Queens of the night

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By DANIEL COSTA*

Commentary on Chico Felitti's book

1.

Addressing the trajectory and constructing biographical accounts of marginalized groups and characters within societies has been a burning issue for professionals in the human sciences. From sociologists to anthropologists, including journalists and historians, there is a great debate about the methods to be applied to make the work possible.

How to tell these stories, how to give a voice to these populations, and other issues that arise along the same lines have positively disturbed those who wish to address the journey of these characters. The partial result of these inquiries can be seen in a series of works,[I] Each one, in their own way and according to different methodologies, tries to present subsidies to face this challenge.

When the historian thinks about reconstructing the trajectory of marginalized characters,[ii] especially women and men who remained on the sidelines of official history, the first difficulty lies precisely in finding evidence that points out ways to think about these trajectories.[iii] From the indigenous population, through the significant contingent of enslaved Africans who faced a forced continental crossing, to informal workers at the beginning of the 20th century. The variety of individuals with stories worthy of study and reflection would encompass years and years of research work and a huge number of professionals dedicated to the task.

Seeking to carry out a reflection based mainly on the method and way of making history, I bring the contribution and questions of historian Miguel Rodrigues de Sousa Neto. In an intriguing way, the historian asks his readers: “who can have their sometimes unusual trajectories told? Who are the people whose experiences can be turned into narratives and passed on? Do the lives of people outside the great circles of political, economic and cultural power matter? If interested, who?”

The author continues his reflection by stating that, “history, during a significant part of its existence as a way of apprehending human actions in time and space and guaranteeing access to memory, chose few people so that posterity would know them. One of the ways to include – and exclude – those who would compose its annals would be to evaluate the impact of such a subject on the society of which he was a part. Even with such a broad criterion, subordinated subjects, “marginal” groups, “common” people have been left out of historical narratives”.[iv]

It is worth clarifying, however, that history, as a discipline, is not solely responsible for this erasure. According to Miguel Rodrigues de Sousa Neto, “the mainstream press, other sciences, museums and other spaces for storing memories have commonly closed themselves to deviant, non-hegemonic subjects. People considered “outside the law”, “marginal”, “deviant”, “dangerous”, “inconvenient” have been kept away from the narratives that tell about Brazil, its large urban centers, the cities and towns in the interior, the possible sociability, the various desires, the transgressive capacity, when they do not appear as villains – antagonists to be defeated”.

In this list of characters who, for most of their existence, had their citizenship denied by the constituted State, I also highlight those who were considered scoundrels, as well as prostitutes, pimps, children and young orphans. This considerable portion of the Brazilian population could go almost unnoticed by history, since the records left along their trajectory are almost nil. When we think about T people, that is, trans or transvestite women and men, the difficulty is even greater, after all, their trajectories are marked by a dual process, a kind of rebirth and, at the same time, the invisibilization of their bodies and identity.

2.

It is as part of a growing process of breaking the invisibility imposed on T people, that journalist Chico Felitti[v] brought the book to the public Queens of the night. The transvestites who had São Paulo at their feet. Over the course of 236 pages, the reader will have the opportunity to discover, in addition to the story of Jacqueline Welch, Andréa de Mayo and Cristiane Jordan, a center of São Paulo that remained in the memory of old bohemians and night owls, but also a center where to escape the violence ; whether from the State or those who called themselves “good people”, these women created their own codes and laws.

According to Chico Felitti in the preface to the work, “the story of Jacqueline Welch, Andréa de Mayo and Christiane Jordan is an oral history. There are no photos of the luxury brothel that Jaqueline ran for decades in front of the Consolação church, nor official records of the years in which Cristiane was a victim of pedophilia, nor investigations into the murders that Andréa de Mayo publicly declared to have committed. There is also no trace of any documentation about the financial wealth and artistic achievements of these great characters of the São Paulo nightlife.”

