Erika Hilton - Candy
“I WILL BE THE FIRST, AND I HOPE THAT MANY CAN COME
AFTER ME, SO THAT THE SYSTEM CAN UNDERSTAND
THAT IT IS NOT ABOUT ONE, IT IS ABOUT ALL OF US.
ERIKA HILTON IS NOT ENOUGH.”
“WE NEED TO LOVE DIFFERENCES, LOVE PLURALITY,
RESPECT IT AND MAKE IT MORE AND MORE TANGIBLE TO
OUR SOCIETY, SO THAT WE CAN GET OUT OF THIS TACKY CIS
HETERO WHITE COLONIZER GROTESQUE SCENARIO THAT
STILL GOVERNS OUR LIFE.”
We know we’re preaching to the choir when we say this, but it can’t be said
enough: the world needs more LGBTQIA+ representatives in politics! That
could mean you, kind smart brave CANDY reader. Don’t believe us? Well,
who could blame you — it’s hard to name too many out-and-proud people
who’ve made it to the top of the political ladder, but the tide is changing —
we’re witnessing it right now. Enter our new hero, Erika Hilton, the 28-year-old
black trans politician who shook the world out of its slumber in 2020 when
she became the first trans councilor elected by the city of São Paulo and the
most voted councilor in the country! Now, she’s taking on racism, transphobia
and inequality from the inside and showing everyone on the outside what it
means to be a tough trans woman in charge. World: meet Erika Hilton, in a
very special C NDY exclusive.
Dudu Bertholini. Angela Davis said that “when a black woman
moves the whole structure of society moves with her.” And when a
marginalized, black trans woman moves? What happens? What do all
these incredible firsts represent?
Erika Hilton. I think it goes along the same line. Society moves
together, society changes together, the spaces in politics and the new imagery
around this body, that is mostly represented by incarceration, drugs,
prostitution, marginally, now being represented in a new place, building a new
imagery, restores our stolen humanity. I think it means a redemption of humanity,
and a retraction of our life and our history. We have other photos to show
besides those of the banalization of our body, of our stereotyping, and even
the marginalization of our lives. So, I think this is what it means, I think this
data, these firsts represent a TRANS-formation.
DB. Such transformations, my friend! And so many firsts!
I’m very proud! How did your history in politics begin? When did you
understand that you were interested in politics, and that it was your
EH. Look, I have a very generic story! I was kicked out of the house
very early, was a prostitute throughout adolescence, I slept on the street because
I had nowhere to sleep, and from the moment I started to notice the
dehumanization of the black body, of the poor body, of the trans body, I started
to educate myself after a long time living objectified, invisible to society. I
began to realize that our humanity, our rights can only be guaranteed if we
ourselves occupy these spaces, if we ourselves are the protagonists of the
fight, and of the society that we want to live in. So, I go through this situation
of abjection, I reinstated my family ties, I returned to school, and when I went
to the Federal University of São Carlos and became involved with the student
movement, I realized the importance of acting within politics.
I founded a university-prep course aimed exclusively at trans people
at the USP-São Carlos Campus. At that moment I had a lot of obstacles
creating this course, gathering teaching materials, to be able to have food to
give to the trans girls and boys who were in the school. And then I understood
the urgency and the need for the trans body, the black body, the peripheral
body, the human rights-defending body to occupy politics, and to rescue our
fight, which is historic, ancestral. So, when I found myself facing the difficulties
of life, facing the need to transform the spaces where I stand, and I don’t see
anyone who is defending this, I don’t find anyone hearing these voices within
institutional politics, so I said: “I need to speak! In order to do it right I need to
do it myself.” And then I realized the need, the cry of despair, the social urgency
for my body to think, formulate and occupy the spaces of politics. That’s
when I identified as a politician, but first and foremost, a militant. An activist, a
body that felt the social ailments in its own skin, but who doesn’t want to be
talking only about ailments and death, who wants to show new possibilities,
who wants to propose new conditions to live socially, and to propose these
new conditions we need well-rooted, empowered public policies, we need to
bring this mass of like-minded people together to occupy these spaces, and
to bring this leap to society. The world does not rotate, it overturns, and my
occupation and place in politics is to make the world overturn.
