I would like to introduce you to a remarkable young man, relate to his personal transformation and, more importantly, inform you about a very important service that he is now providing. In doing so, I am aware that readers will have very contrasting views on the subject. Transgender and personal identity issues are not easy for anyone.
When people talk about a personal transformation in their lives, they often refer to a spiritual awakening, a religious experience or one of a complete detachment from such concepts. These life-changing experiences are sometimes described with acceptable concepts like being “born again”. Now add sexuality and personal identity to the picture and it starts to get a lot more complicated.
What is it like to be the only gay player in the rugby club or the shy young girl who knows that she is different from her friends and is terrified to talk about it with anyone? What about the people who question their identity to the point that gender becomes meaningless and those who struggle for years trying to find answers and end up feeling suicidal? A feeling that many do not return from. Can any of us really understand what goes through a person’s mind when they realise that they cannot associate with the gender they were born with? How does it feel when your own body simply feels unnatural? For this minority, it feels that the only way forward to live a complete, honest and rewarding life is to change their sex in order to be their authentic self.
There is no one more qualified to talk about the emotional pain that those who are dealing with their sexual orientation go through, the soul searching, the years of therapy or the realities of the physical operations than Andreo Gustavo. Andreo (formerly known as Andreia) is the founder of TransParente, the first Portuguese digital platform for the promotion and respect for sexual and gender diversity inclusion. Having also worked as a consultant at the United Nations, UNICEF and NYHQ (2022), he is currently a communications assistant at GATE – Global Action for Trans Equality. He is becoming an in-demand speaker on the international stage; he has written a book to tell his own story and he is not shy in front of TV cameras.
Andreo first thought that he was different to other kids at around eight years old when he had a profound wish that, one day, a magic fairy would come to turn him into a boy. In his own words, “Whenever I would be more myself, I would get bullied or criticised for looking like a boy. I was having a hard time being social and I would pretend to be more feminine so that people would like me. It had a huge impact on my well-being as I was living a lie every day.”
It was not until Andreo reached 18 and was listening to a guy sharing his own story, that reality hit him hard. After two years in psychotherapy, he began accepting that he was transgender; he started transitioning at the age of 23. He worked with a multidisciplinary team composed of a sexologist, psychologist, psychiatrist and endocrinologist and also found online support groups for other trans people. During the first two years of transitioning, hormonal therapy would be prescribed by a private clinic in Lisbon and he paid for all the sessions and medicines himself. After finding out he would have to wait one more year to have the first surgery through the SNS (National Health Service of Portugal), he decided to do it privately, again at his own expense. Only later did he move the process to the SNS for hormonal therapy and other surgeries.
Understandably, his parents were initially in shock and struggled to understand the differences between their daughter’s gender identity and sexual orientation, but throughout the whole process, they gave all the important support needed to move forward with hormonal procedures. Knowing Andreo very well myself, I have quietly observed a new confidence developing over the years of his personal journey from girl to manhood, and now I witness the strength and commitment of the new person who is emerging triumphant. However, his transformation took on another important dimension when he realised the opportunity to create his own business and to become a point of hope, inspiration and educator for others who face the same dilemma.
Talk about a transformation…
Before I comment on what TransParente is offering, it is clear to me that issues of respect for those who are dealing with their sexual orientation and their inclusion in society relate to us all in some regard. There are parents who can see that their children are in a very dark place and they have no idea where to seek help. There are employers who are completely unaware of their responsibility and their legal obligations towards their trans-gender staff. Many people struggling to find their gender identity feel isolated and ignored and, apart from events like Pride, they see no avenue for having their voices heard. And whatever our personal views may be, their voice is finally being heard. The traditional shape of society is changing as this new force-for-change is challenging the conventional understanding of what relationships and family are and will be in the future.
I could not help but reflect on the relevance of a verse from an iconic Bob Dylan song ‘Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticise what you can’t understand, your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly agin’, please get out of the new one, if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin’.’ And that was back in the sixties!
Reflecting on a recent conversation with Andreo, it became very clear that not only is the subject difficult for all concerned, but it is also very sensitive. When writing this article, I needed to be very careful with the descriptions that I used and words that could be seen as misleading or possibly incorrect. Consider the distinction between “sex” and “gender” and the implications of their meaning when applied to circumstances you might regard as “normal”. Now, explore how far you can get with this concept.
When I took a close look at the TransParente website, I was pleased to find that it is genuinely informative and designed for the purpose of providing information, with portals that include learning, services, employment and other advice. There is far too much information to summarise in one article, but the services available include team-building events, conferences and training sessions on the theme of sexual and gender diversity. You can get support with your active job search and advice on matters like preserving fertility and the safe way to start a gender change process. Perhaps more important still is knowing there is someone around who will listen and know where you are coming from. For others who are looking for support with questions about the process that he went through himself, Andreo advises that “each case should be looked at individually and a personalised plan should be made. After all, trans identities are very diverse. Anyone needing help understanding who they are or seeking to move forward with transitioning will have plenty of organisations and projects like TransParente to help them through.”
Whilst Andreo and all the professional people and entities he is associated with have their battles to fight and issues to raise, I can only remain a silent witness. And from what I see, they have a real battle on their hands in today’s political and social environments to bring about the equality that they stand up for. However, with champions for a cause like Andreo on their side, the changin’ of the times can only be positive for the LGBTQIAP+ community that he represents.
Photos © Bob Tidy