Self-Made Woman: A Transgender Latina Tells Her Story

As told to Damarys Ocaña

Sometimes I think that women don’t appreciate their bodies, themselves and their own power enough. I know, because as a transgender woman, my female body has been 15 years in the making. I’ve worked extremely hard to build what you have been born with.

As a little boy growing up with my grandparents in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, I used to watch my aunts put on makeup and clothes for hours. I was very feminine. When I went out, people sometimes thought I was a little girl. My hair was always really nice, so my grandmother let it grow a bit long; my grandfather used to yell at me for resting on one hip when I stood or fluttering my fingers when I spoke. In school, kids called me Palomita. However, what I felt was different from identifying as gay: What I saw in the mirror and what people saw were different from how I felt inside. I was meant to be a girl. But that didn’t become clear to me until I was 18 and living on my own in Reno, Nev. One Halloween, I dressed up as a woman—black and white sequin halter dress, tights, heels, makeup and my own bobbed hair—and entered a costume contest at a gay bar. I won, and it was a defining moment for me. I felt like, for the first time, I was letting people really see me and accept me for who I was. The worst thing anyone can be is invisible, and all my life I’d felt that way. I never looked back.

After moving to Los Angeles when I was 20, I saw a transsexual woman for the first time, and I realized how far I could go to achieve my dream. I started taking hormones and saving money for surgeries. By then, I had married a man in a civil union, and he and my mom also helped me with the costs and months of recovery. They included a nose job (I had a honker, which was okay on a man’s face but not cute on a girl!), cheek and breast implants, laser hair removal for my face and chest, a tummy tuck and silicone injections for hips, butt and thighs. I had surgery to shave down my forehead bone to soften the shape, which was so painful that I couldn’t walk correctly for months. I never had second thoughts or hesitations about the changes. I had an image of Iris Chacón in my head as the kind of woman I wanted to be: beautiful, strong, and voluptuous in that way that only Latin women can be. Every surgery represented months and years of preparation and a step closer to reaching my goal. I have pictures that I took every two years, and the changes are incredible: I love my hips, my breasts. The roundness and sensuality and the curves of a woman’s body are special; men just can’t compare.

Going out in public during the early years was tricky. I remember how on a road trip to visit my mom for the first time since starting my transition, we had to stop every few hours so I could shave—this was before I had laser treatment on my face. When we got to my mom’s house, my cousin was laughing, like, “You look like uncle David with makeup!” On a serious note, I was assaulted at a club once because men that had been interested in me throughout the night found out I was transgender, and they were furious. Now I’m 38DD-29-42, and I love it when men open doors for me and give me their bus seat. They see a woman. The only thing they might think is, “Wow, that’s a big bitch!” because I’m 6 feet 2!