In view of what was said by the author himself, it was necessary to look for ways that would make it possible to reconstitute, even if only partially, the lives of these women. After all, “the few papers that remain about the lives of Jacqueline, Andréa and Cristiane are police reports and criminal proceedings[vi] such as embezzlement, news of arrests and deaths published on the cover of tabloids or reported timidly in newspapers. The three are victims of what is now called archival violence,[vii] that is, the erasure of the history of people who lived on the margins of society,[viii] which makes it impossible to tell their biography with the same factual basis as that of businesspeople, athletes and any other category of human being considered more “worthy” of documentation”.

When asked about the importance of discussing the issue of archival violence, Chico Felitti also brings up the difficulty he faced in the process of building Queens of the night, let's see: “Because it (archival violence) creates an endless cycle, a vicious cycle of erasure. So, these people existed at a time when they were even more segregated, marginalized. Because of this they were not published in the newspaper, they were not even documented in court. Many didn't even have documents. Afterwards, anyone who wants to tell their story won't be able to precisely because of this lack of archive. When we choose not to tell some stories, it has an effect, an echo that lasts for a long time. From the moment you start an investigation based on people's memories, you break with that. People are now able to consult this story, something that was not possible until then. There are events that are already in the archive, but it is difficult to insert new ones into it.”[ix]

3.

Before reading Chico Felitti's book, it is essential for the reader to know that Brazil, with its eternal contradictions, is among the countries that consume the most trans pornography,[X] and, at the same time, it is the country that murders these populations the most.[xi] When the focus is on topics such as health[xii] and education, the path to be taken also presents obstacles. Despite affirmative policies developed in recent years, access to higher education[xiii] it is still restricted to this portion of the population, as are employability spaces.[xiv]

Finally, it is appropriate to bring the contribution of historian Juno Nedel on the issue. According to Juno Nedel: “It would be inappropriate to claim that transgender and gender-diverse people have been completely erased from history. There are countless records of gender diversity in pre-colonial and post-colonial societies, such as the hijira, in India, or the people of the North American native peoples who were called mujerados and two-spirit by the colonizers of America”.[xv]

Taking the trajectory of trans women and transvestites as a perspective, there is still a long way to go; In a society that seeks to put these women on the sidelines, it is up to historians, anthropologists, sociologists and journalists (and that we have more and more professionals to develop such research[xvi]) explore these labyrinths of memory[xvii], and that is what journalist Chico Felitti did masterfully in Queens of the night.

4.

Over the course of twelve chapters, Chico Felitti presents much more than the trajectory of three transvestites, the journalist shows how throughout his work, over the course of four decades, these three women built an empire, “each with their own territory, their own way of governing , its defects and its qualities”.

The three women called queens of the night by Chico Felitti are: Jacqueline Welch, was a pioneer in opening a beauty salon modeled after the most luxurious in the city in the early 1970s to serve transvestites, transsexuals and prostitutes, in the same decade she set up shop in His mansion, a brothel for transvestites, was located on the corner of Consolação and Rego Freitas, operating between 1974 and 1994.

Andréa de Mayo, was the owner of boarding houses for transvestites, an actress, even participating in the São Paulo production of Trickster's Opera. Chico Felitti says that despite rehearsing for just over two weeks, Andrea attracted attention. “There are protests from Catholic groups against her presence in the play, with her small breasts on display. Critics praise the show, but no review speaks in its name. They don't speak good or bad, they simply ignore her. It could be a coincidence, but there are texts that mentioned everything from lighting to the acting of extras, while being silent about the fact that Andréa de Mayo, a transvestite who lives in an underworld of segregated people without rights, played Geni, a transvestite in equal conditions” .[xviii]

Andréa was still a recognized activist, being one of the main voices of the LGBT movement in the 1990s, she was also the first transvestite from São Paulo to become a press columnist and was the owner of Prohibidu's, a nightclub that was a landmark in the nightlife of São Paulo, located at Amaral Gurgel, number 253.

The third queen presented by Chico Felitti is Cristiane Jordan – on her journey that child who fled the Bixiga region to the surroundings of Praça da República. “As an adult, she would be the “delegate” of around twenty-two blocks occupied by prostitution in the center of the largest Brazilian city”.

