From Toads to Queens Transvestism in a Latin Setting by Jacobo Schifter - HTML preview

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After several attempts, I convinced Miranda to arrange an interview with him on my behalf.  ‘But why do you want to talk to him?’, she asked me.  ‘Well, I’m interested in meeting him and, besides, I’m a fan of his team,’ I answered.  ‘Well, let’s say you’re fan of his basketball team, darling, because nobody knows anything about the other team he plays for,’ she said jokingly.  ‘I’ll introduce you, but no photos, no descriptions, no hints even.  I don’t want you writing anything that might get him identified.’  I nodded: ‘No one will find out anything, I promise.’

Two months later, Miranda invited me to her apartment, a nicely-appointed condominium with three bedrooms, two baths, a patio and a dining-room.  ‘Come in,’ she greeted me, ‘make yourself at home.’  The transvestite was dressed in a black cotton outfit festooned with white satin epaulettes, and had a white orchid pinned to her breast and a string of pearls around her neck.  ‘You’re looking beautiful,’ I said sincerely as I walked past into her living room.  There were two or three brown leather arm-chairs positioned around a coffee-table of black glass.  On the wall was a photo of Miranda, dressed in red with blonde hair streaming over her shoulders.  ‘That’s my own hair,’ she said, ‘Gustavo is taking a bath and he’ll be with us in a moment.  Can I bring you a drink?’  The transvestite’s life had certainly changed for the better over the course of the past six years, when I remember seeing her through a dirty curtain in one of the old Libano ‘bunkers’.  On an exquisitely-carved cabinet were displayed some of her trophies.  ‘Miss Peru Transvestite 1996’, said one.  Another, smaller one was engraved with the inscription, ‘Miss Gay Costa Rica’, given to her by a local homosexual organization.  ‘That one was given to me after a really bitter struggle.  The president of the association didn’t want me to get it and did everything in his power to make sure I lost,’ she recounted sadly.  ‘Here, I’ve brought you a glass of white wine,’ she said, passing the glass to me as she sat down.

-           How’s the book on transvestites going?

-           Well, good, but there’s still quite a bit I have to do before I can finish it.

-           I admire you for being able to work with such nut-cases.  It must be difficult.

-           In fact, everybody’s treated me well.  How did Gustavo react to my request?  Did it bother him?

-           It did at first.  He can’t let himself be found out.  You know he’s married with a little girl.  His wife doesn’t know anything about me, and she’d die if she found out.  It’s been hard on me because I love him so much.  But I told him who you were and that it would help you a lot with the book.  Besides, he admires your work.  If he didn’t, he never would’ve consented to the interview.  He doesn’t even let me invite my friends over when he’s around.  He just wants to make love and go home, that’s it.

-           How did you meet him?

-           Nowhere less than Zapote, about a year ago.  I was at this straight bar with Tina, another transvestite who’s very feminine.  At a table next to ours there were a number of players from the team.  At first, I didn’t pay any attention, even though I felt like I was being checked out from all sides.  He’s since told me that he didn’t know I was a man at the time.  I think it’s true, because at first glance no one notices.  In any case, while I was dancing with this other guy, he winked at me.  Tina was the one who told me that he’s a well-known basketball player.  I know so little about the sport that she could’ve said he’s a flying pig and it would have meant the same to me.  Anyway, a little while later he asked me to dance.  That night we exchanged telephone numbers and, the next weekend, he called me.

-           When did you tell him you were a man?

-           Only at the last possible moment.  By that time he liked me so much that he couldn’t let go of me.  I played the difficult woman, I told him I didn’t want any commitments, and I didn’t want go to bed right away.  So it was three weeks before we actually made love.

-           And he never suspected anything?

-           I swear he didn’t it.  He tells me now he did notice something strange about my voice, but at the time he didn’t pay it any mind.

-           Is it difficult for you knowing that he’s a married man?

-           Yes it is.  I’d really like to go live with him, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.  He’s told me that he doesn’t love his wife, that he married very young and that she’s not that bright and doesn’t understand him, but at the same time he’s got a little girl who he loves very much.

-           How does he feel now that he knows you’re really a man?

-           You can ask him yourself.  The first few times we made love, he never touched me there.  He didn’t want to even know that I had a penis.  But since then it’s got easier.  Even so, he’s a man’s man, I swear to you.  He doesn’t like it when I go at him from behind.  He loves having women at his side.  He’s all stud!

A man’s defiance

Gustavo entered the room.  He’s about 27 years old, tall, handsome and masculine.  He greeted me casually, and then sat down next to Miranda, giving her a hug and a kiss as he did so.  I couldn’t help but be impressed: here was a man who is often seen on television, tenderly kissing his transvestite lover.  Even if I told people what I had seen, I doubt many would believe me.

-           Gustavo, how do you think people would react if they found out about your relationship with Miranda?

