In Brazil the struggles of trans women are deeply connected and embedded in a women’s movement – transgender, transvestite, indigenous, black; they fight together, side by side. There is no separation. They all face the poverty, the violence, the difficult life as women. It is a class issue, but one framed by shocking violations of human rights.
Brazil leads the world rankings for the greatest [number of] trans and transvestite murders. According to ANTRA (Brazil’s National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals), Brazil accounted for 124 cases of [transgender] murders in 2019. Eleven trans people are beaten per day in Brazil due to their gender identity. They lack security, affection, opportunity and equity.
Many are unreported or misreported. Life expectancy is 30-35. According to the Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais, who also report the murders, over half of the victims die on the street and 80% show signs of torture.
In an extraordinary interview, published earlier this month by The English Collective of Prostitutes, Natalia, a trans woman from Brazil now living in the UK, talks about the trauma of being a trans woman in Brazil. She also uses the term “travesty”, in recognition of the culture in which she grew up – a culture of degradation and oppression.
In fact, it is probably accurate to say that trans women are part of a heavily persecuted nano minority that manages to have the minimum access, care and basic rights of a human being. Most trans women living in Brazil don’t even have security in their own homes. And those who manage to have the minimum [level] of safety and comfort in their home, let alone out on the street
Frustration is another word to describe the feeling of living in Brazil as a trans woman. It is frustrating to see how vulnerable, invisible and marginalised they are. The cis gender and heteronormative parts of society puts trans women in a cruel, predefined box of what it means to be a transvestigenere body.
As well as talking about when and what made her choose to transition, Natalie, who was thrown out onto to streets by her mother at the age of 12 and lived for many years in a discarded building with trans women and transvestites, gives a candid account of what is it like to be a trans woman in Brazil, which she describes as a “very sexist, racist and transphobic place to be.” She also talks about what the effect of the pandemic has had on her.
Coronavirus has devastated communities the world over, but in Brazil’s favelas – the tightly packed slums that crowd the country’s biggest urban hotspots – it has been particularly merciless. The pandemic has exposed inequalities even down to the official data that can be collected: as of 23 October, Brazil had exceeded five million confirmed cases, and over 156,000 recorded deaths, but many have pointed out that those figures don’t extend to the favelas, where poverty, poor access to healthcare and overcrowded living conditions have proved lethal.
You can read the full interview with Natalie here.
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of sex workers working both on the streets and indoors campaigning for decriminalisation and safety.
Main Image by Ian Cheibub, a visual storyteller based in Rio de Janeiro studying media at Universidade Federal Fluminense. You can visit Ian’s page here.