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Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, Gender, and Culture) Paperback – November 15, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0226461007 ISBN-10: 0226461009 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Series: Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, Gender, and Culture
  • Paperback: 277 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226461009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226461007
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It is wonderful and weirdly fitting that one of the jacket blurbs for this work of social anthropology is by sex educator and former porn star Annie Sprinkle. Just as there is nothing dry or remote about Annie Sprinkle's delivery, there is nothing dry or remote about Don Kulick's. In fact, this may be the most readable and engaging study of transgenderism to surface in years. For seven months in 1994, Kulick lived in a household of "travestis"--Brazilian male prostitutes who live as women. He constantly tape-recorded their casual conversations, whether on the street soliciting customers or in their small rooms in the ghettos of Salvador, and has been able to trace the motivations behind their behavior and body modifications with plausibility and compassion. So absorbing are the details of the travestis' lives, as recounted by Kulick, that the reader can easily miss the author's equally acute analysis of their often bizarre transformations and of what travestis, with their exaggerated performance of "femininity," suggest about the construction of gender in Brazil. --Regina Marler

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Willson on February 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I was actually in the field in Salvador Bahia at the same time as Don Kulick was doing his fieldwork for this book, and I also read the manuscript before it was published. He and I have discussed at length various theoretical aspects of the book (I have a different interpretation of how gender works in Brazil). Knowing the accuracy of his ethnography as I do, I think this is one of the important books to have been published in anthropology and gender in recent years. It is also an engaging, insightful and fascinating read.

I write this review to counter some insinuating remarks I have just read here about Dr. Kulick and the nature of his fieldwork. Dr. Kuluck is a linguist; he studied Portuguese intensively when he arrived in Brazil and was very soon completely fluent. His understanding of Bahia slang--very much needed for any work on the streets--is superb. In order to get the in-depth ethnography that he did, he had to stay in the horrific tenement conditions in which many of the transvestites with whom he worked live in Salvador, he also stayed with them on the streets until late, recording conversations. As with most field situations, Dr. Kulick was quite fond of some of his informants, less so of others (as would be expected); as a gay man, he was neither a potential client nor boyfriend (since these are people who consider themselves 'straight'), a situation that, I believe, aided him in gaining the trust and acceptance of his informants. My impression was that, although he empathized with his informants in many ways, he certainly did not 'identify' with them.

The controversy this book has sparked speaks more to its breaking new ground than anything else. I highly recommend it.

Margaret Willson (author of "Dance Lest We All Fall Down: A Journey of Friendship, Poverty, Power and Peace")
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be very well written and, in several instances, it made me long to return to my anthropological studies at NYU. Had I only been a curious reader I probably would have found this book brilliant, but my reading was shaded by the fact that I personally know many travestis in Salvador (Peruco, Xuxuca, Kit Mahoney, Angelica) and therefore found the exclusion of several things to be particularly odd.

The importance of having a basic understanding of the language and culture of a country in order to do fieldwork and understand anything in that country cannot be overstated, and the fact that Professor Kulick went into the "field" totally green must have put him at a significant disadvantage. This disadvantage would explain his cultural missteps and failure to see his "subjects" within the larger Brazilian context. The lack of contextualization is akin to discussing America's obesity problem without discussing the automobile, the microwave, women in the workforce, lack of school physical education programs, etc. A population teeming with 300-lb. people seems very strange indeed when not seen in context.

Though far more thorough than most researchers, it's incomprehensible to me that he barely discusses race/ color and class at all. It's important to note that nearly all travestis are negra (black) and mulata/ morena (brown) and come from the lowest social classes and everyone knows that, in Brazil, the primary contribution that negras and morenas are thought to offer society is their sexual services (mulata e pra transar, branca e pra casar).
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By "hannah1350n" on November 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
I had the opportunity to read this manuscript before it was published, while taking a class with Prof. Kulick. My criticisms of it then still stand now...though I have in many ways only deepened my respect for the finer points of this work. I thoroughly applaud the way that Kulick attempts to make clear the way in which the travesti gender identity is a complexity of biological definition, social categorization, and personal identification. Certainly, the way in which Kulick has encouraged his subjects to share their understanding of gender and sexuality SO openly may help all gender theorists and anthropologists better take to task gender issues like these. As criticism, the book simply does not contextualize the travesti experience. Kulick mentions little and/or nothing about the outside understandings of travesti identity...or the ways in which the broader categories of Brazilian sexual identity might encourage the development of a travesti individual. As well, Kulick is almost TOO involved with his sources. I am certainly NOT preaching anthropological objectivity here (an impossible task) but felt that about 60% of the dialogue in the book was about Kulick's personal desire to "share" in the travesti experience and/or to be identified as an "insider," something which we could have figured out from a decisive, close-knit, introspection of the travesti culture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By a reader on July 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is an extremely useful and popular text in anthropology of gender, sexuality and/or body classes. Although Kulick could have done even more to situate the travestis in broader Brazilian contexts (of race, class, gender, etc.), his detailed, rich accounts of the intimate lives and experiences of the travestis he grew to know are extremely engrossing and illuminating. The book offers a wealth of original, provocative data that students can use well to examine and challenge their own understandings of gender and sexuality categories. Gender, sexuality and transgender are simply very differently imagined and constructed in Brazil (at least among travestis) than in the US. Students report that this is one of their favorite ethnographies, and especially because of the wealth of original data, riveting informant narratives, and novel perspectives portrayed, it is one of my favorites, too.
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