-           You know what this country’s like.  I’d be crucified immediately.  Some priest would come out of the woodwork all shocked and appalled, and I’d have a huge scandal on my hands.  I can’t afford that sort of luxury, and we’re agreed that no information is going to come out of this, right?

-           Of course, and I want you to know that I appreciate your confidence in me.  I won’t use anything that would give people even the slightest hint of who you are.  I’m only interested in writing generally about the sorts of relationships that transvestites are involved in.  Are you happy with Miranda?

-           She knows that I love her greatly.  For me, she’s the ideal woman: feminine, cultured, delicate and gracious.  I never would’ve thought that I could feel this way about another man.  However, I do want her to have the operation, because I’d really like her to be 100 percent woman.  You know, with a body like that I think it’s a shame she has a penis.  Miranda is a real woman, it’s just that she was born with the wrong genital organ.

-           How does she compare with your wife?

-           My wife’s a country girl, simple.  She’s used to looking after the kid and having a man who tells her what to do.  She’s a good woman.

-           And how is she different from Miranda?

-           In everything.  She’s not as sensual, good-looking and intelligent.  Miranda is like a Hollywood actress.  Besides, we’re both very intense people.  So when we’re together there’s an explosion.  When we’re making love, I feel like I’ve just scored in the world championship.  This transvestite is able to make me feel something I’ve never felt with a woman.  She knows exactly how to treat a man.

-           Do your friends suspect you’re like this?

-           Like this, how?

-           Well, that you enjoy having a relationship with a transvestite.

-           Look, I’ve known various players and commentators who are gay.  You can tell from how they look at you in the showers.  A number of times I’ve noticed this guy or that guy checking out my penis.  One time I even told this TV reporter, ‘look, it’s my arm that scored that basket, not my dick.  So would you mind looking somewhere else?’  It never occurred to me to have an affair with another man.  So why would anyone else suspect anything?

-           But you’re famous.  Aren’t you worried that somebody might notice you coming into the building here?

-           Miranda knows very well how important it is right now that the relationship be kept very discrete.  I give her all the happiness in the world, in a way that only a man can give, but I ask for discretion in return.  When I come over, I enter quickly.  Maybe at some point in the future, once she’s had the operation and my girl’s older, we’ll get married.  But for now we have to keep up appearances.  I’m told that in other countries a few players live openly with transvestites, but not here in Costa Rica.  It’s not possible.

Miranda’s sorrow

Miranda seemed distant and sad.  For the moment, in fin de siècle Costa Rica, a famous man cannot live openly with a transvestite.  Still, I tried to console her: ‘Ten years ago, no transvestite here could have even dreamed of going with somebody like Gustavo.  Given how quickly things are changing, don’t you think that one day your relationship with him will be tolerated by society?’  She looked at me sorrowfully:  ‘By the time they let me get married in a church, I’ll probably already have lost my teeth, my tits and my ass.  Can’t you see that here people do whatever they want until it’s time to lay their cards on the table, and then everybody just folds.’  ‘Well,’ I said, hoping to cheer her up, ‘maybe you’ll just have to content yourself with being the team mother.’  ‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous,’ she answered, ‘their team already has one.  She’s somebody who works for a TV channel and she’s always trying to interview them when they’re showering, just so that she can pretend to make a mistake and grab their ‘microphones’, all the while saying that it’s only because she can’t see too well.’

However, despite the fact that Miranda cannot yet get married in a church, her relationship with Gustavo is indicative of a number of significant changes for the transvestite community.  Not only are ‘feminine’ transvestites like Miranda able to mingle freely in heterosexual bars and night-clubs, but her lover is a far cry from those who would call the Libano district home.  Gustavo is in no way different from any of Miranda’s neighbours in La Sabana: he is not poor, dependent, or an abuser of drugs.  Moreover, he would never dream of engaging in sexual intercourse without using a condom.  As he put it, ‘I use a condom with every woman I sleep with.  Sometimes I go to El Pueblo to pick somebody up, but you can’t trust any of those women.  Really, a condom is indispensable for men like me.’

They know better, but sometimes they do it without one

Still, there are other young lovers of transvestites who, despite sharing Gustavo’s class background, are not as conscientious as he is.  In particular, there are now cases of wealthy transvestites who have ‘bought’ themselves attractive men, by means either of drugs or money.  Although these men may be gay, straight or bisexual in orientation, the common thread unifying them is their involvement with transvestites in return for money, drugs or pleasure.  However, these men differ from those of the Libano in that they are more conscious of the dangers posed by AIDS, and hence are more likely to protect themselves, particularly in light of the fact that they are aware of their lovers’ profession.  However, having said this, it is also true that they do occasionally have intimate relations with women and other men where safe sex is not practised:

I know I should use a condom.  But the other night I was at an orgy with Esther and one of her clients.  I used a condom to make love to this guy twice while he was kissing Esther.  But when it came to making love with her, I had run out of condoms.  I’d already used the two I brought with me, and I didn’t bring any for the john.  So we made a deal: I told him that I’d make love to Esther while he watched, but that he couldn’t have her himself without a condom.  He then said that he’d pay more if I let him make love to her.  I thought about it but said no, it’s a show or nothing, and anyway it was his own fault for being so horny and not having enough condoms.  It was a big enough risk that me and Esther were taking making love without a condom.