DB. Erika, we had a paradoxical moment here in Brazil, you
know. Another year for us, and once again the sad title of being the
country that kills the most LGBT people in the world, and at the same
time trans people are organizing and getting stronger in politics. Your
victory is a symptom of that. A greater political awareness of the new
generation of trans people is emerging. Where are we in this fight?
What does it mean to be in this role in the country that kills the most
trans people in the world?
EH. We are in a paradox! A moment of political polarization, a moment
of this so-called minority, but a minority only in rights, in opportunities,
in the occupation of the spaces, but in society we are the majority. This group
which was convinced of being a minority begins to realize the severity of the
absence of our voices, of our bodies and our mentality in all spaces. And then,
in the face of what the Bolsonarist government represents, we understand the
urgency of putting ourselves in a narrative dispute.
So, we are facing a battle for survival, we are in a battle to defend
that which we believe to be relevant to this society, we are in the process
of taking back what was stolen from us, and we have to face hatred, fascism,
intolerance, racism, but we are understanding that in order to make
this confrontation we will have to wear an armor of courage, boldness, and
determination. Because we will no longer allow ourselves only to be portrayed
as the murdered, as the incarcerated. We want another society, and for this
society to be possible we will have to do it with our own hands, awakening the
conscience of the youth, awakening the political conscience, making connections
between social movements, connections with the ghettos, grassroots
movements, awakening that which is asleep: the urge to fight. To fight for
social emancipation, for economic emancipation, for political emancipation.
That’s where we find ourselves today — facing a battle of narratives. Brazil is
a hateful country, but we have advanced, but we are not settled in the face of
the violence of hatred. We are rowing against the tide of brutality, I think this
moment that we find ourselves in in Brazil and in the world, right? Black Lives
Matter, and so many other movements that inspired our nation, is a result of
the particular moment we are in here and worldwide.
DB. What are the main objectives and projects of your mandate?
What should be expected in the years ahead?
EH. I’ve had many dreams throughout my life, and now that I am
occupying a seat in the City Council I see how I can achieve them. I want to
create a mandate that will be the best legislative mandate this city council has
ever seen! A mandate connected with people, a mandate that speaks for the
countless struggles we have in this city, a mandate that overflows São Paulo
and becomes a nationwide reference.
My priorities are to bring dignity, equity, social justice, and the inspecting
of the powers so that they fulfil their duties. I am not asking for favors,
because rights are not favors... I don’t have words, I don’t know, but we want
them to be fulfilled. You don’t negotiate rights, it is a right! Rights are demands!
So, my mandate will be in favor of ‘Trans-Cidadania’ [Trans-Citizenship],
in favor of ‘Casa de Acolhidas’ [House for the Rescued]. I am already in
contact with the Social Service Secretary and the Human Rights Secretary for the
construction of a specific shelter for transgender men in São Paulo. We will work
against racial violence, in favor of homeless people, street vendors and workers.
This is the black, poor, peripheral, transvestigender, women’s mandate
that will lift, not only these flags, but will guide the city of São Paulo,
focusing on the forgotten, the most vulnerable and silenced groups. We will
search for a different São Paulo, a plural, diverse São Paulo, looking at all levels,
and looking at the plurality of this, which is the largest city in Latin America.
So, this is what I intend to do in these four years in office.
I hope to succeed, and I will walk and do my best so that everything
can go as I planned. I know it doesn’t depend only on me, I know there
is a whole structure set up, but I’m ready to infiltrate, to hack, to build cracks
in that structure, and to transform this city from within. This is what my mandate
DB. Your term already started by you going through a difficult
situation, being threatened from the Chamber of Deputies. In that
same week, another parliamentarian, a co-councilor, another trans
woman also suffered a threat. All this in the country of Marielle Franco.
Instead of being silent or retreating, you got stronger, and moved
your support network even further. What did you learn? I wanted you
to comment on this episode.
EH. It is appalling that we have to be afraid of doing social politics,
because we want to base our politics on the constitution, on human rights, in
life, in equality. It is very revolting and sad to see this, and we know that we are
being persecuted because we want to defend life, because we want to defend
the existence of all people. When I, as a black, poor transvestite advance, white,
cisgender, rich people don’t need to regress so I can continue to walk. There is
no justification for all this hatred; my progress is an advance of the whole society.
