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ARGENTINA: Transvestite Magazine Fights Media Stereotypes

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 11 2010 (IPS) - The magazine El Teje, which is published in the Argentine capital and presents itself as “the first transvestite publication in Latin America,” has been fighting the stigmatisation of the trans community for nearly three years.

Although the twice-yearly publication is now distributed free, the aim of its director, Marlene Wayar, is for it to be sold at newsstands.

In Argentina, which in late July became the first country in Latin America to legalise same-sex marriage, El Teje and other publications by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community enjoy a growing space in the world of print and online publishing.

“In Argentina there is no dearth of activism and social ferment aimed at fighting the fictitious messages sent out by the big media,” Wayar told IPS, as the magazine prepares to celebrate its third anniversary in November.

The often stigmatising and discriminatory attitude on the part of the media was also deplored by Jordan Medeot, editor of the Gaymente.com web site based in the central province of Córdoba.

In an exchange with IPS, Medeot said his publication attempts “a thought-provoking approach, but without being overly sophisticated or overly simplistic either.”

El Teje is published with the assistance of the Ricardo Rojas Cultural Centre at the public National University of Buenos Aires, which trains the transvestites who write for the magazine, in a writing workshop. The magazine distributes 2,000 free copies twice a year.

“With sheer effort, we try to get the publication to the houses, pensions or slums where the girls live,” Wayar said.

Other print publications in Argentina focusing on the LGBT community include Soy, a weekly supplement that comes out with the Buenos Aires newspaper Página 12, and Ají magazine, which describes itself as being “about gays, your run-of-the-mill transvestites…who are hot and who have no problem showing ourselves just as we are.”

There are also more traditional magazines that target gay men with a focus on pornography, eroticism, the obsession with physical appearance or fashion trends.

Then there are the radio programmes, the odd TV programme, and several dozen web sites along the lines of Gaymente.com or others with a more commercial approach, like Cordobagay.net.

Wayar said the aim of El Teje is to be a “carefully edited publication that fights the stigmatisation of the transvestite identity, which is so closely rooted in prostitution.

“‘Teje’ is a ‘multi-use’ slang term that can refer to whatever — drugs, money, documents, a man, genitals, a wig or makeup. It was born of the need to communicate in prison in a way that the guards wouldn’t understand,” Wayar explained.

“The people in the conversation know what they’re referring to, from the context,” said the journalist, who is also a social psychologist.

Along with a number of colourful photos, one recent issue included an interview with legendary Argentine sex symbol Isabel “Coca” Sarli, who starred in soft-core sex films in the 1960s and 1970s, and an article on “carrilche” — slang that emerged among transvestites in prisons in the 1970s and 1980s. The piece, which provides the meaning of some 50 terms, was written by Malva, who is 86 years old and says she has formed part of the “minority” for 66 years.

The issue also includes photos of the “chongo” or man of the month (a painter), cultural articles, opinion columns that lash out at the Catholic Church, medical alerts on the use of silicone and hormones, and advice on breast implants.

In the November issue, Sandra Sacayán, El Teje’s star writer, wrote about the mistreatment suffered by Johana Robledo, a transvestite who almost died after spending two months in jail in San Justo, a district on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, on charges that were reduced from homicide to armed robbery.

After she was mistreated by the other prisoners, Robledo was removed from the cell and left handcuffed on a mattress in the courtyard for a week, covered only with cardboard, in the middle of the winter. When she was finally released from preventive detention, she spent a month in the hospital.

Police harassment and brutality, the product of archaic or vaguely worded laws and statutes, or simply of discrimination and abuse, are a constant complaint of transvestites, who frequently have no choice but to turn to prostitution to survive.

Many members of the transvestite community live marginalised lives, far from their family homes. A large proportion have moved to Buenos Aires or other big cities from the provinces, or are immigrants from neighbouring countries.

“It is a key part of our identity,” Wayar said. “Our reality is infused with violence, which has to do with our bodies, with our families who kick us out at a very early age, when we are just girls and are forced to negotiate our very survival with adults in highly dangerous situations, especially in the slums and the provinces.”

She says the national debate that surrounded the parliamentary discussion of the law on same-sex marriage showed that people opposed to the new legislation “were almost proud to say it was a law that came out of the capital, and that they had other values and customs — which are basically machista, misogynistic and anti-trans.”

Another of El Teje’s goals is to reveal the discrimination that is deeply rooted in the country’s educational institutions, from which many transvestites drop out at an early age.

Wayar said the publication tries to reach “the girls who have been around for a while,” who are familiar with the city and its quirks and are often aware of their rights, as well as “the youngsters who have just come to the big cities” from the provinces.

Medeot, meanwhile, said Gaymente.com addresses “the reality of those who frequent the gay nightclubs and aren’t involved in the question of human rights, and of the political activists, which tend to be two separate worlds.

“Our aim is for whatever we do, even if it’s a frivolous celebrity-worshipping piece, to have an ideological foundation, to make the reader think,” the Cordoba-based journalist said.

He lamented that in the 1990s, when for the first time a number of transvestites became regulars on the small screen in Argentina, they accepted “the role assigned them by trashy reality TV,” and added that part of his aim as a journalist is to combat the media’s pigeonholing of members of the trans community.

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