By Pietro Oliveira da Silva, Vice President and Project Director of the Rotaract Club of Guaramirim, Brazil; and Director of Diversity and Inclusion, District 4652
Our first years of life are often defined by our parents. If born a boy, we play with toy cars, wear dark clothes, and take soccer classes. If born a girl, we wear pink clothes, have ribbons in our hair, play with dolls, and take ballet classes. This is the normal pattern deeply rooted in society. Our parents were raised this way and raise their children the same way, following these standards.
Since I was 8 or 9 years old, I already felt different. I wanted to wear my brother’s clothes, play soccer with the boys at school. I wanted to feel free, without having to worry about choosing fancy clothes or braiding my hair.
At that time, I didn’t understand this feeling, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. But the bigger picture was that I didn’t feel good at all with the reality I was living because there was always something in me that deviated from the feminine norm. For a long time, I lived this feminine reality in silence, suffering a lot of prejudice in society.
I always had everything, never lacked anything, and because of that, in my mind, I couldn’t disappoint my parents and make them feel ashamed. I was always very afraid of opening up to them, so for a good part of my childhood and adolescence, I stayed silent, not discussing anything with anyone about how I felt and who I truly was deep inside.
At the age of nine, I was already attending Rotary events with my parents. Those who looked at us saw a traditional, beautiful, and perfect Rotary family: a Rotarian father, a mother who was the president of the Inner Wheel, and the children accompanying them to most events.
Due to this situation, I had to conform even more to the feminine norm, and it was very uncomfortable. I lost count of how many times I didn’t want to go out in public because people would stare at me and whisper.
I was very ashamed because I had female physical characteristics, but I couldn’t behave as such. I cared about my family’s image within Rotary, so I tried very hard. I often imagined what other Rotarians would say about my parents and their non-conforming daughter. So, I tried my best to behave and present the best possible image.
At the age of 15, I helped organize the Rotaract Club of Guaramirim in my town, and from that point on, things changed. I had more freedom, met new people, had greater access to information, and stepped out of my bubble and comfort zone.
Initially, I didn’t fully understand what Rotaract was, but in the club and during events, people would often say “do good to everyone, no matter who they are,” which deeply impressed me. To this day, this phrase guides my actions as a human being.
This phrase to me conveys the message that the Rotary family helps all types of people, regardless of religion, skin color, or sexual orientation. Our objective is to help people and contribute to positive actions in the best possible way. Understanding this had a profound positive impact on me because, within Rotaract, I could be different and help others who were even more different than me.
As years went by, Rotaract became an even bigger part of my life. It played a crucial role during my high school years. These were quite challenging because I was bullied for not conforming to societal norms, having a female body but dressing and presenting myself as male. I also faced psychological hardships at home due to judgments and hurtful comments about my identity. So Rotaract became my escape.
I eagerly looked forward to meetings, community service activities, and district events because there I could be myself. Engaging in these activities brought me immense happiness and a sense of fulfillment as I developed personally and made a positive impact on the lives of others.
At the beginning of my transition, everything changed. I felt more accepted and loved than ever, and knew that, despite being a different person and embracing my true identity, I still had a voice and could be myself, belonging and contributing even more to the organization.
Rotaract has never been just a service club to me. It has always been a family. In certain situations, it became more of a family than my own, welcoming and encouraging me to be my true self.
This institution that I cherish so much has become my stronghold, allowing this transformation to take place, which is happening in a wonderful way today.
I have nothing but heartfelt gratitude for the people who have crossed paths with me in my Rotary journey, whether through the club, district, or various projects. These individuals have been instrumental in my personal growth.
My story is one of persistence, resilience, and existence. I am deeply grateful to this organization. Life is beautiful, and my hope is that more and more people feel comfortable and welcome in our clubs. Sometimes, we have an important impact on someone’s life and we don’t even realize it.
Take the Creating an Inclusive Club Culture course to learn about actions your club can take to become more inclusive, diverse, and equitable.
Editors Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts for Membership Month. We’ve invited experts to share how they reach out to prospective members, keep existing members engaged, and create an environment that allows new clubs to form and thrive. Share your thoughts below.