- Perverse Citizenship: Divas, Marginality, and Participation in “Loca-Lization”
Ordenanza de Convivencia Ciudadana y Sancion de Infracciones Menores
Artículo 1°. Objeto. La presente ordenanza tiene por objeto consolidar las bases de la convivencia ciudadana en el Distrito Metropolitano y la preservación de la seguridad, el orden público, el ambiente y el ornato de la ciudad, . . . y la utilización pacífica y armónica de las vías y espacios públicos del Distrito Metropolitano de Caracas.
Capítulo I. De las infracciones relativas al debido comportamiento en lugares públicos
Artículo 13 (decimotercero). Ofrecimiento de comercio sexual. El que ofrezca servicios de carácter sexual en la vía pública, sera sancionado con multa de veinte (20) unidades tributarias, o la realización de algunos de los trabajos comunitarios establecidos en
el artículo 38 de la presente ordenanza por un lapso de cuarenta y ocho horas.
Ordenanza de Convivencia Ciudadana, Caracas, Venezuela
Although sex work is not a crime in the Venezuelan penal code, on the [End Page 146] streets of Caracas, the Ordenanza de Convivencia Ciudadana is the law of the land.1 These few words, which happily proclaim the terms under which citizens might harmoniously live together, also condemn many women, transformistas, and men to live in a daily negotiation, expensive and at times violent, with the agents of the state, in this case, the Policía Metropolitana de Caracas (PM). Convivencia ciudadana (citizenly coexistence) implies a social harmony that respects all citizens as long as they respect the law.2 But some citizens “live together” better than others, and the law always values some existences while marginalizing others.
I had to get to know the Ordenanza de Convivencia Ciudadana (or simply ordenanza), and its accompanying definition of “citizenship,” to understand the context of Avenida Libertador in Caracas, where dozens of transformistas undertake sex work nightly. I had to get to know the ordinance this way because it helped me understand the structural factors that overdetermine the violence and marginalization that are produced on a daily basis on these streets and upon these bodies. But the truth is that the ordenanza is just a tool for the PM. Before the ordenanza, there was the Ley de Vagos y Maleantes, before that another law, and always Morality, Order, and Good Citizenship. If the ordenanza is struck down tomorrow, the PM will find another way to police these transformistas.
When I began my work in Venezuela, I didn’t expect to engage with questions of citizenship and civil society. However, as I spent more time in an increasingly polarized political environment where mechanisms of participation and collective action became more and more contested, I began to turn to these words as ways to talk about my concerns.3 There are some sectors of the so-called civil society (sociedad civil) within which I function, specifically, the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and activists to HIV/AIDS and movements to articulate identity, community, and culture for people of color in the United States. However, the limitations of “civil society,” and in particular of NGOs, to respond to the concerns of queer and transgender people of color have informed the skepticism with which I approach such concepts as citizenship and civil society. Rather than approaching the survival of transformistas through political theory, HIV prevention, or the traditions in anthropology that attend to non-Western sexualities and gender systems, I focused my work on bodily and imaginative responses to marginalization through mass media. My fieldwork, in fact, is about these mechanisms and not about what I refer to in this essay as “GLBT civil society.” [End Page 147] But the distinction between those who see themselves as political actors of el ambiente and those who are automatically excluded (or who exclude themselves) from “political” possibility recurred both in my interviews with members of GLBT civil society in Caracas, and in my work on Avenida Libertador.4 I came to see citizenship as a tool that can be used perversely, one that actors within “civil society” (among whom I count myself) must be careful not to normalize.
In Venezuela, I collaborated on...