On the tenth anniversary of completing the first draft of The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train, I am republishing this article about it. It describes an affair between a Brazilian transsexual prostitute and a Western straight man.
Poaching is essentially a romanticised memoir; Warm Pink is nothing like that. It is far deeper and more introspective and writing it, along with the later Why Men Made God, was what shaped my current world view.
My ideas about gender in particular were formed by the research and writing of Warm Pink. Although it is a breathlessly-paced romantic adventure, it required me to dig deep into the natures of gender and sexuality, something I had never done before.
Essentially, The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train is about a meeting between Rafy, a beautiful young Brazilian transsexual prostitute, of the type known in Brazil as a travesti, and a recently-divorced British man named Brian. It is written in the form of a fast-paced thriller. Through the story of their encounter, falling in love and the subsequent scandals, I told the story of the lives of dozens of travestis, both in Latin America and in Europe.
Of course, being trans was not the fashion statement then that it has become now and information was hard to find. I spent hours that amounted to months of time on forums where the subject of transgender was discussed, but I did a great deal of conventional research too. There were precious few books and papers available but I read them all.
I learned Spanish (thanks to the lovely Fabi Pinilla, my longsuffering teacher, who became a real and lasting friend) and enough Portuguese to read interviews in those languages. This was because at the time, there were practically no such resources featuring young transgender women in English. But there were and remain, many published in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and elsewhere in South America, as well as in Spain itself, where there is a long history of trans cultural integration. The artists Picasso and Dali associated with transwomen, as did the film-makers Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar.
I hired a translator, a Portuguese woman studying at Dundee University and with her help and my Spanish, I managed even to carry out telephone interviews with a number of girls, living in both Europe and in their home countries. I was heavily indebted to Dr Don Kulick’s book ‘Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes’ which remains the most thorough scientific study of the lives af Brazilian transsexuals.
There appeared to be a dichotomy between the culture in these Latin countries and that in North America and the UK. In the former, nearly all the trans women appeared to have transitioned young, often at or before puberty. They typically began taking feminising hormones around the age of 12 or 13 and sometimes even before. Both Kulick and I discovered cases of boys who had begun taking hormones by the age of 8 and this was confirmed by oters around them. This information fed directly into the construction of Rafy, Warm Pink’s female lead; she tells a story typical of Brazilian trans women.
However, in the Anglo-Saxon world, the majority — by far — of trans women then transitioned over the age of forty. This surprising dichotomy was resolved by Dr Ray Blanchard in research carried out between 1980 and 2005.
In 2008 I thought that the consequence of the repression they suffered
was that transwomen were bottling up their true natures, often for decades; this was why they presented late and, because of this, I was very suspicious of Blanchard’s Typology. I had in fact become seduced by the ‘brain sex’ theory, which Blanchard’s challenges. However, the last six years, which I have spent, cumulatively, over two of in Asia, have completely changed my mind. Blanchard is born out entirely by observation with only detail difference between the Western profiles he discusses and those found in SE Asia.
I believe that as repression is reduced we should see many more girls transitioning young and the demographic in the West should align with that which is seen elsewhere, in Asia, for example. This would mean that, relatively speaking, we should see fewer gay males presenting as men and far more transitioning.
Today, of course, that is what we do see and so Rafy’s story is even more relevant to the West than it was ten years ago.
Back in 2008, when I was writing Warm Pink, I was still very much in research. I believed that transwomen were being erased by society, by health professionals and in the media. In some ways Warm Pink was my reaction against society’s attempt to erase the identity of an oppressed group altogether and at the same time an attempt to artistically engage with my own attraction to transwomen. Today, many of these concerns have been assuaged, but there is an increasing risk of a backlash against transition by a group calling themselves ‘gender-critical’. This is an alliance of transphobic feminists and homosexual males who prey on the understandable fears of parents.
The book was an attempt to publicise the fact that not only do young transwomen exist, but they have established, valid, lived histories which are consistent throughout the world. They know they are trans from long before puberty. Their gender dysphoria is such that they simply cannot live as boys. They are almost exclusively attracted to men, and generally prefer the submissive role in sex.
I explored these alternative sexualities through AnnaMaria’s relationship to Rafy — there was never any doubt in my mind that this was a case of unrequited desire — and Rafy’s with her prior mentor, Marina.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing I discovered in researching the book was the extensive support network that exists for young travestis. Brazil is a conundrum: the culture is viciously macho and repressive, yet there are huge numbers of transwomen. Murder rates against them are the highest reported in the world, yet Brazilian transgender beauty is iconic and has been celebrated for decades; witness Roberta Close.
I struggled at first to see how this could be, but it seems that the support
network is the key. Young transgirls are adopted by older transwomen and then educated — in being transgender– and supported though their journey of transition, which they fund — certainly in Brazil — almost exclusively by sex work. A similar support system, although not based on prostitution or sex work, exists in the Philippines.
Janet Mock’s excellent Redefining Realness idescribes a very similar support network and how she, too, funded her transition through sex work. I think it shows great courage and integrity that she should be so open about this and I highly recommend her book.
This support network allows young transsexual women to survive in these repressive cultures, which I was able to confirm when I began to visit the Philippines. Here, there is severe prejudice and discrimination against trans people because of the generally malignant influence of Christianity, yet transwomen are everywhere. This is explained at night, when you discover an entire subculture that sustains them.
So Warm Pink is about the nature of young transwomen, of a type which is suppressed in the West. Young trans women’s narratives and lived histories were being suppressed and I wanted to redress that. At the same time, of course, the book is an exploration of my own relationship to transwomen, as a man.
Through Brian, the book’s male lead, I explored the nature of the relationship between a trans woman and a straight man who loves her. I put him in a position he could never have believed he would be in, and let him find his fate. There was no predetermined narrative and the end was by no means a foregone conclusion. It was just the way it worked out.
I gave Brian a real test, to find out what he was made of; and in the end, I think he came through with flying colours.
However, Brian and Rafy’s relationship reveals something else: transwomen feel affirmed by their relationships with men. This is part of the attraction that not only sex work, but also cabaret dancing, modelling, beauty pageants and a range of other activities have for them.
Writing The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train was a voyage of discovery for me, and I tried very hard to be true to that. The second edition, which contains many revisions, reflects discoveries I have made since it was first published, but no substantive areas have been changed. It is currently available both as a print book and an eBook.