23 Jun PRIDE IN MY IMMIGRANT HOUSEHOLD
Disclaimer: This article uses the abbreviation LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit). We recognize that this term is not universal and some people may use a different term.
Pride month is here, and coincidentally it arrives at the same time as Covid-19 restrictions around the country begin to relax and vaccine rates continue to rise. For many members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community and their allies, this means socially distant Pride gatherings. Rainbow attire will be donned and glitter will be generously applied as queer folks celebrate their rights and the predecessors that fought for them. For me, this year’s Pride has an added layer of beauty and complexity to it. My journey with my sexuality and identity has been an ongoing, non-linear one, as it is for many. It has also been one that is constantly in flux, shifting and changing as I learn how to be honest with myself and those around me. This year will be my first Pride where I identify as part of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community.
I am first-generation Canadian and my parents worked hard to get to Canada and raise me in a safe environment. They left their home and family in Brazil with the hopes of providing their future children with the access to opportunities that they didn’t have growing up. Understandably, they wanted their children, my siblings and I, to be safe and happy above all else.
Last year, my parents found out about a queer relationship that I was in, and it shocked them. It was far from the “coming out” that I had envisioned as their reaction was far from supportive. At first, I was angry. I was angry with them for snooping and discovering my relationship before I chose to tell them, and on top of that, for not supporting me and breaking my trust.
At the same time, I was also extremely jealous of my partner, who’s family had been supportive of their sexual orientation for years, and my openly queer friends, who had experienced positive reactions when coming out to their families. I had been hiding my relationship from my family for months out of fear of the exact reaction that I was now receiving. I felt misunderstood by my parents and embarrassed of my situation around my friends and my partner. My relationship had been on the rocks before this happened, but it completely fell apart shortly thereafter.
A few weeks later, after my mind had settled, I decided to try and understand where my parents were coming from by learning more about Brazil’s history concerning the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community. Brazil is a historically Catholic country. It is important to note, however, that this is in sharp contrast with the fact that Brazil is considered one of the world’s most sexually liberal countries and a leader in advocating for queer rights. The mixture of traditional and progressive views often leads to clashes, sometimes violent ones, between homophobic and non-homophobic groups or individuals. This is seen through the fact that Brazil has one of the highest rates of violence against queer people in the world. Hate crimes are on the rise as Brazil’s current President, Jair Bolsonaro, often publicly states his homophobic views, promoting anti-queer behaviour. Currently, Conservative parties are attempting to criminalize kissing in public between two people of the same sex. Unfortunately, Brazil’s culture of “sexual liberty” seems only applicable to heterosexual relationships, while queer relationships are still seen as taboo.
As I gained an understanding of the difficult circumstances, both past and present, for so many queer individuals in South America, I also learned about ongoing efforts to celebrate and protect them. In 2004, the “Brazilian Resolution” was passed, which was a ruling against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. This was the first resolution of its kind and served as a template for other members of the United Nations. President Bolsonaro has been actively against queer rights, describing himself as a “proud homophobe” and indirectly legitimizing hate crimes across the country. Brazilian queer people and allies, however, have not allowed his election to stop them from living their lives and advocating for their rights. In June 2019, hundreds of thousands filled the streets of Rio de Janeiro in one of the world’s largest Pride Parades to protest the recently elected President Bolsonaro. Celebrating queerness is an essential part of dismantling the stigma around being queer, especially in a country where it has been discouraged for so long. These large Pride Parades allow for queer people in Brazil to feel more comfortable expressing themselves surrounded by a like-minded community.
While I was attempting to learn more about Brazilian queer culture, I discovered a Brazilian reality tv show on Netflix called Nasce Uma Rainha or A Queen is Born. As a drag aficionado, I decided to give the show a try. The show stars two well-known Brazilian Drag Queens who become madrinhas (godmothers) to an amateur queen, a new one each episode. They teach them how to perform, how to style, and most importantly, how to fully embody their drag persona and carry that confidence over into their everyday life. This show reminded me of something that has always inspired me about the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community: that with resistance comes a beautiful kind of strength. It’s the kind that the Queens embody when they tell their families that they want to do drag for a living for the first time. It’s the kind that many queer folks use to get up every day and decide to be true to themselves. And, it’s the same kind that my parents needed to leave the only country they’d ever lived in to start a new life in Canada as outsiders.
My parents have spent the past 25 years trying to build a life for our family that is safer than the one they left behind, only for me to surprise them by being queer. Whether it be the internalization, consciously or subconsciously, of the homophobia that they were exposed to in Brazil, or fear for my safety and wellbeing, they had their reasons to be upset. I treated this as an explanation for their reaction, but not an excuse.
As I begin to understand my parents’ perspective, the fight for 2SLGBTQQIA+ rights in Brazil that is far from over, and the thriving queer culture there in spite of it, I have started to feel some peace. Yes, it is true that I don’t currently have the full support of my parents, but family isn’t limited to your biological one. Rupaul, self-proclaimed “Queen of Drag”, often brings up the topic of “chosen family” on Rupaul’s Drag Race, saying, “…we as gay people, we get to choose our family.” I am lucky to have met some truly amazing queer friends and allies who I’m proud to consider my chosen family. I’m not giving up on my parents, and I plan to have some slow conversations to nurture their understanding of what it means to be queer. I feel comforted, however, by my acceptance of the fact that this won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, I am grateful for the support and guidance of my chosen family. I am proud to be a queer individual, I am proud of my Brazilian heritage, and I am looking forward to celebrating all aspects of my identity during this year’s Pride.
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