Commentary Race

Revisiting Marianismo

Bianca I. Laureano

Revisiting a "cultural value" among Latin@s and an interview with documentarian Erica Fletcher who created a film Marianismo about Latinas living with HIV.

Last year I wrote an article called “Deconstructing Marianismo” which was inspired by an article I read about a film called Marianismo by young filmmaker Erica Fletcher which focuses on Latinas living with HIV.  The main purpose of my article was to deconstruct how we are discussing Marianismo and it’s connections to Latinas and sexuality, especially by questioning the “cultural values” that are applied to us, often by outsiders. 

Earlier this year I got an email from Erica Fletcher. I was very happy to hear from her as it is rare when folks whose media and art we use to spark conversation and education reach out to us. Erica shared with me that her initial response to my article was one of disappointment by she then realized that much of what I had shared, about being trained in a particular way to do a certain type of research on Latin@s, was something that happened to her as well. We have been communicating for most of this year and I had suggested we do an interview with one another to feature her work, but also talk about how we as young(er) people of Color working in the field of sexuality are working together. 

Erica is a 20 year-old Taiwanese-Brazilian American and currently a PhD student in Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Her undergraduate work was in Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology at the University of Houston. She received Glamour Magazine’s Top 10 College Women award, a Phi Kappa Phi Majorie Schoch Fellowship, and a Presidential Scholarship from the University of Texas Medical Branch for her work. Erica’s last completed film, Pack & Deliver, is about sex trafficking and is continuing to receive media attention.  It is featured in November 2011’s Latina Magazine issue.

I sent Erica a few questions about her work and her goals for her films.

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How did you come to film/media making? 

A couple years ago, I became really interested in applying what I was learning in my social science classes in a way that would be more easily accessible to general audiences. For me, that medium was film. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I began making my first film, Marianismo, which is about the disproportionate spread of HIV/AIDS among Latinas. I loved the process of filmmaking, especially participating in talkbacks where I could share my research with others. After learning about the field of visual anthropology and finding great mentors at the University of Houston, I started on my second film Pack and Deliver about sex trafficking in Houston.

What sort of support have you received for entering the film/media making field? Any specific challenges?

Having no technical training in filmmaking, I had to learn by trial-and-error with a basic camcorder for my first film. Even after using more professional equipment with my second film, I still have much training to do when it comes to shooting and editing! Still, I am lucky to be born in a time when digital media makes it relatively affordable to do the kind of ethnographic research that I want to do.  Aside from the technical aspects, learning more about theories in visual anthropology and interviewing techniques has been an eye-opening experience. There are so many ways that media reporters and ethnographers can manipulate footage, and finding a way to portray my “truth” is definitely an on-going process.

How did you come to do the film Marianismo? What were some of the messages you thought important to include?

As a dual citizen of Brazil and the United States, I have always been interested in Latino cultures, and I wanted to explore a facet of my identity through academic research in Houston. In addition, as an 18-year-old college student who had been home-schooled for most of my life, I had an avid curiosity for understanding the power dynamics between men and women. During high school, I had three of my friends who shared with me that they had been raped or molested, and they had blamed themselves for these horrific events. While I had never experienced anything as traumatizing, I also felt a sort of shame and guilt for a couple uncomfortable situations I had with fellow male students in college.  

As I learned more about domestic violence and the threat of STIs, I wanted to do something to show commonalities in larger sociological forces that make power imbalances in romantic relationships a normal occurrence in many women’s lives. I found an anthropology professor doing research on condom use and the spread of HIV/AIDS among women in the African-American community, and she agreed to supervise my film project related to HIV/AIDS among Latinos. 

I think the most important message of the film is that economic factors play a large role in health outcomes, and secondly that we should not be quick to make judgments about people’s lives because of their illness. I hope Marianismo illuminates the harmful impact that stigma against HIV/AIDS still has on the lives of the women I interviewed.

Below is the trailer for Marianismo

What questions were asked during screenings? 

The question I get most often is what I can do to help this situation? I love this question because it shows that there are many people who really want to improve the world around them, but I know that the answer to that question will be different for everyone based on their talents and interests. If anything, I hope that my films will remind people of our interconnectedness as a species and how we can all make small contributions to improve the whole of society. Houston’s Catholic Charities Cabrini Center and BoatPeople SOS do a lot of good work in immigration locally.

How did you make a connection and come into contact with Latinas living positive?

While working on a certification program for nonprofit management, I met Timeka Walker a social worker from the nonprofit AIDS Foundation Houston. Its mission is to improve the lives of HIV-positive individuals. We stayed in touch, and with her help I was able to meet and interview three Latinas who were HIV positive.

Were all of the participants documented? Did any address topics of immigration, access to resources (i.e. healthcare, job opportunities, etc.)?

