While his successes in befriending travestis and engaging in dialogue with them on any number of intimate and explicit topics might suggest his assumption of privilege was correct, he implicitly slights anthropologists of different orientation and gender, as well as the travestis themselves, in making this suggestion. Kulick does not indicate whether he believes prostitution is an essential part of being a travesti, or, to approach it from another angle, if there could be a travesti future without prostitution. Somewhat less surprising, perhaps because it is made at a later stage in the book after having been hinted at in many other places, is the argument that travestis enjoy their sex work. Language use and institutional perception[ edit ] 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. While Kulick is correct to cast doubt on many historical anthropological views of prostitution as something that is inherently degrading and unpleasurable, he also seems overly-willing to grant weight to scenarios that appear to be exceptional or at least irregular. In his judgment, travestis should not be seen as an archetypal aberration, a distortional transcending of traditional norms that might be pointed to as an illustration of the exemplary paradoxical nature of Brazilian culture. 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. As a straight man who lived on the road for two months with two dozen gay and transgender activists, I am acutely aware of how being straight and male can initially lead to guardedness and apprehension on the part of those accustomed to abuse from members of my demographic.
For example, he explains that religion is often important in travesti life: Kulick is not only interested in the ways in which travestis represent and crystallize gender and sex in Brazilian culture, however. Throughout the course of the ethnography, Kulick explores the construction of gender in greater Brazil through the experiential understanding of travestis. He also seeks, in one of the most compelling aspects of the book, to explicate a people who have rarely if ever been accurately or fairly characterized in popular or anthropological studies. In his judgment, trav Brazilians, on the rare occasions that they speak positively of travestis, those renowned gender-defying generators of much lurid modern folklore and commentary, will celebrate them as a particularly visible representation of societal inversion. In most cases, travesti themselves would solely be transformistas or crossdressers if they dressed as men. As a straight man who lived on the road for two months with two dozen gay and transgender activists, I am acutely aware of how being straight and male can initially lead to guardedness and apprehension on the part of those accustomed to abuse from members of my demographic. Don Kulick described the gendered world of travestis in urban Brazil as having had two categories: While it is true that travestis are often unable to hold down other jobs due to discrimination and a lack of legal protection, Kulick rejects the notion that the inevitability of travesti prostitution implies that it is necessarily demeaning, unenjoyable, and exploitative. His contribution and especially the challenges he poses to prevailing Western views of how the body figures in notions of gender and transgenderism are significant, particularly in regards to how sex practices can trump other considerations in defining gender. 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. As Kulick establishes, the penetrator is male and is generally considered heterosexual regardless of the sex of the person he is penetrating; the penetrated is thus female. In a book full of fascinating anecdotes and nuanced insights, perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the revelation that travestis do not consider themselves to be women. Kulick allocates no small amount of space to the Brazilian obsession with the female bunda—the ass. It is particularly ironic that Kulick employs the same condescension here as those he chides in the introduction—the only two people he knew who had conducted ethnographic work with transgender people in Latin America. Indeed, Kulick most often strikes just the right tone, one of outsider detachment that does not falsely belie his close friendships with the travestis who figure prominently in the narrative. This issue is criticized in Brazilian trans circles as transmeritocracia, particularly when affirmed in-group by fellow trans people. Somewhat less surprising, perhaps because it is made at a later stage in the book after having been hinted at in many other places, is the argument that travestis enjoy their sex work. After providing a background and context for the life of travestis in the large, unglamorous city of Salvador, Kulick explores Turnerian rites of passage in intimate detail. Such a minor criticism, however, should not deter anyone from seeking out this ethnography. While Kulick is correct to cast doubt on many historical anthropological views of prostitution as something that is inherently degrading and unpleasurable, he also seems overly-willing to grant weight to scenarios that appear to be exceptional or at least irregular. Thus, more drastic measures must be taken: The gender of travestis themselves is decidedly female, but not for reasons of self-identification. Even if there are periods of joy, pleasure, and financial success, there are also many moments of police harassment, violent scraps, and robberies. 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. While travestis are sometimes paid to penetrate clients, they never maintain relationships with boyfriends who want to be penetrated. 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.
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