Nando Messias

London, March 30, 2021

Part 1

Grant Watson< So, where should we start?

Nando Messias< We can start from early childhood. I was born in Porto Alegre, which is in the southernmost state of Brazil. The name means “happy port.” It’s a big city; one and a half million people live there. The cultural scene there is really very interesting, with dance companies, theater companies, film.

I am the middle child. I have an older sister and younger brother and an older adopted sister. I was very different because I was effeminate and a feminine boy from a very, very early age. So I’ve always stood out and it was tough, growing up like that.

GW< How did your family handle that?

NM< So my father is an artist, a sculptor, painter, writer. And my mother is a civil servant. They’re both conservative, I would say. They struggled with having a queer child. They took me to see psychiatrists. They took me to see psychologists. They took me to see doctors. And in retrospect, I can see that I think they did in order to protect me; they wanted me to function and not suffer. Not be bullied so mercilessly as I was growing up. But that created lots of damage in me, of course. I felt like I had something that needed to be corrected about me.

GW< How old were you when you began going to doctors?

NM< Six, or even earlier. . . probably four, five, six. I couldn’t understand why it was so unacceptable to be the way that I was. I remember my mother would take us to choose our presents for Christmas or on our birthdays. And I would go for the dolls or I would go for the girly things. And she would try to convince me in a very loving way to go for the boy’s toys. And in the end she would buy me the girl’s things.

So that’s what I mean, that she was loving and caring, but still this thing of sending me to psychiatrists was very damaging. She didn’t intend to be mean—it was damaging and loving at the same time. But I also remember that she would drop me off with my sister at my sister’s ballet classes. And I was not allowed to take ballet classes because that was for girls. So I used to sit in a corner of the room and watch, but I always asked, “can I please take ballet classes?” That was never allowed. Later, when I was old enough to make my own decisions and I had my own money, I started training in ballet when I was seventeen. So that’s another thing that was kind of created a sense of agency when growing up. . . the things that I was never allowed as a child, I reached for those. That goes for the way that I express myself as well, the way that I wear makeup or high-heeled shoes or things that are coded as feminine.

GW< Did you do that at seventeen?

NM< In a hidden way, so going to clubs, yes. But also, I remember that I plucked my eyebrows when I was seventeen, or I had them plucked. And I remember the fear of walking into a room. By then, my parents were divorced. So I hadn’t seen my father for maybe six months. And I knew that there was going to be a shock that he was going to see me with my eyebrows plucked. And I was just bracing myself for the reaction. And there was none. He didn’t say anything. I internalized lots of that homophobia, a fear of me being different. But it came with the love and acceptance as well. So it was very difficult for me to process that it was a rejection and an acceptance.

GW< What happened in the broader society? Was there bullying at school?

NM< It was terrible at school. Terrible, terrible, terrible to the point of me not wanting to go to school because it was so violent.

GW< Did you suffer physical abuse?

NM< I was beaten up when I was in fourth grade in school and my mother would always go to school and try to resolve it. But she was very adamant that I was not going to stop going to school, that my education was important for me. And that was a line I couldn’t cross. I realized from a very early age that that was not an option. Not going to school was not an option. She was very strict about that. And I was always at the top of the class because I knew that that was the only way that I could regain the respect or dignity that I thought I had lost for being a bullied boy. But I was always very shy, afraid to open my mouth to say anything, because I knew it was going to be laughed at. Back then, all my friends were girls—all my friends to this day are girls—because I identified with girls, I suppose, and I wasn’t a threat to girls.

GW< And they were accepting. . .?

NM< Always, yes. Can I say that? Can I say I was never bullied by girls? Yes, I can. It was always boys who bullied me. At school, physical education was always separated by gender. I don’t know if that’s the same in Britain, but in Brazil boys play football and girls do volleyball. I was so terrified of physical education that I would go to the library and hide. At the end of the term, I always had to have medical certificates to say why I was absent every single time, but it was simply impossible. I was so bullied.

GW< How did you comfort yourself?

