Margarida Borràs and the Valencian Trans Memory
How to honor all those friends we’ve lost along the way in times of repression and marginalization? This was the question Valencian actress and screenwriter Carmen Fernández asked herself when she decided to direct a play to remember the figure of another trans woman like her: Margarida Borràs (Mallorca – Valencia, July 28, 1460).
Tortured and hanged in a public square in Valencia because of her gender identity, the story of Borràs embodies, for the actress and screenwriter, the many stories of transgression, survival and dissidence.
Telling Margarida’s story was a tribute to all those friends who had not had the chance to live and tell their story; either because repression and laws singled them out, or because there weren’t even terms that recognized their existence.
In any social system where control of sexuality is central, there is a more or less explicit mandate to condemn the diversity of bodies and their multiple desires. Basically, no one gets away. Who lives, how one lives and what one lives is imposed in different ways: from a hierarchical authority such as the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition to a wide array of commercials telling us how to be men when shaving, bridging the gaps!
Every day, across the world, thousands of movements for diversity strive to challenge gender roles and rules, and to expand the categories and ways to bring about non-repressive experiences and less suffocating lives.
Far from being a meaningless claim, the figures refute what some tendencies dismiss as ideological whims. A recent study found that 24% of deaths of LGBTQ youth are due to suicide. In this research, expert Geoffrey Ream specifies that these deaths are not caused because of their gender identity or sexual orientation but rather by how the world reacts to these..
In Mexico, over 50% of individuals with non-normative identities have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. 83% of those surveyed said they face hostile contexts on a daily basis.
The trans community is one of the most affected by society’s low predisposition to accept difference. Furthermore, trans women are often victims of hate murders in different contexts and territories. In these cases, attacks can even come from allegedly pro-equal rights environments. They are often forced to marginalization.
Under these circumstances, memory is an effective tool for survival because it helps us generate narratives and remember those historical events that should never be repeated.
The story of Margarida Borràs
Margarida Borràs could have been a daughter, a friend, a lover, or a companion. She was all that, yet she was punished by society of the time because of her desire to live without hiding her identity. The spectacle of her execution in a public square, according toVicente Adelantado Soriano, was part of a “pedagogy of terror” to set a deterrent example to others.
There were many Margaridas, but we only know of some. The case of Borràs has arrived to our days thanks to a journal in which the priest Melcior Miralles, chaplain of Alfons el Magnànim, registered the execution. The journal indicates that Margarida was seen wearing women’s clothes in many houses in València, and that when this was known she was “imprisoned and tortured”. It also includes the men who were tortured for being involved in a sexual, affective relationship with her.
The same journal records other cases such as that of Pedro Vego, convicted of having sex with other men. The punishment in such cases was death by burning.
Even the spaces reserved for this type of “punishment” were symbolic of the social status assigned to transgender women like Margarida. While the knights were executed near the València Cathedral, those considered worst society’s misfits ended up at the market. Among them, the so-called sodomites, among which she was, of course, included.
Margarida was hanged in a violent act that clearly showed what her transgression had been: to live a gender that, according to the norm, had nothing to do with her sex. Thus, during her execution, she was half-dressed in men’s clothing, with her genitals exposed to the crowd. Her life choice had been trampled underfoot.
From death to life
One can live on through narratives, thoughts, and collective memories. This is what has happened to Margarida Borràs in València after her story was known. Even today, very little is known about her existence. It is presumed that she was the daughter of a notary from Mallorca and that she could have mingled with the upper crust of Valencian high society. Also, that she could have stood out because of her freedom and her irreverence. She seemed to have no interest in hiding her identity, nor in abiding by a hypocritical double standard that did not recognize her.
It was precisely this game of appearances that led to her death, as it is believed that one of her lovers might have felt his reputation threatened because of the freedom that Margarida displayed.
Today Margarida Borràs is the first trans woman known in Valencia. We have gone from silence in the fifteenth century to remembrance in the twenty-first century, as now her name is on a plaque in the Plaça del Mercat de València where she was executed.
Margarida is also the name of the most important award granted annually by the Lesbian, Gay, Transexual and Bisexual Collective of Valencia (Lambda) to those individuals and entities that stand out in the fight against hatred of diversity.
In the words of Lambda, “the figure of Margarida Borràs is a perfect symbol of the commitment of all those of us who want to live our sexual identity or sexual orientation freely. From the journal’s description, we could understand that Margarida, born Miquel, was a transsexual person. That is why we wanted to pay a small tribute to the first person of whom we have historical evidence in Valencia that died as a result of hatred and discrimination, suffered by the mere fact of presenting herself to society as she felt.”