Friday, 9 June 2023, 19:35
When Dani realised it was time to propose, he was aware of his partner's three wishes. For their special moment, Regina wanted to be asked by surprise, with Dani down on one knee with "a ring like in the old days". She also knew what song she wanted to be playing: Kiss the Girl from the film The Little Mermaid.
She spent her childhood and half of her life like many imprisoned princesses in fairytales, but assuming that the happy ending they had was not for her. Because she was different; she was expected to be the prince, not the princess.
Look at her, you know you do
It don't take a word, Not a single word.
Go on and kiss the girl.
Dani tried to propose three times. He prepared the band with a friend from music school, the stage, the boat trip and those big two words: "marry me". The perfect story. But none of these attempts were successful "because if one thing didn't go wrong, something else would", Dani recalls as Regina cuddles him and shows off her engagement ring - now things have worked out.
"I realised that I had focused so much on grand gestures, bands and boats when in reality the only thing I wanted her to know was that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her." So the music was cast aside. Instead he used a poem by Elvira Sastre that he read to her after their first night together.
Dani and Regina's story deserves to be told. Although it has some gaps, the spaces are already starting to be filled by each other. They now complete each other.
Regina is a woman, and Dani a man. Although it seems cliche, these labels are important, as Regina is a trans woman and Dani a trans man. This is their love story.
Regina Pérez uses Varanski as her first surname when she performs. She is 27 years old and was born in Malaga. She is a vedette by night and by day a language specialist and language exam supervisor for the British Council. Daniel Lodestro is 21, he was born in Fuengirola and works as an auxiliary nurse in a pyschiatric hospital. They built their home in the district of La Paz, in Malaga: which is where Regina grew up in hiding and was later named "the most beautiful girl in the neighbourhood".
It is the things beyond the surface level, like Sastre's poem, that have been bringing them together since they met in March 2021. Now they can share their story. "A pre-wedding feature with photos and everything? Of course, we will come dressed for the occasion." Regina warns that she will need at least two hours to get ready, as that is what being a bride is all about.
Her white minidress is just a teaser of the "spectacular design" that Santiago Zambrana is making for her wedding dress. Dani smiles at her side, wearing his smart blue suit and with the patience he has needed since the first date, when she arrived an hour and a half late because "I had to look beautiful".
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"You're beautiful," he whispers to her while she puts on her gold heels for the photo shoot. Seeing how they look at each other says it all. Regina shows off her engagement ring to the camera and Dani the watch she bought him after the engagement.
"Yes, we have been very traditional," he says of his courtship with this "beautiful girl" who had made him "very nervous" until "we finally had the first kiss" and all the rest. "You know - Regina turns to him - I knew that this was going to be long term because from the first day we met he spoke to me as if we were going to grow old together. From the start I've always been in his future."
In those future plans they have started to fit together all of the things of the past. The gaps, that exist too.
Dani always knew that how he looked from the outside was not how he felt on the inside. "As a child I would put on my father's clothes, I was obsessed with Spider-Man."
At home they took it all in as something natural, something they sensed but did not yet have a name for it. Until Dani reached 11 or 12, when his biology started to develop in a contrary way to what he was expecting. If there is a moment where you realise that this feeling is there and cannot be ignored, Dani says for him this was on the football field with male classmates. "I remember that when I was on the pitch and I scored a goal, I would lift up my shirt like they did... until they told me, 'No, you can't lift up your shirt anymore. You can't do that'."
YOU CAN'T DO THAT
That was the first comment of many, including 'paint your nails', 'put some make-up on, you can at your age'. "Yes, I let myself get carried away by it" Dani admits.
He first heard a name for what he felt was happening to him through his older sister. "She met a trans guy and said to me 'you're going through the same thing'." Then came the kitchen scissors and the excitement and fear cutting his hair in the bathroom. The clothes his sister would bring him home because he felt "really embarrassed going to the shops to buy men's things." The binder he used to hide his chest that made it difficult to breathe. The knowing that the feeling that oppresses you inside is much worse than the breathing difficulty. Until the point when he was 16 and his mother said "enough".
