From Toads to Queens. Transvestism in a Latin American setting by Jacobo Schifter - HTML preview
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When we began working with the transvestite community in 1989, one of our principal aims was to learn more about transvestites‟
sexual culture, along with the risk factors associated with the spread of HIV in this population. Another aim was to gather information about this sexual culture in a specifically Latin American context, as a means of filling what is in effect a highly significant gap in the literature. Moreover, these two concerns remained at the fore as we embarked upon the second set of interviews in 1997. This work, therefore, seeks to analyse the sexual culture and risk factors which place transvestites and their customers at risk of contracting HIV.
Apparently, there has been very little change in the risk factors present over the course of the past seven years. However, by the same token it is clear that very significant changes have occurred in other aspects of participants‟ lives. This in turn led us to formulate a third objective for our study: the impact of
„ paqueteo‟1 upon the etiology of sexual orientation. We believe that the latter provides valuable information on the plasticity of sexual orientation, along with the influence of cultural factors in its etiology. As well, it reinforces the view that we should not merely look to a person‟s genitals and those of his or her partner in order to determine sexual orientation; any number of cultural, erotic and emotional factors are equally important in this regard.
Of course, the debate on the determinants of sexual orientation is an old one, with the earliest studies being undertaken in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. This early work was grounded in an
„essentialist‟ understanding of the origins of homosexuality. Quite simply, it was believed that homosexuality (and, by extension, heterosexuality) was congenital, inherited and hormonally-based.
Thus, for writers like Hirshfeld, homosexuals were intermediate beings - „zwishenstufen‟ in German - byproducts of „disorders‟ in the level of estrogens and androgens found in their system. Men who had an over-abundance of female hormones, for example, would develop female souls, while in women the opposite would 1
‘ Paqueteo’, in the street language of transvestites, refers to the act of deceiving, of pretending, of feigning, in short of transforming oneself into something else. In this world, a transvestite who is successful in paqueteo is one who is able to pass for a woman.
occur; homosexuality was thus an inversion whereby male bodies were inhabited by female souls, and vice-versa. In view of the fact that onset of homosexuality came at such an early stage of an individual‟s development, it was believed that there was very little that could be done to alter one‟s sexual orientation.
However, an opposite position would be taken up by subsequent writers, Sigmund Freud most notable among them2. For the father of modern psychology, homosexuality was as much the product of cultural factors as it was of genetic predisposition. Although Freud believed that the degree of „passivity‟ or „activity‟ in a child was hereditary and that this in turn played an important role in determining
significantly, interpersonal relations. According to the Viennese doctor, all children go through a phase in which they feel love and desire for their parent of the opposite sex. This phase is usually resolved „successfully‟ with the acquisition of a heterosexual orientation. However, cultural factors such as possessiveness on the part of the mother, indifference on the part of the father, jealousy among siblings, guilt feelings and aggression can serve to influence a child‟s development and potentially engender
„deviations‟, of which homosexuality is just one.
Sigmund Freud, The Complete Works, Vol. II, Mexico City, Iztaccihuatl Publishing House, 1985.
For Freud, the implantation of sexual orientation takes place at such an early phase of development - between three and five years of age - and in such an unconscious manner that, once established, it is almost impossible to change. Thus, he did not believe that psychiatry should be employed for this purpose. However, not all of his followers agreed with him on this point, with some going on to try to „cure‟ individuals of their so-called „deviation‟ from heterosexuality. Ferenczi, for example, believed that a homosexual male was in reality a „repressed heterosexual‟, someone who is both neurotic and „tormented and plagued by obsessions‟, and as such in need of psychoanalytic intervention3.
Along similar lines, Bieber, a New York psychiatrist, claimed that homosexuality was so unnatural that it could only be a learned behaviour. Moreover, given that it was a learned behaviour, it could also be „unlearned‟. In order to do this, he elaborated a series of interventions designed to remedy homosexuality‟s
„causes‟, that is to say by combatting the mother‟s „aggressiveness‟
and the father‟s „passivity‟4.
In turn, the post-war years might be characterized as a period of renaissance for „cultural‟ explanations of the causes of homosexuality. However, despite the best efforts of the mainstream psychiatric community, the techniques developed at this time to transform homosexuals into heterosexuals proved incapable of achieving satisfactory results. Few psychiatrists were able to „cure‟ their patients, despite the application of any number of courses of treatment (or torture?), from aversion therapy to psychoanalysis, from hormone therapy to lobotomy. Moreover, not only were they unsuccessful in their attempts to alter sexual orientation, but they also failed to demonstrate, in the numerous laboratory studies undertaken at the time, that homosexuals‟
mental health or family histories differed from those of non-homosexuals. In this way, Evelyn Hooker was unable to establish the fact that specialists would be able to judge the sexual orientation of individuals based upon their medical history folders, despite the fact that the men who participated in the study had been 3
Sendor Ferenczi, ‘Nosology of Homosexuality in Men’ in Homosexuality in Modern Society, Heindrick M. Ruitenbek, Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI Publishers, 1973, p.19.
Irving Bieber et al., Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytical Study, Mexico City, Pax Publishing House, 1967.
given standard „tests‟ to determine their sexual orientation5.
Similarly, Weinberg and Hammersmith found no difference in the family histories of heterosexual and homosexual individuals; both groups had the same proportion of „possessive mothers‟ and
„distant fathers‟6. These failures, combined with the gathering momentum of the gay liberation movement, would lead the psychiatric community in 1971 to abandon the position that homosexuality was a pathology in urgent need of treatment7.
Evelyn Hooker, ‘Adaption of the Manifestly Homosexual’ in Homosexuality in Modern Society, Heindrick M. Ruitenbek, Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI Publishers, 1973, pp.181-204.
Allen P. Bell, Martin S. Weinberg and Sue Kiefer Hammersmith, Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1981.
Ronald Bayer, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry, New York, Basic Books, 1981.
During the past two decades, however, a number of scientists have again tried to ground homosexuality in biology. Günter Dörner, for one, claimed that a homosexual orientation is the product of hormonal imbalances during pregnancy8. Along somewhat different lines, Professor D.F. Swaab9 contended that a particular area of the hypothalamus, known as the suprachiasmatic region, is
„sexually disphormic‟, that is to say that it varies according to gender and sexual orientation. Moreover, in 1991, Simon LeVay10
discovered yet another nucleus in the hypothalamus (INAH 3) that was thought to be larger in heterosexual men than in either women or homosexual men. However, at the same time, LeVay stressed that, aside from the INAH 3 nucleus, he could find no evidence to support the contentions of Swaab; as far as he was concerned, the hypothalami of men and women were similar. Then, in 1992, Laura Allen would discover another area of the brain, called the anterior commissure (a group of fibres attached to the hypothalamus and connected to the temporal lobes), which differs in size according to gender and sexual orientation11. Meanwhile, E.O. Wilson sought to infer cultural behaviour patterns from the laws of genetics and the survival of the fittest12. In this way, homosexuality was said to be caused by a gene, transmitted from one generation to the next through a process known as „superior enhanced heterozygote adaption‟. A similar position underlay the work of Hamer and Copeland, who in 1993 discovered a genetic marker (known as Xq28) on the X chromosome that was found in significant numbers of gay brothers13.