NM< By reading and studying? I think that’s what I was good at. And that’s how I felt. I got back at those other boys in that I was better than them academically. That’s how I comforted myself. I did lots of drawings and that’s another point of liberation to me, being artistic in my expression—I’m painting a very dark picture—but that’s how I kind of see it.

GW< I can kind of relate to that; I had some similar experiences, but not so extreme.

NM< I used to draw a lot, so my father used to teach me and my sister drawing technique. But what I liked to draw was women in dresses. So like fashion designers, designer dresses. And I remember my father picking up those drawings of dresses I did as child, and saying, “look what they’re doing. They’re drawing dresses.” And that seemed to be a wrong thing to be doing. I think that if I had had parents that were more. . . I feel if we had lived in a different time, if we lived now, I think they would have had a different understanding of who I was.

So one of the things that I studied for two years was architecture, because I was very drawn to artistic fashion. And perhaps I would have studied fashion design. Yeah. I definitely think that was a wasted thing. That’s what I wanted to do. And part of me thinks I would have been really successful if I had had a chance. . . And as an artist now, as a performance artist, I struggle to make ends meet a lot of the time, as all performance artists do. But I have this fantasy—and maybe it’s just a fantasy—that if I had been a fashion designer, I would have been really very famous and rich, which is a fantasy not least because not all fashion designers are very famous and rich! But that’s what I think it was. Maybe that part of me was not allowed to grow and live and flourish.

GW< Did you ask to do fashion?

NM< No, but when I was older, I took fashion design courses and shoe design courses. Those are two things that I did in Brazil, parallel to architecture school. That’s where I felt my creativity lay. In my work as a performance artist, that shows up a lot in the way that I create my costumes, makeup, set design, and lighting. It’s all very fashion inspired. Yeah, very much so. And I love the fashion designers that use theater in their presentations. So that’s kind of where those things meet, my main talents I would say: performance and theater and fashion.

GW< But at the same time you’re an academic. How do you feel about the course you’ve taken? Because it’s a more intellectual direction than to be in the commercial fashion field.

NM< When I was thinking of textiles and fabrics in the fashion field, the one designer that I love the most is Martin Margiela, and the reason I love Margiela so much is because I think his designs are intellectual or conceptual. They are very much deconstruction philosophy in fashion design. So I think that’s where I would live, if I were a fashion designer, it would be something that is very conceptual, very deconstructivist, and post structuralist in that world. And Margiela took that path of not wanting to be mainstream as well. So lots of people don’t know what he looks like. There’s no photograph or interview or anything about him. It’s about the work and it’s about escaping commercialization and not being put in a box; it’s always about being surprising and new.

GW< I mean, there’s always been a strong crossover between the world of queer performance and club culture and fashion. People have moved or taken influences from one to the other. In Brazil, were you exploring fashion in club culture? Was that part of your experience of being in Brazil or did it happen when you came to the UK? Or did that happen at all?

NM< In Brazil, in Porto Alegre, I used to go to clubs a lot, like I would say Thursday to Sunday, I was in a club. At sixteen I started going out and then I moved here when I was twenty-nine. So all the way through. And when I moved here, I stopped going to clubs. That kind of disappeared a little bit when I first arrived, by then it just wasn’t my thing anymore. I did do some performances in clubs, Bistrotheque was a restaurant in East London that had a cabaret space. So I did lots of work there. Then there’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which is also a nightclub, where they have Duckie, a nightclub performance cabaret space. So there is a lot of crossover, but in Brazil it’s more rigid, there’s not much performance art. It’s rather about theater, and I went to drama school. I trained in very classic techniques. There was a particular role in which I felt I was being myself, which had more of a performance element to it, and it was a version devised from Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, in which I played the character of Divine, who is a transvestite. That’s a contentious term in today’s world, but that’s very much how Divine is described in Genet’s novel from 1943. But that’s when I felt like I could be myself in drama school; I always wanted to play the female character. I wanted to be Blanche DuBois, I wanted to be Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. And that was never allowed. That was another thing that, you know, it’s very strict, very traditional. Being male you play male roles. Again today, that would be very different I imagine. Because I teach in a university and you wouldn’t dream of telling someone if they couldn’t play a female character if they were assigned male at birth. This has changed a lot, but when I went to drama school, in a very renowned, kind of really good repertoire, classic training drama school in Porto Alegre, it wasn’t allowed. But this performance that I mentioned came out after I finished my studies there.

