CNN Photos

The Girls from Ipanema

Spanish photographer Nuria Lopez Torres has spent the past decade exploring the cultural differences of the transgender population from country to country.

What surprised her most about Brazil, the latest setting for her project, was how early some transgender teens start seeking out cosmetic surgery to create a female body. Many, especially those looking to break into prostitution, lack the resources for professional treatment, Lopez said. Instead, they turn to the black market for industrial-grade liquid silicone injections to create the breasts, hips, rear ends and facial features associated with the feminine form.

The youngest transgirl Lopez met in Brazil who had undergone cosmetic surgery was 15. But, the negative long-term effects are apparent in the face and body of 54-year-old Beatriz, who had one of her first facial injections after she entered prostitution at 14.

Over time, the silicone in her face has hardened, producing physical bulges and deformities, impeding her vision.

Lopez met Beatriz in Barcelona a decade ago. The two became friends and traveled to Rio de Janeiro in February, where Beatriz introduced her to the world of Brazil’s transgender prostitutes for her latest photo series, “The Girl From Ipanema.”

This series takes it names from the famous song, about a beautiful girl from a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, as a metaphor for what most Brazilian female trans aspire to be: a beautiful girl, loved and accepted, Lopez said.

Like other young trans in Brazil who struggle for societal acceptance, Beatriz entered prostitution as a teen and sought guidance from the “cafetinas,” those who control much of the business of prostitution in Brazil.

Most are long-time cross-dressing or transsexual prostitutes who run brothels; others provide food, shelter and support for young trans prostitutes finding their way in the trade, in a sort of caregiver role.

"I take care of the girls ... even when one of them die, I arrange the funeral and all the paperwork," one cafetina identified as Luana told Lopez. “Here in Lapa, the girls can work quiet. No problems. If anything happens to any of them, the police come and we [discuss].”

Lopez’s project has brought her to Spain, Turkey, Cuba and Brazil. In 2014, she hopes to continue her work in Mexico. From her experience working with the trans population, Lopez has come to believe that some identify as neither man or woman but as a “third sex” that “combines the masculine and feminine.”

Certainly, some feel like women and want to be complete women right down to their anatomy, Lopez said. Others don’t see a problem in keeping their masculine genitals while otherwise adopting a feminine physical appearance.

“And, there are others that tell you that they are neither man or woman but instead, a transvestite or a transgender person. They consider themselves something in between,” Lopez said in an e-mail in her native Spanish.

“I consider gender identity a cultural construction. Transgendered people call into question the bipolar system of masculine/feminine gender identity.”

- Emanuella Grinberg, CNN