G. Dörner, W. Rohde, F. Stahl, L. Krell and W.G. Masius, ‘A Neuroendoctrine predisposition for homosexuality in men’, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4, 1975, 1-8.
D.F. Swaab and M.A. Hofman, ‘An enlarged suprachiasmatic nucleus in homosexual men’, Brain Research, 537, 1990, 141-148.
S. LeVay, ‘A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men’, Science, 257, 1991, 620-621.
L.S. Allen and R.A. Gorski, ‘Sexual orientation and the size of the anterior commissure in the human brain’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 89, 1992, 7199-7202.
E.O. Wilson, Sociology: The New Synthesis, Cambridge, Belknap, 1975.
D.H. Homer, S. Hu, V.L. Magnuon, N. Hu and A.M.L
Pattatuchi, ‘A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and 10
the male sexual orientation’, Science, 261, 1993, 321-327. See also Dean Hammer and Peter Copeland, The Science of Desire, the Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of Behaviour, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Needless to say, the scientists whose work is described above all assume that human society is comprised of discrete groups of homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual individuals, whose genes, hypothalami and neuron paths are all readily comparable.
However, if this was not the case, their work would instantly lose much of its meaning and significance. What then is one to make of their assumptions?
Cultural or biological factors?
As one might imagine, any analysis of the sexual culture of Costa Rica‟s transvestite community underscores the plasticity of sexual orientation and, by extension, calls into question the validity of essentialist assumptions. Most notably, this is seen in the apparent impact of accidental changes in San José‟s sexual geography upon the likelihood that heterosexual men and women will engage in sexual relations with transvestites. Instead of explanations rooted in hormones, genes and hypothalami, one might argue that a simple relocation in the working zone of transvestites holds enormous consequences for the sexual lives of heterosexual men and women. In short, we will show how physical space, combined with „ paqueteo‟, plays a highly significant role in promoting changes in sexual orientation.
We believe that our research also serves to undermine attempts to categorize people according to their sexual orientation. As De Cecco14 makes clear, by no means should such attempts be based upon patterns of physical activity alone, which is of course typical of essentialist writings. Quite simply, instead of classifying individuals merely on the basis of the genitals of the person with whom they are having sex, one must also take stock of their desires and emotions. After all, it is quite possible to be heterosexual in one‟s sexual practice but homosexual in one‟s passions or desires.
However, it is not the aim of our research to create further labels to describe these boundary-crossing individuals, but rather to document their existence and to subvert the simplistic division of people into traditional psychiatric categories.
John P. De Cecco, ‘Definition and meaning of sexual orientation’
in Nature and Causes of Homosexuality: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry, Noreta Koertge, New York, Haworth Press, 1983, pp.51-86.
If one require proof that these categories are incapable of grasping the complexities of human sexual practices, one need only reflect upon their patent inability to help us as we seek to answer questions about the main characters in this book. How is one to classify a married heterosexual man who likes to dress as a woman while at home? Or a lesbian who has sexual relations with a transvestite because she likes his masculine eroticism? Or a heterosexual woman who has sexual relations with a transvestite because she is emotionally attracted to him? Are we to consider a transvestite to be heterosexual when he penetrates a woman for money?
Background on Transvestitism
Contemporary conceptions of transvestitism originated in the nineteenth century. However, the phenomenon is as old as civilization itself, with ancient accounts of the practice surviving to the present day, despite the best efforts of Judeo-Christian religions to „erase‟ from history any evidence of men and women dressing in clothes belonging to the opposite sex.
Thus, Bullough and Bullough15 provide ample proof to support the claim that transvestitism has been a constant in both the West and East. Jewish leaders condemned it precisely because of its link with the fertility rites of pagan religions, in which noblemen dressed as women would engage in sex with either men or women in order to guarantee prosperity or a bountiful harvest. However, in spite of their prohibition, many continued to engage in pagan rituals in the West, including that of cross dressing for ceremonial or ritualist reasons. Indeed, one might argue that the legacy of these ancient festivities is preserved to the present day in the celebration of Halloween or the Mardi Gras carnival. As well, rituals continue to be practised, as is the case of Greek funerals and lay festivities, whereby men and women dress themselves in the clothing of the opposite sex.
Vera L. Bullough and Bonnie Bullough, Cross Dressing, Sex and Gender, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
Moreover, there is also a long tradition of women in the West who cross-dressed in order to escape gender restrictions, with Joan of Arc being perhaps the best known example of a woman executed for dressing as a man. Along somewhat different lines, many noblemen in European courts would cross-dress as a means of becoming more attractive to their female counterparts. It is for this reason that transvestism became associated with heterosexual promiscuity.
In America, there is a long tradition of transvestism embodied in the figure of the „beardache‟16. These were men who cross-dressed and were given the role of healer or political leader. In India, Burma and Pakistan, individuals who cross-dressed were deemed to comprise a „third sex‟, with special posts in society being reserved for them. In India‟s Dhed community, men dress as women and as such are temporarily possessed by female gods or demons17. Meanwhile, traditional Tahitian culture encompasses the figure of the „mahu‟, the town homosexual, who was in effect a transsexual who had elected to become an „honorary‟ woman, garnering respect from the wider community in the process18.
Historical reasons for cross-dressing 16
Walter C. Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, Boston, Beacon Press, 1986.
Sudhir Kakar, The Inner World: A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society in India, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1981.
N. Besnier, “Polynesian Gender liminality through time and space”. In Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond sexual disphormism in culture and history, edited by G. Herdt, 285-328. New York, Zone Books, 1994.
People who cross-dress do so for many different reasons. In Europe, there are many accounts of „libertines‟ dressing as women in order to seduce nuns and virgins. A similar ruse was employed by French aristocrats, with one famous example being the king who would cross-dress in order to pass unnoticed into the maids‟
quarters. For women who cross-dressed, their reasons tended to be rather more political rather than sexual: male attire allowed them to travel, work and live independent lives in an era in which the movement and activities of women were highly circumscribed. In Medieval Holland for example, many women dressed as men fought in the armed forces19. Similarly, there are hundreds of documented cases of women going to battle in the American Civil War20. Others lived religious lives as men and were later canonized as female saints. Some have even suggested that one or two of the Medieval popes may have been women in disguise21.
