families and studies. With few options or economic support, many practice prostitution. As a result, many live in compromised conditions throughout their lives with limited opportunities for social security, higher education or employment outside the streets. With few avenues for upward mobility, they are sequestered in hostile environments characterized by rejection, fear and exploitation. As sex workers, they’re at greater risk of violence and abuse, and are less able to protect their health. In fact, eighty percent of trans homicides worldwide occur in Latin America. Without legal protections or recognition, many cases of violence and death in Peru go undocumented, leaving these human rights violations invisible.
Danielle Villasana is a documentary photographer whose personal projects focus on gender, identity, social politics and health. She is currently a member of the Emerging Talent Roster at Getty Images Reportage.
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