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The book focuses on the lives, politics and spaces of trans people, mainly in Brazil, but also in Spain, Chile, New Zealand and transnational space. The editors are members of GETE, Grupo de Estudos Territoriais (Territorial Studies Group), which is based at the State University of Ponta Grossa in Paraná, Brazil. The book is a substantive contribution to geography, not only in terms of size, comprising 400 pages and 14 chapters, but also in terms of its contents. It contains three parts. The first part is written by travestis, which is an identity used by Brazilian trans women. The second part contains six chapters written by members of the Territorial Studies Group, and the third part contains three chapters by international scholars. The chapters cover a range of topics ranging from transphobic violence, sex work and issues around gender recognition legislation to genealogies of trans identities and movements in different regional and (trans)national contexts. As one of the authors of the collection, I do not intend to provide a comprehensive review, but rather to highlight some of the book’s contributions I find provocative in relation to current debates in Anglophone geography.
To begin with, the book makes important theoretical contributions to debates of sexuality, gender and space, not only within the Brazilian context. In Anglophone cultural geography, it is now common-place to understand space in terms of both discourses and social practices. Sometimes, contestations around space are also used as a lens for understanding space as. In Geografias Malditas, the issues of discourse, practice and contestation are shown to be intricately entwined. Part 1 introduces the reader powerfully to the experience of not having space, of constantly being denied access and of struggles that feel like “killing a lion every day”, as Débora Lee puts it in her discussion of travestis’ street sex work in urban space (page 31). Part 2 discusses the dynamics of an espaço interdito – an interdicted or denied space – by unpicking the mutual constitution of, on the one hand, exclusionary and normalising discourses and, on the other, a range of institutional, urban, work and transnational spaces that are often being appropriated through daily struggles.
Second, and this is significant on both epistemological and political levels, this is not only a book about trans people. Rather, trans people, and in particular travestis, also figure prominently among the authors of the book. The significance of this issue can’t be overstated, since trans people in academic and scientific discourses have for decades been spoken for by so-called ‘experts’, who have pathologised and exoticised them. Even with the emergence of queer and transgender studies, it has been a common practice in social science debates to have cis-gendered scholars present ‘theory’, while trans people are attributed the role of telling their ‘subjective experience’, denying their capacity to engage on epistemological and political levels, and establishing ill-conceived hierarchies between ‘theory’ and ‘experience’ (Stryker, 2006). Regarding Brazil, Don Kulick’s (1998) work on travesti sex workers has long had a dubious monopoly on travestis’ representation in Anglophone discourse (for critical discussions see Silva’s first contribution in the collection as well as Hutta and Balzer’s contribution).
Geografias Malditas clearly breaks with the tradition of ‘speaking-for’. However, it goes beyond established practices of ‘giving voice’ by placing four texts written by travestis right in the first section of the book – rather than positioning them as subjective or illustrative add-ons. The biographies of these four authors already suggest that, in connection to their experiences of struggles as travestis and sex workers who have faced violence and social exclusion on a daily basis, they also have rich political and analytical expertise. Débora Lee, Leandra Nikaratty, Fernanda Riquelme and Gláucia Boulevard are all LGBT and trans activists. They have also been engaged in projects such as one titled “Images of absences and silences of the city: exclusion and the subversion of heteronormativity”.
These four texts have resulted from long-term collaborations with the editors, in particular through the Territorial Studies Group’s involvement in the local LGBT NGO Grupo Renascer. Most of the subsequent chapters, especially those of Part 2, have likewise resulted from politically engaged approaches and on the basis of collaborative and participatory research practices. Joseli Maria Silva (2011) has commented on the intricate relations of research, activism and personal relations in the context of her postdoctoral research. For instance, apart from the ‘alma travisti’, her ‘travesti soul’ that some travestis discovered in her, she ironically commented on the position – not of the researcher-activist – but of the “researcher-pimp” when discussing the brokering of contacts and resources that was expected of her in exchange for the knowledge subjects shared.
The issue of collaborative knowledge production relates to what I see as the book’s third significant feature, which the editors also highlight in their Introduction: the stretching of geography’s disciplinary and epistemological boundaries by bringing together political, scientific, and colloquial languages. The strong, even heretic, impact the approach of the Territorial Studies Group has had on Brazilian geography is brought into relief by an experience the editors report about having tried to publish their work in a high-ranked Brazilian and Anglophone academic journal. After seventeen attempts to get a response from the editors of a Brazilian journal, they finally, two years later, received a response. One of the referees was concerned with the direct quotations from interviews with trans people. The referee noted:
“Some of the expressions that bring forth the drama of the involved subjects can be replaced by indirect citations or less aggressive terms.” (Editors’ Introduction, page 19)
This call for sanitising the article and censoring some of the expressions used by the very subjects it engages, provides a vivid example of how the conjoining of different languages forms an integral part of the very production of knowledge.
Accordingly, ‘damned geographies’ in book’s title refers also to ‘geographies’ in the sense of geographic epistemologies. The issues the book engages, the language it uses and probably also its participatory approach are still considered by many as damned, as a threat to the sanctioned epistemic space of geography. Donna Haraway has made a powerful statement that resonates strongly with the book’s project:
"The point is to make a difference in the world, to cast our lot for some ways of life and not others. To do that, one must be in the action, be finite and dirty, not transcendent and clean" (1997: 36).
This book dislocates readers, to quote from the Introduction, “from their comfort zone of pre-established concepts and provokes disorientation, discomfort and hesitation about what has already been fixed in terms of its cultural values” (page 22). But the book is also an invitation, striving for what I would call a renewed politics of queer affirmation (Hutta, forthcoming). It hopes “to put to work the desire and pleasure of discovering subjects that struggle for their social visibility” (Editors’ Introduction, page 22). Such ‘discovery’, as the collection forcefully demonstrates, needs to take place in a register quite different from the colonial practices of exploration that have characterised geographic research.
A sample chapter from the book Geografias Malditas: Corpos, Sexualidades e Espaços, is available here: Hutta and Balzer - historicizing the 't' (taken from Yvette Taylor and Michelle Addison (Eds). Queer Presences and Absences. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 69-90).
 This text is based on a book launch presentation on 5 September 2013 at the II European Conference on Geographies of Sexualities in Lisbon. ‘Travesti’ refers to persons who were assigned a male gender at birth and live their lives or large parts of their lives in a female, partly female, or different gender, using often various expressive and body-modifying practices without necessarily aiming to assume a ‘full female’ body and identity by means of gender reassignment surgery or an endeavour to plainly ‘pass’ as woman.