Open Collections

UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

"We are trans women" : on-street sex work and transgender politics in Mexico City Gómez-Ramírez, Oralia 2017

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata


24-ubc_2018_february_gómez-ramírez_oralia.pdf [ 5.39MB ]
JSON: 24-1.0360783.json
JSON-LD: 24-1.0360783-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 24-1.0360783-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 24-1.0360783-rdf.json
Turtle: 24-1.0360783-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 24-1.0360783-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 24-1.0360783-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

“WE ARE TRANS WOMEN”: ON-STREET SEX WORK AND TRANSGENDER POLITICS IN MEXICO CITY  by  ORALIA GÓMEZ-RAMÍREZ  B.A., National Autonomous University of Mexico, 2002 B.A., Mexico’s National School of Anthropology and History, 2005 M.A., The University of British Columbia, 2007   A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF  DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY  in  The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies  (Anthropology)    THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)  November 2017  © Oralia Gómez-Ramírez, 2017 ii Abstract This dissertation is a feminist ethnography about on-street sex work and transgender politics in contemporary Mexico. It focuses on the socioeconomic and symbolic tensions existing between trans activists and trans vendors, mostly of sexual services, in Mexico City. It is based on ethnographic research consisting of participant-observation, formal interviews, informal conversations, and travel companionships with low-income female-gendered transpeople and self-identified trans activists in places of work, homes, social gatherings, and activist events about sexual diversity. The fieldwork for this study was conducted between 2010 and 2011, with shorter research periods spanning 2009 to 2014. The research also draws on bill proposals and official stenographic transcripts of socio-legal discussions held in Mexico City’s Legislative Assembly between 2001 and 2013. This study shows that, while not all transpeople are sex workers, a sizeable number of low-income trans women work as sexual labourers on the streets of Mexico City. Trans women have gained increasing visibility in on-street sex trade areas. Impoverished transpeople suffer the symbolic and material expressions of a generalized disrespect and disregard affecting on-street sex workers and low-income female-gendered transpeople. A sexual labour framework is thus critical to understand the ways in which social class and informal on-street vending shape the circumstances, livelihoods, and aspirations of low-income trans women. Their daily realities are shaped but not subsumed or exhausted by gender expressions and subjectivities or sex–gender systems alone. A class and labour lens, in addition to a gender lens, is necessary to shed light on the often-overlooked dimensions of socioeconomic standing and employment background that frame the lives of trans activists and trans sex workers. iii This project applies an intersecting critical trans and sexual labour analysis to understand the socioeconomic concerns and livelihoods of female-gendered transpeople. It contributes to the ethnographies of Mexico by underscoring regional and class diversity in the experiences and circumstances facing Mexicans. Lastly, this work helps refine feminist anthropology by demonstrating the utility of classic concepts to understand shifting intersecting realities and, more broadly, by refusing to conflate trans and sex work issues in Mexico with those found in other contexts.   iv Lay Summary The main goal of this study is to provide a feminist understanding about the concerns and struggles of transgender women in contemporary Mexico City. It is based on qualitative research carried out with female transpeople who identified as trans activists or who worked as vendors, mostly of sexual services, on the streets. The information for this study was gathered primarily between 2010 and 2011. A key finding of this study is that the sociopolitical concerns and everyday lives of female-gendered transpeople were shaped by socioeconomic standing and employment background; on-street sexual labour of low-income transpeople was not considered to be critical to formal trans activist demands for legal rights and social recognition. Also, impoverished trans women suffered the daily expressions of a generalized misrecognition and dishonour affecting sex workers and transpeople. This study contributes to rethinking common understandings about the key issues that affect transpeople in Mexico today.   v Preface This dissertation is original, unpublished, independent work by the author, Oralia Gómez-Ramírez. The University of British Columbia’s Behavioural Research Ethics Board approved the research for this project (certificate numbers: H09-01461 and H09-02981). Jayme Taylor designed the maps that appear in this dissertation, and the author holds the copyright. The following peer-reviewed publication emerged as a result of this research project: Gómez-Ramírez, Oralia, and Frida García. 2012. Vivencias de las mujeres trans: base para la formulación de políticas públicas [Trans Women’s Experiences: The Basis to Formulate Public Policies]. Género y Salud en Cifras 10(2-3): 69–76.   vi Table of Contents Abstract ................................................................................................................................... ii Lay Summary ........................................................................................................................ iv Preface .................................................................................................................................... v Table of Contents .................................................................................................................. vi List of Figures ...................................................................................................................... viii List of Acronyms ................................................................................................................... ix Glossary ................................................................................................................................. xi Note on Names and Last Names of Published Authors ...................................................... xvi Note on Italics and Translations ......................................................................................... xvii Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................... xviii Dedication .......................................................................................................................... xxiii Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 1 “We Are Trans Women” .................................................................................................. 1 Intersecting Critical Trans and Sex Work Studies ......................................................... 11 Ethnographies of Mexico and Mexicans ........................................................................ 21 Feminist Analytics ......................................................................................................... 24 Terminologies ................................................................................................................ 29 Outline of Chapters ........................................................................................................ 39 1. Feminist Ethnography in Mexico City ............................................................................. 43 Beloved Monster ............................................................................................................ 43 Bicentennials and “Wars on Drugs” at the Turn-of-the-21st-Century ........................... 50 Unexpected Turns, Auspicious Coincidences ................................................................ 56 Researching Trans and Sex Work Politics in Local and Translocal Spaces .................. 66 Positionings and “Puntos” ............................................................................................. 78 Confidentiality and Pseudonyms ................................................................................... 84 Presence ......................................................................................................................... 85 Interpreting and Reading Softly ..................................................................................... 88 2. Changing Sex Trade Geographies and Socio-Legal Regulation ...................................... 93 Introduction .................................................................................................................... 93 Regulating “Social Problems” ....................................................................................... 94 Sex Work in Mexico City ............................................................................................ 100 vii Changing Geographies in the On-Street Sex Trade ..................................................... 115 The Trans Law ............................................................................................................. 129 Conclusion ................................................................................................................... 134 3. Trans Women’s Lives and Sociocultural Milieus ........................................................... 136 Introduction .................................................................................................................. 136 Names, Nicknames, Last Names, and Pronouns .......................................................... 137 Bodies and Embodiments ............................................................................................ 148 Maridos, Chacales, Kin, and Other Lovers and Beloveds .......................................... 158 Beliefs and Practices .................................................................................................... 171 Housing and Neighbourhoods ...................................................................................... 180 Conclusion ................................................................................................................... 183 4. On-Street Informal Livelihoods and Contexts................................................................ 185 Introduction .................................................................................................................. 185 Informal Labour and Street Vending ........................................................................... 186 Osa ............................................................................................................................... 193 Francis .......................................................................................................................... 203 Samantha ...................................................................................................................... 209 The Warriors ................................................................................................................ 213 Becoming a Warrior Leader ......................................................................................... 219 Conclusion ................................................................................................................... 232 5. Controlling Images, Horizontal Hostilities and the Politics of Trans Respectability ..... 234 Introduction .................................................................................................................. 234 The “Vestidas” Standing on the Streets ....................................................................... 236 “We Aren’t Only Sex Service Providers” .................................................................... 251 Mexico City’s HIV Clinic ............................................................................................ 264 Oversights .................................................................................................................... 272 Conclusion ................................................................................................................... 274 Conclusion .......................................................................................................................... 276 Intersections and Refinements ..................................................................................... 276 Directions for Future Research .................................................................................... 289 Aches: Uncertain Prospects ......................................................................................... 294 Works Cited ........................................................................................................................ 313   viii List of Figures Figure 1. The Federal District and the metropolitan area of Mexico City, 2010 ................. 46 Figure 2. “All Our Children Are Poetry,” photo by the author, 2011 .................................. 57 Figure 3. “Sex Work Is as Worthy as Any Other Job,” Labour Day March, photo by the author, 2011 ........................................................................................................................ 114 Figure 4. Historically best-known on-street sex trade areas in Mexico City, early 2000s . 116 Figure 5. Emergent on-street sex trade sites in central parts of Mexico City, 2010–2011. 120 Figure 6. Trans on-street sex trade zones in the outskirts of Mexico City, 2010–2011 ..... 128 Figure 7. Several on-street sex trade “spots” are found along San Antonio Abad and Calzada de Tlalpan. These streets connect the downtown area with the southern exit of Mexico City. ....................................................................................................................... 237 Figure 8. “Neither Pardon Nor Oblivion,” photo by the author, 2011 ............................... 298   ix List of Acronyms I use Spanish acronyms for Mexico’s institutions throughout my dissertation. Below, I list both Spanish names and English translations. For common and international terms, I employ the English acronym.  AIDS Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome CDHDF Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Distrito Federal CONAPRED National Council to Prevent Discrimination Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación COPRED Mexico City’s Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación en la Ciudad de México DF Federal District Distrito Federal DSM Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus ICD International Classification of Diseases IFE Federal Electoral Institute Instituto Federal Electoral INEGI National Institute of Statistics and Geography Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía IPN National Polytechnic Institute Instituto Politécnico Nacional LGBT Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Lésbico, Gay, Bisexual y Transgénero LGBTTTI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite, Transgender, Transsexual, and Intersex Lésbico, Gay, Bisexual, Travesti, Transgénero, Transexual e Intersexual LTAIPDF Transparency and Access to Public Information of the Federal District Act Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública del Distrito Federal PAN National Action Party Partido Acción Nacional x PRD Party of the Democratic Revolution Partido de la Revolución Democrática PRI Institutional Revolutionary Party Partido Revolutionario Institucional PSD Social Democratic Party Partido Social Demócrata REDLACTRANS Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People Red de Personas Trans de América Latina y el Caribe REDTRASEX Network of Women Sex Workers from Latin America and the Caribbean Red de Mujeres Sexuales de Latinoamérica y el Caribe SPFE Secretary of Labour and Employment Advancement Secretaría de Trabajo y Fomento al Empleo STIs Sexually Transmitted Infections STP Stop Trans Pathologization TTT Transvestite, Transgender, and Transsexual Travesti, Transgénero y Transexual UNAM National Autonomous University of Mexico Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México   xi Glossary This glossary contains descriptions of usage, rather than prescriptive entries. Unless explicitly specified, terms in this glossary are in Mexican Spanish. “Lit.” refers to literal translations.  Ambiente Lit. milieu. Gay and lesbian scene in Mexico City. Bicentenario Lit. Bicentennial. Short-term for the nation-wide, state-sponsored celebrations of the bicentennial anniversary of Mexican Independence in 1810 and the centennial anniversary of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Bicho Lit. insect. HIV. It likely derives from the spelled pronunciation of “V-I-H” (lit. H-I-V). In Mexican Spanish “b” and “v” sound the same. This term is used by low-income trans women. Biológica Lit. biological woman. Non-trans woman. Often used by low-income trans women to refer to the author and female non-trans sex workers. Bufar Lit. bull bellowing. Taunting, mocking. A put-down. This is a term used by low-income trans women. Chacal Lit. jackal. Bastard. Racialized class term used for low-income men embodying tough masculinity. Among most low-income trans women, a “chacal” is an attractive and desirable man. Churro Lit. wheat-floured fritter or something elongated and twisted. A padding made of foam and cloth that is used underneath pants, skirt, or leggings to give the appearance of bigger, rounded buttocks. Some low-income trans sex workers also call it “chubi,” which does not exist as such in standard Mexican Spanish. Comunidad TTT Lit. TTT community. A phrase used to refer collectively to transpeople in Mexico. It includes people who are thought to belong to three distinct groups: travestis (lit. transvesties, cross dressers), transgéneros or transgenéricos (lit. transgender), and transexuales (lit. transsexuals). Cuca Lit. dolled-up person. Effeminate homosexual man, female-gendered transperson. The term is employed by low-income trans women, mostly in the past, to refer to themselves and others like them. Diversidad sexual Lit. sexual diversity. Often used as “comunidad de la diversidad sexual” (lit. sexual diversity community). In Mexico, the term is xii often used to refer to people who challenge normative sex-gender systems. Gallina Lit. hen. It is often used to refer to masculine-looking men who enjoy being anally penetrated by trans women without identifying as gay men. Low-income trans women know the term, but I mostly heard it being used by a few trans activists to refer to low-income men in a derogatory fashion. Hermana Lit. sister. A form of address among low-income trans women, largely used when talking to another trans woman working the streets as a sex worker. It has a working-class connotation. Better-off trans women often use the term “amiga” (lit. friend) for their female peers. Hija Lit. daughter. A form of address among low-income trans women for a trans woman who is socialized by a “mother” into the street-based sex trade. Horror Lit. horror. Disgusting. Low-income trans women often use the phrase “¡Qué horror!” (lit. What a horror!) to express disgust about something being spoken about. Infiltración Lit. infiltration. Body filler. It refers to the practice of injecting edible or industrial oil into cheeks, breasts, buttocks, legs, and other parts of the body. Íntima Lit. intimate friend. Used by low-income trans women to refer to their best female friends, usually other female-gendered transpeople working the streets like them. Jota Lit. effeminate homosexual man. Used at times by low-income trans women to refer to other people like them. The feminine “jota” is either neutral or positive when speaking to or about well-liked trans women. Joto Lit. homosexual man. Used at times by low-income trans women to refer to other trans women. Using the masculine form “joto” is often meant to provoke or disparage other trans women. Madre Lit. mother. A form of address among low-income trans women for a trans woman who socialized a “daughter” into the street-based sex trade. Madrota Lit. madam, female pimp. On-street sex-trade leader, representative. Most often, a “madam” in a trans sex-trade spot is another trans woman who works or used to work the streets as a sex worker. Mana Lit. sis. Short for “hermana” (lit. sister). Used by low-income female people to speak to other female people. Some low-income trans women used it to refer to the author. It is a term often xiii ridiculed in TV shows and popular speech due to its working-class connotation. Marido Lit. husband. Lover, boyfriend, live-in partner. It has a working-class connotation. Better-off trans women often use the term “novio” (lit. boyfriend) for their lovers. Mujer Lit. woman. Non-trans woman. Used by low-income trans women to refer to the author, female non-trans sex workers, and other non-trans women in their social and community networks. Mujer trans Lit. trans woman. Term of relatively recent circulation in Mexico City used to refer to female-gendered people who challenge, in some way, normative sex–gender systems. Muxe’ Zapotec, lit. man-woman. Individuals who challenge normative sex–gender systems within indigenous Zapotec culture. The ancestral land of the Zapotec people is located in the Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca (southern Mexico). Perra Lit. female dog. Bitch. Low-income trans women often use the phrase “¡Estás de perra!” (lit. “You're being a bitch!”) It is often used to fend off criticism when trans women taunt each other. Some scholars conceive of the term “perrear” (as a verb rather than as a noun) as a genre of dialogue and interaction between “trans” and “gays,” or among “trans.” Others think of “perrear” within the gay milieu of female drag impersonators, which draws on acid verbal humour to put someone down. Low-income trans women in Mexico City use the noun “perra” and the verb “bufar” instead. Punto Lit. spot. On-street sex-trade site, stroll. On-the-ground geopolitical unit in which sexual labourers gather and organize themselves to solicit services on the public streets of Mexico City. A street-based sex-trade site often is made up of several “puntos,” each defined by subtle borders such as a street crossing or a business locale. In the government literature and media, however, a “punto” is often conflated with a broader area on the streets where soliciting occurs. Putería, La putería Lit. whoredom, the whoredom. On-street sex trade. Used by low-income on-street trans sex workers to speak about their work. Puto Lit. male hustler. Homosexual man. The term is considered derogatory. It is used at times by low-income trans women to refer to other trans women, usually when taunting each other. Ratito Lit. a little chunk of time. Sexual service. For low-income, on-street trans sex workers, a “ratito” most often means providing a blowjob inside a car. Sexo-servicio Lit. sex-service. Paid sex work. The term was in wide circulation until a decade ago, but has declined since then. It most often takes xiv on a female gender form to refer to “sexo-servidoras” (lit. female sex-service providers) or non-trans female sex workers. Sifos, La sifos HIV. The origin of the term “la sifos,” as it is often referred to, likely derives from a short version of “sífilis” (lit. syphilis). The term “sifos” is used by low-income trans women to speak about people they suspect to be HIV positive, and it does not exist as such in standard Mexican Spanish. Torear Lit. bullfight. Defying the police to sell merchandise and services on streets where street vending is prohibited or contested. Trans, Las trans Lit. trans, the trans. Singular or plural collective noun referring to female-gendered transpeople. Participants often also use the term “trans women.” Transexual Lit. transsexual. Some trans activists employ this term for those who have undergone genital surgeries to align their gendered subjectivities with their bodies. Transgenérico Lit. transgeneric person. Transgender. Some trans activists use the term for those whose subjectivity does not match with the gender identity assigned to them at birth. They may engage in hormonal ingestion and other bodily modifications, excluding genital surgeries. Transgénero Lit. transgender. Some trans activists use it as an umbrella term encompassing the three “Ts” or the “TTT community.” Others use it to refer to those who engage in bodily modifications, excluding genital surgeries, to bring their bodies and subjectivities in line with each other. It is a term considered non-discriminatory and correct in “sexual diversity” activist and allied intellectual milieus. It intends to apply to anybody regardless of racialized class background. Travesti Lit. transvestite. Cross dresser. In Mexico City, it is used for men who don female clothes or take on a female-gendered persona on an occasional basis. It does not appear to apply to women. In Brazilian Portuguese or Argentine Spanish, the term “travesti” may refer to a “transgender” person or someone who does not “cross-dress” occasionally but lives as a female-gendered individual on a permanent basis. Vecindad Lit. vicinity. Impoverished housing complex or settlement. In the past, a “vecindad” was a slum-like housing settlement with miniscule rooms and shared lavatories. Vestida Lit. female-fashioned or dressed-up person. Local term used by low-income trans women to refer to female-gendered transpeople in Mexico City. It has an on-street sex work connotation. Virtually xv all trans and sexual diversity activists and allied intellectuals in Mexico City think that this term is derogatory and incorrect.   