[NOTE: The image used for this post is that of legendary queer poet and provocateur Pedro Lemebel, who alerted media to the news, not that of Marcia Alejandra]
Friends of Marcia Alejandra - the first woman in Latin America to undergo gender reassignment surgery to change her anatomical gender from male to female - say she has died from a stroke.
"With her departure, this country loses - perhaps - a part of its memory," said queer activist and friend Pedro Lemebel to Chilean newspaper La Nación,
"Marcia was never acknowledged as the great mold-breaker of her era", he added.
Marcia Alejandra, who made a living as a hairdresser, underwent gender-reassignment surgery in Chile back in March of 1973 (that's almost 40 years ago!).
A report published by Chilean newspaper La Cuarta in 2004 says that news of the historic surgery didn't reach the public until a year after it happened when some newspapers finally caught wind of it.
At the time, Marcia Alejandra bravely stood up to reporters and said she was "a man with the soul of a woman" (remember, this were the early 1970's in Latin America).
Dr. Antonio Salas Vieyra, who performed the surgery, went on to worldwide acclaim and I still see his name pop up from time to time in reference to Latin American LGBT history. He is currently the president of the Chilean Sexuality and Sexual Education Association.
Marcia Alejandra's name, by all accounts, has been mostly relegated to the sands of time, at least until now.
La Nación says that when they reached out to the leading Chilean LGBT rights organization, MOVILH, they didn't even recognize her name. Pablo Lemebel, speaking to the paper, blamed it on institutional transphobia on their part (Lemebel has been a long time critic of the organization).
Lemebel also penned an ode to Marcia Alejandra published by El Nortero on January 10th in which he tries to rescue her name for historical posterity and highlights what it might have meant for someone in the early 1970's to have the courage to go under gender-reassignment surgery.
Of course, to call someone the first person in Latin America to undergo gender-reassignment surgery is highly subjective. In the comments section of the La Nación article, someone argues that someone else in Chile might have been the first transsexual woman in the country. And maybe that's correct but, if it is, it wasn't anyone who went public then nor now.
Marcia Alejandra did go public, though, and did so at a time when it was absolutely heroic.
In the United States, Puerto Rican-born transgender idol Sylvia Rivera has always been held high on a pedestal when it comes to te origins of the current LGBT-rights movement and her role in the Stonewall riots of the late 1960's.
Please help me welcome Marcia Alejandra to the same pantheon as that of Sylvia Rivera's.
This Week's New Yorker -
3 minutes ago