Travestis: Pre-op transwomen in Latin America

Travestis are pre-operative or non-operative MtF transwomen; that is to say, they are feminised males who take hormones and have body enhancements, but they retain their male genitalia. They are found across Latin America and also in southern Europe. They are most often prostitutes. They live in cultures where prostitution may not be considered a desirable career, but it is fully legal. Therefore it is a legitimate way to earn money – perhaps the only legitimate way available.

The most complete description of travesti life was in a book by Professor Don Kulick, called ‘Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes’1 .

The travestis have been an important influence on how transwomen are perceived by men, in Anglo-Saxon cultures. This is largely due to the spread of images of them across the Internet. I have even seen an example where a picture of the well-known Brazilian travesti Patricia Araujo was used to advertise a strictly heterosexual dating site. That’s what happens when you pinch other people’s pictures.

The images of these women have become identified with the Anglo-Saxon term ‘shemale.’ This term is often rejected with hostility by transwomen in the West, because of its connotation with porn, but in many other areas, non-operative transwomen use the term to describe themselves.

This spread of their images has led to the belief, in many quarters, that every travesti in Brazil is a drop-dead gorgeous man-magnet with a pretty face, large beasts, wasp-thin waist, hips like Mae West and legs that go on forever. People who believe this are in for a shock. There are many beautiful travestis, of course; and some are amongst the most beautiful transwomen anywhere. But most travestis, to be fair, were not even slightly convincing to begin with.

Their lives are often harsh. Poverty and deprivation, scars from beatings, the effects of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, not to mention the fact that many stop taking hormones at some stage, with the result that their bodies and faces quickly masculinise, mean that the average travesti found hanging around dimly-lit street-corners at night might turn out to be a bit of a fright in the cold light of day.

According to Luiz Mott, founder of the Gruppo Gay de Bahia, “About 0.001 percent of the Brazilian population is transsexual,” which would amount to 200,000 or so, but this is an estimate. The numbers gleaned from outreach work in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro confirm that at least 14,000 travestis are active in these cities.

Typically, travestis begin their transition very early, with some claiming to have begun hormones at the age of ten or even younger. Kulick recounts an anecdotal tale about one who was 8 years old. Unfortunately, she was killed in a road accident before he arrived. Self-medication is normal in many of these cultures either because hormones are available without prescription or through the black market. Traditionally, the individuals used birth-control pills, but today, the feminising drugs prescribed in the West are available cheaply and many use those. This is usually done without supervision and results are unpredictable. In Brazil, since 2012, it has been illegal to deny a person medical treatment on the grounds of gender or orientation, but it appears that self medication is still the norm; this might simply be due to the costs, or it might be because travestis, famously, trust each other rather than professionals.

travestis Miriam Rivera
Miriam Rivera

Miriam Rivera, (b. 1981), although she grew up in the United States, is of Mexican and Brazilian descent. Though she uses the Anglo-Saxon term ‘transsexual’ to describe herself, she falls into the Latin category of ‘travesti’. She said, “I decided to be a girl when I was eleven years old, and I began taking hormones. The next year I went to school as a girl.” Anyone familiar with Ms Rivera’s physical beauty – she was the star of the 2004 British reality show, ‘There’s Something About Miriam’ – would have to recognise that she successfully became, not just a girl, but an attractive, engaging and completely convincing woman, as her ability to fool the men she had to spend several weeks in close contact with demonstrated.

Ms Rivera exhibited strong Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) behaviour in childhood. She said:

‘They used to come to my mother and say, “Oh, you have a beautiful daughter,” and my mother used to say “That’s my son,” and I used to get angry. And I have always been attracted to men. When I was 11 I met someone who’s gay and start talking to me about hormones, which I got very interested in.’2

These childhood GNC traits are all characteristic of transgender male homosexuality, the natural end-point of which is HSTS.

Ms Rivera also says that she considers herself a woman but she knows that she is male. She claimed that she had no desire to undergo GRS, being concerned about complications or loss of sensation:

‘My mother always says to me, “Why would you want to be half-and-half? Why don’t you want to be a complete woman?” But I just love myself and I’m really enjoying my life.’3

Ms Rivera has had a varied career in modelling, television, reality shows, porn and prostitution. She was last reported to be living in Spain.