xvi Note on Names and Last Names of Published Authors As a dissertation on issues faced by transpeople, this work draws on the intellectual contributions of trans scholars. In the main text, to the best of my ability, I use present-day chosen names and preferred gender markers of the authors I am referencing, even if the publications I refer to went into print when the authors’ names and gender identifications were different. To preserve bibliographic accuracy, and to aid the reader in the retrieval of any of the referenced materials, I have added the name under which the work was originally published in parenthesis in the Works Cited section. I have come to learn of name changes and proper present gender identification sometimes through fortuitous means: for example, I read Christopher Turner’s (2016) review of Paul Preciado’s (2014) latest book and the publisher’s advertising assistant editor Michael Newton’s (2016) reply to it, explaining that the book had first gone into print when the author’s name was different. At the heart of this work is the intention to acknowledge everybody as they want to be recognized. Any misstep or oversight in this regard is unintentional. Similarly, since this dissertation examines issues shaping the lives and circumstances of people in Mexico, I have drawn as much as possible on local scholarship and debates. Most scholars from Mexico have two last names. I have added their entry in the Works Cited section following the Mexican Spanish rule, where the main last name is the first one. For Oralia Gómez-Ramírez, for example, one would find the alphabetically ordered entry under the letter G.   xvii Note on Italics and Translations I use italics for Mexican Spanish terms when they appear in the text. I provide literal and sociocultural translations in parenthesis in the main text, and I define them in the Glossary. I also mark key translated terms in italics to emphasize vernacular usage and meaning despite their apparent equivalence in English. The most significant example is the term trans women, which is the literal translation of the Spanish term “mujeres trans.” However, the sociocultural, political, and economic milieu in which mujeres trans live in Mexico City, where the use of mujer trans acquires a specific local connotation, proves difficult to be straightforwardly translated into an Anglo–North American sociopolitical context. The term “trans woman” may conjure in readers’ minds concrete (both descriptive and prescriptive) ideas about what it means to be, live, or identify as a transperson in Anglo–North American settings. These ideas may or (often) may not overlap with what that means among low-income transpeople in Mexico City. Thankfully, we still live in a world made of different worlds. Consequently, I have marked the translated terms in italics whenever they refer to the Mexico City context—a context in which they make sense in specific local ways as I discuss in this dissertation. The use of italics seeks to mark these terms as “foreign” to the English-language reader; that is, italics mark these words as socially, politically, economically, symbolically, and historically crafted constructs that are not easily transferable to other contexts without losing or gaining some meaning in the process. Italicized English terms are, then, an invitation to acquiesce to reading beyond the surface of terms and looking into the particular circumstances of time and place in which these concepts and realities emerge and make sense.  xviii Acknowledgements I acknowledge that the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey Campus, the place where I pursued my graduate studies, stands on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam people. May their ongoing struggles for self-determination and social justice come to fruition. My doctoral studies and research were generously funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, the Office of Vice-President Research and International, Go Global, the Faculty of Arts, and the Department of Anthropology. I received partial travel subsidies to present my doctoral work at conferences and attend workshops from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the Department of History, and the Department of Anthropology’s Graduate Student Association at UBC; the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria; the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies; the Canadian Law and Society Association; Mexico’s Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics; and Mexico’s Arcoiris Foundation. I also financed my studies and living expenses through employment. For their confidence in my skills, I thank my employers at the Centre for Intercultural Communication, Continuing Studies, Department of Anthropology, Department of Sociology, Centre for Community Engaged Learning, the School of Nursing’s Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre, and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice’s Critical Studies in Sexuality Program at UBC; the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University; the Pediatric Rheumatology Division at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital; and the Clinical Prevention Services’ Online Sexual Health Division at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. My doctoral supervisor Dr. Alexia Bloch, and the members of my supervisory committee, Dr. Becki Ross and Dr. Patrick Moore, extended immense patience and kindness towards me, my structural and personal circumstances, and my work. Among many other things, I want to thank Alexia for her help getting me through my studies, for providing steady guidance, and for a generous work arrangement during the last stretch of my studies. I am beyond grateful to Becki for her unwavering and humbling support, for her rigorous and meticulous mentoring, and not any less importantly, for sharing a good cry, laugh, and hug whenever the occasion called for it. I thank Pat for his always-ready-to-help attitude, for his masterful support in scholarship applications and all kinds of university administrative matters, for sending books and films down to Mexico City during my extended fieldwork, and outside academia, for his gardening coaching. I thank my university examiners, Dr. Alessandra Santos and Dr. Pilar Riaño-Alcalá, for their thoughtful engagement with my work. I thank Dr. Marcia Ochoa for agreeing to serve as external reviewer of my dissertation. I will benefit from the feedback provided as I continue reflecting on this research project. Many thanks also to Dr. Tom Kemple for serving as chair of my oral defence. The practical assistance of several people was of great value during the course of my field research and dissertation write-up. Judith Alejandra Arámburu García and Mariana xix Guzmán Díaz provided aid transcribing audio-recorded interviews during the ethnographic full-scale research, and Erandi Ruiz Caudillo provided assistance during the pilot study. Julien Hénon captured my handwritten drawings and ideas into the design of two interactive research posters and a postcard, and he served as safety and emergency contact person during the main period of fieldwork. Nirvana Geuvdjelian Herrera kindly allowed me to use one of her beautiful collages as the image for my research postcard. Emilio Chernavsky and Horacio Sívori saw that I was able to obtain copies of key Brazilian ethnographies. Mónica Tahuilán Anguiano aided me transcribing digital recordings, advising me through the processes of Access to Information requests, and graciously accompanying me to some rough field research activities. My brother went with me to potential fieldwork locations when I was beginning to imagine this project and figure out its practicalities, and guided me through the hoops of key economics concepts and developments. My dad lent me a helping hand with transcriptions and locating bibliographic materials in bookstores, libraries, and archives. My mom assisted me in copyediting my Spanish research ethics forms, scanning and organizing notes, transcribing audio, and being my companion during a few fun research-related events. Mom and dad faithfully helped me in every way they could with domestic chores and food preparation whenever they visited me while I was trying to complete this work. From the Sex Work Research Hub, Kate Hardy shared work on Argentine sexual labour organizing, and Graham Ellison and Kate Lister shared terminological insights on “strolls.” Gabriela Aceves Sepúlveda and Roberto Olivera gifted me a sophisticated laser printer that allowed me to print draft and final versions of this work. Brenda Fitzpatrick—who dropped home-made frozen food off to keep me going during the last few weeks to completion—and Clayton Whitt generously looked over a few of my draft chapters and provided comments. Sara Komarnisky, in particular, went beyond all friendly support and read most of my draft dissertation and provided thoughtful feedback. Athenea Castillo Ramírez provided general map-making ideas. Jayme Taylor put her superb GIS skills into the design of the maps that appear in this dissertation. Stefan helped me sort out map copyrights and permissions, track down UBC administrative technicalities, and troubleshoot last-minute printing and paperwork hurdles. He also kept me well-fed during the home stretch to finish this work while I was juggling the demands of three paid employments. Fazeela Jiwa lent her keen copyediting eye to this dissertation on a short time frame just before it had to be submitted for external review. Finally, I am thankful to Ombuds Officer Joy Corben, and to Max Read and all the academic support and doctoral exam staff from the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for guidance, webinar training, and paperwork processing. During my extended fieldwork in Mexico City, Martha Patricia Castañeda Salgado from the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Sciences and Humanities, and my dear undergraduate supervisor Juan Manuel Sandoval Palacios from the Direction of Ethnology and Social Anthropology at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, kindly invited me to bounce off some preliminary ideas and findings in their respective seminars. For eight months, I was a visiting research scholar in the Interdisciplinary Program in Women’s Studies at the College of Mexico, and there I enjoyed the supervision of Ivonne Szasz, the help of Ana María Tepichin and Luz del Carmen Zambrano Espinoza, as well as the invitation of Karine Tinat to speak as a guest in her graduate seminar on gender debates and social theory. Likewise, in Mexico, the continuing mentorship and collegiality of Rosina Conde, xx Gloria Careaga, and Martha Judith Sánchez Gómez has been, and continues to be, influential and greatly appreciated. At UBC, I have benefited from the knowledge of all the faculty members in the Department of Anthropology, and particularly from inspiring conversations with Julie Cruikshank, Leslie Robertson, Carole Blackburn, Nicola Levell, John Barker, Charles Menzies, Vinay Kamat, Bill McKellin, Andrew Martindale, Jennifer Kramer, Shaylih Muehlmann, Gastón Gordillo, Zhichun Jing, Michael Blake, Felice Wyndham, and Patricia Shaw. I am expressly grateful to Dr. Bruce Miller for his collegiality over the years and his efficacy in sorting out unexpected administrative hitches with the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. At the university, I also have had the opportunity to interact with a number of professors from the departments of Sociology, History, Geography, Social Work, Women’s and Gender Studies, Population and Public Health, Nursing, Art History and Visual Art, as well as French, Hispanic and Italian Studies, and for that I am grateful. As a doctoral student, I have been greatly enriched by opportunities to meet and interact with truly remarkable people. During my tenure as a Liu Scholar in the Liu Institute for Global Issues, I enjoyed many interdisciplinary events. I express my gratitude to Dr. Peter Dauvergne for opening the financial and logistical space for a generation of us to dream across disciplines at a time when walls seem to be rising. I am most thankful to those who joined me in the activities of the Research Group on Gender and Sexuality in Latin America for a number of years. For support of many kinds I thank: Julie Wagemakers, Sally Reay Ashwell, Patty Gallivan, Tim Shew, Andrea Reynolds, Lindsey Marsh, and Dr. Muora Quoile. For Liu’s second-floor laughs and doctoral companionship, I am indebted to Mascha Gugganig, Beth Stewart, Ty Paradela, Dada Docot, Lara Rosenoff Gauvin, Katherine Fobear, Laura Lee, Geraldina Polanco, Asha Kaushal, Genevieve LeBaron, Afuwa, Juliane Okot Bitek, and Ricardo Chaparro-Pacheco. I express gratitude to Pilar Riaño-Alcalá, Dr. Erin Baines, Sarah Brown, Manuela Valle, Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray, Juan Felipe Hernández, Magdalena Ugarte, Autumn Knowlton, and my Lobby Gallery co-curator Solen Roth. A special thanks goes to Tina, my midnight companion during the long days and into-the-night hours of work at the Liu, not only for keeping our offices clean, but also for offering sweet treats and charming smiles all year round. From RAGA’s racialized student network, I am thankful to Pei-Fang Gong, Lucas Wright, and Taq Bhandal for seeing that I had an occasional office space to work, and to Fatima Jaffer and Benita Bunjun for workshops and informal mentoring. As Maya Angelou’s verses would have it: we’re still singing, we shall not be moved. The librarians at UBC make up some of the most amazing workforce sectors in the university. I thank them all, but in particular, those in the interlibrary loan department, Koerner Library, and VGH’s Biomedical Branch. A university would not be much without the efficiency and cordiality of its administrative staff. From ANSO, I am deeply thankful to Eleonore Asuncion, Joyce Ma, May Chan, Kristin Sopotiuk, Lorie Lee, Bridget Chase, and in the past, Jordan Brocato, Adam Wright, Yvonne Diamond, Radicy Bradelic, Dan Naidu, Michele Jayasinha, and Kyla Hicks; and to Carmen Radut and Wynn Archibald from GRSJ. Cleaning staff are a similarly inspiring hard-working group. I want to thank Estella, Tatjana, Borjana and xxi anybody else whose bee-like, often solitary evening work I have benefited from over the years. The past year has been one of the most professionally enriching but also one of the most challenging time-pressure-wise. Without the generosity and flexibility of my work colleagues and bosses, I doubt I would have been able to complete this dissertation as I worked hard to sustain myself. I am particularly grateful to Jay Penner, Jennifer Wolowic, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, Kim Thomsom, Dr. Mark Gilbert, Tom Kemple, and especially to Dr. Janice Stewart, who trusts my work and has offered a crucial steady employment opportunity to complete my studies. I am also thankful for the enduring professional support of Pat Marshall and Dr. Jaime Guzman. I am tremendously fortunate to have had the chance to work with excellent, kind-hearted people along the way. As a person and as a scholar, I have delighted in the presence, conversation, and partying of numerous fellow students. From Anthropology, and at the risk of unwillingly omitting important names, I would like to explicitly thank (in addition to the ones I have already mentioned): Eda Cakmakci, Martina Volfova, Daria Boltokova, Sarah Fessenden, Daniel Manson, Gregory Gan, Bryn Letham, Eric Guiry, Lauren Harding, Rachel Roy, Vishala Parmasad, Ezra Green, Michele Hak Hepburn, Emma Feltes, Kendra Jewell, Fraser GermAnn, Heather Robertson, Ewen Macarthur, Huma Mohibullah, Lina Gómez, Natasha Damiano, Emily Birky, Natalie Baloy, Hiba Morcos, Marlee McGuire, Molly Malone, Sandra Youssef, and the late Susan Hicks (for whom and because of whom many flowers on this earth continue to bloom); from Sociology, Sanjeev Routray and Billy Fling; from History, Stephen Hay; and from Educational Studies, Sonia Medel. Of the many Anthropology students I met at UBC, two of them, Brenda and my pen-pal Sara, have been exceptionally generous with me over the years, and I hope I can continue to pay with my esteem for their big-heartedness. I thank Clayton, Ana Vivaldi, and Rafael Wainer for their warmth and long-term friendship. I am also indebted to Tal Nitsán for offering kind loyalty when I least expected it, and to my good friend Larry van der Est for his steady presence and long walks over the years. The company of Sungsook Lim, Christine Klerian, and Analía Gutiérrez enormously enriched my time in Vancouver. With immense loyalty, they have walked with me through the perils and joys of school, work, illness, sorrow, love, and many more of life’s marvels. Additionally, I am expressly indebted to Gabriela, among many other things, for picking me up from random places at strange times when the effects of trauma had me uncontrollably trembling; and, in the past, to Naayeli Ramírez Espinosa for managing to make me laugh one gloomy afternoon at VGH’s Emergency Room, and to Shayna Plaut for feeding me delicious meals when my spirit was unruly and my body was shrinking. It is because of them that I am still here today. The sudden loss of my dear friend Vanessa gifted me—in the midst of searing grief—with the treasured companionship of Stefan, who stands now as my tender, loving person in life. I am in awe of him and Vanessa’s family members for the humbling lesson of strength and resilience they have mostly unknowingly given me since the chiquilla left. I am most fortunate. Of my Canada-wide friends, I would like to express my gratitude and love, time and again, to Kal Nelson, Veronica Armstrong Diment, and now living back in Vancouver, Jill xxii Springer. I continue to benefit from their company and support since I first lived in Victoria. In Canada too, I had the gift and immense honour of crossing routes over a decade ago with my cherished friend Marie-Eve Carrier-Moisan. She has, since then, filled my lifetime with heartwarming conversations, insightful guidance, and firm comradeship amidst life’s stomach punches. I could not be more grateful. I have carried the presence of Erandis, Monik, Erika Litzahaya Mendoza Varela, and Luz Verónica Reyes Cruz wherever I have been over the past two decades. Words cannot entirely express the lengths of my thankfulness for their lasting camaraderie, sorority, and affection. Of my Mexican friends, I am still thankful to count on the continuing warmth of Gabriel Cervantes Alejandre, Juan Antonio Vázquez, Liliana Sánchez, Carlos Ortega, and Jehieli Fernández Covarrubias. In Mexico, most of my maternal and paternal relatives have been a steady source of encouragement and best wishes for me and my brother, and of daily companionship and support for my parents—I want to thank them wholeheartedly for that. My meditation mentors, counsellors, swimming pool buddies, fellow community choir singers, and the people I encountered along my path as a hospice palliative care volunteer have aided me in keeping myself grounded and on my toes; my theatre ventures and classes added to the playful regaining of confidence. I am reminded to never forget to live every moment to the fullest and with urgency, and to feel in constant wonder for everything I am exceedingly blessed to have. I cannot even attempt to fully capture here the kindness, patience, trust, and time of the trans women and other key people that were part of my field research. I remain impressed by their wit and resilience. I owe them more than a huge thank you, and definitely much more than a line or two in the acknowledgements of this resulting work. I hope in life, beyond the lines of these pages, as many more years come, I am able to be somewhat of service to each one of them as a gesture of my deep appreciation for allowing me to hang out with and learn from them. The last and most important acknowledgement is to those who brought me into being, have kept me alive, and have accompanied me through life. I owe everything to my mother Silvia, my father Sergio, and my brother Leopoldo. I have learned life’s most important lesson from and with them: we love those we choose to love when we delight in their imperfect beauty, and because whenever we see them rise and fall, we stand firmly by their side. With affection, admiration, and deepest respect—like in the tale of the world standing on a turtle—all the way down, until the end.  Vancouver, British Columbia, November 2017   xxiii Dedication I dedicate this work to my beloved mom, dad, and brother. No other Oralia in the whole world could have ever dreamed of having such a tender-hearted, unconditional trio in her life.  