The story of 23-year-old Malena Salomé Iglesias is entirely ordinary. Born in the small town of Huanguelén, she began police officer training in 2015, “inspired” by the police officers of her youth. After a stint in the local police station, where she worked on issues relating to gender policy, and a summer spent patrolling the beaches of Buenos Aires province, she was transferred to La Plata, where she eventually began working in security. A familiar story of passion become reality, it would seem: “I want to be a police officer for the rest of my life,” she says.
There is one detail, however, that makes Malena’s story completely extraordinary. Malena is a trans woman, the first ever to be incorporated into the Buenos Aires Province Police Force, or “La Bonaerenese.”
This is no mean feat. The Bonaerense is the biggest police force in Argentina, comprised of some 80,000 officers patrolling a huge swathe of territory that is home to more than 16 million people, or a third of all Argentines. Malena is the first and only trans woman to be incorporated into the force.
The incorporation of a trans woman is particularly significant considering how, for many trans women, the Buenos Aires police force is synonymous with repression and violence. Historically, trans women have been subject to frequent beatings and demands for bribery by law enforcement. They have also been incarcerated and disappeared in large numbers. That Malena has managed to overcome the odds and take on a uniform traditionally symbolic of trans oppression is, therefore, more than just a personal achievement.
Malena’s inclusion would also appear to coincide with a more progressive kind of law enforcement (though at the behest of a court). In September, she was involved in a unique anti-narcotics operation in La Plata, the capital city of Buenos Aires Province, which involved publicly searching trans sex workers involved in drug trafficking using a special screen that blocked out the view of passers by. A previous attempt at confiscating drugs from the woman without the screen had been deemed “humiliating in the extreme” by a court.
Malena was charged with confiscating drugs from the women. “I did my job, which I love, and I did it well,” she said.
Malena’s pathway also represents an alternative to what is often an inexorable reality for many trans women: sex work. Faced with severe discrimination and marginalization, an overwhelming majority are forced into the uncertainty and danger of street prostitution. Drugs and crime often follow quickly, and according to one study, the average life expectancy for a trans woman in Argentina is 35 years.
In an interview, Malena pointed out that she’s living proof of how “there’s another way of life and many ways out. It’s not necessary to end up there.”