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FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut
Person applying makeup. Karina. ID card. Transgender  parade.

Rough Cut
Chile: Karina's Story
Buidling a life as a transgender woman
 

 

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Length: 15:04

Joui Turandot

Julie Willmarth, a California native, has a B.A. in media studies from Mills College. Yo Soy Asi (I Am Who I Am) was her senior thesis film and was subsequently featured in the New Fest Film Festival in New York City in the summer of 2004. Willmarth currently works under the name Joui Turandot, inspired by the French word jouer, meaning "to play," and the Puccini opera Turandot, which features a powerful female protagonist. She lives in San Francisco.

If you didn't know what you were watching, the opening scenes of this week's Rough Cut might look like the rushes from a film by Pedro Almodovar. Our stories come in a variety of styles; this time around, we present a cinema verite piece, a "day in the life," narrated by its main character, a transgender hairdresser living in Santiago, Chile.

All Karina Parra wants is to lead the life of an ordinary 27-year-old woman. But, as filmmaker Joui Turandot explains, a normal life for a transgender person in Chile is no easy task. "Transgendered people are almost always rejected by their families and end up on the streets. Basic human rights and opportunities do not apply." Many of them, says Turandot, become child prostitutes, and many who have mainstream jobs often lose their jobs as soon as they assume a female identity and are then forced into prostitution to survive.

Turandot spent a year studying in Santiago, where she was surprised to find a visible community of transvestite prostitutes in a society characterized by overt homophobia. With her film, she wanted to explore what it was like to be transgender in a fiercely Catholic and conservative country such as Chile.

"It's difficult for transgenders to make it as professionals. They are often condemned to dwell at the margins of society," says Turandot. "With few exceptions, Chilean universities will not accept openly transgendered students, and the best schools often expel male pupils who come to school dressed as a woman."

In this revealing personal portrait, Karina talks to the camera with a disarming frankness as she takes you through her daily life and early struggles, not to mention her physical and mental journey toward femininity. She says she is one of the lucky ones, having survived a childhood on the streets without resorting to prostitution.

"I left home when I was 10, so I learned a lot of things and I became aware of everything," Karina says. "I was never stupid. Back then I knew that if I dressed like a woman, I would have had to prostitute myself. But I don't like prostitution. So I asked myself, 'What can I do?' Work. And I started selling dish towels."

Today, she runs her own hair salon and is in a committed relationship with a longtime partner.

Chile has been rated as one of the freest nations in conservative Latin America -- the country elected its first female president in January, socialist Michelle Bachelet, who advocates for much greater tolerance in Chile -- but it is still criticized for its rigid class structure. And in this class-obsessed society, the only people lower than the indigenous peoples are those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities -- sectors of the population many Chileans prefer to ignore. Compounding the prejudice, transgendered Chileans are often shunned by gay, lesbian and bisexual Chileans.

As a hairdresser, Karina earns 2,000 pesos -- about US$4 -- for each haircut. Prostitutes earn 10,000 pesos or more for each sexual encounter. Yet for Karina, self-respect has been enough to keep her on track. Turandot says that although Karina would like to travel outside the country, she is not permitted to as long as she is legally "a man living as a woman." Ironically, with sex change surgery -- a lengthy, painful and expensive procedure she may never be able to afford -- she could qualify for a passport.

Joelle Jaffe
Associate Producer

REACTIONS

Layla Sabourian - San Francisco, California
I think it is great that Joui made this film. It is always interesting to know more about the different life styles in the world. Hope some day we can all learn to accept each other's differences and live in harmony.

Allen, TX
I believe that it is very important for those of us in the United States to realize that homosexual and transgender discrimination is a widespread and global phenomenon; even as gays are gaining more rights in the United States, in the rest of the world they still struggle to gain even basic human rights.

Allie M - Allen, TX
I found this video to be extremely captivating and intruiging as it showed a completely different outlook on a matter that I never would have considered viewing. Though the subject of the transgender belief can is a controversial matter, this video examined more than what is found on the surface and gave an in depth explanation of how an individual is affected on a first-hand basis. Appearance means nothing when compared to character, and when it comes to character, Karina has plenty. Taking a job as a hairdresser where she is paid a low income as compared to prostitute within her community demonstrates that she has pride in herself and how she is. She disregards the standard of women within her community and rises above them. Enduring many hardships within life, such as being rejected by her family, would have been an easy excuse for Karina to pity herself, yet she uses it as fuel to succeed. She has endured the pain of being homeless, and the heartache of being loved by no one except for her boyfriend. It is determination like Karina's that demonstrates that being "normal" isn't necessarily the right lifestyle, and that being different within the community is okay.

Anonymous EDward - Allen, Texas
This article really opened my eyes to the plight of transgendered people in Chile. I was outraged that the sex change surgery costs so much, and what makes matters worse is that they have to get the surgery to be referred to as a member of their true gender. The cruelty and callousness of the police made me furious. I think Karina is amazing for getting a good job. She is a great role model for transgendered people, especially those in Chile. Hearing about her hardships reminded me of why I want to become a psychiatrist who specializes in working with transgendered teenagers.

