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In some cultures, most particularly in South America, a travesti is a person who has been assigned male at birth and who has a feminine, transfeminine or "femme" gender identity and is connected to a local socio-political identity.
Travestis have been described as a third gender, but not all see themselves this way. By the mid-2010s, a majority of South American trans social movements and activism tend to acknowledge travesti as both a possible gender identity, and a possible socio-political identifier adopted by those who identify as women but were assigned male at birth. Those who know of and acknowledge non-binary genders also tend to see travesti as a possible all-encompassing label for all "femme" people born male whose gender identity is not male, including those whose actual gender identities might not be recognised as valid by society at large
"Travesti" was initially a pejorative term, with the same connotation its cognates in other European languages have, but has been "reclaimed" by Argentinian, Brazilian and Peruvian travesti activists. This move also had anti-colonial undertones, as it was already recognized by some at that point that in pre-Columbian American societies and in pre-slavery Africa, a third gender was socially recognised (e.g. Muxe, Two-Spirits, Cogender), until they were supplanted by the dominant Western views on gender (in which both alternative gender expressions and those adopting them were then classified as deviant) to the death penalty in some cases.
Travestis emerged as a distinct social group in the 1970s.
Travestis' feminine gender expression typically includes feminine dress, language, and social roles. Travestis may modify their bodies with industrial silicone injections, breast implants, or estrogen- and/or progesterone-based hormone therapy. Liquid silicone became popular among South American travestis in the 1980s.
An old understanding in South America, carried through by the official psychiatry diagnoses formed mostly by the understanding of European and North American professionals and academics, is that there is a dichotomy between travesti and transsexual, in which the former group does not desire surgery to modify one's genitals, whilst the latter one does. Nevertheless, such conception of the differences between travesti and transsexual has become disputed, as this invalidates the identities of many travestis and trans women alike, measuring a "valid identity" by one's degree of dysphoria and body modification, rather than self-identification. This issue is criticized in Brazilian trans circles as transmeritocracia, particularly when affirmed in-group by fellow trans people.
Travestis might identify under any sexual orientation (including lesbian) identity, under the assumption of the "defining feature" of their identity being either their gender designated at birth or their feminine socio-psychological identity. It is increasingly advised for people to treat travestis under the same language they would use to convey the identities women (cis and trans alike) adopt. Non-hetero travestis might identify as either femme (sapatilha, or just femme), butch (machorra/caminhoneira, or just butch), or neither (the translation for those two words in both Spanish and Portuguese are recent reappropriations, still potentially offensive).
Language use and institutional perception
Travestis can be contrasted with transformistas (drag queens), who dress as women for performance and entertainment. In most cases, travesti themselves would solely be transformistas or crossdressers if they dressed as men.
A travesti might identify as trans, transgender (transgénero, transgênero), transsexual (transexual), woman/female (mujer, mulher), femme, genderqueer, non-binary (no-binaria, não-binária), transfeminine (transfemenina, transfeminina), third gender (tercer género, terceiro-gênero), as all possible identities mentioned, as few, some or many but not all of them, or as solely travesti.
Confusingly, in both Spanish and Portuguese, the translation for travesti's cognates in other European languages tends to also be travesti, blurring definitions of identity and social experience. As such, it might be hard to distinguish the more Iberian, medical establishment- and dictionary-sanctioned, definition of travesti, which is one of gender expression and/or fetishism (transformista for the performance, in all of Latin America, crossdresser as the general hobby/interest, more particularly in Brazil), and the more Latin American understanding of travesti, or simultaneously the socio-political and non-Western gender identity, more directly tied to other aspects of Latino expressions of transgenderness.
This adds to the increasing trans insatisfaction with the narrative of pathologization of the commonly "true transsexual"-associated "gender identity disorder" / "gender dysphoria" as a mental illness (versus transvestic fetishism as a paraphilia supposedly requiring no medical intervention through hormone therapy and body modification), and the necessity for such diagnosis to legally modify one's body or legal identity markers, or to be offered medical government sponsorship to do so. It is often said that the Harry Benjamin-style standards of ideal sex transition narrative, one that typically includes heterosexuality, strict adhesion to gender roles, the presence of full bodily dysphoria (including genital dysphoria) and also of discomfort with one's designated gender since early childhood, does not fit the reality of the overwhelming majority of trans people, and should be abandoned. Nevertheless, most Latin American and Caribbean countries (including Brazil, where most travestis live) still officially require genital modification to change one's legal gender markers, when they allow one to do so.
Official government policy in Brazil, for example, has included distinguished areas for travestis in male-only prisons, while trans women and trans men might both be sent to female-only prisons, in a 2014 resolution allowing freedom for gender expression of inmates.
As with other non-Western 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 had two categories: "men" and "not men", with women, homosexuals and travestis belonging to the latter category. 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." The Oxford English Dictionary defines travesti as "a passive male homosexual or transvestite."
As denial of pre-legal womanhood
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 preoccupation with physical changes to genitalia is condemned by some local activists and their allies, but it is still highly prevalent, up to the pervasive use of male pronouns by media of people known to be travestis when most travesti refer to each other using feminine pronouns.
Transgender people of non-binary gender identities that are not feminine with seemingly feminine gender expression or body modifications might also be misgendered (referring to a person in a way ignorant of that person's gender identity) 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 (gender binarism, also known as exorsexism in some circles). Usually, the concept of gender-neutral language in Spanish and Portuguese is regarded as "improper language" by society at large, given the fact that these languages, like many others in the Indo-European language family, require a person's gender to be known for correct grammar to ensue.
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.
In Mexico, travesti sex workers are among the groups most affected by HIV.
In other languages
In French-speaking countries and in European Portuguese, travesti means transvestite, anyone dressing up as the opposite sex. In the Greek language, the same word (τραβεστί) is also used to describe people who identify as a third gender, and who are particularly visible in the sex work industry. 'Travesti' derives from 'trans-vestir', or 'cross-dress'.
|Look up travesti in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Reclaiming Travesti Histories" (PDF).
- Garcia, Marcos. "Issues Concerning the Informality and Outdoor Sex Work Performed by Travestis in Sa ˜ o Paulo, Brazil".
- 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.
- Resolução estabelece tratamento à população LGBT em estabelecimentos prisionais. Agência Brasil, April 17th, 2014.
- Kulick, Don (1998). Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)
- Stevens, Jennifer Anne (1990). From Masculine To Feminine And All points In Between. Cambridge, MA 02238: Different Path Press. ISBN 0-9626262-0-1.
- Oxford English Dictionary. Cambridge, MA 02238: Oxford University Press, USA. 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-861186-8.
- 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
- "Sex work in Mexico: vulnerability of male, travesti, transgender and transsexual sex workers". 11 (2). 2009. doi:10.1080/13691050802431314.
- Λεξικό της κοινής νεοελληνικής
- 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.