A dream that changes lives

“One of my most vivid memories from my childhood is of my grandmother sewing clothes for my siblings and me. I was mesmerised by it, watching every stroke of the needle with rapt attention. When I was 10, I started making clothes for my cousins’ dolls—but according to my grandmother, that wasn’t a hobby for a boy. I was the second oldest of seven, and the only boy who would play with the toys that were considered to be for the girls. My mum didn’t let me play with dolls either—she hid them from me whenever possible. But that didn’t rattle me: I would just lock myself in my room and sew doll clothes. No one understood my love of dolls. All I wanted was to dress them.  

My childhood was not easy. I had a single-mum that worked as a cleaner, and although our grandmother lived close by, I was the one who looked after my younger siblings. I made lunch, did the housekeeping, and took them to school. At school, I quickly became the target of a lot of prejudice. That took a heavy toll on my school life. As a result, I stopped going to school and didn't finish secondary school. 

In time, I realised that my relationship with fashion went beyond creating dolls’ outfits. As a teenager, I would sneak out of  the house at night, to meet up with male friends who also liked to dress in women’s clothes. That was our way of having fun—we’d dress up and go out at night. It became increasingly difficult to remain at home: I wanted the freedom to be myself, to be a woman. I knew that would never happen there. So, when I was 17, I decided to leave and move to São Paulo. There, I was finally able to buy my first doll. 

That was the most difficult moment in my life. I didn’t have work experience except for the few jobs that I did as a maid. With the bills piling up, and seeing no other alternative, I became a sex worker. I endured a lot of suffering, but I used the money that I earned to change my body. For the first time, I saw myself as I had always felt I was: a woman. 

But life on the streets is dangerous. I’d already lost quite a few friends to violence, and that was not the end that I wanted for myself. So, after 13 years as a sex worker, I decided to reclaim my childhood dream, and I enrolled myself in a course on cutting and sewing. After one year of training, I learned how to sew. I kept making the dolls’ clothes that I liked so much, only now more skilfully. Still I couldn’t afford to keep paying the costs of the course. Luckily, in that same year, a friend took me to Trans Sol, a collective that teaches sewing, doll-making and handicrafts for transwomen and cross-dressers. The project, which started in 2015, is located in a LGBT Cultural Centre and Shelter. It offers career training and makes it possible to gain a source of income through entrepreneurship. The collective  also provides support services to the LGBT community.  

Over the course of two years, I mastered sewing and became a teacher. It was at Trans Sol where I got my training and realised my dream of becoming a professional seamstress. Now I have the great honour of sharing my knowledge with women who are looking for ways to change their lives. Being a volunteer teacher just thrills me.”  

It’s this inexplicable feeling of being able to teach other women everything I’ve learned so far and to assist them in their decision to change their lives. 

 I still dream of being a stylist and one-day creating wedding dresses. Next year, I want to try to get into a fashion school. One day, I want to show my collection at Casa de Criadores, an event where new names in fashion have their debut. I know that it’s a long journey ahead, but I’m already halfway there. When I look back and think about that little scared boy sewing dolls’ clothes, and I see where I am now, I know that nothing can stop me.” 

This story was orginally published as part of a profile series in Marie Claire Brazil, in partnership with C&A Foundation. To see the original version click here

São Paulo, Brazil