Day five: Latin American Geography, Gender and Sexualities

Here’s my diary of my trip to Brazil to speak at a conference on geography, gender and sexualities.

Conference day two

A day packed full of exciting papers, some highlights were:

  • The opening paper by Benhur Pinos Da Costa, which explored the history of sexualities internationally, but adding in Brazilian experiences. Finishing with a discussion of small towns in Brazil, Da Costa explored how gay men find space to gather, meet and create relationships and kinship networks even in places that are not accepting of their identities.
  • Jan Simon Hutta’s exploration of how sexualities and gender are policed and controlled in a peripheral area Baixada Fluminense (Fluminense Lowlands), a region in the state of Rio de Janeiro, sought to challenge the idea that safety and security lies in the state and the all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people will be protected by the police. Instead he argues that the state and police cannot be relied on for some who challenge sexual and gender norms and live in peripheral areas. For those who are more marginal relationships, friendships and gaining respect in local communities are key.
  • Maria Rodo-De-Zarate used maps of feelings to understand the similarities and differences of young lesbians experiences of space in Brazil (a place called Ponte Grosse) and Spain (Barcelona). She showed how these girls do not have the same feelings about space as straight girls, public spaces Spanish girls felt uncomfortable, in Brazil those spoken to could not show their feelings, walk hand in hand in public space, despite legal protections. She argued that not being able to experience love, care and solidarity and deprives people of their humanity. It is necessary to identify these injustices spatially to create more just and fair societies.
  • Cesare Di Feliciantonio discussed the importance of thinking about queer migration and social welfare together.  Too often migrants are presumed to be straight and gay men especially seen to be wealthy and white. Thinking about young gay men who moved from Italy to Berlin and from big cities in Italy to small towns showed that for young people the material conditions in which they exist are really important. For Italian family connections are really important socially, economically and culturally, but they can also be constraining.  Interestingly gay men can experience more freedom in small towns where their families are not present.

Overall the day illustrated the diverse experiences people have of sexualities, and how sexualities are lived differently in differently places, and at different times.

Day four: Latin American Geography, Gender and Sexualities

This is my diary of a recent trip to Brazil to speak at a conference on geography, gender and sexualities.

Conference opening

IMG_9764 Porto VehloThis was a very different conference opening for a number of reasons. Firstly it started with the national anthem sung by a local choir, who reappeared later to sing other songs from various Brazilian composers.

The opening was done by people from the University, but also the hundred or so people at the conference from all over Latin-America, Portugal and Spain, were welcomed by the Secretary of State, for the State of Rondinia for Education. He spoke of the importance of education for society, University is free in Brazil. More than this he recognized the importance of studying gender and sexuality to address social inclusion and improve society.  Then he went on to say how important geography is to this endeavour, as we need to know how where we are influences exclusions/inclusions and power relations between men and women, as well as around sexuality.

It is refreshing to hear a politician understand the importance of not only education to improve society but also the place of geographies of genders and sexualities to achieve this.  The place of gender and sexuality in geographies in Latin America is very different to that of the UK. The conference organizer talked about gender and sexuality are not recognized as ‘appropriate’ or relevant topics and people struggle to get published in Geography. This seminar offers a chance for people from across Latin America and Iberia to come together, where they are usually isolated into small pockets away from each other. Indeed it is in working together that they were able to start a journal and also to include sexualities for this first time into the title of the conference.

Maria Dolores Garcia Ramon gave the opening talk, speaking about two women travellers Gertude Bell and Isabel Erhenardt. These women traveller had more freedom because they didn’t travel in professional roles, and often challenged colonial rule, but they also helped it. Gertude Bell, for example helped Lawrence of Arabia. I also learned about Porto Velho’s colonial history, which included the British shipping 3 huge water containers to the town, that only served the British half of the town. There is also a British train by the waterfront, also brought by the British during the colonial era. This ‘old town’ area is now popular for evening entertainment both the water towers and the train act as symbols for Port Velho.


Day two: Latin American Geography, Gender and Sexualities Seminar

Here’s my diary of my trip to Brazil to speak at a conference on geography, gender and sexualities.


A day trip out of Brasilia highlighted a very interesting phenomena – motels. These are rented by the hour, but unlike in the UK their use is considered normal for couples. The motels are explicit about their use, with one named ‘Horizontal’. Motels are used after a night out or for those in long term relationships, as well as activities that might be frowned upon. This different creation of normal sexual spaces is related to family living where people live in shared family homes with parents in their 20’s and 30’s, after they are married and so on. These motels then provide a space away from the watchful eyes, for both parents and children.

Day one: Latin American Geography, Gender and Sexualities Seminar

Here’s my diary of my trip to Brazil to speak at a conference on geography, gender and sexualities.

Brasilia via Lisbon

IMG_9952 BrasiliaBrasilia is the capital of Brazil, but like Milton Keynes it is a city that was built in the 1960’s after it was designated as the capital. The fastest growing city label is easily seen by the immense bumper-to-bumper traffic from the airport and the fast growing suburb of Aguas Claras. Buildings are going up everywhere. Apartment living is the norm, and the apartments all having swimming pools and children’s toys. There is little public space, except a park that is accessible by foot from some parts of the district. This is car culture and most of the buildings have large carparks and promises of car parking spaces are used to sell new apartments.

Family life and the rhythms of everyday life are very different here, children stay up late and go to bars and restaurants (some of which have specific children’s areas) with their parents – no babysitters here! School is only in the afternoon – or sometimes in the morning.

There are elections whilst we are here. People vote electronically, by fingerprint and using a series of numbers. There are a number of rules about public advertising of candidates, like they have to clear away all campaign posters by 10 o’clock at night to avoid litter. No campaigning is allowed on the day so outside voting stations the floor is covered in flyers left their the night before – showing the ingenuity and persistence and importance of advertising. The election result is inconclusive as the president needs at least 50% of the vote, two candidates are left (including the controversial outgoing president Dilma) and further elections will take place later in the month to decide the winner.

Southeast Asia to Brighton

Thai dancers at ASEASUK conferenceOur Human Geography team hosted a major conference on Southeast Asia Studies last month.

In collaboration with the Royal Pavillion Museum in Brighton, the conference brought together a diverse group of Southeast Asian scholars, development practitioners, artists and even Shan Buddhist monks, all with an interest in different aspects of Southeast Asian human geography, culture and development.

One of the highlights of the conference was a performance of Thai dance by leading performer Phakamas Jirajarupat and her colleagues (pictured). For me as a Human Geographer, it was fascinating to see what conference participants from Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Malaysia made of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, built as a ‘pleasure palace’ for Prince William in the 18th century. This unique, opulent building reveals much about how the Far East was imagined and represented by its English architects and designers, none of whom had ever visited that part of the world.