Numbers of travestis

The numbers of travestis across Latin America are huge, with, as we have seen, estimates of 200,000 in Brazil alone. Even though Brazil is considered more tolerant than some other Latin American countries, this could mean as many as half a million across the continent. (Note that these figures were collated some time ago and many indications are that numbers are increasing across the continent.)

These estimates may be regarded ‘best guesses,’ drawing together information from outreach programmes, research into HIV/AIDS and so on, but they have credibility. Other Latin American countries also have significant representation. Certainly, observing the scene on any number of street-corners in cities the length and breadth of Latin America, the number of recognisable travestis operating is remarkable. However, without specific studies, we it’s hard to tell whether this is the effect of concentration of travestis in commercially viable areas.

Every Latin American country from Mexico to Chile shows evidence of travesti culture. This is an enormous geographical range. The term travesti itself is universally understood throughout the continent and it has exactly the same meaning wherever it occurs.

Researching the travesti is tricky. Ideally, travel to the relevant countries is required, but that is not always possible. In addition, whether researching personally or through the literature, it’s necessary to at least be able to read Spanish and Portuguese, even if one does not speak them. There are links to relevant documents on the Links page.

However, there remains very little serious scientific study and much of what there is suffers from ‘queer politics’ or PostModernist methodologies which, if they have relevance anywhere, only has in a Western academic context. What limited literature exists tends to confirm Kulick’s basic observations.

Although some observers suggest that the phenomenon goes back to the 1960’s, it is more likely that the arrival of female hormones in the 1960’s led to a surge in its prevalence, making it noticeable enough to attract the attention of those same observers. At the same time, travestis, their bodies and faces feminised first by hormones and later by plastic surgery, became able to compete in the sex marketplace for straight men, a market previously closed to them. There is no doubt that the modern version of travesti culture owes greatly to these advances. The simple potential to earn money from sex — which all travestis enjoy — is augmented by the affirmation that she is not just a woman, but a beautiful one, that comes from straight men paying her for sex.

These factors certainly made being a travesti far more attractive. For transgender homosexual males, it permits them to fully express the natural femininity that all such males have. For autogynephiles, of which there are many, affirmation ‘as a woman’ is paramount and this attracts them to travesti life, La Vida, too, although their presentations within it are subtly different from those of HSTS.

The ability to make money as a travesti certainly made many a humble viado decide to hit the hornones. No transgender homosexual male, anywhere, is really interested in having sex with another transgender male. What they want is a big masculine, forceful man. As a viado, that is, a gay male, they have little or no chance of attaining this goal, but as a beautiful travesti, everything changes. Young gay boys growing up in the favelas are beaten and shunned by the macho masculine society around them, but as travestis they know they become attractive to those very same men who would beat them as boys. Their path in life suddenly becomes clear: money and the freedom to be yourself.

However, it doesn’t follow from this that travesti just suddenly appeared. Transwomen were recorded across North, Central and South American cultures from the time the conquistadores arrived in the 16th century and has been reported ever since.

Unfortunately the travestis are routinely marginalised, abused and shunned by the societies they live in. Most live in appalling poverty, are preyed on by criminals and abusive men, at grave risk from HIV and other STDs, and subject to terrible discrimination as well as widespread domestic and institutional violence. Even some high-profile travestis bear the scars of violence inflicted upon them. In cases of violence like this, their attackers frequently target their most feminine features – their faces, breasts and buttocks, as Kulick noted. There are many reasons for the violence, and it would be wishful thinking to suggest that some travestis, by their well-known habit of robbing clients, do not put themselves in the line of fire. In 2015, for example, 100 travestis were murdered, but this seems to be getting worse. At time of writing, the level of deadly violence against travestis was increasing in Brazil, although it is not clear why.

The situation today is confused. On one hand, travestis are more high-profile in Brazil and elsewhere than ever. The Brazilian Paula Friere, who was also a leading travesti activist, hosted her own television show. Also in Brazil, other high-profile travestis have achieved genuine celebrity status, even if it was as a novelty.

Travestis  have become international fashion models, largely on the back of the

travestis patricia araujo
Patricia Araujo

‘transgender’ movement in the West. Patricia Araujo, one of the most famous, and beautiful, Brazilian travestis, closed the Rio fashion week 2009; Associated Press had the story out in minutes. While fashion houses always like to shock, a travesti not just gracing the same catwalk as the most famous female models, in a country renowned for the beauty of its women, but headlining the show, is really quite a breakthrough. It confirms that some travestis at least are moving up the social acceptance scale.

