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Queering Paradigms IV

South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms


Edited By Elizabeth Sara Lewis, Rodrigo Borba, Branca Falabella Fabrício and Diana de Souza Pinto

South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms is composed of research presented at the fourth international Queering Paradigms Conference (QP4), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In line with the QP project ethos of bringing together diverse epistemological and geographical allegiances, this volume intends to contribute to building a queer postcolonial critique of the current politics of queer activism and of queer knowledge production and circulation. However, rather than perpetuating the North-South dichotomy, the papers gathered here are an effort to establish global dialogues that crisscross those axes, as well as attempts at queering epistemologies, socio-political bonds, and bodies, embodiments and identities. They endeavour to trouble unequal geographies of knowledge – namely the North as an exporter of theories and the South as their importer; the North as a producer of knowledge and the South as its object of study – hosting enormous potential for reinvention.

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“Marijuana is a Crime but Homophobia is Just Fine!”: The Scandalous Logics of Queer Solidarity

← 214 | 215 → JOSEPH JAY SOSA

“Marijuana is a Crime but Homophobia is Just Fine!”: The Scandalous Logics of Queer Solidarity

Some initial first-hand accounts of the nation-wide protests that are sweeping Brazil at the time of writing reported that LGBT activists were being excluded and sometimes harassed within the protest crowds. How ironic for an uprising that has to date been utterly queer in the sense that it has refused a single narrative and failed to adhere around a single cause or leader. This chapter considers a smaller series of marches in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, that in crucial ways prefigured the current uprising and offer an object lesson in queer solidarities. The Freedom Marches that took place in May and June of 2011 were originally conceived of as a response to the São Paulo state court’s prohibition of a pro-marijuana march. Police repression in São Paulo and the announcement of homophobic and anti-environmental policies by the federal government, however, soon brought five thousand LGBT, marijuana, mass transit, and environmental activists together under the banner of “anti-prohibitionism”. This unexpected coming together of distinct movements with seemingly disparate agendas suggests that the solidarity among actors consisted of more than expressly common interests or identities. Indeed, a more queer solidarity emerged. When I refer to queer solidarities, I am primarily interested in how solidarities can operate in unruly and incalculable ways that resist normative political structures and demand transformative politics. Queer solidarities are characterized less by who comes together and more by how they come together. Sometimes, however, queer solidarities manage to unite interest or identity groups so distinct and counterintuitive to the hegemonic logics of political institutions that the queer “how” of solidarity is itself partially defined by its queer “who”. If, as Judith Butler suggested, “queer” was always better understood as a mode of alliance ← 215 | 216 → rather than as one of identity, this chapter inquires into the aesthetic, affective, and poetic modes those alliances took during the Freedom Marches (see McCann 2011). The Freedom Marches, where marijuana decriminalization activists came together with LGBT activists militating for the criminalization of homophobia and transphobia, crystallize the potential for the co-emergence of new identities and new political claims. Through their protest chant, shouted at a judicially prohibited march: “What a scandal: marijuana is a crime and homophobia is just fine!” this inchoate coalition generated not only a powerful example of unanticipated political affinities but also a strong critique of the state as the legitimate regulator of social relations.

This chapter offers a conceptual and an ethnographic intervention around queer solidarities. In the first section, I address the theme of queering solidarity, and explain where Queer Theory fits into a conceptual framework about solidarity within a broader conceptual framework. In the remaining two sections, I examine the events of the São Paulo Freedom Marches as I encountered them during anthropological fieldwork. First, I draw together ethnographic observations with media accounts in order to trace the events that conspired in the political public sphere on a national scale that encouraged a local cohort of young, mostly gay and lesbian, activists to seek public rebuke in a “freedom march” organized by primarily by pro-marijuana activists. I then consider some of the crowd chants, where I show how embodied and affective shared actions of the crowd encouraged LGBT activists to participate and reorient their political claims towards transformative goals – rearticulating sexual, drug, and expression rights around broader issues of bodily freedoms and justice.

Queering Solidarity

While not always put in terms of solidarity, queer scholarship has long concerned itself with the counterintuitive political and emotional connections available in radical worlds. Between sex workers, S/M practitioners, ← 216 | 217 → and others outside the charmed circle of institutional sanction (Rubin 1984). Between punks, bulldaggers and welfare queens who find their erotic choices devalued in the dismantling welfare state (Cohen 1997). In the shared precarious situations of immigrants excluded from European national imaginaries (El Tayeb 2011). Through the mutual struggle that black, feminist, and gay movements shared for the rights to the city in the last throws of the Brazilian dictatorship (MacRae 1990). Transecting radical worlds within the intimate grid of liberalism (Povinelli 2006). Within the shared affective divinity of women of size and gay men (Moon and Sedgwick 1993). This section uses these insights from radical worlds to reconsider common assumptions of solidarity and political strategy.

