“For a person to say ‘I’m a travesti’,(1) they must have to be very well in their mind”. Throughout a meeting with my sisters Rainha Favelada, Jade Maria Zimbra and Wiliane Jacob, Rainha said that she heard this saying from Bianca Kalutor. Just as Rainha, I won’t make an exact transcription of Bianca’s thought and advice, but give the thought continuity through a poetic update.
If in another life I was enslaved, I was also free and clever. I came back, I stopped being Gabriel and became Castiel. Castiel is my name of combat and freedom. I’m now a travesti. And in this Western Brazilian World, travesti is the name given to people who manage to transmute; but this language speaks of some and not all experiences of modification, as the word itself is always a limit. A limit that its own content – life – dissolves.
Here, in Brazilian Modernity, some travesti transmutations are named and we also say that we’re transitioning. The transition is the passage from one place to another, and these actions of strutting, walking, parading, when seen by colonial lenses, are thought and felt at the limit of Portuguese language and words.
What are these places called, where we travestis, transition in coloniality? I ask not about the territories that must remain nameless, but about the prison spaces – identitarian and geographical – created by modern knowledge.
So my spiraling question is: how do I transition out of coloniality?
In other words: I will not follow the path of leaving being a back man to becoming a black woman, since this path presents itself to me as a colonial labyrinth. I’m either going through the labyrinth as a travesti or I’m going to make the labyrinth my travestiality. Or I’m going to make my travestiality another labyrinth.
Or I will make my trava(2) place an encruza.(3) And the encruza is not a labyrinth, but a twirled space that is infinite in all directions – like air.
And if I’m a travesti ruled by the power of Planet Gemini, so I have been learning to move quickly and intelligently through these places of speech that just choke and hang me. Well, the Travesti Transition is from a place to which place?
That being said, I also need to admit that I don’t care as much about what Travesti is, but how we, Travestis, unthink (stop thinking) about the Modern World in order to accomplish being travestis. And for that I abandon any oedipal, fetishist, psychological, anthropological analysis to say that there isn’t, a priori, an essential or fundamental content or form for the Travesti Transmutation to happen. Each trava rejects or flirts with the hormone that makes her none of what racist cisgenderism thinks about itself and about us.
My thought is a contradictory fold that says: travestiliality is transmutation. At the beginning and the end, I’m interested in transmutation, not in transition.
I went to a meeting of travestis from the 1980s in Vitória, in the state of Espirito Santo. That day, I tried very hard to appear feminine, but when I got there I felt just like a fag in a dress. A month passed, the transmutation continued, and I met a 50-year-old travesti who, in the middle of the street, said to me, laughing: “Wow! What happened to you, fag? Have you become a woman? You are beautiful! I once also became a travesti, okay?! But I got sick of it and went back to being a fag.”
In 2019, at a family barbecue, I was wearing long weaved hair. Maria, an old neighbor of mine, told me that when she saw me, she looked into me right away and said: “What kind of freaking woman is this?” She recognized me by not recognizing me. We laughed our heads off.
“Travesti is breasts and hips”, my librarian travesti friend Marcela Aguiar would say since when I was just a fag-black little girl afraid to become a travesti.
The limit is the (modern) World, and we interact with this World (and with any other) because it interacts with us in intensities that bring our existences closer, in a relationship of making them disappear (ceasing) or making it possible to transmute, to modify.
The thing is that we are in the World because the World is in us. We are travestis because we are still here. And if one day I transition, I hope to reach this other place that I’m creating while transmuting. A dark place, opaque for whiteness.
A place or a World where I can hear, with less noise, what the woods and the sea have been saying about my transmutation. I’ve been experimenting with hormones, and also crystals, like tourmaline and cyanide. I have spent time walking with a black tourmaline around my neck, while I was beginning to understand the energetic effect that crystals create on my physical body.
Then I realized that my throat is not the best place to massage with a tourmaline. While wearing it, I was balanced on anger and impatience. There is no problem with anger, quite the contrary, we, black travestis, need to learn to make use of it. When I understood this, I started to study my basic chakras better. And I remembered that sexual energy is the energy of creation, which is why I don’t use testosterone blockers.
I’m trying to embody plant and mineral frequencies. This makes me dizzy and reminds me of the effects of Diane35 on my physical body. I took this medicine five times, and each time my knees hurt; so I stopped because my grandfather, Benedito Brasileiro, lost a leg due to thrombosis, and I also tend to have thrombosis.
But my grandfather gained a granddaughter, which is me, because he told me to be careful with Exú and gave me the courage to continue taking baths that help me live at the encruza. The first baths I took made me dizzy, but today my body is able to digest the phytoenergetics that cure me of dysphorias and prepare me to continue destroying and fleeing away from cognitive and emotional captivities.
While creating my travesti heritage, I remembered that between our rear ends and our cocks there is an energetic concentration related to the escape for survival. Our assholes also integrate the physical areas of this base chakra. Sometimes I stimulate my asshole with a SuperSeven crystal, to land on carnal demands and to feed myself with courage to take root in other soils of this planet and in other relations of these worlds where we wander. My black travesti diaspora.
