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28 March 2021

Mariela Elcira Muñoz (1943 - 2017) tarot reader, mother of 23

The Muñoz family came from Lules in the northern Argentinian province of Tucumán, but moved to Quilmes, south of Buenos Aires where the father was able to get construction work.

By age 13 Muñoz declared her name to be Mariela, and was already taking care of her three brothers and the children of a neighbouring Italian couple. She endured teasing, bullying and a gang rape, but never backed down. Her father took her to psychiatrists and prostitutes, but finally accepted her and even considered mortgaging the house to pay for completion surgery.

Mariela and her mother
In her twenties Mariela was making a living as a tarot reader, and was already helping children and single mothers. The first child she took in was the son of a prostitute who could not take care of him. Next were three sisters abandoned by their mother. She found 16-year-old Yolanda in front of the train station. She had fled home with her baby when she was told to prostitute herself to feed the baby. Mariela invited Yolanda to live with her. 14-year-old Enrique arrived in Buenos Aires after fleeing from the brick kiln where he had worked since the age of 9. He was rescued by Mariela. Eventually she became mother to twenty-three children, and then 30 grandchildren. She was always honest with the children about her own condition and how she intended to become a woman.

She had completion surgery in Chile in 1981 with Dr Guillermo Mac Millan.

Mariela's worst year was 1993. A woman had given her three children. Later she repented and then without even talking to Mariela made a legal complaint. The judge convicted Mariela of kidnapping the children. Furthermore he sentenced her to a year in jail, suspended. This did lead to a discussion in the Argentinian media re trans women raising children. Dr Mac Millan spoke up in her support: 'Her attitude as a woman, her feeling as a mother, her noble readiness for adoption, which is one of the most sublime feelings in the world, they comfort me. It is the answer that we always seek in all the cases that we operate. '

The media coverage enabled Mariela, in May 1997 to became the first Argentinian to get her name and gender corrected on her national identity card. This was 15 years before Argentina’s Ley de Identidad de Género, 2012, which gave the same rights to trans persons in general.

Later that year she ran in the primaries to be a candidate for mayor of Quilmes. In 2003 she ran to be a provincial deputy for the Justicialista Party with the slogan 'A different woman'. In 2009 she ran as a candidate for provincial deputy for the Renewal Party,

In 2013 Mariela had a stroke. A judge awarded her and four other trans women "extraordinary and reparatory" subsidies for the discrimination to which the country, the law, and neglect had subjected them.

The French-Argentinian filmmaker Maria Audras made a film about Mariela’s life which won the best feature film award at the LGBTAQ Asterisk film festival, 2017. Audras had heard tell of Mariela from a friend in the 1990s. She went to Buenos Aires and phoned every Mariela Muñoz in Buenos Aires, and still did not find her in that she was in Quilmes. When they finally met, Audras was so impressed by the love expressed by Mariela’s children that she scrapped the fiction film she had in mind and made a documentary - which she worked on for three years. By this time Mariela had suffered three strikes and was dependent on the care of her children.

Mariela died age 73.

  • Maria Audras (dir & scr). Amor a paso de gigante, with Mariela Muñoz. Argentina 53 mins 2016.
  • “Murió Mariela Muñoz, la primera transexual en conquistar un DNI femenino”. Clarín, 07/05/2017. Online.
  • “Murió Mariela Muñoz, la primera madre trans de la Argentina”. Latfem, mayo 7, 2017. Online.
  • “La ‘gigante’ Mariela Muñoz, pionera transexual y madre de 17 hijos”. El País, 11 Nov 2017. Online.
  • Lucas Garabento. “La lucha, el dolor y las conquistas de Mariela Muñoz, la mujer trans que crió 23 hijos”. Infobae, 17 de Noviembre de 2018. Online.

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