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Beneath the Equator:
Cultures of Desire, Male Homosexuality, and Emerging Gay Communities in Brazil
Beneath the Equator: Cultures of Desire, Male Homosexuality, and Emerging Gay Communities in Brazil. By Richard Parker. New York: Routledge, 1999. Maps. Tables. Figures. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. 280 pp. Cloth, $75.00. Paper.
In the last five years there has been a mini-explosion of anthropological and literary studies of same-sex eroticism in Latin America. In part this is due to the growing integration of gender into the categories and frameworks of analysis employed by scholars. New research has reached beyond the unilateral investigation of women in Latin American society and culture to examine both hetero- and homo-social interactions, multiple expressions of sexuality, and the ways in which notions of gender are mutable over time. Parker, whose Bodies, Pleasures, and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil (1991) was one of the first books in English to address some of these questions, now offers in Beneath the Equator another valuable contribution to this trend by questioning time-honored myths about the Brazil's sexual economy. Instead of reifying the exotic tropical "other," this study carefully maps out the multiple manifestations of Brazilian homosexuality and the subcultures in which they operate. It then goes on to analyze their relationship to both a globalized economy and foreign cultural patterns that have penetrated and transformed national expressions of same-sex desire.
In Brazil an additional factor has contributed to the wealth of new sociological and anthropological investigations about patterns of sexual behavior. The rapid increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s required a much more sophisticated understanding of erotic interactions. Parker, as the Secretary General of the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association, was at the forefront of a wave of new research projects. He has employed the wealth of knowledge collected from a multitude of surveys and studies to chart the changes in patterns of men who have sex with men. The result is a book that vividly documents the contours of gay urban subculture in Rio de Janeiro and Forteleza, another beach-front city in Brazil's northeast, while offering an analysis of the political economy of homosexuality. A generation after most Latin Americanists have abandoned many core notions embedded in the controversial theories of economic, political, and cultural dependency, Parker has imaginatively used these constructs to capture the complex dialectic between same-sex sexuality as it has evolved in Brazil and as it has been transformed by the tidal wave of "gay culture" emanating from the United States and Europe.
There is an almost general consensus among scholars of the various manifestations of homosexuality in Brazil that the major paradigm that structures social and sexual behavior closely mirrors dominant gender patterns in which men are seen as "active" sexual partners and women as "passive" participants in erotic activities. Thus, many effeminate men have traditionally sought out their masculine opposite for sexual liaisons and engaged in receptive anal intercourse with them, reflecting hegemonic bi-polar social norms. In these relationships the effeminate bicha (fairy/faggot) is socially stigmatized while his partner, in assuming the active inserter role, presumably maintains his masculinity. In the post-World War II period, less gender-bound relationships [End Page 623] developed among some urban middle-class Brazilian men, as general shifts in notions of gender occurred. These men assumed an identity somewhat similar to contemporary U.S. and Western European gay identities where sexual-object choice predominated over sexual roles that were imitative of heterosexual norms. While both systems currently operate among middle-class men engaged in same-sex erotic activities in urban areas, the active/passive, masculine/effeminate model still prevails among many rural and urban working-class Brazilian men. The challenge of Brazilian AIDS activists, as Parker documents in this work, has been to reach out to those men who assume these differing sexual and social identities. It requires developing education and prevention strategies that take into...