Growing old in Mexico brings uncertainty, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. However, being LGBTQ+ brings additional challenges, which the pandemic accentuated.
MEXICO CITY — Mario is 69 years old. He found a new sense of peace 13 years ago, materialized in a birth certificate that finally reflected a truth he had always known but struggled to put into words: "I am a trans man."
“I feel like a survivor of many things," he says. "Believe me that the new life challenges no longer harm me. I think that I have already gone through all the ugly things of life, all the ignorance, all the pain, the sadness, and everything else. For me what follows is to say: ‘of course I can!’.”
Mario grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Mexico City, in an environment in which gay men and trans women were called offensive names. Mario did not have access to sexual education that may have allowed him to put his identity into words. But it was the dreams of his childhood that helped him.
“I dreamed that when I woke up my body would be that of a man, a boy,” he remembers.
Hiding his own gender identity
In the midst of that environment and without information, Mario lived in silence and kept his own gender identity confined for more than 50 years.
“There were no lesbian groups, there were no trans men groups, there was nothing. Honestly, I felt more sure each time, so I said: ‘If you don't move, then stay there, isolated, go scream in a corner and die of sadness’. And no, I put my sadness aside a little and said: 'Let's move forward, only forward'.”
But everything changed the day that he bumped into Diana, a 59-year-old engineer who had also experienced the same type of isolation since she was a child. It happened under the clock at the Balderas station of the Mexico City metro.
Diana remembers that her time of isolation, which lasted until college, was extreme and terrible. So was the year and a half of harassment, ridiculing and discrimination she faced in one of her workplaces after sharing her experience as a trans woman and allowing herself, after so long, to be herself.
Mario and Diana sit down for an interview with Agencia Presentes
Hit harder by the pandemic
Mario and Diana resisted those times of confinement.
After meeting in that subway station they started dating, fell in love, and — 13 years ago — they got married. Since then, their visibility and activism has been key in guaranteeing the legal recognition of the identity of adult transgender people in Mexico City.
We were working for our mental health. We were working to distract ourselves.
Mario jokingly says: “I am the grandfather of all the trans boys and girls who feel that their life is slipping away at 18… Recovering 56 years, a whole life, that is a great challenge, it is not easy at all.”
Diana and Mario took a long time to come out of the closet because they lacked information and referents. And because they wanted to keep their jobs.
In Mexico, 4 out of 10 older adults face poverty. At the same time, discrimination against trans people contributes to job insecurity and the pandemic has exacerbated the problem even more. According to data from a survey on the effects of the pandemic on the LGBTQ+ population in Mexico, 70% of trans women and 60% of trans men who responded lost income during the first year of the pandemic.
Despite the double difficulties of being older adults and trans, Mario and Diana feel lucky: "In a way, being transsexuals didn't go so badly for us, because at least we have food on our plates and a place to live.”
During the lockdowns, Mario and Diana allowed themselves to work on a personal project in the mountains of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City: the construction of their cabin.
“That kept us alive, that is, productive, even though we were not working for money. We were working for our mental health. We were working to distract ourselves. For many it was a waste of time, but for us it kept us on earth, it kept us alive.”
HIV to COVID-19
During the lockdown, going back to the closet, or staying in the closet, was not an unknown strategy for LGBTQ+ people. It was a resource against violence.
According to the National Survey on Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (ENDOSIG, 2018) prepared by Conapred, 92% of LGBTQ+ people in Mexico hid their sexual orientation or gender identity at an early age due to the discrimination they face in different spaces.
The COVID pandemic delayed and reduced the response, care, prevention, and treatment for HIV, cancer, diabetes, and mental health illnesses, amongst others.
According to the Cero Desabasto platform, which monitors the right to health treatments in Mexico, between 2019 and 2020, HIV was the fourth disease with the highest number of reports due to lack of available medication. In addition, lockdowns disrupted HIV testing, leading to fewer diagnoses and at the same time a drop in initiating treatment initiation. According to UNAIDS, 1 in 4 people living with HIV had problems accessing their treatment in 2020.
In Mexico there are 40 government programs targeting the elderly, which focus on covering health, economic and training needs, and "none of these can be classified as long-term care," according to research by Coneval. Furthermore, none of the programs explicitly mention LGBTQ+ people or concrete actions to cover their specific needs.
Mexico City hosts the only three clinics in the entire country that provide free hormonal treatment to trans people. During the first year of the pandemic, users of this service reported delays in the supply of testosterone and estrogen on social networks, as well as follow-up appointments.
Diana was one of those affected by this, and her mental health was also compromised.
*Discover the full multimedia special (in Spanish) at Agencia Presentes.