In memory of my grandma Chonita (†2015), who dispensed magic kisses when we thought she no longer could.  To Older Brother, Fernando, Alberto, Samantha, Joel, Libia, Susan, and Vanessa. They left life when they were far too young.  1 Introduction  “We Are Trans Women” On the occasion of a sexual diversity fair organized in one of the northern boroughs of Mexico City, Mariana, Madga, Manuel, I, and about ten others made our way to a youth centre undergoing renovations for a local government-sponsored event.1 It was before noon on a Thursday in early December of 2010. During the weeks leading up to that day, Joel Mendoza, a recently appointed social development officer in this northern borough’s administration, had been excited about the events he and his office members had prepared for this five-day sexual diversity fair. The event series was meant to bring attention to sexual diversity issues, and included talks, discussions, film screenings, and musical events. Already acting like a seasoned politician, Joel Mendoza had personally called and gone to visit Paloma García, a trans woman and emerging trans activist.2 Joel had invited Paloma and “her people,” the members affiliated with the street-vending association The Warriors, to actively participate and provide support during all the upcoming fair’s events. Although not explicitly stated, it was                                                  1 Following anthropological conventions, research participants’ personal names, nicknames, and group names have been replaced with pseudonyms to preserve confidentiality. Specific dates, locations, and areas within Mexico City that could compromise participants’ confidentiality have also been omitted or masked. I further explain the rationale behind each of these choices in Chapter 1 and throughout the main text. 2 My choice of italicizing “trans women” here and throughout the text seeks to compel the reader to be aware of the specific sex–gender politics at play in Mexico City. In this I follow Tom Boellstorff (2003) who uses italics to signal the particular sociopolitical historical milieus in which local terms make sense despite their apparent equivalence in English language. I believe Anglo–North American understandings of trans* and sex work issues should not be the measuring stick against which all other trans* and sex work realities around the world are rendered (un)intelligible. The italics serve as a reminder of such anti-essentialist, anti-imperial, anti–global North-centric impetus in my work. I explain this further later in this Introduction. 2 assumed that Paloma’s people—The Warriors’ associates—would volunteer their time setting things up, attending information booths, cheering for speakers, and being present at events to increase the visible attendee number counts. Additionally, Paloma, who liked to identify herself in public and formal events as “a businesswoman and street-vending leader,” had been explicitly invited to be a speaker and sponsor of many of the fair’s scheduled events. As leader of The Warriors, an association primarily devoted to the careful and complex orchestration of street-based informal commerce in a few of the streets of Mexico City, Paloma was to be featured prominently during the week’s events. She was scheduled to give the opening remarks in the borough’s court, the central administrative building’s open square where official government ceremonies were usually held to indicate both the significance of the event and the prominence of the speakers. The fair was going to be inaugurated by Paloma, together with Joel Mendoza and another government representative formally addressed in the program as “licenciada,” the formal, respectful title used to address either lawyers or government officers presumed to have completed a bachelor’s degree. Despite not having completed high school education, Paloma was similarly referred to as “Lic.” the abbreviation for this form of address, every time her name appeared in the event’s program. She was also scheduled to give two “conferencias” (public lectures). She was expected to facilitate a debate on “lésbico, gay, bisexual, travesti, transgénero, transexual, intersexual” (lit. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transvestite, transgender, transsexual, intersex) issues, otherwise commonly known as “LGBTTTI” issues.3 She was                                                  3 Where appropriate, I indicate both literal and contextual translations of significant local terms and phrases. I use the abbreviation “lit.” to indicate that a translation is literal. In cases where the literal translations do not reflect the accurate meaning in English, I also include contextual translations after a semi-colon. For example: “travesti” (lit. transvestite; cross dresser). Translations are, for the most part, from Mexican Spanish to English, unless explicitly indicated. For example: “muxe’” (Zapotec, lit. man-woman; people who challenge 3 also set to offer the closing remarks during the official ceremony culminating in the week’s end. Joel, a plump man in his mid-20s who identified as “gay” (lit. gay), had an easy and contagious laugh. He was actively seeking to secure Paloma’s social support and that of the people she led, to jump-start his newly state-subsidized political career in one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs. On that December day, Paloma was busy with street-vending politics and looking after her personal affairs. She had sent Mariana and other members of her street-vending association to the event on her behalf. Paloma’s personal assistant Magda, Mariana, I, and members from The Warriors were driven to the theatre venue by Manuel, Paloma’s childhood neighbour and later personal driver, in a large, well-groomed van. This was a van in which, during my extended fieldwork, we would often spend a few hours a day travelling to and from events, meetings, meals, and other errands across and sometimes outside Mexico City. The commuting hours would usually be spent cracking jokes, “bufando” (lit. bull bellowing; taunting or mocking), and generally catching up on gossip while jammed in the city’s usual heavy traffic. Although in a good mood, Mariana, a trans woman and sex worker in her late 20s, was nervous about delivering Paloma’s speech at the event. In her hands, she had a wrinkled bunch of paper with the speech that Kim Fernández, Paloma’s assistant and on-duty advisor on trans-related affairs, had originally written for Paloma. Other members of The Warriors had also been sent to the event and made their way to the venue on their own. When we arrived, about ten of them were there. Joel hoped to count on Paloma’s people to                                                  normative sex–gender systems within indigenous Zapotec culture). See also the List of Acronyms and Glossary. 4 harness support, but Paloma was similarly relying on her association’s membership to advance her political career as an emergent trans activist and aspiring political party member in the local Legislative Assembly. The sexual diversity fair’s event had been planned to include Paloma’s public lecture, titled “General Transgender and Transsexual Aspects,” followed by the screening of a short film and photo series related to LGBTTTI issues. After we waited for quite some time in the dusty, still-under-repair venue, the event finally began with the speech that Paloma had been expected to deliver. Mariana read Paloma’s speech word-by-word, mumbling at times, stumbling over the words at others. She sat by herself at a table covered with a red cloth that resembled chamois, and had a microphone in her hands. While reading the words printed on the scrambled paper, she did not look up once. On that day, Mariana had made a point of wearing a black leather jacket that, even though it was slightly worn, made her look, in her view, more apt for the special occasion of delivering a speech in front of an audience. When Mariana finished the speech, she was received with supportive and excited claps from the members of The Warriors, who accounted for the largest number of people in the audience, and who had been asked to come to this event to function as cheerers. The claps were also followed by a few rehearsed shouts, “The Warriors! The Warriors! The Warriors!” When she was done, she asked me, still looking slightly nervous, how it had gone; I offered words of support. The speech she delivered had struck me as trite in many ways and as ground-breaking in one way. Trite because in its tone and structure it followed the well-established political discourse genre of party-based political culture in Mexico, marked by grandiloquence and astringent demands. Ground-breaking, however, because Mariana 5 finished with an off-script, but clearly previously prepared, significant demand indicative of some of the broader sociocultural discourse and practice innovations relating to transgender politics underway in Mexico since at least 2008. My dissertation examines the class, labour, and sociopolitical tensions underpinning Mariana’s off-script demand. However, before moving into what Mariana expressed, and to appreciate what transpired during and after Mariana’s speech, let me briefly digress to what had happened a few days earlier. In late November, there had been a Sexual Health Conference taking place in one of the centre states in Mexico.4 Paloma, Pancho, Kim, and Manuel had made their way to the nearby state in Paloma’s van. I met them at the venue and spent most of my day hanging out with them. As part of the conference, Paloma delivered a paper on one of the panels while Pancho, a tall man in his early 30s with a pockmarked face, recorded her presentation from the front row. Kim had gone to the conference in her capacity as paid advisor to Paloma on The Warriors’ payroll. However, being a vocal trans intellectual who was deeply interested and emotionally invested in advancing her brand of trans politics in Mexico City, Kim seized the opportunity to go on this job-related trip also to carry out her own political work and networking during the conference. Possibly pulling on the strings of her old professional network from the time she worked as a reporter, Kim had been announced days earlier in a press release publicized by a newswire focused on health, sexuality, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) issues as one of the featured “specialists” who would be attending the conference. During the day, Paloma sat in some panels and spent time with Pancho, her “marido” (lit. husband), as trans women refer to                                                  4 In 2010, Mexico was geopolitically divided into 31 states and one Federal District. 6 their boyfriends or live-in lovers. Kim spoke up every time she had the chance during the conference’s panels. The media interviewed both Paloma and Kim. By then, it had become clear to me that the main demands voiced by The Warriors on trans-related matters were swayed by Kim’s own point of view about Mexico’s “LGBTTTI” politics. Movements organized around “diversidad sexual” (lit. sexual diversity) concerns, as socio-legal demands that intersect with non-normative sex–gender systems are usually framed in Mexico, are heterogeneous (de la Dehesa 2007, 2010). Kim Fernández, an articulate trans woman and well-known self-identified trans activist, was primarily interested in advancing a struggle in which gender identity and sexual orientation, and more specifically, “hombres gay” (lit. gay men) and “mujeres trans” (lit. trans women), would be legally and socially recognized as distinct realities and not as comparable categories. During their media interviews at the Sexual Health Conference, both Paloma García and Kim Fernández made a point to emphasize the key message of the transgender agenda they were putting forth. This was that, as trans women, they were seeking to get legally-recognized waivers for the fees associated with the medical and psychological professional assessments required for transpeople to apply for a legal change of name and sex in birth certificates in Mexico City. It was this same message that Mariana conveyed during her reading of Paloma’s speech at the theatre venue in the midst of renovation. The speech comprised a description of the state of affairs for transpeople and their demands. Mariana explained that the “umbrella term” transgender referred to three distinct groups of people that shared a “common condition,” and that it referred to a change in gender but not necessarily in sexual identity, and as such one could find “transgender lesbianism” or “heterosexual 7 transpeople.” Transpeople, the speech went, were seeking to obtain “ciudadanía plena” but the costly fees required to get the two mandatory professional assessments to apply for legal documentation prevented them from having access to such “full citizenship.” Transpeople demanded the waiving of the fees in principle, but ultimately they were seeking the removal of the requirement to undergo professional assessments that both subtly and openly associated transpeople with health disease and social malaise. Mariana also voiced—and on this point Kim would always be categorical and would often get worked up—that trans-related health programs should not continue to be delivered in Mexico City’s HIV Clinic, and that they should instead be offered in all public hospitals and clinics spread throughout the city. When Mariana finished reading her prepared notes, however, she took the chance to say something that was not written on them. Paloma had recently gone to a “sex fair” in a province about 7 hours away from Mexico City, said Mariana, coming up with her own interpretation of the location and purpose of the sexual health conference that had, in fact, taken place in a closer state. Resorting to an eye-catching headline that was characteristic of the sensationalist “prensa amarillista” (yellow press), Mariana said, while showing a newspaper clip, that there had been a recent news article stating that The Warriors association “demanded the elimination of professional assessments for homosexuals.”5 Mariana added, with convincing force that left behind her initial nervousness about public speaking, “We’re not homosexuals. We are trans women. We’re demanding the removal of                                                  5 “Prensa amarillista” (yellow press) refers to the sensationalist tone often found in the tabloids. In Mexico, it often overlaps with the “nota roja” (red press), which reports on gruesome crimes and murders usually in a graphic manner (see Arellano et al. 1993 [1992]). 8 professional assessments for trans women.” That was when the cheerers clapped and shouted in the crowd. This dissertation is a feminist ethnography of the collective organizing efforts of trans women, both activists and on-street sex workers, to gain legal, labour, social, and health rights in Mexico City.6 Based on research carried out between 2009 and 2014, with a period of extended ethnographic fieldwork between April 2010 and August 2011, the chapters in this work focus primarily on the internal tensions existing between symbolically and relatively materially well-positioned trans activists and the generally impoverished female-gendered transpeople, who for the most part work as vendors of sexual services and other goods in the streets of Mexico City to make a living. These tensions are expressed in differing views about daily social life, street vending, vernacular trans- and sex-related vocabularies, and sexual labour more broadly. Not unlike activist intellectuals involved in other realms of public, political, and social life in Mexico (Castañeda 1993), the trans activists who have formal education and a wealth of professional networks set the tone, content, and terms of the debate on trans-related matters. On the contrary, their less schooled and more marginalized counterparts often lack the symbolic and educational capital to intervene effectively in these discussions. While undoubtedly creators of prolific daily social networks in their neighbourhoods and places of work, and while avid and creative users of their own languages, humour, and concepts to understand and render their own surrounding realities comprehensible, those trans women who are street-based vendors, mostly of sexual services, are effectively kept                                                  6 I use the terms collective organizing and activist efforts indistinctively throughout the dissertation. 9 from being able to set, and at times even participate in, the discussions, agenda and policy setting, and the relevant concerns of transpeople in Mexico. I pay particular attention to the contradictory and often exclusionary ways in which local self-appointed trans activists—being aware of and sensitive to the international and regional debates around trans identities, sexual diversity, commercial sex, and human rights—incorporate translocal discourses, ideals, and practices into the local context, often at the cost of excluding local low-income and vernacular understandings of sex–gender systems and labour configurations. The questions this dissertation ultimately seeks to answer are: What organizing efforts have trans women in contemporary Mexico made towards achieving legal, health, and social rights? What have trans women’s collective actions achieved and what barriers have they faced? Lastly, how do local configurations of power in Mexico’s stratified society play out in these collective organizing efforts for trans rights, recognition, and social justice? In what follows, I document the lives, contexts, and politics of a group of female-gendered transpeople involved, to varying degrees, with The Warriors, a street-vending association led by a trans woman. During my extended fieldwork, The Warriors’ leader was seeking to expand the association’s strictly street-vending scope and mission to become a semi-established association simultaneously organized around social, legal, and health issues concerning transpeople in the metropolitan area of Mexico City. I map these emerging organizing efforts against the hegemonic—more visible, heard, and known about—efforts of self-identified trans activists who, despite not having a street-vending background, seek to foster social justice for and in the name of transpeople in Mexico. To 10 critically examine the achievements and failures of these emerging organizing efforts in Mexico, I use a feminist intersectional lens and other critical feminist concepts to explore how, in Mexico City, trans activist politics are simultaneously mediated and enabled by complex intersections of social class, informal on-street sexual labour, sex–gender systems, party politics, public policy, and history. A running focus in this work is the analysis of the ways in which existing structural, symbolic, and material disparities among different segments of the population in Mexico City almost inadvertently but certainly consistently frame the milieu for what is thinkable, conceivable, acceptable, or—in Judith Butler’s terms (2001)—“intelligible” concerning daily trans* realities and sociopolitical demands.7 My dissertation highlights the ways in which such relentless inequalities frame the “erasure”—to use Viviane Namaste’s (2000) concept—of the widespread on-street sexual labour, the seemingly coarse terminologies and sexualized humour, and above all, the precarious material conditions and circumstances in which marginalized, low-income, female-gendered trans* subjects in Mexico City find themselves. My work is informed by and contributes to contemporary debates in the intersecting fields of critical trans and sex work studies, as well as in the ethnographies and ethnohistories in and of Mexico and Mexicans. More broadly, my work takes up concepts and discussions central to feminist scholarship in anthropology and related social science disciplines. I discuss how these bodies of literature conceptually underpin my work below.                                                  7 I explain “trans*” and other terminologies used in this work later in this Introduction. For now, let me say that I use trans* to highlight that specific non-normative sex–gender dynamics are found in different geopolitical and historical contexts, and that they are not necessarily epistemically equivalent across time and space. 11 In Chapter 1, I will discuss the specific pathways—or “auspicious coincidences,” as I conceive of them—that led me to this project.  Intersecting Critical Trans and Sex Work Studies The interdisciplinary field of trans studies has consolidated rapidly through generative intellectual work (Stryker 2006). During the last decade, two trans-focused seminal volumes and a journal have come into print (see Stryker and Aizura 2013; Stryker and Currah 2014; Stryker and Whittle 2006). Scholars and activists in the field have put forth successful interventions challenging prevailing understandings about gender, gender identities and subjectivities, and normative sex–gender systems (e.g., Bornstein 1995; Butler 1999 [1990], 2001; Califia 1997; Feinberg 1992; Stone 2006 [1991]; Stryker 1994, 2008). One of the most enduring lessons from these contributions has been the confirmation that—just like historian Joan Scott (1986) had argued before transgender studies emerged as a field on its own—gender is socio-historically constructed, and gender expressions and manifestations are complex, contextual, and shifting. Several book-length studies and ethnographies about trans* subjects, subjectivities, practices, and communities in different parts of the world have been published over the past four decades (e.g., Boellstorff 2005; Devor 1997; Halberstam 1998; Manalansan 2003; Najmabadi 2014; Namaste 2000; Nanda 1999; Newton 1979 [1972]; Noble 2006; Shelley 2008; Spade 2015 [2011]; Valentine 2007). Research about subjects and practices that unsettle normative genders and sexualities in Latin American and Caribbean contexts has similarly abounded (e.g., Barbosa 2010, 2013; Benedetti 2005; Berkins 2003; Berkins and 12 Fernández 2005; Butler 1998; Camacho Zambrano 2009 [2007]; Carrier 1995; Carrillo 2002; Cutuli 2013a, 2013b; de la Dehesa 2010; Fernández 2004; Green 1999; Klein 1998; Kulick 1997, 1998a, 1998c; Lancaster 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998; Lewis 2010; Núñez Noriega 2009; Ochoa 2009; Oliveira 1994; Parker 1999; Pelúcio 2005; Sigal 2005; Silva 1993, 1996; Stout 2014). These studies demonstrate prolific debates and developments in the field through their documentation of a multiplicity of sex–gender arrangements in different historical and geopolitical spaces. On the whole, these studies help put forward a vision of scholarship that seeks the elucidation of social realities for the ultimate advancement of humans’ circumstances. Mexico, in particular, has proved a fertile ground for historical and ethnographic research about past and present trans* realities. For example, historians Gabriela Cano (2006) and Susan Deeds (2005) explore past trans* subjectivities and practices in southern and northern Mexico respectively. Cano does so by revisiting Mexican Revolutionary history with a renewed gender history and queer theory lens, which enables her to reveal transgender histories and explore the limits of heteronormative and gender essentialist feminist historical interpretations. Deeds, in turn, looks at Inquisition trial records to uncover racialized subversions of the prevailing sex–gender order in New Vizcaya during the late 17th century. With a more recent historical frame, Susana Vargas Cervantes (2014) explores photographic representations of “mujercitos” (lit. little womanized men) in the popular “nota roja” (red press) tabloid Alarma! (lit. alarm) during the 1970s, showing how in Mexico, sex–gender subjectivities are imbricated in broader patterns of class- and race-marked difference. 