Between Two Worlds: The World of Goods and the Management of Gay Identity

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Between Two Worlds: The World of Goods and the Management of Gay Identity.
1Bill Pereira

Assistant professor

Fundação Capixa de Pesquisa - FUCAPE Business School - Brazil


Eduardo Andre Teixeira Ayrosa

Assistant professor

Escola Brasileira de Administração Publica e de Empresa – EBAPE/ FGV – RJ.


Brazilian culture is often described by sociologists as full of contrasts and dualisms, where opposites concepts cohabitate in soft and constant struggle (Da Matta, 1991, Barbosa XXX, Fry XXX). Despite cultivating symbols and behavior related to freedom and sensuality, Brazilians still hold some strict and conservatory standards of morality. An instance where such dispositions arise is on attitudes towards homosexuality and gays. In a recent survey from the Brazilian Institute of Social Social Research, results from interviews with 2.014 citizens from 150 Brazilian cities show a high level of rejection of homosexuality. On this survey, informants said that they would not feel at ease with public displays of affection between homosexual couples (INSTITUTO BRASILEIRO DE PESQUISA SOCIAL, 2008). Therefore, homosexuality still seems to be a stigmatized behavior in Brazil.
On the other hand, goods, services and marketing activities directed to the gay public - or, using the words of Peñaloza (1996), the dream market - have seen a steep growth in Brazil. Gay pride parades in Brazil have attracted more than three million people, and the São Paulo parade is deemed as the world's largest (Silva 2006). Such duality, peculiar to the Brazilian culture, is present even inside the gay culture of Rio de Janeiro, where homosexuals describe their reality as built upon two opposite but complimentary worlds: the gay and the heterosexual.
The present work aims to explore how gay men use consumption to build and manage symbolic barriers and bridges between the gay and the heterosexual worlds they live in. We seek not only to observe the way the informants manage to cross the boundaries between these two worlds, but also, and more important, how these two worlds are described in their life history, and how social interactions with goods and consumption environments help to build the barriers and bridges between the two worlds.
This work in based on data from ethnographic observation that has been taking place in the city of Rio de Janeiro since 2005. Data collection is based on field notes prepared by one of the authors, as well as long in-depth interviews with 19 gay men that currently live in this city. Informants are openly gay men, with gender identity fully established, that frequently go to gay venues, shops, bars, nightclubs, and all sorts of and consumption environments. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed along with ethnographic field notes. Data analysis involved careful reading and codification of all data, in a process that has been repeated several times upon the same set of data in order to have a full grasp of the narratives. As suggested by Belk et alii (1988), we adopted techniques for interpretive studies that included member checks, use of photographs, and analysis of secondary data such as magazines and advertising directed to the gay public (Kates 2002, Belk et alii 1988).
Stigma is related to a mark of social inferiority that, apparently or not, a dominant group imposes another. Goffman's (1986) approach about stigma is strongly related to the question concerning identity. According to him, the stigmatized person carries a "spoiled identity", since such identity is seen by the dominant group as shameful and depreciative to its bearer (Crocker at. Al., 1998; Hogg, Hilbbert e Piancentini, 2008). It is important to stress that the stigmatized attributes are culture- and context-dependent. What is seen as a stigma in one culture or context may not be seen the same way in another situation. After all, what is stigmatized is, in fact, not the stigma attribute, but what it represents. For instance, markings of the homosexual condition may be seen as a stigma in smaller cities, where social control over the conduct of the citizen is stronger, than on great metropolitan areas, where the social grids are looser (see Douglas & Isherwood , 1979).
Homosexuality, the homosexual subject, and the "gay man", are inventions dated on the 19th century. Since the second half of the 19th century, the homosexual practice became to define a special kind of person, and consequently, a new social category, namely the homosexual, which came to be marked as a deviant. Persons who, voluntarily or not, were framed in this category, began to live a secret life, marked by segregation (Kates, 1998, Silva, 2006, Trevissan, 2002; Foucault, 1988). Such a "secret life" provided the fertile ground for the development of a whole subculture, the gay culture, with its own behavioral codes, discourse, norms, values, and its own set of social identities. When forming a gay identity, during the process of "getting out of the closet", individuals in this condition use profusely the social meanings attached to goods and services in order to reach the new homosexual identity (Kates, 1998 , 2002).
First conclusions of this study show that gay men's culture actually involve an active symbolic construction of both a gay and a straight world. What seems to be a simplistic division is, in fact, the representation of two separate and complimentary symbolic domains in which gay men live and, depending on the context, manage their social identities. The division of these two worlds lies not only in gay men's imagination, but also in their choices of clothing, accessories, and places like clubs, restaurants, or the beach. Nevertheless, it is through ritualistic activities that the gay men symbolically incorporate these goods, services and places in their culture (McCracken, 2002). This way, through consumption, they attribute meaning to the world. Consumption goods and rituals, then, become instruments of the gay culture to build and manage the gay identity throughout the gay and straight worlds.

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1 The author would like to thanks the support from Conselho Nacional de Pesquisa Cientifica (CNPq)

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