CareNet Seminar: “Ammarantha Wass: a trans-chueca experience of a teacher at the UPN” by Yennifer Villa (Universidad Pedagógica Nacional)

On September 22nd 2020 we organized an open seminar under the title: “Ammarantha Wass: a Trans-Chueca Experience of a Teacher at the National Pedagogical University (UPN)“. The seminar, given by predoctoral researcher Yennifer Paola Villa Rojas, who is currently doing a research stay at the CareNet research group mentored by Asun Pié Balaguer, was focused on her doctoral thesis on the life of Rose Ammarantha Wass Suaréz, a Colombian activist and visually-impaired trans woman, and her trans-chueca (trans-crip) experiences.


Othering knowledge: visual and gender solitude

This summary is based on the doctoral thesis Rose Ammarantha Wass Suaréz: experiencias (auto)biográficas, vínculos deseantes y tránsitos de la indignación de una maestra trans-chueca [Rose Ammarantha Wass Suaréz: the (auto)biographical experiences, desirous links and transits of indignation of a trans-chueca teacher], produced for the Interinstitutional Doctorate in Education at Colombia’s National Pedagogic University between 2017 and 2020. It also includes ideas put forward by the CLACSO Work Group on Critical Studies in Disability in the Latin-American context.

I am writing as an ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckables, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls who don’t get a look in the universal market of the consumable chick. And I’m starting here so that things are clear: I’m not making excuses or complaining.

Virginie Despentes

As a lecturer at Colombia’s National Pedagogic University (UPN), a feminist and a student following the Interinstitutional Doctorate in Education course, I am preparing a doctoral thesis focusing on the life of Rose Ammarantha Wass Suárez and her trans-chueca (trans-crip) experiences. This subject relates to the political and pedagogical positions that support research and includes the intersection between disability and gender, specifically where visual impairment and the trans experience come together. This intercorporeal emergency is thus located at the border, i.e. the spatial metaphor that reflects the sense of intersectionality is strained, as it is not occupied by the points of interconnection that might be expected but by something that remains distant. Its grey, indeterminate nature means that signs of oppression can be found in it which are common at times but may also indicate distancing, highlighting the shared roots of gender violence and ableist violence and leading us to understand how some lives become marginalised, stripped of humanity, and pressured to succumb to normalisation as a patriarchal, capitalist strategy that imposes its control over bodies, desire and sexuality.

(Image of the wall depicting Ammarantha Wass Suárez, a Colombian trans-crip activist.)

This is how the process of learning is territorialised in autobiographical narrative. The formation of experience is treated as a problem that is re-thought from/through the body, where, according to Arfuch:

As with any narrative form, it appears primarily to invoke temporality, that existential arc that unfolds – and folds in on itself – from some imaginary point of commencement and passes unpredictably through the obligatory stations of life, oscillating between difference and repetition, between what tends towards shared experience and what distinguishes each trajectory. (2013: 27)

We thus need to position and reposition ourselves at the border where biographical and autobiographical cross over, as one needs to be immersed in the life of the other to construct one’s character, in parallel so as to objectivise one’s own narrative; going outside oneself to see oneself through another’s eyes (Bakhtin, 1982, cited in Arfuch, 2013). This perspective can be compared with the approach proposed by Silva (2019), who argues for a research methodology based on interaction in the form of dialogic theorisation. The author revisits the legacy of everyday activity taking place between black and trans sisters to highlight what she calls “talking sister to sister” (2019; 11), interweaving links between the ethics of attention and criticism of the erudition of those who claim to be writing about others while silencing their voice. In this sense, the threads that support narrative also draw elements from the escrivivencias proposed by Evaristo (2007), so that in the experiences of Rose Ammarantha Wass Suárez we find a resistance that allows her to flee from the objectification others impose on her, and to subvert the language of the oppressor to refer differently to the world and its history.

I would also like to draw attention to two other elements that configure autobiographical narrative. First, “learning to listen”, as enshrined in traditional Tojolabal wisdom, which, according to Lenkersdorf (2008), stems from recognising the way in which we educate through a hierarchisation of speech and the act of speaking, but omit listening as a practice inherent to language which requires us to retreat from an insistence on explaining the world to others and engage in activities where dialogue is possible. And dialogue is the second element, as it gives encouragement to a visible, recognised being, as well as making them feel welcome. It is not possible to converse with someone if I do not know them and I can’t develop the familiarity implied by an I-tell-you, you-tell-me narrative, or if, as a researcher, I reject the fragility and the sensitivity of what is spoken/heard.

At this point we encounter Rose Ammarantha Wass Suárez, a young student who created a stir at the university while she was studying to be a foreign language teacher. As a student she has been affected by physical violence related both to gender and to her visual impairment; her autobiographical narrative reveals numerous examples of resistance on the border (Anzaldúa, 2016), transgressing the pedagogy of normalisation seen in the syllabus and in strategies for sanitisation, hetero-normativity and homogenisation. This normalisation is established in a sexist, ableist and patriarchal curriculum that dispossesses colonised subjects of their being, which, to paraphrase Maldonado (2007), implies the epistemic disqualification of trans-chueca women like Rose Ammarantha Wass Suárez, by defining a being who “is not there”, existing, leading to the creation of liminal bodies who are not legitimate beings for modern society. Consequently, trans-chueca experiences have been deleted until today. They are absent from critical studies on disability, gender studies, the feminist movement, and from critical pedagogical studies, areas that form part of the epistemic approaches on which the study is based.