Interviews from the Archive – Proyecto Transgenero

Date of Interview: April 11, 2011
Location: Ecuador
Topic: Art & Social Space. The First Gay Marriage in Ecuador: An Art-Law Collaboration [1]
Interviewer: María Amelia Viteri, Ph.D., Professor/Researcher at FLACSO-Ecuador [2]

An interview with Elizabeth Vásquez[3] and Joey Hateley.[4]



María Amelia Viteri: Joey and Elizabeth, what I would like to have first is a brief background of your work. Tell me a little bit about it. We will use it as the introduction to the interview.

Joey Hateley: TransAction Theatre Company creates ‘Performance from the Periphery’ that responds to, and reflects the diversity within contemporary culture. Based in London, TransAction Theatre Company creates innovative, issue-based, experimental performance projects of the highest quality through the creation of inclusive culturally diverse multi-art-form performance. TransAction collaborates with diverse communities, artists and organizations to create a multi-disciplined program of socio-political cutting edge theatre projects. TransAction runs artistic and participatory cultural exchange projects that explore the ways in which we understand our own identity community and our place in the world. Its work focuses on issues of identity, empowerment and inclusion utilizing theories of social change, theatre of liberation and politics of allegiance. We use creative exchange and exploration to build interconnection and understanding between different disciplines contexts and people. I run a wide variety of projects for theatres, conferences, cultural events, and training for organizations, specific interest groups, artists, actors and university students.

María Amelia: Ellie, I’m going to ask the same about Proyecto Transgénero.

Elizabeth Vásquez: Project Transgender is both a political proposal and an organization that defines itself as transfeminist, intercultural and alternativist.[5] We work on strengthening trans identities in Ecuador through sociocultural, political, legal, community, artistic and collaborative strategies, through the exercise and enforcement of rights and spaces from which trans and intersex people have historically been excluded. The project was born in 2002 with the launch of the Legal Patrol–a street legal advocacy experience with communities of trans sex workers in Quito, which is still one of the components of the project. In 2006, we established the second component, Casa Trans, which is also the project’s headquarters. Other components are the artistic proposal TransTango and the Transfeminist Activist Training Program. In addition, Project Transgender promoted the creation of the Ecuadorian Confederation of Trans and Intersex Communities -CONFETRANS.

María Amelia: How did this idea start, the “gay wedding”, what’s the story behind it?

Elizabeth: In 2007, I began to theorize an “alternative use of the law” (AUL) that would involve the celebration of a marriage between two men. In order to accomplish what, in principle, would be impossible under Ecuadorian law, one party would have to be a trans man, that is, assigned female at birth, who retained a female legal sex on his documents despite a social identity as a man. The other man would have to have been assigned male at birth, with a corresponding male legal sex and male social identity. A gay marriage in these terms would have to be allowed, as the couple would be entering a contract outside the imagination of “the Legislator” and “his” prohibitions.

I have been doing “AULs” for eight years. The creative process begins with the design of an “alternativist technique” which is then carried out in a case study. The technique must intend to “subvert from within” the legal system; if possible at various levels, including the level of underpinning logic.

In 2004, I designed and executed an AUL that I consider a precursor to the gay marriage in question. It was the implementation of a de facto gay union at a time when the Ecuadorian legal framework still did not make such legal figure available for same sex couples. The technique I used in this AUL was the “subversive redesign” of another institution already in existence: I kept the outline of a business corporation, removed the contents (the regulation of rights and obligations between business partners), and replaced them with different contents: the regulation of rights and obligations between two gay partners (in the marital sense). The principle of “autonomy” was useful in structuring this private law contract: “anything not expressly prohibited by law is permitted”. I then emulated the style of the forbidden institution “marriage” through introducing clauses that provided for the appearance of witnesses and contained “moral” obligations that the parties wrote themselves. And by virtue of the aforementioned principle, “the contract is law for the parties”, Alex Carrillo and David Bermeo entered this very peculiar contract by saying their vows and love in the terms agreed upon by them in the 32nd Notary in Quito. The notary could not object to the celebration of this union, including the exchange of rings, because we played with his role in the system: as the “giver of public trust”, his role had to be limited to the attestation that this gay experience existed.