In another case, Alberto, the bisexual lover of a transvestite, often forgets to practise safe sex when intoxicated:

I can’t swear to you that I always use a condom.  There are times I’m so fucked up that I even forget my own name.  Like the other day I went out with Tere, and we were in a motel room smoking some joints laced with coke.  I suggested we have a bath together and soap ourselves down.  So I brought my beer with me and we had our bath.  Afterwards, all I can remember is Tere taking the cell phone and calling her lover.  It seemed they were fighting and I thought I’d stir things up a bit.  So I took the phone and told him exactly what we were doing, including the sizes and positions and everything.  The guy started insulting me and threatening to kill me.  That brought out the sadist in me, and so I went into the other room and started saying stuff to Tere just so he’d hear.  Then I took the phone and told him all the things I was gonna do to her.  I told him how I’d already undressed her and soaped her down, and how I was going to screw her like nobody had ever screwed her before.  I also told him that she’d said that mine’s much bigger than his and how she liked me a lot more than him.  All I could hear on the other end of the line was him weeping with rage.  Finally, I told him that it was my line and that it was gonna be an expensive call, and then I hung up on him.  Now how am I supposed to remember to use a condom when all this shit’s going down?

Taxi!  Taxi!

‘When we were poor and destitute,’ recounted Esmeralda, ‘we had a very special relationship with taxi drivers.’  According to her, in the era of the Libano cinema, transvestites did not use taxis very often.  ‘But we always had an understanding with them, since transvestites, when they’re going on a visit, they have to take a cab because bus drivers either won’t let them on, or else they’ll make life impossible for them.  But the relationship has gotten even more intense since we moved to the Clinica Biblica district.’

Curious about this relationship, I asked Esmeralda about it in more detail:

-           So, you would say that transvestites and taxi drivers have a special bond?

-           Of course!  We’re among taxi drivers’ best clients.  We use them a lot to get to motels or other places where we can make love.  Not so much before, because in the Libano brothels everything happened in the same place.  But now that we’re on the street, we use them to go to and from the area where all the motels are.  You just tell them when you want them to come back to pick you up and they will.  It’s a good arrangement.

-           Are a lot of them homophobic?

-           There’s one or two who’ll go on about the Bible and this sort of stuff, but most of them are in it for the money.  Besides, they’re used to taking people to motels, and some even make a business out of supplying them with prostitutes.  In any case, they’re cool with us.  If there’s a raid or something, they’ll even hide us and protect us from the cops, since after all we are their best customers.

-           And what about this business of relationships?

-           Oh, my dear, that’s common knowledge!  Last week I was heading home at about three in the morning.  I stopped a cab and asked him to take me to González Lahmann [a neighbourhood in San José].  I got in and started talking with him.  He told me what a long day he was having, how he’d been taking people to motels for the last three hours.  I noticed that he was a young guy, about 24.  He asked how things had gone for me that night.  ‘Only two tricks the whole night,’ I answered.  He looked at me through his rear-view mirror and said, ‘what a shame!  And you’re so pretty.’  I pretended I didn’t hear anything, just continued talking, and then he said, ‘why don’t you come up here darling, and I won’t charge you anything?’  I moved up to the front seat and said, ‘look, I’m worth much more than a little ride in your taxi.  I’m coming up ‘cause I like you.’  He drove us up to Zurqui and, when we got there, we made love.  I got home at around six.

Other transvestites corroborated Esmeralda’s statement, arguing that emotional and sexual ties between taxi drivers and transvestites are quite common.  As Laura explained, ‘it’s one group that’s very supportive of us because we use their services so much.’

Indeed, among San José’s male heterosexual population, there are few who benefit more from the transvestite sex trade than taxi drivers.  José, for example, is often asked to supply gay hotels with transvestites.  ‘Chepe, it’s Pana!  Can you bring us a young, feminine-looking transvestite for a group of gringos who are staying at the hotel?’, says a voice on his cellular phone.  ‘The only ones on the corner right now are Dolores and Lola,’ he answers.  ‘Go see if you can find Marilyn, she’s probably the youngest one around.’  ‘Listen bud, how much are talking about here?’, Chepe asks.  ‘We told the gringos 200 dollars for two hours, but that’s for all three of them.’  ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ the driver answers.  As for Eduardo, not only does he supply hotels with prostitutes, but he even provides a mobile motel service of his own: ‘Lots of transvestites will simply do their business back there while I drive.  It’s very safe because I’m here and everybody knows I’m watching.  I charge for the ride plus two thousand colones.  If there’s intercourse, I charge three thousand to cover damage to the seat.’  In the case of Louis, he has benefited from the sex trade both financially and personally:

