‘What’s in a Name?’ on the Category Travesti

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Pedro VASCONCELOS, ISCTE-IUL University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal
Travesti is a category used in the Portuguese language (as in French and Spanish) to designate female trans sex-workers. Drawing on ethnographic work carried out in Lisbon (Portugal) with trans street prostitutes (Portuguese and Brazilian), we aim to deconstruct views that tend to homogenize travestis as a group of female trans individuals who cherish their ‘masculinity’ (the penis) while pursuing typical standards of sexualized feminine beauty and bodily attractiveness achieved through cosmetic surgery and silicone injections. Contrary to most academic writings, viewing travestis as a category and identity can be problematic. Rather, though united by sex work and the practices entailed, lives and subjectivities are plural, ranging from MtF transsexuals and transgender women to cross-dressed gay men, among other forms of self-identification. Against reification and exoticization, the category travesti (as others) can be a misnomer, hiding the complex entanglements between the diversity found at the intersection of a vast number of factors and the common gendered position in the sex labour market. Travesti can be often taken as just a subjectivist identity when in reality it is more a descriptor of an objective position, which encompasses an enormous diversity. It is not just an identity, not even for the sex workers who tend, in various conjugations, to resort to different terminologies when describing themselves and their ‘job’. As we will show, through the materials collected within the ERC funded project Transrights, the discourse of travestility is far from straightforward identitarian coherence. Rather, a material approach is needed.