Perhaps the simple explanation for this new acceptance is that the prettiest travestis, with their tall, lithe figures and striking looks, are simply so gorgeous that the inconvenience of their birth gender is overlooked, especially in countries where female beauty is so lauded. Latin culture reveres and glorifies personal attractiveness, especially amongst women, in a way that would probably shock Anglo-Saxon men, after so many years where feminists have made it an axiom that men should not celebrate feminine beauty. Travestis – at least the beautiful ones – now seem to be able to share in that.

Genital Reconstruction Surgery, GRS, which was formerly illegal in Brazil, has, since a legal judgement in 2007, been provided free by the Brazilian Health service. Condom distribution programmes are now commonplace and greater effort is being put into health care and health education for the travestis, by way of outreach programmes. There have been many high-profile campaigns to address the ignorance surrounding not just the travestis, but other forms of transsexualism, homosexuality and lesbianism. The transwoman Roberta Close, after many years’ struggle, won her legal battle to be officially recognised as a woman, and the court instructed that her birth records should be amended to state that she was born a female, with a birth defect that was later corrected with surgery. Now that a legal precedent has been set, this validation should be available to all transitioned women.

Nevertheless, travestis are still far indeed from anything we might consider mainstream, and only the few most glamorous and well-educated girls are really benefiting from the changes; for the vast majority of uneducated, unglamorous travestis, scarred by the exigencies of their lives, who work the streets of Brazil’s major cities, existence is still extremely tough and insecure.

La Vida

tavestis rio
Travestis on the street in Rio

Most travestis are part of what they call La Vida, The Life. This is the life of a transgendered prostitute, working the streets of the big cities. While it is true, by the way, that many girls use the Internet to advertise their services today, most do not and even amongst those who do, all began working the street and most continue. However La Vida is much, much more than a simple descriptive word for what they do; La Vida is a support network, a career system, a bank and a University all rolled into one. Why? Because travestis have no access to these facilities any other way.

Young travestis are typically taken under the wing of one or more older girls, who will usually find them accommodation; typically travestis take over whole apartments or lodging-houses and live in a semi-communal manner. This is described in detail by Kulick. The older girls will then teach the newcomers the things they need to know to be successful street-prostitutes – how to put on make-up, how to dress, how to smile at a man – and even how to rob a client.

They will introduce the newcomer to hormones, if she has not already started. The pool of experience, together with the ready availability of feminising hormones and medication, means that the young travesti is soon on her way to transformation. Older travestis, typically, will act as ‘pumpers,’ women who inject silicone into the bodies of other travestis in order to sculpt them into more feminine shapes.

Older travestis act as sponsors for younger girls, particularly in the European trip. In this, travestis travel to work the great European cities, where the streets are well-known to be paved with gold. While the increase in the numbers of east European women working as prostitutes has increased the competition for women, travesti numbers remain high, especially in Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Few Brazilian travestis speak Spanish, which would give them an immediate toehold in one country where the sex market is well-developed and lucrative. Many elect instead to go to Italy, which is the most highly regarded of the European countries, by Brazilians anyway and has relatively lax visa requirements for them. Some go to Portugal, but the version of Portuguese spoken there is not the same and the marketplace is smaller. Travestis from other parts of Latin America naturally gravitate, as Spanish speakers, to Spain, where the prostitution laws are amongst the most relaxed anuyway.

Travestis who have made the trip will coach younger women, teaching them Italian, Spanish or Continental Portuguese. Since all are closely related Romance languages this is not as difficult as it might seem. Kulick quotes one girl as saying, of Italians, “We understand everything they say. But when we open our mouths they don’t get one word. Not one.”

The girls are taught how to get their passports and how to manage the flight – a fraught experience, since the girl will be travelling on a male passport, and she will have to hide her breasts, her bunda and her hair, which nearly all travestis wear long. However, since Brazilians and citizens of most other Latin American countries do not need visas to come to Europe as tourists, this remains a significantly more attractive prospect than the United States, where not only will they require a visa, but they will have to speak English, a language very different from the Romance group.

Girls will often be loaned money by older travestis in order to make the trip. While there is an element of interest in the loan repayment, this is not the only reason more experienced travestis do it.It also has to do with status. The more girls a travesti has sponsored to make the trip, the more kudos she has in La Vida. This system is established throughout the Latin American countries.

Finally, once the girl has arrived in her destination country, La Vida provides her support network. Just as it was at home when she first began her career, other travestis will help find her lodgings, explain the different circumstances they are now in, the very different tastes of European men, and how the sex market works in the city she is in.

