Miguel (name changed for privacy) is a Brazilian sixteen-year-old, and although his life is just beginning, he’ll tell you that his “story begins when [he] was about twelve-years-old.” Miguel is gay, and although this wouldn’t affect his life in some places, it dominated it in Brazil.
It didn’t begin to impact him until he was twelve, because that’s when he began to grapple with his sexuality. Miguel says that “up until that point I wasn’t really aware about sexual or gender dynamics…the way ‘gay’ was perceived was generally negative, and I reproduced that mindset. After awhile, I started realizing I had actual feelings for another boy.”
Miguel didn’t accept his feelings at first. He “wondered if [he] might have been confused between friendship and attraction.” Although Miguel acknowledges that “the feeling felt natural,” he still struggled to reconcile his feelings with the homophobic sentiment he was surrounded by. Sexuality wasn’t an everyday topic, but whenever it did come up, Miguel immediately felt uncomfortable.
Eventually, Miguel says he came to terms with his sexuality, mostly through the Internet. Surrounded by homophobia and unsure of what to do with his revelations, Miguel says he “dealt with it mostly online. [He] talked to friends and looked up forums and YouTube videos.” They helped him cope, and “learn how to go about living life, and feel safe about displaying [his] orientation.”
The encouragement he found in friendly, supportive online communities finally gave him the courage to take action offline. After a lengthy internal debate about whether or not it would be worth it, Miguel decided to come out to his father. Unfortunately, his reaction was less than positive. Miguel says he was advised to “for [his] safety and the family’s reputation, keep low about it.”
His father’s negative reaction was discouraging, but Miguel was becoming more comfortable with his sexuality. He says he “didn’t feel comfortable in the closet anymore, and started gradually coming out.” Miguel told a few trusted friends first, and although reactions were mixed, he received a lot of support. The confidence of his friends empowered Miguel. “Since I was experiencing my first crush,” Miguel says, “I developed an unhealthy dependence on him, and once I felt experienced sharing my identity with others, a bit more confident about my orientation and ready to share how I felt with him, I did. I feel like this is where I really started to struggle with being gay.”
To Miguel’s dismay, “he didn’t take it very well.” His crush took the liberty of outing Miguel to the entire school. “I had to learn how to deal with being perceived as gay by other young people, who really knew nothing about gay people,” Miguel says. His classmates taunted him with anti-gay slurs, and physically attacked him. Miguel noted that this could be the result of their inexperience with the LGBT+ community, their upbringing, or any number of factors, but he says he it “didn’t really matter” where their attitudes came from. The point was, “[he] was perceived negatively for being gay and felt unsafe at school because [his] classmates made it clear they dislike gay people.”
Although he had once felt relatively confident in his sexuality, the backlash led him to recant. “I was asked a lot of questions, and fought a lot of stereotypes people brought up, but I always denied being gay,” Miguel says. He felt alone in the world, and again began to question his sexuality. On the subject of his family, Miguel says “My relationship with my parents is something that probably changed a lot. A lot of parents are conservative, and in Brazil as much as other countries, and so I never felt fully accepted. This is probably one of the biggest struggles gay people find, and definitely one of mine.”
Miguel’s goal is to change the way LGBT+ people are perceived in Brazil. Miguel says that growing up, “I was surrounded by stereotypes, and initially that’s what hurt me the most, because people had this imaginary notion of what a gay person is. Example: my classmates associated femininity with being gay, so they believed the gay people always followed a standard.” He recalls an unnerving incident “talking in class about prejudices. One of the girls rose her hand and said, ‘but teacher, everyone has a prejudice against gay people.’ And in that moment I realized just how messed up the education of children on the subject was.”
Since most of the homophobic sentiment he spoke of encountering came from classmates and family, I asked what messages he saw in the media. There, he speaks of a marked improvement. Miguel says that “when talking exclusively about Brazilian media, the image of gay people is mostly shown on soap operas.” Miguel is hopeful for the future of LGBT+ representation though, because he’s seen an increase “in the past few years, exposure and representation of gay people.” He notes that the characters are often wacky and used as comic relief, but in his opinion, “the portrayals are getting more human and realistic over time.”
Some of Miguel’s friendships have ended, and some are still shaky as a result of his sexuality. He insists that he is just one person, and the stories of other LGBT+ Brazilians could be different, but he believes this is important and his story needs to shared no matter what. He notes that in American media much of the focus rests on LGBT+ rights in America, but there needs to be inclusion of other countries. He wants the media to pay attention to the struggle in Brazil, where people are still bullied and beaten for their sexuality and homophobia is the default. Miguel “hopes [sharing his story] helps.”