Last June, thousands of Cariocas poured onto the streets of Copacabana to celebrate the World Cup victory. They were joined by over a hundred thousand gays, lesbians, and travestis (transvestites), who were commemorating Brazil’s fifth World Cup success and the annual Gay Pride Celebration.
As local Carnaval street bands beat out samba rhythms amidst flag-waving soccer fans, a tidal wave of sweating bodies, rainbow flags, drag queens, and buffed up male beach beauties slowly pulsated along Avenida Atlântica. Following and mingling among a fleet of floats and sound trucks, they radiated sexuality, joy, and ecstasy about the nation’s victory and their own visibility as women and men openly and unashamedly proclaiming their sexual desires. The merger and mixture of bodies – costumed and bare – spoke to an unleashed freedom, familiar during Carnaval, but generally repressed during the rest of the year.
Beyond Carnival: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil is a colorfully written and unorthodox history that tells the story of the tensions between openness and repression, desire and distain that mark Brazilian attitudes toward those who enjoy same-sex love and passion. This award-winning work, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1999, debuted to rave reviews in Rio and São Paulo in August 2002 in a superbly translated version entitled Além do Carnaval: a homossexualidade masculina no Brasil no século XX (Editora da Unesp).
Academics and activists have given the thick tome exuberant praise for the depth of analysis, the extensive and meticulous research, and the sophisticated way in which Green has woven the history of gay men’s lives into the overall narrative of twentieth-century Brazil. Now available in paperback in English, it is simply a great read for praticantes, simpatizantes, and the curious alike.
I met James N. Green, the author of Beyond Carnival, at a rather serious editorial board meeting of the scholarly journal Latin American Perspectives in 1996, and it was love at first sight. The openness with which he embraces the topic of homosexuality equals his sympathy and respect for Brazilian society, its people and their cultures.
An associate professor of Latin American History at California State University, Long Beach, “Jimmy”, as he is affectionately called in Brazil, has also led a revolution as the president of the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA), an international academic association, by transforming the organization into a dynamic intellectual forum for discussion and debate. Soon after the book had come out, I conducted a kicked-back interview with the author to understand some of the ways in which he analyzes Brazil’s past and present economy of sexuality.
Brazzil: How would you describe your book to a potential reader?
Green: Wow, that is hard to answer. The truth is that Beyond Carnival is the first systematic historical study of how Brazilian men who enjoyed sex with other men coped in a rather hostile environment over the course of the twentieth century. It is a story of how they found a way to survive in a society laced with petty prejudices, stereotypes, and violence. In the midst of it all, they managed to create lives for themselves that were full of passion, pain, love, happiness, and a bit of drama. Beyond Carnival is a window into that world. It is a vehicle that can help the reader understand the multilayered and complex lives that these men fashioned for themselves.
Brazzil: What kind of stereotypes are you referring to?
Green: Generally, people thought, and largely still think, that men who like to have sex with other men were all effeminate or even “women in men’s bodies.” On the other hand, the men who had sex with these supposedly effeminate men (“bichas,” as they are pejoratively known in popular parlance) were not homosexuals, but rather “real” men, who have sex with bichas because women were not available to them. The “real” men could maintain their sense of masculinity if they played the “active” role in sexual intercourse.
Thus, if a young man felt sexual desires for another man he faced what seemed to be two options. Either he was a bicha, and he assumed an effeminate persona, or he projected a masculine representation and penetrated the bicha; and, thus he maintained his virile self-image. That was largely how same-sex sexual interactions were structured in Brazil until the 1940s and 1950s when some men realized that they did not have to assume a feminine gendered role; and, at the same time, they did not have to perform a certain kind of masculinity to proclaim their “normalcy.” Nevertheless, the pattern of the bicha and the “real” man still plays out in everyday interactions and reinforces a unilateral stereotype about male homosexuality. At the same time, there is a growing masculinization of the homosexual: the gay man who goes to the gym, who wears stylishly butch clothes, and projects a prosperous middle-class image.
Brazzil: Why do you think that these stereotypes are produced by Brazilian culture? Aren’t they universal?
