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  • Tourist Attractions: Performing Race and Masculinity in Brazil's Sexual Economy by Gregory Mitchell
  • Annegret Staiger
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: Performing Race and Masculinity in Brazil's Sexual Economy. By Gregory Mitchell. Chicago University Press. 2015.

Tourist Attractions offers the reader an intimate look at American men who travel to Brazil in search of commercial sex with straight butch men. Conducting ethnographic fieldwork for more than 16 months between 2005 and 2016, in Rio, Manaus, and Bahia, Mitchell combines anthropological theory and performance studies to disentangle the sexual economy in this transnational mirror cabinet of racialized sexual desires and "commissioned performances." In the burgeoning literature on global sex tourism, gay sex tourism has received much less attention. Tourist Attractions provides a powerful contribution to the small number of studies on gay sex tourism in Latin America, adding profound insights into the affective and contradictory dimensions of this exchange few others have accomplished.

The gay American tourists in search of Latin hypermasculine garotos are middle class men with a disposable income that allows them to travel internationally. A vulnerable sexual minority, Mitchell shows how gay tourists have become a global economic player, a "turbo consumer" with a reputation for raising economic activity and thus courted by national governments and multinational corporations alike. While the gay tourists tend to be middle age and older, most with college or advanced graduate degrees, the garotos whose services they seek tend to be in their late teens to mid-thirties, and, for the most part heterosexual.

Mitchell portrays a scene of global sex tourism that challenges many stereotypes of prostitution, particularly those of the exploited victim and the callous John. Thus, while garotos are from poor backgrounds, sex work is one of very few paths that allows them to access middle class consumerism; and although some despise the way clients treat them, others feel that it is they who are exploiting the clients, rather than the other way round. Even the definition of prostitution becomes difficult, when sexual exchanges are not reimbursed with cash but gifts, when strong affective bonds are involved, when relationships extend over several years. In fact, while Mitchell does not dismiss the importance of erotic encounters driven purely by material gain, he provides multiple examples of tourists and garotos having deep attachments to each other, some even forging new and unconventional types of romantic relationships and creating transnational extended families.

The book illustrates powerfully the fluidity of sexual identity and identification. While the international marketing of Latin sexuality has produced distinct appetites for a hypersexual Latin masculinity, garotos need to learn how to perform to these expectations of their clients in order to make themselves "legible" to the client and to arouse them. But garotos also need to muster up their own arousal, for which they routinely use heterosexual porn and negotiate how to interpret their own tesao—vaguely translated as 'desire'—that might arise during sex with a client. The Latin concept of "ativo-passivo"—in which the kind of sex one engages determines one's sexual identity—here seems to clash with the so-called "egalitarian" concept of the American tourist, in which one's choice of sexual partner determines one's sexuality. But, as Mitchell shows, although the "Latin concept" is in use, particularly among lower class and rural Brazilians, it is neither rigid nor overly determining, with men who ostentatiously subscribe to the active, penetrative role, at times finding themselves enjoying sex with clients and taking on the passive role, even [End Page 113] though they continue to identify as heterosexual and—outside of prostitution—maintain sexual relationships only with women.

One of the central findings of Mitchell's study is what he calls the "paradox of queer desire:" the widespread belief among tourists that the garotos who claim to be heterosexual—and therefore only willing to perform penetration—are in fact closeted gays in need of liberation. However, the more a garoto is likely to express genuine pleasure with and affection for his client, the more the client will lose interest and search for a new prospective convert. This paradox, in which the object of desire becomes obsolete after successful conquest, Mitchell shows, is replicated in...


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pp. 113-114
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