According to the author, Cristiane is a parallel State almost two meters tall, “and, when this parallel State comes to collect its taxes, the others extend their hand”. One of the few cases in which there was someone who faced Cristiane, was exactly another transvestite, called Cláudia Edson. “On a Friday night when Cristiane is collecting her toll, Cláudia, who lives in Italy and spends the European winter in Brazil, says that she will not pay. “The week was difficult, I don’t even have money for myself”, she warns. Cristiane Jordan raises her hand to hit him in the face. Cláudia, who is as strong as Jordan, stops her.

“I won’t even get hit by the police, I won’t get hit by you”, says Edson. Cristiane opens her eyes and looks degraded. “We were similar. Similar in fame. In the minds of the people, it was already the black, the black guy, the monkey, the drool that gets stuck”, says Cláudia. The tension dissolves in the air as Cristiane and Cláudia seal a silent pact. “She saw that we were similar. That I was like her,” she says. Cristiane then withdraws her hand and extends it to the next prostitutes”.[xx]

At the same time that she extorted street workers, Cristiane also guaranteed the safety and protection of her girls, whether in the face of clients who caused problems, or in the face of abuses committed by the official State. One of the conflicts led by Jordan and that would remain in the memory of dozens of transvestites in the region occurred on a hot summer night in 1988. “The van stops in front of the Sopa bar, on Rua Amaral Gurgel. Cláudia Edson, who is eating a mincemeat, stops with a fork in the air. Half a dozen police officers run out of the squad car. There are fifteen transvestites having dinner at the bar, close to midnight. The officers begin shouting orders, such as “Everyone to the wall.”

Cláudia looks at the person eating next to her at the counter. “We're not going, right?” she asks. “Only if you want,” replies the woman, wearing a black power wig and sequined dress. “I don’t want to, no.” The two leave the dishes half finished and get up ready for war. Cláudia Edson and Cristiane Jordan are not friends. The clash at Rotary Square was not forgotten, but that night there was a union in the name of a greater good. At the bar, the two join forces. Literally. Cláudia lifts a wooden chair while Cristiane takes a clay filter from the counter and throws it towards the police.

The terracotta pottery explodes like a bomb, causing the police to disband. Then they start playing tables. Dishes. Cutlery. Until others follow suit. “We broke everything, my love”, says Cláudia. “My courage came from fear. I was very traumatized, I was very afraid.” But those who get scared are the men, who end up leaving. No transvestites are arrested in the Sopa bar. Cláudia Edson and Cristiane Jordan sit at the counter and finish dinner in the middle of a destroyed place. As if it were just any other night. As if the center wasn’t a territory at war.”[xx]

The battle fought by Cristiane and Cláudia against the contingent of police officers would be just a sample of the violence perpetrated by the official State against the LGBTQIAP+ community. In the face of such a scenario, the parallel State should also react. During this period, Andréa also experiences a moment of intense activity. In addition to Prohibidu's, she also manages her eight “prostitutes' republics” and “walks around the neighborhood giving orders and defending her colleagues' livelihood”. Felitti narrates that the queen of the night took her car and left around Praça da República, Largo do Arouche and Amaral Gurgel, dictating her rules and the schedule of the houses in the region. “I want a transvestite show here on Wednesday”, she demands of the managers of Danger, a nightclub aimed at the gay public that only offers drag shows on the weekend and they readily comply”.[xxx]

Andréa wasn't afraid to pass on her messages, like when she discovered that a nightclub was putting on transvestite shows at six in the morning, a time she considers hers and no one else's. Andréa appears at the nightclub early in the evening, goes in and warns the owners: “You're going to close at five in the morning. And tomorrow they won’t even open.”[xxiii]. The following night she passes by the house, which respects the queen's order and does not open.