From a sociological viewpoint, solidarity refers to the management of difference within the overall cohesion of a social group. Émile Durkheim ([1893] 1933) theorized that solidarity can operate mechanically (based on different social roles) and organically (through socially produced similitude). Thus, we can say that solidarity exists within the tension of identification and disidentification. Solidarity as political allegiance is also theorized as a rational choice for social actors seeking common material ends (Hecter 1987). Both sociological and rational choice approaches to solidarity assume a formulaic approach to politics, where common ground is the necessary and exclusive precursor to alliance building. To queer solidarity, in part, means to disrupt the presupposition that the material, identitarian, discursive or affective conditions that would bring people together can be foretold in advance. It can also imply creating new democratic, aesthetic, and poetic forms that allow emergent coalitions to respond to the effects of political institutions while resisting normalizing political registers. To say that identity does not determine solidarity is to draw a distinction between queer solidarity versus solidarity of queers. Queer solidarity doesn’t preclude solidarity amongst queers, indeed one would hope that solidarity amongst queers would also operate queerly. Arguing for queer solidarity also runs the risk of covering over differences of gender, class, race, and nationality, as many scholars argue that “queer” may do more generally (e.g. Nyong’o 2007; Puar 2002; Riggs 2010; Stryker 2008). In advocating for a solidarity that does not just aggregate queers and instead queers the social arrangements of individuals and political ← 217 | 218 → demands, I emphasize a critical and creative queer solidarity that does not dispel differences but democratically and justly works through them. To this end, I am most interested in queer solidarities that take hierarchies, exclusions, and material inequalities with the utmost seriousness, but that do not assume that these are the only considerations that will determine who will ally with whom. Emphasizing process over result, queer solidarities employ equal parts strategic essentialism and strategic inessentialism (Butler [1991] 1993).

Because state power almost always mediates individuals’ relationships to one another as well as their presumed distinct political interests, queer solidarities also expose the logics of state power that organize these relationships. One particularly powerful theory to think through state power and political identity is the work of Ernesto Laclau (2005). Laclau postulates that political institutions (such as the state) tend to work by logics of differences. Thus, actor A presents one demand to the institution, and actor B makes a separate and distinct demand to the institution. As a political institution fails to meet the demands of A, B, etc., each group comes to see its demands as equivalent to the others’ unfulfilled demands. An emergent coalition, linked by a logic of equivalences, comes to see its groups and its demands as linked but no longer connected through traditional institutional mediation. In place of institutional mediation, new rhetorical operations – metaphor, metonymy, catachresis – suture coalitions together, and one claim can rhetorically stand in for many. Queer solidarities suggest new logics and mechanics of political organization, because they demand that we “think sex” in Gayle Rubin’s sense of the word. Rubin (1984) argues that sex is a realm that the state uses to in order to plan broad interventions into the lives of its citizens. An implicit project within this formulation is how to mobilize sex to rethink the state. Rubin’s iconic diagram of the charmed circle of sex offers such a reorientation of state logics of difference and equivalence. The inner parts of the charmed circle represent the state-legitimized forms of sexuality (monogamous, heterosexual, indoors, for love, etc.), each having their constitutive outside (promiscuous, homosexual, in parks, for money, etc.) which is punished by the state in one manner or another. The charmed circle is a prime example of Laclau’s logics of equivalents. Various sexual practices (BDSM, ← 218 | 219 → homosexuality, prostitution) are made provisionally the same through their shared rejected status by the state.

Even as they demand a critical stance to the state, queer solidarities suggest new ways to swagger up to it. Queer solidarities produce circuitous paths between our sexual and political libidos. Although the names we might give to orient those libidos (heterosexual, homosexual, conservative, progressive) may mediate our political, erotic, and social worlds, they are not their final terms. Not all lesbian, gay, and transgender people are queers and not all queer lives are exercised through same-sex eroticism or gender mobility (e.g. Sedgwick 2003; Warner 1999). Queer, here, are the potential constellations of aesthetic, carnal, political, and temperamental styles of impropriety, historically connected with same-sex desire, but not a consequence of it. Other pleasures can be queer. As an interlocutor and activist friend once told me: “a política me dá tesão” (politics gets me off). Considering how politics (or a certain set of politics) might get you off and move you towards new experiences, worlds, and relations that gratify your political libido may shape your political orientation. Building off Sara Ahmed’s (2006) provocation to think about queer orientations, queer solidarities offer new encounters and new ideas that might disorient how one’s political world is arranged.

