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The book is organized in three parts. The first one, ‘Travestis’ geographies, in their own voice’ contains four chapters; each one is a transcript of oral statements made by four travestis, Débora Lee, Leandra Nikaratty, Fernanda Riquelme and Gláucia Boulevard. Their texts have some aspects in common. They explore a) the feelings of difference at the scale of the body and the relation with others, b) their territorial experience in prostitution, c) their struggles for rights and spatial conquests d) their dreams and spaces of solidarity.
The second part, ‘Trajectories of knowledge produced collaboratively by the GETE and the travestis’, is written by researchers of the group and presents some key issues regarding feminist and queer approaches to geography in Brazil. The topics include: the body as a geographical inquiry in Brazilian geographies, the dynamics of interdicted or denied space (espaço interdito) for travestis, the paradoxical territories of travesti prostitution, intersectionality and transnational mobilities in travesti’s networks and travesti’s social representations of space and death. Finally, the third part, ‘Diverse spaces, multiple trans realities’, is composed by three chapters that explore trans realities in different contexts. Jan Simon Hutta and Carsten Balzen delve into Brazilian trans identities and struggles against violence from a historical point of view. Lynda Johnston and Robyn Longhurst explore the transitions of two trans women from New Zealand in relation to bodies, binaries, places and spaces. Martin Ignacio Torres Rodríguez and Raul Borges Guimaraes focus on subversive practices of transsexuals in Santiago de Chile.
As the authors state in the introduction, this books breaks many disciplinary boundaries in geography. First of all, it covers a still under-explored area of research: trans geographies. Internationally, only a small number of researchers study the reality of trans people (see Browne, Nash and Hines, 2010) and in Brazil the research on it is also very scarce. The authors start by illustrating the situation of gender and sexuality geographies in Brazil and show how it is not a welcomed subject in Brazilian academia. In this context, gender and sexualities geographies are struggling to be considered part of social sciences, and travesti geographies are taken as non-scientific and non-geographical issues. As they state:
“the feeling of disregard, aversion and rejection in relation to our scientific discourse on travestis made us realize how it was perceived as the ‘damned’, in a Foucauldian sense, unable to acquire scientific value in the sacrosanct and inviolable purity of the geographical science” (page 12).
This is where the title of the book comes from; from this willingness to bring the ‘damned’ into the scientific domain, to disrupt its supposed purity. And by doing so, GETE’s researchers started to suffer the same type of prejudices that were directed to travestis: ridiculizations and underestimations from other colleagues, undervaluing of their researches and being subjected to constant jokes. However, as they say and it is worth highlighting, “the more resistances in relation to travestis we faced, the more our curiosity grew and the more we strengthen the affective bonds and complicities with them” (page 12).
The authors focus on how this book and their broader work fits in the geographical context in Brazil, but I would also like to point at the broader context: the international geographical context and the relevance of this book.
Nowadays, the Anglo-American hegemony in geography establishes the patterns for the intellectual debate, not only for the hegemony of the English language but also for what it represents when listening to ‘other’ voices (see Garcia Ramon, 2012). Language is a cultural issue, and its use is a political question. In some non-Anglophone contexts, such as Brazil, the knowledge of English is a privilege conditioned by class position. Power relations therefore mark the dissemination and engagement with international academic debates and networks. Moreover, as Joseli Maria Silva (2011) argues, the knowledge production in some non-Anglophone regions or literatures are seen as ‘local’, and thus as an empirical contribution not capable of producing theory. The consequences of this for research and for the everyday life of investigations are wide, but they are rarely taken into account, neither in feminist geography nor in academic circuits of publication.
This is the context in which this book has been produced: between the colonial and patriarchal/transphobic tensions of the international context and the academy in Brazilian geographies. The book develops two interesting conceptualizations, the espaço interdito and intersectionality, which are important contributions to understand not only travesti’s experiences but also the position of the book in itself within the academic literature.
One of the theoretical contributions of this book in relation to trans geographies is the conceptualization of the dynamics of the espaço interdito. As Perola, one of the travestis, says:
“There is no place for a travesti. We are a group that does not exist; there is no space for a travesti” (page 144).
Such quotes are the ground for developing this concept of espaço interdito, which speaks both to the exclusionary discourses and the spaces appropriated through the daily struggle. The hospital, the school, pubs and restaurants, police stations and prison, the army, the church and the city in general are denied spaces for travestis, whose bodies are unintelligible and marked with violence within these institutional and public spaces. Gender and sexuality normativities exclude travestis from these places and, at the same time, their exclusion is a fundamental element in configuring the gender hegemonic norms in those spaces.
Taking this concept of espaço interdito, I wonder whether there is any space for a book of this kind in the Brazilian geographical context and, moreover, if there are the conditions in feminist geography, at an international level, for receiving such work and appreciating it as a theoretical contribution. Is there any space for Brazilian geographers that work on and with travestis both in the Brazilian academy and in the international context?