My graduation project was a version of Medea. I was only allowed to do that because, again, the academic version of me, my academic brain was like, “well, as we studied in theater history, Medea in classical ancient Greece was played by a male actor,” you know there were so many male actors playing female roles. So I approached that role from the perspective of a male actor playing a female role, as it was in ancient Greece. Japanese theater still has that tradition of male actors playing the geisha, the female roles. So I did a whole theoretical study to justify the reason I wanted to play Medea and the creation of that piece involved a costume. The school had a huge costume department and I was allowed to choose a dress. I chose a pink tulle dress, a whole gown, embroidered, it was like a salmon pink, and it didn’t fit me properly. And that’s why I loved it very much. It was strapless, and basically it was too short on the torso, so you could see my nipples. And I liked that very much because it showed that there was a cross between the male body and the female figure, that showed very much in that representation of Medea. And I had a corset underneath that. But I was very keen not to pass as a woman. Lots of my work is about that. It’s just about showing that I have a male body, but I am feminine. And I want those two things to exist in tension alongside each other.

But the dress, this Medea tulle dress takes me back to dressing in my sister’s clothing, which I did when there was no one at home. I used to hide, and put her dresses on, put on my mother’s dresses, my mother’s shoes. That was where my desire was, to wear those things. Always, there are specific things that I remember wearing that were significant. Like my mother’s silk red dress with white polka dots. I remember the feeling of that fabric against my skin. She had a pair of slippers, pale blue Marabou-lined slippers that I used to love, and I remember them very well. And then my sister had a mini-mini-mini dress. That was also red with white polka dots. I remember that, too. I think I remember once putting it on and then not being able to take it off quickly enough when I heard someone coming in the door and the panic that they’d catch me.

GW< When you went to the clubs in Porto Alegre, were you wearing dresses? Was that the first public outing?

NM< So that was, yes, absolutely. I was wearing dresses, skirts, makeup, pink leotards, pink tights, bubblegum pink, I remember wearing a lot of things that were marked as, or marketed as, feminine. But that was super elicit as well. So it’s not something that I would show my parents at that age, at sixteen, seventeen.

GW< How did you orchestrate that? Were you living at home? How did you get to the club? What was the operation?

NM< Yes. Okay. That’s something that still happens today because of safety. So I would either take a taxi and then change outside the club, or I would have everything underneath a coat. And then just check the coat into the cloakroom. The shoes—to this day I know it’s not safe for me in the tube in my full regalia, so I’ll take my shoes in my bag. And then when I get closer to the club, I change into my shoes. I was doing those things back then. And then later on, when I was nineteen, I had my own flat and that was easier, but I would always take a cab because that was the only safe way to get somewhere. I couldn’t take public transport because I would be beaten up. I just knew. So safety was always a concern.

GW< And what about the purchasing of the clothes?

NM< I would borrow my mother’s clothing, or something that I still love to this day is second-hand shops. Just searching second-hand shops and thrift shops and buying things cheap that are amazing. You can find all sorts of treasures. That’s something I learned from one of my teachers at drama school back in Brazil, in Porto Alegre. She told me about Kazuo [Ohno]. I don’t know if you know him? A famous Japanese Butoh dancer, Kazuo was queer in many ways, but he became famous in his eighties in Paris doing a version of a flamenco dancer that he saw perform decades earlier in Japan.[1] The name of his performance is Admiring La Argentina, and in it he replicates from memory what he remembers seeing her doing when he saw her perform in his early twenties, but the figures—so Butoh’s the dance of the darkness—came out after the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they look like cadavers basically, like zombies or they paint their faces white, but Kazuo is in a ball gown. My teacher, who trained in Paris, told me that she heard that Kazuo used to go to thrift shops and collect dresses from the 1920s and 30s, for who knows what. He had no idea what he was going to do with those dresses. But he collected them. And I think that was largely in my memory somehow. Cause I do that; I go to thrift shops and I have a collection of dresses. And there’s a specific type of dress that I love to collect. And I have them in my imagination, it’s a performance that I’m going to create for each of those dresses. Some come to life, some don’t, but they are like ghosts, I suppose, in my wardrobe—potentials.