At first it was strictly business with Leslie.  I took her to the motels and nothing more, though I won’t say I didn’t notice her ‘cause she’s very pretty.  Anyway, one time I picked her and a john up and took them to Zurqui.  Anyway, the guy couldn’t get off, and since he wasn’t satisfied, he didn’t want to pay.  As for myself, I took Leslie’s side because I’d already lost more than an hour and anyway she deserved to get paid.  Since the guy was such an asshole, it ended up coming to blows.  He started punching Leslie in the face, until I finally walloped him and threw him out of the car onto the highway.  Tears were streaming down Leslie’s face she was so mad.  I took her out for a drink in Heredia and I enjoyed myself so much we ended up eventually in a motel by the Virilla river.  It was since then that we became a couple.

For Mario, meanwhile, although he has never become quite so involved with transvestites, he has certainly grown to like them:

I’ve never thought about sleeping with a transvestite, they just don’t turn me on.  But I like them.  They make me laugh, they have a good sense of humour.  One night I picked up Lulu with this old gringo whose jaw kept twitching, I’m sure he had some sort of nervous condition.  Anyway, she asked me to take them to a motel, and then she said, ‘do you think this gringo’s got his jaw problem from giving too many blow jobs, or is it just because he’s got a mouth full of ants?’  I just can’t believe some of the crazy things they say, like this other time Lulu was asking me how much she owed me, and when I told her she said, ‘listen, why don’t I just give your motor an oil change instead?’  I laughed and I laughed, and finally I said, ‘you fiend!  When you’re finished with this guy, we’ll talk!’

Significantly, some taxi drivers have even come to identify with the transvestites and the persecution they face: As one driver put it, ‘I used to be the first to say that we should kill all the queers.  Now, after to getting know a few of them, I’ve changed my outlook, and I get pissed off when I see those sons of bitches coming to give them a hard time.  I’ve gotten into a fight with more than one of them, I can tell you.  When you get to know somebody, you can’t keep hating him for no reason.’

But what sort of mess is this?

As it happens, heterosexual men are not the only population to have recently fallen into the transvestites’ web.  Increasingly, they are being joined by another, even more unexpected group: heterosexual women.  ‘What’s this?’, I exclaimed in surprise when Esmeralda told me this.  ‘It’s true, the last few tricks I’ve turned have been women, and I slept with them,’ she replied, without batting an eye.  ‘How could this be?  Tell me a bit more,’ I said, as I grappled with my incredulity.

-           There’s nothing to explain.  A couple weeks ago, for example, I was picked up by a couple.  The man wanted to have the experience of being with a transvestite and a woman at the same time, while his girl-friend wanted to find out what transvestites looked like, how they did it, what they were like in bed.  So anyway, we went to a motel and made love.

-           You had relations with both of them?

-           Of course.  First the man made love to the woman, then he made love to me and then, finally, I made love to her.  It was all very morbid.

-           What else happened?

-           Nothing too out of the ordinary.  The woman and I talked about building one’s bust, and how it was that I looked so shapely.  I taught her a few tricks, like wearing ten panties one on top of the other to make one’s hips seem bigger and one’s waist smaller.  Afterwards we talked about men: what we liked them to do, how they are, that sort of thing.

-           What was he doing while this was going on?

-           He was just sitting there listening.  He told me that this was the first time that he’d ever been with a transvestite, and that he’d really liked watching me make love to his girl-friend.  He also asked her how it felt, and whether it was very different when I made love with her as compared to him.  She said that it was different, but that she preferred him because I wasn’t used to a woman’s body and so didn’t really know how to stimulate her.

-           How did you feel making love to her?

-           It’s hard to explain.  Here I was, a transvestite, making love to another woman.  Is that lesbian or what?  Myself, I’m not really into women, and I don’t know anything about them.  But because I knew the guy was watching me and he was getting turned on, that was turning me on too.  Then, when I came, I looked the guy in the eyes, and at that moment it seemed like it was the two of us making love, indirectly.

-           But the truth is that you’re a male and you were with a female.  So weren’t you playing the part of the straight man having sex with a woman?

-           No, no way!  I’m telling you that I was dressed as a woman.  My attitude was feminine, not aggressive.  The man, meanwhile, was screwing both of us with his eyes.  We did what he wanted us to do, he was in charge, it was a relationship between the two of us, and him.

-           But you screwed his girl-friend like you were a man yourself.

-           Yeah, but it doesn’t matter who was screwing who, ‘cause we were both under the thumb of the man.

-           Would you change this?

-           Well, all I can say is that on this occasion this guy had us both under his control.  However, last week the same woman came back herself.

-           What for?

-           Well, she came to pick me up.  She asked if I’d get in the car with her, and I thought to myself, money is money, and got in.