If solidarity manages relationships of social sameness and difference, it also exists within the tensions of political maintenance and rupture. Michel Foucault’s later insights on the historical role of homosexuality also suggest ways in which affective and intimate bonds can disrupt dominant and institutionalized modes of relationality in modern society. Foucault writes:

To imagine a sexual act that doesn’t conform to law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another – there’s the problem. The institution is caught in a contradiction; affective intensities traverse it which at one and the same time keep it going and shake it up. […] Institutional codes can’t validate these relations with multiple intensities, variable colors, imperceptible movements and changing forms. These relations short-circuit it and introduce love where there’s supposed to be only law, rule, or habit. (Foucault [1981] 2001: 298)

In another late interview, Foucault laments the poverty of modes of social relationality available to individuals in liberal modernity. Foucault calls ← 219 | 220 → for a new political claim to “relational rights”, where one might demand modes of relationality between people that extend beyond institutional, citizen-state, and family or kin mediated networks ([1982] 1997: 162). Both Laclau and Foucault encourage us to consider the relationship between institutionalized modes of socialization and potential alternative relations as existing in equilibrium. The energy involved in maintaining a social order is intense, and when we twist the social its first reaction is to snap back. Nevertheless, the intensities of new relations both disrupt and reinforce traditional institutions, and between disruption and reinforcement lie reorientation, redistribution, and reconsideration.

Solidarity in Unexpected Places

Within the logic of conventional solidarity, LGBT rights and marijuana legalization share no joint political project, be it identitarian, social or otherwise. This certainly appeared the case with marijuana and LGBT social movements in Brazil. When I began my ethnographic fieldwork with LGBT activists at the beginning of 2011, few would have predicted a convergence of LGBT and pro-marijuana politics. After a nationally-televised presidential debate in October 2010 that focused heavily on the question of gay marriage and a series of well-publicized homophobic attacks that took place weeks later in the center of São Paulo, young LGBT activists began taking to the streets to demand that Congress include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under Brazil’s hate crime statutes. This push to “criminalize homophobia”, as many activists described it, included online petitions, pamphleting, media advocacy, and street protests. Bolstered by the Brazilian Supreme Court’s May 5, 2011 decision to legalize same-sex civil unions, activists felt confident about the possibilities of criminalizing homophobia.

While LGBT activists were trying to criminalize homophobia, marijuana advocates were attempting to decriminalize recreational marijuana use, raising awareness with a series of marches to take place in cities across ← 220 | 221 → Brazil. In São Paulo, the marijuana march had been prohibited for several years, but protest organizers obtained a preliminary order from a judge to permit the 2011 march. On the Thursday night before, May 19, however, a state judge reversed the original ruling and revoked the protesters’ license, deeming the act to be an “apology for a crime”, and thus not protected political expression. The judge opined:

The event that [the prosecutor] seeks to curb does not pertain to a mere discussion of ideas, but a manifestation of collective, public use of marijuana. [This is the case] given the evidence of criminal practices in the act in question, especially because it ultimately favors the fostering of illicit drugs. (“Justiça Proíbe Marcha” 2011, my translation)

In addition to pronouncing the marijuana march an attempt to promote criminal activity under the guise of political speech, the judge also suggested that the event would be unsavory for the number of families walking downtown on a Saturday afternoon. The military police followed the judge’s prohibition and revoked all the organizers’ protest permits, and stated that they would stop the march from proceeding for reasons of public safety. Despite the judge’s ruling and police warnings, protest organizers vowed to continue the march and their political discourse.

The prohibited march managed to gather six hundred participants, but police used rubber bullets and pepper spray to try to disperse protesters. Some police chased fleeing protestors and dragged them along the sidewalk with batons (“Polícia de SP se apura repressão” 2011). Because they felt that they had been denied the right to free expression, organizers immediately announced a march for the next Saturday, May 28, titled “Marcha da Liberdade”, or a freedom march. According to its organizers, this march would protest the denial of political rights of dissent by both the judge’s ruling criminalizing debate and the police brutality during the march itself. As Youtube videos of police abuse circulated, news editorials became more critical of the court’s as well as the police’s handling of the protest and the São Paulo governor’s handling of the police.