GW< What kind of dresses?

NM< I love 1930s bias cut satin dresses. That’s my thing. They are cut very close to the body and have long lines, usually spaghetti straps, and they are very much for my body type, I imagine. I think they suit my body type and I loved that decade, the 1930s, in Paris. So that’s the kind of thing that I imagine Josephine Baker wearing; well, not imagine, actually. You can see photographs of her wearing that kind of dress. And then there’s John Galliano late in the Dior 1990s years, which were my clubbing days. I suppose that’s why I love that look so much, because it goes back to when I was seventeen, eighteen.

GW< Were you aware of Galliano in Brazil?

NM< Very much, through magazines, through fashion channels. And I used to love reading British Vogue especially. I remember [Alexander] McQueen and Galliano very vividly from the nineties. And that’s another reason I wanted to come to London, because I thought that’s, you know, the British designers. Vivienne Westwood, I used to love very much because she is very fashion-forward. [Jean Paul] Gaultier, again, kind of gender-bending fashion, but Galliano was huge, huge in my imagination. Very theatrical. We spoke earlier about this thing of theatricality in the presentation of fashion, and he was all about the bias cut satin dresses. I have one of his—it’s a lilac satin bias cut dress, which is just a piece of art to me. I see it as a sculpture; I really love it.

GW< How did you build a performance around that? Have you done something before in that lilac dress by Galliano?

NM< No, I haven’t. The thing is, it kind of becomes a trap in the sense that it’s so precious, it’s so beautiful. It’s so special that I don’t want to damage it in a way

GW< Psychically.

NM< Exactly. So what I do imagine is having. . . I’ve gone into photography a lot now because of lockdown. It’s something to do now that live art is not allowed. So I’m teaching myself the skill of self-portraiture. And I think that would be an amazing thing I could do. My next project is to photograph my whole archive in a performance mode, where I create the character that I imagined when I bought a particular dress, and I bring it to life for photography. What I would do is I would put the dress on, then I would create a makeup to go with that dress. And the makeup for that style of dress is a 1920s, 1930s look, which would be a very thin eyebrow, a heavily smoky eye and a black lipstick, which is like Clara Bow makeup. That’s the image. . . or a Louise Brooks kind of hair and makeup. I would go into the divas, the female figures that I think are amazing, Gloria Swanson. Who would I imagine in this dress? Baker, and then the research would go into 1920s, 1930s music. What’s the classic 1930s music? Mistinguett, Baker again, her singing, and the research would go further, deeper into that 1930s text, writing, what was happening Paris in the 1930s. If I had a time machine, that’s where I would go; I would want to be living there. What’s the art of the 1920s and 1930s, and then create that environment. That would be the starting point. And then where do I place myself? Why is all that so interesting to me? Why am I so drawn to that visual aesthetic? And that’s incidentally why I wear my hair in a kind of marcelled way as well, because it’s 1930s and because I have curly hair. So why not? It’s an easy thing to do.

GW< But do you have an answer to that question you just asked? Why is it interesting for you?

NM< Yes, because it was a world of turmoil. Politically it was really very difficult. They’d just come out of a war and they were just about to go into another. So it was the time in between the wars and masochistically speaking, I think that artists thrive in that. In the 1980s in Britain, you see the same thing. Economically it was a hardship, but the artists that came out of that—I’m thinking of Leigh Bowery, talking about fashion, performance art, and fabric. He created his own costumes, and he was incredible club artist. That’s another thing I see in common between Ohno and Bowery—that they created space for their work. Traditional theater wouldn’t accommodate them. Traditional dance wouldn’t accommodate them. Even fashion wouldn’t. He also took to the streets to perform. He took to the club to perform. There wasn’t a space for him, so he created this space. One of my performances was inspired by that. I performed on the streets, because Bowery did that. I thought, I have permission because someone else has done it before. There is no space in the theater for me, so I will use the streets to perform.