Green: Yes, they are, but they are also linked to Mediterranean cultural traditions where performative gender roles are still rather rigidly divided into the sexually “active” and “passive,” that is, strong, virile, active, macho men and fragile, inferior, passive, and dominated women. The idea that two men might have sex or live together without reproducing these gendered roles seems almost impossible to many people.
Brazzil: Isn’t this “active-passive” duality the case in Anglo-Saxon cultures as well?
Green: Absolutely, but to the extent that gender roles are rigidly constructed in a given society and notions of sexuality are based on the ideas of “active” or “passive” sexual performance, then many if not most people expect everyone to behave along those lines, even those who transgress the norms. Brazzil: Why did you decide to write this book? Green: That is a long, complicated story. In 1973, two things happened. I came out; I accepted my own homosexuality. At the same time, I got involved with a group of North-Americans who were organizing opposition to the Brazilian dictatorship. During that year, two major events were swirling around in my head. I was accepting my own homosexuality and getting involved in the gay movement in the United States, and I was becoming very active in the solidarity movement with the struggles taking place in Latin America.
Unfortunately, some of the people who had an interest in expressing their solidarity with Latin America and opposing dictatorial regimes throughout the continent still had very traditional notions about homosexuality as being something not normal or problematic. I understood that the kind of oppression that I was fighting against in Latin America was similar to the oppression I experienced as a gay man. Others saw a tension in the link between these two issues. To a certain extent, I led a parallel life between working in the gay movement and doing work in the American left in solidarity with Latin America.
This was not entirely true though. In 1975, I organized “An Evening of Gay Solidarity with the Chilean Resistance” that brought together 350 people in the San Francisco lesbian and gay community for a cultural and political event. We were trying to draw the connection between the political movement for equality in the United States and the fight against the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
In 1976, I traveled to Brazil to visit friends there for six months and ended up staying six years. While living in São Paulo, I got involved in the emerging gay movement, and I participated in the Brazilian left, both in the anti-dictatorship struggles and in raising the issue of gay rights within the Left. I did this even before the founding of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) in 1980. Brazzil: Was it as complicated there as it had been for you in the United States? Green: It was even worse because Brazil was still under a dictatorship. In the United States in the early 1970s, a debate took place between the gay and lesbian movement and the left. By the end of the decade, virtually all progressive groups had come to understand that the democratic struggles of gay men and lesbians for full equality was an integral part of a broader fight for social justice.
We had to initiate those same discussions in Brazil in the late 1970s as the country was coming out of a dictatorship and people on the left were largely resistant to any ideas that did not boil everything down to the question of economic exploitation. The Brazilian Left was particularly conservative and moralistic about social questions. Many leftists had resisted the counter cultural movement as either a U.S. import or as a middle-class, petty bourgeois, alienated phenomenon. People who raised questions about feminism, gender roles, or sexuality were not considered serious.
When Fernando Gabeira [gay journalist who in 1969 took part in the kidnapping of Charles Elbrick, the American ambassador to Brazil] came back from exile in 1979, he faced the same marginalization when he raised similar questions. The majority of the Left felt that the only way to challenge dictatorship was to build “serious” revolutionary organizations that would organize against the regime. The Left considered cultural and social questions to be secondary issues that would be miraculously resolved at some nebulous future date. They really did not understand the connection between homophobia, sexism, racism, and a critique of capitalism. When I returned to the United States in 1982, I worked with Central American and Mexican immigrant workers and in the labor movement for seven years.
Exhausted from almost twenty years of political activism, I went back to graduate school to get a doctorate in Latin American history, focusing on Brazil. I returned to Brazil for a year of intensive research in 1994-1995 and then wrote Beyond Carnival. I realized that no trained historian had written a social history of homosexuality in modern Brazil, or anywhere else in Latin America for that matter. There was not comprehensive history that attempted to transmit to a wider audience the stories of the lives of ordinary gay men over the course of the twentieth century as they coped with a homophobic and hostile society. I had read several excellent works on the history of homosexuality in the United States; and, since I was extremely familiar with Brazilian society and culture, I wanted to write a comparable book about Brazil.
