Argentina: Transvestites Find a Voice

  (IPS) – With the support of one of Argentina’s leading public universities, a group of transvestites have launched a magazine aimed at reaffirming their identity and giving them a voice, as they tend to be ignored or given stereotypical coverage by the mainstream press.

The publication is the first of its kind in Latin America.

"The aim is to recuperate our voice, to keep them from imposing their news agenda on us," Marlene Wayar told IPS. Wayar is the director of El Teje, the name of the magazine, whose first edition was produced entirely by transvestites and published by the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) Ricardo Rojas Cultural Centre.

The name of the magazine is a slang term used by the transvestite community as a kind of code word to refer to an object without directly naming it in front of others.

As long as the university continues to provide financing, the magazine will be distributed free of charge. But given the strong reception enjoyed by the first edition, the editors do not rule out the possibility of seeking advertising in order to make the publication self-financing in the medium term and turn it into a source of jobs.

To draw people’s attention, the cover of the first edition carried a photo of Argentina’s most well-known transvestite, Florencia de la V, a popular actress and TV personality who in an interview with the magazine said she had been fortunate to enjoy success in a country where most people of her gender orientation live in the shadows.

"Being a transvestite here is like being an undocumented person; they don’t even see you as an Argentinean. And that is an aberration that people have not become aware of," said Florencia. She acknowledged, however, that "people have become more tolerant" over the last few years, or at least, she said, that is the impression she has developed as a result of her popularity.

But the magazine, whose first print run of 1,000 copies has been exhausted, also focuses on legal and health questions related to the concerns of transvestites, as well as issues of general interest, political columns, humorous articles or theatre reviews, from the perspective of that community.

"The long-term idea is to start to have a history as a community, because we are used to explaining ourselves individually, first to our parents, then in school, and later to the police, but we don’t have a collective narrative, and that history does exist," said Wayar.

Another goal is to provide tools for those who want to abandon prostitution, the main means of survival for transvestites in Argentina as a result of a long history of marginalisation, discrimination and violence to which many are subjected from a young age.

According to a report on the transvestite community in Argentina published in 2006 by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Association, a local human rights group, 64 percent of transvestites had not completed primary school and another 20 percent had not graduated from secondary school.

Nearly all of those who dropped out of school did so because of obstacles that arose as a result of their gender identity. In addition, many were rejected by their families, and were forced to leave home at a young age, finding themselves on their own without much formal schooling and before they had a job.

And with respect to the deaths of a number of transvestites, the report found that 62 percent died of HIV/AIDS, 17 percent were murdered, and the rest committed suicide, were killed in traffic accidents, or were the victims of drug overdose, illnesses or medical malpractice in cosmetic surgery carried out in unhygienic conditions. Nearly 70 percent had died between the ages of 22 and 41.

Among the more than 300 transvestites surveyed for the study, over 90 percent said they had suffered physical or verbal abuse because of their gender identity.

Diana Sacayán, another transvestite on the magazine’s production team, told IPS that the next edition will cover the case of a transvestite who is in the hospital as a result of a brutal beating by a neighbour. The article will pave the way for further discussion of how social rejection and prejudice are often expressed through violence.

"It’s hard, because these issues really hit home, but we have to step out of ourselves to do our journalistic work," said Sacayán, who took a training course in the Rojas Cultural Centre while working to complete her secondary school education. "We are learning as we go," she said.

The initiative emerged from contacts between the Cultural Centre and Futuro Transgenérico, a group led by Wayar. "Our strategy is to choose an interlocutor in the state and a route for channeling our demands, and we believe that the best way is through education and culture," she said.

With support from the Cultural Centre’s head of communications, reporter María Moreno, Wayar and her group held a training course that attempted to adapt their own ways of expressing themselves to journalistic styles and standards.

"We are a very heterogeneous group. Some of us have no skills whatsoever for sitting down at a computer, so we had to tape and transcribe, in order to listen to and correct ourselves," said Wayar.

The team is enthusiastic about the second edition, which will come out in March. They are debating whether to put a picture of actor Fernando Peña or of singer-songwriter Juana Molina on the cover. "We hold lengthy discussions on every aspect," said Wayar.

One of the articles expected to generate controversy focuses on a draft law on transgender identity, which has been introduced in Congress. The law would allow transvestites to legally change their name, and thus be able to fill out legal paperwork with the name — and the gender identity — that they use in their day-to-day lives.

However, it is a complex matter.

"Not all of us want to appear on our identity documents as women, and it is not fair because we are not women, and it would in effect make us invisible. We want society to accept that we are a different gender, and that we also have a lot to contribute, from our unique standpoint," said Wayar.