AFTER I underwent the surgery, I felt a sense of relief. Finally, I was complete — I was the girl I wanted to be,” says Tamara Adrian, who is a well-known LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activist and an elected member of the National Assembly of Venezuela, referring to the sex-change operation she underwent in 2002. At present, Adrian is in Goa, her first time in India, at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) where she attended the world premiere of the movie Tamara on November 24. It is based on her life and is directed by Elia Schneider.
Sporting a dress with floral prints, red-haired Adrian talks about her struggle for identity — the initial fight to come to terms with the fact that though born as a man, she wished to be a woman. This, she says, was followed by the struggle to find acceptance in society. The movie Tamara, inspired by her life, captures her conflicts and struggles with searing honesty.
“In most cases, minority groups are segregated and discriminated against. When you become the face of a fight against such segregation and advocate equal rights, you are entrusted with a huge responsibility,” says Adrian, whose name remains Tomas, her birth name, and gender ‘male’ in official documents — more than a decade after her sex-change. South American countries such as Paraguay and Venezuela don’t allow change of name and gender, irrespective of sex reassignment surgery. “Such changes in identity used to be allowed in Venezuela until Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999 (he ruled as president till 2013). They are still not entertained in Venezuela because of this strange mix of extreme fundamentalist and right-wing conceptions about life and religious participation,” says the 62-year-old, who is Venezuela’s first transgender political figure.
The movie Tamara, made over a period of five years, starts with the return of Teo — the lead character inspired by Adrian — from Paris, after completing his master’s degree in law, when his brother dies in a freak accident. In Venezuela, he struggles to find a job as people judge him by this appearance and choice of clothing. Eventually, he tries to fit himself into the ways of the society — cuts his hair shorter, dresses conservatively, gets married and has two children. In later years, his desire to identify as a woman grows stronger. He starts dressing up more like a woman and undergoes hormonal treatment which, seven years later, culminates in the sex-change operation. In the meantime, Teo is separated from his family and gets divorced. Problems crop up on the job front too when he is faced with the possibility of losing his teaching post at the university.
“Nearly 40 per cent of what you see on the screen is real. Rest, we had to fictionalise to keep the narrative engrossing and avoid any legal complications or backlash,” says Schneider. Tamara, which released in Venezuela on November 4, is running successfully in theatres there. After Goa, the film will travel to festivals in Miami and Santa Barbara, among others.
Much before Adrian formally joined politics, she was an activist fighting for LGBT, women and human rights. According to her, poor people from the transgender community often struggle to get their quota of basic supplies, such as food and medicines. “Ration cards have been replaced by the biometric system. After standing in the queue they are often told that the system does not identify them. As a result, many have to purchase them from black market,” says Adrian, a member of the Popular Will party, which is in the Opposition.
Adrian hopes the film will inspire those belonging to minority groups. “One of the biggest fears you have as a transgender is that you are risking everything — job, family and other relationships. The fact that someone has been able to overcome that becomes an example. There are many transgender youngsters studying at universities. They are graduating, pursing their career and choosing to live life their way. It is changing,” says Adrian.
Interestingly, according to Adrian, sex- change alters the perception of society towards transgender people, as if it brings some sort of normalcy. “People are less reluctant to accept transgender people who change their sex organ. There is a slight but positive difference in perception,” says Adrian.
After being separated from her children for several years, Adrian is once again close to them now. “Earlier, their mother kept them away from me. After they became adults, I met them freely again. Today, in certain ways, they are closer to me than their mother,” says Adrian. Married for the second time for 22 years, she does not wish to disclose her partner’s name. “My wife has a daughter from her previous marriage and together we are a big family,” she says with a beaming smile, “Life is good”.