Landing on worlds, understanding their captivity. Taking root in the Sodomite ancestry, in the divinely profane higher plane, in the shitty sacred female. In the Time that will not be forgotten! In the body that will be remembered in transmutation.
So I say: don’t do douching. Stick a crystal up your asshole! The douche is a colonial misfortune. Anal cleansing is not douching. The douche is a colonial orientation in anatomy, in physiology, gesture, desire, emotion and thought. Don’t do rectal douching, stick a crystal in your asshole. Energetic cleaning. Cleaning with blessed water. Cleaning with quartz or tourmaline. Sitz baths. A douche is not cleansing. Take care of your asshole, without it there is no survival. And in it there is healing.
I’m changing my body in a negotiation with the pharmaceutical industry and with the terreiros de macumba.(4) I stick crystals in my asshole and spread gel in my crotch. To change my body is to transmute to another World. Travesti is perhaps a – temporary – interesting name to give to this New or Other World that we have been building while transmuting…
“There is no tradition”, replied Ayrson Heráclito when I asked him if there were travesti healers. I want to live to the end of this incarnation modifying my body in order to experience such thought in other ways. Today I understand: tradition does not exist, because as knowledge passes on to other bodies, its content always changes, either subtly or radically. If there is anything that remains in tradition, it is its condition of change.
For us, Brazilian travestis, a language that is coded enough so Brazilians do not understand us is missing, and perhaps that is why Pajubá(5) no longer serves us. This language in which I write is too limited to talk about our transmutations.
How did Xica Manicongo name herself and how was she named by her travesti friends in 16th century Congo?
I have a dark complexion. After I became black, I transmuted again and went back to being only dark. But I didn’t stop being black, because I still live in this world. If I also inhabit other worlds, there I’m like the Orishas: dark, with no race. The Orishas needed to adapt to a body of a different color than theirs. I’ve been trying to learn from these negotiations…
Tibira, too, was not indigenous, nor gay, nor travesti, nor Tibira. But she was racialized by the laws of sexuality created by the Roman Apostolic Christian religion, which she disobeyed, becaming a sodomite. That person was a Tupinambá. But then, in the colonial translation of her existence, Tibira also became a berdache.
The transmutation of her body was translated into colonial language, and in this world it has become a plague. But if I embody the spirit of Tibira, I will watch my body become a quilombo and I will hear my mouth saying, in the Tupinambá language, about the experience of transmuting in the 16th century (and in an amerindian Time that I cannot tell). I’m interested in listening to Tibira to know about her experience of merging modern contradictions in her body. However, what is merged are not contradictions, but a relationship with life that becomes contradictory through colonial translation.
Xica Manicongo is the first reference of a Quimbanda healer in Brazil. She did Angolan magic and cursed this land with her cleverness. The macumba she cast was fulfilled, and now, 400 years later, Francisco is baptized by 21st century Brazilian travestis and receives his combat alias: Xica Manicongo. She was condemned, as were many Pombajiras,(6) to be burned alive in a public square. And in an act of cleverness provided by Exú, she decided to dress up as a man so as not to be murdered.
I have done the same, I have dressed myself as a woman, and the illusion became real, because together we built a gender for the colonizer to see. And the mystery that I saw, I saw it with etheric eyes, made of amethysts and muscles.
I embodied so I could remember what I forgot
I am now tired of closing my eyes to see. I’m going to open them, so I can throw shells with fake nails, and I’ll ask Tibira and Xica a few questions. I’m going to ask about Time and orgasms. I am interested in knowing about breasts and faith. How was it and what can it still be?
I am afraid to ask, but, if it is necessary, then I will find the courage and inquire: tell me how you felt when disgrace arrived by ship. I mean, their bodies: what did you feel when, on the gray horizon line, newness and doubt appeared?
Tibira, was the arrival of the Portuguese a novelty for your people, the Tupinambá? Today, from where I stand in History, I may say that nothing is new. Nothing here is new. I am not surprised by the arrival of other vessels, that whole Queer shit, for example. There is so much disgrace in this land that somewhere in this imperialist country, you may already have been called Queer or non-binary. Girl, there is nothing new about colonization. The Queer ships arrived and they mortified as much as the fucking Inquisition that blew you up with a cannon.
Today we live Queer inquisitions, neo-Pentencostal inquisitions, inquisitions…I have not been surprised by coloniality.
In this world, what I have been feeling often is the desire for an end, for death. I want to die and I want this shit World to disappear. I want the death of my World, not of the planet. You taught me that the moon is a piece of the Earth that was torn off in a collision with another planet, remember?
Sometimes I wish that the collisions between my World and the World in which I live threw me close to the moon. I am Moon and Earth. And I am also a planet that collides, changes itself and then disappears.
Sometimes I want to disappear, but I am a macumbeira and in macumba there is no such thing. Nothing disappears, what happens is transformation. Energies do not end, they modify. So, Xica and Tibira, today, tomorrow and yesterday I am here asking you to help me to escape or camouflage myself.
