Brazil: Transgender Brazilians Embrace Hit Soap Opera: ‘Now You Can See Us

“Edge of Desire,” a popular prime-time soap opera chronicling the transition of a transgender man, was about to start, and the residents at a shelter seemed oblivious to the sirens wailing outside and the cockroaches navigating a maze of dirty feet and popcorn bowls on the floor.

Gathering nightly to watch the television show in a graffiti-covered living room has become a ritual for the residents at Casa Nem, a refuge in downtown Rio de Janeiro for transgender and gender-nonconforming Brazilians, who view the story of Ivana’s transition to Ivan as the first dignified and nuanced portrayal of people like them in the country’s mainstream media.

“Look, she’s got a cute little beard now!” said Letthycia Siqueira, one of the residents, referring to the Ivan character. “You think they’ll give her a full mustache?

The hit show, which draws about 50 million viewers per night, has also struck a broader chord in Brazil, at a time when gay and transgender issues have become more prominent in the country.

Currently pending before the Brazilian Supreme Court are two closely watched cases viewed by activists as fundamental to transgender rights, one involving a shopping mall’s refusal to offer a transgender woman access to a restroom, and another concerning the requirement of surgery as a necessary condition for the recognition of a person’s identity as transgender.

There have been some notable victories for gay and transgender people in Brazilian courts, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2013 and the recognition of the right to change a person’s name and gender marker on some government-issued identification documents. Recent changes in health care policy also have made it easier for transgender people to get transition-related medical care, such as hormone replacement therapy.

But activists view this progress as tenuous and reversible at a time when conservative politicians and evangelical churches that oppose gay and transgender rights are becoming increasingly influential. Read more via New York Times