Cataline came to Bogota from Cali 22 years ago looking for freedom and acceptance. Like many transsexuals, she ended up working in the sex industry on the streets of Bogotá’s infamous ‘Tolerance Zone’ of Santa Fe.
She now runs a boarding house in that area where she helps other prostitutes change their rhythm of life, as she puts it.
“I work with women in Santa Fe and educate them on the use of contraceptives and how to stay safe. I’m like their mother,” she says.
Cataline says, “the government doesn’t give us a lot of options. If we weren’t prostitutes we’d be hairdressers.” But, like Derly – the owner of Transtienda – she believes things have changed for the better since she first arrived in Bogotá.
“Today there is a lot more freedom. Twenty-two years ago you couldn’t walk along the streets like you can now.”
She believes the changes in people’s attitudes are due in equal part to education and the struggle LGBT people themselves have put up. Bluntly, she says, “We are tired of discrimination.”
But it’s not all rosy. Transsexuals still struggle to find jobs outside of the traditional prostitute-hairdresser dichotomy, and as Cataline says, prostitution is “a very dangerous line of work, especially in Santa Fe.” She admits, “when I worked [as a prostitute] I took drugs because it helped me to cope.”
She hopes that through her work with the group Alianza Vida she can teach other women “to take advantage of the opportunities I wish I had had.”