In 2008, I had the historic opportunity to work as a consultant to Assemblywoman Tania Hermida in the Constituent Assembly of Ecuador [2008], which allowed me to contribute to the constitutional norms about families. The assimilationist, or “corporate” gay sector focused on same sex unions while we as transfeminists concentrated on achieving recognition of “several types of families,” a broad concept that would include same sex couples under the umbrella of family diversity, but which also included many other alternative family ties and kinships historically not protected by law. And we did achieve it. At the same time, my Assemblywoman and I worked to implement the “non-discrimination based on gender identity” and “aesthetic freedom” clauses, which we knew would set important parameters for the development of trans rights.

In the context of this cutting-edge constitutional conception of “family” and gender, but also in the stressful context of a constitutional specification of the heterosexuality of marriage which didn’t exist in the previous Constitution (and which from a formal point of view could be considered a setback, so closely following these advances), we arrive at our gay marriage.

Turning now to the discussion of the alternativist technique, I named it “creating a legal paradox,” and it consists of putting the judge in a dead-end situation in which, in order to maintain the historical legal denial of trans rights that is, to officially label a trans man as a “wife,” the judge has to make a progressive interpretation of gay rights and allow this marriage between two masculine gender identities. And conversely, in order to maintain the historical legal denial of gay rights, that is, to prevent a homosexual marriage, the judge has to progressively interpret trans rights and admit that a trans man is a man and that is precisely why he can’t marry another man. Both legal interpretations are possible,[6] and what’s interesting about this paradox is that in either case, there is a positive outcome for sexual diversity. Of course, we knew it was more likely that the marriage would be allowed under the argument that the trans man is “a woman in the eyes of the law” because civil authorities are less afraid to allow a slightly odd marriage than to admit that the plasticity of gender touches everything, including the law. And so two men in tuxedos ended up getting married: in our judgment, a “legally male man” and a “legally female man.”

Elizabeth: When a legal paradox is brought forth, it manages to subvert the law at the level of logic, and that is particularly powerful. When we compare this AUL with the de facto union of 2004, it goes a step further. The 2004 contract creatively used an institution but strictly respected the structure of the business corporation and the principles of civil law. However, in the “technical marriage” contracted between Joey and Hugo, the very boundaries and principles of civil law are called into question: what is a “man”? Is that civil category really so solid? Will human complexity eventually not surpass the limits of a legality built upon dyadic sex?

But there is another difference between this and the 2004 AUL and it’s the level of dialogue with art. Every alternative use of the law has a degree of creativity and an important element of performance. But the marriage project was explicitly designed as an “Art-Law” collaboration. In 2004, few people witnessed the “performance” that Alex Carrillo and David Bermeo put on before the Notary. My idea was that the AUL of this marriage would be much more public and therefore generate a far greater political, aesthetic and media impact.

A legal-artistic collaboration of this magnitude was only possible thanks to the joint efforts of the institutional “couple” – Project Transgender and TransAction Theatre-; the Hugo-Joey couple and the task force consisting of Ana Almeida, Hugo Vera, Elizabeth Vásquez, Joey Hateley, and Brigitte Greenham (friend/lover of the spouses), as well as the artists who participated at specific productions and times in the process. It was as if we had all got married.

The way in which Joey Hateley practices art is very compatible with the way I practice law. To me, he is an “alternativist” in his field, even if that may not be the word he uses to describe his practice. Alternativism requires a solid command of the logic and technique of the discipline that it tries to subvert. You can only destroy the rules if you know them at heart. Joey does this. For example, Joey is trained in opera and it is precisely that technique which allows him to reach very masculine and very feminine registers when singing. This, in turn, allows him to be a “gender terrorist” with his voice. But the opera wasn’t designed to foster gender terrorism, just as commercial law was not designed to legalize de facto gay unions. That is alternativism. It’s using classical techniques to accomplish unorthodox goals.

María Amelia: So, can you tell me more about your interest in working on social justice issues?

Joey: When I was at university I created feminist performance that pieced together my subjugated identity with other marginalized people and groups, in that oppression is always interconnected and intersecting… You can’t possibly talk about gender without race, or sexuality, and class and disability without nationality. Rather than reading about politics of allegiance in academic theory and creating experimental political performance about it, I began working as a drama teacher in big working class school, before doing an MA in how to educate young people about gender and diversity using drama. I then went freelance doing drama work with disabled people, refugees, “at risk” youth, hip-hop artists, or actors at the Royal Shakespeare Company and in schools and at conferences. I found myself continually changing and shifting depending on what context and cultural group I was working with, like a socio-political chameleon linking marginalized issues, experiences and oppressions together in tangible practical ways. I began to become frustrated at experimental socio-political performance preaching to the converted, which didn’t seem change anything in the “real world’. If we think about cross-cultural feminist dialogue from progressive art, activism, agency or theories of social change -these all might seem inspiring and beautiful- but in practice the work can be harsh, difficult and incredibly ugly. As art-activists, social, youth, or drama workers we are un-heard, under-valued, unpaid or un-funded to work with the disenfranchised. We have less social status and job security versus those who write and teach academically about the work we do.