Although the new wave of LGBT activism was happening at the same time as these events, few if any of the LGBT activists with whom I worked expressed that the Marijuana March had a necessary or direct connection ← 221 | 222 → to LGBT politics. This sentiment would shift for some activists within the space of a few days. The collective sense of LGBT euphoria that had generated on same-sex civil unions (on May 5) ended abruptly in the wake of a political scandal that would manage to pull into its orbit policies and legislation that had nothing to do with it. Antonio Palocci, chief of staff to President Dilma Rousseff, appeared to be on the verge of a congressional inquiry for embezzlement. On May 25, in clear defeats to the progressive side of her caucus, Rousseff announced that she was suspending the release of an anti-homophobia curriculum (often referred to as the “kit” against homophobia) and that she would sign into law the “Forest Code” law that would further open up the Amazon to agro-industrial speculation. Meanwhile, the threatened congressional inquiry of Palocci evaporated, and journalists began inquiring into the connection between these three events. While evangelical leaders boasted to the press that its caucus had met with Rousseff and pressured her to drop the kit in return for them protecting Palocci, the president’s ministers denied any such deal had taken place (Paulo 2011: “Kit contra homofobia vira moeda de troca no caso Palocci”). Accompanying these events, many LGBT activists were furious at the prospect that their political agenda was bargained away in a “troca da moeda” (lit. “coin trading”, colloq. “horse swap”). The scandal was exacerbated the following day, when a group of journalists asked Rousseff if such a political trade had taken place around the anti-homophobia curriculum. Rousseff denied the allegation and argued that she suspended the kit on its own merit:

The government defends […] education as well as the fight against homophobic practices. However, […] no government entity can be permitted to propagandize sexual preferences. Not in any way […] we cannot interfere in people’s private lives. Now, the government can instead educate [the population] as to the necessity of respecting difference and that no one can commit violent practices against those who are different from you. (“Dilma proíbe kit gay …” 2011, my translation)

While Rousseff’s response appeared as no more than cynical hem-hawing within a convoluted game of political chess, her choice of words, particularly the insinuation that the anti-homophobia kit “propagandized sexual preference” ( propaganda de opções sexuais) would become infamous as ← 222 | 223 → it circulated in news articles, face-to-face conversations, and social networking websites (see “‘Não aceito propaganda de opções sexuais’…” 2011). In considering what to do next, LGBT activists clung to their indignation over Rousseff’s use of the word opção (preference) instead the more activist-friendly term orientação (orientation). As activists had explained to me over the course of fieldwork and had corrected others who used the ‘incorrect’ term, orientação was the preferred term because it implied that homosexuality was a permanent and immutable state rather than a mere option. Opção was considered a term that was universally used by explicitly homophobic religious groups and often used by people whose ignorance itself indicating at the very least that they were not aware of sexual diversity issues. According to this logic, Rousseff’s choice of words allied herself with evangelical legislators with whom she had brokered the Palocci deal. The day after the unfortunate remark, for instance, one activist invoked the offending phrase at a meeting, prolonging her pronunciation of “ohohohpeçãão” and pointing with her finger as the tiniest bit of spit left her very tense mouth. In conversations with one another, activists adroitly pointed out that the government already made heterosexual propaganda any time it put a mother, father, and child as the image for any government initiative. From a range of reactions, impassioned, sarcastic, or cerebral, many LGBT activists in São Paulo now believed that some kind of collective response was necessary.

In the confusion that came out of the fallout over the announcement of the kit’s veto and the president’s justification of her decision, no clear direction emerged as a viable and potentially unifying response. Indeed the variety of suggestions that came out of the chorus of meetings, bar conversations, and email threads that I observed and read in a three-day period left my head spinning. Almost immediately after the first announcement in Brasília on May 25, one person (who I didn’t know) posted a mass email suggesting that activists in São Paulo should join the Freedom March, scheduled for Saturday, May 28. The email cited a post on the Freedom March website that read (in part):

Cyclists, demand the legalization of marijuana … Potheads, bring a rainbow flag … Gays, shout for the forests … Environmentalists, bring instruments … Street performers, ← 223 | 224 → speak on behalf of the animals … Vegetarians, throw a “refined hoedown” [churrasco diferenciado] … Residents of Higienópolis, come by bike … We are all wheelchair users, pedestrians, motorists, students, workers … We are all elderly, blacks, travestis … We are all Northeasterners, Bolivians, Paulistanos, street urchins. And we are free! (1a Marcha da Liberdade 2011, my translation)

Not everyone heard this call from the Freedom March in the same way. Some responses suggested doing an independent action, focused exclusively against the veto of the anti-homophobia kit. Others advocated pressing for more information on Rousseff’s decision. Still others expressed the belief that the kit itself was polemical and that LGBT organizations had pushed too far in trying to get an activist curriculum in public schools. But enough people heard the Freedom March’s call, and enough people decided they would show up to the march that Saturday. As events continued to unfold until the end of the week, showing up looked like it might not be enough. The day before the Freedom March, Friday, May 27, a judge declared the Freedom March illegal. In a statement explicitly parallel to that of the Marijuana March, the judged ruled that the Freedom March was essentially no different from the previous week’s marijuana march, and still an apology for a crime rather than a political act. The police, again, quickly followed suit and declared that they would stop the march from taking place. On the eve of the Freedom March, the future was far from certain.