13 Contemporary trans* experiences and circumstances have been documented with “jotas” and “vestidas” in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, State of Mexico (Prieur 1994, 1998a, 1998b), “gay travestíes” in Colima, Colima (González Pérez 2001, 2003), “sexoservidores transgénero” in Xalapa, Veracruz (Córdova Plaza 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007), “transvestite/transgender sex workers” in Tijuana, Baja California (Castillo 2006; Castillo et al. 2010), “travestíes” in Oaxaca, Oaxaca (Higgins and Coen 2000, 2002), “transgender sex workers” in Guadalajara, Jalisco and San Francisco, California (Howe et al. 2008), and “travestis” and “sexual minorities” in northern Mexico and Mexico City (Lewis 2008, 2012). These studies demonstrate that the terms we use to conceptualize what we now know as “transgender” realities have shifted across Mexico over time. Similarly, this body of literature shows that trans* research subjects share similarities but also bear specificity when seen in light of the lives and circumstances portrayed in classic ethnographies of trans* subjects in other regions of Latin America (see Benedetti 2005; Fernández 2004; Kulick 1998c; Oliveira 1994; Silva 1993, 1996). In particular, Annick Prieur’s (1998b) work is significant because it stands, to date, as the only monograph-length study about trans* subjects in central Mexico during the 1990s. Her research shows that class-based aesthetics and constraints framed the lives and embodiments of marginalized trans* subjects in ways that did not match other co-existing sex–gender systems in Mexico at the time (see Carrier 1995; Gutmann 1996), and that these systems were likely shaped along gender, regional, and class lines. Ana Elisa Liguori and Gerardo Ortega’s (1990 [1989]) experiential narrative about “vestidas” in Mexico City, and Victor Ronquillo’s (1994) journalistic account of a series of murders of “travestis” largely involved in the sex trade in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, and Mexico City, are possibly the 14 only direct precursors of Prieur’s work. These early works are valuable because they allow us to learn about trans* subjectivities and experiences, as well as the brutal violence faced by trans* sexual labourers in central and southern Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time, from the existing research, we know that indigenous configurations of non-normative sex–gender realities have existed and continue to exist throughout the country. Pete Sigal (2005, 2007), for instance, documents “cuilonis” or “patlaches” among historical indigenous Nahua people, while Marinella Miano Borruso (1998, 2002) and Lynn Stephen (2002) document “muxe’” among historical and contemporary indigenous Zapotec people. Therefore, while understandings of “queer” or “trans*” people are, in essence, contemporary, it is important to note that the practices that today could be seen through such lenses have existed throughout time and across different ethnic groups in Mexico.8 My work draws on the wealth of research carried out on the subject to date. Yet, I draw primarily on critical trans scholars who have both demonstrated and expressly called on researchers to pay attention to how trans* (gender) realities intersect with other systems of social organization and uneven power. One limitation of classical trans studies is that they place the focus on gender identities or normativities. While this lens is necessary, it is also not sufficient for grappling with complex realities—for example, social class, on-street                                                  8 As Shaylih Muehlmann’s (2013b) research among the Cucapá in northern Mexico shows, the struggles of indigenous people to have their indigeneity recognized by the state have accommodated shifting socioeconomic and political circumstances. The ways in which “indigenous people” are recognized and counted in Mexico have changed over time. Indigenous and ethno-linguistic groups in Mexico range from 53 to 68 depending on the sources (see Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas 2008: 41–42; Navarrete Linares 2010: 13; Scheffler 1992: 14), with over 15 million indigenous people and about 7 million speakers of indigenous languages across the country according to the 2010 national census (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas 2014: 13–14). 15 sexual labour, or informal vending— that are not subsumed by gender expressions and identities or sex–gender systems alone. Consequently, I make use of the work of critical trans scholars who have advanced the discussions by looking at intersections. That is, these scholars use conceptual frameworks that examine how co-existing issues intersect in the lived experiences of people, and in doing so, challenge “conceptual limitations of […] single-issue analyses” (Crenshaw 1989: 139). Dean Spade (2009, 2015 [2011]), for example, draws on the intellectual legacy of African-American feminists (Crenshaw 1991; Davis 1981, 2003) to articulate critiques of the prison industrial complex and the lived realities and necessities of marginalized transpeople of colour who are disproportionally incarcerated and murdered in the United States. From this, Spade challenges mainstream trans activism framed within neoliberal legal inclusion and criminal punishment frameworks, which fail to account for the interlocking ways that built-in system inequalities—what he calls “administrative systems” (2015 [2011]: 11)— unevenly govern and affect the lives of the trans* poor. Viviane Namaste (2000, 2011 [2005]) has similarly put forth a critical stance from within and for, but also against, mainstream trans and feminist praxis and theory. Namaste suggests that the debates around exclusion, inclusion, and gender identity are narrow and largely pertinent to Anglo-US gay and lesbian politics. Based on research carried out in Canada, Namaste demonstrates that transpeople are unevenly criminalized and unequally excluded and erased from the institutional world. Generic accounts of transpeople’s circumstances centred on gender identity leave the concerns of less privileged transpeople out of the discussions. In this way, the circumstances of drug users, prostitutes, inmates, 16 and homeless transpeople remain invisible, and the structures that sustain class and racial privileges remain intact. If one were to follow a classical trans analysis for the study of the issues faced by transpeople in Mexico, Víctor Ronquillo’s (1994) account of the serial killings of “travestis” in southern Mexico in the early 1990s could simply be seen as homophobic (then) and transphobic (now) hate crimes. A critical intersectional lens, instead, allows me to observe that many of the murdered people Ronquillo describes were female-gendered individuals and were likely performing on-street sexual labour. Such a critical trans lens is of significance when accounting for the realities of the low-income trans women in Mexico City with whom I carried out research because, as I will document throughout my dissertation, a sizeable number of female-gendered transpeople seek to make a living from the street-based sex trade. An intersectional frame helps me shed light on sex–gender configurations, but also on social class and informal on-street sexual labour as key structural factors shaping the lives of transpeople in Mexico today. Other scholars have made similar points in other contexts when they emphasize that trans* realities are underpinned by broader processes of epistemic violence, classism, racism, colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism (e.g., Boellstorff et al. 2014; Cabral and Viturro 2006; Connell 2012; Namaste 2009, 2015; Nichols 2012; Snorton and Haritaworn 2013; Spade 2012; Spade and Willse 2000). Accordingly, my dissertation draws on the insights of sex work scholarship to provide a nuanced account of female-gendered transpeople in Mexico City. Built upon social constructionist approaches to sexuality (Foucault 1990 [1976]; Rubin 1984; Vance 1989; Weeks 2003 [1986]), the sex industry and commercial sex in historical and 17 geopolitical world contexts have become significant areas of investigation (e.g., Agustín 2005; Allison 1994; Bloch 2003, 2009; Bruckert 2002; Day 2007; Frank 2002; Hubbard 1997; Ross 2009, 2012; Ross and Greenwell 2005; Sanders et al. 2015; Walkowitz 1992; White 1990). Socioeconomic and political configurations around paid sexual transactions have also been documented in Latin American and Caribbean historical and present-day settings (e.g., Bliss 2001, 2004; Brennan 2004; Cabezas 1998; Carrier-Moisan 2015; Esteves 1989; French 1992; Hardy 2016; Kelly 2008; Lamas 2016b; Padilla 2007; Parrini et al. 2017; Rivers-Moore 2012; Williams 2014). By providing exhaustive ethnographic, historical, and sociological data, critical sex work researchers have helped uproot ingrained conceptions of paid sex as a pathological activity (Pheterson 1990), and of the sex trade as a labour niche that is unavoidably locked into a victimization versus liberation frame (Shaver 1994). More specifically, the academic literature on the subject has documented sex workers’ structural and working vulnerabilities (Browne et al. 2016 [2010]; Ditmore 2008; Hardy 2016; Jenness 1993; Kelly 2008; Sanders and Hardy 2013a, 2013b), questioned why certain segments of the sex trade are constructed as social problems at particular points in time (Brock 1998; Jenness 1990; Pheterson 1996), inquired into the exclusionary spatial dimensions at play in the regulation of sex work (Hubbard et al. 2008; Pratt 2005; Sanchez 2004), explained the logics of sex work and slut stigma (Attwood 2007; Pheterson 1993; Sanders 2017; Weitzer 2017), and investigated the many ways in which sex workers, despite multiple barriers (Poel 1995; Weitzer 1991; West 2000), have been able to articulate voices of their own through collective action, and to participate in local and global debates affecting their work (Chapkis 1997; Gall 2006; Hardy 2010, 2016 [2010]; 18 Kempadoo 1998a; Klein 1998; Lamas 1996; Lopes 2006; Misra et al. 2005; Pheterson 1989; Pillai et al. 2008; Ross 2006). By looking at the complexities of commercial sex within specific geographical and political contexts, critical sex work scholars have shed light on sex workers’ perspectives and experiences (Egan et al. 2006; Nagle 1997). My dissertation builds upon this body of scholarship specifically by employing a sexual labour lens to understand transpeople’s lives, livelihoods, contexts, and sociopolitical demands in Mexico City. A sexual labour framework—as Eileen Boris, Stephanie Gilmore, and Rhacel Parreñas (2010) suggest—allows us to “expand discussions on commercial sex as an economic and labor enterprise in which workers confront subjugations at the same time that they resist and maintain some semblance of control over their labor” (131–32). Similarly to earlier discussions about women’s work, reproductive work, domestic work, and informal work in Latin America and the Caribbean (Babb 1985; Blum 2004; Fernández-Kelly 1983; Freeman 2000; Goldsmith 1992; Nash and Safa 1976, 1985), a sexual labour lens works to broaden notions of what constitutes work at certain geopolitical junctures, and lays bare the ingrained gendered, classed, racial, and moralistic biases behind the repeated erasures of specific people’s labour. Within this frame, sexual labour is labour because it is a human activity carried out to meet basic needs, produce, and reproduce human labour power and life (Kempadoo 1998b; White 1990). In addition to highlighting the physical, emotional, and social work involved in paid sex transactions and the sex trade, a sexual labour lens also enables us to situate discussions about sex work within a labour rights framework rather than a moral framework. However precarious or vulnerable sex workers’ labour circumstances may be, a sexual labour lens 19 contributes to the ongoing worldwide struggles of sex work decriminalization, rather than to the ineffectual and misguided policies of sex work criminalization and eradication that draw on moral crusades rather than on evidence (Doezema 2000; Kulick 2003; McClintock 1993; Weitzer 2010; Zatz 1997). Moreover, a sexual labour lens supports the struggles against workers’ structural vulnerability and precarity under neoliberal capitalism. Kamala Kempadoo (1998b) makes this point clear when she argues that, within global capitalist economy, sexual labour forms a primary source of profit and wealth. Consequently, Kempadoo (1998b: 8) continues, “If sexual labor is seen to be subject to exploitation, as with any other labor, it can also be considered as a basis for mobilization in struggles for working conditions, rights and benefits and for broader resistances against the oppression of working peoples, paralleling situations in other informal and unregulated sectors.” If we follow Michael Denning’s (2010: 79) premise that “under capitalism, the only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited,” then a labour lens applied to the sex trade would effectively help to strategize the resistances of sex workers as workers struggling alongside other precarious labour sectors (Hardy 2010; Lopes 2006). Sex work needs not to be the “ultimate precarious labour” as Teela Sanders and Kate Hardy (2013b) convincingly explain; to move in that direction applying a labour lens to the sex trade is indispensable. I employ this frame because, in my view, it acknowledges people’s efforts and structural circumstances, accounts for sex workers’ arduousness and industriousness, and stresses the humanity and hopefully the improved futures of sex workers worldwide. Employing a sexual labour framework to understand transpeople’s lives, livelihoods, and collective organizing struggles in Mexico City is particularly relevant because, as I have 20 briefly pointed out earlier and will explain in detail throughout my dissertation, on-street sexual labour is an economic activity that many trans women have been involved in at some point in their lives. In spite of this, dominant trans politics in Mexico that have focused on introducing legal and medical reforms concerning gender identity, have done this without paying attention to the ways in which social class and on-street labour frame the circumstances and concerns of low-income trans women who seek to make a living as informal workers selling sexual services and other goods in the streets of Mexico City. In sum, I acknowledge that both fields, critical trans and sex work studies, have a wealth of insights to contribute to their particular topical issues. Yet, my work conceptually intersects these two fields to make visible a dimension of transpeople’s lives in Mexico that has been largely overlooked; in Mexico City, at this particular point in time, on-street informal sexual labour shapes the lives and livelihoods of many trans women, but self-defined trans activists have overlooked or downplayed the central place of on-street sex work in the mainstream struggles for transpeople’s recognition. Many studies to date have either focused on transpeople’s mobilizing efforts (e.g., Currah et al. 2006; Devor and Matte 2004; Juang 2006; Minter 2006; Slamah 2005; Stone 2006 [1991]; Valentine 2007), or sex worker organizing (e.g., Gall 2006; Jenness 1990, 1993; Lamas 1993, 1996; Lopes 2006; Madrid Romero et al. 2014; Misra et al. 2005; Poel 1995; Ross 2006; Weitzer 1991). My work builds on, but ultimately departs from, these studies in that it treats both movements as interrelated rather than as independent and distinct. In this sense, my dissertation is as much about transpeople as it is about sex workers. This intersecting space is illuminated by benefiting from the insights of both 21 critical trans and sex work studies, and specifically by the employment of a sexual labour lens to shed light on the lives and circumstances of transpeople in Mexico City. In other words, my work goes against some of the dominant currents in earlier trans studies, which focused primarily on issues of gender identity and gender troubling (Butler 1999 [1990], 2001). Instead, my ethnographic insights lead me to take up Mirha-Soleil Ross’s provocation for non-trans allies carrying out research on transpeople’s issues. She said: “I do think that non-trans allies can be very useful, but not if they are to swallow uncritically the discourses of transgender activists. […] So the best allies in any movement are the ones who, after a careful examination of key issues, are not scared to take unpopular positions” (in Namaste 2011 [2005]: 130). Seeking to support transpeople’s struggles for justice in Mexico, I make use of an intersecting sex work and trans studies conceptual framework that seems most pertinent to appreciate the articulations of sex–gender, social class, and informal labour that shape the contexts of low-income, female-gendered, trans street-based sex workers and vendors in Mexico City.  Ethnographies of Mexico and Mexicans My work also draws upon the ethnographic and ethnohistorical work of Mexico and Mexicans.9 This body of literature has included both “gigantic” analytical lenses to explore what constitutes “Mexico” and “the Mexican” (León Portilla 1978; Paz 1959 [1950], 1990; Piña Chan 1963; Ramos 1951 [1934]) and “miniature” accounts to underscore regional                                                  9 I use Mexico and Mexicans as distinct terms to reference the fact that Mexico is a geopolitical category that includes people other than just “Mexicans” or “Mexican citizens,” and that Mexicans are not bounded to the geographical and physical limits of the Mexican nation-state. 22 differentiations and histories (Bonfil Batalla 1989 [1987]; Lomnitz-Adler 1992, 2001).10 Drawing on challenges to grand narratives about Mexico and Mexicans (Bartra 1992 [1987], 1999; Simpson 1966 [1941]), and on studies focused on varied configurations of class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality (Acuña 1996; Alonso 2004; Anzaldúa 1999 [1987]; Behar 1993; Cano 2006; Fernández-Kelly 1983; Gutmann 1996, 2002; Lomnitz 1977 [1975]; Muehlmann 2013b; Nash 1997; Prieur 1998b; Wright 2001), I critically examine the ways and extent to which scholars of Mexico and Mexicans (e.g., Fuentes 2008 [1958]; Lewis 1961, 1975 [1959]; Riding 1989 [1985]) have willingly and unwillingly been the producers of notions of insurmountable cultural differences and “exotic alterities” devoid of history and dynamism (Abu-Lughod 1991; Gutmann 1997; Keesing 1990; Narayan 2000). In my work, I am particularly interested in the ways in which Mexico and Mexicans have often been conceived of as coherent wholes, irrespective of historical and regional variety. Perhaps not surprisingly, fossilized, essentialist, and culturalist explanations about Mexico and Mexicans continue to draw on selective readings of gender, sexuality, and racialized class configurations that fail to account for the existence of what historian Lesley Byrd Simpson (1966 [1941]) called, over 70 years ago, the “many Mexicos.” In many of the popular understandings of this group of people and this piece of land, social class and differential labour niches are flattened out, and thus more sophisticated understandings about how Mexico is a stratified society, and with them, the possibility of successfully overturning inequities, are missed.                                                  10 I take the terms “gigantic” and “miniature” from Dorothy Ko’s (2005) work; I will explain the use of these terms shortly. 23 Selective readings of the scholarship on Mexico and Mexicans, and Latin Americans more broadly, have also had the harmful effect of producing and popularizing ideas of Latin American and Mexican “machismo,” “sexual culture,” “culture of poverty,” or “conservatism” (Lewis 1961, 1975 [1959]; Paz 1959 [1950]; Ramos 1951 [1934]). Similar to various scholars interested in historicizing practices and preventing indiscriminate lumping (e.g., Amuchástegui 2001; Amuchástegui and Aggleton 2007; Beattie 2002; Bellinghausen 1990; González-López 2004; Gutmann 1996; Hirsch and Nathanson 2001; Monsiváis 1995; Navarro 2002; Szasz 2007; Wentzell 2011), I aim to contribute to the refinement of current ideas about Mexico and Mexicans. For despite the tremendous amount of work that has been done in this direction, stigmatizing attitudes and discourses against Mexico and Mexicans continue to exist (Hill 1993; Mendoza-Denton 2017). In a site of more than 110 million people, totalizing depictions—what Uma Narayan (2000) has aptly called the “package picture of cultures”—are unrealistic. Examining the lives and contexts of transpeople in Mexico City grants me an opportunity to write against the existing “controlling images”—as Patricia Hill Collins (2009 [2000]) terms the constructed ideologies that serve to justify the oppression of structurally marginalized subjects—that affect them, and in doing so, write against dominant tropes about Mexico and Mexicans. Using the intimate vantage point that my ethnographic fieldwork allowed me, I seek to make sense of the consequences of these kind of quasi-fictional imaginings (Said 1989). I thus shed light on the ways in which Mexico City’s complex politics offers opportunities to tell unexpected histories. 24 In seeking to provide a nuanced account, I often employ Dorothy Ko’s (2005) “gigantic” and “miniature” metaphors. In a beautifully written study of changing footbinding practices and meanings in China between the 19th and mid-20th centuries, Ko uses these metaphors to advance an argument for more localized or concrete “miniature” feminist historical accounts. Ko holds that we need to make an explicit effort to challenge singular monolithic narratives and reject any subscription to unilinear, “gigantic” historical accounts and, along with them, the sense of a global march of time.11 I use Ko’s metaphors to both pay attention to the particular and draw comparisons with the general. I see value in finding parallels with circumstances found in the “gigantic” Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, or other parts of the world. However, I also hold that these should not detract from the “miniature,” specific circumstances found in Mexico City.  Feminist Analytics Lastly, in my work I make use of several feminist concepts that have been employed in anthropology and other social sciences, and that continue to be pertinent to understanding complex, shifting realities. In particular, I have tried to use the work of feminists of colour, trans feminists, and sex work scholars to account for the livelihoods, contexts, and struggles of trans activists and sex workers in Mexico. I draw upon the insights of Audre Lorde (2007 [1984]) and Evelynn Hammonds (1997) who respectively propose the concepts of “horizontal hostilities” and “politics of                                                  11 What Anne McClintock (1995) compellingly called “the angel of progress” in her critique of the ideology of global progress embedded in imperialist and colonial history. 