Elizabeth: The cross-cultural encounter can also be quite painful.

Joey: I have scars.[7]

Elizabeth: Yes, you have the scars to prove it.

Joey: Cross-cultural politics of allegiance is the opposite of divide and rule. It’s about people from different subcultures applying feminist theories in practice, finding allies in all walks of life, getting inspired, sharing, investing in and creatively expressing marginalized perspectives.

As a performer I consciously reflect and dialogue with my communities’ experiences and transit between different perspectives and persona’s both on and off stage. If my identity is relational, it will always change depending on who’s addressing me in relation to the (sub)cultural context I find myself in. If trans can be seen as a state of mind (and body) subversion, then I am a nomad that transitions between identities in multiple ways. If I’m wearing a suit, I’m addressed differently than if I’m wearing my skater gear, than if I’m in a hip-hop workshop, than if I’m looking professional or teaching children or being a drag-queen. I’m constantly and consciously shifting in relation to complex interpersonal dynamics influenced by multiple contexts such as class, race (inter)national and geographical contexts and that’s Trans in and of itself for me. Trans is a state of mind (body) that uses power or systems subversively from within to draw attention to the fallacy or flaws in the system itself. Trans is a transitory subjectivity that connects the dots subversively and continually shape-shifts in relation to context to move between fixed identity boxes. As much as it is an identity, Trans is a kind of political consciousness that involves politics of allegiance in subverting mainstream perspectives, like a morphic state of socio-political being intersecting with multiple communities. Queer is perhaps seen more this way in the west, whereas trans is still seen in a more essentialist way, which makes no sense to me as often Trans people are working directly to subvert essential body based notions and narratives of identity.

María Amelia: Throughout your experience and work your concept of trans seems to be not only non-mainstream but it confronts the way that trans people, traditional trans people, define themselves, also showing how the LGBT traditional social movement will define trans – both here as well as in England as well as in the States.

Joey: Transsexualism can be incredibly assimilationist, upholding the binaries in traditional ways, whereas “transgendered” has more links to the term “gender-queer” in England. I identify as trans in a similar way to what Judith Halberstam calls a nomadic butch, linked to how Rosi Braidotti talks about nomadism, as a shifting and multiple subject that avoids beings read as simply male.

María Amelia: So you self-identified as a lesbian at some point, then as transgendered butch and I’m sure there’s no sequence, right? As you said, they’re sort of free-floating identities, right?

Joey: Well, first I was a “tomboy”, then a “femme”, then a “lesbian”, a “butch”, a “gender-queer”, a “transgendered boi” into “boy”, and now I suppose I’m a “trans man”… but I perform so many identities that don’t even know what box I’m in anymore!

María Amelia: Ok, let’s go back to the wedding —how did you socially promote this event? Can you describe further, and I know you’ve mentioned specific strategies, the uses of alternative law. That is to say, what were some of the strategies and platforms that you used for the gay marriage?

Elizabeth: We promoted the wedding using very different language depending on the space. We presented it in intercultural, activist and academic spaces. With the media, the message was simple: “the first gay couple will be married in Ecuador.”

At certain times in the Project, we strategically mimicked the assimilationist discourse to lower our profile and pander to the institution. Although the ultimate goal was subversion, it allowed for the public official to feel comfortable enough to authorize a marriage as political as Joey and Hugo’s. On the other hand, the low profile avoided an initial rejection and allowed us to place the debate in mainstream public opinion: instead of an academic or political audience, we were able to get the attention of ordinary people. There lies a difference in strategy between our alternativist transfeminism and a certain sector of radical feminism that doesn’t allow concessions and declares that “marriage is a patriarchal institution; it is irreconcilable with my feminism and I’m against it in any shape or form.” No matter how impeccable the abolitionist arguments may be in their criticism of the patriarchal nature of marriage, their weakness is that they exist in a place that is comfortable for the system: the fringe. Those “stirring up trouble” on the fringe are often disregarded, like alley cats fighting. In contrast, raising our subversion from within, sometimes we are able to upset the system much more because we make noise within the Civil Registry, not from some distant “outside.”

