This Europe: When the actresses and the archbishop defied convention

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The Independent Online

Spain constantly turns up surprising pockets of tolerance in what you would imagine to be the most conservative corners of society. At last week's Feria of Seville, that round-the-clock fiesta of polka-dot frills, swirly dancing, horses and sherry that is really all about class and privilege, one of the most dynamic shows was a cabaret in celebration of Andalucia's melodramatic female torch singers of the Fifties and Sixties.

Spain constantly turns up surprising pockets of tolerance in what you would imagine to be the most conservative corners of society. At last week's Feria of Seville, that round-the-clock fiesta of polka-dot frills, swirly dancing, horses and sherry that is really all about class and privilege, one of the most dynamic shows was a cabaret in celebration of Andalucia's melodramatic female torch singers of the Fifties and Sixties.

Appearing at 3.30am in their own marquee, elderly painted (male) performers embodied their heroines down to tearing their hair in the tragic bits, and dancing the female steps and arm flourishes of "Sevillana" dances, complete with castanets.

They called themselves, ironically, "Los Formalitos" ("The Really Conventional Ones"). The atmosphere was electric, cut with an edge of melancholy. Then, within days, the city's archbishop proposed that sex-change operations be carried out gratis by Spain's public health system for those suffering the torment of being trapped in the wrong body.

Monsignor Carlos Amigo said: "People will think what I'm saying is outrageous, but if a person has a physical configuration that is causing real personal and psychological trauma and that person hasn't the money to go to a private clinic for cosmetic surgery, the Social Security should open the doors."

The Bishop, who prefers the expression "sex correction" to sex change, reckons science has the obligation to "make us happier, more beautiful and life more pleasant".

It sounds as though Los Formalitos have something in common with the head of their archdiocese, a Franciscan reckoned to be among the most open-minded in Spain. Which prompts the thought: what would the actresses say to the bishop?

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