Manolita Chen with the mayor of Torremolinos. SUR
Female icons of the LGBT community in Andalucía
International Women's Day 2024

Female icons of the LGBT community in Andalucía

You don't have to be born a girl to be a successful woman. Here are the pen portraits of three such people from the region...

Alekk M. Saanders

Friday, 8 March 2024, 09:53


Manuela Saborido Muñoz, better known by her stage name Manolita Chen, is a Spanish artist and businesswoman. She is an icon of the LGBT community in Spain.

Manolita Chen

She was born as Manolo in Arcos de la Frontera, Cadiz province, in 1943. As a child he already identified as a girl and was rejected by his family and some of his relatives. At the age of six, Manolo cleaned houses in exchange for food, and later the 11-year-old boy worked as a shoemaker's apprentice.

In the early 1960s, Manuela decided to leave her hometown. She moved to Vilanova i la Geltrú in Barcelona and worked as a bricklayer, cleaner, kitchen helper and newspaper deliverer. Manuela then went to live in Paris, where she became a vedette. Under Francoism, she had to go to Cordoba for compulsory military service, but because of the mistreatment of her fellow soldiers and her inability to pass the physical entrance tests, she was sent to Jerez de la Frontera as a cook.

Spain's liberal and festive oasis, Torremolinos, became part of Manuela's life in the 60s. She did not hesitate to settle in this coastal town after being told there was freedom for bisexuals, transsexuals, homosexuals, and transvestites. Manuela spent years on the Costa del Sol, where people, she recalled, "didn't care whether you were gay, transgender or macho..." Manuela performed at El Gato Viudo in Torremolinos' La Nogalera. However, her prominent career began in Madrid, where she became a well known vedette under the name Manolita Chen, and later went on to appear as a collaborator in various television shows.

In Torremolinos, the Pasaje Manolita Chen street was named in Manuela Saborido's honour

In the late 1970s, Manuela became the first person in Spain to receive a DNI (ID card) to show her female identity, changing her birth name to Manuela Saborido Muñoz. In the early 1980s, she left her artistic career and entered the hotel and restaurant business in Arcos de la Frontera, opening several cabarets and a restaurant that attracted customers from all over the country. In March 1985, Manuela Saborido Muñoz became the country's first transsexual adoptive mother, first of a daughter and then of two sons. In Torremolinos, the street 'Pasaje Manolita Chen' was named in her honour last year.

Bibiana Fernández

Bibiana Fernández.
Bibiana Fernández. AFP

This year is the jubilee year for Malaga artiste Bibiana Fernández - an actress, singer, television personality and talk show host. In 1994, she went public under the name Bibiana Fernández, although she had been already known as Bibi Andersen. The daughter of 'Malagueño' parents, she was born in Tangiers (Tangiers International Zone) in 1954 as a boy with the name Manuel, but her early years were spent in Malaga. From a very early age, he considered himself a girl, eventually calling herself Bibi Andersen. This feminine nickname was used by the blonde when she began her professional career.

Bibiana tried to get work in various fields, from making cameos and selling books to working at the Malaga docks. In the 70s she left Malaga for Barcelona to fulfil her dream of becoming an actress.

After spending some time performing in various shows in Barcelona, she made her film debut in Vicente Aranda's Cambio de Sexo (Sex Change) in 1977. In the 1980s, she began working with director Pedro Almodóvar and starred in many of his films, which brought her fame. In addition to starring in films, she also hosted various television shows and released several hit songs such as 'Call Me Lady Champagne' and 'Sálvame.

Bibi reportedly decided to undergo hormone therapy later in life. It was London where she underwent a vaginoplasty in 1991. Three years later, Bibiana legally changed her name to Bibiana Fernández. Last month, the famous daughter of Malaga celebrated her 70th birthday.

Cristina Ortiz

Cristina Ortiz.
Cristina Ortiz. SUR

Cristina Ortiz is a transgender vedette, singer and actress who became famous for her appearances in various television programmes. Her tumultuous life reportedly included jail time for insurance fraud and working as a prostitute.

She was born in Adra, Almeria province, in 1964 and was registered under the name José Antonio. Her parents raised their son along with five other siblings. He reportedly was already feeling like he was really a girl when he was just five years old. According to Cristina's own words, during her childhood and adolescence, she suffered aggression and mistreatment from family members and neighbours in Adra because they rejected her gender identity. However, growing up, nothing stopped her from organising small fashion shows that made her popular in her hometown. She didn't mind showing off her passion for fashion, designing clothes and hairdressing, which she studied at an academy in Granada.

In 1989, 26-year-old (then still) José Antonio was awarded the title of Mister Andalucía

From her youth Cristina stood out for her great physical attractiveness. In 1989, 26-year-old José Antonio was awarded the title of Mister Andalucía. However, the following year, Andalucía's most handsome guy began to dress in women's clothes behind her family's back. José Antonio started working in a nightclub drag show where he met the transgender vedette Paca 'La Piraña'. Apparently, their friendship made him take the decision to leave Andalucía for Madrid.

In the Spanish capital, José Antonio worked in a hospital kitchen, but soon appeared on television... still as a male presenter. He once won a trip to Thailand on Telecinco's dating show 'Vivan los novios'. After returning from the Asian country, Jose Antonio began his transition under the name 'Tanya'. It is reported that she worked as a prostitute in Madrid cruising areas. Eventually, the attractive woman changed the name 'Tanya' to 'Cristina', in honour of her deceased colleague, another sex worker.

In 1996, Cristina Ortiz gained fame with the nightly entertainment television programme 'Esta noche cruzamos el Mississippi', in which Cristina identified herself as a transgender woman. Her beauty, charisma and self-confidence appealed to the Spanish audience. From then on, Cristina became a regular participant in some TV shows. In addition, she started working as a fashion model, acting as a vedette in various nightclubs and released songs.

On 9 November 2016, about a month after the publication of her biography, the press reported that Cristina Ortiz' had died suddenly, 'with signs of violence.'

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