In 2011, Lea T. was one of the most in-demand supermodels in the world. She had it all — beauty, fame and a big paycheck. But, as she revealed that year on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she had spent much of her life tormented by a painful secret.
Lea T. was assigned male at birth and grew up the son of a world-famous Brazilian soccer star and a very religious Catholic mother. As a child growing up in Italy, T. always felt different and questioned her sexuality at a young age.
“Realizing young [that] I like the same sex, for me was a taboo,” Lea T. said on “The Oprah Show” three years ago. “I was feeling really uncomfortable.”
When T. began presenting as a woman, she felt more like her true self, but still struggled with this new life. “It’s really difficult because you fight with all the world,” she explained at the time. “You fight with your family, you fight with yourself, too, because you have to change everything in yourself.”
In 2008, Lea T. began hormone replacement therapy and was awaiting gender confirmation surgery, a difficulty in and of itself. “When you start your process, your heart becomes really sick. I was really disappointed with life because you walking in the street and the people laughing about you,” she said tearfully. “When you start the hormones, it’s really, really hard. I think it’s weird seeing my breasts and the penis.”
When she spoke with Oprah back then, Lea T. was still awaiting her surgery and admitted that she was scared of both the physical and emotional pain of the procedure. A year after the interview, in 2012, Lea T. had the surgery and recently opened up to “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” about what her life has been like since her medical transition.
“It was a really intense period,” she admits. “I had a lot of pressure on me and on my life.”
At the same time, she says, she understood that the surgery wasn’t going to alter anything about her fundamental personality or character.
“Doing a sex change, you’re gonna change a part of your body… That’s all… You’re gonna still be the same person,” Lea T. says simply. “When I wake afterwards, I was still me, liked the same things.”
When people hear Lea T.’s story, most want to know about how the last few years have changed her life. “I don’t have a boyfriend,” she says. “I [normally like] guys, but I don’t exclude maybe one day, [I could] have a girlfriend. I don’t have a problem with this.”
What’s more important than defining her sexuality, Lea T. says, is focusing on the innate qualities of a person.
“I believe much more in love and heart,” she says. “That’s much bigger [than] to see what you have in the middle of your legs.”