Wednesday, December 29, 2004


queer brasil

I think I should say something about gayness in Brazil. From my limited experience in the rest of Latin America, it seem that gayness, both male and female, is fairly strongly stigmatized, and at best swept under the rug. Not so Brazil. To take an example, I am currently watching, on one of the four channels my TV receives, a drag queen talk show host interview two founders of a drag queen academy. I have a feeling this wouldn't happen in Mexico.

My main source of information on gayness in Brazil is my roommate Márcia, who is herself gay as a meadowlark in spring. (She just ended an eight year relationship with a woman named Lisa. In her words she was casada (married).) According to Márcia, there are still many people in Brazil who think gayness is wrong. There also many people, especially men, who engage in gay sex without considering themselves gay. (This reminds me of that excellent article "Double Lives on the Down Low" that appeared in the NYT Magazine about a year ago.) But just walking the streets, it seems clear that the level of acceptance of homosexuality in this country is far above most places in the world, and on par with some of the more tolerant parts of the United States. It's a little like Japan. I've been to concerts where men kissed openly in the audience, and certainly seen my fair share of gay-oriented TV. One of the most popular talk shows in São Paulo is hosted by a gay man named Clodóvil. And I've been to a lot of parties, via Márcia, with gay men who emulate the limp-wristed American archetype. All in all, it seems that if you're going to be gay and Latin American, Brazil is the place to be. Why is this true? Damned if I know. But in general, Brazil is sex crazed. It seems to have avoided the Catholic guilt the rest of the continent suffers. Perhaps sex-positivity leads to sex-difference-acceptance...?

You should be warned I've switched to beer. They've got some large 600ml bottles here. Hey, gotta celebrate.

Hi Alex. First off, great blog. My blog friend Stan told me to come here and I'm finding it an interesting read. I just wanted to say I've met a number of gay Brazilians who painted a somewhat darker picture to me, that gay sexuality is very much not seen as equally valid but as a quirk, a generally but not completely accepted oddity. Simply, it's not 'as good as' heterosexuality. Second best is second best, and unacceptable, whether they beat us up for it or join us at the disco - it's all the same to me if I'm devalued as a human being. Bruises can be internal as well as external, you know?

I've heard that drag is more acceptable than so-called (hate the term) 'straight-acting' and, to top it all off, I read only last week in the UK's gay community newspaper, Pink Paper, that some political group was trying to get some seriously dodgy legislation passed relating to gay issues. I wish I could remember what, but I don't. Possibly partnerships, marriage, something like that?

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I think the 'entertaining' gay lifestyle is accepted on the surface but the reality for many gay people in Brazil might be harder than the shinier, glossier aspects might lead people to think. Similarly, gay men outside Brazil who encounter Brazilian gay pornography tend to see Brazilian gay men as stallions under palm trees swinging their coconuts and I am sure that gay men come in all shapes, creeds, colours and sizes in Brazil same as anywhere else! The world feeds on illusions and the question for all of us is, do we cultivate these or challenge them?

It's no different to the UK in some respects. Heck, a visit to Soho here in London could lead a person to think of 'the definitive gay man' as being something not at all in tune with the reality for the majority. I've noticed ever since Will & Grace began to air in the US and UK that more women want gay friends 'just like Jack and Will' and many people think me and my boyfriend must have a 'faaaaabulous' apartment, loads of money and be absolute bitches. The truth is a lot less glamorous, a lot more real and a lot more fun. I'm friends with people for who they are, I try to show respect and not to ever bitch, I'm monogamous and I hate the idea of going to the gym when there's a book waiting to be read. But try telling that to people soaking up those supposedly 'positive' images! :-)

And then there's crap like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Sure, I dress well and have a certain style but pity the poor gay sods who don't because they neither fit into the gay scene or the mainstream perception of what being gay is supposed to be about in order to be acceptable, either as a lifestyle choice or insulting entertainment model. There's a very funny French film called 'The Closet' which goes into this minefield of people's perceptions.

All I'm saying is, perceptions aren't actuality, they aren't the reality. I'm sure Brazil is a much better place than, say, parts of the US are right now in political and social terms for gay people. But just because men kiss more openly doesn't translate into ongoing safety, social justice or plain and simple - yet so hard to achieve - equality and integration.

