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Rising Like a Phoenix

Rising Like a Phoenix

Makeup artist Jasmine Barragan has had to take care of herself since she was kicked out of home as a teenager. Now, taking PrEP, is just another way of helping herself.


Jasmine Barragan’s life has seen many transitions. Born and raised in Pasadena, California, the now Los Angeles based makeup artist was kicked out of her home at 19, at the time for coming out as a gay man.

A few years later, she came out as a transgender woman and began hormone treatment therapy. Now, the trans Latina activist is sharing her story to help combat PrEP stigma — and she’s holding nothing back.

Even while HIV stigma continues to follow her and the community she longs to protect, Barragan has always been a fighter. Much of that she’s had to learn by herself. The last words her mother said before she left home were, “Whatever you do, don’t hook up with older men because they have HIV.”

“I kind of [had] that in my head,” Barragan reflects. “Older people have HIV. But I was gay and I was proud and I didn't care if they kicked me out. I had to look out for me and make sure that I was always OK.”

According to data from the True Colors Fund, up to 1.6 million youth experience homelessness each year. Forty percent of them identify as LGBT. Thankfully, Barragan says, she was able to secure a job at a restaurant, even though she was “eating crackers and ketchup for a long time because I had no food.”

Her coworkers, she said, “accepted me for who I was though “it was kind of weird for them at first.” But not everything was smooth at the beginning.

“I hated working Sunday nights because that was family days, and I was used to working the weekday shift... Sometimes people would look at me and say, ‘That's a dude’ or something like that. I can just see their words. It would make me want to go to the restroom and cry, or it would just ruin my work day.”

A sensitive but resilient young woman, Barragan wants people to understand that trans people “are humans trying to survive and trying to live what we are, what we feel inside and trying to change people's minds and show that we're just like everyone else.”

She says that too often people mischaracterize trans people as sex objects. “Everywhere I go [men] sexualize everything, or ask me, ‘Hey, do you want to go to the car?’ ‘Hey, do you want a ride?’ It’s just sex, sex, sex, all the time.”

That’s why, she says, it’s important for trans people to find community and a supportive group of friends who share the same experiences as she did. “There are groups and meet-ups and LGBT centers and St. John's [a medical facility in L.A. with a trans health program]. There are so many groups out there that provide help, and those are places where you can find friends who are just like you and who are struggling, literally, just like you.”

Barragan learned through her own friends that trans women are at least three times more likely than the national average to become HIV positive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, 16 percent of Latina trans women are already HIV-positive. Knowing the numbers, she decided to ask a health provider for more information after a friend explained to her that PrEP, a one pill a day treatment for HIV-negative persons, can stop them from contracting the virus.

“Out here in L.A., if you're low income you qualify for low-cost hormones and PrEP and other services,” Barragan says.

Though some PrEP critics continuing to perpetuate the myth that PrEP users are more promiscuous, studies show that’s not reality. Barragan affirms it was never about having lots of sex, for her.

“I don't think I'm super promiscuous… [but] I still want to be taking PrEP,” she says, adding that it’s an extra prevention measure. “Six months ago, I had a relationship and… the condom broke. First time having sex with somebody in a year and a half or something, and the condom breaks. I was super scared… but that type of stuff can happen anytime.”

She adds, “At the end of the day, I'm helping myself. I want to be safe for my future and that's what I'm doing… Girls take their birth control pills. Us LGBTs should consider, all of us, taking PrEP for the [same] reason.”

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David Artavia

David Artavia is the managing editor at The Advocate magazine and Plus magazines, as well as an editor Chill magazine and Follow him on Facebook @TheDavidArtavia and Instagram: @DMArtavia.

David Artavia is the managing editor at The Advocate magazine and Plus magazines, as well as an editor Chill magazine and Follow him on Facebook @TheDavidArtavia and Instagram: @DMArtavia.