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Alana S. Portero: “I learned to write by reading gossip magazines” | Culture

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The interviewee proposes meeting at the Las Rosas shopping center, a temple of consumption and franchises built where there used to be a shanty town, and relatively close to the apartment in the Madrid neighborhood of San Blas where the trans girl protagonist of her novel grew up. Bad habit, and where the mature woman that Alana S. Portero is today works and takes care of her parents. When I arrive, she is already waiting with a coffee with milk with lots of ice, the same thing that she was thinking of ordering herself and, once the introductions have been made, she begins to tell in a very sweet tone of voice the twists and turns of a life that is both tender and tough, innocent and wild. Yours. She does it starkly and delicately, without going into cheesy, tear-jerking, sordid or lurid details. Needless. You see everything in her eyes.

He has killed it with his first novel. With how much ambition did he write it?

Zero. I had lost my capacity for ambition. I thought my professional life was dead.

At 44? Because?

Because, until now, I have only known failure. Everything I have done has gone wrong, understanding wrongly that I had not obtained enough income to be able to have a way of life. My ambitions were dead.

What had gone wrong?

All my professional projects and many of my personal relationships. All my life I have been a mediocre person, deep down I still am. I am in love with art, with my theatrical vocation, I am a frustrated actress, I have tried many things very hard and I have achieved nothing. I have obtained no public recognition and very little private.

Mediocre a writer translated into 15 languages?

Obviously, there will be something in the water when they bless it. I don’t think the success of Bad habit It’s just luck, and I defend it as a good novel. But before being a writer, I am a reader, and my worst editor. I left a previous novel halfway because I understood that I needed to mature as a writer. Everything in life is hard for me.

Since ever?

Yes. The only thing I have been able to highlight is having a certain charisma. People listen to me when I speak, I think I left a certain mark and I was a very good student. He didn’t do anything else either. I had no other life other than studying, thinking, creating and fantasizing. My fantasies and my real life had the same weight. My real life was an inertia and the only way to connect with my emotion, with my truth, was to go to the other side: to art, to reading, to fiction. I have lived my entire life dissociated.

Didn’t he have friends?

Very few. I didn’t have a real one until I was 17. She is still my best friend.

And his parents and his brother?

My parents were the guardians of that door of mine to fantasy. They allowed me space, they never forced me to leave if I didn’t want to. Maybe they didn’t understand very well, but they knew that something was happening to me, something that had no name, but they respected me and protected me. And they did it for love. I have been a super loved girl.

Who gave a name to what was happening to him?

I. Choosing the words, because neither they nor I were prepared, but we managed to communicate and understand each other. Then I needed a disconnection stage. I think it is essential to leave the places in your life where you have suffered in order to return to them happily. From 20 to 30, I lost my parents, I was unfair to them, but the return has been tremendous.

She left home and jumped into the pool to live as a trans woman. Was there water?

No, there weren’t any. Living my life as I understood it, and being who I was has cost me losing many people. All the time. My life has been a succession of losses, sometimes due to my negligence; others, from others. Being who I am and bringing my life to the realm of reality has cost me a lot of loneliness.

By rejection? At this stage?

Yes. You can’t force anyone to be by your side unconditionally. At the time, he made me very angry, but now I guess I understand him, in a way. What if they don’t understand what your life is like? If people stay, and all they do is increase the friction you already have with life, it’s worse for everyone. Now I just hope they leave me a little in peace.

How far are you from journalists asking you about your transsexuality?

Let’s see, I understand. But it makes me very angry to be reduced to that. I would prefer to talk about other things, especially since I have already talked a lot. And, when that insistence is malicious, it leads you to say things that you later regret. When you are forced to defend your natural position in life, which you cannot change, and you are looking for a way to do it, and it is not understood, and you try out of kindness, out of anger, out of rage, and it doesn’t work, there are moments when you lose your temper. I have been unfair to people to whom I have responded fed up, tired and hurt.

We are on the eve of LGTBI pride. Should we continue fighting for the T for transsexuality?

Of course, but not just because of the T. Because of all the letters, because of feminist activism in general, it is very important, but I don’t know if I can contribute more. Now I am a bad activist, I can serve more as a scaffold than as a flag. I’m tired, fed up and angry, hurt. With the impossibility of having a normal life. With everything being conditioned. I’m glad I tried, but I think I failed.

Does your pain over the suicide of Roberta Marrerothe artist who illustrates the cover of Bad habit?

Clear. It made me very happy to have his illustration in my book, it is a very beautiful gift. By leaving, Roberta has left me one of those voids that you know you won’t fill. She hurts me like that limb you’re missing. For me, she also fulfilled the role of a personal reference. The strongest, most intense, wild, carefree, strong, and funniest woman I have ever met in my life is gone and now I am in a strange place.

The writer Alana Portero, in the San Blas neighborhood (Madrid).Pablo Monge

We are in San Blas, her neighborhood as a child. How much has changed since then?

