Building a positive self-image has not always been easy for Bersath Verdugo who was born a male but felt, at a young age, that he should have been a girl.
“My parents would chastise me and tell me, ‘walk straight, behave like a boy,’” said Verdugo, a petite woman with soft skin and long dark hair.
Verdugo eventually migrated to California from Mexico so that she could live openly as a woman.
“When I was discovering myself, I felt that people did not accept me, and that made me feel bad and discriminated against. I also began to think about my parents and what they would think,” Verdugo said. “Of course, my self-esteem was going to be low.”
Low self-esteem can lead to suicide, depression and substance abuse, said Juanita Martinez, president of the club, who dealt with drug and substance abuse for years before entering a rehabilitation center.
She has been drug and alcohol free for three years, she says.
During the meeting, some transgender women talked about having attempted suicide multiple times. One transgender woman said she was suffering from chronic depression.
The TransLatinas club, which was created to fight transgender phobia in the Latino community, hosts weekly meetings in the San Francisco Building at 2489 Mission St.
The topics range from healthy relationships and safe sex to self-esteem and spirituality.
While the majority of the members are transgender Latinas, people who identify as gay, lesbian and heterosexual, and closeted attend the three-hour gatherings. In less then two months, the club has grown from 13 regular members to 46.
“People like to come here because we talk “sin pelos en la lengua,” said Martinez, a transgender Latina who was born in Mexico. Members are free to express themselves without constraint.
Even when the topic is serious, such as the workshop on safe sex, HIV or self- esteem, the atmosphere is informal and upbeat.
“Can you give us a live demonstration on how to put on a condom?” one member told a volunteer giving the workshop on HIV prevention.
The crowd burst out laughing.
“We want the girls to learn something and to have a good time,” said Martinez. “I want them to go home relaxed. I want this to be their diversion from everyday life. I want them to come here instead of going to a bar.”
Part of having good self-esteem is being involved in relationships that are healthy and fulfilling, a workshop volunteer told the group.
So what makes up a healthy relationship, volunteer Eric Morales asked the group.
Acceptance. Communication. Trust. Love.
Morales filled a white board with the description of a healthy relationship as members described the characteristics.
But when he asked how many in the group have had healthy relationships, everyone remained silent.
“I have to accept myself with myself with my virtues and my faults. And when I’m able to accept myself, then I’m able to accept others,” Morales told the group.
For more information on TransLatinas, contact email@example.com