Society gains from our advancement, but these intimidations happen in an
attempt to silence, to boycott, but it cannot be. For someone like me, who was
born in the favela, in the margins, who was in the street at a very young age —
fear is something that has always surrounded my existence.
I feel emotionally strengthened to deal with all these attacks. Never
feeding bad luck but understanding that if I’m being attacked it is because I’m
on the right path, it’s because I’m bothering someone.
I need to protect myself, to secure my life, to announce to the
world what it is to be a black transgender parliamentarian in Brazil. To make
my voice louder and louder, because my cries create despair in the system,
despair of fascism, of racism, of transphobia, and that is why they attack us,
in an attempt to make us retreat, but we do not retreat. We strengthen ourselves,
we know that each gesture, each step taken by my body, and by my
political platform means a transformation, a re-evolution. I will continue to put
myself in the frontline, to make necessary changes, I will not be silent, I will
not back down. I will denounce and show the barbarity that it is to live in this
reactionary country, but they will not be able to interrupt us, because we are
many, we are together, and we will move on until we are all free, and we are no
longer afraid to walk on the streets, or to occupy institutions.
This is what I learn, this is my lesson. Revolution, bravery, transformation.
They can fight back, because we are not here to play, we are prepared
for combat, and we will fight until the end.
DB. What does São Paulo represent to you? What is your
history with the city? What does it represent to you so far? What do
you hope to give back with this mandate?
EH. To me São Paulo represents the silencing, the abjection, the
misery. Being invisible in such a big city; suffering, pain, prostitution. The inequality,
the lack of opportunities, being an invisible body that circulates all
the time. I intend to break that. I hope that we are no longer found only in the
corners, there to be beaten, raped, stones thrown at us, and that we can find
ourselves in all spaces of this huge city. A city that is so rich, I want to be able
to redistribute its wealth in order to exterminate human misery, the precariousness
of blacks, browns, LGBTQIA+, of the homeless population. There
are already 24 million people with nowhere to live, and that is what São Paulo
means to me. Inequality, cruelty, social segregation. Rich and poor very well
divided, cis and trans very well divided, a city that claims to be diverse, plural,
and it is, but where people don’t mix. It designates the exact placement of
each citizen. And I know this from experience, because my place has always
been very well-defined in the city of São Paulo. I didn’t go to the theater, I
didn’t go to the mall, the musical, I didn’t go to concerts because I could only
exist on the corners, I could only exist at dawn, at night.
This vicious cycle of dehumanization needs to be broken. It is necessary
to break with the vicious cycle of non-occupation of all spaces. We
need to deliver a less unequal São Paulo, a more equitable one, and a São
Paulo that values its diversity, its plurality, and is not ashamed, and does not
harm those who have been defined as ‘non-human”. And that is what I live
and have lived in the city of São Paulo. Today I have the privilege and the
opportunity to rethink all these processes for my life, and for the lives of others
like me. I want us to live, to feel and to occupy a city that welcomes and
respects our bodies. A city that offers us jobs, housing, shelter, income, that
gives us the right to culture, education, transportation, to live and move freely
through this limited city, full of walls and barriers. That’s what São Paulo is for
DB. We know about the importance of not only physical
but also mental health in times like these. Constant militancy brings
a constant state of alert that is very difficult to deal with, and this
can undermine the psyche, putting our physical, mental and relational
health at risk. But now we also have access to dissident bodies, with
new affective reconfigurations, going against the models imposed by
society. You are married to a trans man. Do you see it like this? What
do you think?
EH. I think this is fundamental, the strengthening of integral health;
we need to look at women, LGBT people, blacks, and understand that talking
about health is not simply going to the general practitioner or to a specialist,
but it is understanding the totality of health, and in times of so much hatred,
persecution, framing of a single possibility of existence, of being: “If you want
to be, you have to be like this.” A system that dictates an hegemonic rule, and
those who are outside of it cannot be accepted, even in dissident groups.