Moreover, during the colonial era, many Dutch women were reported to have cross-dressed in order to travel to their country‟s overseas territories. Then, once disembarked, they changed attire and married their male immigrant counterparts22. Interestingly, a similar phenomenon is reported to have taken place in the Old West of the United States. Women who wished to break free of ascribed gender roles used male dress in order to live as „passing women‟ in remote farms or ranches. Others of course did it for the opposite reason. In the face of a widespread interdiction in pre-modern Europe against female employment in the theatre or opera, hundreds of men were castrated in order to play the female parts23.
Moreover, writers such as Ackroyd have noted that the Japanese 19
J. Wellright, Amazons and Military Maids: Women who Dressed as Men in Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness, London, Pandora Press, 1989.
E.L. Meyer, ‘The soldier left a portrait and her eyewitness account, Smithsonian, 24 (10), 96-104, 1994.
Clement Wood, The Woman who was Pope, New York, William Faro, 1931.
R.J. Dekker and L.C. van de Pol, The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe, New York, St Martin’s Press, 1989.
R. Judd, Origins of Cross-Dressing: A History of Performance en transvesti, Doctoral dissertation, Clayton University, 1988.
had a similar tradition as well24. Of course, in addition to the reasons outlined above, it is clear that some men cross-dressed because they were what we would now call gay. For them, cross-dressing was a way to attract men at a time when „sodomy‟ was severely punished.
Who are today’s transvestites?
P. Ackroyd, Dressing Up. Transvestism and Drag: The History of an Obsession, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1979.
We are in what might be described as a middle-class home in the middle of a San José neighbourhood. It has all the conveniences of modern life: colour TV, washing machine, microwave oven and so on. „This is my hair-dryer‟, announces Javier, the home-owner. I look at it, but it doesn‟t really register in my mind, as I‟m busy admiring his weight-machines instead. „This is my small gym‟, says the owner, when he realizes what I‟m doing. „Are you into weight-lifting yourself?.' I reply that I like to pump iron, that I find it exhilarating, even though I can tell that he is not really interested in my response. „Well, I like to wash my hair everyday and straighten it with this hair-dryer. I hate my curls.' Clearly, this body-builder is more interested in his curls than his muscles.
Javier is a big man. He has well-developed biceps and a muscular body. His chest is large and firm. His buns are as hard as steel.
At 32, he is both beautiful and sexy. His face is masculine: Semitic nose, curly black hair (when not straightened), well-defined cheek bones, large white teeth, Mediterranean mouth and small ears. In short, he is the typically good-looking Costa Rican male that has made this country justly famous. As a foreign diplomat once said to me earnestly, „Costa Rica is better known for its men than its women, though because of machismo, no one will admit it.'
Javier sits down on his sofa and asks me straight-out: „Do you find me attractive?‟ „Well, yes,‟ I reply with some embarrassment. He looks at me. „I find it hard to understand how a man could like another man. I have nothing against it, it‟s just that I can‟t understand it.' „Javier,‟ I respond, „I also find it perplexing that a man like you, married with two children, into sports, can be so fond of the feminine.' As I say this, I can‟t take my eyes off the framed photo, sitting on a table between us, of this hunk along with his wife and two children. „Your wife is very pretty,‟ I tell him.
„Yes, she‟s a very sexy woman,‟ he replies with pride.
The body-builder looks at me intently, and I feel he‟s sizing me up from head to toe before giving me an answer. „Look Jacobo, I resent having to explain to you something that belongs to me and is mine alone, and that you probably won‟t get anyway. There are certain things in a man‟s life that are very private, which no one should ask about, especially a researcher.' Javier is right. Why do we think that there is an explanation for every human action? The interview, like the confession, is designed to induce people to reveal their most intimate secrets. Who said that we have to talk about ourselves? Foucault for one abhorred the intrusiveness of 17
priests, teachers, psychiatrists and researchers into individuals‟
personal lives, an intrusiveness he identified with the Inquisition and the birth of the prison. Nevertheless, as one his biographers contends, Foucault himself confessed before his death to having wished, while a school-boy in occupied France, for the extermination of his Jewish class-mates.
Javier does not speak, nor do I try to make him. To my surprise however, he suddenly takes off his shirt, watching all the while the confused look on my face. He shows me his biceps which are separated by fine tufts of curly hair, his flat stomach without an ounce of fat on it, his long, tanned arms. „This is a macho torso,‟
he tells me, „it has taken me years to develop it.‟ He smiles and winks at me. He is not finished yet. He slowly takes off his jeans, his tight-fitting, beige briefs, his white socks and tennis shoes. He stands stark naked in front of me and still he continues to stare.
I feel that I am sweating and I don‟t know what to say. What is he trying to show me? Where is this leading to? I came here today to find a particular sort of man and perhaps I‟ve made a mistake.
„Javier, I say softly, „what are you trying to tell me?‟ I find it difficult to speak when I‟m feeling so uncomfortable. I try not to stare at his long dick and large balls, but how can I avoid looking at them when they‟re right there in front of me? I think about the social taboos which serve to render our bodies off-limits to the stares of others. Why can‟t we take a good look? Why is this man so intent that I see his genitals and how large they are? Who cares in any case?
The body-builder raises himself from the sofa, goes into the kitchen, where he appears to be looking for something. He then disappears into his bedroom, closing the door behind him as he goes in. „What‟s he doing in there?‟, I ask myself. Us men have very strange relationships with our bedrooms, particularly when we are by ourselves. Masculinity is all about posing for others.
When a man is alone in his bedroom, he can become a movie star, a bull-fighter, a model. I hear Javier shouting at me through the wall: „men are very vain animals. However, the big difference between us and women is that we admire our bodies when we‟re alone, when no one can see us.‟
The door opens. What the hell is going on? Javier is now in drag, wearing a blond wig, a white satin dress and pink bloomers. „Now you can ask me whatever the fuck you want,‟ he says in a low voice. Although I try to look cool, I cannot hide my confusion. I knew Javier liked to cross-dress because a transvestite had given me his phone number. I had called him because I was writing an 18
article on heterosexual cross-dressers. We had made the appointment on a day when his wife and children were away.
Nevertheless, up until this point I was unsure whether or not this guy really was a transvestite. I took a deep breath, and started the interview.
When did you start to cross-dress?
I started wearing my sister‟s underwear when I was six. I would lock myself in the bathroom and try them on. I loved the bright colours, the smell of perfume, the softness of the fabric. When I became a teenager I began to wear bras and then, when I got married, I started to use lipstick.
How do you explain the fact that you like to cross-dress, but are not gay?
I have nothing to explain. I‟m simply not queer.
But people think that all transvestites are queer.
Yes, but I like women.
Okay, sure, but aren‟t you dressed like that in order to attract men?
I might be dressed as a woman, but I don‟t do it to turn you on.
Then why do you do it?
It‟s a physical need. I like to wear women‟s clothes, and put on this little show for myself. I love the feel of satin against my cock, the way a bra envelops my breasts, or the way lipstick looks on my mouth.