As a true queen of her territory, Andréa could be merciless towards those who did not follow her orders, however, at the same time, she demanded that nightclubs open space for shows with transvestites, so that her girls could have a source of income. She also used her strength to put an end to the discrimination that prevented T people from entering certain parties and nightclubs in the region.

5.

Amid the trajectory of the three queens, Chico Felitti brings other questions for the reader to reflect on, such as the difficulties faced by transvestites who sought recognition as artists. At the end of the 1970s, many transvestites began to appear in Boca do Lixo productions.[xxiii], including Jacqueline Welch who would make a cameo in Forbidden couples. Margot Minnelli recalls her time at Boca cinema when she participated in a film directed by Wilson Barros.

According to Margot Minelli: “The recording was fervour. But it was short. They wanted transvestites to do a show, or do a sexy number, and that was it. We weren't even called actresses. She was called a transvestite. I even heard from a director that they didn’t put our name on the poster because transvestites are not artists, they are transvestites.”[xxv]. Cláudia Wonder is another character who, despite her prominence in Boca, stated that during the period: “The representation of transvestites was erotic, sexual. Or mockery.”[xxiv]

With Queens of the night, Chico Felitti shows the audience three queens who, even in a society that fights day and night to silence them, were protagonists of their own lives. They were also protagonists of daily life in the center of the city of São Paulo, for almost four decades. In a country that is violent, T people on a daily basis, Jacqueline, Andréa and Cristiane had a voice and used it, in places that were hostile to them, they forced entry and fought for spaces. In the center of the largest city in Latin America, they called the shots.

In addition to the printed version released in 2022, with a reprint in 2024 – a fact that proves the acceptance and importance of the work – the book was also released as an audiobook in 2021.[xxv] In the version available on the Storytel platform, the trajectory of the three queens is told by actress, playwright and transpologist Renata Carvalho, who, like the characters in Chico Felitti's work, is a reference.

By founding the National Movement of Trans Artists (Monart), and, within it, launching the Manifesto Representatividade Trans Já, Say Yes to Trans Talent, Renata Carvalho emerges as a leading figure in the movement that calls for an end to the so-called transfake, that is, the representation of trans characters by people who are not trans and which is often loaded with stereotypes. With the fight that at certain times can bring more burden than bonus, Renata makes a decisive contribution to ensuring that situations like those narrated by Margot Minnelli and Cláudia Wonder do not happen again.

Queens of the night It is an essential book for those who want to know a little about the tortuous paths taken by three great characters. In a hostile and animalistic city they were human. In other words, they walked the tenuous rope of “right and wrong”, “moral and immoral”, built their micro empires and were feared by some and respected by others.

In the end, the trajectory of the three queens paved the way so that today, even with all the difficulties imposed by society, trans women and transvestites can fight to be the queens of the day, and no longer characters relegated to the dark corner of a any square.

* Daniel Costa He is studying for a master's degree in History at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).

Reference


Chico Felitti. Queens of the night. The transvestites who had São Paulo at their feet. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2022, 236 pages. [https://amzn.to/3VqJYSH]

Notes


[I] To introduce the reader to works that seek to discuss these new approaches, I highlight the following works: CARNEIRO, Natália; SANTANA, Bianca; GAIA, Gabriela. (orgs). Input for anchoring black memories. CARNEIRO, Natalia. (org.). Roots and wings: memory for black autonomy. Black Narratives Collective. (org.). Black narratives: illustrated biographies of black Brazilian women. SANTANA, Bianca. (org.). Insurgent voices of black women. From the 18th century to the first decade of the 21st century. KON, Noemi Moritz; SILVA, Maria Lúcia da; ABUD, Cristiane Curi. (eds.) Racism and black people in Brazil. Questions for psychoanalysis. CARVALHO, Mário Felipe; CARRARA, Sergio. “Towards a trans future? Contribution to the history of the transvestite and transsexual movement in Brazil. In: Sexuality, Health and Society – Revista Latino-americana. Number 14, p. 319-351, 2013. For the article see: https://www.e-publicacoes.uerj.br/SexualidadSaludySociedad/article/view/6862

