An interview with Marcelo Díaz
The history of Maria Luiza: a transsexual military soldier in the Brazilian armed forces
The documentary directed by Marcelo Díaz, with Diazul de Cinema’s production, portraits the history of Maria Luiza, a non-commissioned officer of Brazilian armed forces for 22 years and retired for disablement, after assuming herself as a transsexual. The movie addresses the conflicts, disappointments and achievements by the corporal in her process of the search for identity as transsexual. It investigates the reasons why she was prohibited of exercise her military activities as aviation mechanics and accomplish her dream: to dress a feminine uniform.
Touched by stories of personal transformation, which somehow question the status quo, the director has known the situation of Maria Luiza after reading a report in the Correio Braziliense journal. “Almost ten years ago, Maria Luiza has received me in her apartment in Cruzeiro, a suburban city near Brasília, in a very affectionate way. We spent many hours talking.
I was extremely touched by the story she told me, from her former life in Ceres, the interior of Goiás, her dream of working with aviation in Brazilian armed forces, to her struggle for continuing at the Aeronautics, as a trans woman, going through the ‘backstage’ of military life, her marriage, her daughter and the gender change process”, he explains.
Maria Luiza was born in Ceres (GO) as José Carlos but has never recognized herself as a male figure. Curiously it was Santos Dumont day, Brazilian aviation patron. When she became 18, attended the military service and got into the Brazilian armed forces, where she worked for 22 years as a non-commissioned officer. While she served as an aircraft mechanic at the Brasília Air Base, she revealed her desire for a sex change.
After many doctor’s appointments – aeronautics physicians and psychologists – in 1998 she received the diagnosis of transsexual and in 2000 the military command decided that she should retire receiving half the payment she was used to get.
She asked the Public Minister’s Office for help and began a lengthy process for the recognition of her identity as a trans woman. In 2005 she did the sex reassignment surgery and in 2007 she corrected her gender and name in civil documents. Only after one year, her new military identity as corporal Maria Luiza was issued, an unprecedented event in the country.
The filming lasted for 2 years but in sparse time. There were countless meetings with Maria Luiza, from the research to the filming. “She is a person with such impressive experiences and strength and inspiring simplicity and deepness that there is always pleasurable to be near her. I’m sure that any person who has the opportunity of watching the movie can be touched by her story and what it represents to the theme of identity in a broader way”, says Marcelo.
Besides the usual difficulties to raise financing in order to produce the movie, another great challenge found along the process was to access the military universe where Maria Luiza lived during these 22 years of service. “A great dream of Maria Luiza was to wear the feminine uniform and I wanted so much to show it in some way. But reality sometimes is harder. Maria Luiza can’t get back to her military work and use the feminine uniform”, concludes the director.
Unlike most usual transgenders’ personalities in the media, Maria Luiza is modest, conservative, and observant. She dresses and treats others formally. She’s a catholic and regularly goes to church. She lives by herself in a small military apartment in Cruzeiro (a small town in the outskirts of Brasilia). She’s an auto-racing fan and takes care of her car as she used to take care of FAB’s (Brazilian Air Force) aircrafts.
The film uses archives of her own drawings, paintings and photos to guide narrative through her subjectivity. Also, arranges meetings with family, relatives, former colleagues, doctors, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges who actively took part in her case and, especially, with Maria Luiza herself.
Press files and her legal confidential process analysis, which the film was authorized to investigate, are also narrative strategies. With a photo camera, as a second look, the film shows other points of view, pauses, breathes, silences, as a reflection about identity and time constructions and inviting for a journey through Maria Luiza’s memories and its resignification.
The film exposes the human rights violation in Maria Luiza’s case and invites to think about actual freedom to express identity. Marcelo Díaz spoke about Maria Luiza to Wall Street International Magazine.
Why make a film on such a complex topic at a time when gender freedom, racism and democracy itself have been attacked by repressive authoritarian pseudo-democratic governments?
The film took many years to make and its production reflects the different stages that the country (Brazil) was going through. But now this issue has become even more urgent. We need to talk about identity and freedom of expression! We need to talk about the right to be who you want to be. The importance of solidarity, openness and inclusion. More than just acceptance. It's vital for our society to have a country with real opportunities for everyone.
The film is delicate despite all the brutality that Maria Luiza faced, her words do not contain any hatred. How did you manage to make a film so sensitive and with such poetic imagery?
I looked for a poetic tone for the narrative path to tell this story, which was also inspired by how Maria Luiza showed herself to us. She demonstrated, at the same time, resilience and melancholy, but also never forgot to talk about the violations of her rights she had to endure. This was a way also to involve the audience of the film in her life and to seek to reach a greater diversity of people, including going beyond the LGBTQIA + audience. I think that whoever watches the film, regardless of the person's belief, identity, ideology, etc., comes out in some way touched and transformed. That's what the movie is for.
What was the biggest challenge you faced to make the documentary?
The biggest challenge was financial. In order to obtain resources to carry out the work, it was necessary to have a lot of persistence, at different times and this is still the case, even now in order to make the film reach the general public. It was also difficult to access the military bureaucracy and having to deal with their imposed limitations on our work as well as their lack of transparency. But here we are.
What is the difference between before and after Maria Luiza came out as a trans woman?
I believe it would be a better question answered by Maria Luiza herself. Anyway, taking into account the time I spent with her I can say that she feels "more complete" after affirming herself as Maria Luiza, who is a catholic military person and a trans woman. It is very rewarding to see how highly praised she is by her Brazilian air force colleagues and I am sure that if she could have continued on active duty, she would be a high ranking military officer today.
Why was Maria Luiza removed from military service?
She was considered incapable of military service solely because she was a trans person. As far as I understand, it was just prejudice.
What risks could Maria Luiza have had if she continued in the Brazilian Air Force?
I don't see any risk. I think that as a society we have lost a highly qualified professional, who could have remained active, which is where she always wanted to be.
Do you think that someday the armed forces in Brazil will accept transsexual soldiers in their barracks?
They are already beginning to accept it. There is the example of Major Renata Gracin in the Army. Like with Maria Luiza's case, they wanted to remove her from active duty but instead, she was retained. Before her in the Navy, we had the case of Bruna Benevides, who also fought against similar prejudices and I believe she will be able to remain effectively active. And there are other cases as well. Maria Luiza says that she was the first case, but she hoped it was the last.
On one occasion I heard from a military man that when society opens up to include trans people, the Armed Forces will do the same. I understand that it's something complex and difficult to achieve and the only way is to get there is to fight for a more open, fairer and just society. Consequently, institutions such as the armed forces will have to follow society's changes.