My goal was to create a history that an American and a Brazilian audience could read and understand. Brazzil: Tell me more about your life in Brazil, your relationship with the Brazilian gay movement and with Brazilians in general. Green: In São Paulo I taught English to Brazilians to pay the rent, and as I mentioned, I worked with a political group that was involved with the anti-dictatorship movement. I began a Master’s degree at USP [University of São Paulo], and in 1978, I also participated in the first political gay group in Brazil: Somos: Grupo de Afirmação Homossexual. [We Are: Group of Homosexual Affirmation]
Brazzil: Were you one of the founders?
Green: The first meeting of the group was in May 1978. I was in the United States renewing my visa. I came back in September and joined the group, which at the time had a different name. I was at the meeting in December 1978 when the group chose the name Somos. We were trying to articulate our sexuality in a political way by challenging the stereotypes and the prejudice of Brazilian society. Most things written in the press were horribly stereotypical, anti-gay, and homophobic. Many Brazilian intellectuals and others whom one would assume would have been somewhat sympathetic were not that open to the ideas of the gay and lesbian movement. We had to struggle a lot to win a social space. I lived in São Paulo and I had a boyfriend at the time. I went out, but I was not intensely involved in the nightlife, going to the discotheques and such. I knew the places where people were hanging out, the cruising places, etc.
I did not have contacts with the rich upper-class gay society, which has always been quite privileged and had their own personal parties, living a very sheltered life. My friends were more with middle-class students or people who came from the interior of the state of São Paulo to live in São Paulo, the city, office-workers, bank workers, public employees, and the like.
Brazzil: What was it like for you being gay in Brazil at the time?
Green: When I was at the University of São Paulo, it was very, very strange for me to be open about being gay. People felt amazingly shocked. I remember when I would tell people I was gay in a very open way it shocked them! I mean, it was a scandal, especially because I don’t think that I was a bicha louca [outrageous queen]. So, they didn’t understand that. I’ll give you an example. I was with a group of friends in an apartment in Santos and some other people, relatives I think, arrived unexpectedly. They started talking about veados [faggots], bichas, and I said in Portuguese: “Excuse-me, I really wish you would stop talking that way; it really offends me because I’m also a veado.”
The woman who was speaking almost died! I think I shocked her in part because I had directly confronted her, something that I was used to doing in the United States. I later came to understand that this was an impolite way of acting in Brazil. Instead of confronting a person, one is expected to make a joke about it, be indirect, or ignore such a comment. That is what the movement did in the first period; it was confrontational. People stood up and said: “We are faggots, so what?” (Somos bichas e daí?)
That was very new in 1978 in São Paulo. The Left and the student movement really did not understand what we were about. They thought that what we were doing was futile, frivolous, and stupid. Brazzil: They thought similar things about environmental issues, didn’t they? Green: And feminism and the black movement. It was a very simplistic discourse of the Left: the only thing was mobilization against dictatorship and the only way to mobilize against dictatorship was to demonstrate with slogans “Abaixo a ditatura.” (Down with the dictatorship).
They did not understand that one could make a much more sophisticated critique of the dictatorship. Oppression is not just political oppression, torture, or and the elimination of rights under presidential decrees, such as Institutional Act No. 5 [AI-5]. Oppression operates in a many more complex ways. Unlike most gay and lesbian activists, I understood that the Brazilian Left, the PT and other groups, were ultimately likely to be allies of the gay and lesbian movements. That has generally turned out to be the case. Who defended parceria civil [domestic partner benefits] in the Congress? Marta Suplicy of the Workers’ Party.
I thought that the Left would be our long-term allies of the movement, yet they were uneducated, rather stupid and backward about this question. It was a process of educating them. Many times people thought that we were engraçados (funny). Even today, some people think that my work is strange, that an extremely open gay American is writing about Brazilian homosexuality. Some leftists still do not take the gay and lesbian movement seriously because they do not consider it a politicized mass movement.
Brazzil: Do you consider the gay and lesbian movement a mass movemen t here in the U.S.?
Green: Yes, I would call it a mass movement here. My definition of a mass movement may be different from yours. For me a mass movement is a movement that has penetrated all levels of society, and you will find it anywhere. For example, in Des Moines, Iowa, there is a group of gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church who are organizing to have their congregation take a pro-gay position. All over the country, in a given month, there are probably a million people doing some political action around gays and lesbians rights. Whereas in Brazil that is not the case, a much smaller movement is raising these questions.
Brazzil: Would you say that in Brazil these movements are more concentrated within the middle classes?
