Questions For Tutorial
What, according to the author, makes travestis worth studying?
Page 7: “Comments such as these [EX: “Biologically, Travestis are men; psychologically, they are woman” –
Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna] have everything to do with the idea of Travestis and nothing at all to do with
the real lives of the actual Travestis.”
Page 7: “…A handful of Travestis manage to achieve wealth…” but “…in most cities, Travestis are so
discriminated against that many of them avoid venturing out onto the street during the day” and are
“regularly the victims of violent police brutality and random assassinations”. Also, “many remain poor
throughout their lives” and suffer through “handtomouth existence” and “dying before the age of 50 from
violence, drug abuse, health problems” or “increasingly, AIDS”.
Many people only meet Travestis a few times on the street or in their rooms, as said on Page 8, but
realistically these journalists writing about them only reinforce the idea that Travestis are somehow very
different from most people, and are “strange, bizarre and scary”, and also are to be feared and pitied.
All of this being said, I feel that the author made it clear why Travestis are worth studying is because many
individuals have an altered, and sometimes untrue view of who, how, and what Travestis are, and in seeing
this, he wants to clear the image of a Travesti, claiming on Page 9 that he hopes to “show how the
prostitution and the body modifications and the rest of it are not in act sad delusions of confused
individuals” that everyone thinks, but more so that “these practices are all eminently reasonable in the
context of the social and cultural world in which Travestis grow up and live their lives”.
What are the author’s objects of study?
The authors objects of study are not HOW Travestis “invert ideas, representations, and practices of male
and female” but more importantly wants to study HOW they “clarify and distill them”, as said on page 10.
His first two objects of study are based on interrelated types of scholarly work :
1. The work of “ethnomedicallogically grounded scholars who have argued that transgenderism constitutes
a privileged vantage point from which it is possible to observe how sex and gender are conceived and
enacted in every day life” [Page 10] They say that sex and gender are not ontological states, but instead
are “contingent, practical accomplishments”. And because transgendered people have to work at
establishing who they really are, where as many of us just live life doing what comes naturally, it brings to
the surface “many of the tacit understandings that guide the creation and maintenance of gender
differences” in our social lives 2. The second is the recent “feminist and historical writing that argues that the concept of biological sex
itself is a gendered notion” which is “dependent on a culturally generated notions of difference for its
meaning and its ability to seem natural” [Page 1011]. There is already a preconceived idea that “anything
we say about sex must always already be implicated in and interpreted through understandings of gender”,
which has “pushed discussions away from the idea that gender is a cultural reading of biological sex”. So if
we somehow focus our thoughts as gender as an understanding, process, subjectivities and practices”, and
that gender is not tied to which reproductive organ we have, it can change our common views of Travesti as
seeing them as defiant, deviant, inverted or futile, and can suspend our assumption that “gender is
grounded in biological sex” [Page 10].
What are his methods?
The authors methods of study, were by using field work to study the Travesti lives. But instead of meeting
Travestis a few times on the street or in their rooms, like other journalists, as said on Page 8, Kulick studied
them for 12 months in Salvador; 8 of those months living with travestis, being able to socialize with them,
and even taking part in walking the streets with them as they worked [page 11]. The rest of the time spent
was visiting them frequently and spending up to 6 hours with them per day. He also tape recorded every
conversations that he ever had with a travesti, and by the end had over 50 hours worth of recordings.
FEILDWORK LACKED: Language barrier; his “Portuguese was far from accomplished” and left him
“frustrated and stressed” and his hair colour and ability to blend in; “where a blonde head like [his] was
unusual enough to elicit double takes from passersby” [Page 1314].
FEILDWORK BENEFITED FROM: Status as a foreigner, noncondemnatory, and gay [Page 15]. “Being gay
facilitated access to discussions and confidences that might not have been granted as easily to woman or
potential clients” [Page 16].
If context is important to understand Travesti lives, why do you think the author chose THESE contexts?
What do they tell us about Travesti lives?
AIDS: I believe the author chose the context of AIDS because of the “epidemic that has decimated Brazil’s
Travesti population since the early 1990’s” [Page 26]. I also believe that he chose this context because of
the lack of information that there is on the statistics of AIDS, and the little information there is specifically on
Travestis dealing with AIDS. Since Travestis are categorized as “men” and “homosexual transmission”,
there are no true accounts of the amount of AIDS when dealing with them. There is also an overwhelming
lack of healthcare for Travestis, and they often spend their time selfdiagnosing and curing them
themselves, with over the counter drugs with no prescription [Page 2627]. I believe Kulick chose this
context to bring attention to this issue since it is considered to be disgraceful and embarrassing to be
infected with this disease, and to be also labeled as a Travesti, this combination sets them even further
apart from others. In bringing light to this context, with more awareness that Travestis are hit hard by AIDS,
there can be more education on wearing condoms and not spreading this disease, along with helping out
more Travestis with access to condoms.
Kulick chose the context of violence, simply because every day Travestis go through violence. As said on
Page 7, “Travestis are so discriminated against that many of them avoid venturing out onto the street during
the day” and are “regularly the victims of violent police brutality and random assassinations”. Not only is
Brazil a society that is known to be violent already, but being victimized and categorized as a Travesti
increases the chances of being involved in a violent encounter [Page 29]. In fact, the most violence
happens in the day to day existence of a Travesti, and is an “everpresent backdrop” in their daily lives.
Being exposed as much as Travestis do, only to earn their livings, makes them vulnerable to harassment,