In the month of May 2011, the political public sphere had conspired of sorts to bring together an unexpected coterie of activists. The state’s prohibition, permission, prohibition and then repression of the Marijuana March in São Paulo fortified marijuana activists’ resolve, and it sharpened a critical public opinion that the state had acted in an exaggerated and hypocritical manner. During roughly this same short period, a critical mass of LGBT activists had passed from feelings of elation and positive thought in the light of same-sex civil unions to surprise and then to outrage over the veto of the anti-homophobia education plan. For these LGBT activists, the São Paulo Freedom Marches, originally planned by the pro-marijuana organizers, appeared to put the desires of various groups in line with a general call against prohibitionism and conservatism.

← 224 | 225 → Protest Chants/New Grammars

Disappointed over President Rousseff’s insensitive speech, LGBT activists decided to join a protest that had been envisioned as a response to police brutality and the prohibition of political speech on marijuana, but which organizers had expanded into a larger call for bikers, vegetarians, LGBTs, environmentalists and the rest. Calling everyone to the same place at the same time, however, was no guarantee that people would see their causes as linked or express solidarity amongst one another. The crowd affect generated in protest, however, proved to be an ideal social laboratory for new political claims to be sustained in the face of implicit institutional inertia and explicit police intimidation. In this section, I recount events from the Freedom March with an eye towards how such affective expectation around the march was built and how new political grammars were created as a result. I look towards protest chants to illustrate this latter point. As a musical genre, protest chants are designed to suture opposing paradoxical political logics, creating new rhetorical and political claims based on this comparison. In other words, they are an embodiment of Laclau’s contention that contradictory political claims are sutured together through rhetorical operations such as metaphor and catechresis. In São Paulo, protest participants often try their hand at creating multiple variations off of established patterns. Thus, one person begins with the common chant, and then someone riffs off of that original chant. Usually the turns of phrases are meant to be humorous, and they usually get a smirk out of fellow participants. To get the group chanting your chant, whether a completely new chant or a variation on what they are currently chanting, is called puxar a palavra (to tug out speech). Because they are more or less spontaneous, because they can be recombined for new messages, and because the crowd adopts or ignores a particular chant with certain fervor, chants are as good an affective thermometer of the group consciousness as any. Another way to think of chanting is like a direct democracy in which the crowd decides which political claims that it will advocate and be identified with. Such democracy is rancorous, and, in a march for freedom, that’s kind of the point.

← 225 | 226 → As the day of the prohibited Freedom March arrived, no one quite knew what to expect. As my friend Ronaldo and I approached MASP plaza along the popular Paulista Avenue, the designated starting point, we saw that police lined the sidewalk, forming a semi-permeable wall between the preparing activists and the street. The police wall made it difficult to see what was happening inside the protest staging area. It was as if the police were taking seriously the judge’s accusation that a marijuana protest was no place for families on a Saturday afternoon, and trying to protect the public from such obscenity. Wiggling our way behind the police lines, we encountered a sea of people, prepared posters and music, distributed food, and took pictures. As the paint dried on the scattered melee of signs, they looked like art installations on the urban built environment. I commented to Ronaldo upon how big the crowd was a good two hours before the march was to begin. Ronaldo agreed: “I have never seen these people … even if they are by and large, middle class”. As if following the advice of protest organizers to come out for one another’s causes, the staging area became awash with diverse groups, activities, and slogans. I received stickers from a contingent of striking firefighters from a Rio union who showed up in São Paulo for the march. A percussion group warmed up next to a group of interpretive dancers. People took up almost every possible space on the ground to write posters, denouncing the Amazonian agro-industry legislation and the development of a hydroelectric dam, Belo Monte, that threatened to displace 12,000 indigenous Xingu in the North of Brazil, and demanding the homophobia education kit, free public transportation, and that 10% of the Brazilian Gross Domestic Product go to education. Carefully stepping among all these activities, journalists snapped photographs, while pamphleteers and other people handed out fresh flowers to put in people’s hair or pin to their clothes.

