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Transvestites also cry

28 May 2009
Published in Attualità, Culture
by Katy Fentress

miasemaquilleAn imposing black man is standing in front of the mirror of a tiny bathroom coating his dark features with red foundation cream. He pulls out an eye shadow palette and starts applying green, gold and purple stripes to his eyelids. He is preparing to head out for a night turning tricks in Paris’ notorious Bois de Boulogne. Beneath his muscular boxer’s physique, a woman is struggling to get out. Judging by his high cheekbones, full lips and shapely breasts though, the battle has already been mostly won.

Mujeron, “Big Woman” in Spanish, is one of two characters in Sebastiano d’Ayala Valva’s award-winning documentary on Ecuadorian transvestite prostitutes in Paris: Transvestites Also Cry (Best documentary at HBO International Latino Film Festival 2008). The film’s other protagonist is called Romina who, with her constant preoccupation with keeping her husband happy and her dog smelling sweet, fits more neatly into our notions of how a transvestite should look and act.

As we observe Mujeron shift from his unfeminine daytime sportswear, to his corset-clad, miniskirt wearing, interpretation of an alluring female, we find ourselves questioning how one qualifies a man or a woman. Mujeron describes himself as neither: “I am a person,” he keeps on repeating “I am not a man or woman. I am a person.” Romina, the more extroverted and exuberant of the two, has her own analysis: “Transvestites, transsexuals and gays, we are the third sex,” she says, “God loves us too.”

afficheanglaise1It’s hard to refer to Mujeron as “her”. He treads a middle ground that defies definition. His understanding of what it means to be a female comes across as a grotesque caricature: Grace Jones on steroids with war paint on. Romina, on the other hand, is all woman. The way she talks, moves and behaves, all convey that she has made a transition from one side to the other.

D’Ayala Valva’s effort to neither sensationalise nor exaggerate the tragedy of his subjects’ lives is commendable. The documentary alternates between light-hearted banter to deep introspections on what it means to be an illegal immigrant, a transvestite and a prostitute at the same time. It would have been an easy topic to over-sentimentalise but d’Ayala Valva seems to have narrowly avoided this pitfall. An impressive first documentary, which leaves the viewer wondering what happens next…

Les Travestis Pleurent Aussi

Directed by: Sebastiano d’Ayala Valva

Produced by: Kanari Films

Next showing at: PINK APPLE – Zurich Gay Lesbian Film Festival Switzerland (Zurich) – May 2009

II Festival de Cine “Diversidad Afectivo Sexual” Santa Cruz, Bolivia – May 2009

3 Responses to “Transvestites also cry”

  1. Andrea says:

    This movie sounds promising. Do you know where the documentary is shown right now, or how it’s possible to get a dvd?

  2. Katy says:

    Hi Andrea,
    Transvestites also Cry, has both a Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/srch.php?nm=transvestites+cry&s=0&sid=62b43bbaa74ccb8a9f2acbe8ae5c7d9c#/group.php?gid=39423174186) and a Myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/transvestitesalsocry) in which each new screening is announced. I know that recently a French satellite television company bought the rights to the documentary and that it was aired last month but unfortunately I don’t know any further details.

  3. Andrea says:

    I’ll check it out.