The World of Jó

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  • Approximately 20 minutes long




The World of Jó

Jó Bernardo didn’t change her gender in the citizen's card nor did she undergo the sexual reassignment surgery. She assumed herself as a woman when being transgender or transsexual was still a taboo. For years Jó fought, was humiliated, protested in public and engaged with some LGBT activism projects. Still, she couldn't deliver her message. "The right to be different has never been accepted and continues to be rejected," she got off her chest. In her house in Murtosa, where she spends half of the year with her partner Alexandre, a kind of castle was built: artwork covers the walls and there is a sense of peace for the first time. At the age of 52, Jó can say she is herself. What if this isn’t enough?


There’s a certain... I don’t know if anonymity is the right word, but there is a kind of indifference that I like in Paris. You can be different, but it’s indifferent. And I like that feeling. As I did when I arrived in Paris for the first time. In Paris I was nobody.

Here, I was the first one to open the first gay bookstore, the first one to create a trans association, the first one to coordinate the first European project about trans and health. The first one, the first one…

I spend half the year in Paris and the other half in Murtosa, a small village in Aveiro. It’s a different world from Paris. The neighbors look after my house when I’m gone and rake up the leaves that fall on the ground. One of the neighbors is always asking me for a postcard from the places I travel to.

I never quite understood if they know or if they are aware of who I am. But I don’t want to raise that question. I will not confront them with something that they don’t know. If they have doubts, they keep them to themselves. Or think that that isn’t important.

They are in their seventies and are very religious people. We talk about life, church, about the plants, the neighborhood. With them, I discover the name of the flowers and the pruning season.

I was born in Lisbon but part of my childhood was spent in Viseu, connected to the ground. But I’ve already forgotten about the…The flavor, the smell… I have a twin brother and back then my mother used to dress us up alike. In the street, people thought we were a boy and girl, because he was always very clumsy and I was very elegant.

I ran away from home when I was 14 years old. In the Rossio train station, I met a couple of transvestites who explained to me that if I wanted to survive on the streets, I could earn some money at Avenida da Liberdade. I started to prostitute myself at the age of 15. I never returned home.

I remember wearing pink overalls that I bought in the downtown of Lisbon. One day, I was hiding from the police under a car and got my overalls dirty. We were a group of trans people who lived day by day. We stole bread from the bags that the baker would leave in the morning on people’s doors along with the milk bottles.

In the Winter, we slept in boarding houses; in the Summer, we slept on the streets, in the Park Eduardo VII. We saved money to buy ice cream.

I was Evaristo Jorge until I was 30 years old. When I was 20, I started the transition.

In 1996, I changed my name to Jó Bernardo dos Santos, since it was allowed by that time. I made industrial silicone injections in the 80’s in the hips, breasts, chin and cheekbones.

I had a mammoplasty in 2002 and a second one in 2014. What looks like a rhinoplasty between the older photos and the new ones was a nose correction resulting from a car accident where I hit my face on the wheel. I always liked cars!

In the meanwhile, the gender identity law passed in 2011, but I didn’t request because it wouldn’t have significantly changed my life. And I still prefer the principle of difference over the principle of assimilation.

In a conference about transsexuality at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, a medical surgeon dared to make a diagnosis about me in public, without knowing me, without ever having accompanied me.

He told me he was not going to discuss my case because according to him I was not a transsexual. I was a fetishistic transvestite.

Well, I might be, but that’s not the question. A doctor having the nerve to say this in public, without ever having consulted me, is at least unethical.

Whatever I do, I will never be integrated in our society, because people claim that they want to assume their difference. It’s false. People don’t fight for their difference but instead for their assimilation. And the difference between assimilation and difference is that in the first one people, from gay and lesbian movements, do everything to look like the others, the heterosexuals. Even if they know that their way of living has more defaults than virtues. The right to be different was never accepted and will never be accepted.

In 2001, when I made my first treatment for hepatitis C, I questioned ILGA about some trans issues.

Instead of being given an answer, I was only accused of speaking out because I wanted attention. I began to realize that there was no message to deliver and silenced myself.

In ten years, I did two treatments for hepatitis C with Interferon, whose side effects are identical to those of chemotherapy. For a year, I did nothing and shut myself up at home in Paris.

I already had a ritual. On Monday I would go shopping for the whole week and cook for three or four days. I took the injections and for two days I knew I was going to stay in bed. I have never seen so many movies and recurring series as at that time. But all this in order to come to the conclusion that the treatment didn't solve anything.

In the second treatment, I was already 48 years old and the recovery was even more difficult. I had to stop after ten months because if I didn't die from the disease I would die from the cure.

It was not until the end of 2013, with the third treatment, that I was able to get rid of hepatitis C. A new drug, Sovaldi, came up, and I was assured that it had no side effects like the previous ones. It looks like the problem is now fixed. But it will take time to recover completely.

In 1999, we bought a space in Príncipe Real and opened the first gay bookstore in Portugal, named the Pink Corner. At the time, we asked several personalities to provide us with books concerning the LGBT theme to help us.

The painter Mario Cesariny happened to enter the bookstore once. He greeted me and sat on a sofa that was there. At one point, looking at the bookshelf, he said: “That book is mine.”

The bookstore survived not thanks to the LGBT movement, but thanks to private individuals who weren’t part of this movement. I even had a proposal from an LG activist to put curtains in the bookstore's window to cover it up. He wasn’t a stranger.

I was increasingly selling more pornographic videos and books and I became fed up. After seven years, we closed the bookstore, as quickly as we had opened it.

In 2013, I went to live in Murtosa with Alexandre. I decided that my activist phase was over. It wasn’t really over because it is in the blood... I have worked with some associations and I was invited to collaborate in this year's International Conference on AIDS in Paris. I believe that nowadays there are some people from this new generation that are demanding above all else respect and the right to be different. With stamina and a will to fight.

Murtosa is becoming my safe haven somehow. I know that I found here, that I gathered here most of my life, our life, mine and Alexandre’s. There is a peace, a tranquility that I never had and that allows me somehow to deal with the pain and bitterness that all these wars brought me. Because no one goes through these processes uninjured. No one. And in a way, it was Alexandre who advised me to silence myself when there is no more message to deliver.

Having the consolation to say “this is me” by the age of 50 is not enough.

I think I deserved more.


Video, illustration and text:
Sibila Lind

Miguel Feraso Cabral

Produced by:
Bagabaga Studios

Accordion Dirge, Dana Boulé
I Should Have Been More Human, Chris Zabriskie
Parisian, Kevin MacLeod
We Were Never Meant to Live Here, Chris Zabriskie

Thanks to:
Jó Bernardo
Alexandre Almeida
Vera Moutinho
Frederico Batista
Hugo Torres
Rita Pimenta
Rui Azevedo

The documentary "Midnight Tea" about the life of Jó Bernardo was produced in 2015 by Bagabaga Studios. The documentary premiered at the festival XV Encontros de cinema in Viana do Castelo, in May of that year, and received the Audience Award for best short film at QueerLisboa19, in September. The documentary, which was never available in the media - only presented at festivals and film shows -, is now published as a multimedia narrative in PÚBLICO and in the digital magazine DIVERGENTE. In addition to the original material, captured in October 2014, this new version has unpublished content produced between 2016 and 2017.