Mireya Navaez, as she calls herself, had filed a suit against a 200-inmate all-male prison after being ordered to dress as a man. The top Ibagué court, presided by Judge Alirio Sedano, "acknowledged Narvaez's right to freedom of personality and ordered prison warden Ivan Hernandez to allow him to dress like a woman and wear makeup" ("Prison Lets Colombian Inmate Wear Dress and Makeup Like a Woman", EFE, Jan. 17, 2009).
Colombian right-wing paramilitary groups are known for their conservative intolerance with reports of some areas under their control being placed under strict so-called 'moral' codes (one friend was driven away from his rural home when death-threats began to appear warning HIV-positive individuals in the region that they would be killed unless they left within 48 hours).
Not surprisingly, in two Spanish-language accounts published on Friday, Navaez certainly tells an amazing and harrowing story ("Gay ex-paramilitary files suit to dress as a woman in prison / Top court of Ibagué allows Chaparral prison inmate to dress as a woman", El Tiempo, Jan. 16, 2009).
Navaez, says that she made it to Bogotá at the age of eleven as a homeless runaway and fell in with a group of thieves. The gang saw an advantage in her age and demeanor since, she says, most victims never expected someone like her to be a criminal. By the age of fourteen says she had committed her first murder.
Paramilitary groups often recruit young men from violent neighborhood gangs which is how Mireya ended up taken away from the streets of Bogotá to rural Cumaral, Meta, and in the ranks of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
To survive as an AUC member, Mireya says that she learned to walk firmly, to speak in a low tone of voice and to disguise his feminine mannerisms. She also says that she tried to show that she was a fearless assassin. Ultimately she was betrayed by a confidant and outed at age eighteen and says she only escaped execution because a paramilitary leader intervened as another was getting ready to shoot her. "They were going to kill me for being a faggot," she says.
I'm not sure I buy some details in the recollection of her life. Let's say that some twists and turns sound a bit too much like a telenovela although I assume that most of it is based on some nuggets of truth. But now that she has won the lawsuit she says she has not only been able to dress as she wants but also gained a new level of respect from guards and inmates in daring to be open (the prison's warden tells El Tiempo that Mireya can dress as a woman any time she likes except during visiting hours since he does not want the families of other inmates to be shocked).
"There are many gays here, but they have not dared to come out of the closet," Mireya says,"I did it and they no longer look at me as the clown, they respect me."
She says that she has been also able to reestablish contact with her mother and her brothers after twelve years although her father still will not accept her and that she hopes that once she is released she will be able to have access to gender reassignment surgery.
An aside: These articles remind me of a case back in the 1990's, I believe, in which a group of Colombian soldiers found some loot and decided to divide between them instead of reporting it. They were found out later and I believe they received prison sentences. I also remember that one of the male soldiers had been planning to use his share to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. Can't find a link to any information online that would corroborate the sketchy details in my memory, though.
- In a conservative Colombian small-town, gay soccer team draws hundreds of fans (Aug. 3, 2008)
- Transgender TV diva (Jan. 13, 2006)