25 respectability” to understand some of the class-based dynamics I encountered among transpeople in Mexico. Lorde’s (2007 [1984]: 48) notion of “horizontal hostility” emerged as an effort to examine the “vertical lines of power or authority” existing between black and white women in the United States in the 1980s. I use it to investigate the cross-cutting power differential dynamics existing among trans “peers,” particularly between trans activists and on-street trans sex workers. Hammonds’s notion of the “politics of respectability” referred to the tactics of moral respectability that Black women drew on to ward off racist tropes about promiscuity and sexual availability circulating in the United States during the 1990s.12 I use it to explore the ways in which sexual labour, which is tainted with stigma, is a contentious point among trans activists. Similarly, I make use of the classic concepts of “controlling images” (Collins 2009 [2000]: 76–106) and “whore stigma” (Pheterson 1990, 1993) to understand relentless gendered and sexualized configurations that still, despite the years passing, seem to hold on with a firm grip. As fiction-like ideologies, controlling images have symbolic and material repercussions for the people to whom they refer (Collins 2005; Said 1989). I use this concept to explore the ways in which transpeople in Mexico City, and Mexico and Mexicans more broadly, have often been imagined by Mexico City’s inhabitants and the media—a process which has had harmful material and symbolic consequences.                                                  12 Frances White (2001: 36) credits Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (1993) for articulating the notion of the “politics of respectability” when she examined the dilemmas faced by black women seeking to fend off the stereotyping and abuse often ideologically linked to negative and simplistic images about black people and blackness. However, to the best of my understanding, it was Evelynn Hammonds (1997) who brought this dilemma of respectability directly into the field of sexuality. Hammonds drew on the earlier intervention of Hortense Spillers (1984) during the famous 1984 Barnard College “Pleasure and Danger” conference, and on the work of Hazel Carby (1986) on black singers constructing themselves as sexual subjects through the musical idiom of the blues, to build her landmark arguments about the politics of silence, visibility, and articulation. 26 “Whore stigma” (Pheterson 1993), “sex work stigma” (Weitzer 2017), “slut shaming” (Attwood 2007), “prostitution-related stigma” (Lewis et al. 2013), “whorephobia” (Bruckert and Chabot 2010) are concepts that sex workers and allies have articulated to describe and stand against the legal, social, and symbolic repudiation of sex work, sex workers, and people presumed to be or act like sex workers. Gail Pheterson (1990: 397) defines “whore stigma” as the “social and legal branding of women who are suspected of being or acting like prostitutes,” and considers the stigma attached to women prostitutes as a general “female gender stigma” (398) with harmful legal, social, economic, and political ramifications. I draw on Pheterson’s concept to understand the dynamics of stigma attached to low-income, female-gendered, trans on-street sexual labourers in Mexico City. The notion of “whore stigma” draws on Erving Goffman’s (1963) classic theory of stigma, in which stigma is seen as an undesirable attribute that renders a person deeply discredited and tainted, and spoils the person’s social identity, disqualifying them from full social acceptance. Donald Weitzer (2017: 3) reminds us that stigma “remains an occupational hazard” for sex workers worldwide. Teela Sanders (2017: 1) supports this point when she says that there is ample evidence for the pervasiveness of “public disapproval and structural prejudice” against “sex workers and those who directly or indirectly work within commercial sex and related industries.” Chris Bruckert and Frédérique Chabot (2010: 61) explain “whorephobia” as the “prejudice and bias against sex workers,” a form of widespread discrimination facing sex workers, with stigma laying at its 27 roots.13 For all of these reasons, the concept of “whore stigma” allows me to see the intersecting “repudiations” (Shelley 2008) that transpeople face for challenging sex–gender normative arrangements but also for making a living as sexual labourers. Throughout this work, I also draw on Viviane Namaste’s (2015) concept of “oversights.” Namaste (2009) has been particularly critical of the way in which transpeople’s bodies and livelihoods have been misused in Anglo-American feminist thinking to elucidate theoretical debates without much concern for the actual daily and lived concerns of transpeople. I take up her notion of “oversights,” understood as both what is both overly seen and what is overlooked, to examine several ways in which some transpeople’s lives and circumstances in Mexico have been omitted, while others have been put under the spotlight. The aim is to help resituate dominant visions about trans politics and on-street sex work in Mexico City. The concept of “normativities,” and sex–gender normative arrangements in particular, is also of value throughout this dissertation. The notion of something in societies being “normative” has served to highlight the dominant or hegemonic assumptions entrenched in daily life and institutions often without the spoken acknowledgment of their existence. The concept has had several iterations, from the discussion of normative sex–gender systems (Rubin 1975) to heteronormativity (Rich 1980), homonormativity (Stryker 2008), cisnormativity (Enke 2013), and lately, transnormativity (Snorton and Haritaworn 2013). Gender normativity, in particular, highlights presumed and expected gender behaviours and expressions (Stryker 2008). I often refer to sex–gender normativities                                                  13 Bruckert and Chabot (2010: 79) state that the term emerged among French activists as “putophobie” (lit. whorephobia). 28 because, despite the analytical value of distinguishing both fields (Rubin 1984), in Mexico City and in many parts of the world (Valentine 2004; Waites 2009) “gender” and “sexuality,” or “gender identity” and “sexual orientation,” continue to be closely articulated. One example of these articulations is the way in which trans* subjects in Mexico are often seen as part of the “sexual diversity” groups. A clear-cut sexuality/gender distinction is not always transferable to daily life, even when some activists are seeking to disentangle one field from the other. More broadly, my work draws on and contributes to anticolonial and postcolonial feminist theories in two ways. First, I make use of the concept of “intersectionality,” which, as I have explained earlier, resists “single-issue” analytical approaches (Crenshaw 1989). This intersecting approach has been of great value to postcolonial feminist scholars because, as Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991) notes, racism and other systems of oppression are often what affect people, in addition to sexism. The interactions among overlapping axes of social organization shed light on experiences that are, in fact, articulated on the ground. My dissertation takes up this principle and applies it to the intersecting analysis of transgender politics and on-street sex work in Mexico. Second, my work also contributes to an anticolonial/anti-imperial impetus in feminist scholarship (Amos and Parmar 1984; McClintock 1995) in that I refuse to easily conflate Anglo–North American understandings of trans and sex work issues with what happens in Mexico City. My careful thinking around translations of realities and terminologies into English—as I explain in the following section—further captures this refusal.14                                                  14 See also Note on Italics and Translations and Note on Names and Last Names of Published Authors in the front pages of this work. 29 Terminologies Anyone familiar with the emerging and rapidly changing critical trans studies and sex work literatures may easily attest to the fact that grappling with terms and concepts can be a slippery road. Both historically and currently, terms employed to understand these fields have had different sociopolitical leanings. Consider, for instance, the conceptual and political shifts behind both the emergence and usage—at different times and for different purposes—of the English terms “whores” (Pheterson 1989), “prostitutes” (Jenness 1993; Pheterson 1996), and “sex workers” (Leigh 1997). Despite the shifts, they have all served at one time to voice struggles in support of sex workers worldwide; for example, these words were used to convene the First and Second World Whores’ Congresses respectively in 1985 and 1986 (Pheterson 1989), to organize committees for Prostitutes’ Rights (Brock 1998; Poel 1995; Weitzer 1991; West 2000), or to rally for Unions of Sex Workers (Gall 2006; Kempadoo and Doezema 1998; Lopes 2006; Misra et al. 2005). In Mexico, there has been a gradual shift from sexoservidoras (lit. sex-service providers), a term still in wide circulation a decade ago (see Bautista López and Conde Rodríguez 2006; Gómez Flores 2007), to the term trabajadoras sexuales (lit. female sex workers) (see García Martínez 2016; Redacción 2015), especially among those sympathetic to sex workers’ wellbeing and recognition (see Lamas 1996, 2016b; Salud Integral para la Mujer A.C. 2010). Other terms coexist: comercio sexual (lit. sexual commerce) or prostitución (lit. prostitution). I imagine a few others will continue to emerge. Each terminological innovation has either sought to illuminate an overlooked angle or upset prevalent wisdom to make the debates more accurate and our understandings more sophisticated. 30 In this work, I have made the following decisions about the terminology I employ. The logic informing my choices has attempted to be sensitive to the most up-to-date debates and accepted terminological frames, as well as to account accurately for the ethnographic findings. I acknowledge that all terms may have limitations. Terms are inherently “elusive” (Manalansan 2003: 50) and categories should remain tentative (Valentine 2004), or else risk their explanatory power. However, I hope that the following terminological entries provide a sense of the difficulties of translating realities occurring mostly in Spanish and in Mexico to an English-reading audience, and of the complexities of categories travelling across geopolitical and historical landscapes. Sex Workers, Sexual Labourers: “I knew that redefining prostitution from prostitutes’ perspectives would be my life’s work,” said Carol Leigh (1997: 228) when she sought to carve a space for tolerance and recognition for the women working in the sex industry. Since then, the term “sex work” has gained worldwide recognition (see Campbell and O'Neill 2006; Delacoste and Alexander 1998 [1987]; Kempadoo and Doezema 1998). It is now largely used with two intentions in mind: first, to stand against common derogatory shaming terms (e.g., “prostitute,” “whore,” “slut”) and disempowering victimizing terms (e.g., “prostituted,” “sex slaves”) used to disrespect and disavow people who work in the sex trade, and second, to highlight the labour involved in making a living in the sex industry. There have been attempts by sex workers themselves to turn the tables around and reframe the debate in their own terms. Take for example, the term “puta” (Portuguese, lit. whore) reclaimed by sex workers in Brazil to articulate a “prostitutes’ movement” without shame or apology for using an otherwise socio-politically tainted word (see Blanchette and 31 Murray 2016; Leite 2008). Similarly, there have been scholars who have critically enquired whether terms like “prostitution” or “sex work” can be employed to accurately reflect commercial sexual practices across cultures (Wardlow 2004) or to undertake epidemiological intervention research (Zalduondo 1999 [1991]). However, I use “sex work” and “sexual labour,” as well as “sex worker” and “sexual labourer,” to expressly contribute to the struggle for the respect and recognition of the people involved in the sex trade, and to clearly point out that my dissertation draws on a sexual labour framework (Boris et al. 2010; Kempadoo 1998b) to understand paid sex work issues in Mexico and elsewhere. It is important to note that occasionally, and still preserving a labour lens, I use the term “prostitution” when accuracy to the historical or ethnographic records merits it. Transpeople: I take my cue from Christopher Shelley (2008) who uses the term “transpeople” (as a single word) to collectively refer to people who share a trans history, and thus a shared experience of trans erasure and repudiation despite their specific identity differences. Other descriptive or identity terms referring to trans realities and subjectivities have gained currency at different times in the Global North, including: “transsexual and transgendered people” (Namaste 2000), “transgender” (Valentine 2002, 2007), “transgender women” and “transgender men” (Sevelius 2009; Sevelius et al. 2016), “trans” and “trans-” (Stryker et al. 2008), “trans*” (Tompkins 2014), “gender variant” and “gender fluid” (Roen 2002, 2016), “non-binary” (Frohard-Dourlent et al. 2017; Harris 2012), and also, “transgender and gender nonconforming people” (American Psychological Association 2015). Conceptualizations have thus changed over time with critical analytical, sociopolitical, legal, and medico-pathologizing consequences. 32 In such a shifting context, I choose “transpeople” over other terms because, as Nicholas Matte, Aaron Devor, and Theresa Vladicka (2009: 44) state, transpeople is a broad “umbrella” concept that underscores “the need to depathologize and recognize difference among people who may or may not see themselves falling under its purview.”15 This term thus aims to act as a placeholder for different expressions of trans life and recognition due to its gender inclusive and more abstract character. It also highlights my effort to avoid imposing a firm label upon everyone I met through this research, and to keep in mind the varying and shaky quality of “trans” categories.  More significantly, in my view, using the term “transpeople” does not immediately situate issues faced by transpeople—as “transgender” often appears to do—strictly in the realm of gender identity or gender expression. I agree with seminal scholars in the field that transpeople, in one way or another, challenge normative sex–gender systems (see Butler 1999 [1990], 2001). Yet, as I will show in my dissertation, transpeople’s issues in Mexico City are as much about social class and on-street informal labour as they are about interlocking sex–gender normativities. One of the central tenets of this dissertation is that, in Mexico City, particularly among low-income individuals, female-gendered transpeople’s realities are inextricably shaped by simultaneous labour, class, and sex–gender configurations and concerns. The term “transpeople” thus allows me to convey geopolitical                                                  15 T. Benjamin Singer (2014) highlights the histories and politics of the transgender “umbrella” when he states that such a visual metaphor supposes that sex–gender formations are “taxonomically containable” (259) within its open canopy. This “aggregative categorical imaginary” (259) often misleads people to assume that those contained underneath it form a prior, naturally organized grouping, which in turn obscures its construction through imaginary classification efforts. Singer claims that since the publication of Leslie Feinberg’s (1992) Transgender Liberation, the “transgender umbrella” image has displaced visual imaginaries of a gender nonconforming “continuum” or a “particular mode of being” (260). 33 and historical specificities encountered in Mexico City, and Mexico more broadly, without uncritically imposing meanings emerging from Anglo–North American contexts. Trans*: Avery Tompkins (2014) explains that unlike the terms trans-, trans, or transgender, the use of trans* with the asterisk seeks to acknowledge and open space to include multiple possibilities of gender identities and expressions. Because the asterisk is a wildcard character in internet search engines, proponents of this term aim to contest “binary notions of transness” (Tompkins 2014: 27) that only include “trans women” and “trans men.” Hence, the more recent appearance and use of terms like “non-binary,” “genderqueer,” or “transfeminine” in the English-speaking world to refer to people who are not or do not want to be easily pinned down to an “either or” approach of gender identification or gender expression narrowed down to only two options (see Roen 2002). Yet, the term trans* is not without discussion. Canadian trans activist Susan Gapka, for example, has expressed discomfort with the use of an asterisk because trans subjects are people, not the result of an internet search.16 Additionally, the term trans* appears to narrowly frame transpeople’s issues within the domain of gender identity or gender expression to the exclusion, for example, of the realm of sexual identity or sexual orientation. Tompkins (2014) emphasizes multiplicity along (and even outside) the gender spectrum. Nevertheless, since trans* seems to be one of the contemporary English terms that offers space for the widest possible multiplicity, I think it can be further stretched to encompass geopolitical and historical diversity. This is particularly important when                                                  16 I thank Susan Gapka for graciously allowing me to write about this here. 34 examining scholarly publications focused on trans* subjects in different locales. Allied scholars need to find ways to refer to transpeople as a collective to help advance the social justice struggles of transpeople worldwide. The same applies to sex workers as a group. At the same time, allied scholars cannot succumb to essentialist group understandings that do a disservice to social justice struggles by flattening important sociocultural, economic, geopolitical, and historical specificities. Hence, after reflecting on the most appropriate way to convey the experiences and circumstances of female-gendered transpeople in Mexico City to an English-speaking audience, and considering the existing social science literature on transpeople in Mexico, I have chosen to use the term trans* with the following bent in my dissertation. I use the term to highlight that we might see, for example, fa’afafine (Wallace 1999), leitῑ or fakaleitῑ (Besnier 2004), hijra (Nanda 2007 [1985]), kathoey (Jackson 2007 [2000]), mak nyahs (Slamah 2005), or waria (Boellstorff 2008) as examples of “transpeople” across cultures. Or, specifically for Mexico, that we may see historical indigenous Nahua cuilonis or patlaches (Sigal 2005, 2007), historical and contemporary indigenous Zapotec muxe’ (Miano Borruso 2002; Stephen 2002), or even mulatta slave Antonia de Soto (Deeds 2005), “the 41” (Buffington 2003; Monsiváis 2002) or revolutionary figure Amelio Robles (Cano 2006, 2014) as “queer,” “transvestite,” “transgender,” “third gender,” or “transpeople.”17                                                  17 Antonia de Soto faced an Inquisition trial for subversions of magic and witchcraft, and insurrections to the prevailing gender order for “masquerading as a man” during colonial times in the northern New Vizcaya, today northern Mexico (Deeds 2005: 95). “The 41” were 42 men detained—one was presumably released for being a family member of the then-president Porfirio Díaz—after they were found dressed as women and dancing with each other in a lavish party in Mexico City in 1901 (Buffington 2003; Monsiváis 2002). Amelio Robles was a coronel during the Mexican revolution who forged and adopted a permanent masculine identity for himself at a time of algid social and political upheaval. Initially, feminist historians approached the story of Robles seeking to contribute to the recovery and visibilization of women’s participation in past sociopolitical processes. The unwitting erasures of a women’s studies approach in feminist historiography of the 1980s were later revisited (Cano 2006), and Robles, now seen as a transgendered man, is considered “the 35 But as the existing studies of trans* people consistently demonstrate, the local ways in which people identify and see themselves are complex, and contemporary mainstream understandings should not serve the erasure of trans* subjects who do not subscribe to those frames (Boellstorff et al. 2014; Namaste 2011 [2005]). To that point, Tom Boellstorff asks that we keep in mind that not everything included within the frame of trans* is reducible to each other, and that there are “multiple, intersecting ways that transgender circulates transnationally, all with novel dimensions but also deep histories that shape present contexts” (Boellstorff et al. 2014: 437). Thus, while “transpeople” allows me to keep the variety of existing “trans” experiences in contemporary Mexico City noticeable, I use the term “trans*” to draw comparisons, when pertinent, with trans* dynamics found in other geographical and temporal settings without suggesting they are—or should be—equivalent.18 My use of the term seeks to underscore that subjectivities and embodied material expressions of transgenderism may overlap with, or even be eclipsed by, other axes of sociopolitical organization, and that we need to pay attention to what those may be in specific contexts.                                                  only documented case of a gender transition that occurred during a Latin American revolution” (Cano 2014: 178). 18 Early anthropologists paid attention to “manly-hearted women” among Blackfoot people (Lewis 1941) or “transvestites” among the Zuni (Parsons 1939). I am not knowledgeable in their fields of study, so it is impossible for me to critically assess whether these scholars employed vernacular or external categories and epistemic frames to apprehend the realities they were encountering. My point is that it would be an error to uncritically impose a contemporary “trans” lens to revisit these historical ethnographic accounts. At the same time, I see sociopolitical value in trying to find examples of potentially similar trans* realities in different times, places, and sociopolitical milieus because the established existence of sex–gender diversity has proved to be an effective mobilizing tactic in contemporary social justice struggles. We would only have to bring the paradigmatic work of Margaret Mead (1950 [1935], 2001 [1928]) to mind to see how this cross-cultural, cross-historical, mirror-like technique worked in the past to expand prevailing notions of sex–gender arrangements. 