In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own

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Venice’s First Openly Transmasculine Gondolier: A Story of Finding Identity in the City of Masks

Venice, Italy – For Edoardo Beniamin, becoming a gondolier wasn’t just about fulfilling a lifelong dream, it was about claiming his identity in a city steeped in tradition. Growing up in Venice, he dreamt of paddling through its canals, his striped jersey and straw hat a testament to a lineage stretching back centuries. However, a deeply ingrained cultural perception – that gondoliers were exclusively male – made this dream seem impossible.

For the first 16 years of his life, Edoardo lived with the gender assigned to him at birth, unaware of the incongruity between his internal sense of self and his external appearance. Then, during high school, he began questioning his identity, realizing that the physical and emotional discomfort he experienced was rooted in gender dysphoria, a feeling of distress caused by a mismatch between one’s gender identity and assigned sex.

When Edoardo began transitioning, he faced an unexpected challenge: how to reconcile his newfound identity with the deeply entrenched traditions of his chosen profession. While the gondolier’s association has officially recognized a few women, and a German-Algerian transgender man runs a private gondola service, the path to becoming a gondolier, particularly for someone who had not grown up in the trade, was fraught with obstacles.

The rigorous licensing exam, not just for row-boat mastery but also for navigation, history, languages, and nautical knowledge, made achieving the dream a long shot for someone without familial connections to the world of gondolas.

But Edoardo was determined.

Beyond the challenges of the exam, Edoardo confronted another obstacle: the deeply-rooted definition of masculinity in Venetian society. The process of vocal training, hormone replacement therapy, and eventual chest masculinization surgery was not just a physical transition, but an emotional journey toward self-acceptance.

"The state doesn’t make it easy," says Dr. Giulia Lo Russo, a surgeon specializing in chest masculinization surgery, "people must be true to themselves."

Edoardo’s journey, however, was not just about self-affirmation. It was about changing narratives and confronting societal assumptions.

"What brings me euphoria is feeling people see me as I see me," says Edoardo, who sees his transition as contributing to a more inclusive and understanding Venice.

Key Takeaways:

  • Edoardo Beniamin’s journey highlights the challenges transgender individuals face in traditional societies.
  • Breaking into a centuries-old profession can be incredibly difficult, especially for those without familial ties.
  • Edoardo’s story speaks to the importance of self-acceptance and personal transformation.
  • Beyond the physical changes, Edoardo’s journey also included vocal training, which he sees as essential to authentically embodying his identity.
  • The story of Venice’s first openly transmasculine gondolier reflects a city grappling with tradition and inclusivity.

Edoardo’s journey is a testament to his resilience and a hopeful sign of change in a city known for its timelessness. While the gondoliers continue to row through the canals, carrying tourists past palaces and bridges, a new generation is seeking to reimagine Venice, and redefine what it means to be a gondolier.

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Megan Roberts
Megan Roberts
Megan Roberts is a career development specialist and writer. She offers valuable insights and advice on job searching, career progression, and professional skills. Megan's articles are aimed at helping individuals navigate the job market and achieve their career goals.