Green: I think that many of the people who are activists tend to come from the middle classes, especially the lower middle class. They have been able to develop an understanding of what it takes to change a society. This is a complicated question because every single gay man or lesbian, who lives in a society and in some way confronts the oppression of that society, is engaging in a political act. It is what some academics call “everyday forms of resistance.” When you confront a neighbor who calls you viado, you are being political in a certain way. You are challenging the hegemonic ideologies; you are being counter hegemonic, if you want to use that term. I think that the same process is going on in Brazil. The number of gay men and lesbians who are actually involved in organized groups is much smaller than in the United States. There are perhaps only one or two thousand over the country, who participate in a systematic way in a group that has a political purpose.
That political objective could be simple. It could be a consciousness-raising group, which, I think, is a first step for gay men and lesbians to take in order to feel good about themselves, so they can turn around and do political work. Or it could be a group that is organizing a gay pride parade in São Paulo, which last year got twenty thousands people.
[Note: In 2002, 500,000 people participated in the parade on Paulista Avenue]. Nevertheless, in spite of the small number of activists, the Brazilian movement is one of the most dynamic movements in the world.
Brazzil: Don’t you think that two thousand people is a modest estimate? Green: It’s hard to say, but I think that there are probably two thousand people who meet once a month with some kind of social and political purpose, whereas in the United States I’d say that it is probably a million all over the country. Perhaps I am underestimating, but not by very much. On the other hand, I cannot prove the numbers that I suggested for the United States, but there is a massive movement in the United States. I think that this is the qualitative difference between the United States and Brazil. The movement here has penetrated the society in many more ways.
Brazzil: When you say that the gay and lesbian movement is revolutionary because it is anti-hegemony . . .
Green: … I wouldn’t call it revolutionary. It is changing prejudice, but I do not necessarily think that this means that there is going to be a revolutionary change in the society through eliminating such prejudice. I think that you can change people’s stereotypes and their prejudiced attitudes and not change a society’s underlying social structures. I do not think that homophobia is so intrinsic to the way a society works that if you were to reduce it, you would necessarily change the entire social structure.
Brazzil: Yes, but isn’t it part of this chain of oppression?
Green: It is to the extent that it is an important part of the hierarchies of patriarchy. The gender norms that dominate our societies oppress gays and lesbians and push them to conform to certain social roles. Men have to be a certain way; women have to be a certain way. If you don’t conform to that, you destroy the normal order. There is a wonderful movie that you might have seen called Boys Don’t Cry. It is about a woman who dresses as a man. This movie is based on a true story. She refuses to conform to the gender roles of her sex (since she is biologically a woman) and this act totally destabilized and upsets the people around her who simply could not take it. They ended up killing her because her behavior was too seditious for what they considered the natural order of society.
This points to another difference between the United States and Brazil. The rightwing, conservative forces in this country understood sometime in the late 1970s that politically the best way to attack all the gains of the civil rights’ and women’s movements of the 1960s or 70s was to choose that sector which was politically most vulnerable and less organized: the gay and lesbian movement. The rightwing conservative forces recruited Christian fundamentalists, which until then had not been mobilized politically, to chip away at racial and gender equality by attaching the modest gains of the gay and lesbian movement. They realized that they couldn’t confront the civil rights’ or women’s movement head on, so they chose to attack gays and lesbians as a first step toward pushing back many of the gains of the civil rights and cultural movements of the 1960s and 70s.
This is one of the reasons why the gay and lesbian movement has developed such a wide range of activities in the United States. It faced an assault by the rightwing that required a counteroffensive and a more complex political strategy to defeat the Right. For example, in order to prevent gay or lesbian couples from having equal legal rights that come with marriage, the rightwing has presented legislation that is approved by the voters through a referendum that prohibits marriage between two people of the same gender.
This referendum was a tactic by traditional Christian rightwing to use homosexuality as an organizing tool to build support for the rightwing’s overall agenda against women, blacks, laborers and progressive ideas. They mobilized against homosexuality in order to attack broader social issues.
Brazzil: So, you are saying that the reaction against homosexuality is stronger here than in Brazil, in a sense, and this promotes stronger organizing.
