Paulo Goya and I met in 2014 during some events that I organized at City Hall to discuss urban public policies that affect the center of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. At that time, Paulo was very concerned with the rapid gentrification São Paulo faces. He inherited a mansion built in the early 20th century and transformed it into a cultural center, the Casarão do Belvedere, where the main focus is to connect people and offer the space for social projects he believes in. I brought up the question of how to engage interesting people in Queer City without appearing unnatural or fake and, together, we had an idea for a series of social meetings that would happen during the whole cycle of Queer City.
The initial idea of “Janta—Comida Queer, Política Queer” was to serve food and drinks once a month, for free, inside the Casarão, and to discuss political themes that interest us personally and also the Queer City community.
The first one, held on February 25, 2016, had the broad theme of “The Queer and The Urban,” as a spark for discussions to come and to get the attendees to consider the question about what an urbanism based in a queer perspective could be. Goya and I shared the kitchen and we cooked his traditional filet mignon with potatoes (there is a French name for this dish, but I can’t recall) and chickpeas three ways: a salad, a falafel tower, and hummus. This first meeting was very important to measure and understand what kind of audience we were reaching: specific communities? random people? our own network of friends? The Casarão—a city heritage site protected by preservation laws—can be an intimidating place due to its grandeur. The 25 curious people at the dinner understood the dynamic of this type of gathering, and invted more guests to the next dinners as a way to expand the circles of people engaged in, or curious about, Queer City.
We offered food and drinks for 25 to 40 people, depending on the ingredients of the meal, and asked guests to supplement the meal with their own dishes to create a sharing environment. For the second Janta, we decided to take a step forward in the discussion and suggested the theme “Art and The Kuir,” creating an entry point to question what would queer (an English word rooted in Northern American culture) mean in a more tropical land. Decolonization of the word and concept is something that has been debated in many publications, activities, and academic works. But no one represents this debate better than Hija de Perra, a drag artist, thinker, and social activist who wrote a very interesting article called “Interpretaciones inmundas de cómo la Teoría Queer coloniza nuestro contexto sudaca, pobre aspiracional y tercermundista, perturbando con nuevas construcciones genéricas a los humanos encantados con la heteronorma.” De Perra explores the singularities of Latin American culture and how it is affected by this foreign concept in a constant movement to fit to standards completely different from ours. The food was provided by a neighbor who had cooked far more than was necessary as part of a philanthropic project. We bought the surplus from him: eggplant lasagna and meatballs with tomato sauce.
The following month, April, I was intrigued when researching De Perra in a book that calls for a feminism without women. How can we claim equal rights while not considering women in the process? Confused, I decided to bring the discussion to the Janta, so the public could help us understand what this would be. The event, titled “Feminism,” was also based on a text written by Carla Rodrigues in which she describes the 2015 political situation in relation to feminist fight:
To think about [what would be the historical facts—our contemporaneity—that feminists in the future will identify with], I would like to go back to one of the studies proposed by the philosopher Judith Butler, who 25 years ago questioned the possibility of not making women the engine of the feminist politic. If from there it looked like she would announce the end of feminism, in fact her provocations were directed to an important paradox: it is useless to first demand from women a configuration stabilized in an identity, then afterward try to free them. It was necessary, Butler argued, to question the demands of identity itself. It was about being able to imagine a feminism that would no longer have the goal of representing the “female subject”—which would require a prior identity of the woman referent to be represented—while, contradictorily, at the same time obliging them to be closed in a definition in a struggle that claims openness.
This occasion demanded more careful thought about what is being served and who is serving it. To add another layer into the discussion, we invited Comida de Papel (aka Pipa) to think and plan what would be the dinner for this night when we planned to discuss feminism. Pipa, considering female imagery, decided to present all food in round shapes: eggs, a gaspacho of avocado and cucumber, rice balls with seeds and yogurt sauce, lentils and beets salads, lemon grass sago, and hibiscus tea.
This idea brought up the need to explore which types of feminism we were not considering when questioning the queer—especially in an urban environment. Xenofeminism, for example, a manifesto developed by the group Laboria Cuboniks, claims that it is impossible today to think about the feminist fight without considering technologies:
XF constructs a feminism adapted to these realities: a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision; a future in which the realization of gender justice and feminist emancipation contribute to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of every human, cutting across race, ability, economic standing, and geographical position. No more futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital, no more submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike, no more reification of the given masked as critique. Our future requires depetrification. XF is not a bid for revolution, but a wager on the long game of history, demanding imagination, dexterity and persistence.
This statement made us realize that it is important to discussions of queerness to consider the new context in which we are inserted. We called this “Technoqueer.” Looking for new approaches to the food, we invited Govinda Lilamrta to prepare a hare krishna meal—in other words, vegan—serving tapas with vegetables, organic rice, herbs, and lentils.