[ii]As an emblematic case of this new perspective on trajectories, I highlight the case of Xica Manicongo. For almost four hundred years, historians mistakenly considered Xica Manicongo to be a homosexual. The erasure of his transsexuality was only corrected at the end of the 20th century. Since then, the enslaved Congolese woman has become a symbol of struggle and resistance for the trans community in Brazil. For more information check out the work of JESUS, Jaqueline Gomes de. “Xica Manicongo: transgenderity takes the floor” In: Revista Docência e Cibercultura, [S. l.], v. 3, no. 1, p. 250–260, 2019. Available at: https://www.e-publicacoes.uerj.br/re-doc/article/download/41817/29703/145153

[iii] The historian Sydney Chalhoub, one of the pioneers in approaching the trajectory of subjects from the popular classes, will state that since the publication of the first edition of his classic, Work, home and bar, Brazilian historiography changed a lot, diversified, became more sophisticated, expanded theoretical horizons and refined the rigor of empirical research. To see: Work, home and bar: the daily lives of workers in Rio de Janeiro during the belle époque.

[iv] NETO, Miguel Rodrigues de Sousa. “How many sides does a Story have?” In: Território & Fronteiras Magazine. Cuiabá, vol. 15, no. 2, Jul – Dec. 2022. Available at: https://periodicoscientificos.ufmt.br/territoriosefronteiras/index.php/v03n02/issue/view/34

[v] Journalist Chico Felitti also published the following books: Ricardo and Vânia: the makeup artist, the call girl, the silicone and a love story (2019) The House: The story of the John of God sect (2020) and Elke: Wonder Woman (2021)

[vi] Regarding the use of criminal processes in historical research Chalhoub explains that: “the interest in reading and analyzing criminal processes was precisely in the expectation that such documents flagrantly workers – men and women – acting and describing the meanings of their daily relationships outside the space of the labor movement, from the place of articulated political speech”.

[vii] For an introduction to the debate about archival violence see: LACERDA, Thays. “Between the powers of the archive and archival violence. The location of the file on the file device.” In: Collection Magazine. Vol. 36, no. 3, p. 1-26, 2023. Available at: https://revista.an.gov.br/index.php/revistaacervo/article/view/1986/1900

[viii] To seek alternatives to this practice of erasure, historian Margareth Rago will point out that “the analysis of power in its positivity, as a network of relationships that is exercised molecularly, uninterruptedly and ramified, in all domains of social life, producing individualities, training gestures, increasing the profitability of work – as Michel Foucault points out – opens up a whole methodological perspective. To see: From cabaret to home. The utopia of the disciplinary city and anarchist resistance. Brazil 1890-1930.

[ix] To access the full interview with Felitti, seer: https://www.papelpop.com/2021/10/em-audiolivro-chico-felitti-desvenda-sexo-poder-e-gloria-das-noites-queer-de-sp/

[X] According to Bruna G. Benevides: As expected, these data are not exactly a surprise. Just as it is no surprise that the Brazil continued for the 15th consecutive year as the country that murdered the most transvestites and transsexuals worldwide in 2023, according to what was published by TGEU (organization that monitors murders of trans people globally). For more information see: https://catarinas.info/colunas/brasil-invicto-como-campeao-no-consumo-de-pornografia-trans-no-mundo-e-de-assassinatos/

[xi] According to the latest survey released by ANTRA: In 2023, there was an increase of more than 10% in cases of murders of trans people compared to 2022. Highlighting the fact that the country is once again the country that consumes the most trans pornography on content platforms adult at the same time that Brazil continued to be the country that murdered the most trans people for the 15th consecutive year. The state policy of underreporting LGBT violence was maintained. Among the deaths in 2023, there were 155 cases, 145 cases of murders and 10 trans people committing suicide. The youngest trans woman murdered was 13 years old, and we saw the persistence of a patrol against trans children and teenagers. It was also observed that the maintenance of violence is part of a political project in which the extreme right assumed a worrying leading role in the agenda of trans people. And we were also able to observe the impacts of gender policing on cisgender women, in cases where they were treated the way society generally treats trans people. For the full report access: https://antrabrasil.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/dossieantra2024-web.pdf