Looking at this from an intersectional perspective, as some chapters interestingly address in the book regarding the experiences of gender, sexuality, race and class in relation to travestis, it seems that Geografias Malditas also ‘suffers discrimination’ from multiple directions. Joseli Maria Silva analyzes travesti’s strategies and struggles, rendering visible the complexity of their spatial negotiations and the paradoxical space that is created because of their intersecting identities. It seems that the book, and therefore its authors, are also struggling because of their intersectional identities. Their experience appears as a paradoxical space (see Rose, 1993) that sheds light on the difficulties of the production of knowledge for feminist non-Anglophone geographers. In Brazil, where they experience comfort regarding their Brazilian identity and where they have the language and cultural skills that allow them not to be undervalued by that, they experience transphobia in the academy. On the other side, in international/Anglophone feminist geographical environments, where working on feminist and trans issues is not normally a source of discrimination, their difficulties when having to do research in English and their Brazilian origins become a source of discomfort.
As discussed in the chapter “Intersectionality and transnational mobility between Brazil and Spain in prostitution networks” written by Joseli Maria Silva, Brazilian sex workers, travesti, in the process of migration to Spain suffer from their oppressed positions in multiple power structures. However, they use their identities and their ‘intersectional dynamics’ in a strategic way that Silva interestingly develops in the second part of the book. Travestis’ identities play very different roles depending on the geographical contexts in which they find themselves. As she analyses, it is not the same to be a Brazilian sex worker in Ponta Grossa as it is in Madrid. The exotism and sexualisation of Brazilian bodies, even if it departs from a colonial conception, is used by them as a labour resource that improves their class situation in Spain. Little attention has been paid to the intersectional dynamics of gender, race, sexuality and class in feminist geographies and geographies of sexualities (Valentine, 2007; Brown, 2011), so this work supposes an important contribution to the field. Moreover, as Silva focuses on how travestis mobilise elements of Brazilianness to their advantage, her work moves from additive conceptions of intersectionality and proposes new perspectives on how to do research on intersectionality from a geographical approach, challenging hegemonic understandings of the lived experience of multiple oppressions and therefore contributing to broader debates in social sciences.
Far from victimizing the academics that undertook this project because of the difficulties they find when researching, they take this situation as a point of departure for the production of knowledge. There is a tension that is present in most of the chapters, that is, the engagement with the Anglophone literature from one side and the narratives and experiences of the travestis from the other. Some concepts, such as the name of travesti itself, have different meanings and connotations in different enclaves. As Silva points out, “the use of the word ‘travesti’ in my research implies some difficulties for the dialogue with researchers from Anglo-American cultures” (page 146). She argues that travesti is generally translated as transvestite even if this is a different concept. The most similar word in English to designate travestis would be transgender, but it is seen by GETE’s researchers as a too general, simplistic and an insufficient concept that cannot account for the complexities of gender identities in Brazil. Moreover, travestis do not feel identified with such concept that in Portuguese sounds similar to ‘transgenic’. As one of them says, “I am not soya to be transgenic, I am travesti!” (page 147). It is not only a funny connection due to the problems of translation or the 'travelling' of concepts. It also gives evidence of the unequal relations in the production of knowledge. The authors’ capacity of reading different languages and practices and establishing a dialogue between them appears in this book as an important contribution for geographies of gender and sexualities. Anglophone authors are taken into account in Brazilian geographies of gender and sexualities. The presence, in the last section of the book, of writers located in Anglophone contexts, and translated into Portuguese, is a sign of this willingness to promote debates between different contexts and epistemologies. Are Anglophone academics making this effort to establish a dialogue with other geographies, in other languages?
As Sandra Harding puts it, “standpoint theories map how a social and political disadvantage can be turned into an epistemic, scientific and political advantage” (Harding, 2004: 7-8). Following her claim, the academic and political practices that are expressed in this book and its context of production can contribute to feminist theory not only as specific examples of different case studies but as different feminist and queer conceptualizations that may contest the hegemony of Anglophone ones. Could this situation imply some sort of epistemic advantage? Could this margin be seen as a privileged standpoint to counter the Anglophone hegemony in the academy and in social research? And moreover, what does it imply for our conception of knowledge production that a travesti sex worker writes on geographical issues? Are their narratives just ‘empirical material’ or are they also theoretical contributions? In Geografias Malditas, travesti sex workers’ chapters are written in first person and follow the same structure, focusing on their spatial experiences in prostitution and their everyday struggles and solidarities. Their thoughts and reflections involve complex spatial experiences and reflections. Could they be seen as queer epistemologies? How do they challenge the limits of knowledge production?
Travestis’ narratives clearly show how their lives are deeply crisscrossed by violence and death. The levels of violence and abuse they experience are sometimes expressed with some humour, which in fact makes it easier to, at least, continue reading. However, despite the intensity of their stories, this book tries to reflect on how their situation is not only about being victims but also about producing spaces, knowledge, strategies, alliances and also funny situations. Maybe one of the most important aspects of the book is precisely the relation established by the researchers and the ‘researched’, how travestis’ voices are considered, how they are taken into account, and what results from this research strategy. The position of the academics is not presented in a hierarchical way in relation to travestis, and travestis are seen as political subjects able to produce geographical knowledge. The book stands in a very difficult position between rendering visible the material conditions that travestis are living, the violence that crosses their lives, and the theory that can be produced thanks to their narratives. And, the result, is a politically significant work that raises relevant issues from a geographical perspective and that specifically contributes both theoretically and empirically to feminist and queer geographies.