Being a professional transgender athlete in the country that kills the most transgender people in the world does not escape Tifanny Abreu’s attention.
“We need more love and less hatred, more education and less discrimination, respect for all and all for respect,” she told the Blade. “That is the only way to build a better country for all.”
When we talk about Tifanny Abreu it is impossible not to mention how many barriers she had to cross to become the first transgender woman to play an official match in the Professional Brazilian Volleyball League. But when we approached her for an interview she was more than cautious about talking about her past — an understandable hesitation coming from someone who carries the heavy load of breaking paradigms and fighting for her earned right to play professionally the game she loves in spite of the negative attention she got for her first professional participation in the Brazilian League during the 2017/18 season.
Much has been said about the advantage she might have by having developed as a man and only transitioning in her late 20s – her body’s development was entirely completed as a man given her an increase in bone development as some detractors argued. But that argument points to the prejudice still rampant in the country and reveals how far Brazil is from equality and full inclusion.
José Roberto Guimarães, the Brazilian national women’s volleyball head coach, already stated that the fact of the matter is that she is playing inside the rules established by the International Olympic Committee, which regulates transgender participation in sports by the testosterone levels in the athlete’s blood – to be eligible the athlete must have less than 10 nmol/L of testosterone before the debut in women’s competitions. Abreu’s tests showed she had a testosterone level of 0.2 nmol/L.
Her story with professional women’s volleyball started in Italy in early 2017 playing the country’s second division for Golem Palmi. As the season ended, she went to Brazil to visit friends and family and treat a hand injury. And that is how her story with Volêi Bauru team began. She was invited by Bauru Vôlei to treat her injury in their facilities and using their professionals. Soon enough came the invite to stay and play for them – and she decided not to go back to Europe and play in their team to stay in her country close to friends and relatives.
Problems started to surface when she recovered from her injury and started constantly being the highlight of Bauru Vôlei’s campaign, scoring a high level of points, as high as Tandara Caixeta, the Brazilian national’s team opposite spiker.
Currently in training to start playing the 2018/19 pre-season, Abreu wanted to leave behind past issues and talk to us about the future. She is signed for the season with Vôlei Bauru for another year and decided to do that because her reception in the city, by the local fans and by the staff and fellow players was the best she could ever hope for. And she can expect an even better season since the team has reached to sign other featured players known for playing at a high level. An example of that is Valentina Diouf, the internationally known Italian opposite spiker. But Abreu dismisses any sign of rivalry. “There is no dispute. A team is a family. We win, fight and lose together. The head coach will make a decision on which of us will make first string. The really important thing will be the results we can reach as a team.”
Abreu has already completed a season as “the first transgender athlete” and as she probably will progress and grow in her game, she just wants to play the game she loves as “another one of the girls” away from the persecution she had to endure at her prior season of the Brazilian League.
“I am just an athlete with dreams and challenges,” she said. “And like every other athlete I’ll keep fighting to win the challenges I face and reach as high as possible.” By the end of the interview, Abreu was asked about transgender youth and the challenges they face, and that is when she reaffirmed the most important part of her strength and beliefs in a message for anyone who might be struggling with identity. “Follow your dreams. Fight for who you are and never give up on yourself,” she said.