Travesti (gender identity)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The term travesti is used in Latin American countries—especially South American—to designate people who have been assigned male sex at birth, but develop a gender identity according to different expressions of femininity.

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

Travestis emerged as a distinct social group in the 1970s.[2]


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.[3]

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 within the 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).

History and culture[edit]


Vanessa Show, a famous vedette of the 1970s, photographed in Buenos Aires.

After collecting testimonies from travestis over the age of seventy, Josefina Fernández found in 2004 that: "In their opinion, the first period of the Peronist government is the one that most clearly began the persecution of gays and travestis, whether or not they practiced street prostitution."[4]


In the 1980s, during Alfredo Stroessner's military dictatorship, twenty travestis were arrested as part of the Palmieri Case (Spanish: Caso Palmieri), among them the well-known Carla and Liz Paola.[5] A 14-year-old teenager, Mario Luis Palmieri, had been found murdered and the hypothesis handled by the police was that of a homosexual crime of passion, unleashing one of the most famous persecutions of LGBT identities in the history of Paraguay.[5][6]

Paraguayan travestis use a secret language called jeito—originated in the field of prostitution—which they use to protect themselves from clients, the police or any person strange to the places where they work and that threatens the security of the group.[7] Some of its words are rua (street),[8] odara (the travesti head of a prostitution area),[9] alibán (police) and fregués (clients).[10]

Academic study[edit]

Travestis have been studied by various disciplines, especially anthropology, which has extensively documented the phenomenon in both classical and more recent ethnographies.[11] Being the country with the largest population of travestis (where they are even invoked as cultural icons),[12][13] Brazil is the country with the longest experience in the study of these identities,[14] and the works written in and about Brazil outnumber those of any other Latin American country.[15]

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.[16] 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."[17] The Oxford English Dictionary defines travesti as "a passive male homosexual or transvestite."[18]

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

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 and trans woman), 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 whatever reason still did not undergo such practices.[19]

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 the media when most travestis refer to each other using feminine pronouns.[19]

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.

Living conditions[edit]

Travestis are a historically vulnerable and criminalized population, victims of social exclusion and structural violence.[20] Discrimination, harassment, arbitrary detentions, torture and murder are commonplace throughout Latin America.[21] Sectors of LGBT activism denounce that the violence and early death to which the travesti population is subjected constitutes an authentic genocide.[22][23] A study carried out in 2011 in Central America revealed, for example, that more than 80% of the surveyed population felt they have the right to attack trans and travesti people because of their way of being.[24] In his pioneering investigation of the travesti population of Salvador, Bahia in the 1990s, anthropologist Don Kulick found that they are "one of the most marginalized and despised groups in Brazilian society."[13] According to a 2017 research published by the Ministry of Defense of Argentina, 74.6% of trans women and travestis in Buenos Aires said they had suffered some type of violence, a high number, although lower than that registered in 2005, which was 91.9%.[20] The same study indicated that they die on average at the age of 32, well below the average life expectancy of the country.[20] The concept of "travesticide" (Spanish: travesticidio), along with "transfemicide" or "trans femicide",[25][26] has been extended to refer to the hate crime understood as the murder of a travesti due to her gender condition.[27][28] According to Blas Radi and Alejandra Sardá-Chandiramani:

Travesticide/transfemicide is the end of a continuum of violence that begins with the expulsion of home, exclusion from education, the health system and labor market, early initiation into prostitution/sex work, the permanent risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, criminalization, social stigmatization, pathologization, persecution and police violence. This pattern of violence constitutes the space of experience for trans women and travesties, which is mirrored in their waning horizon of expectations. In it, death is nothing extraordinary; on the contrary, in the words of Octavio Paz "life and death are inseparable, and each time the first loses significance, the second becomes insignificant".[25]

Access to housing is one of the problems that most affects the travesti community.[29] In Buenos Aires, 65.1% of travestis and trans women live in rental rooms in hotels, private houses, pensions or apartments, whether authorized by the competent body or "taken" by those who manage them irregularly.[20]

The living conditions of travestis are marked by their exclusion from the formal educational system and the labor market. In this context, prostitution is constituted as the "only source of income, the most widespread survival strategy and one of the very few spaces for recognition of the travesti identity as a possibility of being in the world".[30]

In Mexico, travesti sex workers are among the groups most affected by HIV.[31]



Lohana Berkins, leader of the Argentine travesti rights movement, photographed in 2014.