When you think about having sex with someone, don‟t you see a man in front of you?
Not at all. I think about a woman. I imagine that we‟ve met at a party and she does not know that I‟m a man. I imagine that she invites me to stay over at her place, thinking that I‟m just a girl-friend. Once in the bedroom, I turn off the lights and ask if she minds if we sleep together.
She suspects nothing. She says yes of course, and gets into bed wearing only her underwear. I ask her if she‟s ever been in bed with a woman before. She says no, but that she doesn‟t mind trying it out. I tell her that I am lesbian and that I would like to kiss her. Once she‟s let herself be kissed, I fondle her and make her feel the way that only a man can make a woman feel. Finally she realizes that she‟s in bed with a man, and lets me penetrate her.
But Javier, why the need to cross-dress?
Because the clothes turn me on. It gives me this weird erotic desire. It lets me think in a different way. I just love how the clothes feel on me.
Does you wife know that you cross-dress?
She wouldn't understand. She‟s very conservative. She likes the macho image I project and I don‟t want to disappoint her.
The majority are heterosexual
Most cross-dressers are in fact heterosexual. In other words, it is not only gay men who seek to act in ways that society defines as typically „female‟; such activity transcends sexual orientation.
Recent studies have shown that this is the case historically as well, with homo-, bi-, hetero- and asexual men engaging in the practice at various times and places. However, the key difference between gay and straight transvestites is that the latter are usually far more reserved. Moreover, as Feinbloom has shown, the incidence of transvestism among heterosexual men is far more widespread than one is typically led to believe25.
Thus, as has been made clear, although cross-dressing is associated with all sexual orientations, heterosexual cross-dressers do not share with their gay counterparts any of the same feelings towards men. Indeed, many straight cross-dressers are as homophobic as any other heterosexual man:
Can somebody sincerely place a married man with three children, who lives on a farm, who voted for Nixon, who fought in World War II, who goes to mass on Sundays, who loves sports cars and who expresses his femininity in the sanctity of his home, in the same category of faggot and child molester? 26
Moreover, it should be noted that even though heterosexual transvestites have set up larger organizations in the United States than is the case for gay cross-dressers, the mainstream news media, in either the US or Costa Rica, refuses to expose them. Thus, as Javier puts it, „you will never read in conservative Costa Rican papers that one of their most honorable citizens is a transvestite, or that such and such literary critic likes to wear a bra‟.
Deborah Heller Feinbloom, Transvestites and Transsexuals: Mixed Views, New York, Delta Books, 1977, p.106.
Charles Prince, founder of the Society for Personal Expression in the 1960s, and known today as Virginia Prince, has demonstrated conclusively that transvestism is mainly a heterosexual phenomenon. His organization now has hundreds of chapters across the United States. The majority of its members are heterosexual men, like Prince himself, who is described on the dust-jacket of one of his books in the following manner:
. . . raised as a normal kid, he became a university athlete, obtained his PhD in science, married twice, fathered a child and founded and became President for 18 years of his own corporation. Finally, after his second divorce and the sale of his business, he decided to do permanently what he had been doing occasionally throughout his adult life: dress as a woman 27.
In Costa Rica, the transvestite community is far less visible than is the case in the United States. For example, it took months to make contact with a man like Javier. Here, straight cross-dressers do not form umbrella organizations. They do not have established meeting places, nor do they walk the streets in drag in the way that some gay transvestites do. In short, they remain as closeted as many married homosexual men.
„Javier, have you ever met anyone like yourself?‟, I once asked him. „No‟, he answered, going on to explain that he had never told his secret to any of his friends, and that he only talks about it with homosexual transvestites. „Sometimes I look for a transvestite, and bring him home just to sit down and talk to him.‟ However, he went on to assure me that „I could never imagine having sex with him. I don‟t like drag queens.‟
Looking at this man who is dressed like a woman, I involuntarily think that there must be something wrong with him. Like most Costa Ricans, I‟ve been taught from a very early age to see sexuality in strictly dualistic terms: there are only two sexes and only two genders. But Javier has shown me that in truth things are somewhat more complex. „Why do you have to see things only in black and white?‟, he asked me. „Who told you that a man who dresses as a woman must automatically cease to be attracted by women?' Javier is right. I have never understood why it is that we are so proud of our country‟s political pluralism, yet tolerate nothing of the sort in the sexual realm. If we accept that there are people of the right, left and centre, that there are people who are anarchist or fascist, evangelical or atheist, why can‟t we accept the existence of a similar diversity in matters of sexuality?
Contemporary Etiology of Transvestism
According to John Mooney28, gender emerges through a learning process, with cultural factors having a large impact upon its particular etiology. Boys and girls „learn‟ gender through prevailing stereotypes. In short, each child internalizes the role ascribed to his or her gender within a given cultural context.
However, by the same token Mooney argues that children are also taught how to „talk‟ in the other gender‟s language, garnering in this way a form of sexual bilingualism. However, notwithstanding the latter, children are made constantly aware of the fact that, if they are to be accepted as „normal‟ in society, they must refrain from „speaking‟ the „language‟ of the other gender.
For some reason, as yet unknown, men like Javier, be they gay or straight, have not learned the lesson that society has tried to impose upon them, and continue to „speak‟ the feminine language throughout their lives.
Some psychoanalysts believe that the latter is due to an arrested sexual development whereby the child does not resolve successfully his or her sexual identification with the parent of the opposite sex29. Stoller, for one, summarizes the various 28
John Mooney and Ehradt A. Anke, Man-Boy Boy-Girl, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1978.
Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Psychiatry and Homophobia, San José, Editorial ILPES, 1997.
hypotheses used to explain it thus: 1. an unconscious desire on the part of the mother to feminize the child; 2. the father acts either as an accomplice to the mother or else distances himself from the child; 3. the boy fears castration and compensates for this by fantasizing about becoming a „phallic‟ woman; 4. transvestism becomes a way of sexually identifying with the female, without actually becoming female oneself. Thus, when the child cross-dresses, he keeps his penis which reminds him that he is still a man30.
Robert Steller, Sex and Gender, New York, Science House, 1968.
However, it should be noted that studies which have attempted to link transvestism, or homosexuality for that matter, with a specific family history have consistently failed to do so in a convincing manner: the families of homosexuals are no different from those of heterosexuals31. Furthermore, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that sexual orientation is the product of hormonal imbalances. No scientist has been able to prove that transvestism is a pathology, or that those who practice it suffer from a „mental disorder‟.
IT DOES NOT HURT ANYONE
Transvestites believe that their desire to cross-dress is natural and that, as such, it does no harm to society at large. Moreover, they are also aware that this desire manifested itself from a very early age (three to five years is typical), long before they were in a position to make a conscious decision about it.