Joey: And in my case I found myself in a situation where I was comfortable enough to actually marry in a way that I believe in.

Elizabeth: On the other hand, to actually go through an institution which you never believed in is an important test of honesty. One of the lessons of this project, to organize and put on a wedding from start to finish like so many couples do in the world, was to experience the monumental weight of the institution. It’s one thing to say “I don’t believe in marriage and will never marry.” It’s another thing to go through the ritual, to take off the tuxedos and feel the nerves of the day before the signing of a simple paper that you then realize is not so simple.

Joey: And the amount of paperwork, finances and stress that I went through for months before I even got to this country, jumping through hoops, made me realize how difficult it is for someone whose partner is from the third world who is desperately trying to get into England and how impossible this economy of marriage is in that it’s purposely designed so the majority cannot get in. Those with education, contacts, money, time and the know-how can, but the majority doesn’t stand a chance.

Elizabeth: And the law supports that economy. In Ecuadorian system, for example, for foreigners to marry Ecuadorians, they are only required to produce paperwork verifying they are legally single. In contrast, the British system is designed for strict immigration control, and therefore Joey had to swear in the name of the Queen of England to marry Hugo Vera and only him. The idea is to avoid arranged marriages for money and an influx of foreigners into the United Kingdom.

Joey: Before I left the UK, I was required to specify the person I was to marry and hand in copies of their ID number, DOB, hometown, their address, phone number, their father’s and mother’s name. I had to perform a “where did you meet?” interview and oath before I could get married abroad.

Once in Ecuador, a British Embassy employee and a Civil Registry public servant allied to purposely try to stop the wedding by creating new problems every week. So we miscalculated that I could try to pass as my legal sex and perform an ordinary “woman” to make things easier for us. And I just managed to look like a drag queen, which of course made everything worse. I stood out so much worse that they wouldn’t believe I was female like it said on my passport.

Elizabeth: In fact, the same day that Joey appeared as a drag queen in the Civil Registry, he had appeared in a suit at the office of the Embassy staff a few hours before. He also, as a precaution, brought two affidavits that he was unmarried: one as a man and one as a woman. He swore on both to be honest and truthful. It was fascinating from a performative point of view.

Joey: Women know about being subservient and changing things from the inside because they’ve done it throughout history with the men they’ve been or not been married to. I can say that from the perspective of being a woman for years I have the absolute utmost respect for femmes who strategize in a man’s world every day. But more recently I’ve almost lost the ability to perform being “a woman” which is why Ellie [Elizabeth] will often kick me under the table to keep my mouth shut because as a masculine gender you’re used to being able to open your mouth more often. But this cross-cultural experience has taught me to respect conservative cultures and helped me see my white Western privilege materialize.

Elizabeth: I think this Project has tested both of us on our professional limits; you as a gender terrorist and me as an alternativist.



María Amelia: So many levels. That’s the potential of this project. How did Hugo come into this conversation? How did that fit into the puzzle?

Elizabeth: Hugo is an activist who consolidated this couple of subversive love perfectly in that he fit very well with Joey politically and performatively. Politically, he is a transfeminist who had explored the issue of masculinities prior to this project, he is an activist for the rights of male sex workers and he was willing to risk more for this than most. An alternativist proposal is always complex, and because it puts the team members in a vulnerable position, there has to be trust between everyone—it’s fundamental. Regarding performance, Hugo also fit perfectly with Joey in that “relationality” of gender that Joey alluded to earlier. How masculine or feminine a person appears depends a lot on who is at their side. An overly masculine man would have feminized Joey aesthetically, who, being a trans man without hormonal intervention, looks like a young boy. Hugo’s delicate gender expression, with his age and height being slightly less than Joey’s, produced an ideal “gay aesthetic” in the couple.

Joey: Hugo and I really enjoyed our union. Our marriage was a political union and his mother and sisters are an absolutely alternative family. Our feeling of genuine commitment questions objections on how “real” our marriage was. The bonding of Manchester and Quito in this incredible way was beautiful, politically powerful and celebrated giving our communities visibility in systems that exclude us.

