As Natasha and others showed me, subjects historically marginalized in normative liberalism also respond to their dislocated condition to demand their own versions of liberation. One way they do so is through a process that queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz calls “disidentification,” creative strategies through which outsider populations engage with dominant forces to produce their own truths.
For Natasha and her friends, life in the favela also meant freedom. Not freedom from violence or poverty, as those were daily realities for her and other favela dwellers—but freedom to act out queer sexual desires, to express more fluid identities, to take drugs, to test the limits of their bodies, and to otherwise be themselves.
This is what a queer anthropology of liberalism can offer: an attempt to decolonize liberalism, opening the way for a more expansive politics of liberation.
I still keep a picture of Natasha taken in 2010. Seven people—four women and three men—pose in front of a black-and-white tiled wall, like pieces in a game of chess. We were at the Bar & Mar, a decaying nightclub in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro, and no one knew exactly how the night would end. Who would fuck whom? Who would kiss whom? Who would pay whom?
In her black, pointy high heels, Natasha is the tallest one in the photo. Her strapless, metallic dress is glued to her slender body, giving her a golden glow. She has no breasts, but she looks very feminine, with smooth hair and delicately applied makeup. Her black, smoky eyes draw attention. In her right hand, she holds a glass of whiskey.
Natasha didn’t like to drink, but that night, she’d made an exception. She’d accepted an invitation to share a fancy bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label with the young, muscular man standing behind her in the photograph. He wears a tight white T-shirt and blue jeans with white shoes. His bulging biceps wrap around her waist, and his knee peeks out from in between her legs. Natasha responds with a slight smile. She’s enjoying the manly arms wrapped around her.
Those were glorious times for us.
This excerpt has been edited for style, length, and clarity.
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