The Experience of a Trans Man Living on the Outskirts of Rio de Janeiro

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This article is part of the ongoing series Challenges of Living in Magé.

Fifty years after the Stonewall Uprising, the LGBTQI+ community continues to face countless challenges. The lives of gay and trans people in Brazil are made more difficult by a lack of legal protection and discussion around societal diversity in general. Nicolas Carmo, or Nico, a 24-year-old trans man from Ceará state, in Brazil’s Northeast, now lives in the city Magé, in Greater Rio de Janeiro’s Baixada Fluminense region. Here, he describes some of the challenges he faces every day.

Nico had always known he was different. At the age of 16, he began to identify as a lesbian woman, as he hadn’t heard the term “transgender.” He decided it was time to start transitioning only last year (2018), after learning of Tarso Brant, the trans actor who inspired the character of Ivana/Ivan in TV Globo’s soap opera A Força do Querer (The Edge of Desire). The transition process is a very important step: it’s often during this phase that trans people begin hormone treatment to change their bodies.

Nico’s transition has not been easy and continues to be a major problem for him. Since he doesn’t have a formal job, Nico had to begin transition procedures through Brazil’s Unified Health System (SUS). Atop a lack of technical capacity and equipment necessary for trans people at Magé’s SUS units, Nico relates facing other difficulties that have now become part of his day-to-day reality. For example, while sitting in the waiting room for a consultation, he is used to hearing people say that his condition is “the devil’s work,” or that the healthcare system shouldn’t be serving “people like him.” Nico, with his gentle voice and sensitivity, doesn’t argue. “After all, I’m not going to change people’s minds, am I?”

The hormone treatment is a very delicate process, requiring visits to an endocrinologist every two months. These are especially important in the first year of treatment, which can only begin after a series of tests. Without proper medical supervision, taking medication to alter the body can cause serious health problems. For trans men, hormone treatment can increase the chances of hypertension, thrombosis, elevated cholesterol levels, and heart attack.

But not all transgender people have access to medical care. Sadly, people who don’t have the means to pay for private healthcare must rely solely on public healthcare centers and hospitals and, in many cases, give up trying to access public healthcare due to long waiting lists. This was the case for Nico, who had been directed to restart his treatment four separate times and grew tired of having to retake required exams. He gave up and decided to buy the medication he needed without a doctor’s prescription. When he has a question about his reactions to the medication, he asks for help from a friend who works in healthcare. Since the treatment process is constantly being interrupted, either because of a lack of prescriptions to buy the medication or because he runs out of money, Nico’s voice still hasn’t reached the tone he hopes for.

Nico, who has lived in the Baixada Fluminense for the last five years, moved to Rio de Janeiro in search of freedom of expression, since being transgender is not something that is accepted in his hometown of Coreaú, a town of just over 20,000 inhabitants in the Northeast state of Ceará. He has found, however, that the problems he faced in Coreaú are the same in the Baixada. “Back there [being trans] was like being from another planet. I came to Rio hoping to show my true self. But Magé is very similar to my hometown. When I went to the health center to talk about getting a mastectomy, they said that only people who have had breast cancer can have the surgery. The service was terrible.”

In order to fulfill his desire for freedom and autonomy, Nico went to court to change his name. Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that trans people can change their gender identity without having undergone gender reassignment surgery. This decision has created a precedent for trans people to have this right, even though no law has been passed on the subject. A proposed bill to support transgender rights (Bill 5002/2013) named the João Nery Bill, was held up in Congress for six years and eventually archived in January 2019. The bill, named after Nery, a writer and the first transgender man to undergo sex change surgery in Brazil, would have addressed the rights of transgender people to change their gender identity without going through the courts. Since Jean Wyllys, the federal deputy who authored the bill, has resigned from Congress and is currently living in exile in response to death threats, it is unlikely the bill will be revived any time soon.

Another important factor in trans people’s search for autonomy is access to the labor market. When he started to transition, Nico was fired from his job as a shop assistant at a stationery store, the only formal job he’d ever had. He had worked there for two years and is still trying to understand the reason for his dismissal. “I’m sure it was because of prejudice against me. They want their shop assistants to wear makeup to work.” Nico currently has a few temporary jobs as a DJ, body piercer, and photographer. He wants to go back to high school (he’s currently studying in a fast-track program) in order to get a job and continue the search to fulfill his dream of getting a mastectomy. Currently, he uses a breast binder meant for trans men who are transitioning; it’s tight and leaves him without breath. Using the binder also keeps him from accepting invitations to go to the beach or other places where he would have to take off his shirt.

Nico shares his life with his partner Gabriela, 21, and says that being trans is not a challenge. “For me, being trans is having the freedom to express myself. The real challenge is getting what I need to be who I am. All the medical appointments, tests, everything that needs to be done.” When asked about the future, he says he would like to help other people and participate in groups and activities to support trans people who still don’t know how to take on their new lives with their real gender identities.

This article is part of the ongoing series Challenges of Living in Magé.

Thábara Garcia is a resident of Magé, a teacher, and a member of the Roda de Mulheres da Baixada collective.