Of Lady-killers and ‘Men Dressed As Women’: Soap Opera, Scapegoats and the Mexico City Police Department

Vek Lewis

Abstract


Over two days in October 2005, police in Mexico City conducted a series of raids on male-to-female transgender (travesti) prostitutes working in the streets. The motive of the investigation was not related to sex work at all, but rather, the hunt for a serial killer responsible for the deaths of elderly women between 2003 and 2005. With few leads apart from reports by a couple of eyewitnesses that they had seen ‘a man dressed as a woman’ enter the houses of the victims, the Chief Public Prosecutor announced that the killer could be a travesti.

On January 25, 2006, the ‘lady-killer’ was finally discovered to be neither a ‘man dressed as a woman’, nor a travesti. The suspect, a female former lucha libre wrestler, Juana Barraza, was taken into custody.

In the period leading up to the October raids, Mexico’s chief television channel, Televisa, finished up the season of its popular soap, La Madrastra, with a plot line that features a man who dresses as a woman to disguise his usual male identity and kill his female victims.

This paper examines the case, looking at the influence of the soap opera narrative in the profiling of travestis as suspect ‘men dressed as women’. It draws on studies of soap opera and mass media forms in Mexican society, as well as the work of transgender theory in understanding how crossgender identities are circumscribed by discourse.

Keywords


Telenovelas; Cross-dressing; Reception Theory; Symbolic Violence; Police Raids; Sexual Minorities

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/portal.v5i1.480