Travelling alone is a disconcerting experience at times. How do you behave in a way that invites people to interact with you, yet in my typically English way doesn´t impinge on people´s personal space? My solution is to smile at people.
And my smiles would appear to attract gay men. No, I am not about to 'come out' on the web, but I thought the title might attract your attention. Without meaning to, I seem to have 'picked up' three gay men in the last 24 hours which has led to some interesting and enjoyable chats. But it has also made me wonder. All of them assumed initially that I was gay, and were surprised when I indicated a preference for women. Am I giving out some wierd signals that I don´t give out in England, or is Brazilian gaydar not in tune with English men?
I have decided the reason may lie in my smiling. I guess when I smile at women, it is not seen as very unusual. Given that Brazilian men tend to ogle and often whistle, women probably think that I am terribly shy when I merely smile. Giving a smile at men, however, is clearly a way of picking up men - and I am rather good at it.
I think I should have guessed what was coming in Salvador, when a tall drag queen in tight turquoise hot pants and a pink feather garland tottered out on a high heels to the edge of the crowd and exclaimed: "Daaahlink, can you speak portuguese?" I apologetically replied that I couldn´t. "Oh no, you are so beautiful, I would love to talk to you," he shrilled and trotted off.
Yesterday I met Antonio, a gay black guy whilst I was looking for a beach bar recommended in my guide book. My smile was responded to with a glowing beam, and soon he was taking me to the bar. After looking slightly puzzled when my 'straightness' emerged, he nevertheless was soon passionately telling me about life as a teacher, why fridges were post-modern and about a book he had written about the symbolism of a place in Recife tied to the theories of a philospher called Barth. To be honest I didn´t really follow this very well, but by this time I was on my third caipirinha.
Every now and again, his conversations were strangely punctuated by "yeehahs". I found this a bit puzzling and eventually plucked up courage to ask about it to learn that he had learnt the expression from an American guy and is now famous in school for interrupting lessons with a big "yeehah."
Today I was in a cafe in Recife which was meant to be famous as a hang-out for poets and intellectuals. I thought it was obviously a suitable place for myself. I had imagined it would be something like a Parisian left-bank cafe by the river. Instead it involved going through a leather goods stall, up some grimy steps to a dim room which looked like a run-down canteen.
Still I decided to get a drink and whilst waiting, decided to smile at the two men on the adjoining table. I was duly invited to join them at their table to be told all about the top gay discos and bars in town. Again, I thought I should probably point out that I wasn´t gay. I am not sure this time they believed me, but we ended up having a very interesting chat about Candomble, German towns and bus journeys. Flavio turned out to also have a European boyfriend, although he wasn't sure how he would cope when his boyfriend eventually visited Recife. "The trouble is, daahlink, I am like Jesus. I love everybody," he pouted clinging onto the arms of his Brazilian lover.
Maybe I am confusing some members of the gay community in Brazil, but smiling has led to some interesting encounters in the last few days. Keep smiling :)