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"Maria Luiza": the Brazilian transsexual soldier (and the film) who enlisted in the fight against di

Marcelo Díaz's film is a first-person account of Maria Luiza and can be seen online this weekend in Portugal. The director reveals the details, dilemmas and achievements he filmed.


Filipa Teixeira



The story of Mariz Luiza is a “universal story”. Who says it is Marcelo Díaz, director of the documentary “Maria Luiza”, which premiered in November 2020 at the 52nd edition of the Brasilia Festival of Brazilian Cinema and has garnered praise in several national and international shows. We don't need to go far to understand that the 45-year-old director's statement is full of meaning: even in December of last year, Daniel Prates, the first minor to make the gender change in Portugal, complained of discrimination for having been prevented from entering the Army. “Oh yeah?”, Marcelo is surprised, with whom the Observer spoke by video call: “This brings even more freshness to our debut in Portugal”. This premiere is scheduled for 4 pm on February 6, Saturday, on the social networks of the CAAA Center for Art and Architecture Affairs, in Guimarães, being available until 4 pm the following day, and is part of the exhibition cycle “Corpos Não -Normativos” which presents the work Princessinha do Cerrado, by the transvestite artist Hilda de Paulo, in dialogue with Entre a Tensão e o Delírio, by Tales Frey. In this exhibition, the duo residing between Brazil and Portugal questions the standardization of bodies, through socially implicit normative codes, and the way societies deal with dissident bodies, in particular with transsexuality.


And here we return to the universality of the story of Maria Luiza, the first woman to assume transsexuality within the Brazilian Armed Forces: “Telling my own story was a challenge for me, but it was also a great joy”, he says, on the other hand. side of the screen, in his white shirt with large violet floral patterns and petal earrings dangling from his ears. She is the protagonist of the first feature film by Marcelo Díaz, who met Maria Luiza ten years ago, in the modest apartment where the 60-year-old former corporal lives, in Brasília. About that day, when they talked for more than five hours, Marcelo remembers a friendly Maria Luiza, but somewhat reserved in relation to the film: “This idea for the film is interesting, Marcelo, but who is going to play my role?”.


▲During the shooting of the documentary "Maria Luiza"


Maria Luiza overcame her initial shyness and stubbornness that she “wasn't fit for this movie thing”, ending up building, from then on, a relationship of trust with Marcelo: “She opened up in a very intense way, I I was in shock. This had to be made into a movie!”. And turned. During 1h20 we are presented the story of a girl who was born in the body of a boy, José Carlos da Silva, and who every Christmas yearned to receive a doll as a gift. Failing that, he clung to his passion for airplanes – perhaps because he was born on the day of Santos Dumont, patron of Brazilian aviation – inventing aircraft from old tin cans, or sneaking off to the cornfields to braid corncobs. , in their imaginary dolls. "Maria Luiza had to overcome more issues to assert herself within the Armed Forces. All this is a subject that I am very interested in discussing. We are talking about a trans, military, Catholic woman, but we could be talking about other people, other populations", says director Marcelo Díaz. “We who are trans have our identity written in our minds and I have always had this feminine conscience”, he confides in a calm voice, a condition that Gabriel Graça, a professor and psychiatrist at the University of Brasília, also transsexual, describes in the documentary as “pre- verbal”: “The development of gender identity is not just a cultural construction, it has a biological component.”


“Gabriel is a very Catholic person, like Maria Luiza, and very close to her. But unlike Maria Luiza, he was welcomed by the group he worked with”, says Marcelo this time, explaining how he was interested in exploring the counterpoint between the “Academia de grande comprehensión” and the FAB, which considered Maria Luiza unfit and incapable of military life: “The fact of being trans does not put you in a less qualified situation, I would even say the opposite. Maria Luiza had to overcome more issues to assert herself within the Armed Forces. All this is a subject that I am very interested in discussing. We are talking about a trans woman, military, Catholic, but we could be talking about other people, other populations.”


“The pressures culminated in early retirement. It was a huge inconvenience for me.”


Effectively, over the 22 years that Maria Luiza served in the Brazilian Air Force, she was always distinguished with medals and honorable mentions that she still proudly displays on the walls of her home. Her record did not contain any punishment, “she was an exemplary soldier, she did everything correctly and correctly”, mention in the documentary some of her career colleagues, also known by the nickname “Thunder”, earned for having a deep voice. ▲ “I ended up staying in Rio de Janeiro for 13 days” says Maria Luiza, visibly upset in the documentary, revealing that she suffered many threats “of imprisonment and even worse than that” However, Maria Luiza did not want to be “the man she was not” and in 1998, at the age of 40, she gained confidence to communicate her gender identity to her superiors: “There were several reasons that led me to make my decision, a one of which was that I didn't want to make a transition if I didn't do it completely, including the surgical and hormonal issue. I understood myself as a woman and it was around that time that the Federal Council of Medicine in Brazil came out with the resolution to give trans people the right to undergo sexual review surgery. I confess that it was a very focused and safe decision on my part, with great propriety.”



