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Self-documentary

I don't know how I could have remembered such a thing, says Ruth (fictitious name), who has also been called Rui (fictitious name). I have already been asked if I changed my name to Ruth because it starts with an R and is easier to remember! People ask the unthinkable when something is beyond their comprehension, she continues. Ruth was my grandmother's name. She was the first to know. Why her? She was the first to know. Because she always respected me, she says. I don't know what kind of answer you were expecting, but things are usually much simpler. It's we who tend to make them more complex, she adds. Also because we want to explain them, and mainly using our way of seeing. And we don't try to describe what is simply happening, he continues. We force an explanation for everything. Whether for the emergence of life on Earth and for gender issues as well, he concludes.


I was used to these questions! she says. The many questions about why I did this or that. Why I sometimes stood still and touched the fabric of my jacket, she says. Or why I stayed out of certain kinds of conversations! Or I would choose to eat alone during school breaks when I could do it with my classmates because I was invited! I never hid my diagnosis, she says. Since the doctor told me I was autistic, he explained to me a lot of what nobody had ever told me. Not even the people who already knew me, she adds. The doctor had never seen me or read about me. He seemed to be inside my head. That's what I thought, he says. He was translating what I always wished the other people around me knew, he says. That was a relief. I was seven at the time, but I already knew what relief was. Because I had never felt that since the last time my parents had given me a hug and not even asked me how my day at the pre-school had been, she continues. That day I felt a huge relief. They gave me a hug without asking me anything. Giving me a hug without wanting to know if I had done or not done things at school. Or how I had behaved in the playground. And on top of that I had kicked Diogo Martins (fictitious name) in the shins that day, because he had been after me calling me Maria. At least get my name right, I told him. My name is Ruth, I added.


After my grandmother Ruth had passed away I thought it would be important to find a way for everything that I lived not to be lost, she said. At the time I was about to turn nine. My parents asked me what I wanted. I had seen at school that some of my classmates used their smartphone to take pictures and send things to each other. I had never been very interested in that, he says. I was usually more into other subjects. But I thought it would be a good way not to lose what I was living. I photographed myself, he said. It was the way to understand how I was doing on a day-to-day basis. The photographs would tell my story. I had already realised that it wasn't an invention of mine. My mother liked to do the same with the photographs she had of the family. On Sundays she called us all together so that she could tell all the same stories over and over again. Nobody seemed to like it. I think I was the only one who didn't seem to mind. And that seemed to matter to my mother. I thought a lot about my own things and the fact that I really enjoyed doing them too. And that it would be something like that with my mother. I told her that once. Nonsense, she said. Do you think I'm autistic too? she asked me. And she laughed. I never felt like listening to the stories in the photographs again. But that also coincided with my mother's depression. I started spending more time with my dad then. He didn't seem to mind as long as I didn't bother him too much with questions. He was quieter. So was I most of the time, I concluded.


I started seeing a psychologist, he says. That's when I entered the fifth grade. I was 11 years old. I had failed the 4th grade. Maybe my grandmother's death affected me. In 5th grade someone told my parents that I had problems and that I needed to see a psychologist. I said I didn't care, but I wondered why other people who had problems didn't go to the psychologist! That was the first question I put to the psychologist, and he replied that people only go to the psychologist if they want to. I remember getting up and leaving the office at the time, he says. Then I knocked on the door and asked if I could come in. He laughed. I laughed too. And I've been going to the psychologist ever since. Some time later he talked to me about gender issues. He called everything I was talking about gender dysphoria. Once again I thought that people like to complicate everything with complex names. When what I felt was that I was not comfortable with the gender I was born with. He understood. My grandmother understood too, she said.


They often told me that I was always stressed, he says. How could I not be? he asks. How could I not be? Can anyone imagine growing up with something in you that doesn't make sense to you? he continues. Can anyone imagine waking up every day with a penis that doesn't make sense to you? And not knowing why that is? go on. And being afraid to ask anyone because we feel that no one will understand us! Even because we've heard similar stories of people who've been humiliated, teased, beaten up, everything? she asks. Since I was a child, I heard my parents making fun of the matrafonas at Carnival and saying that if they were ashamed they wouldn't make such a fool of themselves. How could I ever think of telling my parents? he asks again.


There were many days when I felt trapped in my own body, she shares. How does it feel? she asks. A hell! First comes the strangeness. Then comes shame and guilt, she says. Then anger, a lot of anger. Anger at feeling trapped and at the same time anger at wanting to hide in that same body again so that nobody can hurt us, she adds. And to add to all this the difficulties in understanding emotions and on top of that all these complex emotions, she says. My whole body was already undergoing the changes that come with puberty. And on top of that there were all the changes going on in my head. It was the perfect storm, she says. And on top of everything life didn't stop. School didn't stop. The assessments at school didn't stop. And my parents and teachers kept saying I had to go to school or I would fail, she adds. And on top of that I felt guilty for not being able to do all those things. I've always been a perfectionist, she shares.


The photographs helped me to be reborn, she says. How? she asks. Because to be reborn we first have to understand who we are. And then die. And then want to come back. And rebuild ourselves. And to do this we need to understand ourselves. And understand what's inside and outside of us. And the people around us, you mention. And so often the people around us seem to be more difficult to understand than ourselves, he adds. Because we don't control people and we don't understand them. At least we can control ourselves, even if we can't understand ourselves, he says. The photographs helped in all this. Photographs helped slow down the speed with which I thought about things. Photographs have that gift of freezing moments. And so I could go back, again and again, to that moment and think about it. Do you understand? he asks rhetorically. The photographs helped the memories that sometimes seemed to fade away, he says. The most traumatic moments have that effect, of erasing memories. Often the psychology consultations were used as a way of picking up the pieces. As if we were both, me and the psychologist, on the floor picking up the pieces. And then we would glue them together. The photos helped to make it easier to know what might be lost. We made a portfolio at the consultation and started putting all the photos there. It was a safe place for me to stay, she says. So I always knew where I was coming back from! Where I had never left. Until one day I said I was leaving. He understood perfectly. See you one of these days Ruth! he told me.


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