Soon — she hopes — the girl will be making the kind of money she could only dream about at home, if she is smart, pretty, works hard and is lucky. She will begin sending money back to her mother to help her out, and if she is very successful, may buy her mother a car or even a house or apartment.

One Spanish journalist, in an essay on travestis, relates an incident that occurred in the Bois de Boulogne, the most notorious red-light district in Paris. One of the girls indicated another, working nearby and said “There are thirty people in Venezuela living on what that girl does with her ass every night.”

There is no doubt that many travestis make the trip because of genuine attachment to their families, particularly their mothers; they come from a culture where the family is still hugely important, in a way that has largely been lost to us.

However, I believe there is another reason, and this has to do with their fathers. Typically, on becoming a travesti the girl will have been rejected by her father, frequently indeed thrown out of the family home, which is how she found herself on the street in the first place. The gender roles are much more strictly defined in Latin society; boys are meant to be young men, and men are meant to be macho. To be effeminate, to be unable to compete, is to reveal at once that one is a viado, a poof. This triggers the wrath of the male members of one’s family, who consider it a disgrace to their honour. By sending money home, the travesti is regaining some of her honour, saying, “Look, I know you hate what I am, but before you condemn me altogether, don’t forget whose ass bought that nice house you live in.”

There is a really touching quality about this, and though all travestis present to the world a confident face, I have little doubt that many tears have been shed into many pillows over the years.

At the same time, our travesti, if she avoids he clutches of pimps and does not succumb to drug addiction or STDs, will begin salting money away for her future. Perhaps she saves to have her GRS and leave La Vida, to live as a woman. She dreams, usually, of a wealthy Italian or Spanish husband. Yet, always cautious, she takes care to protect herself, perhaps buying her own apartment at home. In general the life-goals of the travestis are modest – career recognition, security, a pleasant place to live, plenty of nice clothes – and shoes – a car, happiness with a loved one: but most of all, acceptance. Unfortunately, not all succeed, and there are plenty of examples of girls who live in as much poverty in Europe as they did at home.

So, La Vida is central to the lives of travestis, particularly successful ones. And what makes a travesti successful? Well, in Europe, it is her physical beauty. There are stories of girls who had body-shaping work done at home with the use of injected silicone, who, after spending time in Europe, had the silicone removed – which is difficult and painful as the silicone bonds to flesh – and had it replaced with implants, which are expensive.

As well as this, it appears that there is more pressure for girls to stay on hormonal treatments, in order to maintain the natural-looking beauty that European men prefer.  Of course, European men may have different preferences for the girl’s appearance, but a significant number want the same thing, a hard penis. This presents problems, because travestis on anything more than a mild dose of hormones may find it hard to achieve a hard enough erection to anally penetrate a man. But Viagra and related drugs have come to the rescue. As one girl said, “Because of the hormones, I can hardly get it up, it’s always a bit soft. But with Viagra, I can’t get it down again.”

The heady atmosphere and undoubted glamour of the European circuit is unquestionably a factor in the next step that some girls take. Until recently, it was very, very rare for a travesti to undergo GRS and become a fully transitioned woman. Indeed I can find no examples of Brazilians doing this prior to 2002, except for Roberta Close, who has always insisted that she was never a travesti, but a transsexual woman. The commercial nature of La Vida and the considerable financial potential which a travesti’s penis represents, is a real disincentive. (Many girls refer to it as their ‘money-maker.’)

In addition, as we have seen, travestis typically regard themselves as homosexual males and think that those girls who believe they can become real women have a screw loose. However it is notable that the girls who have undergone GRS, and are high-profile enough for this to have been noticed, are all stunningly beautiful. They do not give anything away to natal women at all and would certainly not be out of place at any gathering of the glamorous. We’ll discuss this in more detail again, but meantime I would say that I think some of these girls have simply decided to take La Vida onto the next level, to challenge their natal sisters directly, to compete in the sexual marketplace for heterosexual men seeking female companions.

Most travestis are, after all, not only interested primarily in having sex with dominant male partners, but also extremely narcissistic; what more powerful reward, then, than to actually become a successful female courtesan in a sex market which includes some of the most gorgeous women anywhere? A glance through the listings on Arcaton or any of the other Italian or Spanish sex websites will definitely confirm the truth of this. Typically, a travesti, after GRS, assuming she remains in La Vida, will remove all reference to her past from her website listings and move them from the ‘Travesti’ section to the ‘Women’ section, where she will be directly competing for clients with very attractive natal women. These travestis, in becoming perfect facsimiles of erotically desirable women, have, therefore, added another rung to the ladder of success within La Vida.