36 Trans Women, Las Trans, Vestidas: I use transpeople as a gender inclusive placeholder. However, it is important to recognize that many of the people I carried out research with wanted to be socially recognized and spoken about as women, and everyone sought recognition in female-gendered terms. Accordingly, I also employ the term “trans women,” to refer to the people I worked with, as it allows me to make visible the gender pronouns that were part of the many symbolic and socio-legal battles the research participants were immersed in. I use the term “trans women” because despite the variations, vacillations, and wide array of co-existing trans* terms I encountered during my fieldwork, many of the people I met were actively fighting to be recognized legally and socially, in their daily lives and in the media, by peers, policy and government officials, and researchers as “mujeres trans,” or simply as “las trans” (lit. the trans)—a prefix turned into a generic noun with an article functioning as female gender marker. The introductory account of this dissertation is one example of these emerging “trans” recognition claims, where activists were demanding to be recognized as “trans women,” not as “homosexuals.” I employ the term “trans women” in English and in italics with the intention to prevent culturalism and the mystification of a Global South marginal other (Abu-Lughod 1991; Keesing 1990; Said 1989). I have noticed, for example, that since Don Kulick (1998c) first made the term “travesti” known to an English-speaking readership, it has become somewhat fetishized in subsequent works focusing on gender and sexuality issues in other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. By that I mean that I have seen the term thrown into the discussions as if it was a stable descriptor, rather than a concept in flux and dependent on shifting sociohistorical realities. I do not want to contribute to the same process occurring to the Mexican Spanish term “mujeres trans.” 37 My use of italics is a continuation of such anti-culturalist intention. I take a cue from Tom Boellstorff (2003) who highlights the utility of italicizing terms, even when their exact translation or wording exists in English, to signal local usage, and more specifically to signal the local sociopolitical, economic, cultural, and historical milieus in which those terms are situated. The italics are my way to visually underscore to the reader that the term “trans women” has specific local meanings and histories in Mexico City, and that its seeming equivalence with the English term does not mean that the realities behind the emergence and uses of this term can or should be dismissed or overlooked. It is important to explicitly point out that in no way is this to question whether the trans women I met were indeed women. I refuse to contribute to the repudiation (Shelley 2008) and erasure (Namaste 2000) of transpeople under tired tropes of “realness” and “inclusion” (Koyama 2006). My work discusses the uses and on-street sexual labour–imbued sense of the local Mexico City term “vestida” (lit. female-fashioned, costumed, or dressed-up person). Self-identified trans activists and allied intellectuals in Mexico City, at the time of my fieldwork, unanimously considered the term “vestida” to be derogatory and incorrect. I explain why this may be so later in this dissertation. Here I use the term “vestida” to explain its uses, meanings and histories, and to position it vis-à-vis the usage of the terms trans and sexual diversity activists considered correct, namely “travesti, transgénero, transsexual” (lit. transvestite, transgender, transsexual), or the “TTT” or “three Ts.” It is important to note that the term “vestida” is employed by low-income trans participants; it is not one I am attributing to them. I continue to hear my research participants using this term in 2017. I thus use “vestida” to preserve ethnographic and 38 historical accuracy whenever appropriate. I also bring this term into my discussion to call into question the class-based erasures and politics of respectability at stake in the disdain and disregard with which “vestidas” are often perceived in Mexico. Cisgender, Non-trans, Female-gendered: A. Finn Enke (2012: 20) explains that “cisgender” means staying or being perceived to stay with the gender assigned at birth. The Latin prefix “cis-” (on the same side of something) has the advantage of conveying the privilege often accorded to those who did not trans gender, or are presumed to not have trans gendered (Enke 2012). It also challenges the reproduction of “unstated norms associated with cisness” (Aultman 2014: 62). In this dissertation, I use the term cisgender sparingly, mostly in the context of discussing my cis-privilege as a person whose female gender subjectivity remains the same as the one assigned to me at birth. Instead, I choose to use the term “non-trans” to refer to the people in Mexico City whose gender identity and subjectivities are perceived to “align with the assigned gender at birth as well as resulting behavior, expression, and community” (Lennon and Mistler 2014: 63). As B. Aultman (2014) has observed, the term “nontransgender” has been used as a synonym of “cisgender,” though it has received criticism because of “the negative quality of its identity description as the state of being opposite of transgender” (62). Nevertheless, as Aultman also points out, cisgender would appear to suggest that gender normativity and its accorded privileges rest solely on the side of cisness (see also Enke 2013). In my view, using the term cisgender to refer to low-income non-trans family members and individuals I encountered during my fieldwork in Mexico City would unwillingly make it seem as if they were, by definition, structurally more privileged than their low-income trans children, siblings, mothers, godmothers, and neighbours. It may also 39 obscure the ways in which non-trans individuals, however joyful of cis-privilege, might at times contravene gender norms and expectations despite their continuous “alignment” with the birth gender subjectivity assigned to them. I do, however, seek to not leave cis-individuals unmarked with my use of “non-trans,” as doing so would presuppose terms like “man” or “woman” are normalized and naturalized (Aultman 2014). A wealth of research on the matter has consistently shown that this is not the case (Fausto-Sterling 2000). Finally, I also seek to accomplish this anti-essentialist intention by unsettling the common subgrouping terms often employed in sex work studies for “female,” “male,” and “trans” sex workers in Mexico (see Allen et al. 2003; Castañeda et al. 1996; Infante et al. 2009). I thus use the term “female-gendered” sex workers to refer to both trans and non-trans individuals who work in the trade since both groups of people fashion themselves in ways signalling female gender in Mexico City.  Outline of Chapters This dissertation consists of five intersecting chapters. Chapter 1 provides detail on the research context and process of this feminist ethnography. I discuss: the geopolitics and cultural configurations of one “monster” site, the metropolitan area of Mexico City; one moment, the nation-wide bicentennial and centennial celebrations of Mexico’s independence from Spanish colonial rule and the Mexican Revolution in the context of Mexico’s current “Wars on Drugs”; and one set of auspicious coincidences, the 40 serendipitous moments that led me to this project and the subsequent ongoing reflections on issues of presence and accountability in feminist ethnography.19 Chapter 2 focuses on the shifting geographies and socio-legal frameworks shaping on-street sexual labour in Mexico City. I show that the on-street sex trade has multiplied from three well-known historical places of female sexual commerce to several trans and non-trans female “puntos” (lit. sex trade spots) spread out across the city. At the same time that there has been a proliferation of “puntos” across the central parts of Mexico City, trans women have gained higher public visibility within them. In this chapter, I focus on the repercussions this has had for the ways in which socio-legal interventions have been employed to regulate sexuality (Weeks 2000), and more specifically, to construct on-street sexual labour as a social issue needing to be addressed (Brock 1998). I thus pay attention to the legislation that has framed transpeople as “trans” subjects deserving of legal and health rights in Mexico City since 2008, but also the legislation that has historically contributed to the pernicious creation of sex work as a social problem in Mexico. In Chapter 3, I discuss the lives and sociocultural milieus of the trans women with whom I carried out fieldwork. I use my findings, mapped out against the published literature on the subject, to critically examine the ways in which past and present representations of transpeople have fared. In this chapter, I aim to show the ways in which social class shapes the lives and milieus of trans women, and how these manifestations of class shape the precarious circumstances in which many trans women in Mexico City find themselves. I argue that my ethnographic findings show significant commonalities with                                                  19 I explicitly elaborate on the idea of Mexico City as “a monster” in Chapter 1. 41 other studies about transpeople in Mexico. The most substantive is transpeople’s life fragility and the central role of sexual labour in their lives. At the same time, the published literature on the subject and my own research suggest that there is a richness in the diversity shaping transpeople’s lives in Mexico. Accordingly, I seek to employ a lens attuned both to “miniature” accounts and “gigantic” perspectives to examine some of the sociocultural dimensions of trans* life in Mexico City.  The following chapter, Chapter 4, focuses on the livelihoods of trans women, where I use ethnographic portraits to interrogate the omissions and the spotlights that have been present in the recent literature on transpeople in Mexico. In this chapter, I claim that most trans women in Mexico City are or have been on-street vendors of sexual services and other goods at some point in their lives. The street-based sex trade certainly offers a space for most low-income transpeople seeking to make a living. This finding is consistently supported by other existing studies on the subject. Yet, the published studies on the matter have tended to frame transpeople as street-based sex workers without examining in more detail the broader informal street-based economy in which such sex trade often takes place. I seek to redress this gap by showing the ways in which many of my low-income research participants formed part—inconsistently, at different times, and for different ends—of The Warriors, one of the many street-vending associations existing in Mexico City. On the surface, this shift in ethnographic frame may seem minor. Yet, conceptually, it allows me to situate transpeople as informal workers labouring arduously on many of the streets of Mexico City, hence standing alongside many of the precarious labourers similarly positioned at the bottom of Mexico’s informal economy, and seeking to fend for themselves in an economic landscape riddled with inequality. 42 In Chapter 5, I explore the paradoxical relation between trans activism and sex work. As trans women working the streets during both day and night become unavoidable sights in many of the central thoroughfares of Mexico City, the anxieties about transpeople as sex workers and the stereotyping conflations about them as trouble-makers and criminals, have also intensified. Trans activists, for the most part, have responded by seeking to obtain social recognition for transpeople as educated professionals, distancing themselves from the sex trade. Yet, the ongoing daily challenges faced by their on-street sexual labourer counterparts remain largely unvoiced. I employ a sexual labour lens to shed light on these “omissions.” I revisit the classic concepts of “horizontal hostilities” and the “politics of respectability” to interrogate local trans activists’ positions on sex work and the opposition to the delivery of the trans healthcare program in Mexico City’s HIV Clinic. I document the ways in which, by seeking to attain legitimacy for transpeople, trans activists end up uncritically reproducing dominant, stigmatizing attitudes towards sex work, sex workers, HIV, and HIV-positive people. In the Conclusion, I revisit the arguments developed throughout my dissertation and elaborate on some of the potential sociopolitical implications they may have for rethinking trans and sex work social justice movements in Mexico. I also explore some potential avenues for future research. This research spans a period of several years, and attending to the ebbs and flows that unfold with time, I close my dissertation with an update on Mexico’s trans and on-street sex work politics, and this research’s key participants as they stood between late 2016 and early 2017.  43 1. Feminist Ethnography in Mexico City  Beloved Monster Many of us call Mexico City “The Monster.” Tenderly. As in, when we are abroad and homesick, and all I want is to spend an afternoon hanging out at the apartment where my parents live in the northwest periphery of the Federal District, reading the newspaper or a book in my favourite corner of their home library, watching the hovering hummingbirds through the window, conversing with my mom and planning with my sweet-toothed dad about which delicious treats we can get at the nearby market and street-vending stands. We call it The Monster, but proudly. As in, when we realize we are extremely resourceful people under strenuous circumstances, and I am reminded of how fortunate and privileged I am for having grown up in such a heavily-peopled valley, now spreading furiously beyond its edges and into some of the surrounding mountains. We call the city this in deep awe. As in, when we fly into The Monster by plane, especially at night, and see the immensity of the boundless lights everywhere we turn, and I am under the impression that poetry, theatre, fiction, chronicles, music, film, or ethnography can only ever capture a fragment, for a few instants, of its enormous beauty and its acute shifting complexity and contradictions. We name it with irritation towards its monstrosity too. As in, when we are caught in the now only euphemistic “rush hour” traffic—which, by the time I returned to carry out my doctoral fieldwork, had gone from somewhat distinctive morning and afternoon hour chunks (around the beginning and end of the children’s school day or adults’ work day) to an all-day affair—and I pray strongly for the other drivers’ widespread impatience not to impair my concentration so that no other person ends up like my maternal grandfather, 44 shattered literally to pieces under a car’s wheel. For many of us, The Monster’s sociopolitical, cultural, economic, and historical entanglements embroil their thousand-fold tentacles with the joys and dramas of our own and our loved ones’ lives. Mexico’s Federal District, what is known as Mexico City proper, was founded by decree on November 18, 1824. It was established as a region of about 2 leguas (Spanish leagues) or about 8.3 km of radius that would become the residence of the federal government (Hernández Franyuti 2008). It initially encompassed municipalities, cities, towns, and villas as geopolitical units (de Gortari Rabiela and Hernández Franyuti 1995). Yet, since 1978 Mexico City has been comprised of 16 boroughs (delegaciones) (Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática 1997) that spread out across a surface of 1,486 km2 (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011c).20 In early 2016, the legal-political configuration of the Federal District changed, becoming officially named “Mexico City” (Agren 2016; Romero and Vargas 2016), but it still preserves the same 16 borough geopolitical jurisdictions, each headed by elected government representatives.21 Despite its formal geopolitical divisions, Mexico City appears not to know of official boundaries within the Valley of Mexico, where it is located 2240 m above sea level and across a surface of 9,560 km (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011c). The                                                  20 The 16 boroughs are: Álvaro Obregón, Azcapotzalco, Benito Juárez, Coyoacán, Cuajimalpa de Morelos, Cuauhtémoc, Gustavo A. Madero, Iztacalco, Iztapalapa, La Magdalena Contreras, Miguel Hidalgo, Milpa Alta, Tláhuac, Tlalpan, Venustiana Carranza, and Xochimilco (Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática 1997: 77). While the distinctions have become less sharp as time goes by, there are both urban and rural areas within Mexico City, the latter being generally found in the south and southeastern parts of the city. 21 News reports initially suggested that the legal name change from “Federal District” to “Mexico City” would give this geopolitical jurisdiction the status of a fully independent “state” with its own governance like the other 31 states in the Mexican Republic (see Agren 2016; Romero and Vargas 2016). However, some media reports suggest that legislators have yet to come to an agreement about what the legal-political name change will ultimately entail in terms of local and federal governance and jurisdiction (see Chávez 2016; Navarro 2016; Saldierna and Garduño 2016). 45 metropolitan area within the larger Valley of Mexico (zona metropolitana) spreads out into two geopolitical divisions: the Federal District (as it was called until early 2016) and the State of Mexico, the state wrapping around all of the Federal District except to the south. In other words, the greater Mexico City (área conurbada) extends across all 16 boroughs of the then-Federal District, and across 18 municipalities of the State of Mexico (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011c).22 Due to its porous ability to sprawl continuously out into newer areas, Mexico City is also colloquially called “the urban stain” (la mancha urbana). Its “monstrosity” would appear to leak its contours out into new, seemingly ever-expanding areas. Some locals also call it “the DeFectuoso,” an acronym-inspired designation for the Federal District—the D.F. in Spanish—conjuring up, with both affection and frustration, the many DeFects of a ruthless “concrete jungle” (selva de concreto) that, despite its shortcomings, is the site where they live and they know best. (Figure 1) Between May 31 and June 25, 2010, Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI, Spanish acronym) dispatched over 106,000 people across the country to collect, door-to-door, statistical information for the 2010 National Census (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011a).23 At that point, the Federal District had 1,775                                                   22 The 18 municipalities in the State of Mexico that form part of the metropolitan area of Mexico City are: Atizapán de Zaragoza, Cuautitlán Izcalli, Coacalco, Cuautitlán, Chalco, Chicoloapan, Chimalhuacán, Ecatepec, Huixquilucan, Ixtapaluca, La Paz, Nicolás Romero, Naucalpan, Nezahualcóyotl, Tecámac, Tlalnepantla, Tultitlán, and Valle de Chalco (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011c). 23 For a highly entertaining book compiling some of the stories and experiences of the 2010 census pollsters, see Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística (2011d). It turns out, for example, that one of the major hazards faced by census takers in the streets of Mexico City were feral dogs! (18–19). 46 Figure 1. The Federal District and the metropolitan area of Mexico City, 2010  Map created by Jayme Taylor, using base geodata from OpenStreetMap. Conceptual design by the author.  47 neighbourhoods and 40 pueblos originarios (ancestral towns) (Instituto Electoral del Distrito Federal 2010). In early June 2010, the census taker assigned to the neighbourhood in the centre-west part of Mexico City where I resided between April 2010 and August 2011—a relatively young woman wearing a white cap and a light brown vest—arrived at the 3-storey building where my then spouse and I lived. When the last National Census had been taken 10 years earlier, I had been counted as part of my parents’ family unit. My mom had been in charge of giving the answers then. In 2010, I provided the responses for my own two-person family, and to my own surprise, I found myself feeling strangely moved by such a material expression of nation-state making. I had left Mexico to complete a Master’s degree in Canada five years earlier. Since then, life had taken unanticipated turns, the most important being that my return home had been put off by two to three years. The pollster took the census hastily and then glued a sticker on the door that marked not only that my household had been counted, but also, to me, that I still belonged to this land. According to the 2010 National Census of Population and Housing, 8,851,080 people lived in the Federal District at that time (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011e), out of a total of 112,336,538 people living in the entire country (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011a).24 In 2010, the population of the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City, including both the Federal District and the State of Mexico, was 19,239,910 people (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011c). The 2010 National Census accounted for two “sexes”: “men” and “women.” In the Federal District, for example, 4,233,783 men and 4,617,297 women, out of a nationwide total of                                                  24 This represents a ratio of 91.7 men for every 100 women in the Federal District, and 95.4 men for every 100 women at the national level (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011e). National statistics are gender binary. 48 54,855,231 and 57,481,307, were counted (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística 2011e). It is important to mention that, in the 2010 census, there were no alternative options for “sexes,” and the census did not set out to compile information about “genders.”25 In broad strokes, Mexico City is symbolically and materially split along a north–south divide. The north has historically been an industrial area associated with poorer and less educated people in Mexico City. The south, in contrast, has generally been clearly delineated to be a more middle-class, residential, touristic, and cultural area of the city, especially since the construction in the early to mid-1950s of the Ciudad Universitaria (University City), the main campus of the public National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, Spanish acronym), and in the mid-1960s of the Olympic Village for the 1968 Olympic Games.26 An example of some of these symbolic and material distinctions is the geographic distribution of bookstores in Mexico City, a sign of “culture” and education among the population. In that context, Juana Zahar Vergara (1995: 98) explains that the northern part of Mexico City only has one large bookstore. This was a Catholic parish bookshop established in 1964 that mostly sold religious books, brochures, and stamps. The                                                  25 It remains to be seen whether the “sex” portion of the census design continues or is modified when the next National Census is collected in 2020. It also remains to be seen whether transgender people in Mexico, influenced by the developments that are already taking place in other parts of the Global North, see value in challenging the prevalent binary gender system by seeking to integrate third genders or even agender options in this survey. 