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    Travesti flag by an unknown individual
    Alternate travesti flag by an unknown individual

    The term travesti (lit. 'transvestite') is used in Latin American countries—especially South American—to designate individuals who were assigned male at birth, but develop a gender identity according to different expressions of femininity. Other terms have been invented and are used in South America in an attempt to further distinguish it from cross-dressing, drag, or pathologizing connotations. In Spain, the term was used in a similar way during the Franco era, but it was replaced with the advent of the medical model of transsexuality in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in order to rule out negative stereotypes. The arrival of these concepts occurred later in Latin America than in Europe, so the concept of travesti lasted over time with various connotations.

    Travesti identities are heterogeneous and multiple, so it is difficult to reduce them to universal explanations, such as generically being transfeminine. They have been studied by various disciplines, especially anthropology, which has extensively documented the phenomenon in both classical and more recent ethnographies. Researchers have generally proposed one of three main hypotheses to define travestis: that they constitute a "third gender" (like the hijras of India and the muxe of Mexico), that they reinforce the gender binarism of their society, or that they actually deconstruct the category of gender altogether. Although it is a concept widely used in Latin America, the definition of travesti is controversial, and it is still regarded as a transphobic slur depending on the context. Very similar groups exist across the region, with names such as travas, vestidas, maricón, cochón, joto, marica, pájara and loca, among others.

    Travestis not only dress contrary to their assigned sex, but also adopt female names and pronouns and often undergo cosmetic practices, hormone replacement therapy, filler injections and cosmetic surgeries to obtain female body features, although generally without modifying their genitality nor considering themselves as women. The travesti population has historically been socially vulnerable and criminalized, subjected to social exclusion and structural violence, with discrimination, harassment, arbitrary detentions, torture and murder being commonplace throughout Latin America. As a result, most travestis resort to prostitution as their only source of income, which in turn, plays an important role in their identity. The word "travesti", originally pejorative in nature, was reappropriated by Peruvian and especially Argentine activists, as it has a regional specificity that combines a generalized condition of social vulnerability, an association with sex work, the exclusion of basic rights and its recognition as a non-binary and political identity. Notable travesti rights activists include Argentinians Lohana Berkins, Claudia Pía Baudracco, Diana Sacayán, Marlene Wayar, and Susy Shock.


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