Even in these groups there is a standard, there is a model of black, transgender,
gay, and we are always molded to fit in a box that was designed, but not
by us. It was designed by a system that wants to control us, even though it
doesn’t accept us. Even though they control us to kill us, they want to make
choices for our bodies. And then there is the need to adjust, to unite, to empower
ourselves, to build positive exchanges and relationships to resist and
withstand all of this, and to break these little boxes. Of course, each one of us
can or will break one or another. There is a box that I feel super comfortable
with, and it fits me, and I don’t want to break it. Being a militant is not creating
a new world, it is not creating a new existence. It is reframing what was
already rotten. It is bringing life to what was dead. And there are things that
fit in our existence.
So, I think that in the face of so much hatred, so much persecution,
strengthening our mental health and our culture, unifying these people, so
that they connect with various experiences, even being from the same social
group, is revolutionary. It’s fundamental. Destroy the molds. Destroy the boxes.
I believe in freedom of choice. I may want to be a barbie, as I may want
to be a monster. And what’s wrong? Who’s right? What is beautiful? Which
is correct? The “right” is inside of me. The correct thing is when I feel good,
when I build that form of existence for my life, and as long as it does not affect
the freedom, the right, the integrity of others, I can exercise that right. I cannot
violate the rights of others, I cannot violate the integrity of the others. I can’t go
over it because I still live in society.
That remains to be understood: we live in society, but as long as
my choices and my way of life do not exceed the limits of socialization, of the
social, what is the problem? We need to rethink humanity. We need to rethink
society. We need to challenge ourselves. To be bold so that we can build a
new civil keystone. This will only be possible through our boldness, through
our courage, through the rupture of these sentenced social norms, be it aesthetics,
be it prostitution, be it death, be it in the workplace, and everything
that has not been sentenced, we want to have a choice.
We want to be entitled to opportunities. We want to make choices
that fit our subjective humanity, and everyone has their own, no one is the
same, and this is what is beautiful and democratic, plural, that’s what is diversity.
Not every black man is the same, not every transvestite is the same, not
every gay is the same, not every cis or non-cis woman. People are different.
They start from different places. And we need to love differences, love plurality,
respect it and make it more and more tangible to our society, so that we can
get out of this tacky cis hetero white colonizer grotesque scenario that still
governs our life, and causes psychic illnesses, and emotional illnesses, limits
our sex, limits our sexuality, limits our existence in the world. Enough! We can
no longer walk, as Regina Duarte would say, with a “cord of the dead on our
backs”, but this ‘cord of the dead’ is the colonizer, Eurocentric white cistequicist,
straight, hegemonic norm. We need to breathe. And we are reminded
of George Floyd: “I can’t breathe!” We need to breathe. Every time we don’t
breathe, either because of a policeman on our throat, or by a system that
oppresses us, we lose life and humanity, and this is very serious, because it
leads people to crack, to criminality, it causes people to lose their identities,
it generates violence, misery, human exhaustion. In a country that does not
defend its own Universal Health System, in a country that despises diseases,
pathologies and all the violence generated in its bodies, so we need to deal
with these issues like a big hammer that will break through these boxes, and
come up for air. The air that has been stolen from us by the ‘CIStem’ of the
delusional, crazy, tacky and horrible ‘CISgenerality’. That’s what I think.
DB. So a question from Magô, a philosopher, and make-up
artist on this shoot, and beauty educator. Unconditional thinker of reality.
You are just a few hours away from being interviewed at Roda
Viva, one of the most important and well-respected programs in the
history of Brazilian TV, and you have another record over your short
27 years — today you are the first trans person to occupy the center
chair of Roda Viva, so instead of asking about the laurels of the place
you will occupy, Magô wants to ask about the absence. What do you
have to say about the absence of the trans person for more than three
decades of this program on the air?