To conservative Anglo-Saxons, mainstream acceptance for travestis is doubly difficult to reconcile, partly because of the gender history of the women, but also because of their professions, since they all, every one, have either been or currently are, prostitutes. However the negative attitude of Anglo-Saxon cultures towards this oldest profession of all is somewhat aberrant. It is worth remembering that in Brazil, as well as the rest of Latin America, prostitution is entirely legal, as is pornography and moreover, the women who work in these businesses are often celebrated. Travestis are just claiming their share of the action.

There are two other categories of transgendered males active in Latin cultures. The first are known in Spanish as transformistas, cross-dressing men. They do not  live full-time as women and they do not take hormones, inject silicone or have plastic surgeries. Those who exhibit this throughout the year may be submissive homosexual men who hope to steal some travesti action; they might progress to being full-time travestis, if their tentative essays are successful. Or they might have careers or jobs and cannot give these up to become travestis, so only indulge at night and weekends.Others fall into the Western category of Autogynephilic transvestites and may, like the Western version, have wives and families.

Those who do it only at Carnival – and there are many – are simply men having some gender-bending fun, playing with manageable autogynephilic tendencies. Indeed some even wear beards!

The other group is, again in Spanish, the transexuales.  It is hard to find evidence of a culture like this in Brazil, simply because La Vida is so pervasive there. Roberta Close has always insisted that she was never a travesti, but always a transsexual woman.

The big difference is that they are not in sex work. They probably come from wealthier families and may be educated or are being so. Some AGPs may, after the Western model, even have wives and children. They might have good jobs. They do not wish to prostitute themselves and distance themselves from the travestis and La Vida.

Travestis and Blanchard Typology

Not all travestis are Blanchard Homosexual Transsexuals. A percentage are Autogynephilic transvestites. A characteristic of HSTS is that they are exclusively attracted to males (if MtF) from childhood and never have any romantic or erotic desire for women. Yet there are significant numbers of cases where a travesti is actually the natural father to children. The relationships with women which this requires indicate that they must be non-homosexual. They are AGP rather than HSTS. In some cases, these are established relationships.

travestis lisa lawer
Lisa Lawer

One well-known travesti, Lisa Lawer (b. 22 February 1981), famously desisted, got married to a relative and started a family, after performing as a porn actress in over 80 films and having been a prostitute for many years. This behaviour is extremely unlikely in an HSTS and conjunction with her height, 5’10”, muscular build and facial features it seems likely that this individual is AGP.

Another public travesti who is AGP is Nicole ‘Nikki’ Montero from Chile. She is a globetrotting trans prostitute and internet entrepreneur who has sex with men and women for money and with HSTS travestis, other transwomen and women for fun. For nearly two decades she has operated her own sites, http://latinatranny.net http://nikkiladyboys.com http://shelesbianpov.ne. Much of the content on these features Montero in sexual acts with other travestis. Again, her AGP ststus is revealed by her sexual preference for penetrating and her attraction to femininity, as well as by her masculine physic and face. (Not to mention her fondness for metal music!)

travestis nikki montero
Nikki Montero (r) with Bruna Fontana, an HSTS travesti. The difference between the types is obvious

Although she is both AGP and, as of writing, retains male genitalia, Montero describes herself as a ‘true transsexual’. This might be an attempt to distance herself from the travesti street prostitution image, although in fact, she has often worked as one. Again, we need no more evidence that autogynephilia is indeed present in Latin America, contrary to the assertions of some academics who, as far as we know, have never been there!

Across Latin America there are significant numbers of AGPs but in contrast to the West, most appear young. Many are attracted to pageants and cabaret dancing and others numbers work in street prostitution. An AGP travesti sees her prostitution career as very much like an office job — bringing home the bacon. A number of male clients are themselves AGP and like to be penetrated — something most HSTS initially find distasteful, though they might learn to like it — and this gives AGP travestis some advantages. They are also likely to be somewhat bigger and more heavily built although, again, this is a statistical average. As a result they are likely to have large body enhancements, which men like this — who are attracted to extreme expressions of femininity — tend to like.

