meet the women fighting for trans liberation in paraguay

oestrogeneration chats to yren rotela and mariana sepulveda: the baddies relentlessly campaigning for trans rights in paraguay

“paraguayan women are heroes, we’re heroes in past generations, this generation and all generations to come, because we’re the ones who keep building a better paraguay. without women the world wouldn’t work, because we’re the producers, the creators, the movers. and, within that large intersectionality of womanhood, there’s us: the trans  women; who are also fighting, who are also part of that construction, that desire for wanting a better country”. 

these words by yren rotela who, alongside mariana sepulveda, is behind the campaign i’m real, my name should be legal – which fights for the legal recognition of trans people’s names in paraguay – remind me of the tenacity i have witnessed in all the women that have brought me up, and that these two activists embody. 

on february 24th 2023, which coincidentally is paraguayan women’s day, i launched a zoom meeting from my rainy london flat, where i’m joined by these two women from the hot tropical sun of paraguay.  

mariana is flamboyantly smoking a fag like a 1920’s movie star, and yren is showing only the top half of her face, reminding me of the way my mum and aunties pick up their videocalls: i already know we’re going to have so much fun talking. 

“i still had the courage to do it whether it was morning or night mi amor! i would go out and owned myself and everywhere i walked, because nothing was gonna stop me from living and presenting myself the way i wanted to…”

“rubi… karina… mariam” every time she mentions a new name, mariana cracks up  laughing. she’s recalling all the names she’s tried since she was 16 years old, working as a sex worker. she tells me with a bit of heartache in her voice that, during that time, due to disproportionate levels of discrimination, trans girls would not leave the house in the morning and were only able to go out at night. 

“but” – and i can see her voice and her demeanour change – “i still had the courage to do it whether it was morning or night mi amor! i would go out and owned myself and everywhere i walked, because nothing was gonna stop me from living and presenting myself the way i wanted to… and since then i’ve been mariana sepulveda [inspired by the telenovela mariana de la noche]. i went through different stages, different names…but i finally found her and she finally found me,” she says with pride all over her face. 

“sometimes we use names we heard in a telenovela or from a princess, a  queen… always looking for that search of who you really are, but sometimes who you really are, is already living within you,” says yren.

“[after trying a few names] i started playing around and re-organising the letters of my old name and that’s how i came to be yren. i found my name within the one i already had. i chose yren as that’s what i resonate with in every aspect of my life, i’m trying for her to be a better version of myself.” she tells me that, in some ways, that’s the beauty of transitioning: you are not as fixed as society makes it out to be, you’re allowed to change and discover new parts of yourself.

their names are what spearheaded the campaign ‘i’m real, my name should be legal’ through which the two women have been trying to have their names formally recognised. 

“una odisea! (an odyssey)” says mariana, when describing the last seven years of the campaign. they share all the legal hoops they had to jump through because the  government was intentionally hoping they’d give up and they also tell me how slow the start of the campaign was, due to the lawyers they were working with not being supportive of the cause. 

eventually, thanks to the support of amnesty international and the feminist fund  fondo mujeres del sur, as well as being the first lgbtq+ case being picked up by  codeupy – a local human rights organisation – the campaign gained traction and their cases, alongside eight more, were advanced. 

“everything that we’re doing is for the younger generation, so they won’t have to go through the same things we did.” share the two women. in a country that’s trying to erase trans people, yren and mariana, alongside every other person involved in this project, will not allow for that to happen and the campaign has now become a beacon of hope, happiness, perseverance and tenacity for many more. 

on top of this, yren co-founded ‘casa diversa – casa trans’: a grassroots organisation by and for the trans community. ‘85% of trans people aren’t able to finish secondary school [in paraguay], which then stops them from accessing jobs, housing, healthcare’ says yren. “our aim is to fight that. we provide housing, therapy, education, companionship, healing through art; we want to give hope back to the community and create new opportunities.”

“yo no tengo tiempo para odiar (i don’t have time to hate).” is a motto she recites to herself daily.

 i experience love, not hate, ferociously.

these two women are not only relentless activists, but they are also compelling individuals behind their work. as soon as our conversation flows to their love life, yren goes “nena! i’ll start this time around” – i can see mariana laughing as she has been the first one to answer most of the other questions. 

“yo no tengo tiempo para odiar (i don’t have time to hate).” is a motto she recites to herself daily. “i was given a lot of hate through my life …and they want me to live like that” says  yren, “but i experience love, not hate, ferociously. because i love myself. i love myself so much…” i smile listening to her, as i can almost touch her happiness. 

mariana jumps in and expresses how important the love from her family has been in her journey: “the love of your mum, your family, especially for a trans person…it makes you feel  like you don’t have to be afraid of the world, as the world within your house, has your back,” she struggles to say this as her voice breaks. 

mariana goes on to share how love, from a romantic point of view, was not something she was accustomed to, as she spent years healing from a toxic relationship, but – and there’s a light behind her eyes as she shares this – that all changed when she met her partner walter four years ago.  

“it was just so different. we are always talking, debating, challenging each other. it was in him that i found what it was like to have a partner that actually loves you for you and not just for the thrill of satisfying his sexual needs.” her smile lights up my screen as she shares her mum’s words: “che membyyyy, si este vos perdes, ya se va tu último tren (mija/my daughter, this is your last train, so if you don’t get on board,  you’ll miss it)” – i smile as i start thinking about my grandma, who would’ve said the same thing to me. 

 “they have opened my eyes and helped me see that, besides the struggles and fights, there’s also so much joy and happiness despite what society tries to tell us.”

as our conversation comes to a close, i wanted to ask them what their hopes for the future are. what their answers communicate is that, behind tenacious activists, there are actually simple dreams. 

“i dream of living in peace, without discrimination, without having to worry about what other people think of me.” says mariana, who is in the process of graduating from university – something she dreams to do under her chosen name. 

“i dream of getting old, i dream of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing an older version of me, someone who got the chance to grow old, with white hair, wrinkled skin, just the same way i used to see the abuelitas when i was younger…” says yren. “it’s really sad that the average life expectancy of a trans woman is 35-40 years old. i’m now 42 years old and i still want to keep growing and keep learning, there’s so much more to see and to fight for…that’s my dream, i don’t care about anything else, i’d like to get old and do it flawlessly.” 

we say goodbye as mariana informs she needs to get ready for the club: it’s a friday night after all. 

i thank them for the privilege of interviewing them and, after pressing the red button on zoom, i sit at my desk overwhelmed with the magnitude of the experience i just had. 

in the space of two hours, they’ve taught me about love, community, activism, dreams, philosophy, family, happiness… they’ve shown me that it’s okay to exist – in fact it’s great. that being trans doesn’t always have to mean that your family won’t accept you or that you won’t be able to be loved. they have opened my eyes and helped me see that, besides the struggles and fights, there’s also so much joy and happiness despite what society tries to tell us.

transitioning is not easy, especially when you have a government and a society that is trying to erase you, but we keep coming back, again and again. and we will continue to do so because tenacity is something that trans people have since the moment they’re born…these two women are the definition of tenacity.

we are the definition of tenacity. 

to find out more about (and support) yren’s and mariana’s campaign of i’m real, my  name should be legal you can visit:

to find more about casa diversa – casa trans and how to support and donate, check out their instagram @casadiversapy 

please note that this page only shares information in guarani & spanish, paraguay’s official languages.