I have been a transvestite since I was a little boy. I had this strong sense that I was more girl than boy, that it was already in my system. Each one of us is like that. It‟s about time that people accept us; I would like to have more freedom and lead a normal life. If there was a transvestites‟ organization in this country, I would join it immediately. Maria
I wanted to be a girl ever since I was born. I would hide my sisters‟ clothes and dolls in order to play with them later by myself. I did it because I loved dressing as a girl and I still want to do it. Lidia As one might imagine, these boys faced tremendous pressure from those who wanted to „normalize‟ them. Marcella remembers her step-father burning her underwear and skirts in order to force her to be a „man‟. Kristina was subjected to terrible punishment when caught wearing make-up: „my aunt would beat the hell out of me every time she found me with lipstick or make-up in my bathroom‟. Ana Karenina was locked in her room for days on end whenever her grandmother caught her in the closet playing with her clothes. Miriam‟s family would strike her when they caught her singing in a female tone of voice.
Allan P. Bell et al. , Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1981.
However, in spite of what was done to dissuade them, these children continued to identify with the female. Of course, this is not to say that the punishments meted out had no effect; one need only consider all those gay or straight men who today, as adults, continue to practice transvestism in secret. The transvestites who allow themselves to be seen in public may be more bold or daring in their conviction, but they are by no means the only ones.
For a researcher, the central problem with men like Javier is that they are inaccessible and thus, if one is to gain an understanding of the transvestites‟ world, one can only do so through the eyes of those who are homosexual and out of the closet. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, more closet cross-dressers like Javier will allow us to interview them, permitting us in the process to compare their experiences with those of transvestites involved in the sex trade. This in turn would allow us to gain a more balanced vision of cross-dressing culture. As Javier himself put it, „we transvestites form a community. Some of us like women, some like men, but all of us love to dress as women‟.
Expulsion from Eden
Fernando waits until his mother is out visiting a friend. Once he is sure that she‟s gone, he walks into his sister‟s room and picks out a dress from her closet. It is made of white cotton, and covered with a pattern of yellow flowers. The 12 year old boy proceeds to put on his mother‟s wig, along with some lipstick and make-up, and is suddenly transformed into a pretty 15 year old girl, singing and dancing in front of the mirror: „I saw a plane, a train and a beautiful ship in the sea...‟ In a stroke, Fernando has shed his own persona and become Mona Bell, his favourite Chilean singer. He does not know why it happens; only that he has been doing it for as long as he can remember and that he has not told anyone his secret: that he feels like a girl and loves to dress as one.
Today, however, was not to be like all the other days. His mother had forgotten her change purse and Fernando, singing and dancing in his sister‟s bedroom, is not aware of her return. Suddenly, Fernando‟s mother is standing before him. „But miss, who are you?‟, she asks in astonishment, not realizing at first that it is her son. For Fernando, time has stopped still. Mother and son stare at one another across the room, each failing to recognize the other.
Then, as it slowly begins to dawn on her, her astonishment turns to anger. „But it‟s you!‟, she screams, „how can you do this to me?‟.
As the mother starts to strike her son across the face, the only words Fernando can think to say are „mama, forgive me, forgive me!‟
From this day on, things would never be the same. In the evening, as soon as Fernando‟s step-father comes home from work, his mother tells him what had happened. „Imagine how I felt when I saw him dressed like that, singing like a queer in front of the mirror. I thought I'd raised him to be a man.‟ „Well, I think you‟ve always pampered the boy too much,' opines the step-father,
„it‟s no wonder he‟s turned out to be such a pansy.' He was in no doubt as to what was needed here, and leaves the room in order to seek Fernando out. He finds him in his bedroom, sobbing in shame and fear. There is nowhere for Fernando to hide. „Come here you fucking queer, I‟m gonna teach you to be a man. I‟m gonna beat the woman out of your fucking body. You don‟t know how much you‟ve hurt your mother, you little faggot!‟ The man jumps all over the boy, hitting him in his face, his mouth, his legs, his arms... Blood oozes from the boy‟s wounds. His lips are all 26
bloody red. The step-father yells at him again: „You goddamn queer, you‟re going to become a man whether you want to or not!‟
Three years have gone by. Fernando has never again dressed like a girl. He has never had the chance. Whenever his mother goes out, she locks all the doors. She spies on his friends, and forbids him from going out in the evening with other boys. On weekends, she never lets him out of her sight. As for the step-father, even though he has not raised the topic again, his attitude towards the boy has changed; no longer does he kiss or hug him. Fernando‟s only close relationship is with his sister, though she is too involved with her own problems to be of much help to him.
One day at school Fernando meets a new class-mate. They become friends and eventually the boy invites him home.
Fernando is attracted to him, as he seems both masculine and daring. Once at his house, the boy leads him into his bedroom, where he suggests that they play a game of poker. However, the rules are such that whoever loses must take off an article of clothing, and soon Fernando, who is not a good poker-player, is almost naked.
When he has only his briefs left to lose, his friend takes out a bra and puts it on him, and then proceeds to paint his lips red. Having done this, he reaches into an open drawer, pulls out a woman‟s blouse, and asks Fernando to put it on. Fernando is in a state of shock; he feels like someone has just discovered his most intimate secret, a secret that should never have been revealed. But at the same time it feels so right, so good, as though Mona Bell had returned and Fernando was no longer Fernando. The boy kisses him passionately: „You‟ll never be Fernando for me again. From now on I‟ll always think of you as my girlfriend.‟
The next day Fernando is wracked by an overpowering sense of guilt. He decides to seek help from the parish priest: „Father, I have sinned.‟ „Tell me everything, Fernando,‟ the priest replies,
„in what way have you sinned?‟ Fernando feels that he can trust him - after all, he is a young man - and so tells him what happened:
Father, I feel attracted to one of my class-mates.
What do you mean by „feeling attracted‟? Have you ever had carnal contact with him?
Yes, Father. He‟s kissed me on the mouth and we‟ve been in bed together.
What else have you done? I need to know everything.
We made love, as they say.
Did you engage in sexual intercourse?
What does „intercourse‟ mean?
Did he fuck you?
Yes, Father. I was very confused.
Did you enjoy it? Did you feel pleasure?
A little bit. It hurt a lot in the beginning.
Have you sinned again?
Do you always play the role of woman with him?
How did you know that I dress as a woman?
No, I‟m asking if he fucked you again. Do you dress up as a woman?
Yes, father. Is that also a sin?
Of course! Both acts are frowned upon by God. The Bible forbids homosexuality, which is deemed to be an abominable sin. The Gospel also condemns men who dress up as women, and those who try to change their sex.
You‟re a man and as such you mustn‟t let yourself be used as a whore. Remember Christ told Mary Magdalene that she should cease her sinful acts. Doing what you‟re doing is unacceptable. In fact, it‟s a very serious crime.
But what am I to do? Ever since I was a little boy I‟ve dressed up in girls‟ clothing. I feel like I should have been a girl myself.