EH. I think it is very serious. And my presence there in the center of
the circle means a denouncement; it is a mixture of many things. It is serious
that we did not get there earlier. It is serious that our lives, our narratives and
our voices have not yet been important enough for us to be invited, but it is
also commendable. So now it begins to be important and we start to be given
this space, without looking at the negligence. For more than three decades, it
seems like the stories of the trasngender population were not interesting. The
absence of our body here means the occupation of another. When we are
not there, it is because the system is denying us our belonging, the system
is denying us the opportunity to be there too. As for a person who has many
things to say, who has many narratives to be built, our stories do not matter,
our historical struggle did not matter. Were our bodies not legitimate and valid
and human enough to sit in the center of Roda Viva? Is that it? Were we not
worth it? We didn’t matter? Were we supposed to continue to be seen only in
police headlines? So, it is unfortunate, it is serious, and it is critical, but we are
also leading the way. We are coming! I will be the first, and I hope that many
can come after me, so that the system can understand that it is not about
one, it is about all of us. Érika Hilton is not enough. We need to listen and respect
this entire population, not only as the best voted woman in the country,
respect the black and marginal transvestite and hundreds of thousands of
others like me throughout Brazil. I am the only woman with the highest vote in
the country, but as a marginalized black trans woman, I come in a very heavy
train, so I do not want to be seen as a parliamentarian, I want them to see
me as Black, Transvestite, Marginal, and from that see others like me. Look
at those who started at the same place I did. Their narratives and stories are
just as legitimate and important as mine. We need to stop living on titles, and
live for real, live reality. Titles are just an achievement in the face of a number
of other issues that are very important.
Rafa da Cruz. What do you have to say about alliances and
intersectionality between cis and trans people? We already know the
limitations that we already see in our alliances. What can we do to
ensure that this is always fruitful and aggrandizing?
EH. I think alliances and intersectionality are something that is not
possible if it is not this way: we do not live in a society that is only trans or
in a society that is only black, only cis, but we know that the whiteness, the
middle class has its own limitations, and we need to place ourselves, unfortunately
again, as the pedagogues of this process, to understand who are these
people that, even while on the other side, understood the gravity of being
comfortable in their privileges, settled in the spaces that were assigned to
them, and begin to awaken their conscience to say: “Wow! I am a privileged
body, and I need to become aware of my privileges, which I was born with, so
that other bodies can move forward.” We don’t want to speak for the movements,
we don’t want to speak for these people, or bring them a distasteful
Christian guilt, that doesn’t change anything. It is about understanding: “OK!
I was born white, I was born cis, I was born rich, there is no way to change
that, like black face, trans fake.” We don’t even want that fiasco like we had
in the past, we want people to understand from the intersectionality and alliances
that it is possible to transform society. If banks leave their comfort zone.
If cisgenerity, whiteness, the middle class look at us with humanity, with the
humility, listening to learn and to really hear what we are talking about, and
they start to know what they do from the privileged places they occupy, so
that we can truly face racism, transphobia, human misery, violation of human
rights. As long as the narcissistic white pact remains, and these groups refuse
to understand that we will only be able to move forward when they leave the
comfort of their privileges, we will remain here.
We were not the ones who built the violence that oppressed us,
we are not the ones who mocked us. We don’t kill ourselves, they do. So
they need to understand that the alliance is urgent because when we leave
this inhumane place, they will also improve, because they may be at the top
of the privilege, but society as it is is not good for anyone. When we fight
from the intersection from alliances, from a real compromise of whiteness, of
the norm, of hegemony, we can move forward in a more equitable, less cruel
society, where everyone fits, because we are not going to kill white people,
we are not going to kill rich people, we just want them to have responsibility,
to understand what they mean, and their ability oppress other bodies. So they
can leave these spaces so that we can move forward, and then we will move
forward together. And then we will have a new and different society.
The intersection is important because we all live here. As long as
they do not hear what we are saying, as long as they do not learn from our
struggles, as long as they do not come out of conformity, of privilege, of the
comfort they are in, we cannot advance alone. I think that is it.
DB. Patrícia, you are an advisor to Érika, a contemporary
Brazilian trans woman, what is your question for the councilor?
Patrícia. I want to raise the agenda that is quite overlooked as I
see, even Érika is married to a trans man, and the erasure of these bodies, for
example bringing a great other reflection on January 29th, which is for transgender
visibility, right? The same as she defines herself, which she created
along with other sisters, is this erasure of trans men, because we are multiple
bodies, each one in its specificities. Why are trans men so silenced?