Travesti identity has an important history of political mobilization in Argentina, where it is proudly claimed as the "political locus par excellence" of resistance to the policies of gender binarism and cissexism.[25] Argentine travestis began to get organized between the late 1980s and early 1990s, in repudiation of persecution, mistreatment and police violence, as well as the police edicts in force at that time.[15]


On April 22, 1973, a group of young travestis gathered in the Plaza de Armas in Santiago, holding the first protest of sexual diversity in the history of Chile.[32]

A key figure in the Chilean travesti movement and cultural scene is the poet Claudia Rodríguez, who began her activist career in the 1990s.[33][34]


Uruguayan travesti activism emerged in the 1990s, during the neoliberal presidencies of Luis Alberto Lacalle and Julio María Sanguinetti, which "promoted a subordinate integration model of sexual dissidence anchored in the notion of toleration".[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Campuzano, Giuseppe (October 2006). "Reclaiming Travesti Histories" (PDF). IDS Bulletin. 37 (5): 34–39. doi:10.1111/j.1759-5436.2006.tb00299.x. Retrieved 19 April 2019. While travesti was originally a pejorative adjective, it has been reworked into a political noun by Argentinean and Peruvian travesti activists, renaming the ‘duality as power’, which androgyny and hermaphroditism meant in ancient cultures of both East and West.
  2. ^ Garcia, Marcos (2011). "Issues Concerning the Informality and Outdoor Sex Work Performed by Travestis in Sa ˜ o Paulo, Brazil". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 40 (6): 1211–1221. doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9702-4. PMID 21203815. S2CID 14730442.
  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. ^ Fernández, 2004. p. 35
  5. ^ a b Transpasando memorias: Memoria, historia y proceso de organización del colectivo trans en Paraguay (PDF) (in Spanish). Asunción: Panambí, Asociación de Travestis, Transexuales y Transgéneros. September 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  6. ^ Benítez, Aldo; Ferreira, Marcia (February 4, 2016). "Caso Palmieri: historia de muerte y persecución". ABC (in Spanish). Asunción. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
  7. ^ Falabella, Augsten, Recalde & Orué Pozzo, 2017. p. 69
  8. ^ Falabella, Augsten, Recalde & Orué Pozzo, 2017. p. 64
  9. ^ Falabella, Augsten, Recalde & Orué Pozzo, 2017. p. 70
  10. ^ Falabella, Augsten, Recalde & Orué Pozzo, 2017. p. 71
  11. ^ Fernández, 2004. p. 39
  12. ^ Kulick, 1998, p. 6
  13. ^ a b Kulick, 1998, p. 7
  14. ^ Vartabedian Cabral, Julieta (2012). Geografía travesti: Cuerpos, sexualidad y migraciones de travestis brasileñas (Rio de Janeiro-Barcelona) (doctoral thesis) (in Spanish). Universitat de Barcelona. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Cutuli, María Soledad (2012). "Antropología y travestismo: revisando las etnografías latinoamericanas recientes". Sudamérica: Revista de Ciencias Sociales (in Spanish). Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata. 1 (1): 162–181. ISSN 2314-1174. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  16. ^ Kulick, Don (1998). Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)
  17. ^ Stevens, Jennifer Anne (1990). From Masculine To Feminine And All points In Between. Cambridge, MA 02238: Different Path Press. ISBN 978-0-9626262-0-3.CS1 maint: location (link)
  18. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. Cambridge, MA 02238: Oxford University Press, USA. 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-861186-8.CS1 maint: location (link)
  19. ^ a b "Travesti ou mulher trans: tem diferença?". Rede NINJA (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  20. ^ a b c d La revolución de las mariposas. A diez años de La gesta del nombre propio (PDF) (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Ministry of Defense's Gender and Sexual Diversity Program. 2017. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  21. ^ Currah, Paisley; Juang, Richard M.; Minter, Shannon, eds. (2006). Transgender Rights. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 267–273. ISBN 978-081-664-312-7. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  22. ^ Torchia, Franco (May 1, 2019). "Cuerpos que no importan: el silenciado genocidio travesti-trans" (in Spanish). Infobae. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  23. ^ Ceballos, María Pía; Gil, Natalia (April 2020). "Furia travesti entre fronteras, la comunidad de las diferencias. Problematizaciones en torno a la Encuesta a la Población Trans del Departamento San Martín (Salta, 2018)". El lugar sin límites. Revista de Estudios y Políticas de Género (in Spanish). Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero. 2 (3): 5–35. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  24. ^ Informe sobre el acceso a los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales de la población trans en Latinoamérica y el Caribe (PDF) (in Spanish). REDLACTRANS. December 2014. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  25. ^ a b c Radi, Blas; Sardá-Chandiramani, Alejandra (2016). "Travesticide / transfemicide: Coordinates to think crimes against travestis and trans women in Argentina" (PDF). Buenos Aires: Gazette of the Gender Observatory of Argentina. Retrieved July 7, 2020. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  26. ^ "Transfemicidios, travesticidios y femicidios trans" (in Spanish). Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of Argentina. March 14, 2018. Archived from the original on July 5, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  27. ^ Robles, Micaela (June 29, 2018). "¿Qué significa el término "travesticidio"?" (in Spanish). Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  28. ^ Akahatá, Agrupacion Nacional Putos Peronistas, Cooperativa de Trabajo La Paquito, Abogados y abogadas del NOA en Derechos Humanos y Estudios Sociales (ANDHES), Arte Trans, Asociación de Lucha por la Identidad Travesti y Transexual (ALITT), Asociación de Travestis Transexuales y Transgéneros de Argentina (ATTTA), Bachiller Popular Mocha Celis, Centros de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Colectiva Lohana Berkins, Colectivo de Investigación y Acción Jurídica (CIAJ), Colectivo para la Diversidad (COPADI), Comisión de Familiares y Compañerxs de Justicia por Diana Sacayán- Basta de Travesticidios, Conurbanos por la Diversidad, Frente Florida, Frente TLGB, La Cámpora Diversa, Lesbianas y Feministas por la descriminalización del aborto, Movimiento Antidiscriminatorio de Liberación (MAL), Observatorio de Violencia de Género de la Defensoría del Pueblo de la provincia de Buenos Aires, OTRANS, Personas Trans Autoconvocadas de Argentina (October 2016). "Situación de los derechos humanos de las travestis y trans en la Argentina" (PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved July 4, 2020.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  29. ^ Gelós, Natalia (May 23, 2017). "Un libro clave para saber cómo viven travestis y trans en Ciudad de Buenos Aires" (in Spanish). Agencia Presentes. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  30. ^ Berkins, Lohana (October 2006). "Travestis: una identidad política". Villa Giardino, Córdoba: Work presented in the panel "Sexualidades contemporáneas" at the "VIII Jornadas Nacionales de Historia de las Mujeres" and at the "III Congreso Iberoamericano de Estudios de Género DiferenciaDesigualdad. Construirnos en la diversidad". Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  31. ^ Infante, Cesar; Sosa‐Rubi, Sandra G.; Cuadra, Silvia Magali (2009). "Sex work in Mexico: vulnerability of male, travesti, transgender and transsexual sex workers". Culture, Health & Sexuality. 11 (2): 125–137. doi:10.1080/13691050802431314. PMID 19140056. S2CID 27337503.
  32. ^ Robles, Víctor Hugo (April 22, 2019). "Cuando las travestis chilenas tomaron las calles por primera vez" (in Spanish). Agencia Presentes. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  33. ^ Cabrera, Pili (February 20, 2017). "Soy Claudia Rodríguez, activista, travesti, pobre y resentida" (in Spanish). Agencia Presentes. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  34. ^ Pierce, Joseph M. "Vengo a hablar de política". Revista Anfibia (in Spanish). National University of General San Martín. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  35. ^ Sempol, Diego; Pankievich, Karina (January 4, 2020). "Los 90 en clave trans". Lento. La Diaria (in Spanish). Retrieved May 29, 2020.


  • Falabella, Florencia; Augsten, Erwing; Recalde, Lorena (2017). Mujeres trans y ciudadanía sexual. Derechos de salud y educación (PDF). Asunción: Arandurã. ISBN 978-999-675-379-4. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  • 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) Travestidos al desnudo: homosexualidad, identidades y luchas territoriales en Colima, México, Miguel Angel Porrúa, 2003.

External links[edit]