“Femme”, a magazine written by and for lesbian women, circulated in Brazil between 1993 and 1996. Finding a copy, however, is rare – not even those who wrote them kept copies. A researcher determined to find the publications scoured Google and found a document in the Library of Congress that listed three of the journal’s mismatched issues. It is not known how, but the copies ended up at the University of Austin, Texas. A lesbian network then formed to get to the pages.
Attention to the ciranda: the researcher had a friend who was dating a woman who had already studied at this North American university and got another friend to scan the copy of the lost editions. Thus, based on effort and luck, the Brazilian Lesbian Archive has sought to find, catalog and understand the press (and other documents) of lesbians over time.
“Much of the Archive’s work in finding sources is a matter of chance,” says journalist Paula Silveira Barbosa, 25. “Today, we call it ‘lesbian press’ [a revistas como a ‘Femme’], but several of the people who wrote and participated in these publications did not understand that production as ‘press’, as having historical value, but as a restricted thing, which did not need to be preserved and had no reason to keep”, explains Paula, who is a master in communication by UPEG (State University of Ponta Grossa) and general director of the Archive.
This Sunday (29) is celebrated the National Day of Lesbian Visibility and the search for rediscovering the past is part of understanding the demands of the group. Visits to the National Library, in Rio, and the Women’s Information Center, in São Paulo, helped to find pieces of the puzzle: rare editions of lesbian productions in the country. But there are still parts to find. There is a record of a publication called “Amazonas” that circulated between 1983 and 1985 and that is all that is known: no copies remain.
From 1981 to 2021: demands remain current
There is no press record designed for the segment of women who relate to women in Brazil before the context of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), say the researchers at the Archive. At the time, an alternative clandestine means of communication was structured, including feminist and homosexual publications. The first known lesbian publications date back to January 1981, when “Iamuricumá” and “ChanacomChana” appeared.
“Iamuricumá” was a leaflet from Rio de Janeiro and had a guerrilla strategy for its circulation: every woman who received the publication, who had controversial texts and radical ideas to talk about homosexuality, should make five copies and pass it on to another five “understood” – as lesbians were called at the time. There are three known editions of this booklet and it is not known if there were others.
“ChanacomChana”, a self-declared lesbian-feminist, circulated until 1987 and many of the issues addressed by the journal are (sadly) current. In the first edition, there is an interview about the women’s team Café Futebol Clube, which talks about the difficulty of professionalizing the sport for women. A lot has improved in this regard, but in 2021, eliminated from the Tokyo Olympics, player Marta, one of the greatest Brazilian athletes and openly lesbian, demanded investments in the sport in Brazil. As was already said 40 years ago.
The question “What do lesbian women do in bed?” it was also something lesbians then needed to hear. At the time the question was answered with good humor. “Lesbians do a lot of things in bed, including: sleeping, reading, watching television, doing gymnastics, etc,” says one of the magazines.
“Through these publications, we can see that a lot has progressed very little. For many lesbians, the job market remains very restricted. There has been little progress if we think about the intersection between lesbians and employment. Issues about lesbian sexual health have progressed, but there is still a lot of misinformation”, says Paula, who emphasizes that the more women have characteristics linked to the idea of lesbianism, the more difficult it is to find work.
The years of military dictatorship were also one of repression for lesbians, who were not restricted to talking about love and sexuality, and dealt with political issues, such as discussions about the pathologization of homosexuality in their publications.
“The dictatorship did several investigative reports on guerrilla groups and the fact that the women were lesbians was a fact noted. They were said to have ‘lesbian pathology’ or were ‘carriers of a sexual anomaly.’ she is described as an ‘active lesbian and an apparent fanchona'”, says Julia Kumpera, the Archive’s financial director, who researches sexual politics of the military dictatorship in Brazil and the history of lesbian activism in her master’s degree in history at Unicamp (State University of Campinas).
In November 1980, a police action called “Operação Sapatão” was carried out, headed by police chief José Wilson Richetti. As the name suggests, to be arrested all you had to do was be a dyke. About 200 women were taken to jail in São Paulo on charges of violating moral and moral laws. The raids in bars and nightclubs that brought together lesbians were common, causing fear and hindering the already restricted space for socializing these women.
From that time, Marta and Eduardo Suplicy are remembered as defenders of the cause: there is even a joke in which it is said that the old acronym GLS (gays, lesbians and supporters) meant “gays, lesbians and Suplicy”, due to the progressive performance of both, who defended the rights of homosexuals during the regime and after. It was Marta, then a federal deputy, who authored a 1995 bill that proposed the civil union of people of the same sex.
“I’m 27 years old, I’m tall, black, super shy. I’m a Virgo and I’m in love with the singer Simone. I’m a very simple person, but lacking in meeting new people.”
“I’m a 2nd year student at the secretariat, 20 years old, 1.60 and 53 kg, dark brown hair and eyes. Aquarius. I consider myself beautiful, friendly, intelligent, affectionate and a little convinced. I like music, cinemas. , study, a good whisk[y] with ice and a good sex”.
In a pre-Tinder era, before the classic UOL chat even existed, the life of a lesbian woman who wanted to find someone to love wasn’t exactly easy. In this sense, the press aimed at the public ended up serving as a platform to find a big boy – and you can see that interest in astrology was already on the rise in these advertisements published by the magazine “Femme”, since its first edition, in September 1993, already after the times of redemocratization. It was common for lesbians to have a mailbox so that their mail could be kept out of the eyes of family members.
A recurrent situation, says researcher Paula Silveira Barbosa, is that militancy, politicized and concerned with discussing achievements, rights and political tensions of homosexual women, resented the lesbians who often appeared at meetings promoted by the publications and, as soon as they found a girlfriend, they left aside the discussion of identity guidelines and never appeared again. The result is that there was a lack of manpower to continue the publications.
“The militancy was very critical of this practice, believing that political debates by the class should be more important, leaving relationships in the background”, he says. “But from the perspective of many lesbians who suffered violence and prejudice at home and at work, finding a partner was often a way to escape this violence. In that sense, the press was very important.”
Currently, there are active publications such as “Alternativa L”, “Brejeiras” and “Lésbi”. For the next few years, the Brazilian Lesbian Archive hopes to continue recording the memory of this press. “Every magazine, periodical, documents, pamphlet, book, meeting minutes or other records that are part of the group’s memory interests us”, say the researchers.