The only problem with adding technology to the discussion was that we risked moving far from our traditional roots—the traditional culture that shapes and sustains us. Here in Brazil, for instance, machismo is something so rooted in our culture that even national festivities show only the role of male and female in extremely stereotyped understanding: man as provider, woman as giver. So, how do we rethink a traditional festival like the Festa Junina considering all genders and sexualities? In partnership with the collective Cursinho Popular TRANSformação, we supported the idea of the fabulous Aretha Sadick to create what she called “Queerdrilha“—a Festa Junina with traditional dance, but in a way that accommodates all expressions of gender. Considering the cozy atmosphere that we wanted to create—and the cold weather—I stepped into the kitchen and cooked 55 liters of split pea soup, corn, and a traditional Brazilian drink called quentão.
Now that performance was part of the process, shifting the dynamics of the Janta changed drastically. After that experience, having only the dinner and drinks during our gatherings no longer made sense. We needed something more—more visual, more shocking, more vibrant. With that in mind, and to improve the experience, we invited Bruno Mendonça and Natalia Coutinho to extend their project CABINE with a special edition at the Casarão. As the last day of their screening series, they presented a spoken word multimedia performance. Their project happened at the gallery .Aurora once a week in July 2016 when both artists manipulated audiovisual materials as a way to develop and create a different project, appropriating complete or parts of movies and films, and creating a kind of hypertext or metanarrative. The queer theme was central to the project. And, again, we invited Pipa to reinterpret this project with food, focusing on the idea of sour and sweet, contrasting strong tastes: pork shank, cooked cabbage, homemade bread, tacacá, rice, cheese, and peach pie.
While we were arranging the Janta and discussing the themes brought up by the audience, Claudio Bueno and João Simões organized a queer residency in the periphery of São Paulo at the house in which Claudio was raised, called EXPLODE!. The residency brought to Queer City discussions about the body, the periphery, and gender, in a place where machismo is the common ground and queer bodies are not visible. The residency included special guests from the international collective Ultra-red, such as Michael Roberson and Robert Sember, as well as dancer/choreographer Pony Zion, who exchanged experiences with local activists/artists such as Ezio Rosa, Aretha Sadick, Danna Lisboa, and Mavi Veloso. Why not organize a special Janta with this interesting crowd? For the first time, the Janta left the grand Casarão and went to the periphery of the city as a way to engage a different audience in the whole—and intimate—process happening in the residency. To maintain the Janta’s performance trajectory, during this “almo-Janta”—the union of lunch and dinner—Michael and Pony shared their stories of the ballroom scene in New York, offered a dance workshop, and, at the end of the evening, organized a small vogue battle. As always in this kind of situation, I was the responsible for the food. This time, considering the location of the house and the house itself, we decided to do a churrascão na laje—in other words, a homemade Brazilian barbecue: chicken hearts, picanha (a Brazilian cut of a filet steak), chicken wings, vegetables, chickpea salad, and homemade potato mayo with herbs.
During this whole process of gatherings, Brazil was experiencing a tough political moment in which the elected President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in a constitutional coup; São Paulo was struggling to deal with the demands of civil society for heritage protection and the democratization of social spaces; and Goya and I were exhausted from always trying to change our local reality, but never accomplishing anything substantial. His house, despite its intimidating opulence, faces a huge problem of maintenance. The neighborhood, Bela Vista, is a current target for real estate development, and most of the historical buildings are being demolished or having their surroundings affected by huge new buildings with “gourmet varandas”—a trend in new buildings here in Brazil to have verandas with a barbecue griller, a micro-kitchen, and big walls separating the sidewalk. All of these affect the lives of its residents, as the streetscape becomes less and less pleasant to walk (walls everywhere!), and its history is being erased step-by-step. Because of that, the final Janta was convened on the concept of “(res)sent(i)ment,” as a way to understand our resentment of current urban public policies through an intimate, sensitive, and subjective perspective. The basis for these discussions was the book “Memória e (Res)sentimento,” a compilation of articles presented at a conference at the University of Campinas. The editors and authors of the book argue that Brazil is stuck within a modernist perspective that doesn’t apply to contemporary demands, and holds us in a reality that is inadequate to live in. And, again, considering the amazing results that we had with our previous experiences, to close the Queer City cycle of inquiry we invited Comida de Papel (Pipa!) to propose one final menu for us: greens with passion fruit sauce, polenta, tomato sauce, squid stuffed with Brussels sprouts, vegetables, cheese, and mungunzá with blackberry.
Reflecting on the eight Jantas, it is easy now to understand what we accomplished and with whom we made connections. At the first one, the group was made up of 25 friends-of-friends, very intimate and shy, trying to comprehend what we were doing. The last one, after eight months, had a totally different crowd, with more than 60 people happy to be together. The sense of belonging to a plural community was there—one in which difference was not queer, but common. In the end, we are all the same, developing and changing our own realities, and for a brief moment, leaving the struggles of our lives behind and having a communal experience in which respect and acceptance are the only entrance fees.