Bonus Interviews not included in The Nervous Tourist by Bob Gaulke
Bob can be contacted at email@example.com
Transvestis are somewhat unique to Salvador. Men who alter their bodies with hormones and silicone to appear like women, with the intention of attracting heterosexual men. (They want to be penetrated, but would lose respect for a man who would want to be penetrated by them).
Because most of them are poor, they cannot afford the safer kind of silicone implants that people use. Instead, they go to see a ´bombadeira´ who injects them with industrial silicone, straight into their bodies. As you can imagine, this is a very dangerous thing.
The following is a transcription of an interview with three members of GAPA, Luis Carlos, Sandro, and Andrezza regarding the transvestis situation. It was conducted at the Gapa offices in an afternoon in late May. (Andrezza is a transvesti).
Me: I´ve seen this brochure that the transvestis organization has put out in regards to silicone use and it doesn’t seem to spell out the dangers of its use. Why do you think this is?
Sandro: I would have to agree that this is just a general bulletin that is not of much use. Although only thirty or forty percent of transvestis are currently using silicone, ninety percent of them are intending on having it put in.
Q: Isn’t possible to be a transvesti without injecting this deadly chemical into your body?
Sandro: Some people are taking female hormones, but this interferes with the functioning of the penis. Many use silicone because it is much faster to do and it doesn’t interfere with the erection.
Of course the people with money, they can go to a conventional doctor and have the silicone procedure done safely.
Luis Carlos: There was an American who recently did a study on the transvesti population here in Salvador and put out a book.
Transvestis used to just use hormones, until about twenty years ago. Then the first bombadeiros started appearing in Curitiba (a city in the south of Brazil) and the practice soon spread. Some people have up to about twelve liters of silicone in their bodies, in their cheeks, chest, hips, and ass.
Q: Do you know any bombadeiros locally?
Luis Carlos: Andrezza does. Did you know that one month ago a girl died from a bad injection? The bombadeiro, known as Horse Ass was arrested. He worked in very unsanitary conditions.
Q: Is anyone putting forward any alternate solutions?
Andrezza: Well, you have to understand that it is very popular right now and very important to the identity here. I know of four who have done it recently. I even know of one who has injected it in his penis and testicles. Prothesis is very expensive.
Luis Carlos: There is also a question of the market. The client wants a bigger ass. They will pay more for a bigger ass.
Andrezza: There is also a strong bond between the bombadeiro and the transvesti. The tranvesti is in general very grateful to the bombadeiro for his work.
Sandro: The bombadeiro is a heroine to the tranvesti; even if one has died, or has become infected, they have helped the tranvesti make their dream come true in looking more feminine.
Andrezza: Many times the transvestis see the question in terms of their luck (There are some who do not experience any averse reactions to the silicone). There is another problem in that some silicone is mixed with cooking or vegetable oil, or when automobile silicone, the type you can buy from a shop, is used.
Here in Salvador there are really only two bombadeiros. A third is in Satana, and there is a
fourth that lives in Recife and comes to work here. There is another that works out of Italy with some of the girls here. For a bombadeiro to learn how to administer the silicone, they have to pay, and since they don't have the money to do this, they learn by watching; some of them make it up as they go along.
Luis Carlos: The two here are known to work with relatively hygienic conditions.
Q: Yes, but even with the most hygienic conditions, this material is deadly in 40% of the cases?
Luis Carlos: Many of the transvestis here are working to save for a passage to Italy or Switzerland, to have the procedure done there under safer conditions. Ideally, they would prefer not to come back to Bahia, but this is not always possible.
Q: What about problems with the police? Is there much tolerance here?
(everyone laughs) No.
Andrezza: It has gotten a little bit better.
Luis Carlos: Traditionally, especially in Pituba, the very middle class neighborhood, the police are known to be very rough, harassing them, taking their money, beating them...here in Centro, closer to the tourist area, they are used to doing a ´cleaning up´ during the tourist season. Many are ´pulled out´ of their area. There exists a certain amount of tolerance in Centro at times.
Q: So the tranvestis population is somewhat small...is it easy to get health or human rights
information to them?
Andrezza: Well, here in Centro, the transvestis are mostly lower class, with poor educations. It’s not like we have a clubhouse serving lemonade or something. There is an association of transvestis here that are grouped under a larger organization, Groupo Gay do Bahia, but they are from larger cities, more cosmopolitan, middle class.
