IDS working papers;310

Building identity while managing disadvantage : Peruvian transgender issues

Published on 1 January 2008

Sexuality issues have gained considerable discursive space in the last two
decades in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Yet due to the attention drawn
in the early years of the epidemic to homosexuality, this discursive space has
largely framed men – both homosexual and heterosexual – as the primary sexual
actors, whether as agents in sexual relationships or as transmitters of sexual
diseases, and obscured all other sexual agents. Heterosexual women have been
seen as unlikely perpetrators of either sex or disease. Lesbians, including bisexual
lesbians, have been left out of the question altogether, as if the HIV/AIDS crisis
has nothing to do with them. And transgender and intersex sexuality issues,
including those related to the epidemic, have been sidelined by the rigidity of the
male/female gender dichotomy that underpins the discussion. Sexuality only
enters this framework as a factor of ill health or ‘risk’, which permits little of many
peoples’ actual experiences of sexuality, including pleasure, to be recognised.
This paper draws on a two-year research project with transgendered people
(travestis) in Lima that explored issues of identity considered important by many
travestis in Latin America and on the socio-economic struggles that most face. It
begins with a consideration of some of the conceptual issues that confront
travestis, in particular in relation to the polarised gender categories of
male/female. It goes on to place travesti issues in a ‘development’ framework,
emphasising the ways in which travestis actively manage and challenge the many
aspects of their disadvantage and social exclusion. Rather than a litany of the
effects of social stigma, the discussion offers some key points for development in
ways that do not threaten travesti identity. It illustrates some positive examples of
work with travestis, as potential ways forward.
Keywords: transgender; sexuality; violence; discrimination; participation;
citizenship; poverty.

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published by
Campuzano, Giuseppe


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