These are just some of my own thoughts and opinions, not to be taken as definitive as that would go against the whole point of what I've written! I have a hard enough time with some people explaining that not only do I have a spirituality as a gay man but it's not the conventional kind, ie I'm a witch. People can accept me being gay, being vegetarian but a witch? Like they think it'd make more sense me being a Christian queer after what the Pope and his predecessors, and many Protestants, have had to say about me and my kind? I find these days that using a word like 'witch' has far more power to shock people out of complacency than the word 'gay' and that's good. I do what I do to see me through, not for effect but if being 'gay' is to be pigeonholed these days, I'd rather go for the completely amusing stereotypes of broomsticks and pointy hats as a witch than the limp-wristed, effete and neutered, vain queers so popularised by the media of late. Viva la difference!
Thanks for your comment, Andy. To clarify, I never meant to imply that Brazil was a hunky-dory wonderland for queer people of all stripes. Far from it. Drag, which is common on both TV and the street, is seen by most as a entertaining deviation, and homosexuality in general is regarded as second-best by most of the population. I only meant to draw a comparison between Brazil and the rest of Latin America and say there was a difference.

And I disagree with you on at least one point. You write "whether they beat us up for it or join us at the disco - it's all the same to me if I'm devalued as a human being." Well it's not the same to me. Obviously neither is good, but I see a stark difference. Call me crazy, but I'd rather go to the disco. At least in the "disco" society we're a much shorter distance from our ideal.

I bring up drag is not so much because I believe the treatment of drag is great in Brazil, but because it's treated at all. I think that's a start. I know many people disagree, but I'm actually a fan of shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" because I believe they're steps on the path. The QEFTSG guys may be desexualized and all that, but they're at least there. Every time that show airs millions of people see a straight guy inviting a bunch of gay guys into his house -- I think that normalizes gayness, shows straight guys secure enough about themselves that they don't find gayness threatening, etc. I think it's good.

Lastly, I wanted to make it clear that my thoughts on gayness in Brazil are not primarily informed by TV, but by the 5 or so queer couples of both sexes I have gotten to know here. These people are not stereotypes. All evidence points to the fact they are living quite happy gay lives here, perhaps subject to off-color comments sometimes, but generally free from harassment, with many friends both gay and straight, able to live their lives basically as they want to. And this I think is good by any standard.

P.S. "gay men outside Brazil who encounter Brazilian gay pornography tend to see Brazilian gay men as stallions under palm trees"? That's hardly surprising. It's *pornography*.
I didn't take it that you did imply Brazil was a hunky-dory wonderland for queer people. As you say, when you compare Brazil to the rest of Latin America, anyone no matter how far away can see a radical difference. Inequality of all kinds exists everywhere, but, obviously enough, levels vary. I only wish we had spread values of tolerance, respect and equality across the planet rather than multinational corporations and their dubious products. If we can spread McD's like the plague, surely we can spread some positive cultural virii as well. I think that's happening, just on a more subtle scale. Blogs play a part, I think. It's one reason I like keeping one and reading other people's - you get different perspectives all the time.

When I said 'whether they beat us up for it or join us at the disco - it's all the same to me if I'm devalued as a human being', I was talking in terms of the big social picture and not the impact on individuals. Of course, a fist in the face is substantially harder to deal with and get over than someone thinking you're a construct of high-fashion and style rather than an individual human being. On the grander scale, though, both physical violence and so-called 'positive' stereotypgin are both destructive and serve to maintain distance between people rather than bringing about real understanding. I can see why you said you'd rather go to the disco because I didn't explain myself as fully as I am doing here. I hope I've clarified. I enjoy clubbing myself but I have a disagreement the idea that 'in the "disco" society we're a much shorter distance from our ideal'. I don't believe that at all. We can agree to differ of course, and these are hardly things for people to scrap over, but I do not see how incorporating gay people into consumerist societies is in any way resolving of the problems faced. The 'pink pound' as it's called in the UK has been increasingly recognised as something for companies to chase over recent years, and so we have lots of nice shiny things pointed our way with sales tags on - and those sales tags have led to us being given more prominence and legislative equality - but at the end of the day, it means that businesses make more money by being seen as 'gay-friendly' while the attitude of the average homophobe remains largely unchallenged within society. We need to be seen as human, independent of the disco, and for those who don't attend the disco they face a kind of double oppression.

I think the jury should surely be out for now on whether the relative acceptance of drag in Brazil proves positive in the long-term for gay men as a whole. After all, drag is not an inherent part of the biological homosexual drive; it's cultural, valid as such but not vital. Some might conclude drag is a major component of a gay man's make-up yet I, as one example, have never worn a dress and have never desired to do so. I have no attitude about drag but I do think it's often confused with issues of transsexuality and heterosexual transvestism, and that can't be good - the subtleties of difference are lost on many people. So, when you say it's a start, I can't disagree per se but I have reservations. I think at the end of the day, if you're optimistic about it, you've every right to be. I'm a little more... pessimistic on that score.

