By Lakhram Bhagirat
At the age of 12, perhaps the most important decision most youths make is deciding which secondary school they wish to attend when they sit the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) examination but for Jasmin Rattan, her decisions were where to get shelter and how to survive.
Jasmin, a 20-year-old transgender woman, recently sat down with the Sunday Times where she shared her story of being kicked out of her home at 12 and then being forced to engage in sex work until she was 16 as a means of survival.
“Well, for me, I grew up in a village across the West Coast (Demerara) in Region Thee (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) called Zeelugt and my childhood days wasn’t as happy and lustful as other people’s childhood before. It was much more like shame, face slapping, insults, abuse, etc. While others on the outside and in society insulted, abuse and violated me, the most harmful insults came from my family and abuse came from my family within my home,” she said.
Jasmin’s parents were separated when she and her brother were very young. That resulted in them having to go to live with their extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles – which proved to be challenging for her.
For Jasmin, she knew that she was different while growing up but at the age of 11, something peaked.
“I knew from the age of 11 I was trans. I was a girl. I felt like a girl trapped in my body, but the family that I come from, they aren’t very acceptable of that because they are Christian, Hindus and Muslim. And they laugh at people like me; they mock people like me,” she said.
Her family members realised that she was different and they started treating her with disdain. They would use their power over her and restrict her from being free.
During the holidays, they would not get her the gifts she wanted since they were “girly”. She remembered one Christmas time wanting a pair of gungaroos (dancing bells) and a guitar because she loved singing and dancing but the family decided to punish her. She would eventually get the guitar because she fought with them constantly. However, while singing Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and swapping girl for boy, Jasmin’s brother got incensed and broke the guitar.
“I used to be this girly person in the home. I tried to hide my personality from everybody be like this dude and try to deepen my voice, but it wasn’t that it wasn’t easy. I just had to let it out at some point.”
During that time, Jasmin’s best friend was a pink Hannah Montana diary where she shared her deepest thoughts. In it had the name of a boy she liked and one day her aunt found it on her bed and read the contents. When she got home from school that afternoon, her aunt confronted her.
“When I came home, she asked me, my name was before Brandon before I did my name change, she asked me, Brandon you gay? I was like no and asked her where she got that from. She showed me the diary and I know I was in a lot of trouble then…That is the main battleground that we’re facing here in Guyana today. The major discrimination and violence from come from the household family, and I think they should be the ones to accept and understand better not persons from outside.”
Her aunt would go on to confront the boy mentioned in the diary which resulted in him denying a friendship. That shattered young Jasmin but she knew that her family’s discrimination would only increase. What she did not know was that they would kick her out.
Jasmin’s aunt and the rest of the extended family then kicked her out. She was just about 12 years old at that time.
After being rendered homeless, Jasmin found refuge with a member of their church who housed her for a short while. She would again be left on the streets with her garbage bag filled with clothes.
“I started to get depression, anxiety disorder. I started cutting myself thinking that was the only way. I was angry that I came out as a gay person first because I wasn’t transitioning as yet and instead of accepting me and accepting me for who I am, they instead kicked me out of the house and that is where my life began as a trans woman.”
Jasmin was still living at Zeelugt when she was rendered homeless and in an effort to escape from there, she begged a number of persons for money to pay for transportation from there to Georgetown. While in Georgetown, she was in a bus heading to the Kitty Seawall to commit suicide when she encountered another trans woman, Beyonce. Jasmin was crying in the bus and then Beyonce started to question her. She explained what had happened to her and what she was going to do.
“I had my bundle with me, my garbage of clothes and I didn’t know where to go. I was going to kill myself. That was the only option that I had to jump over at the seawall and then I met her and she took me home by her.”
At that time, though she had a roof over her head it still left her vulnerable. She needed to find the money to take care of daily necessities as well pay for school.
Being just 12 also left her with very little opportunities for work.
The dire thoughts of what laid ahead led her down a path she never wanted to take. She started working the streets starting from Sheriff Street all the way to North Road by the St George’s Cathedral – a major hub for sex workers.
“My journey begins from walking up and down Sheriff Street to the Cathedral just hoping to get the client to get some transportation money to go to school, a meal and need to pay for my CXCs. And that is how I started sex work. I didn’t had a choice but to do sex work because I was underage and I couldn’t get a job at that time. That was my only option.”
She was attending night classes at a night school in Festival City and needed money to get to and from there. She also needed to pay for her CXC subjects. In the end, she would sit Mathematics and English and gain Grade 2 and 3 passes, respectively.
Being the youngest girl on the streets meant that Jasmin was particularly at risk for a number of things. She was sexually inexperienced, a minor and at risk for sexual and physical assault. She was making between $2-10,000 per night working the streets but she was also being assaulted by men.
“So, I had to give a fake name. That is how Delilah was born. They called me Delilah, because my looks are very deceiving and I had to fake my age as well. Some people, they would literally pick you up and just use you and then give you nothing, kick you out of the car, or they might run you up the road or whatever. It was very hard, horrible and it’s not a good thing for any young trans or person from the LGBTQ community would go through…At first, I didn’t want to do sex work but it’s like I didn’t have a choice because the only thing tangible. I thought that I needed to do it and that it will be meaningful to my life is to get my education and show my family that even though being trans or gay, or whatever, I could still be somebody in life, it doesn’t matter what you do, or how you are.”
One night while doing sex work, Jasmin encountered a man who gave her $45,000 and told her he would rent an apartment for her so she could come off the streets. The man, she said, had a son that was gay and he helped her. However, she was accustomed to being independent and working the streets so she returned to sex work. While she was walking the streets, Jasmin saw one of her trans sisters being assaulted by a gang of men and it served as an eyeopener for her.
She was about 16 at that time and she visited the office of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) where they welcomed her and began a process helping her get her life to a place she wanted to be. She gave up sex work completely and is now a make-up artist, dancer, model, singer and also does work with SASOD.
However, the road to get to where she is today was not a well-paved one.
“One time I think I was thinking about giving up. I attempted suicide by drinking poison and I was hospitalised. While I was in the hospital, they keep trying to flush the poison out and whatever and I was refusing it…A little boy was right next to me on the other bed and he had some sort of sickness but looking at that little child it spoke to me. While I was trying to give up my life for no reason when there are opportunities for me. I was trying to kill myself and other persons out there, for instance, like that little boy was fighting for his life. And then I realised life is precious no matter how you are, what you are, what situation you might be in, every dog has its day.”
Jasmin said she is open to sharing her story because she wants to make sure people understand how their actions affect LGBTQIA+ persons.
The relationship with Jasmin’s family is still strained but has been improving. She said that her grandmother, two aunts and a cousin are the only ones who accept her for the person she is. They would help her out financially and provide emotional support when the going gets tough. In addition to her family members, Jasmin is grateful for the support of Valini Leitch, Paige Cadogan and Joel Simpson, who really got her on track so that she could leave sex work behind.
She said that she lives her life in line with the saying “Life is like a product, buy and sell. If you’re no good, that would just kick you aside. But don’t let people discourage you or insult you or being who you are, or insult you or discourage you from pursuing your dreams. Oprah Winfrey said the greatest adventure you can take is to live your life’s dream and I’m living mine now.”