Luis Carlos: Most of the transvestis here are poorer, are living in guest-houses for trasvestis. With their ´managers´. The ones who work in Pituba are mostly not from here, working for a more sophisticated clientele.
Here at Gapa, we are trying to reach the poorer transvestis with this new bulletin and other efforts. It isn’t very easy, as some of them are illiterate and very disunited here in general. If we put in too much information, they will not look at it. It’s very difficult to do this. Maybe they will at least put it in their purse and look at it later. There is so much discrimination against them in general, that they are distrusting of anything like this.
But it is important that we continue our work because of this. Many of them are pressed into prostitution because of a lack of other options; there might be some doing manicure or hair work, but most likely not.
Sandro: ...You won’t see them working as a receptionist in a downtown office, they are passed over by the economy in general and so many of them are forced into prostitution....
Luis Carlos: Here at Gapa we are working against the profession of prostitution. Did you know that in Brazil prostitution is not criminal? So the police work up other charges against them, ´You have offended a police officer.´ We are trying to work with transvestis to let them know about their legal rights, their rights to health, walking in the street safely, school, etc.
Sandro: Look, there are a lot of problems at once. The ignorance, the harassment, the violence against them; against all this the problems with silicon are less important, or rather seem to be more of the same part of their luck. If they are lucky, they will look much more beautiful, will be much more desirable.
Luis Carlos: Gapa is seen by many transvestis as a safe place they can come for advice, counseling, and encouragement. Many of them have tremendous problems with self-esteem, feeling themselves to be the shit of the world & they face much violence in the streets,
not just from the police.
Sandro: Many of them do not go out during the daytime because of all these dangers. Now that Gapa is better known, a few come here, but very few. They even have trouble taking taxis because of the fear and the rejection.
Q: But, Shouldn’t they fit right into Salvador´s image of a happy carnaval city?
Luis Carlos: Do you really think that Salvador is the ´Capital of Beauty´? Sure, the government makes a lot of money off the tourism here, but it is all Disneyland you know? One street away from the tourist areas, you’re back into the little hell of a favela. You go down the road from Olodum and you have the highest concentration of beggars and homeless of the city. When there is some official event, the police come and remove these people by truck and dump them in Cidade Baixo (lower part of the city). Or previously, they gave each of them 100 reais, more money than many of them have seen in their lives, and forced them to leave. What do you think happened? Most of them went out of their minds on crack.
Q: How come your organization isn’t working in conjunction with the tranvestis group of GGB?
Luis Carlos: We are a small organization in comparison with them, they have been around for over twenty years and espouse a different philosophy; they are very maternal, provide all sorts of resources, while we are working for self empowerment, education, and emancipation. They might see the transvestis population as a bit more ´eccentric´ than they are used to dealing with. We have a different approach that is not very compatible with theirs.
Q: What about all these new apartments they’re building here? This must be a new trend.
Rog: I think this is normal, it’s not new.
Q: So what is new is people staying at home longer. How is it for you?
Rog: Well. I have this feeling of independence that I want to unleash. It’s such a dream imagining having my own apartment, my own bathroom in my bedroom. I have my own bedroom, but I have to listen to a lot here (laughs). I have to hear a lot because of that, you know? I would like to wake up and not have to do my bed and have no one complaining about it. Well, what am I talking about here, I’m talking about freedom you know? Inviting whomever I want in my apartment. I mean I think I can do almost everything, but it’s not the same. I would always feel a little.., you know, it’s not my apartment.
Q: Does your mom treat you differently than when you were a kid?
Rog: (laughs) You know, we’re going to be her children forever. Yes, she does. Mainly because I’ve been working, I’ve been paying bills…but of course my mother still complains that I don’t make my bed, I don’t organize my wardrobe (laughs). She balances…sometimes she treats me like a child because I behave as one (laughs). But sometimes she treats as an adult.
Q: Is she working?
Rog: Not full time. She works out of home, she teaches ballroom dancing, she sells knitted handcrafts. She makes some money. But I would say that most of the bills my brother and I pay. And she works a lot here. She cooks and she cleans. She does a lot.
My brother works in finances as an economist. He works for a big company, but he doesn’t make a huge salary. He works very hard.
Q: …And the apartment, your family owns it, right?
