“Life itself is the greatest teacher and you are in a state of constant learning.” For a certain Raphael Henrique of Brazil, though, it has been much more than that. Let’s face the reality here, shall we? Talking about the gender orientation is still a veto, let alone witter about the transgender rights. Amends have sure taken place but as they say, “you cannot create an experience, you must undergo it.”
Of course, many countries have taken that ‘step ahead’ but the reality stays, and it is bitter than you can imagine.
Fighting the odds, one day a transgender man Raphael Henrique from Brazil decided to unite the transgender community through football. Raphael, who was born as a woman, always had that feeling that he is a man trapped inside a woman’s body. Then came the transition period and after undergoing a series of testosterone-based steroid, which included the removal of breasts, growth of facial hair and a deeper tone in the voice, Raphael was physically a man.
This journey, however, was never a walk in the park. Raphael, in the past, has been a subject of brutal attacks that even led to him having the suicidal thoughts. But the notion of playing football was enough to guide Raphael to the bright light. Raphael has a long footballing history, having represented the women’s teams of Sao Paolo, Corinthians and Juventus.
But Raphael never wanted to play amongst women. You ask why? Simply because he didn’t feel like one. And then the middles ground was achieved. Two years back, in 2016, Raphael created Meninos Bons De Bola, world’s first transgender men’s football team. In a chat with Sportswallah, Raphael said he was working as a social assistance in Sao Paulo when the idea of forming a football club struck into his mind. Coming from the sporting background, he knew there was this lack of sports for the LGBT community in Brazil, henceforth a gathering amongst coterie was conducted.
Raphael told Sportswallah that the first meeting was held in a public park and as many as 30 players attended it. Besides talking about the idea, they also shared their situation, however good or bad. Many players from Meninos Bons De Bola Football Club want to be professionals, but that gender bar as always been a stumbling block.
“I think it’s important that our team exists so we can break down several barriers and prejudices,” Raphael once told The Sun.
“We have many people who support us, who like the team. But unfortunately, we have people who still show prejudice towards us.
“To combat that, when we are attacked, we respond with love and teaching and I think that’s the best way we can be understood.”
Fans are the pillars of a football club, and although Raphael’s club has its fair share of support, there’s never a vivid light throughout. We asked Raphael what kind of response do they get while playing and he said the exactly the same; some people love them, while at the same time, some section throws exploits along the way.
He explained that some people just cannot absorb the idea of transgenders playing football. Meninos play competitive games against both men and women, but the irony lies in the fact that men’s team treat them as women, while the women’s team treat them as men. And Raphael said that “the opposition never deals with their emotions which makes it difficult for Meninos.”
Meninos Bons De Bola is much more than a regular football club; a ménage, to say the least. Besides playing, Raphael said “players here talk about their problems, social/family issues, finding jobs, getting public help and much more.” They are not just players, as some have different occupations as well. For example, Cristiano Nunes – who formerly played with the Juventus junior team – is a hairdresser.
The eldest member of the team is Cláudio Raphael Galícia Neto, 45, and is dearly known as the Grandpa amongst the players.
Despite all these hurdles, it takes a great deal of optimism to get things going, and for Raphael and his team, “it is the passion of playing football.” He said that they are of the “belief that their body serves the cause.”
The club wishes to represent the community in the Gay Games, a worldwide sport and cultural event that promotes acceptance of LGBT athletes and artists, but the lack of sponsors and funds have restricted them to some extent. Upon asking over the same, Raphael said, “there are no sponsors for Meninos football club, not a single one.” He further explained that “the players get a very low fee” and they “do the volunteer work to get a decent compensation.”
Furthermore, in order to compensate, the club sell t-shirts and mugs which advertise the Meninos Bons De Bola. This way, along with getting some financial assistance, they also get a word of mouth publicity within at least the city.
A sport like a football needs a great deal of physical fitness and for Meninos, a physical education teacher named Sam works as a volunteer and helps them in coaching. If you go through Meninos Bons De Bola’s Instagram page, you will see the players happily showing their scars. Like Raphael, many of the players have had their breast removed, while some wear straps while playing.
Ultimately, we asked Raphael what’s his ultimate dream and his answer was subtle; “to create an international league for the trans.” He also added that there also happens to be a team in Rio de Janeiro, which isn’t a complete one yet, but together they hope to form an international league one day.