“As minorities gain visibility and achievements, the idea that we are a threat is strengthened in some sectors”

The transgender writer, part of the Chilean delegation at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair, observes that her community moves in a world that advances and retreats.

“We have to change the narrative so that our transition becomes a moment of celebration and not a tragedy.”

“This path was something wonderful for me, and writing was my great companion,” admits trans writer Ariel Florencia Richards.

Her third book, Inacabada (Unfinished), the first she has written as a woman, establishes a narrative of the story of Juana, a young woman who is looking to rebuild her relationship with her mother through her own rebirth. It is a work that came to expand the cultural and literary understanding of transgender realities.

“Cultural production, such as literature, visual arts or films, has expanded the idea of what we understand as ‘gender’. Literature has come in strongly in this regard, although it hasn’t been the only one; cinema, visual arts, etc. have also done it,” states the writer and designer, a graduate from the Universidad Católica de Chile with a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University. She is also part of the delegation of Chilean authors at the Buenos Aires 2023 International Book Fair.

The writer Ariel Richards talks with Lenka Carvallo Giadrosic, journalist of Fundación Imagen de Chile.

—Why do you think that Inacabada (Unfinished) has caused such a stir in the media?
—We had a debt as a society and the novel has been a very good platform to broaden dialogue and have important conversations, something that has been amplified through the media. Perhaps today we are more prepared to face these types of conversations, to ask ourselves more questions and leave certain ideas behind. But don’t be fooled; while we gain representation, and processes of acceptance and integration in the rest of the social spheres speed up, the truth is that this reality doesn’t change all that quickly…

Richards gives the example of A Fantastic Woman, the Chilean film directed by Sebastián Lelio, which won the Oscar in 2017 for Best International Feature Film.

—Here, Daniela Vega (the transgender actress who plays the role of the protagonist) made a tremendous contribution when she appeared on stage to receive the statuette, and then when she was received at the government palace. We all got the impression that the issue was largely resolved, but that’s not the experience for certain social strata. Not all transgender people are safe from violence and discrimination; they’re really slow processes…

—Everything is precarious due to global political changes, for example, with the rise of fascism and ultra-conservative groups…
—To the extent that minorities exist, and we are gaining visibility and achievements, the idea that we are a threat to society is strengthened, particularly for a political sector that feels threatened by the existence of transgender people. Our progress carries its own avalanche behind it.

—Deep down, you move on extraordinarily fragile ground.
—It’s a world that advances and retreats. On the Latin American political scene, we’ve conquered territories thanks to the advances of progressivism, but then the scenario changes and setbacks arrive… My novel is called Inacabada (Unfinished) for this reason, because they are global processes that don’t have an end, but are in constant movement.

She pauses and acknowledges:

—The space for transgender people is very fragile, which adds to a personal and affective process that’s also very complex. So, if you don’t have family or affective support, when a part of society considers it dangerous that people like me exist, our existence becomes extremely vulnerable.

—What was it like in your case?
—I was able to make my transition at the age of 37 with many difficulties; but there are children and adolescents who face enormous adversity to express themselves, to rise up against what is happening and find their own place. I’d like us to live in society that is more affectionate with different individuals.

—Did this have to do with the fact that you decided to transition as a woman at the age of 37?
—Among transgender groups, it’s often said that if you didn’t decide to take the plunge as an adult, you die… You reach a point where nothing makes sense to you anymore, if you’re not breaking with that structure that had sheltered you for so long. It’s the only way to let your true self appear. My 37 years were a time of abyss. I had everything I needed to be happy, but I wasn’t me, and I had this pending debt. Mine was a vital decision.

—So, your book has been therapeutic on a social level?
—I’m very active on Instagram, and there’s not a week goes by that a parent whose child is beginning their transition doesn’t write to me because they don’t know how to accompany them. There’s a lot of loneliness on both sides. My book has contributed to generating new discussions, but we have a lot to learn to change the narrative so that the transition becomes a moment of celebration and not of tragedy. Also, because the experience of transition is very asymmetrical. For mothers and fathers, it’s usually a loss, while for their children, it’s a rebirth. It’s difficult to balance these two forces, but we can choose what to see, whether it’s light or dark. I prefer the narrative of light, in order to promote change as a society.

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