Q: What about dating? Does not having a car become a factor in dating?
Rog: You know, I don’t have a car. I don’t have a place to have a car in the next eight years and I don’t mind about it, although transportation here is very bad. It’s not something that...it doesn’t stop me. I wish I had a bike I could go anywhere on a bike, but yes, for some teenagers and young adults it is a problem, not having a car.
Q: and what do you do on a typical date? How many times a week do you go out?
Rog: Depends. Sometimes we see each other every day, sometimes twice a week. Twice at least. Not less than that.
Q: Do women generally expect the man to pay for dinner, buy things, etc., or is it more casual?
Rog: Casual. We like to go out a lot to the movies, sometimes go for a meal at a good restaurant, nothing that expensive. Many times we just do something simple like go for a walk on the pier one of the parks of Salvador, that’s it.
Q: What other options are there for young people to do?
Rog: At night? Going to shopping centers, going there are some nice bars of the city. The parks of Salvador, I don’t recommend any at night, during the day and weekends they are nice.
Q: Do you bring your girlfriends to your apartment?
Rog: Not very often. Very rarely. I avoid that I mean I think I would feel uncomfortable to not to stay here, but to wake up have breakfast I feel a bit embarrassed. But for her, it wouldn’t be a problem, she wouldn’t mind, she sometimes says, ‘Come on let’s stay over’ and I say, ‘I don’t know. Mom’s there.’ For me I would be very embarrassed, for her, no problem. My brother is the same way. She has never slept over..sometimes she comes over (laughs)…
Q: Is the apartment well isolated against noise?
Rog: Nnnnnnnnnnoooooooo (laughs) not really.
Q: So then what does this mean for your social life? You have to go out to be with your girlfriend? What do you typically on a date or on a weekend?
Rog: Ah, with my last girlfriend, she also lives with her father and I used to sleep over there on Friday and Saturday nights and it was never a problem. She was 27 years old. But she slept here once with me when no one was here. In the beginning it was a little embarrassing, but then I got used to it. But now, with this new girlfriend, her mother is very rigid, very strict and I never sleep there. Especially because we have been together a short time, less than a month and but well, she has told me that it would be impossible even after two years (laughs). She said that her mother doesn’t allow her brothers to bring girlfriends to sleep over so….
Q: So then what do people do?
Rog: Oh yes. We go to motels.
A talk with Luis, who washes cars
I´m 27. I live in Federaçao with my wife and kid. I’ve doing this job for seven years. Generally I wash six cars a day, and ten on Fridays. I charge three Reais for a normal hand wash (one dollar) and five for the deluxe job. I work from eight, nine, ten in the morning to seven at night.
Do I like the job? No. But if I have to work for someone else, I’ll get paid the minimum salary. No way. The minimum salary is 200 Reais a month (about 68 bucks). My rent is 150. I spend 50 Reais on my daughter’s daycare, and then there’s food and you have to buy clothes occasionally, of course. And a beer at the end of the week and would you have anything left?
My wife works as well, as a cashier at a snack shop. She makes less than the monthly minimum salary when you take her expenses into account.
Fuck, the situation here is critical (smiles). Most of us just eat once a day, coffee in the morning, and skip lunch. The situation is critical when you can’t eat on a minimum salary. I have a colleague who walks to work everyday because he cannot afford the bus (he lives 10 kilometers away).
Vote? No, I’m gonna vote for nobody this fall. All the parties are the same. Even if Lula, (the far Left candidate) wins, it will all continue to be the same shit. They’re all thieves. They all wait for Brazil to win the cup, then there are two raises; in the price of gas and the price of electricity. There was a twenty reais raise in the minimum salary, but already four increases in the price of gas this year, 28 reais more. And gas pushes up the price of everything that is sold in the interior of the country. If Lula wins, the racket is going to be much worse.
A revolution? No I’m hoping for a situation more like Cuba where basic health care, nutrition, and education are covered. Education principally, if we don’t have education...You know that the public schools were on strike for most of this year? My daughter has already missed three months, then of course there was the month of vacation for Sao João. So then there are only
six months of school. And generally, the public education is pretty weak to begin with, at night no
one can study at the public colleges. I already studied. Learned the basics, reading and writing. And the rest I’ve learnt from the street.
