Matilda Colarossi translates Silvia Ferreri

Eve’s Mother

You had just turned five. Summer had just ended. 

At the time, I didn’t know that I would use the events of that day as a watershed. As a line demarking the before and the after. Between the happy life we thought we had and the hell that awaited us. In time, I understood that it was the before and the after date. The point of no return. 

It was a Saturday, and your father’s sister’s family had come to visit: your aunt, your uncle, and their little girl, who was a couple years older than you. 

They lived far away, in a town in the north. We didn’t see them often, but you and your cousin always picked up exactly where you had left off, running to your room to play. You spent hours in there without ever coming out, and I would barricade myself in that normalcy, serving green tea and organic biscuits. 

Nothing happened. We didn’t notice a thing.

All hell broke loose a few days later, when your aunt called your father, pulling him out of an important meeting to tell him that she would never, ever leave her little girl with you again if we didn’t get treatment for you first. 

She used that very word: treatment. I remember it well. We were stricken.

Treatment implied an illness. 

We discovered that during the afternoon spent in your room, you had told your cousin a secret she could never ever share with adults, a very important secret that would be your secret alone until the day you both died. She said you had told her that you were not really a girl but a boy. To prove it, you had made a hole in your panties and stuck a marker through it, that way, you said, you could pee like a boy. You were a boy, and, from that day on, you would have a boy’s name. You had paused then and said: “Alessandro. I like the name Alessandro.”

Your cousin found it funny and obviously didn’t tell anyone. Until the day a simple question betrayed her: “Mamma, can a girl become a boy and have a boy’s name?”

From there to your aunt’s hysterics was a small step. 

We took some time to reflect, your father and I, before deciding what to do.

The last thing we wanted was to take you to a psychologist. But we felt we needed help. We needed someone who would tell us what to do so we wouldn’t make mistakes, someone who would say: Take the first left, then go right. That’s the road, take it, and you’ll be fine.

First, we tried talking to you about it. We wanted to understand.

One evening while your father was putting you to bed, he asked you who Alessandro was, if he was a friend from school. If that was the case, we could invite him to the house to get to know him better, and maybe show him your toys. He realized afterwards that by asking what sounded like a trick question, he had made a mistake, but your anger was, in any case, out of proportion. You screamed that Alessandro didn’t exist, that he wasn’t anybody, and that he wasn’t your friend. And that your cousin wasn’t your friend either, that friends kept secrets, and that she didn’t know how to keep a secret. You said that you never wanted to see or hear her again. Your father tried to say he was sorry, but you pushed him away, yelling. Your face was transfigured by your fury and your tears, and you couldn’t breathe past the anger that rose in your throat. You cried and screamed until, exhausted, you fell to the floor, your face on your father’s knees, your sweaty hair dangling over his legs. And there you fell asleep.

Your tears and sweat had left you soaking wet. You didn’t even wake up when we changed your pajamas and put you to bed. 

Your father fell silently into a chair in his study: he was a ghost reflected in the screen of his lifeless computer. 

A few weeks later, we found ourselves sitting in front of a doctor who was specialized in child behavioral problems. She was about forty years old, very knowledgeable, and she worked with children your age. She didn’t say much, didn’t give us maps or strategies; she just told us to watch and wait. Without judging, trying not to use words like right, wrong, male, female. No contrapositions. She told us to just watch and to leave you alone. And to let you choose without imposing anything on you, so that your choice would be an alternative and not the result of a contraposition. 

There are children who take longer to stabilize, gender-wise. Don’t rush her and you’ll see that almost certainly everything will fall back within the norm, and she’ll realign with other girls her age. 

That ‘almost,’ however, left me with a void I didn’t want her to explain, I didn’t want to know more about.

And so, a period of extreme liberty began for you. We brought you with us to choose your clothes and often even your toys. You always went straight for the boy’s department: you chose sweat-suits, pants, hoodies. You asked us to cut your hair, and I watched it fall to the ground, lock after lock, under my hairdresser’s scissors. You said, cut more; I tried to intervene; and the hairdresser stood motionless between us, scissors in hand, and waited. He was a smart young man: I think he knew we were carrying out a transaction about something totally different. You were almost unrecognizable when you came out of there.

