26 October 2012

Why Was A Trans Woman Stoned To Death In Brazil?

In Brazil, same-sex marriages are allowed, although the notaries are not required to perform them.  Furthermore, same-sex couples enjoy most of the same legal protections available to non-LGBT people.

Moreover, the Sao Paolo Pride parade is, by all accounts, the largest LGBT pride celebration in the world.  In addition, thousands of gays from around the world flock to Carnival in Rio de Janiero every year.

With these realities, gay men and lesbians are, in some ways, better off in Brazil than in most other countries--and, for that matter, most jurisdictions in the United States.  

And the country even provides free gender-reassignment surgery.  So far, it sounds like an LGBT paradise, right?

Well...not so fast.  Those free operations have strings attached.  For one thing, any candidate for surgery has to undergo a rigorous medical and psychiatric evaluation.  That, on its face, seems reasonable.  However, the Brazilian medical establishment mirrors much of that nation's society in that it clings to notions and stereotypes about transsexual people that were more common in Renee Richards' time than they are now in the US.

Plus, lines for the surgery--and the other health care and treatments the Brazilian government provides for its citizens--are very long. So, those with money go to private doctors, or abroad.

But even with free treatments and surgeries available to them, most Brazilian transgenders live lives that can be charitably characterized as pretty miserable.  The legitimate labor market is all but closed to them; they allowed to work only in nursing, domestic service, hairdressing, gay entertainment and prostitution.  Many of those who are hairdressers, domestic servants or entertainers in gay night clubs also double as prostitutes.  Very few trans people have university educations or professional qualifications.

Worst of all, transgender people in Brazil are subject to violence, as they are almost everywhere else in the world.  However, the frequency and severity of the attacks are greater in Brazil, as exemplified by the trans woman who went by the name Madona. (Her birth name is Amos Chagas Lima.)  She died three days ago, four days after a group of attackers threw stones at her.  According to Keila Simpson of the National Council to Combat Discrimination, Madona was the 100th trans woman to be murdered in Brazil since January.

The dangers trans people--particularly trans women--face in Brazil are part of another phenomenon for which Brazil is infamous.  In that country, men who kill their wives often go unpunished and police officers kill women (and, to be fair, men) with impunity.  In such an atmosphere it isn't surprising that the murder of a trans woman would be such a lightly-regarded crime.  But that disdain is also, in part, a product of the low status of transgender people and the fact that, in spite of increased tolerance for homosexuality, the old stereotypes and attendant hatred of trans people still prevail.

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