-           So off you two went.

-           To the same hotel in fact, this time by ourselves.  She told me that she’d broken up with the guy because he’s such a womanizer.  He had even slept with her own sister in their house.  I thought she wanted to be comforted, so I said, ‘don’t you cry.  Men are just a bunch of liars really, they’re just not worth the trouble.’  She was sitting there with tears running down her face, but it seemed like she wanted something else as well.

-           What made you think that?

-           She took my hand and put it on her breast and said to me, ‘I’ve always had this fantasy of going to bed with an old friend of mine who would then take me as though she was a man.’  I told her that there was no way I’d be able to satisfy her, because in the first place I wasn’t this old friend of hers, and I wasn’t into women anyway.  Maybe she should go looking for a lesbian instead.  ‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t like lesbians!  I want to be with someone who’s intimate like a woman, but built like a man so that I can have orgasms.  She asked me if I’d help her and said that she’d pay ten thousand for sex.  She even laid the money down on the bed.  ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘but we’re going to do this step by step.  First, we’ll kiss and caress each other while you’re dressed as a woman.  Then, you’ll go to the bathroom and take off all your make-up and clothes, and then come back to the bed.  I’ve brought make-up so you can do yourself up afterwards.’

-           And then what happened?

-           At first I wasn’t really into it, but it got better once I started imagining that we were two lesbians going at it, and that her husband was going to catch us and then it would be the three of us together.  As I kissed her I started feeling a little horny.  I then went into the bathroom to wash myself and take off some of the clothes I was wearing.  Afterwards, I went back into the bedroom and made love to her.  At that moment, I was feeling more mannish.  She told me that she loved being with me and how she had lied before, that I was a better lover than her old boy-friend, and that I knew how to turn her on.  And that’s about the end of it.

-           Did you think that someday you’d end up in bed with a woman?

-           It never crossed my mind.  If the situation had been different, if I hadn’t been offered the money, I wouldn’t have done it.  I don’t like women.

Esmeralda is not the only one who has had this experience.  Other transvestites have indicated that they too have been involved in ménages à trois or larger groups in which there have been an equal number of men and women.  Once in the motel room, the interactions are often complex.  In some cases, the women like to watch their men have sex, others enjoy participating themselves, while the more daring will even use dildos, cucumbers or sausages to penetrate the transvestites present.  Some johns do not want their women to have sex with the transvestite, while others do not mind.  On some occasions, the men will engage in relations with other men, while the women will become intimate with other women.  In moments such as these, future trysts are often arranged.  To cite Pepa, ‘this one time I was in bed with two women while the men went out to get a drink and bring us back some snacks, and one of the women told me that she’d like to have another fling with me the following week, same time, same place.’

Not even lesbians escape

There are also cases where women turn up alone, without any men present at all.  I asked Artemis to describe one such encounter:

-           The latest thing is for lesbians or single women to come down to the strip.

-           Tell me about this.

-           Last night for example I was approached by two women.  They were lesbians.  One was very mannish and the other more feminine.  They offered me eight thousand colones to put on a little show for them in their apartment.  Afterwards, the mannish one told me to undress and to start kissing her girl-friend, while she’d pretend to suddenly come home and discover us making love.  So we started touching and stuff, while she locked herself in the bathroom.  About five minutes later she came out dressed all in leather, with a black hat and boots and a whip.  She hit me a few times with it, and the girl-friend as well.  Not very hard mind you, but it still hurt a bit.  Then, she pulled out a dildo and took me from behind.

What are these women looking for in transvestites?  A sensible man, for a start.  For straight women, transvestites are a sort of middle ground between heterosexuality and lesbianism.  When they are with one, they do not feel that they themselves have become lesbian.  Moreover, they are with a man who has not rejected his feminine side.  As several clients put it, transvestites are ‘sweeter, more sensible and caring, and have a better sense of humour’ than other, more ‘masculine’ men.  Thus, the women can become more intimate with transvestites than is possible with their usual sex partners.  Along similar lines, transvestites can appreciate - and discuss - issues around women’s clothing and make-up.

Others by contrast seek out transvestites in order to obtain the sexuality of a man in the shape of a woman.  Lesbians in particular, some of whom are faced with sexual identity problems, are often drawn to the type of intimacy which transvestites offer.  Given that the latter are women with the souls and sexuality of men, these lesbians feel that they are able to experiment more openly with alternative forms of sexuality.  Of course, it is for a similar reason that many heterosexual men are attracted to ‘phallic’ women.  Many of the latter say that they particularly like transvestites’ aggressiveness.

Thus, for the reasons outlined above, transvestites now have relations with individuals drawn from both genders and all sexual orientations.  If they fail to use a condom, as has sometimes been known to happen, they can transmit or receive HIV (and hence AIDS) from any segment of the population.  To cite Marilyn, ‘the sky is the limit.  There’s now no sector of society that’s free of the webs we’ve spun.’