It doesn't matter how many people agree or disagree, our individual opinions hold weight and value, so your liking of Queer Eye doesn't bother me or upset me or anything else negative. I loathe it, as stated, and hope you, too, don't mind that a jot. I don't believe it's a step on the path, I think it's retrograde and does nothing to present us as normal people. Both the UK and US variants on this show present a gaggle of gay guys who are not in any way representative and serve to reinforce ideas about gay men that have been held for a very long time - so what's new in that? People come away thinking we're limp, somewhat effeminate, style- and fashion-obsessed and camp. Those of us who are, great but there's more to gay life globally than that and I just think these shows are poorly executed and come from a lineage of freak show rather than inoffensive entertainment. I get more positivity out of how lesbianism was approached in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with a main character coming out and gay sexuality of both male and female varieties being discussed positively throughout seven years of that show. Similarly, a number of drama shows on TV in the UK and the US are making great strides in showing gay people as real and what you might call authentically complex. Queer Eye, for me, is shockingly out of date not to mention a prime example of the current trend towards cheap TV.

When you say it 'normalises gayness', I have to say, being gay last time I checked, no it doesn't. It leads to the toleration of gay guys who make straight people laugh and are outrageously camp. Gay men who do not undergo this 'emasculation by TV' and actively work against it are still very threatening. It's our right to affront, to shock, to be different, to be the opposite of heterosexuality . We should not cave in to weary stereotypes. Last but not least on this, there have always been straight men who are not threatened by gay guys - they are the truly straight ones. The insecure ones are those who have the occasional thought that doesn't quite fit with their self-designation! And homophobes can be hypocrites, too - they'll go on TV and behave themselves, sure. The question is, does that good behaviour last? Do they invite the queens round to tea afterwards? I doubt it. There's a world of difference between going to the zoo and bringing round the llamas afterward.

I appreciate that your thoughts on gayness in Brazil were 'not primarily informed by TV' but TV is a major factor throughout the globe in reflecting and influencing opinions. I think we both agree shows like Queer Eye have an impact; the questions left unanswered or unresolved are how much and in what ways?

When you referenced the gay and lesbian couples you know as not stereotypes, I think few people are, whatever categories they are supposed to fit into in life - gay men, women, black people. We don't generally choose to pigeonhole ourselves, other people do that. It's bad for all of us at the end of the day, if it prevents us seeing people as people first and creed, sexuality and on second.

On the subject of 'happy gay lives' - my partner and I have been together nearly seven years and enjoy life in the UK. We don't live in fear, hiding behind the couch with antidepressants. But we can't kiss on the street without fear of being beaten up or at the very least verbally abused. Now, I call the life we share a 'happy life' but I don't think it's one we're willing to simply accept as the best we can get or one that we should tolerate or even, heaven forbid, be thankful for. Until gay people are as free to be happy or sad, to get things right or screw up, as heterosexuals are the world over, then I think 'good by any standard' is a bit presumptious. By whose standards? We all deserve to have excellent lives well lived and free from molestation and harassment. If we don't get that, if we suffer even occasionally, then I cannot see such as being 'good by any standard'. All people deserve to be truly free and while it's a long way off, I think it's something to work for while fighting against complacency, apathy and miscomprehension.

Regarding my comment that 'gay men outside Brazil who encounter Brazilian gay pornography tend to see Brazilian gay men as stallions under palm trees' - yes, thanks for stating it's 'hardly surprising' given that it's pornography but that wasn't what I was trying to say at all and I'm a bit more intelligent than to fall into that kind of word trap. I was basically saying that this is a stereotype, that not all Brazilian gay men are either good-looking, muscular, or well-endowed; that it must be quite oppressive for those gay Brazilian men who don't fit into that imagery but are nevertheless far more 'real'. Introduce many a gay guy in say the US or the UK to a thin, literary-minded, bespectacled gay guy from Brazil and they'd be taken aback - which is sad, cruel and ultimately detrimental all round because it increases pressure on all to conform, but to what and to whose standards? There. Point made, perhaps clearer this time.

There is a vast wealth of human diversity in this world, and until we can get past images - pornographic, televisual, literary, whatever - that seek to lump us all together, we're not going to see the kind of progress in equalities and personal freedoms which would benefit every person on the planet. It takes intelligence, which requires a good basic education for starters and before we get that, we have to make sure everyone has something to eat. Bertolt Brecht said 'food is the first thing, morals go on' and he was right - we can't make many of the changes that would be good for the world until people have less and less reasons to feel excluded and embittered on basic issues such as shelter, food and drink, fair trade. There's a lot of work to do and of course it won't all happen in our lifetimes. Doesn't mean we can't make a start and respect for differing opinions is, I find, a very good place to make that start.

As I wrote my original post at the tail end of last year, I'll sign off by wishing you a happy 2005 wherein you achieve your goals and make a difference, realising your dreams and hopes in the process.

Blessings to you and your loved ones.
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