No! You cannot continue doing this. Aren‟t you a normal man? Do you have any physical problems, like a hormone imbalance or something?
No, I don‟t think so. But I feel like a woman, and this is something I‟ve always felt.
Let me take a look at you to see if you‟re normally developed. Pull down your pants so that I can see your genitals. Mmmm, your penis is rather small, no wonder you feel like a girl. Does it feel nice if I touch you? Where exactly? Show me how your friend kissed you. I will let you see my penis so that you can compare. Do you see what I mean? Mine is quite a bit bigger than yours. Was your friend‟s this large?
Yes, father. It was about the size of yours.
Well, whenever you feel the urge to dress like a woman or have sex with a man, I want you to come to me and I will let you touch my penis. This will help to eliminate your desire.
By touching mine your‟s will also begin to grow. Don‟t worry! We‟re not doing anything bad, I‟m merely trying to set you on the right path. I will now do what your friend 28
did, in order to show you that you do not really like how it feels. It‟s a sort of exorcism to beat the devil out of you.
Remember, you mustn‟t talk about this with anyone. We are in confession and this is strictly between you and I.
Now turn around and I will start.
After this „spiritual‟ experience, Fernando is more confused than ever. Years later he will realize that the priest had sexually abused him. Nevertheless, he feels so guilty that he drops his relationship with his class-mate. Moreover, he feels as though Mona Bell has died, as there is no longer anywhere safe for him go where he can let himself be transformed into his idol.
Given this, he begins to look for help in other boys who are like him. One night, one of them invites him to a drag party. He feels wonderful! Once again, he can be the person he wants to be. That night, for the first time, he decides to walk the streets in drag and is picked up by a man near the Clinica Biblica. This man, a lawyer, turned out to be his first customer, and later helped him move out of his house. He never returned home again.
Fernando, like other transvestites, is part of a group of boys who realized very early in their lives that they were different from most of their friends and class-mates. In short, their femininity set them apart from others in their peer-group.
I started dressing up as a girl when I was very small. The men‟s clothes that my father bought me, I threw them in the river. I was so wild that I would go to school dressed like a girl. My class-mates would throw stones at me and my teachers would send me home because wearing such clothes was forbidden. (Marlene) Once their male class-mates realized that these boys were different, they would start to tease and harass them, strengthening their self-awareness in the process. It is for this reason that transvestites tend to become aware of their homosexuality much earlier on than is the case among other gay men (the average age for the former being 9.5, as compared with 12 years for the latter) (See Table 1).
Moreover, they tend to undergo sexual initiation at an earlier age as well.
I came out at 17, though men were taking advantage of me since I was a little boy: the baker, the store-owner, the butcher ... they can see that you're effeminate and so they start giving you candy so that they can fondle you, they give 29
you presents so that they can have you. (Elisa) Katrina was routinely stalked by men, and almost raped at the age of ten.
One day this man came along and told me that I was a beautiful boy. He followed me, and then took a gun out and said that he would kill unless I had sex with him. He took me to a well-known dance club and forced me to go under the stage with him. He pulled down his pants and put his mouth over mine so that I couldn‟t scream. „I‟m going to do what I want to you,‟ he said. But a bouncer heard the commotion and rescued me.
Roxana was not so lucky. Her sexual initiation took place at the age of seven, when three men forced themselves on her: „I was raped by three guys from Guadalupe [a district in San José]. I still see them everyday in my neighbourhood.‟
Transvestites‟ sexual initiation usually takes place with men much older than themselves (average age 22.6), most of whom are also friends or acquaintances (in 68% of the cases). It should be noted that this tendency to experience sexual initiation with a man much older than oneself is far more marked among transvestites than it is among other gay men. Katrina's is a representative case: My family had a gay friend who came to visit us. He was 27 years old and very big. He always had a thing for me.
If my mother went out for a while, he would ask me to sit on his lap and then he would start fondling me. One day, when the two of us were at home alone, he chased me all over the house, took my clothes off, and then put his penis between my legs. „Stick your butt out,‟ he said to me, „so that I can come on your little balls.‟
However, in this regard it should be noted that, as is the case with other gay men in Costa Rica, although sexual initiation typically occurs with an older man (73% of the cases), it is for the most part (77%) consensual in nature (See Table 2).
Among those surveyed, outright force was used in only 4% of the cases. Leticia‟s experience in this regard is typical: My first sexual experience was at age 7 when I was raped.
I was sent to get some milk and, when I was crossing the river, some guy raped me. He forced himself into me. I 30
remember feeling that I couldn‟t tell anyone. I felt as though I had died. I still see this man around. I hate him.
I would never be able to have sex with him.
Sexual contact between effeminate boys and older men is common in Latin America, with Witham and Mathy32 arguing that it is the product of Latin culture‟s tolerance for this type of behaviour. In sharp contrast with Anglo-Saxon sexual mores, such relations are not perceived to be homosexual in nature.
What might have happened had Fernando‟s story turned out differently? Let us try to imagine a different outcome: Fernando is singing in his sister‟s bedroom and hears a noise in the hallway. He knows his mother is back, but doesn‟t have enough time to change. „Fernando, is that you singing in there?‟, his mother asks. „Yes mama, but don‟t come into the room.‟ Ignoring him, she comes in anyway, and sees him in drag. „But Fernando, don‟t you think your sister‟s clothes look awful on you?‟, she asks him. „I don‟t mind it if you want to dress in women‟s clothes, but at least try do it with some style.‟ Fernando is taken aback.
„Aren‟t you mad at me?‟, he exclaims. „Not at all. So long as you don‟t do it in front of your macho step-father, there‟s nothing to worry about.‟
Although neither mother nor child can explain exactly what is happening, the line of communication is not broken. Thus, the door is left open to discuss alternative ways of dealing with something that society disapproves of. Had Fernando been allowed to dress up occasionally at home, perhaps he would not have ended up as a prostitute on the street. Or perhaps he would have anyway. Nevertheless, he would have had the opportunity at least to try to resolve the issues he was facing without being forced out of his home, as happens so often with young transvestites.
Frederick Witham and Robin Mathy, Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala and the United States, New York, Praeger Scientific, 1986.
AGE OF SEXUAL INITIATION AND AGE OF FIRST
Average age at which one felt
Average age of first orgasm
With whom did one have one‟s first
orgasm? (in percent)
through this experience?
Source: Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Hombres que Aman Hombres, San José, ILEP-SIDA, 1992.
DATA ON RESPONDENTS' FIRST TRUE SEXUAL
RELATIONSHIP WITH A MAN
Average age of first sexual
relationship with a man
Average age of partner in first
Who was this partner?
