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 o

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