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Not to be confused with Travesti (theatre) or Travesty (disambiguation).

In some cultures, especially in South America, a travesti is a person who was assigned male at birth who has a feminine gender identity. Travestis have been described as a third gender, but not all see themselves this way.

Travesti was initially a pejorative term, but has been reclaimed as a political noun by Argentinian and Peruvian travesti activists.[1]

In French-speaking countries, travesti means transvestite, anyone who is dressing up as the opposite sex. In the Greek language, the same word (τραβεστί) is also used to describe people of the third gender, who might engage in prostitution.[2] 'Travesti' derives from 'trans-vestir', or 'cross-dress'.

Travestis' feminine identity includes feminine dress, language, and social and sexual roles. Travestis may modify their bodies with industrial silicone injections, breast implants, or birth control pills, but do not desire sex reassignment surgery. Liquid silicone became popular among South American travestis in the 80s.[3]

Travestis emerged as a distinct social group in the 70s.[4]

Third gender[edit]

Travestis can be contrasted with transformistas (drag queens), who dress as women for performance and entertainment. As with other non-Western sex and gender identities, travestis do not easily fit into a Western taxonomy that separates sex and gender. Some writers in the English language have described travestis as transgender or as a third gender. Don Kulick described the gendered world of travestis in urban Brazil as having has two categories: "men" and "not men", with women, homosexuals and travestis belonging to the latter category.[5] In her 1990 book, From Masculine To Feminine And All points In Between, Jennifer Anne Stevens defined travesti as "usually a gay male who lives full time as a woman; a gay transgenderist."[6] The Oxford English Dictionary defines travesti as "a passive male homosexual or transvestite."[7]

Similar identity communities found in other countries include femminiello, kathoey and hijra.

As denial of pre-legal womanhood[edit]

The use of this term, however, is also used for transfeminine people with self-identification identities other than travesti (such as literal translations of transsexual woman, transgender woman, trans woman and so on), a politically loaded term, who are still not legally female, especially those who decide some forms of legally requested body modification, or those who for however reason still did not undergo such practices.

This genitalization of transgender identities is condemned by local activists and their allies, but still highly prevalent, up to the pervasive use of male pronouns by media of people known to be travestis when the standard linguistic use by the travesti themselves to refer to their kind is the one defined by feminine ones.

Transgender people of non-binary gender identities that are not feminine with seemingly feminine gender expression or seemingly feminine-headed body modifications might also be misgendered for the same reasons, aside disregard for the concept of a gender other than man or woman and people who feel like belonging in them (binarism, also known as discrimination towards non-binary gender persons). Usually, the concept of gender-neutral language in Spanish and Portuguese is regarded as a post-modern substandard construct that characterizes use of "improper language" by vehicles of mass information and ink-written media in general.

Sex industry[edit]

Travestis often work in prostitution and pornography. One travesti organisation in Argentina reported in 2005 that 79% of the 302 travestis interviewed in Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata work principally as prostitutes.[8]

In Mexico, travesti sex workers are among the groups most affected by HIV.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Reclaiming Travesti Histories". 
  2. ^ Λεξικό της κοινής νεοελληνικής
  3. ^ Calkin, Jessamy (5 June 1994). "The silicone sisterhood: Among Brazil's poor, there are three sexes: Men, women and travestis -biological males who have changed themselves by art and science into something very close to females. Many use liquid silicone injections in order to enhance the transformation; but the cost, for some, can be terrible". The Independent (London). 
  4. ^ Garcia, Marcos. "Issues Concerning the Informality and Outdoor Sex Work Performed by Travestis in Sa ˜ o Paulo, Brazil". 
  5. ^ Kulick, Don (1998). Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)
  6. ^ Stevens, Jennifer Anne (1990). From Masculine To Feminine And All points In Between. Cambridge, MA 02238: Different Path Press. ISBN 0-9626262-0-1. 
  7. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. Cambridge, MA 02238: Oxford University Press, USA. 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-861186-8. 
  8. ^ La gesta del nombre propio, edited by Lohana Berkins and Josefina Fernández for ALITT (Asociación de Lucha por la Identidad Travesti y Transgenero, "Association for the Fight for Travesti and Transgender Identity"), published by Ediciones de Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, 2005
  9. ^ "Sex work in Mexico: vulnerability of male, travesti, transgender and transsexual sex workers" 11 (2). 2009. doi:10.1080/13691050802431314. 


  • Kulick, Don (1998), Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) ISBN 978-0-226-46100-7
  • Prieur, Annick (1998), Mema’s House, Mexico City: On Transvestites, Queens, and Machos (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) ISBN 0-226-68257-9
  • Fernández, Josefina (2004) Cuerpos desobedientes: de género, Buenos Aires, Edhasa, 2004.
  • González Pérez, César O. (2003) dos al desnudo: homosexualidad, identidades y luchas territoriales en Colima, México, Miguel Angel Porrúa, 2003.