Among the many rocks of their Caribbean archipelago, a bunch of trans artists and creatives in Puerto Rico have discovered their secure port. It’s a harbor providing them security and affirmation amid uneven waters. Each a pure useful resource and cultural assemble, it has an appropriately reverential title: Home of Grace.
Home of Grace was based by María José, a transdisciplinary artist and activist, within the months after Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Within the midst of pure disasters and a worldwide pandemic, when rains have flooded and the earth has been shaken, the dancers, performers and writers who make up the Home have laid down collective roots, constructed belief and chosen each other.
Regardless of its title, the Home will not be a bodily domicile however as an alternative a bunch who work to care for themselves, and to uplift one another’s energy, magnificence, and inventive skills amid a worsening tradition of discrimination towards queer and trans individuals. Over time, Home of Grace has advanced right into a tight-knit but welcoming group—and a household.
“To me, a household is a bunch of individuals which might be prepared to help one another via the unpredictable, imperfect and complicated expertise of being human,” María José, 28, tells TIME. “A collective that may arise for one another towards any menace.”
María José had first gathered the group to observe dancing as a language to precise liberation. That was when Lú, a founding member of the Home, first realized to vogue—a chance to embrace their gender identification. Lú now speaks of voguing with the identical sparkle that they use to explain their Home: “I used to be very discriminated towards as a ballet dancer. I had at all times been very female, [and] was consistently instructed I needed to be extra masculine,” Lú explains. “In vogue I discovered a celebration of the nonbinary.”
“Being queer in Puerto Rico has at all times been a battle, particularly if there haven’t been [other] queer individuals in your loved ones,” Lú continues. “On my household’s finish, I’ve felt help, however we don’t perceive one another in the identical method we get one another at Home of Grace. It isn’t the identical relationship.”
In essence, Home of Grace has grow to be a “chosen household”—a bunch that may coalesce alongside, or extra usually within the place of, its members’ organic family members, and works to supply genuine kinship and the help to which queer people are sometimes denied. It provides house for people to find their truths, and to stay them; to develop nuanced relationships and discover companions in love and crime, lecturers and college students, cheerleaders and confidants and therapists and advocates.
Members of such households can tackle heteronormative, hierarchical roles—akin to these of “home dad and mom” within the drag and ballroom scenes, for instance—or work as a collective by which duties are shared as equitably as doable. Lots of the Home of Grace’s members credit score María José as a mother determine; to Lú, she is one who supplied them instruments to heal and address every thing from a “ lack of affection” to a “[lack of] lunch.” (However the Home, María José notes, goals to grow to be a decentralized house by which all its members can mum or dad one another.)
Trans individuals in Puerto Rico face systemic discrimination at work and public areas, and are at a disproportionate danger of anti-gay and anti-trans violence and hate crimes. In response to official information, 6 trans individuals on this island of solely 3.1 million had been killed in 2020—a devastating toll to start with, and one which the queer group consider is drastically undercounted. It’s believed that just about 10% of final yr’s formally reported femicides had been transfemicides—such because the February 2020 homicide of Alexa Negrón Luisiano, a killing which obtained a lot media consideration however stays unsolved. This complete is 3 times the toll of 2019. (Sexual harassment of trans individuals is equally widespread and ignored; Lú skilled it in a former office with few penalties—although, they notice, fellow Home of Grace members supplied a lot emotional help.)
And the problem is compounded by the unreliability of Puerto Rico’s authorities relating to knowledge and records-keeping. Throughout Hurricane Maria, for instance, the federal government asserted a demise toll of 64, however was compelled to acknowledge almost 3,000 hurricane associated fatalities months later; a Harvard College examine revealed in Might 2018 claimed hurricane-related deaths may have reached 4,645.
“My dream as a trans individual dwelling in Puerto Rico is that we will all stay freely and joyfully, not anticipating violence each time we stroll down the road,” explains Yeivy, 31, a founding member of the LGBTQ collective La Sombrilla Cuir (the Queer Umbrella) and a well known queer rights activist. “We’re slowed and tripped each step of the way in which by the federal government and by the non secular fundamentalists that stress officers into delaying crucial laws. We’re drained however we are going to do what is critical to be handled with the respect we deserve and no much less.”
Aid organizations akin to Proyecto Matria, which works to present housing and monetary help to members of the trans group in Puerto Rico, cite homelessness as an endemic challenge. “In the course of the pandemic I used to be homeless for eight months,” Beibijavi, a 22-year-old dancer who migrated from Ciudad de Panamá as a younger baby, tells TIME. “I needed to depart my organic household’s home… It wasn’t a secure house for me.” Throughout this course of, Beibijavi, who identifies as a trans non-binary individual, lived intermittently with fellow members of the Home.
Had they the collective funds to stay collectively completely, a lot of Home of Grace’s members say they’d accomplish that. “Our objective is to have a home, and a dancing studio,” says Beibijavi. “We’d like funding.” However amid Puerto Rico’s ongoing financial disaster, the Home’s every day bread is the shortage thereof.
Nonetheless, the Home has a particular “help” group chat the place they share wants they may have, in order that their household may help meet them. “Individuals are consistently checking up on me,” Lú says; when Beibijavi was dwelling with out entry to scrub water for a time period, the Home supplied them the cash to purchase a filter. (The Home additionally extends assets to members of Puerto Rico’s trans group extra broadly, even when recipients should not formally affiliated.)
And to mark holidays or different particular events, they have a good time collectively. Final November, within the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, they held a “Transgiving” at Lover bar, a queer bar in San Juan that serves as “a secure house for everybody,” as a poster on considered one of its shiny pink partitions guarantees.
With queer locals because the bar’s principal prospects—and never vacationers—an innate sense of group is obvious. Sporting their masks (and secure within the data they had been being seen regardless), the Home got here collectively to share meals, and to have a good time that they’ve one another of their lives and of their care.
“For me, [the act of] taking care is saying: I’m not abandoning you,” María José says. “Have you learnt what number of trans persons are deserted by their dad and mom? I decided: I’m not abandoning these individuals … I’m not excellent. However I preserve going ahead day-to-day, attempting the most effective I can to satisfy my duties in a method that directs us all in the direction of justice.”