It is not as easy as it usually is, in the West, to distinguish South American HSTS from AGPs. While HSTS body type clustering is just as evident here as it is elsewhere, the types are not quite the same and vary somewhat across the region. This excellent article by Noomi Herran, for rodfleming.com, (http://rodfleming.com/hsts-agp-clustering/) lists the types apparent in south Florida, where most are of Latin American or Hispanic descent.

These variations are also seen in melting-pot Brazil, where some HSTS are tall and willowy, while others are short and slender, more in line with what we might expect. This can be seen elsewhere, for example in southeast Asia. Again, however, even tall HSTS tend to be slight for their height and to fall into the natural range for women, rather than men — that is to say they are taller than most women but not most men.

We don’t know why this happens. It could just be a function of outliers, but possibly, early hormone use might be implicated. It is necessary to initiate puberty in order to trigger the mechanism that arrests bone growth and it has often been suggested that inappropriate early hormone use might block or delay this mechanism, leading to very tall individuals. This happened to the castrati, Italian opera singers of the 18th and 19th centuries, who were often extremely feminine but also very tall.

We know from Kulick and other sources, including personal recollections by travestis, that HSTS in Latin America frequently begin hormones at very early ages, sometimes as young as 8 or 9. This would be early enough to have an effect on bone growth. Autogynephilia does not present before puberty, so the physical size of AGPs is probably not the result of early hormone use.

Exactly what proportion of travestis are HSTS and what AGP is not clear, but they appear to be close to parity.

The Tragedy of the travestis

La Vida is not often a glittering path to a future laced in golden thread, ending in a romantic climax where the travesti falls into the bosom of a real man who loves her as a girl. This is the dream of all HSTS, but few travesti Catherines find their straight male Heathcliff. All too often, as they will frequently attest, the man will, at the ‘moment of truth’ — when the clothes are off —  ask to be penetrated. This produces instant revulsion in the HSTS and the man can only ever be a client, not a lover. Others complain of the infidelity and fecklessness of the men they date. Kulick’s observations, together with many personal testimonies, make it clear that in essence, the ‘boyfriends’ that most travestis do have, at least in Brazil, amount to gigolos. They are given bed, board, clothing and pocket money by the travesti, in return for sex and companionship and the travesti lives in constant apprehension that her boyfriend might leave her for a woman — heartbreaking, but perhaps understandable — or for a younger or prettier travesti — a devastating betrayal that might well provoke an abusive response — or worse.

Some do find the straight man of their dreams and in this case, they usually vanish, ‘woodworking’ like their Western counterparts. Today, a travesti lucky enough for this to happen might go on to surgical transition.

 

Genital Reconstruction Surgery (GRS)

Surgical transition, Genital Reconstruction Surgery (GRS) was formerly illegal in Brazil and other Latin American countries, but in many today, it is legal. Indeed, in Brazil, since 2007, GRS has been available with State funding.4 ,5

Whether or not they are with a partner, the moment of surgical transition is the point at which travestis must depart La Vida. Even if they continue sex work, they are now women, and in a different life. However, many post-operative travesti prostitutes struggle to earn without their ‘money-maker’ and all too often they succumb to substance abuse or depression. Some, however, continue to compete, successfully, with women, in the sex marketplace and the best looking girls are able to use their past to develop careers in modelling or the media.

Despite the fact that much cosmetic surgery is now available, funded by the Brazilian State, there continue to be stories of travestis dying after complications of silicone injections by unlicensed practitioners known as ‘pumpers’.

Transphobic violence is the true tragedy of the travesti. In an average year, in Brazil alone, a hundred or so travestis are murdered simply for being what they are. Why this occurs is not clear, but one explanation is that men fear the arousal that travesti provoke in them, fearing, wrongly, that this makes them ‘gay’. Being homosexual is the ultimate insult, the most ferocious contumely that can be targeted at a man in these cultures; and it is always implied that the man himself enjoys being anally penetrated, than which there is no greater insult. It is the absolute termination of his status as a man. Any man so insulted, in a culture like this, is duty bound to react violently, to reclaim his honour.

Travestis are notorious for using just such insults against men, calling them ‘maricona’, ‘viado’ or other words that mean the same — ‘poof’, ‘homo’, ‘faggot’. There’s no doubt that this provokes some transphobic attacks. But men who have never been with a travesti also kill them and this requires another explanation. The most likely is that they fear the attraction that they feel towards travestis.

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