EH. This point is very serious! When we talk about the trans population,
we are not talking about trans women and transvestites specifically,
exclusively. We are talking about trans women, transvestites, trans men,
non-binary people, and all this mass of social groups that do not fit into cisgenerity,
and that cannot be left behind, because if they are not included in the
trans agenda, if they are not welcomed by transgenerity, they will be forgotten,
swallowed. We need to move ahead of the systematic attempt to erase and
silence trans men, often because of misogyny itself, which had nothing to do
with trans men, because misogyny is hatred towards women. Trans men are
not women. There is a transphobic, shallow, cruel, dehumanizing, de-legitimizing
view of gender identities, and it ends up bumping into this hatred of
that which is ‘”””feminine””” (between a million quotes), because trans men
are not women, but it comes from a biological idea, which is a lie. Biology is
instrumentalized by patriarchy, by the elite to oppress us, to kill us, to silence
us. Chromosomes don’t work like an apple on a tree. Someone went there
and named it XY and XX, the place of man, and the place of woman, which is
very well shaped. And then when these boys, who dare to say that they are
men, in a society shaped by the phallus, by the phallocentric desire, that nasty
phallocentrism that rapes every day, they are singled out. Even because in this
country where 90% of transgender and transvestite women need to prostitute
themselves to survive, these bodies are conditioned to like, to desire, and to
find that pleasure and sex are molded on top of a cock. This is a lie! This is a
poorly told story that keeps patriarchy alive. It keeps violence, feminicide and
the corrective rape against these boys. And we as trans people have a duty:
bring up these identities, talk about those identities, to destroy the patriarchy
and to destroy phallocentrism.
It is about not allowing desire to be centered around a cock, which
is simply a genital organ, there to give pleasure, to pee, to reproduce, but which
can be in the body of man or a woman. We don’t relate to genitals, we relate
to people. This idea of pornography that is thought of by patriarchal cisgender
men needs to be deconstructed so that the trans male identity can emerge.
May they be heard, may they be legitimized, respected, that we
may look at these men and say: “They are as men as any other.” Because
Simone de Beauvoir already said: “One is not born a woman. One is not born
a man. One becomes!” These identities are social constructs, based on the
elements that we have at our disposal. So it’s not a genital that makes you
more man or less man, or more woman, but because the phallocentric patriarchy
it is so rooted and deep in our desire, in our construct, in our pleasure,
in our sex, we end up, I don’t say for myself but by society, perpetuating this
gross phallocentric idea, and placing these identities as not important, as not
valid, as not worthy of lust, of desire, because after all they are not phallus
men, these phallus men who kill us daily. We were taught to be submissive to
them and are conditioned to his desires and pleasures. That is why we have
this systematic erasure of that identity, because patriarchy does not want to
dispute, does not want to lose the place of the phallus, of its power. And I
speak not only as a genital, but as a power structure, speech, and so many
other things that are associated around phallocentrism, and ends up erasing
trans male identities. We have an obligation as activists, as politicians, as trans
people, to not accept this violence that kills, rapes, delegitimizes, oppresses,
that murders these identities that are still building their solidity, as transgender
and transvestite women have been building throughout history.
DB. The fashion you see here today includes many brands of
black and trans designers. We had a moment of occupation of dissident
bodies, understood as a minority, in all spaces, and fashion is undergoing
a great revolution. From this perspective, do you understand
fashion as politics? And what potential do you see in it?
EH. I understand fashion as politics. I think that everything is political
when we propose to bring a message, as we propose to hack spaces.
Fashion for a long time was racist, transphobic, misogynistic, fatphobic. We
started to understand what the occupation of these dissident bodies means
to guide fashion, and to make this intersection brought a new look on fashion,
this new look is also a way of to do politics, because a fashion that brings in
its prints, in its fabrics, that brings in its history and ancestry, that brings a new
take on what is beautiful, what is fashion, what is standard, about what can
be on the catwalks, on the covers of the magazine, so when we see these
trans, Black, LGBT, fat, poor, marginal, feminists, reframing and challenging
traditional fashion, this is a political act. It is giving possibilities for other bodies
to also occupy fashion. Can fashion be for blackness? Can fashion be a space
for women? For the fat body, the body with a disability? Why not? When these
brands say: “It can be and we will do it”, this is politics!