Dani struggles to speak when the conversation turns to his mother. "If I have had to fight, she has had it three times worse." The trips to endocrinologists and specialists, the testosterone dosis that felt "awful", the changing of his name in school, the realisation that all of it would have to end one way or another in a mastectomy. But Dani was a minor, and out of all of the surgeons they spoke to, only one, from Seville, said that he would do it.
"So my two dogs and I got into my mother's car and we went there." Dani remembers the journey home as if it were yesterday. The excitement of the trip, despite the surgical drains, the stop at the shopping centre to buy "10 to 12 vest tops, because, you know, I couldn't wear them before as the binder would show...". Also, the first look in the mirror, exciting but not fully because "although I knew I wanted it, I also realised that the operation doesn't define you. I was already a man before it." With the transition done the way he wanted - he chose to keep his biological genitalia - the moment came to finally live fully.
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"There are as many types of transition as there are trans people in the world and each transition is valid." Regina follows her fiance's example to tell her story, saying that if he did not want breasts, neither did she. You often feel forced to comply with the discourse that you have to do everything possible to become who you really are. But the thing is that I didn't want breasts like this - she gestures making a large curve shape - and I also didn't want a genital operation. That confused me."
"What is happenng to me? What am I?"
The answer was given to her by an "amazing therapist who helped me to realise that I was a woman, with or without an operation. And I am very grateful to her because now I live my own life." Regina has also stopped living half a life, but she took longer than Dani to take the plunge. "At home it was a taboo topic, but I don't want to villanise them, because at the end of the day they didn't have access to enough information and awareness to understand what was happening to their daughter."
"Things are very good at home now. Even my granny Lola, who is 89 years old, is delighted about her granddaughter and the wedding. As are my parents, everyone. I am really proud of them. Make sure you include that in the article, ok?" Well there you go.
Regina, who transitioned in her twenties, recalls her first experiences. "From school I have good memories of my friends and some teachers, but bad ones with others." She also does not forget the first whispers of 'queer' that are common in classrooms. Nor will she forget the reaction of her first boyfriend, who she met in England when she was 21.
"At that point I had already started to experiment, to get acrylic nails and grow my hair long, I had my ears pierced, and everything was fine until when I was back in Spain and I told him I was a woman. The reaction was terrible, he was like 'you just want to transition to turn on the guys that you perform for, the only person that has to see you in lingere is me, they've got into your head'." So Regina told herself "this isn't the place".
Neither was it easy in the places where Dani and Regina lived before they met. The stigma, the lack of understanding and the fascination, the "I want to sleep with you but no one can find out."
Therefore, they say that their life together has helped them to fill these gaps. The wedding will take place in September in a hotel in Villanueva del Trabuco that has a room "that looks like it could be in Titanic or Beauty and the Beast." There are plans to cover the ceiling with flowers because that is "what she wants" and Dani is prepared to buy her all of the chapters of the fairtytale.
"I know that lots of people say weddings are silly, but we have fought hard for this, it is like a gift to ourselves. We have always been told 'no, that's not right' 'you have to do things this way'... and this is my way of saying to that girl who used to watch Disney films and thought she would never have the flowers, the waltz and the fairytale ending, that here it is."
YES YOU CAN
Children are definitely in the pair's plans. "It is one of the key goals for our life together. And what's more we are lucky that Dani is able to and wants to be pregnant with them, so if everything works out we are going to have children."
Dani nods and takes her hand. He starts his speech mimicking the thousand 'buts' that others will come up with, but, but, but... nothing. "One time they told me that being trans doesn't have to take away anything, and to that I say why am I expected to give up my ability or wishes to have children." He also has his own 'buts'. Physical ones, like the sudden interruption in his transition, the growing belly and the mark from the breasts he said goodbye to aged 16.
Going out onto the street, glowing and full of life, while others only see the shadows: "If you have to be prepared to have a child, we are going to have to be prepared on another level. We have to be able to live with the looks, the 'if you want to be a mother why didn't you stay a woman', people saying it is an atrocity, that we are going to confuse the children. The list goes on." "The comfort comes from knowing that we are going to do it together. I don't care what the 15 doctors who see me in the maternity hospital say to me or what people think." He just wants his fairytale.
Regina approaches him slowly. She kisses and holds him. Just like in the photo shoot where they were the only thing that mattered, she quietly says to him, "You know what, I hope they have your eyes."