Mafia heir defies her traditional family upbringing to become a powerful transgender activist
The oldest child of a Mafia boss has overcome her strict family upbringing to become a transgender woman and one of Italy’s leading LGBT+ activists.
When Daniela Lourdes Falanga was born she was believed to be the first male heir of the Camorra clan and expected to take over the ‘family business’.
But at 22 she defied her family’s expectations by living openly as a transgender woman, later becoming the first trans woman to be elected president of a chapter of Italy’s oldest LGBT+ rights group.
Today, she believes her harsh upbringing in a patriarchal crime syndicate actually helped to clarify her sense of gender identity.
“I owed my complete awareness about being a girl also to the violent way in which that world influenced me,” she revealed in an interview with DW.
“My family never allowed me to show off what I had inside. I was the effeminate firstborn of a Camorra family, and they always kept me in check.”
Her father left shortly after she was born and would later be imprisoned for life, but her “terrifying” mother and grandmother strictly enforced masculine traits in her.
That meant no music, no singing, no watching cartoons with female protagonists. When she failed to meet their expectations, she was beaten.
“I even feared speaking, as the tone of my voice did not fit their expectations,” Falanga said.
When she saw her father he treated her with indifference, cuddling all the other children but refusing to embrace her. “I was very much like an inanimate object,” she remembered. “He wouldn’t even see me.”
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She was constantly taunted by children at school and on the streets, who mockingly called her “queer” or “the boss’s son.” Falanga admits she often thought of suicide.
That changed when, one night, she saw the transgender actress and singer Eva Robin performing on TV. It felt like an epiphany, she told the Huffington Post. In a flash, she saw “the life I had been denied until then.”
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She began her transition in her twenties, going through gender confirmation surgery and changing her name to one inspired by the saints of her Catholic faith.
Now 42, she’s a regional president of the LGBT+ organisation Arcigay and works to promote inclusivity in local communities and businesses. “Transitioning gave me real freedom for the first time in my life, so I needed to spread the word,” she said.
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Falanga’s wellbeing came at a cost, as her father abandoned her and sent a letter to the family prohibiting any kind of relationship with her. She wouldn’t see him for 25 years, until a chance encounter through her advocacy work brought them together again.
By this time he was serving a life sentence in prison, and they both had been invited to a local school to tell their life stories to students.
“You have become beautiful,” he told Falanga when he saw her. “And we both cried for the whole event,” she adds.