Lover, sexual partner
Place of residence
Residence of friend
Open air site
Identity of initiator (in percent)
DATA ON RESPONDENTS' FIRST TRUE
SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH A MAN
Was the relationship something
one had wished for previously?
during first sexual relationship
Source: Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Hombres que Aman Hombres, San José, ILEP-SIDA, 1992.
From toads to queens
José is a 27 year old South American man who came to Costa Rica to escape poverty at home. He is tall, thin, brown-skinned, effeminate and homely. His eyes are attractive but too large for his face. His lips are full and his hair curly. His voice is high, his hands thin and nose slightly turned-up. As a man he is not especially attractive. He is not very popular at gay bars and seldom goes to them. Nevertheless, José is also Pepa, who happens to be one of the most sought-after transvestites in San José. As a woman, his body is stunning. His curved hips make him look like Tina Turner. When he wears tight lycra, one would think he is Grace Jones. A short wig makes him look like Oprah.
His painted lips remind one of Whitney Houston. And, when he is wearing mascara, his eyes are those of Sophia Loren. As a hooker, José gets everyone‟s attention. He also undergoes something of a personality change. He becomes hot and fiery, capable of picking up any man on the street. „Being transformed into a princess is every transvestite‟s dream,‟ he asserts. „Being a princess means looking radiant, turning yourself into an attractive woman.‟
Creating the Magic
„Projecting an image‟ is a phrase that tells us a lot about the transvestite‟s world, and though few would bother to probe its conceptual bases, everyone knows its meaning: in short, that cross-dressing is about „fantasy, enchantment and dreams‟ and that it involves, in the final analysis, the transformation of the unreal into the real.
Cross-dressers invest most of their money in their bodies, though they themselves do not perceive it as such. Clothes, make-up, wigs and accessories constitute the bulk of this investment.
The majority of transvestites own three wardrobes: for home; for work (prostitution); and for drag shows, parties or discos. Work dress tends to be simple and sexy; though it must serve to attract customers, it must not be a hindrance when running away from the police or other predators. Outfits worn at drag shows and the like tend to be more fancy, inspired by the gowns of Hollywood stars and covered with feathers, bangles and tropical bouquets. Finally, clothes worn at home are generally utilitarian and androgynous, without any strong statement regarding the wearer‟s sexual identity.
Thus when Miriam goes home after work and becomes Hugo, he dresses in clothes that are neither overtly male nor female in appearance: he likes to play with colours, cuts and accessories in ways that cut across dominant patterns of sex-typing. Duquesa and Alba, on the other hand, tend to dress in men‟s clothes, though at the same time keeping their hair long and nails painted red.
Corinthia, meanwhile, always dresses in drag.
Duquesa‟s work wardrobe includes several collections, mostly black and white, though all of them, she assured us, „bring her luck.‟ Her black work outfits are short, tight and „not too pretty‟, since her aim is to be „picked up‟, rather than „admired.‟ „These gowns are made especially for me by my seamstress. There‟s also a store I go to where they will make clothes for me at very short notice,‟ she said with pride.
However, when it comes to shoes, accessories or nightgowns, these she buys these at regular stores. For example, most of Duquesa‟s shoes were bought either at the San Pedro mall (in San José) or in specialized shoes stores like Lazo or Clasico (which specialize in high heels and leather boots). However, these she finds are generally too expensive for use on a daily basis: „It‟s not worth my while to wear boots that cost me 17 thousand colones [roughly US$70] for a client who‟s only paying five thousand [US$20].'
Alba, by contrast, tends to make her clothes, especially those that she wears on the street. „I love to wear minis and dresses that are tight-fitting, because I find I look better in them‟, she said, „drag queens are tacky, and not even the hookers wear stuff that is so indecent, but the johns love it.‟ One evening she went out wearing only a thong, boots and a hat, covering herself with a long coat.
She also has clothes that she only wears around the house, along with special outfits for parties and other special occasions. The latter are bought in fancy boutiques where she admits to „spending a fortune‟ on them.
As for Corinthia, avoiding complications is her main priority. She makes some of her dresses herself; others she buys from a seamstress: „It‟s not expensive that I want, but rather light, almost miniature.‟ „People sometimes say that my dresses are so light that they probably don‟t even need hangers,‟ she said with a smile.
Miriam is just the opposite; she has a special designer who has been making all of her clothes for the past five years. „She did not mind that I turned into a drag queen,‟ she said, „she has these beautiful magazines where I get ideas for gowns. I love to copy 36
Calvin Klein and Christian Dior.' Moreover, her casual outfits are also made for her: „I‟m finished with boutiques,‟ as she put it.
However, this is not to say that she would never enter an expensive boutique; from time to time she will go in, try on a dress that she likes, and then later take the pattern to her seamstress: I went to this boutique called Sheloky in San José and tried on this dress that was 80 thousand colones [US$330]
before taxes. I then copied the design from the model in the window display and took it to my seamstress. From her, I got the dress for only 22 thousand colones, since I cut her husband and children‟s hair and she‟s very fond of me.
Miriam‟s other passion is perfume: „They‟re my weakness, I just can‟t stop myself ... I‟d even trade a man for an expensive bottle of perfume.‟ She has invested as much as 200,000 colones (US$700) in an expensive name such as Cartier‟s or Elizabeth Taylor‟s
„Black Pearls‟. Moreover, she is proud of the impact her perfume has had on her work. She often challenges her clients to guess what she is wearing and, as she herself emphasized, „I‟ve never lost a client because he feels suffocated by cheap perfume.‟
Silvester Atelier is the owner of Gipsy International, a store in the Clinica Biblica neighbourhood that caters to transvestites and show-girls through its line of extravagant dresses and vaudeville accessories. Originally, he had thought that most of his clients would be transvestites, but soon discovered that this was not to be the case: „Transvestites generally don‟t have the money to buy my gowns. Sometimes we will sell one or two outfits to a transvestite, or even make one for her, but this is not common.‟
Along with clothes and perfume, make-up is another element which is indispensable in the creation of the illusion of femininity among transvestites. Alba, Corinthia and Duquesa use little, restricting themselves to base, powder, lipstick and nail polish.
Miriam, on the other hand, makes regular use of a wide assortment of skin products, a reflection of her fear of wrinkles and ageing: „I invest a lot of money in my skin because I tend not to sleep well and all this sexual activity is very draining. I live for the moment, and always ejaculate because I love my work, and all the more so if my client is somebody I like.‟ She only buys name-brands such as Lancôme, Payot and Estée Lauder, and has upon occasion purchased eyelid repair cream for 32,000 colones, moisturizer for 22,000 colones and, in one case in particular, considered buying (though in the end she did not) a Swiz skin care kit for nearly 37
400,000 colones (US$1,632).
Most transvestites buy their make-up in boutiques or drug-stores.
