Passersby at one of Quito's busiest downtown streets a week ago Saturday were startled to see a few women set up an impromptu beauty salon on the sidewalk using a vanity table with makeup, a couple of stools and a big black umbrella to provide some cover.
The women, who were all transgender, were offering free makeovers to anyone who wanted one. There was one catch: A sign next to the stand read "Trans beauty tips" and the makeover being offered was to make you look like someone from the opposite gender.
“Ladies and gentlemen, who hasn't dressed as a widow on the 31st of December?*," asked one of the women, "Who hasn't explored the other side of their sexuality dressing like the opposite gender? We invite you to change, to try, to turn into a handsome gentleman or into a beautiful lady, so you can understand that to dress like a man or a woman does not interfere in who you are as a person."
According to Luicia Real Hidalgo, a reporter from El Telégrafo, the event was described by organizers as a "street performance" that was part if a week-long series of events seeking to raise awareness about transgender rights in Ecuador ("The trans fight discrimination through art").
Initially, despite the large crowd that stopped to watch, there were few takers. Finally, to much laughter from the crowd, Jorge Sáenz stepped out of the crowd and sat down on a stool. He remained in silence while the women applied blush, eyeliner, eye shadow and hair gel, and put a necklace around his neck.
Finally, when it was all done, Mr. Sáenz walked back to the crowd and, responding to the ongoing laughter, said "I am a man and I won't stop being one just for wearing makeup".
Luis Tapia, a friend of Mr. Sáenz, wasn't having it. He handed his friend a hankerschief and told him to clean up the makeup because he looked like a "faggot". He told the reporter that there were a few people who liked to dress like "little women" in their home town of Michelena, but said "one always has to keep a distance" and that transgender people should not be allowed any spaces because "their ideas might contaminate children."
To Cayetana Salao, one of the organizers, it was the exact kind of exchange that she hoped to elicit with the "street performance." She told the crowd that "being trans is not an illness, nor a disorder, nor some trauma" and that it shouldn't be considered a mental pathology.
These were the themes of a multi-national effort by transgender rights advocates, to raise awareness about transgender issues around the world under the slogan "STOP trans pathologization 2012". The effort was launched by a number of LGBT and transgender rights organizations in Spain and elicited responses from organizers in more than 38 countries, including several in Latin America.
Back on the streets of Quito on Saturday afternoon, after listening to Ms. Salao, Dayán Méndez decided that she too would take the challenge and sat down on the stool for a make-over. The beauty stylists used make-up to ad depth to her cheeks and make her chin look wider. They applied a fake mustache and goatee and tied a man's tie around her neck to make her look masculine.
“Everything they said is related to what I respect and believe," Méndez said, "People speak of equality, but it's only lip service, because society mistreats those who do not fall within what is considered to be 'normal', and later, with retrograde ideas, every human right is violated."
In contrast to Mr. Sáenz and his disapproving friend, the article says Ms. Méndez received nothing but support from her friend Carlos Altamirano, who stood by as he saw his friend be made-over to look like a man. He applauded the initiative and said that it made sense to do it on that specific intersection because it was the same place where "these people walk, work, and are abused, and it's in this same site that they should demand their rights."
Another member of the makeup troop, Alejandra Moreira, said that their goal with the project was to reach out to everyone in an educational and non-confrontational way. “In a direct manner, but with subtlety, people will see our art and will begin to understand us and respect us a little bit more," she said.
According to promotional materials, the "performance" and events that took place as part of the "STOP transpathologization" campaign in Quito was sponsored by a number of transgender and LGBT rights organizations in Ecuador as well as the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, among other international entities. It was also promoted by the Ecuadorean government through its Culture Ministry.
- Related: Octubre Trans Ecuador, official blog of the Trans Ecuador campaign (Spanish language)