Mayla and Sofia, identical twins who grew up in a small town in Brazil, have always done everything together, including their gender confirmation surgery. The 19-year-old twins said they "never identified as boys." The duo has now made the transition, what their doctor has called a first. 

The duo's doctor said, "This is the only reported case in the world" of twins who were presumed to be male at birth undergoing female gender confirmation surgery together." Dr Jose Carlos Martins of Transgender Center Brazil, a clinic in the southeastern city of Blumenau, performed a five-hour surgery on Mayla and Sofia one day apart.

The duo, a week after the interview, shared their journey in a video conference with AFP, smiling, joking and laughing, as Mayla Rezende said, "I always loved my body, but I didn't like my genitalia." The 19-year-old, who is studying medicine in Argentina, added, "I would blow dandelion seeds into the air and wish for God to turn me into a girl."

Also Read | Joe Biden launches campaign to support LGBTIQ rights abroad

Mayla said she wept after seeing herself post the gender confirmation surgery. 

Sofia Albuquerck, is more reserved but their camaraderie is clear. They finish each other's sentences while sharing stories of how they supported each other through the bullying, sexual harassment and violence they were subjected to in childhood and adolescence.

"We live in the most transphobic country in the world," said Albuquerck, a blonde who is studying civil engineering in Sao Paulo.

Also Read | Canadian dad starts swimsuit line so his trans daughter can wear comfortable bikini

There were 175 trans people murdered in Brazil last year, the most of any country, according to the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (Antra).

Latin America's largest country is known for a strong culture of machismo and overt homophobia, not least on the part of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

The twins were born in Tapira, a town of 4,000 people in the state of Minas Gerais.

They still bear the emotional scars of their difficult childhoods: to this day, they live in fear of abuse. But they always had the support of their family, they said.

"Our parents weren't afraid of what we were, they were afraid that people would mistreat us," said Rezende.

Their grandfather is the one who paid for their surgeries. He auctioned off a property he owned to pay the 100,000-reais ($20,000) bill.

Their mother, Mara Lucia da Silva, said it was "a relief" when her twins came out as trans.

Also Read | 'We act as though we were...', German LGBT actors plea for diversity in movie industry

"I don't even remember thinking of them as boys. To me, they were always girls," she said.

She recalled taking them to doctors and psychologists as children.

"In my heart, I always knew they were girls, and that they were suffering," said the 43-year-old school secretary, who has two other daughters.

"I'm upset with myself for never giving them a doll or a dress, for not making them happier when they were girls," she said.

But the twins said their mother was a rock of support.

"Whenever someone did something to us in the street, the first thing we wanted to do was go home and tell our mom, for her to give us a hug," said Rezende.

"She was like a lioness. She always protected us fiercely."

Rezende and Albuquerck -- one has their father's surname, the other that of the grandfather who financed their surgeries -- were originally planning to go to Thailand for the operation.

But then Rezende found the Transgender Center, which opened in 2015.

Gender confirmation surgery has been covered by Brazil's public health system since 2011. But only five public hospitals perform the procedure, and the waiting list is long.

Going through a private clinic enabled the twins to have the surgery sooner.

"I'm proud to be a trans woman. I've lived in fear of society for too long. Now I'm asking for respect," said Rezende, who keeps a picture of Saint Sebastian, the Christian martyr, with her constantly.

Albuquerck, who is also religious, said that she believes "God created souls, not bodies."

"I want to help people see that we're human beings, too," she said.