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Trans Stories: Juan Manuel

Nestled between the mountains and a lake, in the rugged but heavenly Patagonian wilderness, Bariloche has always been a town of pioneers.

It might not have been chance what brought Juan Manuel here, but other deeper, stronger forces. Little did he know when he arrived, almost accidentally, that he would change the reality of its trans inhabitants forever.

Juan was born in Monte, a small town not far from the city of Buenos Aires, famous for its camping sites but not really for its open-mindedness. There was not much support for the pre-op, pre-T FtM, and maybe inspired by the swarms of backpackers who visited his hometown, he set off in his wanderings. As we travelers know, the road goes ever on but sometimes it is necessary to stop for a while and Bariloche looked like a perfect spot. By then, he knew he wanted to start hormone replacement therapy as soon as possible and the Gender Identity Law promised him the possibility to do so.

(Photos: Left – Bruno Cinti/Right – Juan Manuel Halvide)

But landscapes that seem to have emerged from a postcard are not enough to turn a place into a paradise. Juan encountered the city’s ugly face while he was volunteering at a hostel. Another volunteer and some of the guests harassed him for his ‘unclear’ gender presentation. “What the fuck are you anyway?” one felt entitled to ask him. He was not very impressed with Juan’s response (“Does it even matter?”) and the bullying continued until he felt it was safer to just leave the hostel.

Not letting the awful experience crush him, Juan decided to go to the local hospital to see the only endocrinologist available. Two local trans boys had an appointment just before him. Juan was a bundle of nerves in the waiting room. Imagine his dismay when the other two got out of the doctor’s office, pale and visibly distraught, as if they had just seen a monster (which was not far from reality, given that often the worst monsters wear human skin). They shook their heads hopelessly at him as the doctor called his name. But Juan wasn’t one to give up easily. The doctor literally snorted when he walked in. Before even letting him talk, she informed him that there was absolutely no chance of him getting any hormone therapy on her watch. She went on to say that she couldn’t care less about the Gender Identity Law; she would personally ensure that he didn’t have access to HRT in Bariloche. But Juan had outsmarted the prejudiced doctor and recorded all her rude comments and blatant refusal to provide treatment.

“WHERE OTHERS WOULD HAVE BEEN DISCOURAGED AND DEVASTATED, JUAN WAS A LION.”

Where others would have been discouraged and devastated, Juan was a lion. He asked for a meeting with the hospital authorities and, after showing them the infamous recording, reminded them of the law and their professional duties. They mumbled some vague promises but some days later he got a call. They had decided to open the first trans inclusive medical office in Bariloche and had even hired a doctor to lead it. He was not an endocrinologist but a Fertility specialist, but at least he was willing to learn.

(Photo: Angel Vainstein)

The patient-doctor relationship started on the wrong foot. “How can I help you, Miss?” the man in the white lab coat told Juan as he walked into the office. Frustrated but unwilling to give up, Juan corrected him and explained that he was a trans man and preferred male pronouns. “Let’s start again, shall we?” the doctor said before asking him to leave the office for a second and wait to be called back in. Juan didn’t know what to make of him, but complied. A few seconds later, the doctor opened the door with a wide grin. “Good day to you, sir,” he told Juan as he gave him a firm handshake. And thus Juan found his doctor and a couple of weeks later had his first T-shot. Many local trans men and women have been granted access to a safe haven and HRT treatments because of his fight and his refusal to accept defeat even when the world seemed intent on beating him down.

“SIX MONTHS AFTER HE PIONEERED TRANS RIGHTS IN BARILOCHE, JUAN IS READY TO MAKE THE LONG WAY HOME.”

Six months after he pioneered trans rights in Bariloche, Juan is ready to make the long way home. There’s a lot of work to be done in his hometown, he says, and now he’s ready to face any obstacle. There are other reasons too. I sense something restless in him. Though he’s a laid-back guy, there’s a sort of hidden energy in his depths that doesn’t allow him to be still for long. Also, his family is waiting for him. Especially his 8-year old nephew, with whom he shares a very special bond. The boy found it hard to accept Juan’s transition at the beginning, and he was frustrated to see his younger brother coping so naturally with it while he struggled and kept misgendering Juan. They had always been very close and he felt as if he was losing someone he loved dearly. One day the boy stormed into Juan’s room. “Can I say goodbye to my Auntie?” he managed to stutter before he burst into tears. Juan held him tight for what seemed like hours, until the small chest stopped heaving and the boy lifted his head and beamed at him. ‘Hello, Uncle,’ he said, welcoming him back into his life with no further mourning. Love moves in mysterious ways, but in the end it always shines for those who deserve it. And if there’s a deserving one, it must be this trans warrior, who won’t easily be forgotten in these southern lands he helped shape into a better place.

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