Bixa Travesty: A Glimpse Into Brazilian Transvestism

By Sarah Luisa Santos . February 17, 2018

“Brazil is the country that kills most transvestites and transsexuals in the world.”

“The life expectancy of these people is 35 years old, less than half of national average of 75. So, it’s difficult to understand that Brazil leads the search ranking for trans people on RedTube.” – Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goiffman, directors of Bixa Travesty showing at Berlinale.

I once heard from my cousin, a psychotherapist, that most transvestites ended up being sex workers in Brazil because homosexuality is still taboo. But, and there is a big “but”.

These transvestites are in what we would call a “grey zone”, somewhere between the spectrum of what male or female should be, and therefore they are not accepted by society and not able to have other jobs.

Also, in Brazil, the demand for this kind of sexual “service” is high and comes mainly from white cis men (*spoiler alert*: as said in the movie, most gay men don’t want to be with trannies).

After reading this quote from the film directors of the documentary Bixa Travesty, I actually don’t wonder why transvestites are killed in Brazil. We often hate that within others which we see in ourselves, right?

But rather than showing the everyday violence these people face, Bixa Travesty, or Tranny Fag in English, is a film showcasing two of Brazil’s most successful queer artists: Linn da Quebrada and Jup do Bairro.

Linn da Quebrada and Jup do Bairro

Whilst being a clear indicator of the career trajectory of Linn, this documentary is not solely about her. Rather, it features her and Jup do Bairro together to make a statement.

They both came from poor backgrounds and use funk music, GHETTO FUNK to be more exact, to subvert the general ideas of what transvestites are. On top of this, is shows what it means to be queer, and most of all, what it means to be queer and black in Brazil.

What is interesting about this film’s music choices is how they use a genre mainly dominated by men (along with sexist lyrics) to reference a queer Brazilian parlance, Pajubá, to fight against paradigms and stereotypes within the LGBT world.

I had a quick interview with one of the film’s directors, Kiko Goifman:

The film talks about gender identification. Linn uses feminine pronouns to refer to herself, but she also calls herself “bixa travesty”, which is neither feminine or masculine. How is gender approached in the movie?

To think over the gender issue is part of our work. We never thought about being preachy, but mainly to bring this issue to discussion. If we uncover something new, great! But the main point is that nowadays transsexuality is not a matter for niches or ghettos anymore. Society in general has to think about it as a fundamental human right.

One of Linn’s works, called Pajubá, is a queer slang word created by the transvestites as a form of resistance and safe communication. Was there a concern in translating this LGBT slang to an audience who might not know so much about this world?

Again, another fundamental point: we didn’t bother to be didactic. We are not interested in making complex questions more understandable for a bigger audience.

Who is homophobic, for example, will not change just because they watched our movie. We didn’t explain the slang either. Linn is clear enough about the fundamental anti-sexist concept present in the movie. If the audience might not understand one word or another, it’s part of the game.

At the Berlinale, the film has English subtitles. Do you think the translations correspond correctly to the original?

This doesn’t worry us, it’s part of the job.

Of course whoever speaks Portuguese will have more access to what is being thought and said, but it’s not fundamental.

The translation of the movie into English was made by a professional in Brazil who is very aware of the LGBT terms.

The essence of the movie is not lost; we are confident about this.

Lastly, in your opinion, how can we make language into a medium for bringing people together and creating awareness against homophobia, transphobia and sexism?

It’s up to us to discuss it and analyse the different layers of this debate.

For me, this is already good enough. One movie is not going to change the world. We don’t want to “create awareness” for anyone.

These issues are fundamental. And, for us, if some people just stop to think about it, it’s great already.

Bixa Travesty will be screened at Panorama Program during Berlinale


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