How do you tell your world famous father that you’re about to change genders? And that you’re famous too, as a high-fashion model? What if he, despite fame and fortune as a soccer player, remains private and very much in touch with his poor, deeply devout upbringing?
Meet Lea T, who had to go through all of that to become the world’s possible first transgender supermodel. While her father, Brazilian great Toninho Cerezo, reportedly wishes it all would just go away, that’s not an option. Not now that Lea is well on her way to a high-profile, full-fledged fashion career, on international runaways and magazine covers.
And absolutely not now that she’s become a symbol for transsexuals the world over. To counter the pull of her family’s Catholic roots, it helped she grew up in Italy. But never doubt for a minute the hardships she may’ve had to endure before her sexual identity, and a body to go with, were finally in synch with her own sense of purpose in life.
It also helps that her face is worlds away from being merely pretty. Tall and thin and wearing the signature aloofness that seems to be required to be a supermodel, Lea‘s already attracting the attention of high-fashion publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair. And the fat checks that come with it. Deservedly so, say transgender organizations, fashionistas of all stripes and her friends in Belo Horizonte, her city of birth.
So what if there’s a certain level of exploitation of her by the fashion industry, always on the lookout for shock value and maximum impact from its high-paid laborers? Critics are already rehashing
the tiresome discussion that arose when the first African supermodels were prep for mass consumption, a few years back, questioning their ascendancy to fame and fortune for being disassociated from the poverty and social inequity from where most were coming from. As if origin is destiny or something to that effect. Yawn.
That discussion went nowhere and, as it happens with any profession, some make it to the top, and some don’t, regardless of their port of call. It’s still possible that Lea‘s example may bring to the fore important social issues related to sexual identity, social leap-frogging and so many others that would be too unfair to expect her to respond and articulate, since she’s seems already understandably busy with her own life.
In the case of Lea, there’s also her choice of having a gender-reassignment surgery, with all the complications that it issues. Not the least of it, the natural but almost always misguided curiosity people have about it, which often get them to step with absolute lack of self-awareness onto privacy territory.
But enough of preaching and let’s take a moment to be awed by this person who, from a very young age, was already waging a few serious battles. And who may be now ready for her close up. She hasn’t won any lottery, mind you; au contraire, she’s worked hard to earn the right to make a living on her own terms. So for that, and for others who feel vindicated just for what she is, all the power to her on the runaways to better times.
(*) Originally published on 12/31/2010.