Aby Cris, a trans boy who challenges the system in university spaces

Photo story

In claiming their rights, they have stood up against a sexist and oppressive education system. Just seeking to make universities safe spaces in Mexico.

Abi Cris with two friends

In claiming their rights, they have stood up against a sexist and oppressive education system. Just seeking to make universities safe spaces in Mexico

Text: Javier Escalante
Photos: Martin

Abi Cris May Estrada left home at an early age to find themselves. They knew it was a tough decision, but it seemed to be the only way to break down some of the structures that oppressed them. After that, everything was different. They began to fight for their rights in all possible spaces, including the university.

Their courage and their way of being, made them question the norms established by a heteronormative system that invisibilizes people who think, feel and express themselves differently. Today, they are the first non-binary trans person to preside over the student society of the Faculty of Anthropological Sciences of the Autonomous University of Yucatan. 

Yucatan is located in the southeast of Mexico and is one of the last Mexican entities to allow equal marriage. This only occurred in 2021, after severe criticism of conservative legislators who rejected this opportunity on two occasions. Several initiatives are still pending, such as the gender identity law. 

Denouncing harassing teachers

Aby's first protest took place when they were still a teenager; carrying placards, they mobilized their classmates and denounced harassing teachers. 

In those years, it was still normal for teachers to sexually observe female students, or to make sexist comments about them, and no one reprimanded them, they explain. 

Later, in their second year at high school, they founded the first collective Fuerza Violeta, and again called for a student protest because the academic authorities did not allow male students to wear make-up. This situation seemed unreasonable to them, since it violated their right to free expression and the sanctions had nothing to do with school performance. 

At that time, Aby met a non-binary trans person, a situation that completely changed their life, as they discovered that they felt comfortable with male pronouns.

At first I asked myself, what's wrong with me, why do I feel better being referred to with masculine pronouns, do I want to attract attention, I asked myself. And the truth is, no, I really felt more comfortable. Today I define myself as a non-binary trans person, pansexual, polyamorous, black and anti-patriarchal", they added.

The personal is political

What Aby was looking for was safe spaces, places where they would not be singled out for who they are or how they dresses. 

During the first mobilization they organized at the high school, they were singled out for accusing teachers of harassment. They were mainly criticized by other teachers, students and even female students.  

They especially recall a teacher nicknamed "The Exotic" for using this term to describe the bodies of female students. “This girl looks exotic because of this or that," the teacher used to say. In addition to these macho behaviors, he was known for organizing an annual beach trip, an event that all generations looked forward to. 

After publicly exposing him, the school principal prohibited another group outing with the teacher. A situation that angered the entire school. Aby asked for support from student leadership but was denied. 

This rejection made them rethink who was occupying the student spaces in the schools. 

In college, they began to familiarise themselves with the LGBT and sexual dissidence community. During conversations they agreed that virtually all of the people who presided over student offices met socially accepted norms, were white, heterosexual, and did not have the experiences that Aby was going through. 

For this reason, they ran for the presidency of the student society of the Faculty, which they won by the majority and went down in history as the first non-binary trans person to be in office at a university in the region. 

Gender-neutral bathrooms

As a student, one of the first achievements was the management of gender-neutral bathrooms that promote inclusion, not only for people from the LGBT community, but also for people with disabilities who require assistance when using them. 

After a few weeks, they succeeded in making these spaces a reality in the Faculty. 

There are people who criticize the use of the bathrooms, they see it as an overreaction, but it really isn’t, in my case. There were many times when I had to hold the urge to go, to avoid any uncomfortable situations, but with the gender-neutral bathrooms people can choose whichever they want," she said. 

Criticism of the authoritarian system

Aby explains that their struggle is against an anti-patriarchal system that orders the social norms of living. The same people still occupy these spaces of power. 

“Recently I have heard comments from acquaintances who say "I liked your activism better before you entered politics", but this is not a very valid argument, because it is precisely us, the people who seek change, who should occupy these spaces," they said. 

Decision-making spaces are still dominated by cisgender heterosexual and white men, they add, something we need to change little by little. 

How do you feel about all that you have accomplished, they was asked. 

“I feel very happy, I really want to conquer the world. I want to achieve as much as possible as quickly as possible. In my work plan as president, I have included the area of social change, where I want to introduce innovation to the university, something as simple as rethinking how healthy the products sold in the cafeteria are, for example. I will continue working in the collective Tortugas Queer and with VIHchotas Kiki Ball, where I participate through bodily expressions that have allowed me to reconcile with my physical appearance and my femininity", they concluded.

This photo story was produced with the support of the Global Support for Democracy Unit of the  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union. It is part of the dossier "Youth & democracy in Latin America. Young voices on the rise".