I did not ask about their immigration status. However, the participants I interviewed all had the Gold Card (which in Houston provides free HIV/AIDS treatment), so they were able to access the healthcare system when necessary. One was in a transitional housing program, and the other two were in stable living situations. More than anything else, I saw first-hand the great impact of the social services that Texas does provide. Still, my state provides very limited resources for healthcare and education, and it saddens me how many people go without necessary care.

What were some positive messages the participants shared about living positive?

The most positive message I learned from them was that their lives continued after a HIV-positive diagnosis. Now the disease is a chronic condition, and with proper management, life expectancy has improved drastically. The women I interviewed are all involved in leading STI-prevention workshops and providing support and guidance to others who are HIV positive. Their determination to share their story and help educate others about HIV/AIDS is truly incredible.

What connections to religion and spiritual belief and value systems were discussed?

Contrary to some of the public health articles and anthropological literature I read, the women I interviewed did not think that their religion (two were Catholic, one was Protestant) played a role in how they became infected with HIV or affected how they choose to protect their husbands or boyfriends from the disease. More generally, though, they talked about growing up in homes where sexual health was not discussed.

From my first introduction into research in social science, I learned that individual experiences can vary significantly from what past research indicates, and that it can be very easily to stereotype people into certain culture archetypes that they don’t identify with in their own lives. Doing research is a constant process of learning from mistakes and trying to improve in the future, and I look forward to creating my own filmmaking style in an ethically and culturally sensitive manner. 

How did you come to the field of sex trafficking from Marianismo? Do you see a connection between the two? 

Themes of urbanization, health disparities, power dynamics, and Latino immigration are common to both my films. An additional connection between the films is that many trafficked women, including the woman I interviewed for Pack and Deliver, contract STIs during their trafficking experience and must cope with a disease and psychological trauma for the rest of their lives.

What are some of your findings from this new film?

I found a major gap between the many different organizations doing anti-trafficking campaigns and the very low number of trafficking survivors accessing services in Houston. Local groups estimate that 2,000 persons are trafficked each year throughout Houston, yet police “rescue” less than 20 trafficked people every year. Still fewer are eligible to remain in the United States and obtain social services in the city. What is really ironic is that Houston is considered to have one of the best collaborative models for ending human trafficking in the country. 

From my research, I learned about legal barriers, funding constraints, and, in one case, apathy within law enforcement that deters them from raiding well-known brothels in Houston. However, I also found an objectification and re-commodification of trafficked persons in the way in which nonprofit organizations use visceral images to encourage donors and volunteers to support their missions.

More broadly, there were large ideological differences between lobbyists that were never resolved during the anti-trafficking debate and adoption of public policy in 2000. While, individually, I would say everyone I interviewed is doing the best they can to ameliorate the trafficking situation in Houston, structural violence and institutional barriers are huge factors for why human trafficking remains endemic in the city.

How is trafficking related to other social justice issues?

Human trafficking is only a minuscule extreme of much larger issues related to immigration, domestic violence, labor policies, prison policies, and free trade arrangements at work in our country. It’s so easily to condemn human trafficking, but when it comes to these larger, more taboo issues of contention, hardly anyone wants to touch them.  However, I would argue to do good work in anti-trafficking initiatives we have to recognize larger connections to much more common forms of exploitation in the United States.

How are your films connected to a larger social justice/change agenda you may have for yourself? 

During my time as an undergrad, I was convinced it was possible to combine science and art with activism. As I learn more in graduate school, I realize some of the ethical dilemmas that this position poses, and one of the main reasons why I am in school is to figure out some of those questions for myself and to learn how to speak to larger audiences in public policy, medicine, the social sciences, and the general public

What do you hope to accomplish and begin in the media you are creating?

My end goal with filmmaking is to create public forums to engage communities and foster discussions about improving their local environment. Films are just one way to raise public awareness about social issues, but they are only small beginnings to catalyzing the kind of social movements necessary to enact real change. I think recognizing and accepting the limitations of the film medium has been a major realization for me, but it has been a freeing experience as well. Now I am learning how to collaborate with others and find interdisciplinary partnerships to strengthen my overarching purpose of promoting education and spurring more critical analysis of the world around us. 

What new projects are you working on today?

Right now I’m assisting Professor Rebecca Hester on her film project about sources of suffering on Galveston Island (where I am currently living). This is my first time working in a film team, and I’m excited to contribute to the production process from start to finish.

What other projects do you have in mind or that are coming up or that you’d like to do in the future?

I have way too many ideas and too little time to do them! Some of my goals include purchasing my own photo and video equipment, learning more Portuguese, doing ethnographic work in Brazil, traveling more, planning more film screening events, and continuing my focus on interdisciplinary studies and multimedia communication. I’m not sure what my next film/dissertation topic will be… I’ve been in grad school for less than a semester thus far, so luckily I still have time to figure that out!

How may folks get in contact with you?

ethnographicfilm@gmail.com or my personal website.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

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