Landon A - Allen, TX
This video was very intriguing because it was something I really know nothing about. I know in America transgender people are more accepted because of most of America's liberal outlook on that type of thing. What I didn't realize was that in Chile there is a lot more prejudice against transgender people and they really have to fight for their right to have a normal life over there. I didn't realize that there was so much discrimination in jobs and by their families. It really hit home when she said that she didn't feel accepted or loved at home and the only person who loved her was her boyfriend. It's hard to imagine someone's family disowning them because of their sexual preference I guess because in America people tend to be a lot more accepting of things like that. Another thing that shocked me was that she had to inject herself with silicone with animal vaccine needles to have a more womanly figure, it seems so extreme compared to the simple "in and out" procedures that doctors in America can do today. I learned a lot from the video, it was extremely interesting and informative. This topic is something that not a lot of people get the full story of, so it was nice to have an inside perspective on it.

lenka mezzano - jensen beach, fl
WOW..I accidently found this site..And yes Chile is so obsessed w/Society and about being proper..I really hope it changes, it needs to. I am looking forward to seeing this film please give me updates.

Oakland, Ca
This is a wonderful film. I was able to bring my transgender friend to view this film and she and I both agreed that this was very educational and thought provking ! Joui is very talented and I look forward to her furture film endeavors!

(anonymous) - Chicago, IL
It is important that the news and film media continually expose the public to issues that make people think and examine personal beliefs. How can we hurt another human being who is like ourselves? Thank you to Frontline for providing the opportunity to new filmmakers. Thank you Joui for your curiosity, insight and creative film making - well done.

Pantea Javidan - Richmond, CA
"Yo Soy Asi" allows viewers rare insight into an insular group that needs to be heard in order to be understood. It is films like these that open up worlds and transform peoples' personal views through education and affection for the subject. Joui has accomplished the most significant duty of a filmmaker.

Kathi Olsen - Del Mar, Ca
Impressive and sensitively made documentary. Joui obviously has a gift of making her subjects feel safe and comfortable in sharing their innermost feelings and thoughts and dreams. Bravo to Joui and to Frontline World for sharing the story of this disenfranchised population. Look forward to seeing this documentary shared with a wider audience and to seeing more of the work of this talented filmmaker.

Jim Fogarty - San Diego, CA
Well done Joui. I appreciate the artistic sensitivity you have expressed in this documentary. I am also impressed by the creative way you brought out your subject. I am looking forward to enjoying your future work.

Lucy R - San Francisco, CA
This was VERY well done. Karina is a real hero - I hope she gets what she wants someday. I lived in Santiago from 94-96 and it was great to see some of the city and hear Chilean slang again, and know that Chilean society is changing and adapting as time goes on.

Sherry Butler - san Francisco, CA
Joui shows her audience the inside track to the challenges the Chilean transgender faces. I was amazed to see how they are discriminated against - even within the alternative lifestyle community. Very well done, congratulations Joui!

Les Stuck - Oakland, CA
Very interesting documentary.I especially like the camera work.

(anonymous)
More Julie Willmarth documentaries please!!!!

(anonymous)
A powerful and clear representation of a transgendered community in a machismo culture. As someone who has lived and worked with a queer community in Latin America, I was very moved.

Anon - Seattle, Washington
Thanks very much for putting this on your website. Thanks very much.

John Martin - San Francisco, CA
This was excellent! I'm amazed that Joui was able to get this close to Karina and her daily routine. I hope to see more work from Joui in the future.

Vanessa Aquino - San Francisco, California
Ms. Joui Turandot's portrait of Karina was beautifully made. I hope this film opens up the eyes of those that are against the transgender lifestyle. Everyone is entitled to be who they want to be. Karina is a strong person to stand up for herself. Go Girl!Congratulations to Turandot! Continue to tell stories!Vanessa R. Aquino
Writer/Director
San Francisco, California

Federal Way, WA
Joui is able to capture and highlight the daily stuggles of a transgender women in a society that is biased. She brings a human touch to her film and is able to convey her message with heart.

Christine Lester - New York, NY
Joui is a FABULOUS documentarist! She really captures the sentiments of the people involved. Great job Joui!

Vanessa Vega - San Francisco, CA
Coming from San Francisco, it's easy to take tolerance for granted, and easy to forget how much discrimination still exists all over the world against homosexuals and transgenders. This film really opened my eyes to the conditions in Chile, and also the construction of gender as a spectrum with no hard fast categories...I really enjoyed this heartfelt and very unique portrayal!

Filly Herrarte-Colom - San Francisco, CA
Congratulations to Joui, an oustanding Filmmaker!!! and to the protagonist Karina for her courage and sincerity.A much awaited moment for such important issue to be out!!!

Crystal Weston - Oakland, CA
Great piece. I look forward to seeing it someday.
We need more stories like this about real people in today's world. Transgenders are on the cutting edge of the LGBT movement and on the cutting edge of any progressive discussion about gender, equality, and identity. I applaud Karina for her bravery and the filmmaker for seeing value in this story.Kudos to Frontline for putting it "on the front line."

Pablo Thun - San Francisco, CA
Excelente documental, I would like to see it on TV.

(anonymous)
Congratulations, Judie, excellent!!! Nos vemos en Chile.

Miroslava Palavicini - Valparaiso, Chile
I would give thanks to Joui for showing the real Chilean socitety. In this country the "most important thing" is the class-obsessed people, and how they try to put you on a stage or level of this society. And really when you don't fit in anywhere it is because you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or just you have a different point of view.

Abby L - Long Beach, CA
This is an important story. I would like to see more like it. Thanks for doing it.