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Camila Falcão Is Contributing to a New Perception of Trans Women in Brazil

Terra © Camila Falcão, Abaixa Que É Tiro

Camila Falcão is a photographer and art director based in São Paulo, Brazil. Her photography focuses on documentary and portraiture, with two ongoing photo series: "Abaixa Que é Tiro" and "Onika," documenting transgender women in Brazil, which is regarded as the most dangerous country in the world for transgender women. It was through volunteering at the Centre for Reference in Defense of Diversity in São Paulo that Falcão came into contact with the transgender community. She was enchanted by their various ways of expressing femininity and saw this as an opportunity to contribute to the deconstruction of stereotypes and the construction of a new and more realistic perception of them.

You photograph transgender women in the most transphobic country in the world with the highest murder rates of transgender women, how do you handle that level of responsibility to convey this community in the best way possible?

Unfortunately, trans women and transvestites in Brazil are still very much linked to prostitution and nightlife, so since I started thinking about making this project viable I thought I could collaborate to build a more realistic image of these people by putting them in a domestic environment, photographing them with natural light and showing these bodies in a beautiful and dignified manner, in all their fullness, beauty and diversity. It's very important to me that they are portrayed as they would like to be, historically, this community had their images explored and/or used improperly, so we always decide together how they will be portrayed, they're free to choose what to wear and the makeup they will or not put on, I have some color restrictions to keep the palette and unit of work, but other than that I make it a point that they feel free to be represented as they wish.

Manauara, © Camila Falcão, Abaixa Que É Tiro

Lucy © Camila Falcão, Abaixa Que É Tiro

How has engaging with and photographing the community of trans women you capture shifted your view or perspective of world?

This project has transformed me as a human being and also as a woman, I will always be grateful to this community for having made me to understand more clearly my place as white cisgender woman full of privileges in this society, which made me even more aware of my social obligations and duties, specially as an artist.

You have said that you want the work to invite people to ask themselves whether simply passing as a woman defines being one, have you asked yourself this question and what is your view?

Oh yeah, I did it. The concept of gender still accepted in most societies today comes from the biological binary concept that there are two genders; those born with penises are assigned males at birth and those born with a vagina as females, but we’ve known for some time now, that this biological binary concept is fallacy once there are many intersex people in the world that would never be able to fit in this binarism. This is a rigid concept that benefits patriarchy and capitalism, and those, who still have any sort of resistance or difficulty in relation to this, have the obligation to reconsider, rethink and, mainly, respect, those that have never fit on these boxes, it is not up to me or anyone to judge, agree or disagree when a person with a penis tells me she is a woman, if she feels and thinks as a woman, sees herself as such, and is telling me so, who am I to disagree? As a white cisgender female artist with a certain voice, I’m well aware I can reach people that have never though of this on these terms, and maybe, with my work, I’m be able to touch some of them enough so they would rethink their atavistic concepts.

Onika © Camila Falcão

Audre and Manauara © Camila Falcão, Abaixa Que É Tiro

Apart from the work that you do, what would you like society to know about you as an individual?

Everything I would like people to know about me is said or represented in my work in some way.

What narratives of empowerment do you derive from the work you do? And what do you think are the narratives of empowerment within the community of transgender women you photograph?

Recently I noticed a transvestite friend of mine isn’t hiding her penis all the time anymore like she used to do a couple of years ago, and I noticed that this is a movement among some transvestites, the same with some trans boys that are proud of their vaginas and also for being able to give birth. It’s easy for me to tell my friend to keep up with this and be proud of her female penis, but it’s not me that people look in the face and then down to check my genitals, so they can fit me in a box, but hopefully we’ll hear more and more stories like these. Some things take time to change, it’s hard to be empowered in this society, but some LGBTQ+ people build chains of affections so they rely on each other on those more difficult days, this is a sort of resistance and helps them feel empowered.

Lux © Camila Falcão, Abaixa Que É Tiro

Sophia © Camila Falcão, Abaixa Que É Tiro

Since you started working on your projects AbaixaQue é Tiro and Onika what are some of the positive shifts you have experienced, for yourself and the transgender women you profile?

I’ve noticed some empowerment between them, as I mentioned above, they must resist in some way, but honestly I can’t see any kind of real improvement over this community. My friends continue to suffer verbal and/or physical violence on a daily basis, crises of dysphoria are frequent too, forcing them to lose commitments because sometimes they can’t get out of the house, transphobia also is a very serious problem in Brazil, it not only causes trans people to be often humiliated in common situations such as going to grocery shopping or on public transportation, but it can causes them to lose jobs, the killings continue to happen, often with cruelties, there is no new public policy proposal for improvement for this community at, unfortunately, the reality is still very the same as it was when I started this project a couple of years ago.

What is your deepest hope for the transgender community and all members of the LGBTQ+ community in Brazil?

The degree of social invisibility of trans people in Brazil is so great that there are no official studies (data) that can map this segment across the country in order to promote human rights policies, in the fight against violence, and in the creation of Public Policies to meet the due demands, which are many, this needs to change urgently. Last November we elected a sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic president, but we also had more transgender candidates and more winners too. In São Paulo, for example, two trans state deputies were elected for the first time, Erica Malunguinho and Erika Hilton, the last one on a collective mandate with eight other people, a society doesn’t change overnight, it is essential that there be a growing presence of trans people in positions of power, so they can be represented and, once and for all, have their rights guaranteed as any citizen deserves to have. Being a transvestite in Brazil is above all resistance, but there’s a whole new generation of Brazilian trans women and transvestites fighting for rights, visibility and dignity, and I’m very proud to be an ally.

Interview: Phendu Kuta

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