This wedding has been the hardest project I have ever done. I haven’t gotten residency yet, changed my sex or challenged gay adoption by filing a petition with Hugo in Quito. These are all things we intend to do. But we have already experienced resistance and prejudice. Lots of people have caused problems for Ellie and Ana Almeida, the Director of Project Transgender, for promoting this wedding. And the attacks on Hugo have taken the form of a class war. The corporate gays said Hugo was only marrying for a British passport. They also said – and this is transphobia that targets me – that Hugo could not be gay if he married a western trans “s/he”.

Elizabeth: We take the attacks, in any case, as the cost of a political stand that gets played in the realm of bodies. In Joey and Hugo’s case, they literally made their bodies, genders and sexualities available to the public.

Joey: And everyone has something to say. On the morning of my wedding day, I was responding to gay critiques on Facebook within the corporate mainstream community in Ecuador saying how this wasn’t a real gay wedding because I was trans and how they want a real wedding between two “normal” gay Ecuadorians and not some international weird spectacle ‘thing’.

María Amelia: You were talking about other people involved in the project. What about other artists? Have they been involved, have they been supportive? What about the art scene in Quito, Ecuador? As art is such a big part of this project…

Elizabeth: The most important artistic collaboration, beyond Joey and Hugo’s own artistic interventions, was photography.[8] Photographers Ana Belén Jarrín and Santiago Terán successfully captured the relationship’s multiple layers of trans-gender, trans-nationality and trans-ethnicity on film. Ana Belén Jarrín photographed the nude art session and the session on the subversion of the colonial narrative of matrimony, in which Hugo cross-dressed as a Quiteña woman of the colonial era and Joey dressed as a soldier, while Santiago Terán did the session on masks (which also has a colonial theme) and the session on the threesome with Brigitte Greenham. Brigitte was also the bridesmaid- she problematized the theme of desire outside marriage’s institutionalized monogamy. As for the bilingual rap, “Fact and Fiction,” we relied on a great music producer–Xavier Müeller–who made the track and arrangements, and on the interpretation of rapper Guanaco for the verses in Spanish, while Joey rapped the English verses.

Joey: Ellie and I collaborated on the concepts behind the lyrics, then I wrote the English part, and Ellie translated some of the English lyrics into Spanish and wrote some of her own original lyrics for the full Spanish part. Guanaco and I performed the song live at the wedding party in la Ronda.

Elizabeth: Like any couple, they had one civil ceremony and another symbolic one. The symbolic ceremony was on a public stage, hosted by the Municipality of Quito and it was full of people. They exchanged rings and the flags of Ecuador and the United Kingdom. It was very powerful. And the media coverage has been a success. We achieved a level of notoriety beyond any I had ever experienced before in an AUL. Traditionally, the dialogue between art and law is simply that law provides a legal framework to protect artistic activities and products. However, in this project, art and law affected each other mutually and the result was actually a public breakthrough.

María Amelia: Talking about the LGBT organizations -because you’re working on issues that are important on the world stage and will benefit a big majority- we know there are different power games and interests. So what about LGBT support, feminist groups, people working on gender issues, academics, what are some of the reactions?

Elizabeth: The reaction in academia has been very positive, perhaps due to its being the space where the greater depth of such a complex project could be uncovered and understood. Ecuadorian trans activists -including trans-feminine organizations that are not transfeminist-have also been supportive, as have Spanish and Latin American transfeminist activists in general. Negative criticism – though not very consistent – has come mainly from the Ecuadorian mainstream gay movement. The main reason is that our project is essentially in conflict with their assimilationist position. However, it should also be noted that there is a certain transphobic tone to their discourse.

One of the corporate [mainstream] objections focuses on the idea that Hugo and Joey’s marriage is a “fraud.” This is very interesting because alternativism, as an irreverent political and legal position, problematizes the very notion of what is fraudulent, just as Joey’s theatre of terrorism problematizes the notion of a “true gender.” Gay lawyer Andrés Buitrón, a chief sponsor of the celebration of de facto gay unions in Ecuador, has on some occasions stated that he “legalizes love stories.” It’s understandable, then, that he would be shocked that the motivation behind the Hateley-Vera wedding is not the bourgeois version of love to which he adheres, but rather an alternative concept of family and political alliance that we have talked about extensively in this interview. Now, returning to the subject of fraud, the place where what is fraudulent and what is legitimate is decided is obviously a place of power. In the end, the aspiration to verify that marriages are done “for love” is ambitious, if not absurd. Neither love nor human desire can be legislated upon, and therefore, the border dividing marital motivations that are “legitimate” from those that are “fraudulent” is a political border. This is why a marriage celebrated by a pregnant girl for the sake of decency, and not love, will be accepted as legitimate, while a marriage between a Cuban and an Ecuadorian for the sake of human mobility, and not love, will be deemed fraudulent.

