Brazilian Transvestites Pump Up with Silicone to Attract World Cup Clients

This post written by Andrea Dipp, was originally published as a report entitled “I'm Going to Pump Up So I Can Charge More During the Cup” [pt] and is part of investigative journalism agency Pública's special #CopaPública [pt] coverage on the 2014 World Cup. This post is the first in a series of three articles that will be published on Global Voices Online.

Long before the coastal Brazilian city of Fortaleza was confirmed as a host for the World Cup 2014, transvestites Carla and Luana (fictitious names) were already working in the vicinity of the impressive Castelão Stadium, historically an area of prostitution on the city. On the streets that surround the stadium and run through the poor neighborhoods in the area, they share the sidewalks with other prostitutes where clients come in search of tricks costing from five to 50 Brazilian reais (about two to 25 United States dollars).

During a hot, dry afternoon typical of April in northeastern Brazil, I accompanied the work of the people from Associação Barraca da Amizade (Friendship Tent) [pt], a non-governmental organization which has cared for and sheltered street children and adolescents for 26 years and has developed projects to combat sexual exploitation at the request of boys and girls since 2009. But the action wasn't all that much — two prostitutes and three transvestites slinked off into what little shade was offered by the high walls of a large company, close to a traffic circle, hiding from the heat.

Carla and Luana were resting up from a night out. Without madams to answer to, the two can make their own work schedules. Those who were on the street were approached by the Friendship Tent educators who distributed condoms and lubrication gel in the hope of reducing the risks and as a means of getting close. Paulinha, as the assistant is affectionately known among the transvestites, explained:

Hoje, além das mulheres e adolescentes, trabalhamos com 30 travestis aqui da área, levando insumos, marcando exames nos postos de saúde, oferecendo cursos profissionalizantes e atendendo a algumas demandas delas. Há pouco tempo nós conseguimos, após articulação com orgãos oficiais, a transferência de um médico que fazia piadas homofóbicas com as travestis de um posto de saúde da região. Esses resultados ajudam a fortalecer essa confiança no nosso trabalho.

Today, in addition to women and adolescents, we work with 30 transvestites here in the area, distributing materials, scheduling exams at the health clinics, offering vocational courses and attending to some of their requests. A short time ago, after coordinating with official agencies, we were able to force the transfer of a doctor who made homophobic jokes with the transvestites at a regional health clinic. These results help to strengthen their trust in our work.

Because they trust Paulinha, Carla and Luana opened the doors to their house near the stadium and let me in to speak about their expectations and fears regarding the arrival of the World Cup, and also about a growing phenomenon among transvestites as the mega event draws near.

The silicone trip

With an eye on the World Cup, transvestites are traveling south from the northeastern Fortaleza to São Paulo in order to get silicone implants in their breasts, buttocks, and other body parts.

Carla, 25 years old, has prostituted herself for ten years in the area of the Castelão Stadium. Naming the parts of her body she intends to enhance, she said:

Eu vou agora em julho para São Paulo botar silicone no peito, 450, 500 ml em cada. Também vou bombar de novo [por mais silicone industrial no corpo]: bunda, quadril, perna e joelho. Aí na Copa eu vou cobrar mais… O silicone industrial dói demais, você fica pra morrer! A mulher injeta e vai fazendo uma massagem para ele espalhar. Mas é a dor da beleza, né?

I’m going this June to São Paulo to put more silicone in my breasts, 450, 500 ml in each one. I’m also going to pump up again [inject more industrial silicone in the body]: bottom, hips, leg, and knee. Then at the Cup I’m going to charge more…. Industrial silicone hurts badly, you feel like you’re going to die. A woman injects it and massages it to spread it around. But pain for beauty, right?

Carla asserted that she turned to sex work when she was 15 because she wanted to, just like her friend 22-year-old friend Luana, who said she began sex work at 17 by choice:

Eu fui uma das primeiras a chegar aqui no Castelão. Hoje a coisa está feia, tem muita postituta fumando pedra e isso queima nosso filme. Ao mesmo tempo que a gente espera que a Copa aumente o movimento, tem medo que a polícia queira limpar a área. Você acha que o prefeito vai querer mostrar isso para os gringos?

