Spotlight: Documenting the Life of a Mexican Transsexual Saved by Opera

By David Schonauer   Thursday June 13, 2019

She was born as Saul, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

In 2012, she ended her transition to Morganna, after what Mexico City-based photographer Annick Donkers calls “a difficult period in her life.”

“She had no support at all from her very traditional family,” says Donkers. “She had gone through a lot of bullying at school but couldn’t share her discomfort to her parents. So she lived in two worlds and hid her true self. Only at the age of 28 did she realize she had gender disphoria.”

Donkers met Morganna in a roundabout way — through wrestling. At the time, Donkers was working on a project about Lucha Libre Extrema, the ultra-violent version of Mexico's Lucha Libre wrestling. That work, we noted in 2017, was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 5 competition.

Donkers, who is originally from Belgium, had been traveling throughout Mexico for a decade and after settling in Mexico City she found herself drawn to Lucha Libre and its various sub-genres — not only Lucha Libre Extrema, but also Lucha Libre Exótica, which involves androgynous and openly-gay wrestlers. She spent two years photographing a cross-dressing luchador exótico from El Paso, Texas, named Cassandro. Later, she was invited to exhibit her images of Cassandro at the Vive la Calle Festival in Mexico City, an event aimed at raising awareness of the LGBTTTIQA community.

“Morganna went on stage for the closing act of the festival,” says Donkers. “She was singing opera. I found her story fascinating and was impressed by her voice and appearance. A friend suggested I do a story about her. I liked the idea because it would let me show a different side of how transgender issues are often portrayed. For me, it was a positive story, a story of success.”

The work ended up being named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 7 competition.

Donkers’s approached Vice magazine with the idea of a story about Morganna and the role that music played in it. “Music saved her life,” she says. “It was her way to escape.”

The singing began when Morganna was a young boy, winning competitions and then studying music at the University of Guanajuato and the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. The singing took Morganna to Bankok, Thailand, to compete in the Miss International Queen competition. “The idea was to win and have enough money for her gender operation,” says Donkers. “She didn’t win, but a noted Thai surgeon was so touched by her voice that he offered to do the operation.”

“It took a long time for Morganna’s family to accept that they no longer had a son, but a girl,” notes Donkers.

Today Morganna’s life revolves around music and entertainment. She’s performed in Canada and Eeurope. In Mexico, notes Donkers, she has become famous and people are proud of her. Donkers followed Morganna to her hometown, San Miguel de Allende. “I went to a party where she had been invited to sing,” says Donkers. “I thought it would be a typical Mexican party, but I was quite surprised to end up at this luxury house owned by Americans.”

“Wherever she goes, people ask for autographs and photos,” write Donkers in her Vice article. “Morganna always smiles and thanks each person that comes into her life. She was able to choose a career that she likes and became a model for the LGBTTTIQA community. However, she assures me that many people still need to be sensitized, but she is convinced that we must always fight and think that we can.”

Dispatches from Latin America