GW< I have a question, it has to do with risk and being in the streets. And it’s maybe a bit of a side question, but I know from a limited experience of being in Brazil and from speaking with my [Brazilian] partner about a working class in inverted commas “transvestite” culture, that occupies the street in a particular way. And I’m wondering about the class dimension of your experience coming from, I guess, a middle-class home. And what your reflections are on the different ways of occupying public space as a gender non binary person, as an effeminate male in terms of class—do you think about that?

NM< No, actually I don’t think in Brazil we are really aware of class as much as in Britain, but maybe that’s coming from a place of privilege, maybe that’s what it is. I’ve not thought of class before because I was privileged growing up in Brazil. And I could afford the protection of a taxi and maybe lots of people in Brazil cannot afford this protection. But I was beaten up and I was violently abused. That’s why I left Brazil. That’s the reason I left Brazil and I carry a lot of guilt and shame, that catholic guilt, survivor’s guilt with me.

GW< Was that in Porto Alegre?

NM< Yeah, yeah. Numerous times I had to run for my life because I had gangs of men with bats chasing me down the street. So I had to really be careful and I escaped. I was just lucky not to have been beaten up more viciously. I saw it from very close, you know, I experienced it. And I saw death looming over my shoulder, every single day. As soon as I stepped out the door, there was bullying and I knew, and I just had to brace myself. There was no hiding—even if I dressed in boy’s clothes, I stood out and it’s my manner, it’s the way that I carry myself, the way that I roll, there’s no way to correct that. And then moving to Britain I became unwilling to do that. Maybe there was an unwillingness back there in Brazil as well, but that came with the danger of dying. And then here. I talked about my street where I live now. How it can be dodgy at times. I was beaten up on that street by a gang of eight men when I was coming home once in summer. At eight o’clock in the evening; it was still daylight because it was summer. I was beaten up by eight men who circled me so I couldn’t escape. And I was in the middle of the circle and they beat me up because I was dressed in a feathered hat, high-heeled shoes, coming back from Sadler’s Wells Theatre one evening. So even here that happens, escaping Brazil doesn’t mean being safe.

GW< How did you recover from that experience?

NM< Well, with difficulty. I didn’t leave my house for three months because the way that I escaped was by shouting. It was guttural. It was primeval. It was instinctual. I don’t know how I had the strength, but by shouting, I saw that neighbors came to the windows and they called the police. And I had to run and they were running and chasing after me and kicking me to the ground. And they saw me walk into my house. So I thought, they know where I live. They saw that someone called the police, they are going to retaliate. For about three months, I wouldn’t leave the house. That day, I had a doctor come to examine my injuries because I was literally not going to leave the house. It was a war zone. That’s how it felt. I cannot leave my house because at my doorstep there’s a gang of men who are going to beat you up. I had to see a psychologist to come out that space of claustrophobia—my front room was the only safe place for me. It felt like the world was going to kill me. The world’s against me. And that’s obviously coming from a very early age of my parents not wanting me to be different. So, there’s no escape from this and it kind of culminated in this experience, where I thought not even in Britain, you know? I have escaped this horrible homophobic country, the number one country in trans murders in the world, and I come here and still. . .

So five years later, I created this performance called The Sissys Progress (2014–16),[2] where I literally go back to the spot I was attacked and this time I have an audience with me so I’m safe in numbers, but I have a marching band chasing me down the street to represent the gang of men who are chasing me down the street. That’s the idea behind it, but also the idea is conceptual in the sense that it’s about being hyper visible. I talk about this sense of being unable to change myself and unwilling to change myself and finding out that the solution for me is to be more myself and to be more myself is to be louder, to put more lipstick on rather than less, is to wear higher heels right than no heel. Because when I wear boy’s clothes, it still didn’t resolve. So if I am louder, then I at least I am ethically more content with myself, then I am not killing myself. I’m not doing that violence that the world is doing to me, to myself. So I realized that there was a visual pun in that, which could be translated into a sound, turning up the volume.

