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Transsexuals of Brazil  
 
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Transvestites' clients are generally men who appear as "straight" in society. Many, if not most, are married. Contrary to what one might expect, in the majority of instances, the transvestite sex worker performs the active role in sexual intercourse, the male client assuming the passive, receptive role.

AIDS experts believe that a significant hidden route of transmission of AIDS in Brazil is through transgender prostitution: the transvestite passes HIV to the client and the client in turn passes the virus to his wife or partner.

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Unlike female sex workers, who have a range of professional options available to them, transgender sex workers often feel they have no options. Many see prostitution as the price they pay for choosing to transform. Moreover, whereas female sex workers have a wide range of options within the profession--the street, various types of night clubs and brothels, advertising in newspapers and on the Internet--transvestites generally work the streets and low-end brothels, known as "privés."

Their relegation to low-end prostitution has three particularly adverse implications for transvestites: endemic violence, pimping, and trafficking, all of which are aggravated by severely restricted access to good medical services.

Violence and Criminality

Transgender prostitutes working the streets are routinely subject to violence from the police, clients, passers-by, and, sometimes, from pimps. Such violence includes beatings, intimidation, torture, and shootings.

In some cases the violence is random and indiscriminate. Some groups of men consider it fun to beat up transvestites or conduct drive-by shootings. Similarly, some individual clients indulge in sadistic behavior.

In other cases, the violence may take the form of organized or spontaneous punishment or reprisals against transvestites who sometimes rob and assault their clients. Recently, in São Paulo, for example, groups of transvestites surrounded cars that stopped at traffic lights and robbed the drivers. Such acts result in reprisals by individuals and in violent repression by the police. In both cases, the violence targets all transgender people in the region in question and is not limited to criminal elements.

Formal complaints are rarely lodged by transgender people against the police due to a combination of discrimination, police corruption, and fear of reprisals.

Street pimps also sometimes beat up transvestites who fail to pay their obligations.

Pimping

In Brazil, there are two kinds of pimps: male pimps, known as cafetões; and transvestite pimps, known as cafetinas. Cafetões are generally low-level drug dealers. Cafetinas run boarding houses for transvestites.

Especially in the major cities, all prostitutes who work the streets are required to pay a pimping fee. This is generally a fixed weekly fee that buys the right to work a particular area where the pimp in question has rights. In return for the fee, the pimp confers protection from harassment from other pimps and, in principle, from the police. Female sex workers pay the fee to cafetões. Transvestites pay the fee either to a cafetão or to a cafetina who has street rights, i.e. one who is respected by the cafetões.

Many transvestites live in houses run by cafetinas. The cafetina charges a daily fee for board and lodging. Where the cafetina does not have street rights, the transvestite must also pay a weekly fee to a cafetão.

Pimping fees can represent an excessive burden for a transvestite sex worker. In extreme cases, where the transvestite has to pay both a cafetina and a cafetão in an area where the price of a trick (programa) is low, she may have to perform as many as 60 programas per month--i.e., two a day, seven days a week--just to cover pimping and transport costs.

Whereas the relationship between the sex worker and the cafetão is essentially based on fear and intimidation, the relationship between the sex worker and the cafetina is sometimes quite different. In many cases the cafetina provides a significant level of guidance and emotional support, especially when the transvestite has moved from a distant region to the major cities of São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.

In these instances, the cafetina functions as a parent figure, especially if, as is often the case, the transvestite has effectively been expelled from her family, usually at an early age. In these relationships, the cafetina is referred to as the Madrinha (Godmother) and the transvestite considers herself a filha (daughter).

Crucial to whether her transvestites will be guided towards or away from criminal behavior and drug abuse is the character and outlook of the cafetina.

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