Eventually a group of LGBT activists amassed, and individuals brought rainbow umbrellas and posters, as well as a twelve-foot long banner calling for the criminalization of homophobia. As the preparations continued, it became decreasingly clear when the march would leave the plaza and go out onto Paulista Avenue. MASP plaza was filling up with protestors and press, but the police line remained fixed, allowing individuals to go through but not allowing the crowd to pass en masse. ← 226 | 227 → Traffic continued along the westbound four lanes of Paulista Avenue that activists hoped to close off for the march. Some journalists were on the sidewalk trying to take pictures of the mass of people through the police line. Several LGBT activists had unfurled their 12-foot banner calling for hate crime legislation and tried to raise the banner above the heads of the police, so that the press could photograph it. As the photographers’ flashes became more ubiquitous over and through the bodies of the police officers, people become more frustrated by being pinned in by the police. At several points, several calls rolled through the crowd: “Saia, saia” (Leave! Leave!), people shouted.

As people continued to mill about, it became clear that something had happened on Paulista Avenue. Journalists abandoned taking pictures of the penned-in crowd and the police, and ran into the street to see what was happening. I managed to squeeze back through the police line and run into the street, where I saw that a drag queen had stopped three of the four lanes of west-bound traffic along the Paulista. A circle formed around her, where she stretched out like Ingres’s odalisque along the pavement, with a telling smile for the camera. As photographers circulated around her, she jumped up and flipped onto her knees and imitated a Betty Paige pin-up version. Eventually, the scene spilt over into the fourth lane, effectively closing all west-bound traffic. Among the shouting, the car horns, and the pleas from the photographers for the drag queen to turn around and face them, some police officers were forced to run into the street and redirect traffic. Meanwhile activists pushed on the police line, and within five minutes of the drag queen lying down in the street, the protest crowd had managed to leave the plaza.

Contrary to many São Paulo protests that are led by a trio elétrico (or carnaval music truck) that directs the crowd as to what to shout, this protest had a minimum of microphones, bullhorns or other equipment. When present, a trio elétrico more or less marks both the aesthetic and financial hierarchy of who organized and who will control the rhetoric of the action. At this point, instead, the crowd relied exclusively on people to puxar a palavra, or to pull a chant out of the crowd. To puxar a palavra can be very difficult. There are many false starts, persons in the middle shouting with no response, others not yet brave enough to shout back. This led to ← 227 | 228 → an unavoidable initial awkwardness as we began to march down Paulista Avenue, since different groups agitated to begin crowd chants. The initial plurality of different groups and political demands that was immediately visible in the staging area through the sea of posters now manifested itself audibly. A cacophony of different chants regarding public transit, police violence, homophobia, and marijuana intermixed in the air, leading one participant standing next to me to profess confusion to her friend as to the exact theme of the protest. Some chants directly addressed state and institutional repression.

E aí polícia, liberdade é uma delícia. (Hey, you cops. Freedom is really tops.)

Other chants targeted politicians and media outlets.

Veja, vai tomar no cu. (Veja, take it up the ass!) Veja is a notably conservative weekly magazine.

Ei, Kassab, vai tomar buzão. (Hey, Kassab, go and take a bus!) In this variation, protesters changed the common invective to “take it up the ass” to the rhyming phrase, “go take a bus”. Buzão (lit. “the big bus”) is also a working-classed form of saying the more standard ônibus. Directed against the mayor, Gilberto Kassab, the chant invoked both the rising cost of urban transport and the accusation that the heliport-hopping mayor was out of touch with everyday lives of paulistanos (people from São Paulo).

Interactive chants called upon both participants and bystanders to become active political participants.

Vem pra rua, vem contra censura, vem! (Come to the streets. Come [protest] against censorship. Come!) This is a variation off the common chant that invokes people to come and protest the topic at hand. Thus, people can be called to the street against censorship, against fare increases (contra aumento), against racism (contra racismo), etc.

Aha uhu, o centrão é nosso. (Ah-hus-hus. The Center belongs to us!)

← 228 | 229 → Quem tá contra repressão, sai do chão, sai do chão. (Whoever opposes repression, get off the ground, off the ground.) This chant and the following one are interactive, in that the text calls on the crowd to begin jumping on the street. It works doubly to both demonstrate the crowd’s assent to the chant and to discipline them into greater participation.

Quem não pula quer censura. (Whoever doesn’t jump wants censorship).

In addition to these chants against police action and for the right to protest on the street, other chants began to link particular interested groups in a way similar to Laclau’s formulation of equivalential logics. Such equivalential logics appeared to match the original call for various sectors of society to show up to the Freedom March. Now, everyone in the crowd would claim to hold various identities at once.

