Gael Jardim Interview
A friend of The Centre Gael Jardim, took some time out of his schedule to talk about his upbringing, transition and what it is like living in Brazil as a Trans man.
Gael, could you tell us a little bit about your story?
I was born in 1982, when Brazil was still going through a Military Dictatorship. I come from a family of people who were socialists, so when the dictatorship began, my family had to separate and hide because they were not allowed to have a political view different to the one in power. My mum went to a city different to my uncles and my grandma had to go somewhere else…it was really hard. It's important to explain a little bit about Brazilian history to understand my story because back then my family couldn't draw any attention to themselves, it was really hard to be different at that time.
At home, my mum always tried to give me freedom and that was the best education. But the awareness around the LGBTQIA+ community was non-existent, so at a young age I was taken to psychologists and therapists because of my “behaviour” and how I wanted to exist in the world.
My transition was in stages, although I always said I was a boy since a little kid. As a teenager I understood myself as a lesbian, and it was hard for my family to except that. The prejudice back then was overwhelming. But I was ready to face the consequences of my choices, even though I felt I couldn't fully identify with myself.
After the military government was taken down, with a new and more democratic leadership, the discussions around the LGBTQIA+ started to take place but I still didn't identify with any of the discussions around women, until one day I saw the first trans person on TV. I thought “wait, this is possible?” I understood at that moment that this was what was missing in my life. From then, 5 years ago, I understood myself as Gael and I knew that no matter what, I would be Gael. I started to search for people like me, that were going through the same thing, that I could relate to and create a support system with.
Now I advocate for the community, because there are things that people don't even imagine we struggle with. For example, I have removed my breasts, but haven’t decided yet on the other operation, so right now I am a legally a man that needs to go to the gynaecologist, and my health insurance doesn't want to cover my medical costs regarding this speciality. There are so many little and big things that society is not aware of that effect my community daily.
I have been studying a lot in the past few years about these issues that surround the transgender community worldwide and have been trying to be a person who brings important discussions inside and outside of my own community so that together, we can find new ways of supporting each other. But I also want to be understood for more than my transition. I want to be known for the man, the person I am. Being a trans man does not define me.
How is it for you as a Trans Man to live in Brazil?
Because this current government is not an advocate of diversity, I feel a bit erased. I feel a bit left out. I also feel like Brazil is a country that is still in the very early stages of this conversation. Comparing my journey with other men who are cis, I see that I was interrupted many times along the way. My cis male friends were not questioned as men in job interviews, at friends gatherings, in the way I have been about my identity and for that reason they now have advanced in a way that I wasn’t able to because I had to justify myself every step of the way. It's hard to be a Trans Man in Brazil but I am hopeful about the future.
What are the challenges for the Trans Community in Brazil?
I would say that public spaces are one of the big challenges here. For example, the bathroom, which is a basic human need. We need to be able to feel comfortable going into a restroom. But even when we feel comfortable, sometimes the facilities don't attend our needs. Me as a trans man, can't use urinals, and some male bathrooms only have those, it makes situations very difficult although this should be a very simple matter.
And then there is the point around safety. Who is going to defend us in these public spaces? What are the people in power doing to make us feel safe and protected, not only in those public spaces but everywhere? The physical safety of my community is also a challenge in Brazil.
In a country where there is almost no conversation around the trans awareness, the prejudice and bias is really high. People do not feel the need to hide their aggressiveness towards our people, we are never safe.
We have our rights violated and erased in every class: from the rich to the poor. There is a statistic that shows a lot of transgender people end up having to use their bodies to survive, turning to porn and prostitution because it's where we are expected to be. We are good enough to secretly fulfil people’s sexual desires but we are not good enough to be sitting with them on a working desk. It's sad, but unfortunately true. Especially for trans women.
Another challenge is access to the medication needed for the transition. Sine public health is not prepared to take care of our community, there is a very long waiting list and very limited supply. Trans people end up buying the medication illegally and applying it themselves with no medical supervision, which becomes another health crisis that needs attention and results in psychological damage to a lot of people in the community.
What has been done in Brazil to support your community?
If I think about public measures, we have earned in the past few years (2018/2019) the right to change our name and gender on IDs and other documents but the linguistic part of inclusion is still not excepted, like neutral pronouns.
There is still no approved national law that supports our community, but there have been implicated state measures and decrees to protect us in some scenarios. All still very early stages but I can see the advance in the last ten years. It's very hard to advance in equality when we have a country ruled by religion. There are over 24 projects of law presented by congress trying to forbid our existence in public spaces like public toilets etc.
In the private sector, we see some companies trying to build programs of diversity and inclusion but they are only a few that have the courage to include us in the debate. A lot of small companies still have the fear of losing public credibility but supporting some causes.
If we look at gender affirming surgery, the access on private health care is very expensive but it exists. In the public health system there are only 5 hospitals in the entire country that do this surgery and the waiting list can be up to 15 years, some trans people use all their savings and go into debt to be able to do the surgery in the private sector.
What do you hope/see in the future for the trans community in Brazil?
Some companies are already stepping up to recognise the importance of inclusion but there are still too few. I hope that more companies understand the importance of having us in the workplace, not only to include us but also to expand the experience of their employees, turning them into people that advocate for change.
With regards to the political situation, it's hard to say what the future will be. Right now, the people in power are not interested at all about our needs, but we have an election coming up and what I see in my future will depend on the out of this election. If the current government is re-elected this year, I do not see a bright future for us. Let's hope for the best outcome.