Shantal Munguia: The First Transgender Woman Journalist in Honduras
EntreMundos Magazine met Shantal Munguia at the screening of the documentary m/f/x, organized by Hivos Guatemala, which had a presentation in the city of Quetzaltenango, directed by Koen Suidgeest, a production that presents the life experiences and opportunities of three trans people from different parts of the world, that teaches us that a more tolerant, inclusive and just society should exist.
EM: Can you tell us Who is Shantal Munguia?
Shantal: She’s a transgender woman who has tried to survive a classist, sexist, conservative society, and with few opportunities. Shantal is someone who struggles, not for fame but for equality as human beings, that we all be treated the same way. She’s a woman who wants to generate a change in the mentality so that we have the same opportunities, and so that being a transgender woman doesn’t mean you have to be marginalized, and disqualified from the work that you choose.
EM: How did your transition go and how did you explain to your friends and family what was happening?
Shantal: It was something as difficult for me as it was for my parents and siblings. The transition was during the time of my adolescence. The process was based on a hormone treatment. I was afraid to really express what I was and how I felt, because it’s something that is frowned upon in my country. There’s discrimination because of your way of being, acting, and thinking. Going to study or going to a place and feeling comfortable was something difficult, because there’s rejection… you’re an object of ridicule. There’s physical and psychological mistreatment.
EM: Tell us about an average day in your life
Shantal: My life is a little boring (amid laughter). A normal day for Shantal is getting up, brushing my teeth, taking a bath, making my bed; if I have an interview or something to do for work I go out and do it. Once in a while I go out and spend time with friends. I like to dedicate a little time to my partner to be happy. I don’t have a party life. I prefer more intimate things. I love to share conversations where you know people better.
EM: How did your career begin and what motivated you to become a journalist?
Shantal: I started studying Foreign Languages, but while I was advancing I felt that it wasn’t for me. And slowly I realized that I wanted to be a journalist. Now I want to show people that I’m a professional journalist, and that I’ve struggled to study. I want people to change those mistaken ideas about trans people.
My profession has given me many opportunities, it’s opened other kinds of spaces, to change thoughts and show that we’re prepared people, that we study and that we’re here to serve others and be that bridge between diversity and society, and gaining in this way the respect of many educators and colleagues.
EM: What was it like studying as the first trans person at the university? What did it feel like to be the first trans woman graduated with a degree in journalism at the National Autonomous University of Honduras?
Shantal: I came to the university expressing myself as I am, with my different clothing. It was like breaking and facing the stereotypes. However it was something very difficult, like everything in Honduras. At the university I suffered from discrimination as much from the students as from the educators. I was the brunt of jokes. I remember one occasion where I agreed to participate in a beauty pageant. They told me that it was a lack of respect. Feeling that rejection from my colleagues was something very hard, but this catapulted me as Shantal Munguia after being on national and international news as the trans woman who wanted to participate in a beauty pageant. I only wanted to be part of it.
I’d like to be able to say that it was a great experience and that I didn’t have any problems, but it wasn’t like that. And although in life you find obstacles there will always be a way to overcome them. I think that it was the first time that a trans person was seen at the public university, but what interested me was studying, improving myself, and giving an impression different from what everyone thought. After everything, graduation day came and I felt very proud of receiving my university degree. In Honduras there are no gender identity laws so the degree has my legal name. However, in the ceremony I received my degree as Shantal Manguia, the first transgender woman graduated with a degree in journalism.
EM: Has it been difficult to develop your career in the field of communication?
Shantal: Yes it’s been difficult because it’s been difficult to be taken as a professional. I don’t want to be taken as a transgender woman who always presents sexual or erotic subjects, or about prostitution, because I’m not a sexologist. I don’t want them to stick me with only one thing. I think that I have the capacity to inform about other areas of interest that I can feature.
EM: What do you think about the situation with discrimination, harassment, and exclusion that sexually diverse people experience in your country? (and specifically trans people)
Shantal: When someone is different, it means that this person will be rejected, and that has made lots of trans people get involved in sex work. Many other trans women are compelled to flee the country because there’s no access to dignified work nor guarantees to express your gender identity. We still live in a conservative society. There’s discrimination in the streets. You’re seen as a sexual object, to satisfy a desire. The harassment toward a trans person is experienced daily on hearing ridicule as much from men as from women. Exposing yourself to so many pejorative comments that it hurts to hear. And in addition to that there are crimes and physical abuse. You run the risk of being murdered. In Honduras there are high rates of murders and hate attacks toward trans people and everything goes unpunished.
EM: You currently work on a television show dealing with issues of sex education and the LGTBTIQ community. How is Honduran society perceiving and reacting to these matters?
Shantal: It’s a totally different program. We speak openly about taboo subjects like sexuality, the LGTBTIQ community, STDs, early teen pregnancies and other similar subjects. Many people don’t have information about these things, because there’s simply no sex education at home or in education centers. The program is directed toward adolescents and adults because they’re subjects that are necessary to address and because many have questions. We create this platform so that it gets replicated since the subjects are provided by professionals like psychologists, sexologists, and doctors who specialize in these matters.
EM: Any anecdote or experience you want to tell us about as a journalist
Shantal: I auditioned for the documentary m/f/x, and my story made quite an impact on the directors, from my professional development to my transition. It was cool because I involved my work as a journalist and it was very satisfying to me to be able to tell my life story on an international level. I learned other stories in different contexts, and I realized that in the end one thing united us. And that is we fight for inclusion, because we want to be accepted as who we are. This gives a voice to others in the community who don’t have it or are unable to do it.
EM: What would you say to LGTBIQ people, who like you, want to pursue their dreams?
Shantal: That nothing in life is easy, but neither is it impossible. If I achieved it anyone can. My message is for everyone reading the article, without distinction of sex or race. I think that we have the same opportunities and abilities to move forward. It fills us with satisfaction as human beings, the power to express ourselves and support one another.