Green: Part of the reason might be that because the movement is much more visible and stronger here that it has provoked a reaction by the rightwing. There are also some cultural differences. In Brazil, people adapt to homosexuality on one level. People say: “Here there is really no discrimination; I have gay friends.” Or, “It’s not important; it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is.” But it does really matter! It really makes a difference for people. Children do not come and say, “Hey, mom, I’m gay.” And mother says: “Oh, that’s wonderful, let me meet your boyfriend!” In school you can’t say: “I’m gay, and I want to be a professor.” And the teacher responds: “Oh, that’s great, you’d be a wonderful professor; you probably can really teach people well.”
Brazzil: Jimmy, I want to go back to the time when you came out and then went to live in Brazil. How did living in Brazil give you a new understanding of life here, there, in brief, a new understanding about the world?
Green: Brazil was an amazing experience for me on many levels. I have a personality, which is very expansive and warm, and I lived in San Francisco within a counter culture – the hippie movement and the anti-war movement – that was warm and supportive. However, in general American society is colder, less physical. People can be friendly, but there is a difference in physicality. When I went to Brazil, I was amazed at the warmth and openness of people. I felt in love with that.I really did. It’s a cultural difference that I think is very marked.
There are, of course, open Americans and unfriendly Brazilians, but I have always noted a cultural difference in this regard. The other thing that was a shock to me was the different ways Brazilians and Americans think about race. I came to Brazil thinking about race in the American way where everything is black and white. In Brazil it was so different! People felt differently about race, and the discourse about racial democracy is so embedded in the psyche of Brazilians that they believe it. Even though Brazil is not a racial democracy, people treat each other differently, and racism manifests itself in much more subtle ways than in the United States.
When I teach the history of Brazil, my students whose parents came from Latin America understand the difference between the American and the Brazilian system of thinking about race, whereas the North-Americans who have no other cultural experience are at first very confused by that. It does not make sense to them, and they want to put the Brazilian experience within their American experience. I think that a third experience, which was marvelous for me, was that I had lived during the late 1960s and the early 70s in the United States at a time of tremendous social changes.
We almost believed that there was going to be a revolution or at least very profound changes. Those dreams collapsed here in the late 70s. People started going back to traditional jobs, working, and making money. By chance, I had traveled to Brazil, and experienced the late 70s there, which was a time of political and cultural effervescence. Essentially, I got to live through two “sixties.” Then, I left Brazil just before the big recession of 1982, 1983. I came back to the United States and lived the Reagan years, but Brazil gave me so much energy that I went through the Reagan years with a lot of optimism about doing political work in this country. I went back to graduate school to a certain extent because I wanted to figure out a way to go back to Brazil. I had been working as a public employee, a social worker for the County of Los Angeles.
Although I was very involved in the union and even became a leader, I missed Latin America, so I went to graduate school with the idea of finding a way back to Brazil. When I had to come up with a topic for my doctoral dissertation, the subject that I knew the best was the gay and lesbian movement. Initially, I was going to write about the history of the Brazilian gay and lesbian movement, but I was encouraged by my advisor at UCLA to write about the history of how gay life was before the movement. How gay people lived in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Brazzil: Their daily lives.
Green: Their daily lives, how the state, church and medical profession thought about them, and how they responded to these institutions and organized their lives in a hostile environment. That was what inspired me. When I got to Brazil in 1994, I didn’t have an idea of how I was going to do this research because I was the first historian of modern Latin America to write a book about homosexuality in Latin America. Several anthropologists had done some very important work on Nicaragua, Mexico, and Brazil, but no historian had tackled the early twentieth century. I also knew that I had to do a very professional job in order for it to be published in the United States.
The problem with researching this topic is that you can’t go to the archives of the State of São Paulo and ask to look at all the material that they have on homosexuality because it is not there. You have to find it by digging for gold, by casting a large net in the sea and seeing what you get. I spent lots of time worrying that I would not find enough material, and I ended up having more than I had ever expected to find. In fact, if I had had another year, I’d have had five times more documents because now I know where to find them.
Brazzil: Tell me more about having to justify your work to other academics.
Green: Interestingly enough, many people in the academic world have the attitude that it is fine to have a colleague who is a gay man or a lesbian as long as they work on another research topic. It’s fine to write about the Indians or blacks, but not about gay people. It’s not considered an important or serious topic. Ironically, there are probably less than a million people living in Brazil who would self-identify as being indigenous.
