Mãos de Cura
After seeing and feeling what I saw on how people treated the members of this stellar collective, I’ll start by saying that I’m extremely grateful for the way my parents raised me and the outlook they have on life that heavily influences my mentality. I was definitely born in a liberal~ household so nothing was really pressed on me. I like to think this sense of freedom allowed me to think and express myself how I wanted and made me open-minded to a lot of things. The rules were my own growing up as I grew from a little girl into a woman. My parents let me know there was no right or wrong on how my identity was molding.
I say this because my parents basically raised two boys so to say. I wasn't girly, at all. I hated when my hair was snatched in high ponytails, I didn't wear 'fitted' clothing until I was around 13 years old, and I loved most things little boys would. I guess this is what happens when you have an older brother. My parents didn't freak, they just let me be and that was AWESOME. It seemed like they weren't concerned with my "boyish" ways because they were going to accept me regardless. But then puberty came and so did my feminity.
If there was one thing that was constantly reinforced by my parents, it was the concept of respect especially when it comes to people. I have no right to disrespect anyone unless they’re here acting out then that’s when it can get messy. I also have no right to make anyone feel inferior because who am I? Really. So you can say the act of humility kind of comes along with all that.
As someone who travels quite often, it makes no sense to be judgemental and an asshole. It somewhat defeats the beauty of traveling. So constantly practicing what my parents taught/teach me, I have been able to meet and interact with many incredible people, like the ones here.
I was given the opportunity to work with Mãos de Cura, a collective based in Lisbon that encourages transgender and diverse artists to express themselves freely. Ironically, I met one of their members on the street when I asked to take a portrait and from there, everything just connected. Talk about the circle of life. I was contacted when they were looking for a non-normative photographer to shoot an event they were hosting featuring Alok. I totally recommend everyone heading to see a show.
I'm pretty sure I was contacted because after asking for a portrait of the member I mentioned earlier, she showed me some photos of her performances which were killer. So my reaction of being amazed allowed her to see that I support and respect what she does and the life she lives.
Being that Portugal is quite a conservative, in various aspects, and a religious country, I can see it being difficult to find a non-normative photographer. And I can only imagine life for those who don't follow the norm that society often pressures on a man or woman. I felt this the most in Lisbon out of all the places I've been to in Portugal - I've traveled all throughout.
I noticed the city to be quite structured. It was like there was a xyz rule book people needed to follow which made it seem like everyone was just a copy of one another - literally. I figured that it might be a capital thing so the stakes are high. But man, it was draining and I was just watching. People even dressed the same and once someone wears something a bit flamboyant, be prepared for the stares. I wore a headwrap and it was like I had three heads. I guess the nature and nurture thing really has a big impact. I grew up around one of the liveliest cities, New York City, so you kinda see it all and just flow with it. I even met other people who said the same about Lisbon being a bit stiff so it's not me being a bitch.
Just imagine all these societal structures coming from each angle - it's overwhelming. People couldn't let their shoulders drop for two seconds, I just wanted to shake them. I think that's why when I met the members of this collective, and the few other people I met in the city who didn't give a crap about the society's expectation, I got so excited. I love when people express themselves without giving a shit.
As the members were getting ready for the shoot, I asked a question on the experience of being transgender and one response was "We're monsters". It instantly made my jaw drop. To be honest, I wasn't that surprised but hearing it just made it mindblowing.
We decided to shoot in an area called Barrio Alto, which is known for its mayhem - people party hard and it smells like garbage day and night. Honestly, it's a hot mess but a fun one - most of the time. Due to its large entertainment scene, it's the only place where transgenders are accepted according to one of the members. The ideology of transgenders are always linked to entertainment in this society, from what I heard, so they're only recognized when nightfall comes around and putting on a show. It's like they're not taken seriously because there's no way someone born with a penis can be feminine, or identify with the opposite sex or even non-binary, without it being for fun, and vice-versa. #SarcasmAlert.
Obviously, this is a huge issue for people who are transgender because their life isn't a show.
When we were walking through the street, I felt the laughs and stares. I can feel that people thought the members of Mãos de Cura were a part of some act; on-lookers were even taking photos. It was definitely a different place to be since this type of attention isn't something I face. But what I did love was how the members fought the negative energy with confidence,. flirtation, and strutting down the street - as they should. They even slayed my whole life with their photos.
As a heterosexual woman who blends in with the societal norm, I literally couldn't, nor could I ever, experience the stares or how to take the rude comments. I mean, I do get catcalled but it's not the same. Being in this moment, I realized another aspect of how slow societal progress is when it comes to redefining the concept of gender and sex. Just so you know, the two are completely different. And if you didn't know that, well ... hit ya girl up and I'll teach you something.
During the workshop that Alok (right of photo) lead, they discussed and broke down how these concepts came about and it was interesting to learn about the challenges transgenders face. Funny how it linked back to colonization and everything that came along with it like religion, shocker. Religion most definitely plays a huge role in this man-woman role and how we're supposed to act. #SarcasmAlertPart2
Even from the moment our parents find out our sex when we're in the womb - that's when expectations and normalities are generated. We have no say in who we want to be. Boys are instantly thrown into the blue category while girls have everything pink. And from there on out, it's molding the baby into what society expects it to be. That's when shit gets iffy and the whole concept of whats normal continues.
I'm not here to bash on Portugal because those who know me closely know I freaking love this place. My heart beats so hard just being here. And the United States is all types of messed up so there might be people who read this and be like "girl, take a look at your own country" - don't worry, I know. We have a million more issues.
I just don’t get it. Like sheesh, people honestly can't be their true self and this goes back to my intro on how my parents raised me: respecting people. I didn't give that speech at the beginning for nothing and no, I'm also not here to brag on how dope my parents are - even though that's also true. It's like the whole idea of understanding, respect, and every other decent moral is dismissed. The lack of understanding and wanting to understand is the reason why people are just so ignorant and close-minded. It's stressful to think that people refuse to be understanding on certain topics. How close-minded can you be? We live in a day-and-age where things are changing rapidly so it's best to at least understand.
If you think about it, these issues can somewhat be combated by raising a baby in a gender-neutral household in the first place. Or simply letting them be how my parents were to me. But I'm not here to tell you how to raise a child since I even don't have one.
I'm here to let you see the issues society creates on a global scale that can prevent people from being their truest self. There are even countries that kill those who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community, which is stressful to think about. What the members of Mãos de Cura are doing is dope - bringing awareness of their identity. Not everything is cookie cutter and people need to recognize and come to terms with that.
Since most of these members deconstruct the gender/sex norm, it's even more difficult because they are also of color. But that's another story.