One of the objectives of this study was to ascertain the degree to which transvestites employed in the sex trade are at risk of becoming infected with HIV.  Another, more general aim was to enhance our understanding of transvestites’ sexual culture, along with the dreams and problems they face on a day-to-day basis.  During the course of the work, we have seen how low self-esteem, societal discrimination, lovers’ attitudes, substance use, and the particular pressures exerted by lovers and johns are all factors in inducing transvestites to practice unsafe sex upon occasion.

We have also learned that prostitution is the only career avenue open to men who feel a need to dress as women.  If discrimination did not exist in Costa Rica, it is clear that this would not be their only profession.  Another objective of this research was to examine how a simple relocation in space, associated with the phenomenon of paqueteo, could produce such deep-seated changes in the lives of transvestites and their clients.  Not only has this relocation resulted in different social classes becoming involved in the sex trade as johns or in practising transvestism themselves, but it has also led individuals to experiment with alternative forms of sexual practice, whether these be genital, emotional or imaginary in scope.

Contrary to the essentialist position, this book has provided evidence in support of a more elastic view of human sexuality, whereby individuals’ sexual orientation can undergo significant alteration completely independently of such factors as size of the hypothalamus, genetic background or rates of hormone production.

In short, while the roots of contemporary transvestism in Costa Rica can be traced to the activities of marginalised strata of the population in the area around the Libano cinema, relocation on the part of some of these transvestites to the Clinica Biblica district brought them in contact with a new, mostly middle class clientele.  As demand increased among the latter, the higher rates charged induced more and more middle class adolescents to join the transvestite sex trade themselves as prostitutes.

Significantly, it was the arrival on the scene of these well-educated, relatively affluent transvestites that provided the basis for a number of legal battles in which members of the transvestite community defended their rights in court.  Moreover, it was thanks to these actions that an end was finally put to the arbitrary police round ups of the past.

In this way, not only were transvestites able to enlarge the areas given over to the sex trade, garnering new types of client in the process (such as heterosexual men and women), but San José’s relatively tolerant atmosphere served to attract transvestites from elsewhere in Central America and the Caribbean basin, whose paqueteo abilities allowed them to penetrate hitherto forbidden heterosexual locales.

Is transvestism revolutionary?

If we were able to locate the source of individuals’ sexual orientation, as some essentialist studies pretend to have done, would we be able to create a more just and rights-conscious society through the elimination of homosexuality, transvestism and other sexual practices labelled ‘deviant’?  I think not.

To the extent that we applaud diversity and celebrate difference, that we prefer innovation over stagnation, that we welcome the free play of divergent beliefs and thought, and that we are intrigued by different cultures and different ways of doing things, we owe it to ourselves to rejoice and welcome the recent transvestite revolution.  Given the degree to which Costa Rica’s under-development might be explained in terms of the mental straight-jacket that champions conventional wisdom at the expense of creative thought, it is clear that the presence of the transvestite community has benefited this country by forcing us to open our minds and re-examine our prejudices.

What is the harm - whether moral, spiritual, political or ecological - in a man dressing himself in women’s clothes?  In a world full of misery, envy, war, hate and corruption, what should it matter that a man likes to put on lipstick?  Perhaps it is questions such as these that the masters of the media and keepers of the country’s virtue would like us to consider, rather than addressing in their place the real moral failings of the present age:  public institutions’ contempt for the needs of the people; legalized extortion on the part of the state from those who can least afford it; the hijacking of the country’s electoral system by the traditional parties; the arrogance and hypocrisy of organized religion; the ecological and demographic disasters to which even now we are contributing; the erosion of solidaristic values; and many other capital crimes besides.

It is because of our discrimination and bigotry that transvestites have been forced to turn to drugs and prostitution.  If we allowed them to go to work in our offices and stores dressed as women, there would not be hundreds of them standing on street corners at night.  Of course, this is not to say that changes are not necessary within their own community.  However, the struggle cannot be limited simply to the creation of a five block tolerance zone for all of the country’s transvestites.  Instead, they must orient themselves to a larger project, one which will serve to open all those doors and opportunities that are now closed to them.  It is only when a transvestite can work as a construction worker, executive secretary, member of Congress or president that our work will be truly done.  For this to occur, they will have to leave the street and the drugs behind.  Prostitution should not be the only profession open to them; they must be able to fulfil their potential in any line of work they choose.

ILPES is currently involved in a programme whose aim is precisely to sell transvestite cultural shows to hotels and restaurants serving the European and North American tourist markets.  In another case, ILPES is endeavouring to develop a series of cooperative enterprises in the area of clothes manufacturing and hair styling.  However, to become involved in these initiatives transvestites are asked to leave the drugs behind.  In this way, the fight for equality must go hand in hand with the struggle to improve transvestites’ public image.

