Nun helps trans woman transform her life for the better

An Argentinean nun has become known for a controversial topic in her home country: She has helped people who have been rejected, discriminated against or who have suffered societal abuse for longer than she'd like to remember. You may ask yourself, how could helping someone in need possibly be considered controversial? The answer is: because the people she helps are transgender.

Trans people are individuals who experience a gender identity different from that of their biological sex. Sometimes, people describe their experience as being "born in the wrong body."

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Mónica Astorga Cremona is a cloistered nun of the "Carmelitas Descalzas" monastery in Neuquén, Argentina. She met Katiana Villagra for the first time 11 years ago, a trans woman who had been a prostitute since her teenage years. She was also an alcoholic and had AIDS. After learning more about the miserable life that "Katy" was leading, Mónica simply couldn’t turn her back on her and immediately felt the need to help her.

Mónica was already shocked by their very first conversation. When she asked Katy what were her dreams were, the answer she got was: "I want a clean bed in which to die." Katy was more than 40 years old, which is older than the average life expectancy of a trans person. The statistics are frightening: 80% of trans women in Latin America die before they are 35; most of them are brutally murdered. Transgender people are discriminated against, kicked out of schools and rejected by their families. Living on the streets, they have difficulty finding ways to survive and they end up doing the only thing they can to get a little bit of money: prostitution.

Before getting to know Katy, Mónica had had the same mindset as the majority of the Catholic population in her region, that is, that trans people live a life of sin and should be condemned for their actions. But despite this, she got to know Katy better and learned about the struggles she endured and this completely changed everything: "No one accepted them", explained Mónica, "They would have to wait until after 2:00 a.m. to go out and prostitute themselves, because before this time young people would throw stones and bottles at them. And they needed to be out of sight before sunrise, so as to avoid parents taking their kids to school in the morning. That’s why I say that they are treated like the trash of society: The trash gets taken out during the night and during the day it needs to disappear for the city to be clean."

Mónica saw that Katy and her friends were good people who didn’t deserve this kind of life. That’s why she decided to help them abandon prostitution and stop drinking in order to find different work. It was hard, but with a lot of effort, Katy started working as a dressmaker. More than a decade later, she now owns her own studio, called "Renacer" (Reborn) and has not drunk a drop of alcohol for four years. Katy doesn't need it anymore, because she now has a life she can face completely sober and finally feel proud of herself.

Since the day she began helping Katy, Mónica never gave up her work: She has since given a helping hand to more than 90 trans people; helping them to abandon a life on the streets, build a new home, a new job and, basically, a new life… one they never believed they could have. Through their own persistence and the support of someone who cared and actually believed in them, someone who gave them an opportunity and saw beyond the horrible stigmas that society had attributed to them, they have achieved something amazing.

Many people disapprove of Mónica’s work. Nevertheless, she keeps fighting for the individual rights of trans people. "The other day, a woman yelled at me, saying 'there are so many abandoned children and you are protecting those sick people, we should kill them all.' It hurts to hear such things but I am grateful to receive such insults, because they help me feel what they feel from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed," she said.

You can watch a short video about Mónica's inspiring work here (in Spanish):

 
It seems to be an uphill battle, but little by little people like Mónica continue to make us understand that we should never judge people without knowing their backgrounds and suffering. If we think about it, who in their right mind would choose to live a life of misery? As Mónica emphasizes, if you do not like them, do not harm them. Stop perpetuating violence and discrimination against others who, like all of us, deserve respect.
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