Valentina Petrillo could this year become the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Paralympics. For the visually impaired Italian, selection for the national squad would be a dream come true - but she says she understands why other athletes may have doubts and questions about racing against her.
I couldn't ask for more," says Valentina Petrillo.
An emotional strength. Obviously, my body's not what it was at 20 when I was at my peak, but transe valentina happiness pushes me to go further, to go beyond my limits. Passionate about running from an early age, Petrillo's aspirations were seemingly dashed at the age of 14, when she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative eye condition, for which there is no cure. After finishing school in her hometown of Naples, she moved to Bologna at the age of 20 to study computer science at the Institute for the Blind.
Here she took up sport again, becoming a member of Italy's national five-a-side football team for people with sight loss. It was only at the age of 41 that she finally started running again, winning 11 national titles in three years in the male T12 category for athletes with visual impairment. She is now 47, and recognises that this is her last chance to compete at the Paralympics, but she wants to keep running whether she gets to Tokyo or not.
Valentina petrillo: 'better to be a slow happy woman than a fast unhappy man'
In fact, it was only last September that she ran her first official race as a female para-athlete - at the Italian Paralympics Championship, where she won gold in the m, m and m T12 events. Growing up in Naples in the s, Petrillo says she was a "streetwise kid" who often got into fist fights. Until four years ago, if you'd talked to Fabrizio the name Petrillo was given at birthFabrizio would have given you the idea he was sexist.
He was a tough guy who'd speak dismissively of women and then be a woman in his private space. She clearly remembers the day when, aged nine, she put on her mother's skirt for the first time, "It was an incredible emotion. It was like touching heaven with your finger tip," she says. But she knew better than to tell anyone; by coincidence, she had a transgender cousin, whom her uncle had thrown out of the house.
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And so Valentina continued life, as she puts it, "dressing up as a man". She achieved everything society expected of her - good grades at school, a stable job, a wife, a son - but still she wasn't happy. There was no triggering event but on 14 Julyshe realised she could no longer suppress her secret.
I was in bed with my wife, about to fall asleep, and I said 'Remember I told you I once dressed up as a woman?
I said, 'In reality it wasn't once, I do it every day. With her wife's support - after the initial shock - Valentina started living as a woman inand in January she began hormone therapy, which affected her physically and emotionally.
I'm not the energetic person I was. In the first months of transition I put on 10kg, I can't eat the way I did transe valentina, I became anaemic, my haemoglobin is low, I'm always cold, I don't have the same physical strength, my sleep isn't what it was, I have mood swings," she says. Fabrizio no longer exists. Hormone therapy for trans women is deed to lower testosterone levels and raise oestrogen levels to the typical values in women. Quantities of both hormones are measured in a unit called a mole.
Before starting therapy, Petrillo would have had about 20 nanomoles of testosterone in a litre of her blood 20 billionths of a mole. Sincethe International Olympic Committee IOC has required female athletes to have less than five nanomoles of testosterone per litre of blood, while most women have fewer than two nanomoles per litre. Petrillo is now consistently well below the two-nanomoles-per-litre level.
Six months after starting treatment she had lost about 11 seconds in the m and 2. But it was a sacrifice she embraced. I had to accept this compromise, because it is a compromise, for my happiness. It has become Petrillo's motto: "Better to be a slow happy woman than a fast unhappy man. In reality, she is not slow, just slower, as her gold medals in last September's Italian Paralympics championships attest. She has also fared well in competition against non-disabled women, some of whom have protested that a trans woman has a major advantage. Fausta Quilleri, a lawyer from Brescia and a runner in the overs "Master" category, last month sent a petition to the president of the Italian Athletics Federation and the ministries for Equal Opportunities and Sport challenging Petrillo's right to compete in women's races.
More than 30 female Master athletes ed the petition. We will always welcome her but we don't want her to compete with us for titles," Quilleri says. Petrillo was hurt that some of the women at one event refused to be photographed with her, but says she understands their reaction. I would have those things as a transe valentina.
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So I believe these doubts and questions are legitimate. However, she defends her right to compete in the women's category.
I don't feel like I'm stealing anything from anyone. Petrillo is taking part in studies led by Joanna Harper, at the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at the University of Loughborough in the UK, on the precise effects of hormone therapy on trans women athletes. A transgender runner herself, Harper has been in the unique position of studying the effects of hormone therapy on athletic performance first hand.
It will take at least 10 more years of research to fully understand the effect of hormone therapy, Harper says. In some sports trans women will need a handicap, she suggests, but how much handicap isn't yet clear. Meaningful competition is the key to defining all sportingstarting with transe valentina division of men and women, says Harper, author of the book Sporting Gender.
From tall basketball players to left-handed fencers, acceptable advantage exists in sports all the time. And I believe in a middle-ground policy, where we allow for inclusion of trans women but have restrictions that are based on the physiology of sport and the biology of sex. No openly transe valentina athlete has yet competed at the Olympics or Paralympics, but this year that looks likely to change.
Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, a trans woman like Petrillo, is in contention for a place in New Zealand's Olympic squad. Canadian Ness Murby, who competed in discus throw at the Paralympics, also recently came out as a trans man, and has been selected for the Tokyo games. An article by Outsports names other trans women hoping to compete at the Olympics, but Petrillo is the only potential trans woman Paralympian mentioned. She describes her life today as a visually impaired transgender athlete as an arduous journey that is far from over, but she is keen to share her story.
This is why she agreed to have her story fully documented on film - 5 Nanomoles: The Olympic dream of a trans woman will be released next year. She says making the documentary has helped her to get through some of the darkest moments of her journey, and surprised her too. She really is and I'd never have imagined it. This is another thing that Fabrizio would never have done: Fabrizio would never have spoken on TV, or given interviews, or put himself out there.
But Valentina does. Update 1 August It is reported that Valentina Petrillo has not been selected to represent Italy at the Paralympics. Photographs are the copyright of Ethnos transe valentina, producers of the 5 Nanomoles film with Gruppo Trans and Daruma Inc, and may not be reproduced. Arrested by the Nazis for being a Jew, Daniele Israel spent months in jail in Trieste before being deported to Auschwitz. The letters he wrote to his wife as she hid with their two sons only recently came to light and paint a deeply moving portrait of a family shattered by the Holocaust.
Letters of love: 'Our father wrote every day as he waited for the train to Auschwitz'. Valentina Petrillo running her last male T12 event in February Running with limited vision.
Visually impaired trans woman, 47, wants to become first trans paralympian
Valentina Petrillo checking the time on her watch. Until recently Petrillo was running in the Paralympic T12 category, where T stands for Track and 12 is one of three groups of visual impairment In April she was reclassified as T13 - the group for runners with the least serious visual impairment - and has been competing this week at the European Para Athletics championship in the T13 m event Petrillo sometimes finds it hard to see painted lines on the track, especially after rain - her preference is for white lines on a blue track When running against non-disabled runners, it's a disadvantage being unable to see the finishing line, she says, as she doesn't know when to make a final lunge.
But there is another side to it, she points out. Petrillo is cm tall - just under 6ft - and still 6kg 13lb heavier than transe valentina used to be. You may also be interested in:. Related Topics. Eyesight Italy Transgender people Long Re.