Chile: A trans and Mapuche midwife at COVID-19

How to survive discrimination and bring life in the midst of the pandemic

SOURCE: Presentes Agency

Photos: Josean Rivera/Archivo Presentes

A round of applause surprised her completely. They could be heard outside their house, but they sounded very close. Claudia Ancapán Quilape did not expect it, but those of the night of April 7 were for her: a 44-year-old trans woman, midwife, Mapuche and survivor, who for several years has been working in a clinic in Santiago and where today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she continues to assist births, cesarean sections, performing gynecological controls, monitoring pregnancies and gestational diseases, among other tasks typical of obstetrics and childcare, the career she studied.

That night, some of his neighbors replicated the scene of gratitude towards the health professionals who battle from the front line, a custom that began in Italy and spread to many countries, in tune with the spread of the virus around the world. Claudia had to go out to confirm what she heard. He says he couldn’t believe it.

-Bravo, Claudia, bravo! -they shouted from a balcony. We were waiting for you, neighbor, you deserve all the applause.

-Thank you very much…” Claudia paused, looked around, then looked up for a while, smiling. Thank you all.

He will never forget that, he tells Presentes. No one had applauded her like this, in public, since she decided to make her transition in 2005. Not even when he presented the thesis that allowed him to receive his degree with honors. after a long research on trans people, sex trade, sexually transmitted infections and health care services, at the Universidad Austral de Chile, where she began to study with her biological identity.

And now, from whom he least expected it was from his neighbors. Until recently he faced some uncomfortable moments and attempts of discrimination in his own community. Claudia says she’s used to it, from all the blows she’s taken in life. But this time it was not because of his identity or his roots, but because of his profession. It coincided with the complaints made by the Chilean Medical Association during the first days of April, about discriminatory measures being taken in some buildings against health personnel, restricting the use of elevators and common spaces, as well as requiring them to take care of their own garbage, among other things.

“The first few days I got to educate in my community. There was a lot of fear, and I had some differences with one neighbor in particular. He questioned my role, but from panic. And although I understood his reaction, I was forced to stop him. I convinced him to listen to me and told him about all the safety measures I take every day when I leave my home, at work, and when I return. I had to talk to everyone about this, and make them understand that if the health personnel don’t do the job, who else is going to do it,” Claudia says over the phone on a Monday while resting at home after returning from a 24-hour shift at the clinic.

Evangelical family and indigenous origins

She did not have an easy life, like most trans people. She was born in Santiago, but her childhood was spent in towns in southern Chile. She grew up in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, in an evangelical environment and in a family of indigenous origin. The penultimate of six siblings, she went through a rural school, a public school and later, despite the religion practiced in her home, she arrived at a Catholic school in Puerto Montt, one of the cities that symbolized German colonization in Chile.

“That was a very aspirational decision, a decision of status, because in Chile it is unfortunately very common that the school is key to your professional future. In that Catholic school there was a lot of whitewashing and I was a black spot. But I dedicated myself to study and to have the best grades so that no one could criticize me or point me out for anything else”, Claudia says.

At the age of five she had her first encounter with her gender identity. He doesn’t remember, but he knows from what his mom told him years later. “I wanted to be constantly surrounded by girls, playing with dolls, always in touch with the strength of my mom and my sisters, because I felt more comfortable on that side of the gender. I also wanted to have long hair, like Dorothy Gale, from the Wizard of Oz, but they gave me military cuts because in dictatorship all male children had to wear their hair like that,” she says. She had anxiety crises, panic and some episodes of anorexia from very early on. And although her parents took her to many doctors, none of them could read what was wrong with her. “I suffered a lot because I wanted to be a girl and I could not. At that time the lack of knowledge about these issues was total,” she recalls.

She decided to study obstetrics because she suspected what was wrong with her, but had no further references. In a couple of books he found in a public library, he read that in other countries there was something called sex reassignment surgeries. That finding was one of his first beacons to follow the path and not give up.

