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Interview realized in 2021. Full version available only on The Queer Talks book. To get updates about its release click here

Ritratto ragazzo con fiore e maschera di argilla

Mira by © Clotidle Petrosino all rights reserved

​​I think it’s very important for all the people out there, transgender or not, to understand that the Trans "condition" is absolutely a personal thing. Gender identity is a purely intimate aspect, and it’s perfectly normal for everyone to have their own way of relating to it. Hence the concept of "path" and/or "transition" is connected. It’s unrealistic to continue to think that all transgender people view medicalization as the only way to live in a totally honest way to themselves.
It is also unreal to continue to consider the medicalization process as a mandatory series of steps that are the same for all (hormones, surgery to change secondary sexual characteristics and gender reassignment surgery). It has to be seen as a collection of single steps people can decide to take, in the order they prefer, if and when they feel like doing it.
Since each experience is different, it deserves the same "validation" as the others.
T* people who consider other T* people to be less valid just because they have a different relationship to their (same) gender identity, are toxic to the community itself, and reflect the kind of discrimination that cisgender people have always had towards us.
People have to live their gender and identity as they feel, in their own way. No one should think that it’s right to judge others’ identity or how they want to live and express it.
That’s how the interview with Mira starts, with a very important consideration on the Trans community, directly from a proud trans boy whose story, at the beginning, wasn’t exactly like a bed of roses.

Tell us something about yourself...

After studying ceramic design for 5 years in a small town called Faenza, I moved to Milan, because I wanted to continue my artistic path. Both of my parents are artists, so we can say that I belong to that world, and I didn't want to leave it. That’s why I started studying fashion. If ceramic is at the top of my chart, fabric is at the second place, in terms of handling it and creating something truly wonderful. I am very interested in pattern making and knitwear – which is also the subject of my thesis -, both by hand and on an industrial level

Art school, then Milan: in which of these two scenarios did your coming out take place?

I came out when I was in high school, in a small town. I can tell you that I was lucky enough, because in my art school there were several kids who belonged to the LGBTQIA + community (as per the stereotype). I have always felt at ease, even though I was the only trans person. When I asked my teachers if they could use the male pronouns while talking to me, they agreed. When I asked a teacher to talk about my coming out to my classmates, at the end of one of her lessons, she thanked me because I felt comfortable doing it in front of her. So far, so good ... then the problems started.

What do you mean?

The changing room issue was not as simple as you can imagine. I asked my male classmates if it would be a problem for them to have me in the male changing room, considering it was the last year of high school. They seemed very calm, and I pointed out that if they said no or felt embarrassed, I would understand. There was no problem for them, so I talked to the teacher. She did not accept my request, and she told me I could get changed in the storeroom. However, after two lessons, I risked being locked inside, because the security door only opened to the outside, and the room was soundproofed, so even if I had asked for help, no one could hear from outside. I would have risked being stuck there the whole weekend, because physical education was the last lesson of the week. That time, when the teacher came to open the door, you could see a strong fear in her eyes, and she said nothing, except: "Next time go to the male changing room".

How did you feel?

I've never been so angry in my life, and I was ready to tell her all sorts of things, but I didn't need to add anything: her expression said everything. It certainly wasn't a good experience, also because the room was tiny, and I sometimes suffer from claustrophobia.
I can say this whole situation helped me understand the big difference between high school and university. In high school you are still young, you don't realize 100% what your student rights are, and you still depend a lot on your parents, so you can't fight these battles alone. I am lucky to have a family being able to accept me, but I didn't want to involve my parents in these things.
The physical education episode was just one of the many that happened to me in high school, and I believe that the most significant one, was the one involving my religion teacher.

Do you want to talk about it?

