Queering tradition : LGBT+ cultural production in the Brazilian Northeast




Nicholus, Sarah Elizabeth

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This dissertation investigates how queerness is expressed through traditional forms of culture in a digital age while critically engaging anti-colonial mobilizations of queer theory. Traditional culture with rural origins is rarely imagined as a site of LGBT+/queer community formation. This is largely due to the ways in which contemporary notions of LGBT+ identity have developed in conjunction with European and North American urbanism. In the Brazilian Northeast, rural representations of the region have always predominated over urban ones, centering the desert-like sertão and patriarchal plantation as characteristic of a static, backwards, and closed region. In the context of these conservative visions of the region, I investigate queerness in Northeastern society and culture. I focus on traditional forms of culture that are practiced throughout the region, in rural and urban areas, including quadrilha dance performances, cordel folk poetry, and the ephemeral spaces of traditional June festivals. Many of them date from the Portuguese colonial era, with ideological messages that echo the dicta of Catholic morality. My field site is the mid-sized capital city of Natal in the state of Rio Grande do Norte and surrounding rural areas. Natal-RN, is part of a transnational contact zone of “imperial formation” (Stoler, McClintock), hosting thousands of U.S. soldiers during World War II. It is also characterized by a peripheral modernity – unevenly developed, with many vestiges of pre-modern socio-economic relations. Based in an interdisciplinary, cultural-studies-grounded approach, this project reads physical spaces, artistic performances, historical images, and oral poetry as texts which visibilize queer, racialized Northeastern subjectivities. I draw on feminist, queer, and intersectional traditions to examine what type of LGBT+ representations are present in Northeastern culture and how they work in, on, and against hetero-patriarchal hierarchies imposed by colonialism. I also investigate how subordinated subjects negotiate the cultural order imposed by modern forms of empire. Dialoging with women of color and trans feminisms, this project destabilizes binaries and contributes to the elaboration of an intersectional trans-feminist framework that bridges conversations in Latin America and the United States. It complicates representations of the Brazilian Northeast as rural, or “anti-modern,” and therefore unwelcoming of alternative sexualities and gender expressions


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