The Latino macho is dead

Latin countries such as Brazil and Spain are normally associated with ultra-manly, oversexed and aggressive Don Juans and very traditional, subordinate females who stay at home, clean and cook.

The English words “macho” and “machoism” are both derived from Spanish and Portuguese – they represent a belief in hyper-masculinity and a sense of supremacy of men over women. “Marianismo” also comes from Latin American folk culture, a celebration of feminine virtues like purity and moral strength, the “virgin” side of the virgin-whore dichotomy.

In this scenario, there is no space for non-traditional sexualities and lifestyles, namely queers and muff-divers.

Can you imagine a hairy-chested, virile and raucous machão (that’s the augmentative of macho in Portuguese, a widely-spread notion of ultra-ultra-masculinity) gently embracing his gay or lesbian offspring and telling them how much he appreciates their homosexual conduct, welcoming their lovers into the warmth of his home and giving his blessing to unnatural, same-sex sodomist interaction?

In reality, this is more common than you would expect. Latin countries have changed a lot in the past 20 years.

Latin cultures have a dual quality. They are epic and dramatic, flirting with aggression and exaggeration, and at the same time hospitable, welcoming and accepting of the different. These characteristics may sound mutually exclusive, but they are not. While the “macho” stereotype still lingers, acceptance of gays has made tremendous progress. Spain was the third country in the world (and the first sizable one) to legalise gay marriage, in 2005. Portugal and several countries in Latin America, including Brazil, followed suit.

This is in stark contrast to Slavonic countries like Russia and Poland, which seem to be moving back in time. They are often highly homophobic, racist and non-accepting of anything that does not fit the norm. Think Putin or even the revolutionary Lech Walesa (he still refuses to apologise for suggesting that gay politicians should “sit behind a wall” in the Polish parliament). Think of Brazilian footballer Hulk being subjected to racial abuse in Saint Petersburg.

My father has all the traits of the conventional macho stereotype: he’s loud, confident, assertive, born in the Catholic hinterlands of Galicia (Spain) and brought up in lad culture of Salvador (Brazil). He has extensively exercised his masculinity, fathered many children and shagged tons of ladies on both sides of the Atlantic (treating them like objects, he admits). The Casanova accolade fits him like a glove.

Yet my father has always been very respectful of my homosexuality, and was never embarrassed at displaying and receiving affection from me. Until my adolescence, we used to kiss in the mouth, and we occasionally still hold hands. I call him “painho” (a highly affectionate “daddy” normally associated with peasants from the Brazilian Northeast). He always treated my partners very well, and even entertained them in his home (commensality is the most sacred aspect of his life). I came out to my father nearly 20 years ago, and I never encountered any problems.

His acceptance has recently evolved even further. While my father was always respectful of my sexuality, he was not comfortable at talking about it. Until recently, the words “gay” and “Victor” would never feature in the same sentence.

Then two weeks ago (when the picture above was taken) he told me he told me that he admired and was proud of me for always being so clear and upfront about my sexuality. My sister and my brother-in-law were also present. He lamented one of his best friends, who is also gay but was never brave enough to vocalise this. I was delighted to hear his comment, but not surprised. He had often expressed his joy at gay marriage laws in Spain, and voiced his profound respect for Daniela Mercury for coming out and marrying her same-sex partner (Daniela Mercury is one of the best-selling Brazilian singers of all times, known as “the Queen of Carnival”).

My father is 81 years of age, from a macho country, and has never had any contact with gay culture. Oh, and I’m his only son (all the others are female). This may sound like the perfect recipe for homophobia. Yet, my father loves and even admires me for my candid attitude towards my homosexuality.

I have often heard that older people are homophobic because of the generational context. I beg to differ. This is just a very lame excuse for hatred and bigotry. My father is the living proof that love and tolerance have no age and nationality.

I have had a similar experience with other Latin people from my father’s generation. The mother of my sisters in Spain is almost 80-years old, and she has often expressed the desire to meet my boyfriend – she grew up in the same ultra-conservative environment as my father and was groomed become the ultimate subordinate woman, who cannot even read and drive. My elderly aunt Ivonete in Brazil is a devout Catholic also about to celebrate her 80th birthday. She claimed that “I will always be her beloved nephew” during an online conversation about gay matters.

The homophobic strongholds of Latin culture are falling. After all, the macho-culture is not as insular and conservative as it seems. People are changing, even the elder. The macho man has died, and a much more tender and balanced Latino is being born.

Homophobic bigots in Brazil, Spain and elsewhere, I have no time and space for you in my life. You are just a sad relic of the past, older than my old man!

One Comment

  1. N Lafraia

    Very thought provoking article. I tend to agree with Victor’s feelings about the macho culture in Brazil and also share the same experience of acceptance from my family as he does. There is no doubt there has been a huge progress in this issue in the last 20 years, but the fact remains the number of crime against gay people in Brazil is very high. It will be interesting to check Stephen’s Fry interview of a mother who lost her son to a homophobic crime in Stephen Fry’s BBC2 series “Out There”. I totally disagree with Michael McClure’s approach on the religious influences and the perceived superiority of protestantism. Just look at the deeply ingrained homophobia in devout protestant parts of the USA. The reaction to this very problem and the USA civil rights traditions led that country to be the birthplace of the gay movement . Latin homophobia is benign and on the surface in comparison, in spite of catholic obscurantism. In Brazil, we welcome influences from the protestant north, from Africa and from everywhere else: we simply move on with the times. However, Michael McLure’s view on Slavic homophobia seems very pertinent to the present times. There is still time to catch up the second showing of Floating Skyscrapers at the London Film Festival. This is a beautiful e deeply moving film about trying to survive as gay in present day Poland. Let’s hope they change gear and move forward instead of backwards.

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