To learn a little more about LGBTQ+ dating in Brazil, I interviewed a longtime friend, Alex*, and her girlfriend Sara* (names were changed for anonymity). Alex is 21 and from Belenzinho, the eastern zone of São Paulo. Sara, 22, is from São Paulo as well.
Alex met Sara back in high school (when they still thought they were straight), but never talked more than a “hi, how are you?”. Then in January 2016, they found each other at a bar through a mutual friend. Alex expressed her interest in Sara through their mutual friend, but Sara rejected her at first— only to later find herself on Tinder swiping right for Alex just a few days later. After two months of casually dating, Alex and Sara made it official and have been dating for 1 year and 8 months.
Alex and Sara are both cisgender women, who identify as “sapatão” (lesbians). Alex sees herself expressing a bit of the Butch lesbian stereotypes, mostly because she’s “too lazy to get all dressed up”. The Brazilian standards of beauty—makeup, heels, dresses, and long, straight hair—is something that is always being challenged by different intersectional identities. It’s quite normal to see Brazilian lesbians wear their hair short, wear less makeup, and dress more casually. Sara, who is more reserved, says that many times she doesn’t end up expressing her sexuality as she’d like. For her, identifying and expressing one’s sexuality is still a delicate question, “Brazil is still a country that carries a culture in which the woman is seen many times as submissive to the man, but I feel that little by little, things are changing.” She believes that one day, people will have a more inclusive and equal worldview.
(São Paulo, delarosa.com.br)
challenges & community
São Paulo is a very open-minded and progressive city at the surface-level. It is home to one of the world’s biggest Pride parades, with about 5 million participants back in 2013. If you’re ever lucky enough to visit, the nightlife on Rua Augusta and in the Consolação neighborhood are everything but boring. The huge metropole has an established gay scene, with people openly expressing themselves and walking hand-in-hand with their loved one. But with so many people (12 million people, to be exact), it would be naïve to say that gay people never run into any judgmental individuals.
The majority of Alex’s family knows she’s dating a woman, and they respect the couple although they think it’s a wrong choice. “My mom has come to say that if I continue with this, I’d go to hell,” Alex says, “But with time, those opinions have been said less and less”. On the other hand, Sara’s mother is the only one who knows about her daughter’s sexuality and relationship. Sara still has many challenges she foresees taking a couple of years to confront; she becomes paralyzed at the thought of her family knowing, even though that is something she wants in the future. Brazilians ground themselves in strong, family values, but these normalized standards could be very detrimental if a gay son or daughter decides to come out to their parents. Many fear of not only being ostracized but kicked out of their home.
It’s clear the support in the São Paulo gay community is powerful and united. Alex thinks it’s very easy to find others in the city, but probably a little more complicated to find others like herself in smaller, peripheral cities. In Brazil, it’s common to find LGBTQ+ friends online, especially with music fan groups. This was true for Sara, who says she found 99% of her gay or lesbian friends through Twitter during her big Lady Gaga phase. Friends that have only known each other online meet at music festivals and shows, and keep in touch over Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp groups.
Both women feel very included in such a massive community. Alex points to feeling love from Facebook groups for LGBTQ+ people, where she sees lots of help come through for people going through tough times. Many reach out to each other if they are struggling with their identities or being shamed by their families or peers. When Sara was discovering herself, she would listen to celebrity speeches and interviews that push people to keep moving forward and be proud of who they are.
the dating scene
The Brazilian dating scene seems like a whirlwind of serious passion and long-standing romance, while at the same time it’s a liberating, laissez-faire hookup culture. The LGBTQ+ community embraces these two sides of the spectrum.
Generally, in Brazil, it’s common to be in a serious relationship for at least two years. Many lesbians usually date for longer periods of time, “I have friends that have been in three or four-year relationships,” Sara tells me. On the other hand, she says that she also knows people that have never been in serious, long-term relationships, because they “prefer not to have that commitment and like to just enjoy the night”. Alex sees most of her gay friends fall into the latter category, with more short-term relationships. “Of course, there are exceptions,” Alex considers, “one of my gay friends is close to getting married, but I don’t see that in the majority”.