The public universities here are only for the upper middle class. The rest of us do not have the proper conditions to go. They have the majority of courses during the daytime. The poor have to study at night at private schools. Most of them are living at home, and still their parents are helping them pay for food and stuff.
Dude, everything is behind a mask here. Everything is a camouflage job. Do I hope for a better future? No you learn how to live without hopes here. I grew up in an orphanage with my brother. They just gave you food there, not much else. When you’re eighteen, you’re out on the streets, and probably doing crimes. I know about twenty guys from there who have died. A few succeed in getting something together for themselves, or they rob to get by and get into drugs. My brother died in ´99. Assassinated. Why? He had nothing. No father no mother. Same old story. How did I survive? Boy, by working very very hard (smiles).
Discrimination? Look, Salvador was the slaving center a few hundred years ago. It takes a long time for these things to go away. The television here just pumps it out. If you look at all the propaganda for the vaccination program, etc. Look here, everybody knows there is discrimination here. Only a minority has cars, and there is much black on black discrimination...the world cup dudes will all come back and be with the hot white girls. And the black American women... I know one who comes down here every year to get it on with a brother, then she goes back
to her white husband in the States. Yeah, everything is a masquerade here. On television, the black actor will be playing the slave or the butler, never a doctor or a lawyer. There is only a small black middle class here that is mostly involved in music or the arts.
Look, I’ll probably keep doing this until I can find something else. It’s the only thing I got going on right now. If I work for someone else, I'm gonna die of starvation on a minimum salary.
I live in a low lower class neighborhood that overlooks the middle class neighborhood. The middle class neighborhood is dwarfed by these luxury high-rise apartments with swimming pools, where all the judges and upper class people live. I’ve been thinking a lot about this situation. People keep moving into the favela and we are shoulder to shoulder next to all these high-rises. And we are all black 99.9 percent black. And they are mostly white.
I have a few regular customers. If they like the job I do, they come back. I make small talk with a few of them, but no, I do not know them by name. They live in a closed world, go to different places. A few talk with me. We have many holidays here, so we exchange greetings on occasion.
You’ve seen Carnaval here? Before, it was something basically for the public. You did not have all this roped off stuff. People would mix. Today, that doesn’t happen anymore. Most of the poor people feel marginalized by this. They don’t have money to go to Aeroclube (one of the big malls in Salvador). Poor people here make something in the street, they get good at it, and feed it to the middle classes, then get themselves cut off from it. This is the culture of Carnaval.
I’m my own boss here. I don’t know how long I will stay here. Before I leave, I’m gonna have my own house built. I don’t know how long that will take. I am right now saving money for that.
People here, yeah, despite everything, they know how to enjoy themselves. Because they know they don’t have much else, they know how to hide their suffering. Yeah, I’d rather be in Salvador, than say, Sao Paulo. If I were in Sao Paulo, I’d probably be dead. The outlying neighborhoods are kind of rough here, but in general, most people are mellow. I can go to Pelourinho and return to my neighborhood at four in the morning, and I’ll be okay. Okay, now I’m gonna wash three more cars, then I’ll get out today around six p.m.
(Luis washes your car while you shop. He works in conjunction with a 'car-guarder' that will help you park and make sure nothing bad happens to your car. His sector stretches half a block, both sides of the street, near the Barra lighthouse in Salvador, where many banks have their branches.)
Dimitri, 30 year old Portuguese Public School Teacher
Last year I had an emotional and physical crisis. I was teaching afternoons and evenings in a school in one of the poorest parts of the city. I saw too many assassinations. The school had become a dangerous place; it was in the middle of a drug trafficking territorial dispute. There were about 50 students in each class. It was an almost impossible situation as many didn't have any educational foundation to work from. They arrived tired, they've eaten poorly, they live poorly. It was impossible.
The entire neighborhood took refuge in the school, to escape the gunfire. Many times, it would be easy to get caught in the middle on the bus on the way home. Once I was giving a class and a body fell in front of the window. Another time, I was looking out of the window to see one of my students assassinating another. For these reasons, it became difficult for me to teach. I sometimes couldn't manage to get out of bed. This wasn't the worst.
The breaking point for me came at the end of the year when I had a student who couldn’t even write her own name. She was doing her 8th year of the premiera grau. She was 29 more or less. I tried to teach her to read for a year with little results. I think she had some kind of learning disability.