„I buy in drug-stores without any problems,‟ reports Miriam, „I have no qualms about going in and asking for make-up. I‟ll even put it on in front of the salesperson. The ones who do have problems are usually men. Women tend to be more tolerant.‟
Wigs are the final element in the creation of the transvestite‟s image, though in recent years there has been a movement away from them, as long hair for men becomes increasingly acceptable in Costa Rican society. For example, Alba and Duquesa‟s medium-long hair could be that of either a man or a woman.
Corinthia, on the other hand, wears her hair extremely long. „Wigs are uncomfortable and hot,‟ reports Miriam, „though some queens‟
hair is so burnt or kinky that they need to wear wigs or zorros, a sort of detachable pony-tail.‟
Wigs and zorros are bought at hairdresser salons, some of which cater exclusively to transvestites. As Duquesa put it, „any time you see a pony-tail hanging in a hairdresser‟s window you know that they serve transvestites.‟ The cost of wigs varies according to the type of hair: if it is synthetic one can expect to pay about 5,000
colones; if it is natural it can cost up to ten times that amount.
Hormones and Padding
Stuffing is another trick used by transvestites. If a man is thin, without hips and curves, one remedy is to apply padding in the appropriate places. The latter can be of various materials, including toilet paper, foam and even clothing. Lucretia, for one, fills her bra with handkerchiefs. Maria wears ten pairs of panties, one on top of the other, in order to give herself „wonderful hips.‟
Belly uses foam to increase the size of her bum and to create what she calls „delicious legs.‟ Of course, these tricks only serve to underscore Laura‟s observation that the stunning bodies which some transvestites appear to enjoy are in fact nothing more than an illusion. As she noted, „one night I went to bed with a client who started to complain after realizing that I was flatter than a tortilla. I told him that most Hollywood stars have silicon implants in their tits. But the guy responded by saying yeah, but at least those women take their tits to bed with them, while you leave yours on the floor.‟
One area that remains virtually unexplored in Costa Rica is transvestites‟ use of hormones. The latter are typically used to 38
„feminize‟ the body: to develop breasts, change the pitch of one‟s voice or increase the amount of fatty tissues around the hips. In Costa Rica, these drugs can be bought without a prescription in any drug-store, though in some cases doctors or clients will prescribe them. According to Pablo Soto, a physician working with ILPES, the most commonly-used drugs used in this regard include an injected form of estrogen, birth control pills such as Depo-Provera or simply „whatever they think will work. It‟s hard to know what the long-term effects of indiscriminate hormone use are, though whatever is happening to their bodies is hidden from us now.‟
However, it is clear that hormone use does generate significant changes in an individual‟s appearance. As Herman Loria, coordinator of a support programme for transvestites at ILPES, stressed, the physical transformation is such that it often poses problems for them when they go out in public: „If they go out dressed as a man, their female characteristics leave them open to harassment; if they go out dressed as women, they risk being beat up.‟
Seeing with someone else’s eyes
For individuals living on the margins of transgenderism, undertaking such everyday tasks as shopping can be quite challenging, with masculine and feminine principles achieving dominance at particular moments in space and time. For example, transvestites tend to act and feel feminine when they are shopping for clothes. However, when they are ready to pay for the outfit they have selected, their poise and voice often change into that of a man. In other words, the singular act of shopping is suffused by a range of gender stereotypes: deciding is feminine, buying is masculine. In short, transvestites appear to be more aware than most of us of the profoundly gendered nature of our words and speech patterns33. „Queens put on these mini-acts more than most people,‟ explained Katrina, „we make a show of each word in terms of its masculinity or femininity. We are aware that each word is gendered.‟ As one might imagine, this performance garners a strong reaction among salespeople, who respond with hostility or amused friendliness, but never indifference.
Laura Chacon, Ana Lucia Gutierrez, Martiza Ortiz, Ana Rodriguez and Alicia Zamora, ‘Jugar a ser mujer en cuerpo masculino: Un análisis sobre la prostitución travesti, prevención y sida’, San José, University of Costa Rica, 1994.
Alba for one tends to patronize regular stores, where she must sometimes contend with hostility or salespeople‟s outright refusal to serve her. On one occasion, a staff-member told her, „lady, we do not cater to women with balls. If you leave your balls at the door, we‟ll be happy to serve you.‟ In response, she took some money out of her purse and rubbed it in his face: „I am not a thief, goddamn it, but a paying customer. The only balls that matter are the zeroes in these bills.‟ Miriam is no less aggressive: „I go into a boutique and try on all the dresses. I have a right to do so. The employees sometimes panic and stand there with their mouths hanging open. But if they‟re not happy with me, I‟ll throw the dress in their face and leave. Another trick is to pee in the dress while trying it on. “I‟m sorry,” I tell the lady, “but I‟m incontinent today.”‟ Duquesa, meanwhile, prefers to act butch- and man-like when shopping:
I become very masculine when I‟m shopping. I make my eyebrows thicker, I put grease in my hair, take off the nail-polish and walk like a man. I usually go and buy men‟s clothes. Once in a while though, I‟ll see a woman‟s dress I like and start to act like a queen so that the saleslady gets the idea and asks if I want to try it on.
Moreover, Duquesa has an even better solution to the problem of homophobic salespeople: „I only go where people know me.
These stores are gay-friendly and do their best to please you. Only once did I get a salesman who refused to show me some women‟s clothes. I reported him to the owner and he was fired.‟ Esmeralda reported being sent similarly mixed signals by retail personnel. On one occasion that she was shopping for women‟s shoes in San Pedro Mall, she was told, „look honey, try them on if you want to.
We‟re open-minded here.‟ Nevertheless, she has also been informed by other sales staff at the mall that „we don‟t sell to queers in this store.‟
Of course, creating an image is more than simply wearing women‟s clothes. It has to do with wanting to be someone special.
In this way, José and Pepa are two different people who happen to share the same body, with one being more glamorous, more exciting than the other. At different times of the day, in different places, José continues to exist. In his world, he is a soft-spoken professional whom people like but nothing more. As a woman, Pepa awakens yearning. Looking beautiful and being courted by men who take her out for dancing, dinners and love-making in 40
expensive hotels are the things she loves best: „It makes me happy when I see the men lusting and salivating over me.‟
Some psychiatrists would argue that individuals who aspire to more than one personality are mentally ill. Hollywood movie producers have reinforced this view by portraying those with multiple personalities in highly distorted terms. Obvious examples include „Silence of the Lambs‟, in which a transsexual psychopath fashions a dress out of women‟s skin, and „Sybil‟, a movie in which transvestites are depicted as nothing other than the inevitable by-product of sexual abuse. However, notwithstanding the dominant view, it is clear that we all have multiple personalities and change our characters many times in a given day.
Consider for instance the person who goes to mass in the morning and applauds the sermon condemning adulterers, yet in the afternoon is party to a clandestine affair of his own. Or the politician who launches a crusade against corruption while avoiding paying taxes himself. In both cases, the individual in question may be seen as having two faces, one public, one private.