It becomes very clear, early on in this episode of Gaycation, that this journey is cathartic for star Ellen Page. Still tiny and Canadian, the openly lesbian actress no longer carries the weight of being in the closet on her shoulders. However, that’s not enough for Ellen and co-host Ian Daniel. Their mission is to understand and share the experiences of those across the globe who are part of our community, but whose stories are not often told. While Ellen and Ian’s trip to Brazil explores the fun and frivolity of Carnivale, it also features a segment that is truly frightening and made me fear for the duo’s safety.
Ellen and Ian start off on the beaches of Rio, where pretty much everyone is dressed in Speedos and bikinis, except Ellen and Ian, who have an Amish hipster vibe. It’s kind of adorable.
They explain that it’s Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent in the very Catholic country. The duo finds a group of openly gay men hanging out on the beach and ask them what life is like for gays in the country. While Brazil is supposedly quite accepting of the LGBT community, it also has a very troubling track record with violent attacks on said community as well. One of the men explains that homophobia is still quite entrenched in Brazilian society and something that is learned from a very early age.
Next Ellen and Ian head to the Sambadrome, where the real Carnivale action happens, and the LGBT community heartily participates. The costumes, the glitter, the excitement is nearly overwhelming to Ellen who has never experienced anything quite like it. When a group of men in fabulous costumes walks by, Ellen approves. “Oh yeah, I like those dolphin, kind of dildo-y looking costumes. Gotta get me one of those for the boudoir,” she tells the camera. Don’t we all, Ellen?
Ellen meets up with a man named Fabio, who is one of the Carnivale’s choreographers. He has her try on some costumes and introduces her to some queer participants. Overall, the vibe is so positive and welcoming at Carnivale, that it paints a rosy picture of LGBT life in Brazil. However, only a few weeks prior, a trans woman named Piu De Siva, who was very active in Carnivale, was brutally murdered. The fact that Brazil has the highest number of murdered trans people in the world shows that there is still much to do in order to make the country safe for the LGBT community.
After the celebration, Ellen meets up with Anna Rezende from the band CSS (who does the Gaycation theme song). Anna is a queer Brazilian and also a good friend of Ellen’s. When asked about the queer Brazilian experience, Anna recognizes that hers is one of privilege in many ways, and that privilege allows for certain protections. Affection between queer people is still generally frowned upon, and Anna explains that acceptance of queer people as a normal part of society is still not happening in Brazil. Anna is optimistic, though. A lot has been happening politically for the LGBT community in the country, and while there is a rise of the religious right (just like here in the States), Anna thinks that only signals that the community is becoming a more powerful force for good.
The following day, Ellen and Ian meet up with Brazil’s only openly gay politician, Jean Wyllis. To Jean, Brazil is a country of contradictions. One day, it’s reveling in the openness and celebration of Carnivale, the next it’s pushing an Evangelical agenda of intolerance. Sound familiar, America? Jean explains that 300 LGBT persons were killed last year because of their LGBT status. It’s a shocking statistic. Even more shocking is the brutality in which these crimes were committed. Lesbians and trans people are even more vulnerable, Jean says, because of the male-dominated culture in Brazil. There has even been an uptick in corrective rapes against lesbians and queer women in the country.
Ellen and Ian decide to visit a lesbian bar in Rio, where the party is quite raucous and unselfconscious. A woman even asks if she can kiss Ellen. Ellen gets instantly shy and allows her a kiss on the cheek. “I tend to get shy,” Ellen tells us. “When I think a girl is cute, I’m shy. I’m typically wonderful at flirting with people who I don’t mean to flirt with, and horrible at flirting with people I mean to flirt with. Story of my life.” Celesbians—they’re just like us.
Ellen does speak with some lesbians away from the party, who explain that life isn’t always such a party. There is still a lot of adversity to deal with, which makes being openly queer a challenge at times.
At least a third of LGBT violence and murders in Brazil are committed against the trans community. Ian breaks off to visit and speak with a group of trans sex workers to find out how they stay safe. Ian quickly finds out that Luana Muniz is the godmother of sorts to countless trans women, especially in the sex worker community. She even spearheaded an organization for the protection and rights of trans sex workers. Luana is a force of nature, who commands instant respect for her tireless efforts and larger than life personality. Luana makes a dramatic exit and leaves Ian to speak with some of the trans women who live in Luana’s house. Priscilla has been a sex worker since she was only 13 years old. For Priscilla, sex work allows her to survive and pay for the surgeries she needs. Even when she walks away from it, she inevitably returns to the profession.
Ellen and Ian take a trip to San Paulo to meet with model and actress, Carol Marra. Carol has made huge inroads for the trans community as a popular model and even as one-half of the first ever trans kiss on Brazilian TV. For Carol, being in front of the camera is a freeing experience. Carol has a complicated relationship with her family, who still refuse to call her Carol, and use her birth name. She explains that being hung up on the body a person is born with is a major issue for trans acceptance in Brazil. The world is still quite dangerous for trans women there, and prostitution is often pushed on to trans women as their only option. Carol is fighting to change perspectives with her visibility and voice. “Even though life doesn’t smile at me, I smile at it every day,” Carol tells Ellen and Ian, which brings a big smile to Ellen’s face.
In the car leaving their interview with Carol, Ellen addresses the fact that no matter where you are, society is still homophobic to one degree or another. We still live in a world where straight is the default, and we are inundated with straight culture from day one. That creates a level of internal shame that can really weigh heavily on a person’s soul.
Ellen gets political next, when she meets up with conservative and anti-gay politician, Jair Bolsonaro. Ellen is admittedly a little nervous about this conversation, but from the get go, she doesn’t stand down. Bolsonaro does his politician thing, but Ellen sees right through it, even when he starts complimenting her looks and flirting with her. She pushes at him with serious and important questions, but he mostly just evades her and lobs softballs in her direction. That wasn’t a lesbian joke, btw.
Ellen’s next meeting is far more emotional. She sits down with the mother and boyfriend of a young gay man who was killed in a hate crime, and whose killer walked free. Ellen can’t stop her tears from flowing as she speaks to these people whose hearts are broken by this senseless tragedy. She cuts the interview short when it’s clear she can’t continue, and embraces Tom’s mother while extending her deepest sympathies. It’s moments like this, real and raw, that make Gaycation such an important series.
What happens next, is a truly frightening experience for Ellen and Ian and everyone watching the show. They meet up with a man who has admitted to killing many LGBT persons while he was a Brazilian cop. He’s currently a hit man who has no compunction about his hatred for the LGBT community. Ellen and Ian are visibly disturbed when the man appears in disguise and admits to his past actions. The man explains that his hatred of gays intensified when he found out his son was gay. His son is safely far away now, but it’s clear his father was not willing to accept his sexuality. The duo decides, after consulting their team, to tell the man that they are gay. The tone of the interview becomes chillingly personal after this. He leaves them with words of warning, and it’s obvious that Ellen and Ian are shaken by the experience.
In her closing, Ellen talks about how intense this particular trip has been, filled with excitement and joy, but also a dose of frightening reality. Instead of letting the hatred and fear become the takeaway, however, Ellen is inspired by those living life openly and fully inspire of so much adversity.
What did you think of Ellen and Ian’s Brazilian Gaycation?