In kindergarten you invented a male twin. That way you could be everything without people asking you for explanations. You could be Eva, and you could be Alessandro. The other kids thought your double personality was fun. In the morning when you entered the school, they’d ask: 

“Who are you today?”

The teachers supported you and left you alone. They couldn’t explain it, but they didn’t pass judgment either. They learned not to ask me any questions. They understood that something huge was stirring inside you, and they didn’t have the courage to invade our already precarious, delicate space. They were happy to go along with your double personality and made sure the other children, especially those in the other classes, didn’t make fun of you. Your classmates had learned to love and accept you just the way you were. One day Eva, one day Alessandro. Then Alessandro more and more, and Eva less and less.

As for me, I had stopped inviting girls home to spend the afternoon with you. It was humiliating to have to call other mothers and beg them to come over with their daughters. They understood what I was trying to do, and sometimes they even played along. But you would offend them and mortify them because they were girls, and they wouldn’t come to play with you anymore. You did to them what you would have liked to do to yourself, if you had only known how. 

Slowly, your girl’s clothes, including the beautiful embroidered things your grandmother had made for you and that you had started to hate, ended up in the bags I donated to the church. In just a few months, you had changed completely, and when, much later, we signed you up for first grade, the teachers found it difficult to identify you with a girl’s name. 

You were Eva, but you didn’t look like it.


La madre di Eva

Avevi da poco compiuto cinque anni. Era poco dopo l’estate.

Allora, non immaginavo che avrei utilizzato gli eventi di quel giorno come spartiacque. Come linea di confine tra il prima e il dopo. Tra la vita felice che pensavamo di avere e l’inferno che ci attendeva. Lo capii col tempo che quello era stato il giorno del prima e del dopo. Il punto di non ritorno.

Era di sabato ed era venuta a trovarci la famiglia della sorella di tuo padre. Tua zia, tuo zio e la loro bambina di un paio d’anni più grande di te.

Abitavano fuori, in una città del nord. Non li vedevamo spesso ma voi bambine riprendevate in fretta la vostra confidenza e scomparivate nella tua stanza a giocare. Stavate ore lì dentro senza mettere il naso fuori e io mi barricavo dietro questa normalità servendo tè verde e biscotti biologici.

Non successe nulla. Non ci accorgemmo di nulla.

Il pandemonio scoppiò qualche giorno dopo quando tua zia chiamò tuo padre tirandolo fuori da una riunione importante per dirgli che mai e poi mai avrebbe lasciato la sua bambina in tua compagnia se prima non ti avessimo fatta curare.

Usò proprio questa parola: curare. La ricordo bene. Ci colpì.

La cura presupponeva una malattia.

Pare che nel vostro pomeriggio in camera, tu avessi confidato a tua cugina un segreto che mai avrebbe dovuto rivelare agli adulti, un segreto importantissimo che doveva restare tra voi due fino alla morte. A quanto pare, le avevi confessato di non essere una femmina ma un maschio. Per provarlo avevi fatto un piccolo buco nelle mutande e ci avevi infilato dentro un pennarello.

Così, avevi detto, anche tu facevi la pipì come i maschi. Eri un maschio e dal quel giorno avresti avuto un nome da maschio. Ci avevi pensato un po’ su e poi avevi detto: «Alessandro,
mi piace Alessandro».

Tua cugina l’aveva trovato divertente e ovviamente non ne aveva fatto parola con nessuno. Fino al giorno in cui una domanda innocente la tradì: «Mamma le femmine possono diventare maschi e chiamarsi da maschi?»

Da lì alla furia di tua zia il passo fu breve.

Ci prendemmo un tempo, io e tuo padre, per riflettere prima di decidere cosa fare.

Portarti da uno psicologo era l’ultima cosa che volevamo.

Ma sentivamo di aver bisogno di aiuto, avevamo bisogno di qualcuno che ci dicesse che cosa fare per non sbagliare. Che ci dicesse prendete la prima a destra, la seconda a sinistra. Quella è la strada, seguitela e andrà tutto bene.

Prima cercammo di parlarne con te, volevamo capire.