At the end of each year we have a meeting with all the professors for analyzing and grading each student in each unit. My student had achieved a total of three units out of forty. When it came to start the review session, the principal had a paper in his hand from the state secretary of education, which said that we had to pass 93% of our students. She said, 'Look at our responsibility. We have to present this. Because of this, lets think very carefully before we fail anybody.' I said, okay but I have this student who's scoring 3/40 and can't spell her name and I'm the Portuguese teacher. I have to assume that she must be achieving similar scores in her other classes. How could she pass a test in history?
All the other professors then spoke up and said, no she's a great student. And then they showed me that she had gotten good grades in history, math, so many units in geography. English as well. They invented their marks and were kicking her ahead.
She can't even put a consonant and a vowel together, I said. They were silent; they wouldn’t explain it.
The coordinator looked at me. 'Okay we have a problem, she's going to pass or not?' All the professors raised their hands.
She's now passed on to her next year in the primera grau.
I didn't return to the school.
I was at the Pierre Verger Middle school for a year. There was an exposition at the Museum of Modern Art of Pierre Verger's photographs of Bahia. I tried to get the school interested in taking the kids to see it. Students didn’t know who he was. I said to the director, let's take the kids. We got a bus and everything. But none of the other professors supported me or wanted to go. They thought I was crazy to take the kids. I had to take them all myself, in small groups with the assistance of the principal and the secretary.
Some of my students asked me if they could stop off at the beach on the way to the exhibit. I said to them, 'You guys have the beach everyday'. They said, 'Professor, we've never been to the beach'. I said, 'But you live in Salvador. They said,' But we live in the suburbs and our fathers come home exhausted and the family doesn’t have the money to take the bus to go to the beach'.
'You're fifteen years old, live in Salvador and have never stepped on a beach?' And of course, I said 'yeah, come on everyone, let's go to the beach'.
I had ten students who had never gone to the beach. Live in the slums. The beach is very long. The Universe of theirs closes there.
I was initially a substitute for 3 months at the school. The previous teacher was being blackmailed by the parents of one of her students. She was shot at by them one time and didn't return. I was once on a bus and in the middle of the ride, there was an assault, robbing all the customers and when it came to me, the guys said, no leave him alone, he's a teacher. The robber knew me from the school. And I thought, shit I hope I don’t recognize him in class later.
The road to the school was a path with no sidewalk, full of holes difficult to drive. I did my best during those three months and near the end of the contract, I decided I did not want to continue there. I must have done some good somehow as the students organized a demonstration to get me to stay for the rest of the year. I think I succeeded in a small way with them. At the beginning I had students that would come in high from crack. I succeeded in getting them interested a bit in learning. I didn't succeed totally. I can't do miracles, but there was some kind of return for me.
I'm now working with some middle school students, mostly to get these kids to read. It's a struggle to get any kind of classroom supplies, but I've managed to get some magazines for the kids. Many of them don't have magazines at home. I've discovered that young Brazilians don't like to read. This you discover in the fifth sixth and seventh year that the other Portuguese teachers don't teach reading. They use a didactic method and don’t depart from it. In these books, there are only tests and exercises. So the students have no interest in this.
Students know nothing of Brazilian literature, which they will need to. By the time they are 19, they will need to know about 20 classics of Brazilian literature in order to pass the Vestibular and have a chance to be admitted to a public university.
I keep my eye out for articles that have some theme that is relevant to their lives, things that they would consider hip, simple things because they are not yet ready for literature. We then might move on to books for young adults. Public school professors usually don’t involve themselves too much with communication. They embed themselves in grammar. Portuguese grammar is very complicated If their students aren't learning, they don't consider it their problem. I try to move away from this. The secretary sometimes is sent to me with a message to stick to grammar.
The students give you respect if they like you. They seem to know they have an obligation. They have a lot of trouble writing because the language they speak all day long is very distant to written Portuguese. A small minority write well. Maybe five out of those 50 write well, but none better than an average student at a private school. Most of their parents are very young and work too much. You see that a majority of public school students are parented by their grandmothers.
I will probably go back to Minas Gerais some time next year, and get my Masters. I've lived a comfortable middle class existence for most of my life. I think most of my emotional problems in the last two years have come from reconciling it with the lives of the students I've been trying to teach. We don't have favelas in Minas like there are here in Salvador. The poor have space there, there seems to be some dignity or at least sanity that comes with that.