QUEER VOICES

Transgender Individuals In Italy Share Stories And Photos

When he first realized that he wasn’t interested in playing with dolls or trying on his mother’s makeup, he was seven years old, dressed in lacy pink clothing and at that time regarded as first of four sisters. Forty years have gone by since then. Four decades full of vacations, love stories, disappointments and hormone therapies. Today Loris is a respected engineer and has fallen crazy in love with Carla.

They are bartenders, supermarket clerks, hairstylists, barbers and office managers. They hold regular jobs, lead ordinary lives and have normal pastimes. What’s more, they refuse to be pigeonholed into typical transgender stereotypes or the common images of transgender people. Their lives changed naturally, through routes that were never easy, but which were rewarded with happy endings. Their stories vary a great deal, but all share the same common denominator: a desire to show people that being transgender is far closer to what people consider “normal” than many people would think -- despite a lack of basic rights.

In order to share perspectives on transgender people in Italy, a new traveling photography exhibit has just opened in Milan. Entitled Il tuo tabù è la mia famiglia (Your Taboo is My Family), the exhibition is supported by ALA Milano Onlus, together with the Casa dei Diritti del Comune di Milano (House of Rights, Milan Municipality). The images were taken by photographer Valeria Abis and capture transgender people at home, in daily life, together with family members with whom they’ve shared -– not without difficulty -– the path that led them to live as their authentic selves.

For some, the path to change was incredibly long and full of suffering. For others, it was far easier than they’d expected, as they themselves admit.

For Sabrina, 34, who grew up in Brianza, finding her true self was an ordeal that began not long after she became an adult. That’s when she left her family, faced with parents unable or unwilling to accept who she is. “I moved to Milan on my own, but I had no idea how to take care of myself. So I started to work as a prostitute.” Her life became an abyss of humiliation and suffering, culminating with drug abuse. When she turned 29, Sabrina decided to reach out and ask for help. After spending a long period in a therapeutic community, she managed to create the kind of life she wanted for herself. Today she works as a hairdresser and has lots of friends. In the photograph published here, she chose to have her picture taken face to face with her mother.

The exhibition was on display during the month of December at the Casa dei Dritti (via De Amicis 10), and from January through the end of the Expo 2015 will be hosted in different municipal buildings around Milan. It was created with the help of Antonia Monopoli, who works at the “trans window” set up by ALA Onlus, an association that provides psychological assistance designed to help transgender people join the workforce. Monopoli also emphasizes Italy’s problems with rights and bureaucracy concerning these members of its society, issues that often make their lives more painful and full of unnecessary obstacles.

  • Antonia Monopoli
    “My procedure finally finished a year ago,” she explained to HuffPost. “Anybody who decides to change their sex has to follow
    Valeria Abis
    “My procedure finally finished a year ago,” she explained to HuffPost. “Anybody who decides to change their sex has to follow a path that includes a period of hormonal and psychological inquiries. Once those tests are finished, they draw up a report that is delivered to the courthouse in your area. Then comes the surgical operation. You can’t initiate the process to change your name at the local registry office until you’ve completed everything else. Once you start at the registry, the process can take an additional five years. In other words, it’s hell.” Problems and complications, as Antonia explains, are the order of the day. “You go to vote and the official at the voting station will order you to go stand in line with the men. When you look for a job, you have to go through a genuine interrogation, an investigation of your life conducted by people working for the employment agencies.” In Antonia’s opinion, Italy needs new laws for gender confirmation surgeries. Especially in the case of children born intersex. “Today,” she explains, “the doctor has to decide what to do right after the child is born. Surgical procedures are almost immediate, with the result that in many cases the newborn is given a sex different than the one he or she will feel comfortable with growing up.” Antonia believes that “the person directly involved should be the one who chooses, and no one else should be allowed to choose for her.”
  • Cori Amenta And Her Companion
    “We’re normal people,” explains Sicilian stylist Cori Amenta, who designs shoes. “Yet most people find it impossible to consi
    Valeria Abis
    “We’re normal people,” explains Sicilian stylist Cori Amenta, who designs shoes. “Yet most people find it impossible to consider us ‘normal.’” Cori, for example, was discriminated against in the workplace. “Before I became a woman I worked as a designer for big fashion companies and major magazines. But when they found out about my sex change, I lost a lot of jobs. Discomfort proved more powerful than talent.” After feeling discouraged for a while, Cori rolled up her sleeves and decided to start a business of her own. “For the past six seasons I’ve been designing a shoe line for oversized people that bears my own name, and I just signed a collaboration agreement with Arcigay Italia: I’ll be donating five euro for every pair of shoes I sell to people who have had an even more difficult time than I’ve experienced.”
  • Melissa With Her Best Friend Matteo
    For Melissa, an office worker originally from Quarto Oggiaro, there were no traumatic experiences, merely a valuable encounte
    Valeria Abis
    For Melissa, an office worker originally from Quarto Oggiaro, there were no traumatic experiences, merely a valuable encounter that changed her life. Her longtime boyfriend Matteo was the first to realize that Melissa simply wasn’t at ease in her body. That marked the start of her transition. Drugs, surgical procedures, counseling and some suffering. Then, finally, a metamorphosis. Today Melissa is happily dating Fabio, but a corner of her heart will always be grateful to Matteo.
  • Loris And Carla
    “Every night,” remembers Loris, “I would pray to Jesus and ask him to make me like the other kids. But in the morning I alway
    Valeria Abis
    “Every night,” remembers Loris, “I would pray to Jesus and ask him to make me like the other kids. But in the morning I always woke up disappointed.” Then he got his first menstrual cycle, dashing his hopes for good. “That day I felt death in my heart. I escaped into dreams. I became increasingly uncomfortable as I grew older, because I looked more and more different from the other males around me. So I spent most of my life trying to pass unobserved, struggling to be invisible.” The decision to live as his authentic self came late, when he was already 40. “That’s when I finally realized that I had to do it in order to survive: I had to adapt my body to my heart and mind.” Thanks to help from the “La Fenice” association, a little over two years later Loris was able to have surgery and obtain new documents certifying his new name and gender. “For me, the most difficult part was telling my parents and my family about the change,” he says to the HuffPost. “And at work, where I’d been for five years. But in the end my fears proved unjustified. I’d finally done something I’d been destined to do for my whole life, and since then everything has been one victory after another.” A year ago Loris met Carla, a a transgender bartender. It was love at first sight. “I feel like I’m a teenager again, like I’m experiencing everything for the first time. To be honest that’s exactly what it’s like, since I was basically born when I was 42 years old.”
  • Cristina And Her Roommate
    Valeria Abis
  • Danila And Her Twin Brother
    Valeria Abis
  • Federico And His Mother
    Valeria Abis

CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece incorrectly located the district of Quarto Oggiaro in Rome. It is in Milan.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.

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