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Trans women take steps to 'TWIRL' freely
by Melissa Wasserman

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From an ambition in a creative mind to real life, three trans women put their troubles and concerns into action, constructing the organization Trans Women in Real Life ( TWIRL ).

Monica Fernandez, Reyna Ortiz and GiGi Boom all began their transitioning process as teenagers and young adults. Which went through the experience with the advantage of having supportive families, they still felt some difficulties in other areas.

"Being young and adding that pressure and complication of being trans on top of that, it made the situation really complicated," said Ortiz. "That's why there is such a need for groups like us because there's all these stresses in life already, but being trans adds to it. It's a really hard issue to deal with when you're a teenager."

Fernandez in particular recalls her experience being difficult, but she was confident in how she wanted to live her life and could not be stopped. With no fear and unconditional love from her mother especially, she describes herself as strong.

As adults, each have gotten involved with various organizations and attended a focus group they felt was not geared enough toward trans woman. About four months ago, feeling like there were no helpful or welcoming resources available for them, they decided to take action and create TWIRL.

"What made us passionate or what made myself passionate is that I live this life every day," said Ortiz. "We are trans women in real life. We are part of society, but yet in some ways we don't feel part of society. We feel like we're outcasts. They make us feel like we're so different from everybody else, but in actuality we're the same. So we felt that there was a need. If we don't stand up for ourselves, nobody is going to stand up for us, not even the gay community."

TWIRL welcomes all walks of life. Regardless of age, race, religion and phase of transition, TWIRL exists to support and educate anyone who identifies as a trans woman. Currently the organization is independent and funded out of the three founders' pockets. Friends in the community assist in providing some of the venues.

"We want it not only to be pro-gay, we want it to be pro-trans," said Fernandez. "There's so many things I want to do differently and I know it's going to take time and I just want to come out of the dark. I want to shine bright like a diamond, like Rihanna said."

Fernandez said she hopes the organization grows and gets funded in the future. She adds there is a need for safe houses for transgender people in every ward of the city. Although they have support in some areas, Fernandez and Ortiz both expressed instances of discrimination as adults. Some discrimination came when finding jobs, finding apartments, police protection and as visitors at hospitals.

Fernandez was violently pushed at an HIV/AIDS fundraiser last year when someone touched her girlfriend and she in turn defended her. In that incident Fernandez felt unprotected because of her being transgender. She said the police did not file a report, brushing the incident under the rug.

"We're human beings and we're treated this way, not only by society, people like the police," said Fernandez. "Their motto is 'to protect and serve.' They don't protect us. Even then, we're doing stuff for people who are HIV positive. It was a good thing we were doing, not a bad thing. Gay men treat us like step children. It's tough to live this way. We're not in 1320. We're in 2013. That's what we need to know."

Ortiz and Fernandez said trans women feel like the stepchildren of the LGBTQ community. Explaining there are events and literature focused on being pro-gay or pro-lesbian, there is a lack of resources for trans women or transsexuals in general. They say they experience significant stereotyping.

"They think they have programs for trans women, but I say otherwise," said Fernandez. "I reached out to other programs like the Chicago House and Howard Brown, different places, Project Vida, they don't even have literature or pamphlets for transgender women. It's all about gays and lesbians and I think it's about time we do have that."

The reason the organization's name centers around trans women specifically, they explained, is because to them trans women are the most oppressed of the LGBTQ community.

"Even trans men have it better than trans women because some of them fit into society so well that it's just not even an issue," said Ortiz. "To transition from a man to a woman is the hardest thing to do. You need the most surgery, you need the most money, the most everything. So, I do think we are the most oppressed group out of the LGBTQ community."

One of TWIRL's main purposes is to provide a sisterhood for young trans women that are having issues. The hope, Ortiz said, is for the group to be national and gain a reputation of being made up of trans women who are here to make a difference, share their voices, and to mostly educate people.

"It's a lack of education," said Ortiz. "People are scared of what they don't know, yet they're so interested in transsexuals because it's so different and I think once people really understood the life of a transsexual and all the things they go through to become a transsexual, they would admire us. They should be admiring us because we made such a sacrifice for us to be the people we want to be."

Several trans women and allies attended the launch meeting of TWIRL Sept. 23 at Efebina's Café, 1640 S. Blue Island in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Their next meeting is Monday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m. at Efebina's, and members plan to attend the March on Springfield the next day.

One surprise guest at the Sept. 23 meeting was U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who was at the restaurant for a benefit. "I think it was a good turn out," said Fernandez. "We did get to meet Luis Gutierrez. He's a supporter and that's what I needed to hear."

"We want to open to everyone that needs help and has issues or they want to transition," said Fernandez. "If you want to transition and you need advice of doing it, we want to help. I want to let the youth know, it's okay to be different. We made it, so they can too. I want everybody to know we're there and we exist. I can't control what happens outside the facility, but I know they're going to be safe with me while I'm there. I can't control the community or society, but I just want to get the closure that I'm here to help if they ever need help."

To learn more about TWIRL, contact: .

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