Eu sou viada, e eu sou negra / sou comunista e maconheira. (I am a fag, and I am black. I am a communist and a pothead.) The terms are gendered feminine.

This chant didn’t please everyone immediately. As I was walking alongside of lesbian and gay activists who heard the chant, most people joined in loudly, while a few people around me grumbled displeasure with it. Few LGBT Brazilians would consider viado a respectful way for heteronormative society to address them. The three identity markers in the chant that allow for grammatical gender marking – viada, negra, maconheira – are gendered feminine. One could imagine that this was a conspicuous act to call attention to the sexism in the male-default gender grammar. By doing so, the chanters made viada sound even stranger, since viado (marked masculine) is an invective used largely against gay men and travestis. There is no term viada, and other epithets exist to name (or deprecate) lesbians. Indeed the transformation of viado into viada might have further perturbed some of the participants. But the call for a socially unreal term such as viada also quickly marked this chant as combining serious calls for unified solidarity as well as sarcastic taunts against cultural conservatism. The intersubjective logic of equivalence was readily apparent. The chant’s anthropophagic imagination conceived of a political actor ← 229 | 230 → that combines the marginalized political experiences of different political actors. By calling to identify with each position, it was a call to both empathy and, more importantly, solidarity. It would be the next chant, below, that really animated my group.

Olha que bafão, maconha é crime, homofobia não. (What a scandal! Marijuana is a crime, but homophobia is just fine!)

As with many chants, it often takes a few rounds of shouting before everyone understands what is being said. This chant appeared initially to be particularly confusing, perhaps because it wasn’t immediately legible as a variation of anything chanted previously. “What are they calling maconha?” I heard someone to my side asking. Another friend hurriedly informed the group during the pause between one verse and the next: “pessoal, é ‘olha que bafão’” (people, [the line] is “olha que bafão”) before turning to continue singing the chant and clapping along to the rhythm. There were a couple of visible smirks when people heard this explanation and started chanting along as well. Defined by the Online Dictionary of Informal Portuguese (n.d.) as, alternatively: scandal, a shameful act, drama, or a complete lack of tact (grosseria), bafão has a very gay/travesti valence when used in everyday parlance. Its usage dates back to at least the 1960s and the importation of the French baffon by Brazilian socialites, reappropriated by gay men in the theater crowd. Although a widely used slang word in Brazilian pop culture, one might say that its use generally skews young, urban, and modern. But it also maintains a certain high/low theatrical inversion.

The irreverent use of bafão should not in any way diminish the sharp critique the chant makes in exposing the contradiction at the center of a Brazilian police state that criminalizes marijuana and treats homophobia with impunity. It might seem odd, at first glance, that a chant would demand that the state extract itself from one area (marijuana politics) and enter with more force into another arena (homophobia). Perhaps the chanters were introducing a contradiction of their own, or countering contradiction with contradiction. And the phrase demonstrates very well the intimate connections between equivalences of identity and equivalences ← 230 | 231 → of demands. If one were to attempt to flesh out the inchoate demand to see marijuana politics and anti-homophobic politics as related, one could succinctly connect both to a demand for freedom of the body and that the state is responsible for the protections of such practices of bodily freedom. Bafão’s other meaning as a “big breath” might come into play as well. To desabafar (breathe out) idiomatically expresses the need to share some kind of news (to vent or blow off steam). And here, bafão becomes an important part of contrasting the state’s rhetoric with the Freedom Marchers’ rhetoric. The insistence on framing hypocritical state policy not merely as contradiction but as scandal (not contradição but bafão), shifted the affective and generic register of the demand from critique to satire. To call state policy bafão not only wrested the imagination of such policy from the staid world of bureaucracy, it endowed state decisions with a certain drama and exaggeration. To call policy bafão brings back the high-low registers and theatricality of the word as it was incorporated into Portuguese, becoming a crafty refusal to speak the state’s language in order to call attention to the state. Finally, for a movement that was denied a proper status as political and deemed not worth debate by the courts, the allegation of bafão could be seen as a counter charge directed squarely against the state and its ability to define what the proper contents and form of politics were going to be.