Maria Luiza was married for six years and has a daughter from that relationship.


“The family and personal issue did not interfere in the entire transformation process. I talked to all the people close to me and it was smooth in that sense. What was not easy was the decision not only to remove the men's uniform, but also to not allow me to wear the women's uniform” Maria Luiza's hope was that she would wear the female army uniform, “the one that corresponds to my body, my gender, my sex”, and that the process would be relatively quick. The first medical assessments, at the Núcleo do Hospital da Força Aérea de Brasília, proved to be optimistic, with reports that attested to the corporal's transsexuality, reinforcing her total aptitude to carry out military activities. “But then what prevailed was a matter of prejudice, of discrimination”, accuses Maria Luiza, who was taken to the Higher Health Board of the Central Aeronautical Hospital, in Rio de Janeiro, where she was told that she would only stay for two or three days for a very quick assessment: “Actually, that didn't happen. I ended up staying in Rio de Janeiro for 13 days”, she says visibly upset in the documentary, revealing that she suffered many threats “of imprisonment and even worse than that”: “It was horrible. Pressures culminated in early retirement. It was a huge inconvenience for me.” On May 23, 2020, the Superior Court of Justice recognized that retirement was “totally discriminatory” and that Maria Luiza had the right to career progression, as if she had carried out her activities in the army until the age limit, and that she should receive your reform in full.


20 years in the courts – and a light at the end of the tunnel


Declared unfit for military service, but fit for civilian life, Maria Luiza felt unfairly pushed out of the army, with only half a pension. It was then that he began a legal battle of more than 20 years: “I had the pretension that the judicial decision would be quick, but unfortunately it was not. Every time I had a victory, an appeal was filed in court and that made the process take many years.” Until May 23, 2020 arrived, a date that marks a setback in this battle. On that day, the Superior Court of Justice recognized that retirement was “totally discriminatory” and that Maria Luiza had the right to advance in her career, as if she had carried out her activities in the army until the age limit, and that she should receive the full benefit your reform. For the decision, signed by minister Herman Benjamin, not only contributed the work of lawyer Max Telesca, who is one of the testimonies of the documentary, but also the documentary itself, “which is mentioned in the decision of the Supreme Court”, says Marcelo Díaz, showing himself to be committed to continuing the anti-discrimination fight off the screen: “What we want most is to make a cinema that seeks transformation”. Clinging to this conviction, he launched the #SejaVocê initiative, integrated into the film's official website, and which aims to include trans people in all fields of society: “This is a documentary with a great visual impact and, as such, we are use strategies of dissemination of the work to reach people through different paths. Not just to the people most connected to the LGBT movement, but to society at large as well.”


▲ “There is still a lot to do, but I sincerely believe that these are very important stories for everyone” defends Marcelo


According to the latest Annual Report of Violent Deaths of LGBT in Brazil, developed by Grupo Gay da Bahia and presented in April last year, 329 people, among lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals, had a violent death in Brazil in 2019 by account of sexual orientation or gender identity. In total, there were 297 homicides (90.3%) and 32 suicides (9.7%). In Portugal, the Observatory for Discrimination against LGBTI+ Persons received a total of 171 complaints during 2019 regarding situations of prejudice, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sexual characteristics, real or presumed. , of the victims. Online debates and presentations, partnerships with the National Network of LGBT Public Security Moderators – “a very large group, with more than 30 thousand members, which mainly includes LGBT people from both the Police, the Armed Forces and the Fire Department” – and actions awareness campaigns in churches of different religions and companies, “to promote employment opportunities for the transsexual population”, are on the strategic agenda outlined by Marcelo Díaz and Maria Luiza. “There is still a lot to do, but I sincerely believe that these are very important stories for everyone” defends Marcelo. And Maria Luiza, despite still considering society “transphobic and sexist”, does not throw the towel on the floor: “We are showing that we must be respected and that it is possible to be happy as we are. Today I am what I have always been: a complete woman”.


Since Maria Luiza assumed her transsexuality, other cases have emerged in the Brazilian armed forces. Among them, the example of Major Renata Gracin stands out, the first transsexual officer to earn the right to remain in the Army without having to resort to justice.

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