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In this dramatic and compelling narrative, anthropologist Don Kulick follows the lives of a group of transgendered prostitutes (called travestis in Portuguese) in the Brazilian city Salvador. Travestis are males who, often beginning at ages as young as ten, adopt female names, clothing styles, hairstyles, and linguistic pronouns. More dramatically, they ingest massive doses of female hormones and inject up to twenty liters of industrial silicone into their bodies to create breasts, wide hips, and large thighs and buttocks. Despite such irreversible physiological changes, virtually no travesti identifies herself as a woman. Moreover, travestis regard any male who does so as mentally disturbed. Kulick analyzes the various ways travestis modify their bodies, explores the motivations that lead them to choose this particular gendered identity, and examines the complex relationships that they maintain with one another, their boyfriends, and their families. Kulick also looks at how travestis earn their living through prostitution and discusses the reasons prostitution, for most travestis, is a positive and affirmative experience. Arguing that transgenderism never occurs in a "natural" or arbitrary form, Kulick shows how it is created in specific social contexts and assumes specific social forms. Furthermore, Kulick suggests that travestis—far from deviating from normative gendered expectations—may in fact distill and perfect the messages that give meaning to gender throughout Brazilian society and possibly throughout much of Latin America. Through Kulick's engaging voice and sharp analysis, this elegantly rendered account is not only a landmark study in its discipline but also a fascinating read for anyone interested in sexuality and gender.
This book sheds new light on the interconnections between identity, gender and geographical displacement. At its centre are Brazilian travesti migrants, assigned as male at birth but later seeking to convey the aesthetic attributes of women by repeatedly performing a minutely-studied type of femininity. Despite the fact that they have been migrating between Brazil and Europe for more than forty years, very little is know about them, especially in the English-speaking world. This work therefore fills a significant lacuna in our understandings of sexualities, bodies and trans issues, whilst rejecting hegemonic terms such as 'transsexual' and 'transgender' in favour of the specificity of the travesti. What it presents is an ethnographical study of their bodily and geographic-spatial migrations, analysing how they become travestis through the gendered modification of their bodies, their involvement in sex work, and the transnational migrations to Europe that many of them make. Examining their lives in both Brazil and Europe, it also analyses how their migrations influence the construction of their subjectivities. Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Brazil and Barcelona, this exciting book will appeal to all those interested in gender, sexuality and transgender issues.
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