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In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own

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Venice, Italy — From childhood, Edoardo Beniamine could have imagined rowing a gondola in the waterways of his hometown of Venice. Following his father and uncle, he saw himself wearing a striped jersey and a ribbon straw hat, and has served as a permanent symbol of La Serenissima for a thousand years.

“Riding a gondola has always been my dream,” said 22-year-old Beniamin on a bright winter day in Venice, vacated by the waves of Covid-19 running through Europe.

Beniamin, sitting in an outdoor cafe near San Zaccaria Waterbus Station on the Great Canal, explained why his childhood imagination was unrealistic. “In the gondola business, it’s very important if you’re the son of someone,” he said. “But I didn’t really think it was possible because the girl couldn’t do it.”

Beniamin, a few men with copper-colored hair and facial abrasions, was assigned to a woman at birth. For the first 16 years of his life, he said he didn’t feel the need to question it by turning the collar of his shirring jacket up against the cold.

“When I was very young, say 6 or 7, I wanted to be a man, but that was more fun,” he said. “For example, I liked boys’ clothes and said,’I want to dress like a man,’ but that wasn’t serious. I thought I was a girl, so I forgot it all. “

Five years ago, still in high school, while dating his girlfriend Claudia Narderi (now 22 and fiancée), he experienced an “egg” moment, or so-called emergence, in the transgender community. .. He was neurologically dissatisfied with the terrible migraine headaches that plagued him, especially after physical education classes, and his mother led him to take him from one doctor to another. I began to wonder if it had an untargeted origin.

“Let’s say everything started with my health,” he said. “I suffered myself and felt sick, but I didn’t know it was unpleasant. I didn’t even know the word existed. It was Claudia that opened my heart. She said, “Maybe something else is happening.” And, as you know, this happened gradually as I found out that I was a man. “

In a sense, Beniamin’s experience is similar to that of many transgender people, either socially, culturally, legally, psychologically, or a combination of all of them. Gender assigns them and who they really are. In his case, there were additional hurdles. Beniamin always thought it impossible to get into his father’s profession.

It’s not without female gondola, but it was during the 10th century. In 2010, Giorgia Boscolo became the first woman officially recognized by the Associazione Gondolieri di Venezia, or Venice Gondolier’s Association. According to Andrea Barbi, president of the Gondola Association, five of the 433 licensed gondola currently working in Venice are women.

In addition, there is Alex Hai, a German and Algerian trans-gender man who operates a private gondola service under the auspices of the hotel. Mr. Hai took a license test before moving to men in 2016, but he didn’t pass, Barbi said.

Barbi argued that the test was open to everyone. “Our work is for everyone, including men, women, transgender, and perhaps other types of gender we don’t know about,” he said. However, breaking into this signature profession is not that simple.

Nicolo Catherine, 37, was firmly established as the boat captain of the city’s water bath system when she passed the gondola test on her fourth attempt. “I started when I was 19 and got my license at the age of 34,” Catherine said. Said. “It’s very difficult to get into a business. It’s almost impossible if you don’t have anyone in your family.”

In this annual test, it’s not enough to know how to balance and master rowing skills on an asymmetrical 36-foot vessel on 177 canals in Venice.

“In addition to Italian and Venetian dialects, we have hours to learn art history, city history, navigation, routes and foreign languages,” said Catherine. There is also maintenance and research on tide and whimsical wind boats along the Adriatic Sea.

Those things are Beniamin, a by-product of his upbringing around Watercraft, a city kid who is easily familiar with the six different districts of Venice, and a series of part-time high schools working as tour guides. I came to the gig easily. His relatively small frame can be seen as his obstacle as an Allsman, but when he begins training to enter the family business as the first openly transmasculine-licensed Venetian gondola. The toughest barriers to face are also the least expected in some respects.

Since 2019, when he started hormone replacement therapy, the appearance of Edoardo Beniamin has become more and more fit for traditional masculine ideals. He has been a legal man since last December when he succeeded in asking Italian bureaucrats to revise birth certificates and other official documents to reflect gender.

“What happened next,” Beniamin said. “When I found out that I was a man, I also realized that I always had a certain idea of ​​what masculine was. I thought it made sense to be a man. Thinking differently. I always ask myself, “What is a man?”

In a sense, Venice is the ideal background for his question. The isolated, mysterious, maze-like city, whose charm is inefficient, yet full of clichés, is intricately mapped, but navigates as any visitor knows. I’m confused. That’s what masculinity is.

Before meeting Edoardo Beniamin at the office of the speech therapist Eleonora Magnelli in Florence in January, I had little idea of ​​how the sound of air passing through the vocal cords would affect my identity. did. I, of course, sounded like a cisgender man, or just myself.