“Knowledge was my salvation. I decided that if I was not going to have access to specialists, because at that time it was unthinkable, then I would approach science myself, and for that I had to specialize in this area of health, to know my anatomy.“, he points out. He took the opportunity to study a lot about hormones and made his body available for clinical studies.

Violence and discrimination

At the university she experienced many episodes of physical and institutional violence and discrimination. Shortly before graduating, a group of neo-Nazis attacked her in the same way that years later another similar group would attack Daniel Zamudio in Santiago. She was beaten until her face was smashed. She was also raped. “It was very hard to overcome that episode, but I always say that it was a lapse in my life that in the end only strengthened me. Those who did that to me did not win, because they did not kill me, they only pushed me to accomplish something that seemed impossible: for a transsexual to become a midwife in a country as backward and patriarchal as Chile.”

Years after passing through several hospitals in the south, Claudia moved to Santiago but no one wanted to hire her after she was fired from San Borja Hospital. She dreamed of a career in the maternity ward of this public health center. Since the doors of all the hospitals and clinics in the city were closed to him, he spent three years trying to make a living with various trades, especially in the fast food industry.

The death of his father, in 2007, was one of the final impulses to make the decision to live “full time” and abandon the double life he says he led before moving on. And it did not affect his family so much as the medical profession and his close working environment. “For the professional circle in which I moved, it was an insult. I was told that this was going to nullify my credibility at the time of working, because transsexuality was associated with prostitution.n. That still happens to me to this day. Once, while I was looking for a job, a doctor told me that I was mentally ill and would never be able to practice again,” he recalls.

“What inspires me most about the Mapuche cause is their resistance.”

Claudia is a resilient person, partly because of all the obstacles she had to overcome. “I have the strong character, that of a woman survivor of violence in all its forms,” she says. But she is also convinced that her Mapuche roots have a lot to do with her way of facing the road and getting to where she is today. “Many times I have been discriminated against just because of how I look, because it is obvious that I have indigenous roots. For me, the discrimination has always been double,” she adds. This makes her even more proud of her origins, her family and her community.

She usually goes to March 8 marches or diversity demonstrations wearing a typical garment of her people, such as the Wenüfoye flag. He once went to a Pride march with a sign that read, in Mapudungún: “Your freedom will be real when you manage to let go of the weight you don’t need.” She was dressed with a quetpám, a sikil pin hanging on her chest and a trarilonko on her head, at the level of her forehead.

But even so, Claudia recognizes that her connection to the indigenous cause is not as deep as she would like and regrets not having learned the language as a child, when she listened to her mother speak. As an adult she took several courses and the most recent one was online. In parallel, he is studying coronavirus, while the curve in Chile continues to rise and exceeds 10,000 cases.

“What inspires me most about the Mapuche cause is their resistance, how they fought against the conquerors, how they take care of their lands and the entire ecosystem,” Claudia confesses about this people who for years have been discriminated against in many ways in her country. A recent study by the University of Talca on racial discrimination in Chile revealed that the majority of Chileans prefer to strip themselves of any indigenous ties and believe that having a Mapuche surname can be detrimental when seeking employment or promotion in a company. Claudia says that this reality breaks her heart.

This year, she had plans to travel south to go into an indigenous community to learn more about them, and what she is too, from everyday life and not from books, academia or family history. But the coronavirus changed his compass and priorities. For now, Claudia is still in Santiago working, attending emergencies, assisting doctors in surgical wards. In his social networks and close environment, he shares useful information that can help prevent contagions. Every time she arrives home, the routine is the same: she takes off her clothes before entering, leaves them in a bag to wash them immediately, takes a shower, disinfects what she touched, cleans the bathroom, and so she goes, every day, very conscious of every step she takes: “I am vulnerable and I don’t deny that sometimes I feel afraid, but I do everything I can to protect myself and my community. This is the role I have been given and I am grateful to life for that”.


Airam Fernández

Airam Fernández

Periodista venezolana. Vivo en Chile, escribo en @DFinanciero y colaboro cada tanto en @PresentesLGBT.

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