Af Arthur Medeiros
Fotograf Francis Papillon
The ocean is one of the many metaphors used to describe culture. We can identify patterns of waves at the surface level, but there are many unseen cultural values lying beneath the water.
The idea of moving to a new place with a new language and culture can bring excitement – and for many LGBTI+ people, it can symbolize a new beginning in a place where it’s possible to show their identity without fear. But after you arrive in a new country, what happens when the honeymoon phase is over?
This article sheds light on the immigration process of Renato Carvalho (he/him), a gay Brazilian journalist who moved to Canada at age 22 to do a master’s program. Now at 32, he reflects on the challenges and successes of starting over in Quebec. Renato currently works as a student advisor in Montreal, helping prospective students to apply for postgraduate courses. In an online interview, he talked about his initial impressions, cultural adaptation, stereotypes, and the journey of finding a queer community away from home.
Cultural adaptation: from honeymoon phase to invisible enemy
Coming from a small city with very catholic and conservative values, Renato believes that being queer was a strong factor in deciding to move away from Brazil.
“My childhood was very difficult for being queer. Despite having had a great childhood, sufferingdiscrimination and having to pretend to be a different person was hard.
When I first came to Canada, I experienced something I’d never experienced before. I saw gay villages, gay bars. It was all really open. I was excited about everything! But once the cultural honeymoon ended, other challenges started to appear.
”My childhood was very difficult for being queer. Despite having had a great childhood, sufferingdiscrimination and having to pretend to be a different person was hard.”
The problem of being an immigrant from a Western country is that it’s hard to see the enemy you are fighting against. Because in general, Brazil and Canada have many similarities as Westernsocieties: we are similar in how we dress, we watch similar movies, and listen to similar songs. But this is a trap. Because you quickly realize that things are not the same. You can’t call people whenever you want because they don’t like it. You can’t hug people when you say hi because they’ll think it’s strange. I had to figure out when I could call, touch or hug someone, for example. It’s all in the details.”
Furthermore, Renato revealed that performing new social norms felt unnatural at times. “There’s something much more spontaneous in Brazil compared to how friendships happen here. However, 10 years later, this bothers me less and I am more comfortable with the adaptations I’ve made.”
The journey into the queer community
Renato describes the journey into the queer community as a slow process and says that building strong connections was difficult. “I felt that Quebec was indeed very open and accepting of queer people. You can go out on the streets, hold hands with your partner, etc. But integrating into society? It is hard, and it takes time.” He also faced challenges joining circles of friends that were already formed.
“In the beginning, I thought I was starting to make friends in the queer community, but I wasn’t, it was mostly people who have a crush on you or would like to sleep with you. Or there are people you see in the club, have shots together, and never see again. Or if you do, then it’s mostly in a party setting. They don’t offer you much opportunity to get closer and be a part of their lives.”
However, Renato recalls a turning point in his social life: After realizing he was going through a breakup, a queer friend from his old job invited him to go out. “It happened 2.5 years after I moved to Canada, and it was the first time I found myself in a group of queer people where everyone was from Quebec.” Renato believes that being a part of a group of queer friends brought positive changes to his social life. “Once they took the time to get to know me, they gave me space to show who I was, and I felt more accepted.”
Prejudice within the community
Although the LGBTI+ community should be a place of acceptance and inclusion, there are often stereotypes associated with specific groups of people. “I noticed some strange perceptions about my culture. I recall an incident where someone said to my boyfriend in front of me “You Latinos! We know you cheat on people all the time.” I don’t want to generalize, but I do think that there’s a hypersexualized image associated with being Latin.
However, after living in Canada for 10 years, Renato says that this situation got better, as he became more fluent in French and because he has what many consider a ‘good professional career’. “When I met someone, I would start talking about my job, because I knew it was something that validated me. But it made me feel that I had to prove myself all the time, that I deserved to be here.”
After 10 years: on the other side
“At some point you must find a way to be yourself while understanding that you belong to this new society, and this is how they work – and it’s not personal. In the beginning I took it personally, and it hurts, and you may think your friend doesn’t like you. But after 10 years here, I see these differences as part of their culture.
“If you only focus on what is not similar, you will not have a good immigration experience.”
Another important lesson I’ve learned is: Don’t take culture as being the same thing for everybody all the time. There are patterns, but there are also personalities. For example, I have a friend from Quebec who was very helpful and open for a friendship since the moment we met at the university.
I consider myself a successful immigrant, and that doesn’t mean I am happy all the time. But I understand that there are some limits to immigration. I will never see this culture as my own, although I really admire it. I think it is important to learn to appreciate the good things, because if you only focus on what is not similar, you will not have a good immigration experience.”