From Toads to Queens. Transvestism in a Latin American setting
Background and Methodology
In 1989, ILPES, with financial assistance provided by the World
Health Organization (WHO), carried out the first study ever
undertaken in Central America pertaining to the incidence of HIV
and AIDS among men who have sex with other men. Costa Rica
was chosen as an appropriate research site, despite its small size,
because of its visible and organized gay community, a community
that is itself divided into many sub-cultures and sub-populations.
Moreover, gay men were at the front-line of the AIDS epidemic,
comprising approximately 75% of all reported AIDS cases.
Finally, the country was deemed to be representative of conditions
elsewhere in Central America and the Caribbean basin.
The general aim of the research was to undertake a KAP
(Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices) survey for this community
and identify risk factors leading to HIV infection among
homosexual and bisexual men, as a basis upon which to develop
appropriate education and prevention programmes. Adopting a
comparative approach, research was undertaken with various sub-
populations of homosexual men, including transvestite sex-trade
workers and gay bar patrons. In the present study, we make use of
data from this earlier work where appropriate, for example in the
preparation of the tables that are found throughout this work.
In broad terms, it is possible to divide the research programme
upon which this book is based into two distinct components. The
first was quantitative in orientation, and involved the distribution
of a structured questionnaire to a sample drawn from various
groups of homosexual men. Of course, in this context it bears
emphasis that, given the impossibility of achieving a truly random
sample of the country’s transvestite population, generalizations
cannot be made as to the incidence of the phenomena studied. By
contrast, the second component was primarily qualitative in
approach, consisting of in situ observation underpinned by in-
depth interviews with key informants, the latter lasting from two to
The field-work for the first part of the study was undertaken over
the course of three months, from November 1989 to February
1990, with ten gay men hired to conduct the interviews. Having
made contact with a prospective transvestite participant,
interviewers proceeded to fill out each questionnaire in writing.
Participants each received 1,000 colones (approximately US$10 in
1990) in return for their involvement. Generally speaking,