Carla Antonelli: Woman on a transformative mission

Now in line to become the first transsexual to win a parliamentary seat, Antonelli already has a long history of instigating change

There are two things that Carla Antonelli will not reveal, not even under torture: her age - she is an actresses, after all - and the name she was given at birth that until 2007 appeared in all her official documents. She actually gave up that masculine moniker in 1977, when she left her hometown of Guimar, Tenerife. It may be that after the May 22 regional elections in Madrid, Antonelli will become the first transsexual in Spain to win a regional parliamentary seat.

Tomás Gómez, the Socialist candidate for regional premier, announced on Monday that the actress and advocate for gay, lesbian and transsexual rights, will join him on the Madrid Socialist Party (PSM) slate, which he calls "the best one to represent the entire society."

"They have asked me to be myself, and I assure you that I will be"

Reacting to Antonelli's candidacy, Gómez's opponent, Esperanza Aguirre, the current regional premier from the conservative Popular Party, said that it seemed "perfectly" logical "for anyone who wants to represent Madrileños to be able to do so regardless of their sexual orientation."

Antonelli arrived in Madrid in 1979, ready for stardom. She had studied two years of acting at the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Conservatory, but in her typical stubborn and daring style, she strived to become more visible to launch her message. In a 1977 interview, a journalist was already calling her "the political transvestite."

"By that time I was already a Socialist," Antonelli recalls.

In her drive to achieve fame, she recorded the first documentary about transsexuals in 1980, which aired on TVE. It was the time of the post-Franco transition, and Antonelli had to fight to get ahead. For a long time, she was a strange and unique figure on the margins of showbiz circuits.

In 1997, she was officially appointed to a post in the Socialist Party, becoming coordinator of transsexual policy for the party's national committee. Antonelli was her own secretary and press officer, phoning up reporters to try to get them to publish stories about transgender issues in their newspapers.

She held the post until 2007, which was perhaps the most in important year in her life. In April, she became one of the first transgender persons to get her name officially changed on all her papers, including her national identity card (DNI) and her municipal roll registry.

But getting there was not easy. When the Zapatero government thought about postponing the presentation of its draft gender identity bill until after the 2008 elections, Antonelli went into action. She threatened to go on a hunger strike, and recruited many other activists to announce that they would join her.

The law, the most advanced in the world which allows people to legally register the sex and name they want to correspond to their lifestyle, was presented. But it was watered-down version of the original draft.

The entire affair left some bitterness, and the activist decided to take the opportunity to accept the television role of Gloria, a transsexual woman who is the guardian of a small girl in the short-lived doctors' drama El síndrome de Ulises on Antena 3. The move allowed her to step back from the Socialist Party but still keep a foot in the door.

Then her biggest professional success to date came. She got the lead role in the Greek chorus in Lysistrata, a farce about a woman's plans to end an ancient war by rallying the women of Athens to refrain from having sex with their husbands until peace is negotiated. It was staged last year at Mérida Classical Theater Festival with comic actor Paco León cast as Lysistrata.

"When I returned to Madrid, the primaries were underway," recalls Antonelli, adding that she immediately backed Gómez to become PSM chief. "My enthusiasm for politics returned."

Other PSM leaders who have so far been announced on Gómez's slate are Amparo Valcarce, Juan Barranco, Maru Menéndez, José Manuel Freire, Enrique Cascallana, Isabel Peces-Barba, Eusebio González and José Cepeda.

On Monday when her candidacy was announced, Antonelli, with a cellphone in one hand and the receiver of landline on the other, was fielding reporters' questions while trying to think of a campaign slogan. "I'm not only a T," she says, in reference to the first letter of the word transsexual. Antonelli hopes to become an example that will serve to "break stereotypes, and to encourage employers to hire without fear."

The actress says that there is a need to once again present a comprehensive law for the care of transgender persons that the Madrid PP rejected this past parliamentary period. "We must strengthen gender units," she stresses in reference to the centers where medical attention is given to transsexuals.

But Antonelli wants to go further, saying that she has a lot to offer in cultural and social issues, as well as ideas to deal with high unemployment and the struggling economy. "They have asked me to be myself, to be active, and I assure you that I will be. I don't know how to do it any other way."

Carla Antonelli: "I'm not only a transsexual."
Carla Antonelli: "I'm not only a transsexual."GORKA LEJARCEGI
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