Now, when I throw the shells and ask Xica Manicongo, I see a black trava. Really black, dark complexion. This is the first image, because Xica is me. I am Xica Manicongo. This year I became countess of the Bantu Court of Espírito Santo. The first travesti, but not the first court. Xica, what were you the first of? When were you and I first? And when was our first encounter?
Xica, I want to ask you about quilombos. About how to continue building quilombos in the 21st century. Because I know that there is no Angolan or Congo quilombo without the Tupinambá people, and I also know that afro-indigenous alliances only exist from the colonial perspective. I have been angry at these universalist nominations! “Afro”: what peoples do they speak of? “Indigenous”: which ones?
They have always named us the way they wanted, so I want that sovereignty of language to explode! What are our real names?! Help me remember them! Prepare my body to bear the weight of remembering what they try to make me forget. Because it is not possible for a quilombo to exist without your wit, Xica Manicongo. And Xica was Xica because she was a quilombo.
I am understanding that, in the face of threat, survival is built. That was something Cacique Babau Tupinambá told me. So I found courage and opened up this game of shells I order to continue remembering how to cast travesti charms and fag spells.
Dying seems necessary to me
“I’m really shrinking. I’ll only grow again when I die”, replies my grandmother Julite Loureiro Brasileiro, aged 65, when I tease her by saying she is getting smaller in size.
The pain of death is blue and life seems red. I’m a black trava, but I want to be amaranthine. To mix dying and living, which is transmutation. Transmuting is the conversion of one chemical element into another. And, in Umbanda,(7) I learned from caboclos and sirens(8) about their hybrid bodies of sea, land and air.
I am also working at the encruzas so that I continue transmuting myself, which is why I become contradictory in coloniality. I always ask Oxalá for calm and the marujos(9) for intelligence to live travestiality without being held hostage by identity. Then, they teach me that I must prepare my body. Going through the preceito(10) in macumba is tough, but I learn so fucking much. So what I have been doing is living in the time of my transmuted body, and sometimes in the identitarian time when I need to earn money to do the mysteries of aqué.(11) That’s what transmuting is: negotiations between death and life.
Every once in a while, I hear this Exusiastic song in my terreiro: “Someone said that the Devil is ugly. Well, beautiful he is not! He has the face of a man and the tiny waist of a woman.”
I transitioned when I went up and down Fonte Grande. I transmuted from flower to earth when I dove into the moons and accepted: today I am a healer because I became a travesti and before I was a sodomite because I knew how to predict the future. I became a travesti when I accessed my sodomite ancestry, and folded the colonial Time that has never made me its own.
Travesti does not translate and travesti is already a translation. Travestiality and spirituality are colonial translations of our transmutations. How, with our alphabet, can we build escape languages? Or how to make out of our language an organ of insurrection?
I am macumbeira because I am black. And I wander in the dark lights because I’m a travesti. I write in Portuguese to say that macumba is in my blood, and if in my blood there is a sea it is because I am a river that sinks, and wept with joy when I died. In alchemy, transmutation is the conversion of one chemical element into another. We are alchemists because from our flower-bodies we transitioned into amethysts, but in the colonial translation we became only travestis.
Our macumbaria is an encruza made with Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Medicine, Semiotics, Art, Astrology, Philosophy, Metallurgy, Geology and Mathematics. And my transmutation happened when I melted at the encounter of fires. In a bonfire I kissed my pombajira and I said: many gracias. I remembered that I am also ether, I became a trava.
It was by embodying that I lived the Spiraling Time and let my matter be torn apart by the speed of Gemini and by the windstorms of Oyá. I died, but I still haven’t done what I should do. Because I dived very deep and came back in fear. I can’t take this decade anymore.
In my throat there is a cry stuck in a body that is no longer mine. Tonight I’m going to spin until I die. I will die remembering everything, and I will return to seek the moments that I did not live because I was afraid to love. I love you, my negro. I love you, life. I love life, because I did not give up on building a body capable of living in unpredictability.
1 Travesti refers to individuals assigned male at birth embracing a feminine gender identity, challenging norms prominent in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Argentina.
2 Trava is an abbreviated and affectionate way of saying Travesti.
3 Encruza is the abbreviation of encruzilhada, i.e. crossroads.
4 Macumba is a syncretic Afro-Brazilian belief system, and terreiros are houses of worship.
5 Pajubá is a vocabulary repertoire used by part of the queer community in Brazil.
6 Pombajira is the name of an Afro-Brazilian spirit evoked by practitioners of Umbanda and Quimbanda in Brazil. She personifies female sexuality, and is often portrayed as a woman of “ill repute”.
7 Afro-brazilian religion.
8 Caboclos and sirens are some of the entities in Umbanda.
9 Marujos are entities in Umbanda.
10 A period of retreat during which one has to attend to some obligations in order to prepare the body for divine energies.
11 A queer slang from Pajubá, meaning money.