In my childhood, when I walked from here to the center of Madrid in search of freedom, there was even a real border, I had to cross the open fields that separated my working-class neighborhood, with low houses, small windows and noisy streets, where there was always a radio station playing. , of the elegant neighborhoods, with clean streets and fine cafes where people speak more quietly and are in less hurry. Now there are no open fields, but there is still a gap of inequality between them.

He talks a lot in the book about the fatigue of his working parents. Do you remember it that much?

Clear. It is very difficult for working class parents to understand the challenges of having an LGTBI child at home. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that they don’t have the energy to have a conversation. There is no time to think calmly, to speak slowly, to assimilate life. My parents have done nothing but work themselves to death, and they couldn’t sit down and chat when daylight fell: they couldn’t stand up.

What is it to be trans?

(Silence) It is a condition imposed by a world that does not know who you are and does not ask you. I am not transitioning, but detransitioning. I was assigned masculinity at birth, but I have always been who I am and what I am doing is returning to my place. Being trans, if you want, is a rebellion against those who impose themselves on you. But I don’t live it like that. I have always been very clear about who I am, I quickly realized that it was something I had to hide and then fight for it, without understanding why. Being trans is an inevitability. For me, being trans is inevitable.

What do you feel when you see certain feminists snap at him on social media: “He’s a fucking guy”?

I’m telling you: it hurts. But I’ve reached a point where I’m tired of suffering: I can’t force anyone to see me how they don’t want to see me. I ask that you do not use violence. Being seen as if I were a man makes me sad. I know it’s not true. With a person who speaks to me in masculine we cannot even start a conversation: you are already condemned. It’s just that it’s very strong. Although it is a fiction, I wish they would give me the pleasure of addressing me femininely for that time and, at least, we could try to talk.

What were your role models as a child?

The personal ones were my aunts and my neighbors. And then she had a very close relationship with pop stars and mythological goddesses. He devoured gossip magazines. I learned to write with them. I marveled at how, from something supposedly banal, they achieved attractive, meaningful and extensive texts. Those visits to fantastic houses. Those weddings. I have always greatly admired women and men press writers of the heart. They were my first literary teachers.

In other words, you are a piece of shit.

Absolutely. Pop divas and mythological goddesses allowed me to dream of being a sublime woman. That Carolina de Monaco, that Bibiana Fernández, that Circe. They were my mythology around the house. That’s why I don’t like the reduction in price now. I liked that this world was vertical, unattainable, that it lived in absolute paradises and seemed not to sweat or get dirty. I don’t want goddesses on earth (laughs).

What he has not lost is joy.

Yes. I am a person who has never lost fear, but also hope, which have been the guiding principles of my life. As much as life has taken me through some very dark territories, as much as I have sometimes wanted to stop living, I have always thought that I would reach a brighter place.

What has saved her?

The help of psychiatry and, above all, of people who love you very much, although that does not free you from loneliness.

How do you have self-esteem?

I don’t have it, I haven’t managed to develop it and I don’t think it’s recoverable.

But if they praise her from Almodovar a Rest-Feed.

And I appreciate it very much, but I have created a kind of avatar to whom they say that, not to me. It’s like I’m completely dissociated. I know they mean it, and I appreciate it. But there is a place in me that, for whatever reason, they don’t access. That’s one thing I’ve lost hope for. I hear it, I live it with joy, but then I am left alone, I face life, I feel fragile and alone and another voice tells me: it’s not that big of a deal.

How much has the success of Bad habit?

My life has completely changed. It is the first time I know the peace of mind of knowing that I can pay my rent, something that has never happened to me before. Before, he barely survived.

The other day the queen Joy mentioned your name at the Book Fair, how did your body fare?

It was fun. It didn’t surprise me because Letizia comes from journalism and she is supposed to be curious, but I liked seeing that she is up to date. And then the situation made me laugh: the bassist of a group indieVetusta Morla, loudly recommending my book to the Queen of Spain at a popular fair and for the surrounding public to take note: that is very nice.


Alana S. Portero (Madrid, 45 years old) has gone “from zero to a thousand” in recognition and professional prestige with her first novel, Bad habit, which, even before its publication, enchanted editors from more than a dozen countries at the Frankfurt fair. The story and the conquest of her identity of a girl trapped “in a body that she does not know how to live in” in a working-class neighborhood of Madrid in the eighties, told by the woman she has become, has moved dozens of thousands of readers and catapulted this historian, playwright, actress and LGTBIQ+ activist to a literary stardom that she says she can’t quite believe. “Tired, fed up and hurt” by the “uselessness” of her activism, this trans woman, broken after the suicide of her friend and illustrator of her book, Roberta Marrero, faces the Pride celebration this year with the satisfaction of having contributed to the visibility of transsexuality and having failed in its efforts to normalize it. “Right now, I’m more scaffolding than flag,” she confesses. Meanwhile, she works on her second novel with the peace of mind of being able to pay the rent without any problems. Until now, she had never felt it.

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