Circus Life for Transgender Chileans

by Luis Hidalgo

Associated Press

Monday November 4, 2013

SANTIAGO, Chile -- They call it a circus, although it's more like a vaudeville show. To these Chilean transgenders it's not only a way to earn a living, but a way to be part of a family.

They've toured the country for more than a decade performing in modest tents and they say their show remains a refuge from discrimination.

Chile has traditionally been a tough place for homosexuals. The South American country only decriminalized gay sex in 1999.

The brutal killing of a gay man last year set off a national debate about hate crimes that prompted Congress to pass a hate crimes law. But while one of his attackers was sentenced to life in prison last week, another young man is in a coma fighting for his life from a similar beating.

The transgender performers are often mocked and some of them have suffered violent attacks.

"The verbal aggressions and attacks continue, even after the passing of the anti-discrimination law," said Vero, 40, who is one of the founding members of the circus show called "Fama."

They earn between $125 and $240 a month, well below Chile's monthly minimum wage of $380. But they say they don't mind the pay because they enjoy their job and have few expenses.

"It's the only work I have. Elsewhere they don't give me work because I am a homosexual," said 34-year-old Sasha.

Eight of the 15 live at the circus, which they describe as their "mobile home."

"Here we give the girls food and a place to stay. A place to live and develop as artists," said Vero.

The group takes care of every detail. Members pack and carry the tents and the wooden planks that use as seating for their audience. Their tent, set up on the dirt, has a capacity for 400 people.

The only classic circus act is a flame thrower. There are plenty of musical acts and double-entendre jokes.

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