Intimate portraits of transgender sex-workers eking out a living in the heart of Italian South ruled by deeply rooted superstitions, magical Catholicism, and visceral prejudice. The mystery, sexually ambiguous lures, and the ever-present decadence in the small red light district that acts as a safe haven for trans people from all over Sicily, San Berillo Vecchio, remains a perilously stubborn last vestige of non-gentrified stance against modernity.
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San Berillo's Agatas
Fervently spiritual and church-going, the women of San Berillo venerate a mythical Catanese martyress, Sant’Agata, and find solace and inspiration in her story uniquely relatable to their plight: after refusing numerous advances of a Roman Proconsul and having her breasts removed in a gruesome manner as a consequence, according to legend Sant’Agata was visited by St. Peter, the apostle, who restored her body to its full femininity. Themselves dreaming of their bodies fully expressing their womanhood, the women of the district refuse to give in to social conformity in spite of dire economic prospects brought on by the age of booty calls on tap.
Looking for love, they all have laid bare their hearts in hopes of catching a glimpse of “that great one” at one time or another — only to have them crushed by disappointment and physical abuse in return. Their objects of attraction, heterosexual men, are rarely satisfied by their girls’ sexual allusions and ambiguity for very long and thus often resort to violence brought on by feelings of guilt over their latent erotic urges. As Franchina, in a true Southern-Italian Catholic tradition, says: “There is no love without suffering. And there is a lot of suffering.” In spite of this — or thanks to it — the old-time grace, dignity, and strength against all odds present in our conversations is that rarest of finds nowadays.
However, the world of San Berillo is in danger of disappearing completely: new women don’t arrive very often and the town officials are more interested in property speculation with this centrally located district than in the complicated fates of people cut off from the mainstream society for decades.