Of course, bafão also served a much more immediate purpose in the context of the solidarity that was emerging between LGBT and other leftist protesters. The queering of protesters’ language increased affinities between all involved. In addition to new chants, protesters critically and creatively reworked established protest chants to include new anti-homophobic logics. One example is the common invective for an unpopular politician to take it up the ass, as in the previously mentioned chant “ei, Kassab, vai tomar no cu”. Throughout the May 28 protest, a variety of politicians, police, media outlets, etc. were vociferously encouraged to take it up the ass. Upon hearing one of these variants, a protester with the LGBT contingent shouted into the crowd, “mas dar o cu é muito booom” (but getting fucked up the ass is really greeaaat). The protestor’s shout was a joke that also expressed the reservations that LGBT activists felt at one time or another about homophobic language that other activists might use. As ← 231 | 232 → LGBT activists entered into the broader coalition of activists organizing the second Freedom March, a dialogue began to emerge. This included a week of podcasted debates between various movements who had participated in the first group, as well as informal socialization during meetings. Real political divergences were discussed. One outcome of this dialogue was that, by the second Freedom March on June 18, activists had discovered ways of redirecting potentially homophobic language towards new anti-homophobic ends. The invective for politicians to take it up the ass was thus transformed into the following call-and-response:

Ei Kassab, vai tomar no cu.

(Hey Kassab, take it up the ass.)

É Bom! (It’s good!)

Ei Kassab, vai tomar no cu.

(Hey Kassab, take it up the ass.)

Prazer! (It’s pleasurable!)

Ei Kassab, vai tomar no cu.

(Hey Kassab, take it up the ass.)

Delícia! (It’s hot!)

This chant perhaps best demonstrates how political claims during the Freedom Marches were sutured together, not in order to be resolved, but in order to create new horizons of political claim-making. On its face, the modified chant appears to undo itself in the reclaiming of anal sex as something pleasurable and good. Indeed, one activist wondered this aloud as we were chanting. She asked rhetorically why we would want conservative mayor Kassab to get fucked, when getting fucked was such a hot thing to do. She continued to joke that we should be yelling, “Nada de sexo pro Kassab” (Kassab doesn’t get to have any sex). On the other hand, the chant and the energy that was put into it showed that the crowd was willing to support two competing logical claims (one that politicians should go fuck themselves in a negative sense and a second that fucking is, in general, a good thing). In short, the crowd’s intensity was able to sustain incommensurate claims that opened up new political horizons for logics and actions.

← 232 | 233 → Conclusion

Among the multitude of movements and activists present at the Freedom Marches, participants in the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL or the Free Fare Movement) showed up with their signature cry, “pula catraca!” (Jump the turnstyle!). During my ethnographic observations of street protests in São Paulo, I often heard chants about public transit, and the phrase pula catraca has appeared in graffiti at train stations and underpasses around the city of São Paulo (see Caldeira 2011). In the 2012 mayoral elections in São Paulo, public transit figured as a major theme of debate, with each of the major candidates offering competing plans on service improvements and fare adjustments. In May 2013, an increase in bus fare propelled the MPL to organize street protests that attracted greater and greater numbers of participants, and also led to increased police repression. In a case that came to symbolize increasingly strong-arm police tactics, a journalist was arrested for carrying vinegar, which he was using to attenuate the effects of police tear gas (Truffi and Galhardo 2013). Police repression was a major factor that spurred more protests, until they spread to cities across Brazil and eventually led to one million people protesting across the country. By June 2013, protesters in the hundreds of thousands appeared with a variety of complaints: lack of democratic transparency in government; inadequate transportation, education, and health infrastructure; community displacement by World Cup development projects; police brutality, etc. Different people on the street for different reasons, reacting against police oppression but finding new ways to fit their demands into a cacophonous demos. The similarities with the 2013 uprising were not lost on the organizers of the 2011 Freedom March, who wrote a congratulatory open letter to the MPL (Coletivo DAR 2013).

When looking back on the 2011 Freedom Marches, or any political event, it is hard to resist the alluring but deceiving metric of success vs. failure. What did the Freedom Marches accomplish? They did not result in the decriminalization of marijuana, LGBT hate crime legislation or protect the Amazon from the agro-industry friendly “Forest Code”. But ← 233 | 234 → they might bear thematic, affective, and aesthetic resemblances to a 2013 uprising that is currently shaking the Brazilian political class to its core. I bring up these thematic resemblances not to argue for causality (a handmaiden to success narratives) but to suggest that there is a queered logic to political organization that underlies them both. In this chapter, I argued for a queer solidarity that embraces the unexpected paths by which our political affinities align in order to call attention to the modes by which institutional power divides lived experiences into separable and co-optable political claims. As scholars and activists, we cannot predict the rhetorical and aesthetic forms that queer solidarity will take or the demands it will refigure. We can remain open to potential connections that seem impossible, or worse, irrelevant. Queer solidarity does the work of orienting ourselves to the multiple possibilities towards which our politics might take us. Let’s be ready.


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