Joey: I feel like a fraudulent man and a fraudulent woman every day. Every time I choose a gendered bathroom, I lie. When I go to the bank using my pronounced Visa card[9] …. to get let back into the UK, I have to show customs bits of my body so they believe I’m female, I then I get told off for doing so and get a note put by my name at Heathrow’s airport system! There’s so many different ways I’m a gender terrorist, it’s ridiculous. (To Elizabeth) So, are you a real or fraudulent professional in this theatrical world of terrorism? Am I a real performer or am I an activist, a teacher, a director or a writer? Are you a lawyer or a social worker at Casa Trans? There are so many different titles that would apply to the multitude of performances, ‘roles’ and jobs you do as well…

Elizabeth: And so many scrutinies of any role or performance outside of what is prescribed. Are you a lawyer? Why do you invest your knowledge this way? Aren’t you using what you know to mock the law? Are you sure what you’re doing isn’t illegal, or at least professionally unethical?

Joey: Of course they’re going to misread and twist our politics in attempt to represent their own. It is an attempt to scandalize our work and discredit Hugo through his class, discredit us both through our kind of ‘love/lust’ (especially through our threesome with Brigitte) and through pointing me out as a foreigner whose exceptionality supposedly invalidates the project politically.

Elizabeth: Gay transphobia is one of the sad realities this project has unveiled; especially transphobia toward trans men. The mainstream gay movement here is much more prepared to validate trans women as “women” than to validate trans men as “men.” That “men” without penises could exist, who also identify as “gay”, is still particularly hard to assimilate on the part of a deeply phallocentric movement that is moreover so used to the homogeneity of its members. For this reason, they have not hesitated to use the pronoun “she” when referring to Joey in their declarations about how, supposedly, his marriage to Hugo is not gay. I think that, in this sense, this marriage serves an educational function in regards to the body diversity that exists within the term “gay.” When asking Hugo’s hand in marriage, at Blackout [a gay bar in Quito], Joey presented himself before an audience mostly composed of young gay men, and he did this performance wearing a giant phallus suit. Then, he revealed his transgenderism to the audience. The idea that the giant phallus could be an “hembro” (a word that I use to describe a physically female person with a masculine gender) shocked many of the boys.

Joey: I’m seen as this international gender-queer butch lesbian by the corporate gays. They say I am not a real man because I haven’t taken testosterone or had surgery perhaps. So between them, the splits and sabotage within our own communities, the cross-fire from western feminists, the mainstream Ecuadorian public and the diverse press reactions, not to mention the protests from the Christians and bombardment from the paparazzi on my wedding day, everyone seems to have something to say about this wedding!

Elizabeth: Certain Western feminists and trans and queer activists from the British stage have two critiques. The first, shared with gay assimilationists, is a reproach to Joey as a foreigner: What right does Joey have to burst into the political arena of a country that is not his? Won’t he be doing it with a colonial perspective? Ironically, we think that the colonial bias that should be avoided is the assumption of Joey’s hierarchical position in this cross-cultural collaboration instead of finding out about it: Joey’s contributions certainly enrich a political proposal that is nevertheless Ecuadorian in origin. The second critique is at the other logical extreme of the mainstream critique: while the corporate gays reject that a person who is “trans” can also be a “man” and “gay,” and resent the appropriation of a category they consider theirs (“gay”), European post-feminist and queer activism claims that “man” and “gay” are categories that we should have already surpassed, or at least that Joey has surpassed. Why, then, is he taking them back on? The answer is: because categories need to be used in order to be surpassed. In this historical moment in Ecuador, and in the political strategy of this project, it was necessary to use the categories of “man” and “gay” and “gay marriage.”

Joey: Western feminists write to me angrily saying, “Since when did you identify as gay? You’re not gay! When did you identify as a man? They fail to understand that we couldn’t say “pan-sexual, trans-gender or gender-queer wedding”.