How many gay people are there? People throw around the statistic of ten percent of a given population, which is actually an arbitrary number. Even if it were only one percent of the Brazilian population, it’s many more people than the number of Brazilian Indians. However, Indians are exotic and safe. They live in remote places, and they are part of the exotic imagination of those who think of Brazil as a tropical paradise. Indeed, people have studied Brazilian Indians as rare and exotic entities for five hundred years. Immediately after Cabral arrived in 1500, Europeans explorers took Indians back to Portugal to the Court to show them off as curiosities, like monkeys and pineapples. Homosexuality threatens many people, mostly men, but women as well, because gay men and lesbians don’t seem to conform to the proscribed gendered roles. It really bothers some people, and it seems to make them anxious about their own sense of masculinity or femininity, their own sexuality. So, some academics prefer that this is not a subject of academic research.
Brazzil: You said before that your research on homosexuality had to be more serious than another topic that you might have chosen.
Green: .In order to be considered as good as someone else’s work, yes. It was the same phenomenon with women’s history. When women started writing women’s history 30 years ago, they had to write more complex and sophisticated history than their peers who were working on another topic in order to be considered good historians. Unfortunately, those doing gay and lesbian history face the same discrimination in this country.
It is true that we have won more social space in the United States than in Brazil, but it does not mean that we have won the battle against homophobia and discrimination. Brazilian academic friends face the same kinds of problem. Those who are now working on research topics regarding homosexuality find an array of reactions. Some people think that it is marvelous; many people think it is strange and not serious. This is especially true in the discipline of history, which is more conservative than anthropology or literature.
Brazzil: Talk about your relationship with other Brazilians studying the same topic.
Green: An important person who did research on this topic was Peter Fry. He’s an Anglo-Brazilian who has lived in Brazil so many years that he is essentially Brazilian. Peter Fry is an anthropologist who has worked in several universities, including UNICAMP in Campinas and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He wrote one of the first modern analyses about homosexuality in Brazil. He was, however, not really the first person to do so.
In 1958, José Fábio Barbosa da Silva, a sociologist working on two Masters’ degrees, one at the Escola de Sociologia e Política and the other at the Faculdade de Filosofia of the University of São Paulo, wrote a thesis on homosexuality entitled, “Homosexuality in São Paulo: A Study of a Minority Group.” Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Florestan Fernandes and Octávio Ianni were on his committee. Brazzil: So, they accepted the topic? Green: Because of Florestan Fernandes, who was a very well respected sociologist, a serious scholar and a powerful person among intellectual circles in the early 1960s.
He gave his unconditional support to Fábio to do his work, and other scholars had to accept it because Florestan Fernandes was an academic giant. After this pioneering work written in the early 1960s, there was a fifteen year gap, largely, I would argue, because of the restrictive intellectual climate produced under the military regime. Peter Fry began writing in the 1970s, and he worked with and trained a generation of students who produced interesting works: Edward MacRae, who wrote a study of the group Somos; Néstor Perlongher, an Argentine exile, who had been a leader of the movement in Buenos Aires, who wrote about male hustlers; Richard Parker, an American anthropologist, who was influenced by Fry’s earlier writings, and many others.
Brazzil: What about Luiz Mott, the founder of the Grupo Gay da Bahia?
Green: Luiz Mott also got his doctorate in anthropology from Campinas, but I believe that he did not write his dissertation about homosexuality. After he got a job at the Federal University of Bahia, he founded Grupo Gay da Bahia, which is the longest-lasting gay rights group in the country. Luiz has written several very important books about homosexuality in the colonial period, and he has been a leading voice denouncing violence against gays, lesbians, and transvestites.
Brazzil: What has been the reaction of your book among Brazilian scholars?
Green: It has gotten very good reviews. I just received an e-mail from a member of the Brazilian Rainbow Group, an organization of Brazilian gay men and lesbians living in New York. He wrote: “Eu li seu livro durante as férias e confesso que adorei, espero que você escreva a segunda parte sobre os anos 80 e 90. Gostei bastante da maneira como o assunto foi tratado, com seriedade e bastante pesquisa. Tanto crítico como analítico e inteligente, fruto do trabalho de um verdadeiro conhecedor dos hábitos e nuances da cultura e história brasileira. Leitura indispensável para qualquer homossexual brasileiro. Também adorei o seu senso de humor cativante. No final do livro eu não queria que terminasse.”
