“Across ocean and gender: discovering the unknown” by Vladimir Luxuria

Yesterday at the Auditorium del Duomo in via Cerretani in Florence Vladimir Luxuria has held a lecture being invited by the American University of Florence on occasion of the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of Amerigo Vespucci’s death.

Vladimir Luxuria has caught this occasion to create a parallel between Vespucci’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean to discover new lands and transgender people’s transition towards the goal of becoming what they have always felt to be.

Here is the full text of the lecture of Vladimir Luxuria who, for those who don’t know, has taken a degree in Foreign languages in Rome.

In the ancient world the Pillars of Hercules were considered to be the extreme border of the civilized world, they were imagined to be placed at the Straits of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Pillars are a metaphor for the limit of knowledge, the border where there is no longer our security to take everything under the control of our mind. It can be dangerous to dare the unknown, to put at risk the traditional way things have been seen, studied and defined. When Ulysses decided to sail across the Pillars he had many difficulties, he passed the border and “trespassed” all the warnings and prohibitions. Dante sees Ulysses in Hell’s Canto 26 punished for  his desire to follow virtue and knowledge(per seguir virtude e canoscenza): the very moment he thought to see something his ship is struck by a violent storm and sinks in the deep ocean. This is the danger to brake the rules, to defy nature and the “status quo”, the system.

Five hundreds years ago died Amerigo Vespucci, the hero who gave America its name, the one who dared to follow Columbus’ courage to see more, what he called “Mundus Novus”, the New World: Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Florida, Brazil and a lot more. The voyages to discover new lands were financed by Spain and Portugal hoping to find richness and gold. The catholic church tried to convince the indigenous populations to become Christians, often without the instrument of persuasion: they killed men, women and children setting entire villages to fire, destroying their culture and tradition. In particular conquistadores reported the sexual behaviour of the people they met: homosexuality was not a taboo as in the “civilized” Europe and there were a lot of transgender people accepted and respected in society. Vasco Nunez de Balboa killed these sinners with fire or assaulting them with his big dogs. The New World had to be converted and normalized to forced heterosexuality, straight rules not to be broken. Europe was guided by the presumption to be culturally superior, anything different to European religion and sexual rules had to be banned in a violent way.

To desire to know is a natural human tendency. Men and women have endlessly tried to get a better quality of life, “the pursuit of happiness” as stated in the American Constitution. People moved to one place to another to find water or food, to flee from dry land to fertile ground, to escape from famine and war, from dictatorship and violence to democracy, freedom and peace. Vespucci was lead by human desire to discover the “fourth part of the globe”, his commissioners by greed. People have gone from one nation to another, from one continent to another, humanity doesn’t keep still, we are part of the eternal change of the universe, even mountains change with collapses, erosions and earthquakes.

Our search for a better life does not concern only the physical, social and cultural  environment, it may have to do with something more intimate and personal, our body. Is it just a covering? Is it a burden? WE just know that our body is what makes us alive.

We can interfere with our body trying to change it, to cure it, to correct, to transform it because we get sick, because we consider it ugly, too fat or too slim or just because we consider it as something sexually not belonging to us. People who were born as male and feel themselves as female or the other way round.

We call ourselves transgender, people transitioning from one gender to another. We trespass our Pillars of Hercules, the border of the security of the binary division man/woman.

When we decide to make our long journey we dare religious and social rules, trying to reach our promised land, the Eldorado of the gender we feel more comfortable with. The journey can be dangerous, it depends where we live, the social and familiar contest: our ship may shake with violence, contempt, discrimination, abuses and mockeries but we keep going on.

I admire the courage of explorers such as Vespucci, those who put at risk their life and the fleet’s life to follow their conviction that the world is wider than the one they knew. It’s the same natural wish of astronauts on the Moon first and then on Mars.

It’s the courage of all transgender people who know that the body they were born with can’t be considered as a narrow place never to be abandoned.