During my junior year I wanted to come out taking advantage of the final project of the second semester of religion. We had to do research on a certain topic, and I had chosen to talk about the trans world. I was very careful in my search for images, but it seemed that even the most innocent photos, like a child trying on mom's heels, was considered a problem.
My work included a photo gallery of some international activists, who are also quite famous. Seeing a picture of an American FTM (I don’t remember his name), my teacher focused on his jaw. According to the teacher, that person couldn’t be a FTM, but a CIS man: he said it wasn’t possible that a person who was born biologically female, had such a pronounced jaw. After that discussion, I didn't have the courage to come out.
One day, at break, I was with my best friend, the school representative and her girlfriend, and the religion teacher saw us in the hallway and told us that a freshman or sophomore girl was "sound of mind”, because  he asked their classmates to use the masculine pronouns.
The four of us, the queerest students of the school, couldn't believe what he was saying: first, because he was violating the privacy of one of his students, second because he made wrong judgments. I would never be able to answer him, I tried not to think about his words, and I just wanted to focus on everything he was saying, to report it to the principal. My friends tried to make him think that it wasn't a mental illness, but he pulled out the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to try to prove us wrong. By chance he immediately found the related page, and read it to us. He also made the joke about bisexuality, which he obviously considered a disease.
When we went to the Principal's office, we were told that the school could not do anything, because the religion teachers are chosen by the Curia. We were very angry, then all the other teachers wrote a letter of complaint reporting several of his misconduct. At that point the Curia sent him away... but he transferred him to middle school. He would certainly have done more damage there than in high school, so I considered the transfer a defeat: in high school we had a few more chances to defend ourselves, not to mention that in my art school we students supported each other a lot.

Did the situation change after high school?

When I had to choose the university, I asked the universities if they had activated the "career alias". It provides for a different identity linked to the personal identity – valid only within the University -, to allow the student in gender transition to be able to attend classes in an inclusive way. The Polytechnic University of Milan hadn’t activated it yet, but thanks to my request, they did it the following year.
This is an example to make you understand how the university system helps you more than the high school one, and I think it’s wrong, since you are more fragile and you need more help when you are in secondary school.
I was lucky to enroll at the New Academy of Fine Arts where there had already been, before me, many transgender students, so my professors were prepared.

Immagine di un ragazzo vicino ad un albero al parco

"People have to live their gender and identity as they feel, in their own way"

Since you mentioned your coming out, was it spontaneous or forced? 
Your coming out was spontaneous or forced?

The first time I went to the MIT center (Transgender Identity Movement, an Italian NGO), I was underage, so my mother had to go with me. My parents are divorced, so after this first step, I had to come out to my father, because I needed his signature to start the psychological therapy. The costs were very high because I wasn’t 18 yet, and as soon as the interview was over, my mother did not have the courage to tell me that we couldn’t afford it. I reassured her immediately, warning her that I would never allow her to spend that amount.
Coming out to my father and grandmother, made me realize they didn’t know much about it: they were used to see adult trans people, not teenagers. My father told me if I could make the transition only at 30, because he believed that was the age at which it could be done. You know, the age when you are mature and responsible, and able to make certain such important decisions.
Over the years I realized that there are a lot of transgender teens, and I'm glad I came out when I was young, so I could help them. They were used to seeing transgender adults, so they also wondered if their feelings were ok, at their age. They didn't hear about other transgender children, at least not in Italy, unfortunately. We read and heard about young trans-American or British activists, but unfortunately none in our country.
Even in the centers, as far as underaged are concerned, the matter is quite delicate, perhaps because they must protect themselves. But the very fact that I needed the signature of both parents led me to a forced coming out, when instead they should have helped me in a different way, to get me ready to do so.
After my experience at MIT center, I started a different psychological therapy, but I continued to go to Bologna to attend the trans group, a beautiful reality born from several transgender and non-binary people. Then I moved to Milan and approached the ALA association (an Italian NGO which deals with health protection, social inclusion, fight against discrimination and cooperation), which suggested me to go a public hospital, the Niguarda, but after seeing the waiting list, I didn’t feel like doing it anymore. Today I can say I have started a private therapy in thanks to the ALA and ACET association.

It's obvious there is a big difference between the activism in a Catholic town and in a big city like Milan.

