El Jardin de las Mariposas (Butterfly Garden): Fijuana’s LGBQT+ refuge

The founder stood in her living room now converted into a conference room lined with mismatched chairs. Their center is the only of its kind in Tijuana, Baja California. The family home was converted into a rehab center for transgender women, offering housing, workshops and transportation for rehabilitative pharmaceuticals. The rehab center is funded by private donors, a majority of funds coming from previous patients who contribute on a month to month basis with their pay-it-forward mission. The idea for El Jardin de las Mariposas was founded after her son came out as a queer male. She was then introduced into the stories and what she described as injustices against the LGBTQ+ community. 

The women I met during my visit had come directly from La Zona de Tolerancia. Sex work in the district allowed them to keep up their addiction; their addiction helped them keep up stamina for their labor.

Kenia had been delivered to the center almost unconscious and beaten from a recent homophobic attack.  Ernesto had suffered an close-overdose and decided to check herself in. They had both checked in and out over 3 times in the past. Other women in the room chose to remain anonymous.

“Ernesto is most likely going to run away soon,” said the founder as she looked at her youngest intern. “She always comes back though; we are here for her when she comes back.”

Some of women interned at the Jardin de Mariposas, translated “butterly garden”,  found it amusing to share details about their most unconventional consumers. “During the day, priests will shame us for our work, but at night they come out seeking our services,” said a mariposa.

 Along with religious figures, the Tijuananese law enforcement is allegedly involved according to several mariposas.  “The police extort us offering protection as we are often abused,” said a mariposa.  “They are also some of our regulars.”One mariposa described their partnership in detail, “I would let them  know when I had a new client, it was timed out perfectly, I would get paid then the officer would show up and extort them for money.”As they described, hiring a transgender woman for sex work was done with within very secretive measures. This inclined extorted consumers to pay off the officers in return of their silence.

Our visit to a rehabilitation center gave us the opportunity to learn about the life, tragedy, and battles suffered by transgender women in La Zona de Tolerancia.

Ernesto acts as his own boss, and prides himself on not working under a pimp. This is common for the transgender community in La Zona Norte, as they are working within the shadows of the zone. However, their underground work exposes them to insecurity and criminal behavior.

 Ernesto connected with her clients through her social network and online platforms. Once she established a clientele, the underground network offered protection, but she declined their offers.

  “I only work for myself,” she said.

  Unlike women in the Vanguardia de Mujeres Libres Maria Magdalena , the women at the Mariposa rehabilitation center were not afraid to give us the details about clientele, drug use, and numbers of exercises a day. Ernesto boasted stories about his previous life, an adventurous lifestyle that he missed.

On the other hand, Kenia had a violent testimony. She was on the verge of death, and in result was committed to overcome her addiction. Part of the rehabilitative process at the center is getting a job and contributing a percentage for their living expenses. She however learned that getting a job as a transgender woman in Tijuana was almost impossible. Kenia emotionally talked about having to cut her hair and dress like a boy in order to enter the workforce. This was one of the hardest things for her.

After a couple moments of silence, Kenia wiped her tears and seemed positive, “My goal is to get better and go back to performing.”

All the women I met were HIV positive. The founder explained  La Zona Norte’s epidemics have spread to other ends of the city. HIV has escalated along with drug addiction within the transgender community in La Zona de Tolerancia.

The director of the rehabilitation center tells us about the crisis that the city of Tijuana. According to her, the risks have not been taking into consideration by the city.

An HIV positive person has to travel about twenty miles out of the city for AIDS or HIV treatment. One of our services is helping mariposas travel out there in order to stay alive. The center shares a van, which had recently broken down and needed repairs, she added.

“For a city with high levels of people infected with HIV, one treatment center is obviously not enough,” she said.


  Entre las mujeres en el mundo del trabajo sexual, también se encuentran las mujeres transgenero de la Coahuila. Nuestra visita a un centro de rehabilitación nos dio la oportunidad de aprender sobre la vida, tragedia y batallas que sufren las mujeres trangenero en general al igual a las que se dedican en trabajar en la Zona Norte. Para estas mujeres en específico, el trabajo y dinero que les brindaba la zona norte y diversidad en clientela era para favorecer el mundo de alto consumo de droga en cuyas ellas vivían. 

  Por la mayoría las mujeres transgénero que conocimos no estaban controladas. Ernesto, nos platicaba con emoción, sobre su introducción al mundo del trabajo sexual.  Como su propio jefe, él se conectaba con sus clientes por uso de las redes sociales. Después de un tiempo con este tipo de negocio fue cuando se presentaron un grupo de padrotes ofreciéndole protección. Otras implicaciones se prestaron al momento de ligarse con un padrote, las mujeres ya entraban a un mundo del crimen organizado en donde contribuyan a asaltos y violencia en contra de sus clientes. Esto en un triángulo incluyéndolas a ellas como la cara e introducción, después a la policía como protección y a los padrotes como los negociantes.

  Diferente a las María Magdalenas, las mujeres del centro de rehabilitación Mariposa, no temían darnos los detalles en cuestiones de su clientela, consumo de droga, y números de ejercicios al día. Note que al platicarnos la directora del centro de rehabilitación se decepcionaba, Ernesto platicaba sobre su vida anterior como una aventura que extrañaba.  Aunque mis deseos son los contrarios, por su forma de platicar sobre su adicción y su vida como trabajadora sexual, presiento que Ernesto tal vez no esté lista para terminar su rehabilitación.

  Kenia tenía una historia más violenta. Después de varias veces de internarse y volver a salir a la zona norte, ella había regresado a el centro en resultado de recibir una gran golpiza. Por cuestiones de estar a punto de la muerte, Kenia se veía más determinada en recuperarse y poner un alto a su adicción. El golpe mas fuerte para Kenia era el tener que vestirse de niño en su esfuerzo para encontrar trabajo y seguir adelante.


  Parece ser que la Zona Norte y sus problemas se han extendido a otros extremos de la ciudad.  La Zona Norte no solo se revela como un centro para entretenimiento sexual pero al igual como el centro de la actividad criminalizada.

  Otra implicación que se puede relacionar con la zona norte es el tema del VIH, cuyo se transcurre con el índice de adicción y alto uso de droga al igual a corrupción entre el trabajo sexual.  La directora del centro de rehabilitación nos comenta sobre la crisis que la ciudad de Tijuana sufre, ya que no se le ha tomado en cuenta los riesgos y altos niveles de contaminación.

  Para el tratamiento de VIH o SIDA, una persona tiene que viajar lo que ella describe como veinte millas afuera de la ciudad. Para una ciudad con altos niveles de personas infectadas con el VIH, un centro de tratamiento no es lo suficiente. 

  Las personas que se han hundido en el mundo clandestino de las drogas y crimen se han dejado en el olvido y sobreviviendo de lo que es hoy en día la  Zona Norte.