Beyond the horror and violence. Lucy Salani: "Who says a woman can’t be called Luciano?"

by Barbara Berti

I’ve always felt like a woman from an early age. My mother was desperate. I always wanted to do what little girls did at that age: cook, clean and play with dolls “. Word of Lucy Salani, the oldest transsexual woman in Italy. Born in 1924, Lucy was born in Fossano, province of Cuneo, like Luciano, and today she lives in Bologna, on the outskirts of Borgo Panigale, assisted by volunteers who have now become her friends, sharing the house with Said, a forty-year-old Moroccan whom she treats like a real nephew. Lucy is among the very few survivors of the Dachau concentration camp still alive, direct witness to one of the darkest and most tragic moments in the history of the twentieth century.

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Lucy Salani, the oldest transgender woman in Italy, protagonist of the film “There is only a breath of life”

All this is told in documentary There is only a breath of life, signed jointly by directors Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini, previewed at the last edition of the Torino Film Festival and now visible in the cinema. Through Lucy’s highly lucid story, the film not only addresses current issues such as gender identity, but also wants to reflect on the importance of continuing to keep your personality intact, despite the abuses and continuous attempts of contemporary society to condemn, humiliate and eliminate any hint of diversity. “She was a man and a woman, a son and a mother, a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp, a friend, a lover, a prostitute. His life has been an ups and downs of events, now tragic, now more serene ”say the directors. And they explain: “We found it in yours public house in the outskirts of Bologna, we met her and listened to the story of her life for hours, thus deciding to make a film about her, her humanity, her courage and her indestructible attachment to life. And through his experience we have told a piece of Italian history“.

In the film Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini retrace the most significant events of his life together with the woman

And, thus, the film retraces Lucy’s life: the years in which the child Luciano wanted to play with dolls, then the transfer to Bologna with the family. And here the difficulties to settle in a bigger city with Lucy who is forced to work to help her parents. In this period he meets a group of homosexual boys who prostitute themselves and, shortly thereafter, she began to do it too. These were the years of fascism, years in which homosexuals were chased and beaten. In 1940 the war arrives and Lucy comes called to enlist: “It was tough. I said what I was, but they didn’t believe it. I said: ‘I’m homosexual’. And they: ‘Oh yes, they all say like this, go, go …’. They didn’t believe me, ”he says. After a series of escapes that ended badly, in which Lucy is arrested several times, she suffers hunger, cold and violence, finally finds himself in the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich.

Lucy in front of the Dachau concentration camp sign

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“The horror, the despair, the hunger, the annihilation, the humiliation, the detention, the disgust. I was hoping they would bomb us, to put an end to all this “he continues, without sparing strong details:” As soon as we arrived they stripped us, peeled and disinfected us, they said. Disinfected with creoline. A bestial burning! The skin was peeling off the next day. If you had some meat on you you lived, otherwise you left already condemned. We no longer had a name, only a number. In the field I worked, I took the corpses to the ovens. I spent six months there ”.

Although so many years have passed, the horror of Dachau is not forgotten. “What I saw in the field was frightening, theInferno Dante’s comparison is a walk in the park: hanged, people dying in the street, people who were just skin and bones. They did the experiments: they burned the dead and there were those who were still alive, moving among the flames. In the morning when you got up and looked at the electrified fence, you found a bunch of kids attacked: they had tried to escape during the night ”.
Lucy miraculously manages to to survive to the concentration camp and returns to live in Bologna. Thus began his second life touring Italy with some theater and circus companies, she lives doing small comic sketches as a transvestite and magazine dancer. She has numerous lovers and boyfriends and often, in the most difficult moments, continues to prostitute herself.

Lucy has always felt like a girl, but after the gender reassignment surgery she didn’t want to change the name Luciano

In the seventies, seeing that relations with his family were not good, he moved to Turin where he worked as an upholsterer and met Patrizia, a teenager who was orphaned who starts living in his apartment. Lucy teaches her everything, behaves like a real mother, so much so that Patrizia soon begins to call her “mom” and their relationship continues until the woman’s premature death, who passed away in 2014. Around the mid-eighties, Lucy undergoes the surgical sex reassignment, he works in London but when he returns to Italy he decides not to change his name. “Who said that a woman cannot be called Luciano?”Says the protagonist of the story of an identity that resists and survives. Despite it all.

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