I started activism during the last years of high school and I can tell you that I tried to do all in my power. I was living in a small town, and I founded an LGBTQIA + reality with a friend of mine, offering workshops in schools and a series of weekly meetings at the office that we had provided free of charge.
We also collaborated with the Drug Addiction Service (SerT), the public service for Addiction of the Italian Health System, and a month before my graduation I risked the expulsion because I was giving free condoms to other students. After 8 months of activity, we were contacted by the secretary of the national Arcigay (an Italian NGO), who was a speaker during one of our meetings and asked us to collaborate with the Arcigay of our area, Ravenna, which however was practically dead.
In Milan I approached Arcigay Milano and I realized that in the small city you face the "enemy" every day, and you have a fire inside that pushes you to do more and more to get the rights that everyone deserves. Activists have the same emotional charge as you in wanting to achieve the same goals and objectives as you, and therefore you have a stronger drive than you can get by doing activism in a metropolis. There, in fact, despite the episodes of homophobia and transphobia, it seems to live in a separate reality. I think the real difference is in how much you want to push certain projects: in small towns it is easier to propose even bigger ideas and you have the opportunity to meet the Mayor and explain certain problems. In big cities, however, if an initiative is approved, there is a bit of fear of proposing a larger one, fearing that the commission could take a step back. Furthermore, to ask for an appointment with the Mayor, it can take months, so everything is more complicated at the bureaucratic level.

What can you tell us about gender stereotypes and expectations of trans people from the heteronormal and non-heteronormative worlds?

I can start by telling you one of my frustrations: if I, as a trans person, will ever decide to wear female clothes, I would lose any validity of mine as a man - due to the fact that I am AFAB (Female Assigned At Birth), compared to a CIS man who wears my same female clothes. Trans people feel they have to follow, or rather chase, a certain gender stereotype to satisfy society, to try as much as possible to appear like any CIS person.
I happened to not be considered "valid" by other people in the LGBTQIA + community because I wasn’t super masculine, I didn’t wear certain clothes or because of my gestures. This is definitely one of the areas I want to focus more in the near future, because it's okay if a non-transgender drag queen or drag king wears those clothes, while it's still not totally accepted that a trans person wants to play a little bit more with the gender role.

We talked about transphobia in society. How is it experienced within the community?

I think it’s well known that our community is not perfect, and that we also have our prejudices, particularly with whom we consider the most privileged, namely gay CIS men. In my town we were all included in the “gay” category, so if you were angry with one, you were angry with everyone. Instead, in Milan, there are so many realities, so if a gay person goes here, he feels satisfied and well, but at the same time they’ve a bit of internalized homophobia/transphobia. In Milan you often hear: “Yes, I'm gay, but don't put me on the same level as trans people”.
I happened to hear myself say “compliments” such as “You are trans, how brave you are”; later, I found out these people were going around saying that I was not a trans person, but only a lesbian. Such episodes, unfortunately, have happened to me many times. There was even a professor who said something like that to my closest friends while I was taking the bus to go home. They couldn’t answer in a proper way, and when they told me what happened, they apologized for not being able to reiterate the concept with so much effort. But I understand them, not everyone is ready to react that way.
It also happened to me when I received compliments such as: "You are very beautiful girl", and I answered by coming out: "Thank you, but actually I am a "beautiful guy", I am a transgender person". They immediately asked me how long I’ve been a trans person, since I hadn’t taken the hormones yet, so I had to explain that the transition, on a medical level, is not exactly mandatory. My answer made me look like a second-class trans person at their eyes.

Speaking of hormones, can you tell us more about microdosing?

More and more Gender Clinics in Italy are acquiring the microdosing procedure, which does not change the "steps" of the transition of a transgender person. In fact, when you get to the step of the interview with the endocrinologist, you talk about this preference you want to have. There is a group of trans people in Florence that I personally find very inspiring: they are people who live their identity in a unique and beautiful way, and recently they made me discover many things, such as the possibility of microdosing.

Project and Photography by Clotilde Petrosino

Interview by Clotilde Petrosino & Krizia Ribotta Giraudo

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