A transvestite president

To show that she means business, Ana Karenina presented to us the speech that she intends to read when she is elected President of Costa Rica:

Ladies and gentlemen, gentlemen dressed as ladies and ladies dressed as gentlemen:

When I was little I never dreamed that I would one day become President of Costa Rica.  Those were hard times for transvestites, when we were seen as a scourge of society.  I still remember the shame my father felt when he first saw me dressed in girls’ clothes.  And the beating he gave me!  Nor do I forget the way the priests condemned us and incited the mob, much less the round ups organized by a governor who subsequently died after biting his tongue, or the insults offered by a presidential candidate.  This poor man would later be killed during the eruption of Irazu volcano in the final year of the last century, after his head was crushed under a rock.  I have also not forgotten the many brave transvestites who were killed at a tender age by homophobia and discrimination.  May God bless them and keep them, and my words do justice to their sacrifice.  Nevertheless, I want you all to know that I’ve always dreamed of being in politics and of making something of my life.

In the final years of the twentieth century Costa Ricans experienced a great political change.  After having put our trust in men, we realized that all they did was steal from us.  There was not a single political institution that was free of corruption.  They stole from the funds for natural disasters, from the banks, from the road budget, from the defence budget, and finally from the possessions of people themselves.  Not only were they crooks and robbers, but they held women in lower esteem than a dog’s belly.  Domestic violence, incest, abuse and sexual harassment were the order of the day.  It was thus thanks to the valiant women, supported by various minority groups, that the revolution of 1998 was brought to a successful close, fifty years after the previous one.

The fight was long and cruel.  The women had to wage a guerilla war, retreating into the few remaining wilderness areas.  There were moments when morale was low and we thought that we would lose the war.  However, as the women were the ones fighting, the only way of raising morale was for transvestites to put on shows.  Many of us went up to the front line to help entertain the troops.  We took many risks and some of us died for the motherland.  Not in battle, mind you, but after being electrocuted by the poor quality light and sound equipment we were using.  The fallen were buried as heroines.  One of the best known is comrade Lulu, who encouraged the Liberation Army during the final battle for San José.  Lulu was crushed when one of her heels gave way and she fell in the path of an armoured car.  Meanwhile, Naranjita choked to death when she took fright during a bombing raid and swallowed a sausage by mistake.  Zarathustra slipped and fell off a precipice as she was riding a mare.

Once San José was liberated, the women proclaimed the birth of a truly democratic republic, in which people could rise to prominence regardless of their sex.  Moreover, each candidate for high office was required to dress up in both men and women’s clothes in order to gain a sense of what it means to belong to each gender.  The transvestites, because this is something we’ve always done, were declared the country’s first citizens.

I promise you that I will adhere to the pacifist traditions that have made Costa Rica an example to the world, and a developed country in more recent years.  Many of my friends have played a role in transforming our homeland.  La Chepa, for example, revolutionized agricultural production by genetically engineering cucumbers, yuccas and other tubers so that they might grow to a super-big size, generating considerable economic gains in the process.  Eveltina invented a special computer programme for transvestites in which every ‘Windows’ workspace would be decorated with an attractive array of flowers and garlands.  Pepa revolutionized LACSA’s frequent flyer programme so that the johns from the Clinica Biblica would be given five hundred miles for each trick.  Since then, the airline has never flown with an empty seat.  Karla increased banana exports by raffling weekend getaway trips in gay bars.   Marilyn transformed Puntarenas into a new movie Mecca by opening her liposuction clinic there and changing all the sex trade workers into stunning models.  Lola patented a new weapon that provided the basis for the country’s nascent armaments industry:  the jocote ( seed from a tropical fruit that is thrown like a stone by children).  Her use of the device to get rid of the red necks who came to harass her in the Biblica proved to be a highly effective means of mob control.

I pledge myself to build upon this fine work.  We transvestites have been the ones who have managed to place this country at the forefront of global development.  We have taught all Costa Ricans the values that differentiate us from others in the region:  tolerance, mutual respect, creativity and ingenuity.  Costa Rica, thanks to our efforts, has become known around the world as a paradise of human rights, ecological sensitivity and sustainable development.  Tourism has increased and so have our wages.  Everyone wants to come visit the country that has achieved so much in the area of human rights.  The arts and sciences have flourished.

Once the last vestiges of machismo were eliminated, our society underwent a cultural revolution.  The country became the new artistic centre of Latin America.  Having rid ourselves of religious censorship, we were able to exploit our innate gifts to their full potential.  Moreover, we were able to bring population growth under control thanks to family planning.  This last achievement is in no small part due to the work of another comrade, Vaselina, who pushed condoms on every street corner.  In one fell swoop, we eliminated poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.  Sex ceased to be seen as a sin and people learned to enjoy it without remorse or guilt.  Not seeing it as something dirty anymore, we were able to delight ourselves in it just like we do in fine food.  We were able to live without sexologists and psychologists.  Many of them opted for a more appropriate line of work:  baseball.  One of the best-known sexologists of the last century has since become an avid batter.