[xii] Regarding access (or lack of) to public health by the trans population: https://jornal.ufg.br/n/166253-pesquisa-investiga-acesso-a-saude-pela-populacao-trans e https://ojs.brazilianjournals.com.br/ojs/index.php/BJHR/article/view/67104

[xiii] According to research carried out by the National Network of Trans People in Brazil, 82% of trans people drop out of high school between the ages of 14 and 18. Data from the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (Antra), from 2022, are even more revealing. Research shows that around 70% of trans and transvestite people did not complete high school and only 0,02% of this population had access to higher education. The numbers also show that much of this violence is practiced by teachers and managers of the institution, in addition to situations experienced among students. For more information see: https://www.adufsba.org.br/noticia/5557/instituicoes-de-ensino-sao-espacos-violentos-e-excludentes-para-pessoas-trans-e-travestis

[xiv]According to a survey carried out by the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Fapesp) in 2020, only 13,9% of trans women and transvestites had a formal job, while 59,4% of trans men held these types of positions. However, according to the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals of Brazil (Antra), only 4% of trans and transvestite people are in the formal job market. For more information

[xv] NEDEL, Juno. “The body as archive. Tensing questions about history and trans memory.” In: Ventilando Acervos Magazine. Florianópolis, vol. special, n. 1, p. 16-41, Jul. 2020. Available at: https://ventilandoacervos.museus.gov.br/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/03.-Juno-Nedel.pdf

[xvi] Regarding the literary and academic production of T people, we can highlight: NASCIMENTO, Letícia. Transfeminism, Ed. Jandaíra; MOIRA, Amara. And if I were a whore, Hoo Editora; NERY, João. Viagens Solitárias, Leya; ODARA, Thifanny. Pedagogy of disobedience, Editora Devires; CARVALHO, Renata. Transpophagic Manifesto, Ed. Monstra; LANZ, Letícia. Building myself, Cia. das Letras; PASSOS, Maria Clara Araújo dos. Transvestite pedagogy, Brazilian Civilization; WONDER, Claudia. Ohares by Claudia Wonder, Ed. GLS. The highlighted titles do not exhaust the topic, for more information on the topic see: CHAVES, Leocádia Aparecida. “Trans autobiographies: an uprising in the making“. In: Revista estud. lit. bras. contemp. Brasília, no. 64, e644, 2021. Available at: https://www.scielo.br/j/elbc/a/qbmBDYyjbqtDsD8mGSCjCTp/?format=pdf&lang=PT

[xvii] A substantial part of the academic studies that feature trans women and transvestites as protagonists mainly address issues related to health and sexuality. Biographical works that seek to address life trajectories are still incipient. For a work considered a reference see: PELUCIO, Larissa. Abjection and Desire – a transvestite ethnography about the AIDS preventive model. 1st ed. São Paulo, SP: Editora Annablume, 2009.

[xviii] After two months participating in the show, Andréa left the production in an unexplained manner, being hastily replaced by Thelma Lipp, who was also transsexual, an advance can be seen in the production in São Paulo, given that in the Rio season Geni was played by actor Emiliano Queiroz.

[xx] Queens of the Night, P. 126.

[xx] Queens of the Night, P. 134-136.

[xxx] Queens of the Night, p.177.

[xxiii] Queens of the Night. p.178.

[xxiii] For more information about the cinema produced in the Boca do Lixo region, see: ABREU, Nuno César. Boca do Lixo: Cinema and popular classes and STERNHEIM, Alfredo. Cinema from the mouth: Dictionary of directors.

[xxv] Queens of the Night. p. 109.

[xxiv] Queens of the Nightp.107.

[xxv] The version of Felitti's work voiced by Renata Carvalho is available at: https://www.storytel.com/br/books/rainhas-da-noite-1399531


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