Be true to yourself. To be yourself is to be free. Be authentic. Go after your dreams. These are popular sayings, designed to inspire and motivate people in the pursuit of happiness. Do they apply to everyone? And, if so, at what cost? What would you sacrifice to be true to yourself? Who would you confront in order to be authentic? What would you do if the majority of the population denied the legitimacy of your dreams? For Gabriela, who just turned twenty-four, these questions are not hypothetical. She lives sacrifice, threats and denial every day—and remains true to herself.
Gabriela, who was born in São Paulo and currently lives in Sorocaba, doesn’t do small talk. She identifies herself as a person who “doesn’t have many social skills. I’m not charismatic or friendly.” After an hour of deep and contemplative conversation with her, with no rude comments or awkward pauses, it became clear that this was not an objective self-evaluation. Gabriela is introspective and she learned early that the best way to deal with prejudice and transphobia is with a certain distance and distrust. “Being pessimistic is good because then I can be pleasantly surprised…especially with people. ”
Why the need for pessimism, especially since she’s simply being true to herself? Because a large portion of the population not only doesn’t accept who she is, but also sees her existence as a threat. “The weight of knowing that a part of the world hates you—not merely dislikes, but actively hates you—is a burden that I don’t know how to live with.” In her daily life, violence, whether verbal or physical, is always possible. Nevertheless, she doesn’t give up. She explains that, “before you assume (your gender), you don’t see a future, you don’t have long-term prospects, you don’t know what you want to be in life, you do nothing, because, in that which you’ve been raised, you don’t seem to want anything. When I started to look towards the future and understand what I wanted to be—I saw a woman. When I dreamed of my appearance, behavior, a vision of me that I was comfortable with—I saw a woman. When I truly understood who I wanted to be—regardless of appearance, hair, clothes, with nothing—it was a woman. I don’t’ know what it was that I saw in that woman, but that was easier for me than the label I’d been given. Even if my way of being a woman is strange and different—I’m not feminine, don’t fit social conventions, I’m nothing that you’d expect—it’s who I’d rather be. ”
Making the decision to be who she really is has had financial and personal consequences. “It’s no use denying that employment is a problem now that I ‘ve transitioned.” Currently, she is self-employed and working on designing t-shirts, but her dream is to get into college and study computer science, ultimately working with game design. This is her primary focus, now that things are calmer with her family. Her mother didn’t kick her out of the house, but due to religious beliefs, had difficulty accepting Gabriela. Only now is her mother able to call Gabriela her daughter.
Gabriela thought that the transition would resolve all her conflicts and the internal anguish that she suffered, but reality hasn’t been so kind. “I’m not passable. People will always know that I’m trans. There are people who, by luck of the draw, can make these aesthetic transitions easily—others not so much. Are all trans women, passable or not, women? They are? Great, but society doesn’t see it that way. You have to really expand the definition of who is a woman to embrace all these people (trans women), which probably won’t happen, or accept that this is another way of being a woman. Because actually, like it or not, it is another way (of being a woman).”
Even with all the difficulties, her transition is the greatest success of her life. She doesn’t see her decision as courageous. For her, it’s simply a matter of life or death. “Even if I “turned back”—because there are people who transition back, for a thousand reasons—I would go back to a place with no future, with no desires, with no substance. Even if I could live a long and prosperous life as a man, I wouldn’t have a single ounce of myself. I would turn into a zombie and probably give up on everything. Sometimes (because of the difficulties) I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth it, but then I realize there is no choice. Now, more than ever, if I lose my true self I won’t be able to live even one more day. “