Elizabeth: Or maybe we could have used those terms, but then we would have created a language barrier against a huge sector of the population, and also, we wouldn’t have been able to cause as much trouble in the system as we wanted to. We would have again become “the fringe”; “the exception” that supports rather than challenges the rule.

One critique that hasn’t been heard as much as I expected is the more traditional, anti-marriage feminist critique. Clara Merino, from the feminist organization, “Luna Creciente” did let me know that a project that puts all its energy into publicizing such an outdated and patriarchal institution seemed absolutely useless to her and that the only worthwhile effort around such an institution is to fight for its disappearance. But we did not have a real debate.

Another interesting critique was mentioned by journalist Lucia Real from the Diversity Section of the Daily Telegraph: it seemed to them a throwback that a trans person would hold on to his letter “F” when one of the most important demands by trans people throughout the world deals specifically with the recognition of legal sex changes. And it seemed to them also a “convenient” use “inconsistent” with the struggle; as if “when it works to my advantage, I use the legal sex I was assigned, and when it doesn’t, I reject it.” However, from the alternativist viewpoint, we value the strategic use of a tyrannical institution, such as civil sex, as an act of liberation. When all is said and done, the traditional transsexual movement has been placed in the subordinate position of “begging for the F and M” much like the assimilationist gay movement begs for marriage. The idea that we need marriage and civil sex from the State in order to be normal is challenged by this project, in that we tell the Civil Registry that we are beyond their F and their M. We are not the legal sex of the State, nor is that legal sex the thing that makes us “men” or “women.”

María Amelia: To wrap up this interesting and engaging conversation, what comes next?

Joey: Now it is important for me to change my sex legally, because I asked the Gender Clinic to do that a few years ago in the UK, and was told without hormones or surgery the Gender Recognition Panel wouldn’t probably agree. The fact that I can just do a little bit of testosterone now, would put me even more in the middle, and then I could come back with my sex changed to Ecuador and say “please change my sex here too so I can be a man married to a man’ which will completely freak the system out, we’re hoping. Unfortunately, if I take my marriage with Hugo back to England and change my sex our marriage is null and void.

Elizabeth: The British legal system already foresaw the possibility that in the context of marriage, one of the spouses changes sex and it already has established a rule: the marriage is annulled automatically. Here the system just doesn’t make that many rules, so we can still upset it in ways we couldn’t in England. The idea is to throw a wrench into the works, to find blind spots in the system that will make it implode, and allow us to present more emancipatory civil possibilities. In that sense, the first gay marriage in Ecuador inserts itself into that years-old transfeminist political process I mentioned earlier. As the next step, I aspire to launch a campaign seeking the removal of the mention of legal sex categories altogether on Ecuadorian identification cards.


[1] Originally published on

[2] María Amelia Viteri addresses the fields of gender, sexuality, identity, and citizenship in LGBT, Latino and immigrant communities, mainly in the United States and Ecuador. Contact:;

[3] Elizabeth Vásquez is a transfeminist lawyer whose activism in the areas of gender and sexual diversity is based on the original design and execution of “alternative uses of the law”, abbreviated as “AULs”. She founded the Legal Patrol and Project Transgender, Different Bodies, Same Rights, and is she who has established the principle lines of discourse and action of this organization. Contact:;

[4] Joey Hateley is a transfeminist experimental theatre artist — practitioner, writer, director, educator and art-activist. He creates innovative transformative cross-cultural performance work that focuses on issues of identity, diversity, inclusion and empowerment. He is the Artistic Director of TransAction Theatre Company, an organization that devises socio-political interdisciplinary performance. Contact:;

[5] “Alternativism” is explained further during the course of this article.

[6] Since no rule of law in the Ecuadorian system defines what a “man” or a “woman” is, a sufficiently creative judge could define a person as a “man” or “woman” based on generic considerations instead of depending on the civil identification system’s letters F and M.

[7] He is referring to a permanent scar on his chest from having cut himself in a performance for the 2010 Conference Against Transsexual Pathologization, Project Transgender.

[8] The video, “Matrimonio Gay Ecuador: ¿Qué es Falso y qué es Real?” [Translation: “Ecuadorian Gay Wedding: What is True and What is False?”], available at, puts together the three most important photography sessions from the project with the rap “Lo falso y lo real” [Translation: “Truth and Falsehood” or “Fact and Fiction”]. The photomontage is by Ana Belén Jarrín.

[9] She makes reference to a credit card that identifies the gender of the card holder, in other words, a ‘gendered visa’.