26 The constructions for the UNAM’s main campus, Ciudad Universitaria, began on July 5, 1950. The finished campus was inaugurated and opened for classes in 1954 (Diccionario Porrúa 1995). Before then, classes had been held in different historical buildings in the downtown area of Mexico City. Of significance is that, unlike in Canada, in Mexico a “public university” is one fully funded by the state. Students may pay a minimal registration fee, but do not pay tuition fees. Student mobilizations have sought over the years to keep public education fully free. Unfortunately, optional payment of minimal registration fees was introduced at UNAM in 2000 after a partially-failed ten-month student strike against mandatory fees, but there is still no charge for tuition fees. After the strike, I paid $0.20 peso cents to offset the printing cost of my course registration timetable to complete my BA studies. 49 rest of the bookstores are still located in the centre and southern parts of the city.27 As a sign of the central role “culture” has had in the history of Mexico City (Gruzinski 2004 [1996]), bookshops offering other than religious books and basic education textbooks continue to stand as a marker of educational status, and consequently cultural and economic capital in Mexico. New arrangements emerge constantly in a city of this size. One of the most visible was the emergence since the early 2000s of a secluded, in some parts gated, wealthy area in the western part of the city. More recently—most intensely since 2007 under the local Marcelo Ebrard administration—the revamping of certain areas of the downtown core involved a shift from a primarily low-income commercial area to a lower- to middle-class entertainment district, where people who once did not feel safe to set foot there have started spending social time. Additionally, one can find pockets of wealth within poor northern neighbourhoods, and there have always been irregular and underserviced neighbourhoods in the southern parts of the city. Deprivation and affluence often converge. Yet, the north–south symbolic and material divide was in place during my extended fieldwork and still persists today. My research took me to several places across the city, but the sex trade areas and neighbourhoods I describe in this chapter and in Chapter 4 were located in the centre-north parts of Mexico City. With such an extensive number of people seeking to make a living and going about their daily lives in this corner of the planet, it is certainly an understatement to say that                                                  27 Juana Zahar Vergara (1995) accounts for 18 bookstores in total in Mexico City. The tally would likely go up when small textbook bookshops and second-hand bookshops are taken into account. Yet, these too are primarily located in the central and southern parts of the city. 50 Mexico City is filled with all the imaginable and unimaginable, multi-coloured edges of humanity. With such a large metropolitan surface and many geopolitical, symbolic, and material divisions, in this place it is perfectly possible to encounter any experience any person could ever hear of, read about, witness, experience, endure, or be blessed with. My dissertation provides only a snapshot of some of those multifaceted dynamics and histories. This aims to be an ethnographic snapshot of what Leslie Bird Simpson (1966 [1941]) aptly called Mexico’s “many Mexicos.” I have met locals who were surprised to learn about my research topic. I have met non-locals who were taught at school that Mexico City was merely a land subsumed within a polluted smoke cloud. Even in the well-researched and inspiring work of scholars, a colossal picture of Mexico City as a “delirious,” insurmountable “urban leviathan” comes about (see Davis 1994; Gallo 2004a). My work aims to help reshape such views—even if just a little—by providing some observations about a set of issues not well-known, and some insights about the many layers of complexity—tensions, contradictions, people’s resilience, life’s poetry—converging in this place. The varied textures of human life encountered in Mexico City have been the subject of numerous, beautifully written, and often entertaining chronicles (see Gallo 2004b; Guillermoprieto 1994 [1990], 1994 [1992]; Monsiváis 2010; Pacheco 2002, 2003 [1984]), and I seek to contribute to such humanizing efforts.  Bicentennials and “Wars on Drugs” at the Turn-of-the-21st-Century This study took place in the complex political and economic landscape of Mexico at the turn of the 21st century. My main field research period between 2010 and 2011 occurred against the backdrop of two broader sociopolitical developments: the nationwide 51 “bicentenario” (lit. bicentennial) celebrations and a state-led “War on Drugs” launched in 2006. The joint celebrations of the centennial of the Mexican Revolution and the bicentennial of Independence from the Spanish colonial rule took place in 2010. These were most commonly referred to as “the bicentennial” and echoed similar celebrations held in other countries of Latin America.28 In Mexico, there were parades, public events, and historical film and TV productions. The federal government made funding available for research projects and book publications speaking to the occasion. A major thoroughfare in Mexico City was renamed the “Bicentennial Freeway,” as were a few public parks and smaller streets. Strangely, famous US swimmer Michael Phelps was flown into the capital of the country, after having become famous during the 2008 Summer Olympics that were widely televised in Mexico, and he swam in a temporary pool built in honour of the bicentenario festivities. Bicentennial paraphernalia proliferated. “The Comer,” one of the leading chain supermarkets in Mexico City advertised, “We celebrate the Bicentennial,” and in their printed product catalogues offered discounted prices for national beers and tequilas. The tortillería (tortilla shop) inside this chain would wrap my tortillas in “100% biodegradable recyclable Made in Mexico” paper. It was imprinted with “Bicentenario 1810–2010” and with images of key figures of the independence movement: Josefa Ortíz de Dominguez, Miguel Hidalgo, and Ignacio Allende, and “Centenario 1910–2010” (centennial) with the                                                  28 In Colombia, for example, 1810 also marked the beginning of the armed struggle that would eventually lead to the end of Spanish domination, and festivities to mark the occasion occurred across the plazas of the country in 2010. 52 iconic images of Mexican Revolution leaders Emiliano Zapata, Francisco Villa, and Venustiano Carranza. Similarly, the pink-coloured “bus de las mujeres” (lit. women’s bus)—an initiative of local Passengers’ Transportation Network aimed at providing public transportation exclusively for women starting in 2008, but more visible since mid-2011—donned brief biographical blurbs of women of the Independence and the Revolutionary period on its sides. For example, there was one about Benita Galeana, “1907–1955, feminist and social fighter,” which stated in big letters that, “for her commitment to the peasant, worker, and feminist struggles and to guerilla movements, she was incarcerated 58 times.” The bus campaign was said to be a “Homage to the Women of the Bicentennial 1810–2010.” In the lead up to September 2010, the month when Mexicans celebrate Independence Day, a 80 by 40 cm long Mexican flag arrived by mail where I lived. It was accompanied by a printed letter signed by then-President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. It was addressed to “mexicanas y mexicanos” (lit. female and male Mexicans). It stated that we were celebrating “200 years of being proudly Mexican,” and as a result 2010 had been declared “Año de la Patria” (lit. year of the fatherland). President Calderón compelled us, Mexicans, to admire the national flag and always be reminded of the historical meaning of its three colours—green standing for “the hope that there will be a better Mexico,” white for “the peace that we have achieved,” red for the “spilled blood of our ancestors in the struggle for the highest ideals of our Nation”—and shield, the symbol that Mexicans would be ready to face rising challenges. The package also included a copy of some of the verses of the national anthem printed on glossy paper. 53 While the flag’s red colour was said to symbolize the blood spilled by the nation’s forbearers, by 2010 discontent had grown about the blood that was currently flowing across the nation since President Calderón had launched a state campaign against “organized crime,” and more particularly against local cartels supplying drugs for consumption, at the time, mainly in the United States. On a broader level, my doctoral research also took place during then-President Felipe Calderón’s “war on drugs.” Calderón’s strategy consisted of deploying the Mexican military into regions in the country where drug production had been (until then) concentrated, and targeting the leaders of cartels. However, Calderon’s militarization move had the unintended effect of generating and aggravating violence, increasing the number of organizations dedicated to criminalized activities, and helping diffuse their geographical reach across the country (Daniel Rosen and Zepeda Martínez 2015). Former President Calderon’s “war on drugs” drew widespread criticism, even among the ranks of his own right-leaning political party, the National Action Party (PAN, Spanish acronym). Jorge Castañeda, Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Vicente Fox presidential administration (2000–2006), was one of them. Castañeda argues that not only did Calderón unleash a “war” for which he was dramatically unprepared, but that this was a military and political strategy targeting a problem for which there had not been substantive evidence (Castañeda 2012-2013). While the demand for drugs increased across the country during this process, this continued to be a largely export-driven industry. With no legal decriminalization and public health frameworks in place 54 (Rattansi 2009), by 2011 an estimated 40,000 people had been murdered in the country as a direct or collateral result of the “war on drugs” (Raney 2011).29 During my extended fieldwork, Mexico City was proudly depicted by local government officials as a “protected bubble” where no drug cartels had strongholds, like they did in other areas of the country. To many, this idea appeared to be accurate since, until then, there had not been many of the visible “signs” of drug cartel presence that could be seen in other regions, such as public shootings, tied bodies hanging from bridges, or dismembered corpses with “narco” messages inscribed on them (Enrigue 2014). Drawing on available official data, Carlos Vilalta (2014: 147) reports a total of 653 organized crime deaths between 2006 and 2010 in the Federal District, compared to the northern state of Chihuahua, which reported 10,135 organized crime deaths during the same period. This was about 1 death every other day in the Federal District compared to about 7 deaths per day (largely from executions) over a four-year period in Chihuahua. Whether or not there were drug cartels in Mexico City, by 2010 it was clear that certain everyday things had been transformed. I had spent part of the summer of 2008 in Mexico City, and by mid-2010, only two years later, the quotidian atmosphere had visibly changed. Even though I grew up in a relatively rough, impoverished neighbourhood in the northwest part of the Federal District, I saw things I had not seen before. There were people who would make their way through the low to middle-income neighbourhood where I lived during fieldwork with a megaphone mounted on the roof of a car, announcing violent incidents and selling red press (nota roja) newspapers about them. Going through                                                  29 See Gibler (2011) and Muehlmann (2013a, 2013b) for accounts about some of the on-the-ground effects of these broader processes. 55 neighbourhoods with speakers had earlier been reserved for people collecting used mattresses and home appliances for resale. I sensed people growing worried about giving out their phone numbers to new people for fear of being blackmailed or taken advantage of. I grew aware, for the first time, of civilians who owned firearms despite this being illegal across the country. I perceived much more volatility and irascibility in interactions with people on the streets. I also witnessed things that I had seen before that appeared to have intensified. The most notable was what I coin—only half-jokingly—as “sospechosismo” (lit. suspicion-ism), a generalized and, in my view, paralyzing distrust, particularly strong among educated people, of anything and everything that government officials do or say, that appears in mainstream media, and sometimes even that people tell each other. In May 2011, a nationwide Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity rallying thousands of people marched across the country, ending in Ciudad Juárez, the city that was then said to be the most violent in the country. Moreover, Ciudad Juárez had become known abroad for the systemic disappearances and murders of women since the 1990s (Driver 2012; Portillo 2001; Wright 2011). Many feminist activists and mothers of these young women had sought to attract attention to these femicides and seek justice for the many unsolved legal cases. Marisela Escobedo and Susana Chávez, for example, were themselves brutally murdered in December 2010 and January 2011 for speaking up. There had been a feminist, women-led campaign organized around the slogan “Not One More” in January 2011 to protest these murders. Ironically, it had been male poet Javier Sicilia who, positioning himself as the father of a murdered son, succeeded in drawing large numbers to the cause. These kinds of ironies and complexities were also picked up by mothers and fathers of other murdered or disappeared men and women in Mexico. Once the Caravan 56 had made its way through Mexico City in early April 2011, a poignant placard was left on an impromptu memorial made of photos, drawings, candles, and letters for the disappeared and murdered and placed on the ground of the downtown plaza. It read: “Some parents are poets, but all our children are poetry.” (Figure 2) The presidential administration of the centre-leaning party President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012–present) continued the militarizing and criminalizing strategy of his predecessor Calderón. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that 17,000 died as a result of the war against narco trafficking. The British International Institute for Strategic Studies has recently deemed the conflict intensity in Mexico to be “high,” hence comparable to the war in Syria (AFP 2016). It is estimated that there have been 150,000 murdered and 28,000 disappeared people in Mexico since 2006 (Pardo Veiras 2016).  Unexpected Turns, Auspicious Coincidences This research project began with what I identify as a secular version of an “auspicious coincidence” (Trungpa 2001). I initially set out to conduct an ethnography of sex workers’ collective organizing in Mexico City. Deeply inspired by the efforts to advance the rights of sex workers worldwide, including the Lusty Lady’s strip-trade workers’ union in the United States (Kempadoo 1998a) and the development of the Calcutta Sex Workers Union to support prostitutes in India (Misra et al. 2005), I envisioned a doctoral research project focused on the similar development of a sex workers’ rights movement with translocal dimensions in Mexico. Informed by my own previous research  57 Figure 2. “All Our Children Are Poetry,” photo by the author, 2011   58 on an emergent popular segment of the strip trade in Vancouver, Canada—the fleeting popularization and commercialization of pole-dancing classes primarily for women not involved in the labour force of the exotic dancing industry—I was most interested in documenting the advancements of sex workers’ rights in Mexico. I had included ethnographic and historical readings about sex work among women, men, and transpeople during the theoretical preparation for my field research. Once I was in Mexico City, I decided to focus solely on transpeople for reasons I further explain below. The actual developments of my ethnographic work made me realize that I had inadvertently been asking questions mostly relevant to non-trans female-gendered sex workers, which were not necessarily appropriate or relevant for the study of transpeople’s lives. Conceptually, for instance, I had initially been interested in finding out whether sex workers in Mexico City fought for access to state-sponsored childcare and comprehensive health care; whether sex workers fought against violence, stigma, and discrimination, and for women’s rights; or whether sex workers organized around the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and a persistent pathologizing gaze. Methodologically, I proposed to gather photographic material only in limited circumstances due to my knowledge of the high levels of stigma that still persist around the practice of sex work in Mexico and due to my reading in the literature that many sex workers preferred to keep their sexual labour hidden from family, friends, and acquaintances (e.g., Bautista López and Conde Rodríguez 2006; Castañeda et al. 1996; Lamas 1993). All these questions and interests persisted throughout my field research. But during my fieldwork, I came to learn that even though some trans women have children, they are 59 not always the primary caregivers and do not seek to obtain childcare services sponsored by the state. It also became obvious that struggles to obtain health care were present, but these were neither exclusive to trans women, nor focused on a notion of health services that could easily be focused only on endocrinology or excluding treatment for HIV and prostate cancer. Similarly, trans women indeed fought for women’s rights, but did so in ways that expanded prevailing notions of what it means to be a woman in contemporary Mexico City. The organizing around HIV/AIDS and against pathologizing medical frames were also part of trans women’s concerns. Yet, transpeople dislocated the prevailing ideas that they suffered from “gender dysphoria” or that they were transmitters of HIV/AIDS. While I still hope to contribute to the destigmatization of sex workers by refusing to disseminate indiscriminate visual records that may be potentially harmful to them, I came to know that most family members of working-class trans women knew and actively benefited from their labour in the sex trade. Moreover, trans women collected endless visual materials of themselves and their surroundings. Thus, having a photo camera with me during fieldwork was neither offensive, nor unusual. Clearly, my early reluctance to collect photos of and among sex workers was shaped by my assumptions that non-trans female-gendered sex workers were either ashamed of or stigmatized for their work. In truth, trans sex workers do suffer from whore stigma and trans repudiation, and they are stigmatized for being transpeople and for being involved in the sexual trade. Nevertheless, they also suffered the broader social, political, and economic consequences of being impoverished precarious labourers in Mexico, a crucial aspect of their lives that has not been addressed in previous studies. 60 A number of unexpected turns led me to carry out a feminist ethnography with transpeople about “trans” and other sociocultural, political, and economic issues in contemporary Mexico City. My project evolved out of a set of auspicious coincidences: the great fortune of having met transpeople at the right time in the right place and for having had the permission to follow and become friends with them to document moments of their lives when it had become more and more obvious that my initial project on (non-trans) female-gendered sex workers was misinformed. I carried out pilot research in preparation for my long-term ethnographic engagement with the issues between August and September 2009. At that point, I sought and thought that I had successfully secured the permission to document the activities of one of the formal associations working on sex work issues with women in a central area of Mexico City. The research questions in my doctoral research proposal were directly informed by my pilot field research and by the conversations I had had with the leader of that organization. By June 2010, the third month into my extended doctoral ethnographic fieldwork, it had become clear to me that while I was never and would never be explicitly told, “No, you cannot do research with or about us,” the organization’s leader, a middle-aged female-gendered sex worker activist who would wind up being incarcerated for “trafficking” in 2014, subscribed closely to a notion she had learned through her involvement with the global sex workers’ rights movement after the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City in early August 2008. She firmly held that research on sex work could only be carried out by sex workers themselves. I came to see this “failing” as the first key insight of my research about the ways in which the translocal influx of ideas and practices shapes sex worker organizing in Mexico City. It had also become apparent by 61 then that my own politics (and my health, which had begun to “act out” with unusual stomach aches and headaches) prevented me from continuing to negotiate access to a place where I was not really welcome, and to an organization that was shrouded in secrecy. This is where a set of auspicious coincidences expressed itself with full force. By the time I realized I was not going to work with non-trans female-gendered sex workers, I had already met a few trans women. I did not set out to look for them in order to “study” them. The initial friendships and acquaintances I was able to generate with trans women came about as a direct result of my own life-wanderings and place-goings, my own personal and professional quest for learning, and my intimate attempts to make life worthwhile, comprehensible, and ultimately meaningful. It happened as part of life. Because there is no separation between subject and object, as many influential feminist critics of science have persuasively argued (Haraway 1988; Harding 1992), this ethnographic project, like any other, rests upon the paths I have built for my own life throughout the journey. Consequently, although the formal extended fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation began in April 2010, the broader issues encompassing this work span my long-held interest in Mexico, history, social movements, feminism, gender and sexuality issues, literature, poetry, and world politics for at least the last two decades. In fact, I had formally interviewed a trans activist I knew during my pilot research in Mexico City in 2009, and that interview provided an excellent reference point when I had to shift gears away from non-trans sex workers and towards trans women. Two additional events threw me, with full force, into the swirls of transpeople’s issues and trans activism, and at times their thwarted relation to HIV, sexual diversity, and feminism in Mexico that would eventually become the focus of my doctoral dissertation. 