So how do LGBTQ+ singles meet? It’s not too different from the U.S., with many people meeting each other through mutual friends and dating apps. Even though they knew each other from their high school years, Sara and Alex ironically only started to talk when they matched on Tinder. Brazilians use Tinder, Grindr, and Hornet (to name a few).
When asked about the biggest differences between dating in Brazil and dating in the U.S. or Canada, the couple said that Brazil is definitely more liberal. The hookup culture is dialed up a notch, where, “one can kiss many people in one night just because they feel like it”. Alex was a big clubber, and would go out two to three times a week, where she’d kiss “practically everyone who passed by”, including her gay friends sometimes. She considers dating in the U.S. more slow-paced and exclusive; Americans often go on many dates before defining the relationship.
Similarly, one can go to any public park, mall, or street in Brazil and see couples holding hands or kissing. For this, Sara says, “it gives us the impression that people in the U.S. or Canada are much colder people”. Culturally, Brazilians love to show affection for the people they love, no matter where they are. Also, hetero and homosexual relationships in Brazil are grounded in tradition. People still officially ask someone to be their boyfriend or girlfriend, and often use alianças– rings engraved with names and the date of their anniversary. These rings are worn on the right ring finger and are usually silver, but many LGBTQ+ people opt for a black coconut ring too.
things are slowly changing
Traditional family values, mostly rooted in Catholicism, still permeate Brazilian social norms. Oftentimes, these social norms bring along double standards that target women, like in many other places around the world.
The heteronormativity in this country touches on themes of submissive women and dominant men. “Many couples still believe that the woman should obey the man and fulfill what he desires, that he can sit in front of the TV, while the woman cooks and brings him a cold beer,” Alex says, “This is something we see reproduced in the novelas, in our own families, on the street. I’m certain that what I want to see the most in this aspect, is the end of the culture of superior masculinity”. Especially at work, Sara hears misogynistic commentary that are often intended to be jokes. There, she says, she actively separates her private life from her work life. Those who address micro-aggressions are looked down on, as it’s ‘not that serious’ or ‘just a manner of speaking’.
While Sara sees more biases with the working-age groups, Alex is not yet in the workforce. She doesn’t feel much of a separation of her private and public life because she is still studying and around friends like her. She is still conscious of small double standards, like the pressure to shave her legs and armpits as a woman, to bigger-scale standards of wage disparity and verbal abuse on the streets. For her, it seems to revolve around the question of “why can’t I do the same things as every man I know?”
Women are expected to behave or dress in strictly ‘feminine’ ways and are criticized and judged by mere strangers. Yet, Brazilian women are fighting back with small movements, whether it’s calling someone out for a sexist joke, wearing their hair natural or short, and participating in political activism. Recently, with Carnival celebrations happening all over the country, women have banded together to promote the message, “No means No”. Blocos are extremely crowded block parties, where alcohol-fueled partiers seek out fun hookups, which can easily turn into unwanted sexual harassment. However, this year, a group of activists passed around temporary tattoos, with “Não é Não” (“no means no”), to advocate consent from both parties. Grassroots movements, such as this Carnival campaign, gain traction online as well, where girls on Twitter have posted about their own experiences.
With such a cultural emphasis on passion in any relationship, there is a bright hope for the integration of this community into Brazilian social norms. Brazil has encountered an age of increased representation of LGBTQ+ love in its public consciousness through national media, as well as social media. While representation in telenovelas and other shows are a bit slower to appear, platforms like Twitter and Instagram give people the agency to shine through sharing their experiences.
If someone feels alone in their journey, they can turn to the huge online communities that await them with open arms. And to that, Sara affirms, “Whichever form of love should be respected and there doesn’t exist anything more beautiful than truly loving someone and being loved”.