(I read your book during my vacation and I confess that I loved it dearly; I hope you’ll write the second part on the ’80s and ’90s. I enjoyed very much the way the subject was approached, with seriousness and a lot of research. It is at once critical and analytical and also intelligent, the result of the work of a true expert in the habits and nuances of the Brazilian culture and history. It is a must read for any Brazilian homosexual. I also loved your captivating sense of humor. At the final pages I didn’t want the book to end.)
What better comment than from a Brazilian gay man reading the English version and saying, “It’s good. It captures my reality. It is not foreign; it reflects something that I know about.” He doesn’t necessarily know the history of the 1920s and 30s, but he read the book, understood it, and he felt it was right. That is the most important thing that I care about it. I want my colleagues to like the book and write good reviews, but I care more about what the Brazilians think about my work.
Story by Bernadete R. Beserra
Bernadete R. Beserra, the author, is a professor of Anthropology at the Federal University of Ceará. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
(2) Some personal comments about being gay in Brazil today
I would start addressing the points about Brazil by your latest point. Brazil in general , either homosexually or heterosexually, loves casual and spontaneous expressions.
Homophobia happens in very little spots and when it happens its against transvestites who act as prostitutes.
Brazil has this inner drive for freedom and this reflects in all walks of life, none is prosecuted for being gay and no one really has career problems unless on very high executive level and it also depends what sort of market you perform.
Bisexuality is very welcomed as I myself have had many women that knew about my homosexuality and still accepted a relationship with me , indeed the Brazilian women are much better in bed than the men. From my point of view they are much more outgoing and explorative whilst men try to be more traditional and repeat heterosexual behaviors into homosexual relationships. Anyway this happens everywhere in the world as its not a cultural thing but a psychological profile.
Nowadays in Brazil , you can feel free to like a man, and if he is heterosexual he will let you know so and probably he will shy away from you if he comes from a lower class. But from middle class up they will be your friend. Its not
shocking anymore being gay, including lesbians.
Although coming out of the closet is never easy anywhere in this planet here you can find support groups including neighbors as the Latin tradition of loving the ones you bear is much stronger than prejudice.
The laws here are very fair towards gays. The other day the court ruled that the guardianship of the son a lesbian, in which one of the partners died, should go to the living partner as she was part of the growing and educating process of the son–despite the family of the other partner claiming the sons guardianship This is an example how fair justice rules for all who resort to them.
Other homosexuals have reached the courts to demand their rights. There were cases where the judge ruled that in the case of a gay separation one of the partners was entitled to alimony payments. This without any specific laws about homosexuals.
Concerning the gay community, Brazil was the first country in the world granting free medicine and treatment to HIV+ patients and also fought on the world forum for the right to manufacture its own HIV medicines without the contol patents of the original makers. This was done in order to lower the prices for HIV patients. Really the heterosexual HIV+ patients are the ones that suffer from prejudice.
In my personal view Brazil loves its people and once you show your dignity you are respected as a human being, which is what we all are. It’s hard to state my views as I have been privileged with a high level education and always associated with cultured intellectuals and artists. So I was raised free to be. Nowhere else in the world I have found the innocence or freedom necessary to allow people to be as in Brazil. From the country side to the big capitals you have contrasts but one thing is overall–the welcoming thought and attitude of others regardless of their view and walks of life.
Just two days ago, a very well known gay humorist died and all the country felt sorry about him and rendered him very heart felt homage. From door people to doctors all were saying that he seemed such a good person. For me this is very much a country with a big warm heart that values all people.
Obviously there are downfalls and prostituted attitudes but it all depends what you are really after when you come here. But in general, gays and straights live freely with each other. I heard it wasn’t always that way. During military regimes minorities were repressed. Nowadays without demands from the gay community there are politicians trying to lawfully acknowledge gay marriage and their rights for gay adoptions.
In the whole of South America Brazil stands as a very different environment much likened to European standards of living but in a tropical way.