Una sera mentre tuo padre ti metteva a letto, ti chiese chi era Alessandro, se era un tuo amico a scuola. In caso, avremmo potuto invitarlo a casa per conoscerlo meglio e magari fargli vedere i tuoi giochi. Riconobbe dopo di aver commesso un errore facendoti una domanda che sembrava un tranello, ma la furia che ne seguì fu comunque spropositata. Urlasti che Alessandro non esisteva, che non era nessuno, che non era un tuo amico. E che non era tua amica neanche tua cugina, che gli amici mantengono i segreti e lei invece non ne era stata capace. Che non volevi più vederla né sentirla. Tuo padre provò a scusarsi ma tu lo cacciasti via urlando. Il tuo viso si era trasfigurato nella rabbia e nelle lacrime, non riuscivi più a respirare tanta era la furia che ti saliva in gola, piangevi e urlavi sempre più affannata finché crollasti esausta per la fatica col viso sulle ginocchia di tuo padre e i capelli che penzolavano sudati sulle sue gambe. E lì ti addormentasti.

Le lacrime e il sudore ti avevano lasciata fradicia. Non ti svegliasti nemmeno quando ti cambiammo il pigiama e ti mettemmo a letto.

Tuo padre si accasciò silenzioso sulla sedia del suo studio: un fantasma riflesso nello schermo del computer spento. Poche settimane dopo, ci andammo a sedere davanti a una dottoressa specializzata in disturbi dell’età infantile. Era una donna preparata, di circa quarant’anni che lavorava con i bambini della tua età. Non ci disse molto, non ci diede mappe né strategie, ci disse solo di attendere e osservare. Senza giudicare, cercando di non utilizzare parole come giusto, sbagliato, maschio, femmina. Nessuna contrapposizione. Ci disse solo di guardare e lasciarti fare. E lasciarti scegliere senza importi nulla per evitare che la scelta fosse il frutto di una contrapposizione e non di un’alternativa.

Ci sono bambini che hanno bisogno di più tempo per stabilizzarsi nel loro genere. Non mettetele fretta e vedrete che quasi certamente tutto rientrerà nella norma e lei si riallineerà con le bambine della sua età.

Quel quasi, però, mi lasciò una voragine su cui non volli chiedere spiegazioni, su cui non volli sapere di più.

Così cominciò per te un periodo di estrema libertà. Ti portavamo a sceglierti i vestiti, e spesso anche i giochi. Tu puntavi sempre i reparti da maschio, sceglievi tute, pantaloni, felpe.

Chiedesti di tagliarti i capelli e li vidi cadere sotto le forbici del mio parrucchiere ciocca dopo ciocca. Tu dicevi di più, io cercavo di intervenire, lui restava fermo nel mezzo con le forbici in mano e aspettava. Era un ragazzo molto intelligente, credo che avesse capito che stavamo facendo una trattativa su ben altro.

Uscisti da lì quasi irriconoscibile.

All’asilo t’inventasti di avere un gemello maschio. Così potevi essere tutto senza che nessuno ti chiedesse spiegazioni. Potevi essere Eva e potevi essere Alessandro. La tua doppia personalità divertiva gli altri bambini che all’ingresso, di mattina, ti chiedevano: «Oggi chi sei?»

Le maestre ti assecondavano e ti lasciavano fare. Non avevano spiegazioni ma nemmeno giudizi. Impararono a non chiedermi ragioni. Capirono che qualcosa di grande si muoveva dentro di te e non avevano coraggio di invadere il nostro equilibrio già così precario e delicato. Si accontentavano di assecondare la tua doppia personalità e far in modo che gli altri bambini, soprattutto quelli delle altre classi, non si prendessero gioco di te. I tuoi compagni, loro, avevano imparato ad amarti e ti accettavano così com’eri. Un giorno Eva, un giorno Alessandro. Poi sempre più Alessandro e sempre meno Eva.

Io, da parte mia, avevo smesso di invitare bambine a casa per farti passare il pomeriggio con delle femmine. Era umiliante per me chiamare le madri e pregarle di venire a trovarci con le figlie. Loro capivano i miei tentativi e qualche volta mi assecondarono pure. Ma tu le offendevi e le mortificavi perché erano femmine e quelle non ne volevano più sapere di venire a giocare con te. Facevi a loro quello che avresti voluto fare a te se solo avessi saputo come farlo.

Lentamente, i tuoi abiti da bambina finirono nei sacchi donati alla chiesa, compresi i meravigliosi vestiti ricamati che ti aveva fatto tua nonna e che tu avevi preso a detestare. In pochi mesi, ti eri completamente trasformata e quando, tempo dopo, t’iscrivemmo in prima elementare, le maestre fecero fatica a identificarti con un nome da femmina.