When Beniamin first contacted Magneri via Instagram and asked for information about a program to assist transgender singers, as she said, his voice was “very metallic, It bothered him. ” At that time, there was little clinical literature on voice and gender stereotypes. Many in her field believed that taking testosterone to lower the tone of the voice was sufficient to address the concerns of trans-gender men.

“But pitch isn’t the only parameter,” Magneri said. “And the training we do is different from other types of speech therapy, because clinicians always need to remember that clients are unaffected by their medical condition. It just helps to confirm the identity of. “

For Beniamin, the process of affirming himself by vocalization was as important as some of the ongoing medical procedures to change his appearance. “If you want to be a gondola, you have to talk a lot,” he said.

In fact, although gondola paravers and crooners (although less often these days) expect tourists to pay $ 85 to row for 30 minutes along a preset route of velvet-decorated crafts. Mostly. “Changing my voice changed my life,” Beniamin said.

It’s not just that strangers no longer call him Madam. (“I don’t just want a deeper voice at the end of this journey,” he said.) After Rambo, the Chihuahua he shares with his fiancé, ignored him for years. I don’t even obey his orders.

“Obviously, that’s not all,” Beniamin said. “What makes me euphoric is that people feel that they are looking at me as I am.”

On a warm, unseasonable January day in Florence, I accompanied Beniamin to visit Dr. Julia Lo Russo, a specialist in chest masculinization for trans-gender men, the so-called top surgery specialist. The video featured by Dr. Lo Russo on the iPad shows how wide the range of results is. “It’s not just about getting rid of the breasts and reducing the female torso,” said Dr. LoRusso. “You have to make a male torso.”

Asked to explain the difference, Dr. Lo Russo talked about her therapist instead. “My psychologist asked me why I had these surgeries,” she said. “Why me? I’m not an LGBTQ, but I’m very incompatible. I have 3 kids and 3 different men.”

While we were chatting, Beniamin casually prepared for the test by stripping off the pullover sweater and T-shirt and unraveling the kinematic tape used to tie his chest.

“The state does not make it easy for people to have this surgery,” continued Dr. Lo Russo. “It’s hard to schedule because I have to wait a year for the paperwork. I only do top surgery once a month, but with Edward, it was clear that this was the right thing to do, so I put him on the roster a year ago. “

Eventually, when she held her smartphone over and took a picture of the patient “in front,” she added, “people must be loyal to themselves.”

For Beniamin’s mother, Salamion, 51, Edoardo is now her son, a man with a future wife, and plans to start a family after marriage. If she has long been reluctant to accept her son’s transition, she no longer has such hesitation. “As her mother, I decided,’Am I losing her or trying to understand him,'” she said.

Since Mion is a kidney disease nurse in a Venetian hospital, the moment she accepted Edoardo as her son when she was given one of the early testosterone injections was somehow more bitter. is. “At that time, I told him,’I gave birth to you twice. First at the hospital, and now I gave birth again.'” She said.

Mion and I were sitting in the sun near many (various opinions, but the overall consensus is about 450) pedestrian bridges in Venice. Gondolas swarmed nearby to gossip and await unique tourists in recent Venetian history.

Paolo, the father of Mion and Beniamin, divorced when their two children were young. Since then, their relationship can be hoped to be in a city that is far away or small enough for the Venetian to consider themselves endangered. Even if they are as far apart, they remain heartfelt.

Gondolabob of Paolo Beniamine in a prime location along the Jinghang Waterway, just outside the locks of the luxurious Hotel Danieli. Mion said he was relieved to know that when it was time for Edoardo to join the family business, he could rely on his father as Ciseron.

One day, things weren’t always the case, as Edoardo Beniamin explained in a gondola piloted by Mr. Casalin. “My dad has long tried to push reality away,” he said when Mr. Katherine propelled us through a series of particularly narrow canals, or rii. “He didn’t want to use pronouns,” Beniamin said, referring to his favorite “he” and “he.” “But when we last spoke, my dad told me to call him when it was time for my best surgery, and he would take me to the hospital.”

Venice that day was eerily quiet, as in the various times since the pandemic began. This must have been true even during the plague that permanently changed history as a great world power. The surface of the bottle green in the lagoon remained relatively calm as the wavelets slapped the glossy hull of the gondola.

Suddenly, the Italian Air Force jet chevron exploded across the horizon towards the city, arcing the sky above St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace, leaving traces of three-colored feathers. The mysterious aerial acrobatics continued for the next 20 minutes while the jet zoomed in and out, making it hard to hear the hustle and bustle from the turbines.

Then, as suddenly as they appeared, the aircraft fell upwards and disappeared into the ether. At that time, Beniamin noticed that the downdraft from the flyover disturbed the surface of the water and appeared to shake the ship’s iron bow when moored.

“The gondola is basically flat on the bottom,” he said. “It’s interesting to know about them. It doesn’t get in the way of rocking the boat.”

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