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Transsexuals of Brazil  
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people in Brazil are the country's single most marginalized group. Fear, ignorance, and hypocrisy lead to discrimination and lack of education, which in turn render transgender people--more specifically, people who were born male but present themselves as female--subject to violence, social exclusion, drug abuse, crime, prostitution, exploitation, and severe health risks, each of which results in further discrimination.

Brazilian sexual culture contains deep and severely repressed elements. Transvestites, as many male-to-female transsexuals prefer to be called, are the personification of this cultural equivocation.

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While the term transgender as used in the United States and Europe has come to encompass all gender-variant individuals, including female-to-male transsexuals, drag queens and kings, and intersex individuals, in Brazil the social phenomenon of transgênero largely consists of individuals who were born male but who live their lives as women.

Transgender people in Brazil fall into two categories: travestis (i.e., transvestites) and transsexuals, although for many the two terms are interchangeable. To the extent that the latter insist on distinguishing themselves from transvestites, it is because transsexuals consider that they were born into the wrong body, whereas transvestites do not experience as deeply internal conflicts in relation to their male bodies.

In practice, both transvestites and transsexuals make commitments to living and dressing exclusively as women, and are accordingly distinguished from "drags" (i.e., classic transvestites) in two respects. First, drags dress and appear as men in normal life and only "mount" themselves as women in specific situations. Second, transvestites and transsexuals generally make significant changes to their bodies, often through massive hormone intake, silicone enhancement, plastic surgery, and, sometimes, sex reassignment surgery, whereas "drags" do not.

"Transgender people" is the translation of the Portuguese generic term transgênero. The term underscores the fact that these individuals are, indeed, people--often highly sensitive, intelligent, creative people--who are routinely stripped of the most basic consideration as human beings.


Transgender people in Brazil face discrimination and humiliation, usually beginning in early childhood when they first appear to be different. At schools, they are obliged to use their natal identity or be referred to by a number. The most immediate result of this discrimination is that the formal education of most transgender people extends little beyond basic literacy, and a considerable number are, in fact, illiterate.

As they grow older and have to deal with public authorities, they suffer discrimination in bars, restaurants, and entertainment establishments where they are often required to use male entrances and male toilets and submit to being frisked by men.

Adult transgender people are discriminated against by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. The result is that many tend to live in their own hermetically sealed world with minimal points of contact with mainstream society.

They are excluded from many religious communities, and are warmly welcomed only by the Afro-Brazilian churches.


Transgender people have their own street vocabulary, pajuba, to denote the terms and conditions most common to their life, such as men, women, sexual organs, good, bad, etc. Much of this terminology has origins in Afro-Brazilian religious culture and is shared by street prostitutes.

Some transgender people communicate in an exclusive language constructed by placing an expression before or after each word they speak. For example, they may converse using "semi" after each word. This practice, combined with their specialized vocabulary, renders it impossible for outsiders to understand what they say.

Transgender people who have not undergone sex-change surgery do not consider themselves women. However, they categorize non-transgender men as "he" or "she" according to whether the man assumes an active or passive role in sexual relations. In other words, when transgender people speak of males, gender is considered a question of process; when they speak of females, however, they categorize them as ontologically different, defined by virtue of their vaginas. Racha (literally translated as "split") is the pajuba term for both a woman and a vagina.


The formal labor market is largely closed to transgender people. An extremely small minority of transvestites have university educations or professional qualifications. With few exceptions, the only professions open to them are nursing, domestic service, hairdressing, gay entertainment, and prostitution. In some cases, even those who work as hairdressers, gay night club artists, and domestic servants also double as sex workers.

In the central, north, and northeastern regions of Brazil, transgender people from extremely poor families sometimes begin working as prostitutes as early as 12 years of age, especially if they have been expelled from home by their families. In the south and southeastern regions and in the major capitals of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, it is common to find transvestites as young as 16 or 17 working the streets.

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A group of transgender revelers in Brazilian soccer outfits at the São Paulo gay parade in 2006.
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