Eri Eva ma non lo sembravi.


Translator’s Note:

“I’m here Eva, near you. I’m sitting in this cold hallway just outside the operating room where you are lying, naked, a woman, a girl, female, for the very last time.”

These are the very first lines of the book La madre di Eva (Eva’s mother) by Silvia Ferreri; and the minute I read them I was hooked. I read the book, which is a mere 195 pages (but you wish it were longer) in a heartbeat. I couldn’t put it down.

It’s hard to say why books attract us, why they engage us, why we want to share them with everyone. Reading is personal, loving a book is personal, but thinking a book is great, is not necessarily personal: Eva’s mother is beautifully written; it is the product of research into a world few of us know; and it takes us into that world, mothers, fathers, children.

Eva is the strong child we cannot help but love; Eva’s mother is the parent we cannot help but admire and want to be, and she is every mother: “Very few of them know me by name. They simply call me the mother. As if I were an archetype, the matrix, everyone’s mother, of all the creatures, men and women who need to be carried to safer shores.” And that’s what she does, she accompanies Eva to safer shores, out of the body she was given at birth to the one Eva has always known was Alessandro. 

The book is written in a series of flashbacks, memories that retrace the protagonists’ steps as Eva’s mother sits in the cold, colorless halls of a state-of-the-art hospital in Serbia, where Eva is about to undergo gender-confirmation surgery: Eva has just turned eighteen, and this is her birthday gift to herself, for Eva was given the wrong body at birth and she refuses to live a lie.  

In the silent dialogue with her child, Eva’s mother takes us by the hand and strips us of all the things we thought we knew about gender transition: she teaches us about the pain and the frustration that comes with not recognizing the body that is reflected in the mirror; she teaches us of the senseless prejudice of others; she walks us through the difficulty of parenting, where love and fear can lead us to make huge mistakes. 

Statistics on transgender people in Italy date back to 2011, and they refer to a period that goes from 1992-2008. In that estimate Italy is said to have 424 transgender women and 125 transgender men. But if international studies set the percentage at 0.5-1.2% of the total population, there are most likely 400,000 transgender people in Italy; and this gives us an idea of how difficult the situation still is for people in Italy where some steps have been made towards guaranteeing gender equality but certainly not enough, especially socially. So this book is dedicated to all those people who do not have Eva’s strength or Eva’s family and support; and it is for all of us who no longer want anyone to have to live a lie.

I think translation is always difficult, when choosing words, when searching for solutions, but it really is most difficult when you are trying to reproduce the emotions that the original gave you and trying to be faithful to both the author and the protagonists, who deserve to be heard in a voice that is not theirs, but with emotions that are universal. 


Matilda is shown before a dark window and its wide lighted sill. Matilda has light skin and short grey hair. Matilda wears a knit cardigan or wrap in drab grey, and a black scoopneck shirt or blouse beneath.

Matilda Colarossi  is a Canadian literary translator and ESL teacher living in Florence. Her translations of poetry and prose (fiction and non-fiction) can be found in literary journals and online magazines such as Lunch Ticket, Asymptote Journal, Poetry International, Ilanot Review, Sakura Review, and AzonaL. Her books in translation include Fiamma by Dana Neri, and Leonardo da Vinci: Fables and Legends (MutatuM Publishing, 2018), and a forthcoming translation of Pirandello’s Excluded (Noumena Press). She manages the blog parallel texts: words reflected.

Silvia is shown, before a dark background. Silvia has light skin, and short red or auburn hair, just long enough to be pulled back behind the ears. Silvia wears a beige or offwhite collared shirt.

Silvia Ferreri, author and journalist, was born in Milan and lives in Rome with her husband and three children. She has worked for Rai Tre and Tv2000, collaborated with the journals Io donna, the newspaper Corriere della Sera, and RaiNews 24. In 2007, she published Uno virgola due. Viaggio nel paese delle culle vuote (Ediesse). She is currently a writer at Rai Radio 1: Mangiafuoco, i bassifondi della notizia. From 2009 to 2017 she managed the blog in which she dealt with the lives and trials of working mothers. La madre di Eva (Eva’s mother) from Neo Edizioni is her first novel.