I was one of the first to arrive here in Castelão. Today things are ugly, there are lots of prostitutes smoking crack and this gives us a bad rap. While we hope the World Cup increases the action, at the same time we are afraid the police will want to clean up the area. Do you think the mayor will want foreigners to see this?

Luana´s eye problem doesn't seem to get in the way of her work or her plans and is never mentioned. Between one commentary and another about a rerun of a soap opera on TV, she said:

Mas a gente é atrevida, se me tirarem daqui vou para ali!…Peitão e bundão chamam a atenção aqui. Em São Paulo não, porque as mariconas sabem que trava que é muito bombada, é mais rodada, preferem as com carinha de menino. Mas aqui no Ceará quem tem peitão é mais procurada.

I am determined, if they remove me from here I will go there!… Breasts and butts attract attention here. Not in São Paulo, because the gays know that a transvestite who is more pumped up is used more, and they prefer them with a boyish face. But here in Ceará, those with big breasts are more in demand.

De olho na Copa, travestis viajam do Ceará para São Paulo em busca do silicone/Juliano Rocha/Agência Pública/Sob licença Creative Commons

With an eye on the Cup, transvestites travel from Ceará to São Paulo in search of silicone. Image by Juliano Rocha for Agência Pública. Used under Creative Commons license.

Luana, who already went to São Paulo to get implants, explained how it works:

Tem as cafetinas que levam a gente, pagam a passagem e a operação em uma clínica clandestina. Deve sair uns dois mil reais para elas. Aí ela cobram o dobro ou o triplo e mais uma diária de 30 a 50 reais para a gente morar na casa delas, e a gente vai trabalhando para pagar. Trabalha muito, muito mesmo.

You have the madams who take us, who pay for the fare and the operation in a clandestine clinic. It costs them about 2,000 reais (about 1,000 US dollars). Then they charge double or triple plus a daily rate of 30 to 50 reais (between 15 and 25 dollars) for us to stay at their house, and we work to pay it off. You work a lot, a whole lot.

Carla added:

Eu já fui fazer programa em São Paulo. É bom porque você ganha mais, mas por outro lado você tem que trabalhar de qualquer jeito, mesmo se estiver doente, não importa. Ninguém vai te dar um remédio. Eu já vi umas travestis apanharem de pau de uma cafetina.

I already worked in São Paulo. It’s good because you earn more, but on the other hand you have to work anyway, even if you are sick, it doesn't matter. Nobody helps you out. I've seen transvestites take beatings by a madam’s stick.

According to the two, the traffic between the two cities is increasing each day. Luana commented:

Só essa semana, fiquei sabendo de quatro que foram. Mês que vem sei de mais cinco. É muita travesti botando peito.

Just this week I found out about four who went. Next month I know of five more. That’s a lot of transvestites getting breast implants.

She stated that she paid 3,000 reais (about 1,400 US dollars) for her 400 ml implants because she was an acquaintance of the madam and she stayed eight months working in São Paulo to pay off her debt. Many end up staying because the become addicted to cocaine — which helps them put up with the intense work and is more accessible in the city — and aren't able to pay their debts. One of them fled the house where she was staying and is now missing, as Marcela, another transvestite who I already knew in São Paulo, would tell me later.

Lídia Rodrigues, another educator from the Friendship Tent, recounted that some transvestites turn up to 30 or 40 tricks a day in São Paulo and the educators have noticed that this traffic to São Paulo is intensifying. Lídia explained:

Não dá para afirmar que é somente por causa da Copa, mas elas sabem que virão muitos turistas e muitos homens para a área. Ao mesmo tempo a gente tem medo de uma higienização massiva. Provavelmente o termômetro disso vai ser a Copa das Confederações [pt].

You can’t say it’s just because of the Cup, but they know that many tourists and many men will be coming to the area. At the same time we fear a massive cleaning operation. Probably the thermometer for all this will be the Confederations Cup.


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