62 The first of those events was the International AIDS Conference that I attended while visiting my parents in Mexico City in August 2008. A sex worker I met in 2007, while I was a student of a Summer Institute of Sexuality, Culture, and Society at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, advised me that I should attend the 2008 conference to learn more about issues of sex work. During the 2008 International AIDS conference, a well-known sex worker activist from Argentina—Elena Reynaga from the Network of Women Sex Workers from Latin America and the Caribbean (REDTRASEX)—gave a powerful keynote address on sex workers’ rights that many of the attendees kept talking about as the sessions went on. I found the critical discussions of epidemiology coming from sex workers and trans women most fascinating. It was at this AIDS conference that I heard, for the first time, a transperson, whom I later recognized as Claudia Pía Baudracco, a famous activist from Argentina, say forcefully during a panel: “We are not msm. We aren’t men who have sex with men. We are trans women!”30 Back in 2003, while volunteering for the Women’s Centre of the University of Victoria (UVic), Canada, where I had the fortune and privilege to learn English, I had been intrigued by the explanation that the space was for “self-identified women.” I had identified as a feminist already for about a decade by then, but just like I did not know what a “woman of colour” meant, up to that point I had not been exposed to the position that to be a woman, one had to identify as such. The legend of the women’s centre at UVic, and my interactions with the people who attended the space, were an excellent way to bring me up to speed on the Anglo–North American debates, conceptualizations, and disjunctures around the concept of “women” that have so powerfully revolutionized feminist thinking in many parts of the                                                  30 In 2012, I learned that Claudia Pía Baudracco had unfortunately died that year. 63 world over the last three decades. Hearing the Argentinean trans activist challenge the seemingly descriptive epidemiological category of “men who have sex with men” with an identity-based dispute further opened my mind to new ways of thinking. The second event took place a few months later, also in Mexico City, in March 2009. There, I attended the Feminist Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean, and there I also encountered the presence of trans women for the first time in these kind of meetings. The issue of trans women’s presence in regional feminist encounters had generated heated debate during the preceding meeting in Ponta Negra, Brazil (Curiel 2005; Galvão Adrião et al. 2011). In different national contexts, such as Brazil and Argentina, this had also been an ongoing debate (Fernández 2003; Galvão Adrião and Filgueiras Toneli 2008). When I first attended one of these regional feminist meetings in Playa Tambor, Costa Rica, in December 2002, the issue had not yet come up in the discussions. But the times had changed rapidly, and in Mexico City, not only had young and indigenous women attended in greater numbers, but also sex workers and trans women. Despite the participation of trans women and sex workers, the debate about commercial sex and transpeople’s presence in feminist meetings was still raw or contentious for some participants (Bartra 2010). By the time the meeting took place in Mexico City, however, I was impressed by the development of an experience-based session where many trans women from both the panel and the audience took the microphone and, in a format resembling spoken testimonial storytelling, shared their lived experiences. It seemed to me as if they were relying, even if not on purpose, on the collective genre of testimonio (testimony) employed in other parts of the Latin American region to articulate social justice demands using the first person voice (Beverley 1994; Gelles 1998). I was even more 64 pleased to find out that many of the meeting’s attendees came to a small room, which turned out to be fully packed, to learn attentively about the attending trans women’s experiences. I was one of those avid pupils who wanted to continue learning from them. There, I heard established and eloquent Mexican and Argentinean activists for the first time, such as Angie Rueda and Lohana Berkins (see Berkins 2003; Rueda Castillo 2011), and their use of classic feminist thinking and concepts—such as Simone de Beauvoir’s (1952 [1949]: 267) idea, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”—to make their lives, struggles, and experiences intelligible to those of us in the audience. In all, it was an extremely enlightening experience.31 Life has taken me along some unexpected roads. Some of its stretches have put me in situations of steep-curve learning. My own vision has constantly expanded, been focused and refocused. Once I reconsidered the direction of my doctoral fieldwork, I decided to preserve the same research questions about collective organizing and its local and translocal dimensions that I had set out to answer. These same research questions, however, when applied to the collective organizing of trans women, led me into new and unanticipated situations. And this, in turn, resembling the cyclical nature of anthropological knowledge, led to new questions (Wolf 1990). I initially envisioned (non-trans) female sex work as taking centre stage in this dissertation, but issues about and around trans women in Mexico City took up, by fortune, a more prominent role. A great majority of trans women are or have been involved in the sex                                                  31 As I wrote up this research, I also learned that, regrettably, 50-year-old Lohana Berkins, a major travesti activist in the development and approval of the gender identity law in Argentina in 2012, had died in a hospital in February 2016 from health-related complications. 65 trade at some points in their lives. Strikingly, much of the trans activist efforts are framed around issues of trans identities, practices, and experiences, but tend to exclude the thorny question of sex work. Sexual labour does not escape my own attention; it could not, since I actually began with the intention to examine it attentively. How and why was it that, while being largely involved in commercial sex, sex work did not figure more prominently and positively in trans women’s efforts to gain recognition, legibility, legitimacy, and state-sponsored rights? I am fortunate to have had interests in labour issues while in the field, otherwise I could have run the risk of focusing my research primarily on issues of (trans) gender identity politics as other doctoral dissertations about transpeople in Mexico City have done (see Gutiérrez Martínez 2015; Lamas 2012; Sandoval Rebollo 2011). However, in an effort to present the reality I documented in Mexico City as accurately as possible, I pay attention to the issues that the trans women I worked with paid attention to, and I seek to frame my ethnographic writing in a way that renders clear and visible how the trans women I worked with frame the issues that concern them most. When I entered graduate school, I hoped I would be able to contribute to feminist histories, practices, and theories: my long-standing areas of passion and interest. By setting out to look at sex work, I knew I would have to touch on the contentious debates around it. But I could not be luckier in that my doctoral path has simultaneously taken me along the examination of another set of equally complex and similarly important issues, namely, those concerning transpeople’s practices, identities, realities, lives, and experiences as they play out in the metropolitan area of Mexico City. There are no accidents. Just auspicious coincidences.  66 Researching Trans and Sex Work Politics in Local and Translocal Spaces My doctoral dissertation is based on substantive ethnographic research in Mexico City, spanning the period between 2009 and 2014. First, I carried out preparatory pilot research between August and September 2009. At that time, I interviewed key activists and government officials working in the field of gender and sexual diversity and HIV. I wanted my doctoral project to be driven by the concerns and demands of local sex workers, so I also interviewed the leader of the organization of non-trans female sex workers that I hoped to work with. In April 2010, I started an extended period of ethnographic research in Mexico City that went until August 2011, when I returned to Vancouver, Canada. I planned to focus on the translocal dimensions of the local efforts of the organization led by the non-trans female sex worker activist I had interviewed during my pilot research. During my extended research, I documented the lives of trans sex workers and key trans activists living in Mexico City. I sought to make contacts related to issues of sex work in Mexico in HIV/AIDS, sexual diversity, feminist, and gender equity events and conferences. It was during one of these meetings that my dissertation focus shifted towards trans women instead. I had the fortune of meeting Paloma García, the leader of an association, which I identify as The Warriors, primarily devoted to the organization of street vending in some of the streets of Mexico City. I met Paloma at a feminist conference that took place in a central state of Mexico in the summer of 2010. I went to the conference as part of a “travel companionship” with the non-trans female sex worker leader I have mentioned; the aim was to travel with participants to venues of formal activism to see the “behind the scenes” work of their political engagements, rather than only seeing them “on stage” as they were carrying out formal activism. I had managed to secure a spot for the sex 67 worker leader to facilitate a workshop on sex work at the feminist conference. The workshop consisted of discussing and challenging common perceptions about sex work and sex workers by asking participants to draw what a sex worker and an average day in a sex worker’s life would look like. The sex worker leader designed and delivered the workshop; I aided with the logistics and recording of the session and with a write-up for the conference proceedings afterwards. When I first met Paloma, she had just set out, at the time, to found the first formally registered trans women’s foundation in Mexico. Paloma’s attendance and participation in feminist, health, political party, and sexual diversity events during the rest of my extended research sought to fulfill the purpose of establishing this foundation. On my side, it had become clear to me by then that I was not going to be able to document the sociopolitical activities of the non-trans female sex worker I accompanied during the conference or the organization that she led. I was thus fortunate that, when I approached Paloma García, she agreed to welcome me into her group, and upon returning to Mexico City, I spent the following months travelling with her and “her people” to many of the local and national events and daily activities that she went to. Most of these travel companionships took place across the city. The intention was to get an ethnographic perspective on how sociopolitical messages and demands are conceived and articulated to the broader public. Using theatre metaphors, I sought to gain insights into the “script” development, the “rehearsal” process, the “show” itself, and the reflections of the participants after the events (see Dolan 1993). With Paloma, I also met a few of the sex workers and aspiring activists that were affiliated, on and off, with The Warriors, the street-vending organization she led. As part of those interactions, I got to know many more of the on-street sex workers and street vendors 68 affiliated with The Warriors. Some of the trans sex workers were Paloma’s friends from the past, as Paloma had been a sex worker at some point in her youth before she became the leader of her own street-vending organization, as I recount in more detail in Chapter 4. I also met some of the activists with whom Paloma had meetings, and particularly, those who advised her on political and trans matters. These activists were both trans and non-trans people, and even though I focused on Paloma’s political activities related to her “trans” work, I was able to appreciate the ways in which her emerging trans activism was part of the broader street-vending and partisan political work in which she was immersed. It is important to mention, at this point, that when I identify someone or an event as “activist” it is because the person was identified and the event was branded in this way by the people involved. I do not mean to imply that sex workers are, by definition, not “activists,” but rather that certain activities and people both self-identify and are recognized as “activists” while others are not. As months went on, I began meeting more and more street-based sex workers. Some of them would come to The Warriors’ headquarters to attend workshops, ask for favours, or to say “hi” and hang out. I made a point of becoming friends with them and I was able to begin tapping into their own network of trans women to meet more of them outside of The Warriors’ headquarters venue. Most of the other trans women I met knew of Paloma and of her organization, but their degrees of involvement with it ranged from none to sporadic or occasional to regular. Most of them, in fact, had at least some connection or participation with The Warriors, and sought the help of Paloma when they needed it. Many of them paid membership fees when there was something they wanted in return, but for the most part, they remained largely independent from it. As I got to know them, and they got 69 to know me, I was able to begin carrying out fieldwork in their homes, neighbourhoods, places of work, gatherings and parties, as well as in the “activist” meetings that we all went to throughout Mexico City. I chose some events to attend on my own, but for the most part, I followed Paloma and the rest to the events they chose to attend. Clearly, my field research took place in specific geographic places of Mexico City, but my ethnography is not of a particular site. I spent a lot of my time in public and private places located in the Chililiapa and Zacualtipán neighbourhoods and in the broader Panotlán sex trade area of Mexico City. I also spent time in the Cosapa neighbourhood and the Tepeoco street-vending area. I got to know low-income trans women who primarily worked the streets at two “puntos” (lit. spots; sex trade areas): the Panotlán and the Cacala Spots, and who largely lived in the Cosapa and Zacualtipán neighbourhoods. The Warriors’ headquarters was located in the Chililiapa neighbourhood, where many of the low-income trans women I met would gather. I present profiles of the “puntos” later in this chapter, and of the neighbourhoods in Chapters 3 and 4. My ethnographic approach consisted of following the research participants throughout the city to where they went, not in documenting what happened at a bounded or specific site. Two of the most well-known ethnographies of transpeople in Latin America focused their insights on the almost exclusive documentation of very specific places. Don Kulick (1998c), for instance, spent his time in the street of São Francisco in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Annick Prieur (1998b), as well, spent a lot of time in a research participant’s house in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, State of Mexico, Mexico, where the participants living in the neighbourhood where she carried out her research gathered. The title of Prieur’s monograph reflects this methodological choice. I spent a lot of time in The Warriors’ 70 headquarters. I spent a lot of time in the apartments where research participants I grew closest to lived. I spent a lot of time hanging out in the streets of the neighbourhoods where many of the trans women I met worked, lived, ate, and socialized. However, I also spent a lot of time in a van, on the subway, on the metrobús, and in a cab, travelling to and from places spread out across Mexico City where “activist” events would be held.32 These “activist” sites included clinics, schools, theatres, government offices, and auditoriums. I also spent a lot of time at the coffee shops, restaurants, parks, and city streets where trans women agreed to meet with me. I realized this was their way of getting their food paid for, and so I actively offered to meet at food shops so that I could reciprocate for their time, words, and friendship with the payment of our meals. I spent a lot of time commuting from the many “sites” of fieldwork to the apartment in the centre-west part of the city where I lived during the extended fieldwork. I travelled extensively throughout the city. My ethnography is not the study of a site, but rather of a set of issues as they unfolded in many places in Mexico City. Methodologically, I employed participant-observation, formal interviews, informal conversations, and travel companionships in Mexico City. The information I collected for my doctoral project sought to focus on the efforts of trans sex workers and activists’ struggles to obtain legal, health, social, and labour rights in Mexico. My dissertation is based on anthropological ethnographic research with two intersecting constituencies, that of self-defined trans activists and that of on-street trans sex workers and vendors. I largely employed different methodologies to access these two populations. For the most part, I                                                  32 The metrobús is a ground-level bus line with fixed stops resembling underground subway stations. 71 conducted formal interviews primarily with self-defined trans activists and other government health officials, and I carried out participant observation, informal interviews, and travel companionships with low-income female-gendered transpeople. Nevertheless, I also sought to carry out participant observation with trans activists and I managed to develop close personal relationships that I still preserve with at least two of them. Similarly, whenever feasible, I also carried out a few formal interviews with trans workers and vendors. Yet, Mexico City is a society sharply structured by class and educational disparities. I thus adjusted my research techniques in a way that allowed me to document the presence and existence of low-income female-gendered transpeople in Mexico City. Had I chosen to conduct a study solely based on formal interviews, my dissertation would probably look very different. Significantly, this would have likely meant that I would have been able to tap into self-defined activist networks, but that the low-income transpeople—many of whom did not have previous exposure to research projects—would not have been part of the ethnographic snapshot I present in this dissertation. In Mexico City, I got to know approximately 40 to 50 low-income trans women. Virtually everyone I met had been involved in the on-street sex trade at some point in their lives and, with the exception of about three, they remained involved in it when I met them. Of this large group, during my extended fieldwork I carried out substantive participant-observations with Paloma García, Francis, Mariana, Jazmín, Vianey, Dulce (Osa), Valentina (Rana), Giselle, Samantha, Melissa (Fey), Julieta/Mateo, Libia, and Yadira. I also got to spend time, though to a lesser extent, with Azucena, Ashley, Paola, Sylvia, Michelle, and Alondra. 72 Paloma García’s initial permission to follow her throughout her activities and her willingness to introduce me to the trans women she knew was critical in carrying out this project with participants who were affiliated or knew about The Warriors. Yadira’s support, however, was crucial in allowing me to spend day after day at The Warriors’ headquarters, and to be able to sit in on a series of “trans” workshops in which low-income trans women participated to learn about the issues facing the “TTT” community. Yadira was among the older trans women I met. She worked in the Cacala Spot, and was known for her folk knowledge of “infiltraciones,” an issue I return to in Chapter 3. I had met Yadira at the feminist conference where I met Paloma García, with whom she was travelling. When the time came for me to formally seek permission to document the workshop activities with those who were attending them at The Warriors’ headquarters, Yadira put her foot forward on my behalf. I had not asked her to do so but Yadira surprised me when she compellingly made a point, in front of everyone, to explain that I was “a feminist” and so I should be allowed to document their activities, as I had the best interests of transpeople at heart. Outside of The Warriors, a few low-income trans women were crucial for the development of my project. Mariana, who worked at the Panotlán Spot and lived in the Zacualtipán neighbourhood, was one of them. During my extended fieldwork, I learned that I was being recognized as one of Mariana’s “cousins.” I also counted on the kindness of Samantha, who worked in the Cacala Spot and, unlike many of the rest, lived in the western outskirts of the city. As the years went by, Osa, a street vendor at the Chililiapa area, and Vianey, a sex worker at the Panotlán Spot, remained central to my research project. UBC’s Behavioural Research Ethics Board granted me permission to carry out this research project using both verbal and written consent. For the most part, I used verbal or 73 oral consent with low-income participants. This stemmed from the fact that, in Mexico City, especially among those who have been on the receiving end of bureaucratic inefficiency, state corruption, scams, thieves, or extortions, being asked to sign papers is largely viewed with suspicion. Also, as one of the reviewers of my ethics application pointed out, I had to make my best effort to avoid putting participants at risk, and leaving them with a paper trail of our interactions could potentially endanger them (or me, though the reviewer did not point this out) in some way. In addition to explicitly explaining my project and asking participants to agree to participate in my study, I reminded them often that I was a researcher. I chose to carry my notebook (with tear-off sheets from the previous days—also a strategy that came about as a result of the comments I received from the ethics board reviewer) and whenever something important came up, I would explicitly ask if I could record that on my notebook for my research. I had learned this technique from a fieldschool i