Interviewing with Rocks in my Mouth

Upon arriving in Garopaba, a feeling of unwelcomeness seeped into every
space I occupied, both internal and external. I felt too intense, too
radical, too political too masculine, too much of too many things. I
considered my queerness, something that informs most of what I do, to be a
great burdon. I did not see myself represented in the streets, in my work,
in this small town’s collective conscious and discourse. I took the two and
a half hour bus ride to Floripa often, the big city where I would roam the
public market and college campus, drinking in the diversity and
representation I told myself I lacked at home. I sought so intensely an
experience I was not having that I neglected the experience around me.

When I decided to interview LGBT+ people in Garopaba about their
experiences, hopes, and fears, I had no idea the impact it would have on my
life here. What had previously been the source of such discomfort and
isolation was suddenly the key to a loosely built community that spanned
generations, social classes, origin, and gender. I found myself crying with
adults over samba and HIV, smiling with every part of my body as a fifteen
year old girl spoke about the day she cut off all her hair. Each
interviewee knew one or two more contacts and through word of mouth alone I
was pulled into worlds I never would have discovered were it not for the
part of me I had previously sought to oppress and shame.

As of this past Monday, privilege has taken on the new meaning of
transforming a burdon into a source of joy. It means analyzing at every
facet of myself that may be looked down upon, or that I may have
internalized as a cause for shame, asking myself how I can make it a source
of empowerment, and then exploring this within my Brasilian context and

Today that meant biking through winding tropical dirt roads to interview an
older gay couple who live in a rural outskirt of town. It meant trying figs
pickled in sweet juice and being kind to myself when Portuguese became
rocks in my mouth as I interviewed them for nearly four hours. It was speed
biking home during a break in the first storm of summer, letting a triple
rainbow over the sand dunes make my vision swim with tears. It meant
swallowing the apology that rose instinctively in my throat when I got home
muddy, red cheeked, drenched from rain and sweat while the our second story
duplex home stood in stark, clean contrast.

Yesterday it meant chewing the inside of my lip after the third older man I
asked did not know a Gabriel who lived in the neighborhood. I rode a few
loose circles in the dirt on my rusted out bike and began to make my way
down another hill, hoping this was the one my host grandmother had spoken
of. It was an older woman who finally pointed to a small wooden house with
a clothesline peeking around the back. “Lá” she said, kissing me on the
cheek as she passed. I ended up staying at Gabriel’s till I had to go to
work, shyly thanking him for the juice, coffee, and cake he served me.
About half way through cafe da manhá, Gabriel’s boyfriend, Manuel–who
didn’t seem surprised to see a stranger sitting at the table–stumbled into
the kitchen, blinking at the late morning sun. He sat with us for much of
the interview, laughing gently at my accent, interrupting every so often to
speak on his experience growing up in Garopaba delicado, feminino, gay.

Later, taking notes as I listened to the recording, I could hear the sound
of a spoon stirring nescafe in a thin porcelain cup, of Manuel’s mom
scratching thick spider bites and Gabriel’s voice, soft with emotion,
describing the first time he saw two men kiss, “eu pensei, posso ser feliz,
sabe?” (I can be happy, you know?).