What’s it like to be gay in Recife?!
Being gay in Recife is just like being gay anywhere else: You gay-wake up, go to your gay-car to get to gay-work, eat your gay-lunch and talk to your gay-gay friends and your gay-straight friends… KIDDING!
While the reality of it is that being gay in Recife has commonalities with every other place in the world, there are also some unique aspects that are probably specific (or so it may seem) to Recife. And these perspectives can change depending on your wealth, your color, your gender, and your expression–or your unique outlook on life. But for the moment I’ll try to be as general as possible.
[NOTE: As I am a cisgender gay man with little contact with lesbian and trans spaces, I’ll be saying “gay” to mean cis-male dominant. Otherwise I will specify a group based on gender/sexuality or I’ll use lgbt/queer if the noun in question isn’t dominated by one particular sect of non-hetero-ness.]
On the Street
During my time here, I have seen very conservatively dressed and behaved people to the most liberal and flamboyant people. More than likely the flamboyant people who live their lives with as much gusto and joy will attract attention. The sort of attention ranges from faces that turn into hardened stone to those that turn into smiles and laughs (not jeers). Some people might say something rude under their breath (or perhaps loudly and indirectly) whereas others might say something cute in response if the person is being loud and start a banter that becomes live impromptu entertainment (Recife is VERY friendly–ask me about the super-fan debate on the train between three queer guys and a group of girls from the other end of the train that turned an otherwise boring metro ride into a Superbowl of Beyoncé lovers versus Rihanna loyalists).
You may see groups of seemingly gay guys (or mixed gender groups) just doing their thing and nobody seems to pay them any mind because it’s just as whatever as if they weren’t seemingly non-hetero.
I guess the point I’m making is that it isn’t illegal or uncommon to see outwardly gay people just doing their thing… During the daytime hours.
At night, it’s a different story. Nighttime in Brazil is dangerous. While it isn’t everyone, people who are looking to cause trouble or just make their luck at your expense come out. They look for vulnerable targets and outwardly gay men and trans people top the list of potential victims along with women (of any orientation) and children. To be outwardly gay is to be extra vulnerable to people who already want to cause you harm and loss of personal property by virtue of your being out alone at night.
Here’s a video of one person’s perspective (who lives in Recife) of what it’s like to be gay in Recife:
In the Club (and other “gay spaces”)
What constitutes a “gay space”? Why, anywhere it’s fabulous, of course! Kidding (not really)!
Spaces aren’t necessarily “gay” unless they’re designated as such for some event or other (clubs notwithstanding). Official gay spaces may be parties that have a select invite list or is spread by word of mouth in certain circles.
In gay clubs (my experience is only in ones that tend toward male clientele), you’ll find everyone from all the so-called “tribes” of twinks and bears and so forth, but one thing you’ll notice is that people generally dress well. You can’t go to a club and dress like crap or (as Americans say, “comfortably”) or else you’ll be mistaken for poor–and that has very many social ramifications. Brazil has an undeniable problem with class/race that is magnified in certain spaces so you may find perceived as undesirable in some contexts given your appearance–dress, race, color, etc. It’s a hard truth that I won’t deny because to ignore it will serve nobody who is interested in the best for everyone.
So with it established that people dress to impress and show they’ve got class and education and income, the rest is pretty simple: Debauchery!
Gay clubs are where you really let loose and dance from night until sun-up. If you arrive and leave by taxi or live close, you have the luxury to leave at any time. If you rely on the bus or metro system, be prepared to stay all until the sun rises for safety reasons. (Oh no! I’m being forced to have fun?!) As I said earlier, nighttime is not the right time.
Other spaces aren’t officially designated as lgbt (I say this instead of gay because it isn’t only gay men), but do get a reputation from large numbers of lgbt people being around. Places like Parque Arsenal in Recife Antigo on Sunday nights attract large numbers of lgbt folk (at the time of this writing at least–I’m told it used to be somewhere else and tomorrow it can be elsewhere). It’s a place where youth culture and alternative lifestyle flourishes. Metalheads, emos, queens, drag queens, butch and femme lesbians, trans folks, and everyone else no matter the color or income can find a place to vibe there.
Another place is Rua 13 de Maio during Carnaval (which is technically in Olinda but it’s super close). Carnaval in Recife/Olinda is a very people-first and popular affair. The street turns from a normal side street into a bustling cornucopia of colors and noise where music and dancing and kissing strangers becomes all the rage. It isn’t officially lgbt, but if you go and you’re a hetero man, you’ll be looked at with the utmost disdain if you decide to say something rude about the queer people.
These spaces are sometimes considered unsafe because they’re open and it’s possible to fall victim to a group of folks that just want to cause panic and trouble. Or a fight may break out and the ensuing stampede of folks rushing to escape the violence can hurt you. But mostly they’re just chill.
Recife is home to a state that has given Brazil a TON of its culture. While it’s overshadowed on the global scale by Rio and the commercialization of Samba or Sao Paulo that can afford to paint itself as the end-all of Brazil, Recife is where the art is at. There is a strong tradition of the arts in Recife from theater and visual art to music and film and a lot of it has a touch of the queer brush–both historically and contemporarily speaking. Lgbt influence in Recife’s art is strong and isn’t necessarily hidden so much as you can choose not to see it if you don’t want to, but most of the things you hold dear has some involvement from queer people.
Speaking in modern terms, gay culture is alive and kicking. From random house parties to gay lingo. If you find yourself a group of friends to do things with, you’ll have found friends for life and if they’re gay and you’re a gringo new to the city: Prepare to have the time of your life!
Gay in Recife? Worth It Overall!
Recife is an extremely diverse place that has both ends of the spectrum and everything in between (and some stuff off the spectrum entirely if we’re being honest). While I tried to answer the best I could, there’s no one way to say how it is to be gay in Recife. In the same vein, there’s no way to take it all in. So if you’re going to move here, I suggest you be prepared to see that I’m entirely right in my assessment, that I’m entirely wrong in my assessment, or that I’m more or less here and there. I’m excited that you’ll get to try our fair city and I’d love to know how it turns out for you!
And that’s what it’s like to be gay in Recife!