Journey into the gender variance of adolescents, writer Geda: “I tell what happens in medical centers” – The interview

A billboard and stylized image of a person with no defined sex or gender. Boys and girls were invited to add details to the drawing with pencils and markers. There are those who shoot a knife in the side, those who shoot a prison bullet and those who leave scars. The result? “A tortured body”. Those who hold these pencils and markers are the adolescents followed by the Varianza di Gendere clinic of the Regina Margherita Children's Hospital in Turin and are the protagonists of one of the many stories collected and told by Fabio Geda in his latest book, Song of myself. A journey into gender diversity, published by Feltrinelli and released on March 5. Born in 1972 and former social services educator, Geda tells his story Open, sharing how this activity of deconstruction and artistic construction is the episode that struck him the most in his journey among adolescents who undergo a process of gender affirmation at the Turin clinic: “I think that this tortured body perfectly reflects their pain. A pain which, in adolescence, is embodied in the body”, comments the writer. There are those who, in addition to the drawing, have written: “The dress does not make the monk, the penis does not the boy.” Then, next to the knife stuck in our side, someone added: “Misgendering.” That is to say the act (intentional or not) of referring to a person with pronouns that do not match their gender identity.

How did he end up at the Regina Margherita in Turin?

“Three years ago, I received a call from Luisa Camurati, the center's art therapist, and she told me that during an activity with the clinic's teenagers, they had used one of my books. Or rather: they destroyed it, deleting pages and erasing words. Then they rebuilt it in their own way. “Do you want to come see him?” » he asked me. I went there, I met the teenagers and the doctors at the center. From there, in a very natural way, a deeper collaboration was born, which also brought me into contact with families. At one point, as a writer, I thought “maybe it's important to add an additional narrative element on the theme of gender variance.”

For who?

“I would like this book to end up in the hands of those who don't know, of those who are not prepared to face gender diversity. You see, many of the families I met at the center told me that they were unprepared before starting a trip with their child. And many have struggled for years to find adequate support, information and resources. A case that struck me, for example, is the story of Sofia, now an adult and outside the center. Her mother told me how Sofia came out in many ways as a trans person from the earliest years of her life. This has always been the case, but they were not culturally prepared to understand it. They consulted specialists for years to understand what was happening to their daughter. And the first time they heard the word “gender dysphoria” was when Sofia was already 14 years old. »

So is there a lack of training for medical staff on the subject?

“There is undoubtedly a major social problem of staff training. I'm talking about doctors, teachers, but also educators. This makes it difficult for families looking for help to find it. And I add that institutions cannot afford it: they must act so that each family that finds itself with a boy, a girl or an adolescent who manifests a form of gender variance knows who to turn to for help. 'help, be listened to and accompanied'.

In the book there are the stories of those we meet, the dialogues we hear, but also his observations: the story seems to be that of a participating observer. What difficulties did you encounter?

“Consider one thing: You are talking to someone who has always suffered from imposter syndrome. From the start, I said to myself: stay out of the story, be a kind of camera that objectively frames what it sees. I didn't want to take up space with my voice. And then I realized it wasn’t working.”

A kind of fear towards adolescents and their history?

“Yes, exactly. When I spoke with the director of the clinic, Dr. Chiara Baietto, I openly expressed my doubts to her: “I don't know if I'm capable, I don't know if I have the right sensitivity”, I kept telling her and telling me. She, however, managed to unblock me by telling me: “You have always worked with adolescents. Start considering them as adolescents.” It is significant that he has already read in me the most banal error that we often risk falling into: classifying them in advance in the category of trans people.”

A common prejudice/fear which, according to you, also guides the media narrative regarding the world of trans people and more generally diversity?

“I think there are two main problems with this: superficiality and ideology. Many of the things we read in the media are highly ideological texts, especially those coming from the reactionary camp and pro-life groups, which often create bogeymen around so-called “gender theory.” This ideological attitude is the first problem. The second is the superficiality with which complex subjects are treated. Sometimes I have seen this world described as a world of people who like to change their gender, have surgeries or dress up. All this exasperates me. Issues such as gender inconsistency require in-depth analysis that cannot be reduced to slogans. Even experts still have difficulty tackling these subjects because they have been neglected for too long, both scientifically and socially. It is important to understand that these questions require time, commitment and an open approach. »

Do you think that politics, in particular the current government, also has a responsibility in this sense?

“I think their behavior is shameful. There is an ideological question which completely pollutes the debate. But I also believe that they act for purely electoral reasons, without worrying about the consequences. It is clear that there is a fierce attack on the LGBTQIA+ community and sometimes psychological terrorism. »

Is this the case of the Careggi center for gender incongruities in Florence, where the government has sent its inspectors?

“Yes, but I also talk about all the language with which the subject is treated. On the subject of puberty-blocking drugs, some had the courage to speak of a “trans child scandal”. When I hear the word children used, I get even angrier. If there is a category truly protected by specialized centers, it is children. »

Speaking of specialized centers: the medical and legal process that trans people must face is particularly long and convoluted. How far have we come from self-determination when it comes to gender?

“I’m not hoping for much. At the same time, when it comes to teenagers, I think it is important for adults to protect and guide them. In the center of Turin, I found great seriousness and professionalism in this sense. Children often want to do everything right away, which is understandable, but at this age you cannot always determine for yourself which is the most appropriate choice, especially from a medical point of view. However, I am convinced that certain bureaucratic aspects need to be streamlined. The Ley Trans in Spain tells us that it is possible, for example, for a person to determine their gender identity themselves on documents: a good example to follow.”

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