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.
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.