by Rafaela Pacheco Dalbem*

Over the past months, I have been working as a volunteer with an NGO called Transgrupo Marcela Prado (herein TMP), located in Curitiba, Southern part of Brazil. The NGO supports mainly transgender people – but also LGBT in general – helping with housing, employment, STD tests, the process to change their names, and so on.

On March 2016, together with the Psychology Department of Tuiuti University of Parana and Grupo Dignidade, TMP organised preparatory classes for a national exam Brazilian students take if they had not finished the regular high school and/or to help them get into University. These classes are organised by a project called “Tô Passada”, which means “I have passed” but is also a popular slang used to express surprise or disbelief. Preparation for that exam is promoted as the main reason to join the classes, but the project’s main goal goes beyond that. The idea is to attract people who have been pulled away from the educational system by the social prejudice directed at the LGBT community and to get them to realise that formal concepts and contents discussed in the classroom are not that distant from their realities and that they can resume their studies if they want to.

 

By helping with Geography classes, I get to learn so many different stories from my students. One student, in particular, has caught my attention for the hardship she has endured but also for her strength and determination to carry on, so I have asked her permission to translate and publish her testimony.

Image from the film Spirited Away (2001) by Hayao Miyazaki
Below is a testimony Renata wrote on 31 January 2016 (originally in Portuguese). With her permission, I have translated into English, and added a few comments to give some context; those are always in brackets.
“As much as I try to escape reality it always ends catching up with me… As much as I try to pretend that everything is going well, there will always be Sundays when I am walking down the street alone without direction, wondering how things would be good if I had been born into another family. And then it comes up, over and over again. The days when I have mutilated myself because I hated my body. The days of solitude in which my only friends were characters in a noir film. The days when only the idea of going outside have caused me panic. The days of weeping and despair for not being able to do the things I wanted so badly… There comes a time that even the most stoic people can’t stay in silence. The bomb explodes. Now everyone knows. Maybe things will get better. Maybe now I can finish high school and go to college. Maybe now I get out of this. Maybe now I do not need to self-medicate more. Maybe now I don’t need to hide anymore… Well, in a healthy environment where people love you unconditionally no matter what or who you are, maybe that’s what happened.

What I heard: ‘that’s evil! A man cannot dress like a woman. You are a shame to the family, will turn into a hooker! Faggots have no chance in here, and if you come home like that, I will spank you in the face. You are a freak for taking hormone and if you want to do these disgusting things, go away. Here we do not accept this kind of thing…’ And when I realised, everything was twice worse than before. My make-up, clothes, even books that were ‘not holy’ were thrown into the trash. Three months’ worth of the hormones I had bought, trash. Anything they deemed as being girly, trash. They wanted to help me, but before I needed to repent of my sins.
‘God will transform you, cousin…’ – they said.
And the ultimatum came soon after that. ‘You have four days to get a job and go back to being a man… otherwise, you take your things and leave. We love Misael [her birth name] and not this horrible thing there… it’s just unnatural.’

In the meantime, I asked for help to some people on the internet that I knew. I have some of them on the Facebook today, and I can only say that they are amazing people. At that moment, all I needed was to know that I was not alone. Knowing that the mistake was not mine, as I almost believed. My plan: sell all my stuff and find a place to stay. I did not want another kind of help. It was not pride; I just did not want to bother anyone with my problems. I even tried but I could not…

Knowing that I would have to leave, I have left a day before the stipulated with a bag in one hand, and with my giant art book of Spirited Away (which is the book I love most in the world and would not have left behind at that place for anything) on the other. I took the Campo Alegre bus line and went to Capão Raso [a district and also a bus terminal in Curitiba]. I sat on a bench there and cried all afternoon. ‘Where do I go now?’. Some very kind people talked to me… at the end of the day I took Santa Cândida bus line and stopped at Passeio Público. It was past 7 pm, and I was not aware of the bad fame of that area [Passeio Público is the oldest park in Curitiba, and it is known in the city as a spot where prostitutes and pimps hang around]. I sat on a bench; I was cold and afraid of my own shadow. A guy approaches me and asks: how much would you charge me to fuck you? I laughed nervously as if it were no more than a joke. I held the crying the maximum I could and changed the subject… but he was insistent. I only managed to make him stop when I showed a suicide note that I had written in Capão Raso. I collapsed in tears for the second time. He then said he would not do anything that I did not want to. That I should think of God and that life is beautiful and that I should not stay there… He went away, and I ran out. That night I slept under an awning, in downtown. It was by a nursery school, and for some reason the wall was warm. I slept holding my art book. On the second night I was there, a guard on a motorcycle kicked me out with much regret. He said someone had called complaining. I slept on a cobblestone pavement that day. I still did not want to bother anyone. The third day I did not sleep on the street. I will not give details because I do not want to name anyone without permission. Somebody helped me, and I went to a shelter for people on the streets.
It’s been a huge struggle for me. I have been robbed, and half of what I had was taken, I had a panic attack during an interview because I was called by my birth name, I miss my mum (who had nothing to do with my expulsion), I want to do a thousand things, and I end up on Sundays like this. Everything is fighting and more fighting and more fighting… At least I’m alive. Even though I am this sad. I know that this time will pass. And I always have really cool people around me, and who are always worried about me. The most important thing is not to give up!”
After I have read this testimony I wrote to Renata asking her to meet for coffee so we could talk a bit more. I retold her how I remembered her first day in the project when she couldn’t even look up and say her name. She smiled and told me many, many things while giving me suggestions about books and movies that I don’t know yet. Renata is still living in the shelter and has begun to work as a secretary. It has been about three months now. She says that one of the things that hurts her the most is her brother saying that she bothers others too much and plays the victim, which is not true. She will take the national exam next month and also try to get into the university. For now, she will try to get a degree in History so she can follow her true passion: cinema. The thing she says that makes her happy and that she will always want to is to be treated like a person.

Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil, October 2016.

Rafaela Pacheco Dalbem is an elementary school geography teacher in Brazil. She tries to help other projects while getting her second master degree. She can do many things at the same time but seems unable to get her house organised.

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