I promise to carry on with this struggle while becoming President and First Lady at the same time, something that will save us millions as well as solving a few problems.  I will continue with the venerable tradition of my predecessors to give blow jobs at the President’s Oral Office. I will of course charge for it and donate all proceedings to the AIDS Foundation.  Finally, during my term in office I will spearhead the complete refurbishment of our horrible capital.  Instead of depending on the bad taste of the political dinosaurs, I will strike a committee drawn exclusively from the ranks of the transvestite community who will design, paint and put in plants.  The Clinica Biblica district will be named a national heritage site for being the place where the transvestite liberation movement was born.  The neighbours who wanted us out so badly will be able to sell their houses to the State as national treasures.

Thank you very much.

Ana Karenina, President of Costa Rica.


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.


[2]           Sigmund Freud, The Complete Works, Vol. II, Mexico City, Iztaccihuatl Publishing House, 1985.


[3]           Sendor Ferenczi, Nosology of Homosexuality in Men in Homosexuality in Modern Society, Heindrick M. Ruitenbek, Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI Publishers, 1973, p.19.


[4]           Irving Bieber et al., Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytical Study, Mexico City, Pax Publishing House, 1967.


[5]           Evelyn Hooker, Adaption of the Manifestly Homosexual in Homosexuality in Modern Society, Heindrick M. Ruitenbek, Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI Publishers, 1973, pp.181-204.


[6]           Allen P. Bell, Martin S. Weinberg and Sue Kiefer Hammersmith, Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1981.


[7]           Ronald Bayer, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry, New York, Basic Books, 1981.


[8]           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.


[9]           D.F. Swaab and M.A. Hofman, An enlarged suprachiasmatic nucleus in homosexual men, Brain Research, 537, 1990, 141-148.


[10]          S. LeVay, A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men, Science, 257, 1991, 620-621.


[11]          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.


[12]          E.O. Wilson, Sociology: The New Synthesis, Cambridge, Belknap, 1975.


[13]          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 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.


[14]          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.


[15]          Vera L. Bullough and Bonnie Bullough, Cross Dressing, Sex and Gender, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.


[16]          Walter C. Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, Boston, Beacon Press, 1986.


[17]          Sudhir Kakar, The Inner World: A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society in India, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1981.


[18]          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.


[19]          J. Wellright, Amazons and Military Maids: Women who Dressed as Men in Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness, London, Pandora Press, 1989.


[20]          E.L. Meyer, The soldier left a portrait and her eyewitness account, Smithsonian, 24 (10), 96-104, 1994.


[21]          Clement Wood, The Woman who was Pope, New York, William Faro, 1931.


[22]          R.J. Dekker and L.C. van de Pol, The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe, New York, St Martins Press, 1989.


[23]          R. Judd, Origins of Cross-Dressing: A History of Performance en transvesti, Doctoral dissertation, Clayton University, 1988.


[24]          P. Ackroyd, Dressing Up. Transvestism and Drag: The History of an Obsession, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1979.


[25]          Deborah Heller Feinbloom, Transvestites and Transsexuals: Mixed Views, New York, Delta Books, 1977, p.106.


[26]          Ibid., p.106.


[27]          Ibid., p.57.


[28]          John Mooney and Ehradt A. Anke, Man-Boy Boy-Girl, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1978.


[29]          Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Psychiatry and Homophobia, San José, Editorial ILPES, 1997.


[30]          Robert Steller, Sex and Gender, New York, Science House, 1968.


[31]          Allan P. Bell et al., Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1981.


[32]          Frederick Witham and Robin Mathy, Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala and the United States, New York, Praeger Scientific, 1986.


[33]                      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.


[34]          A Costa Rican Tabloid.


[35]          Costa Rican painter.


[36]          A lower middle class neighbourhood.


[37]          An expression used to describe individuals who blush easily.


[38]          This is an extreme right political grouping with a paramilitary background.


[39]                      In 1997, an American dollar was worth approximately 245 colones.


[40]                      Jacobo Schifter, La casa de Lila:  un estudio sobre la prostitución masculina, San José, Editorial ILPES, 1997.


[41]                      INISA is the National Institute for Health Investigation, an official body that carries out HIV tests and offers treatment to those who are infected with the virus.


[42]                      Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Hombres...


[43]                      Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Hombres que Aman Hombres, San José, IMEDIEX, 1992.


[44]Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Hombres que Aman Hombres, San José, IMEDIEX, 1992.


[45]                      R.A. Hatcher and M.S. Hughes, The truth about condoms, Siecus Report 17 (2), November-December 1988, 1-9.


[46]          Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, Hombres que Aman Hombres, San José, Ilep-Sida, 1992.


[47]          Johnny Madrigal and Jacobo Schifter, Primera Encuesta Nacional de SIDA, San José, ADC, 1990.


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