How do I turn up the volume of myself? Hence the marching band. I thought if you don’t see me walking down the street, you hear me walking down the street and that is an invitation for you to look at me. In that frame of the performance, in which I am safe with the audience, even then the performance was really intense, emotionally speaking, because it was the same sense of: I am now putting myself in this position of being a target. And I am going to be looked at and people are going to throw insults, and they do. “Who’s that bloke in the dress?” “What’s that?” “‘What’s that,’ as in ‘who is that?’” You know, no respect for the person. There’s no personhood, it’s “what’s that thing?” Yeah. So there is a danger in doing that performance as well, but there is a sense of agency and activism. Because the audience that is with me is seeing this happening and they might not see this happening on a daily basis to a queer person and the queer person suffers this on a daily basis. So in doing that performance, you allow the audience to see it.

GW< What about the daily courage of being in public? How does that work? Because this is a very orchestrated situation, the one in your performance.

NM< Yeah. You know, once I did that performance, I thought, that’s it, my work is done as an activist artist and then you go on to daily life. And then I’m sitting at the bus stop and someone comes and bullies me. “Are you a man or a woman?” “Why are you wearing lipstick?” “Why are you wearing high-heeled shoes?” And then I think, okay, I still have work to do. I still need to do this work. I wish I didn’t. I’m tired and fed up, but that’s the only way that I can live with myself. And it happens every day. So just today, meeting you, putting my shoes on, putting my lipstick on, doing my hair, putting my earrings on. I think I’m going to be looked at. I just have to face it because if I don’t wear those things, it still happens. So I might as well do what I like to do. What makes me feel happy with myself. And there’s a sense of also of care for you, I think. I wonder how Grant is going to feel in a situation where I am being looked at. And I wonder if he is going to feel safe or unsafe.

GW< I feel angry. I mean, it happened back there, and I wanted to say something, but then I thought maybe Nando doesn’t want that because it invites confrontation.

NM< Yeah It happens all the time and I’m constantly aware of it. I see it happening, but I don’t do anything because I am aware for the other’s personal safety. And my husband is a very traditional cis male. He wears a suit and a tie, and I’m always afraid for him when I’m walking outside. That day, when I was beaten up, he was with me and he was beaten up too because he was with me. So that’s something that I always feel aware of. I shouldn’t put too much makeup on because we are going to the theater together and he might suffer some abuse too.

So this is where my privilege comes in, and it comes with shame and guilt and pain and sadness. If we’re taking a taxi, then I think, well, then I can dress up because it safe, it’s door to door and its OK. If we are taking the underground then I think I have to be. . . And it makes me feel really angry that I have to consider how I dress, because I might put myself in danger and my husband in danger and someone like, today you. I feel like I have to be aware of that. Cause it is a thing.

I feel like a lot of the work I do in my performances and in my academic writing is about talking about how this is an issue for all queer people on a daily basis in Brazil, which is the number one country for trans murders. And in Britain, it still happens here in a developed country where we’re supposed to be safe. And there are laws against homophobia and transphobia, all of those things. It happens all of the time. I had to call the police last month, walking down Brick Lane. Because I was being chased down the streets. I was being followed. And there’s this sense like, why am I calling the police? They do their best to do something about this, but it always ends up in nothing. There’s nothing we can do.

GW< Do you feel that the police take it seriously?

NM< I feel—and maybe this is a projection—that they always look at me and they think, “well, you asked for it. Why are you dressed like this? You ask for it.” And this is the thing, I have written about this. It’s kind of victim blaming. It’s what women get when they are wearing a mini dress. It’s the same thing, which makes my blood boil. Yeah, it really does. But that’s how I feel. They just do their job because it is a hate crime, and they should do it. But deep down, I think they feel I shouldn’t be dressed the way I am.

GW< Were any of those guys that attacked you convicted?

NM< No, they weren’t.

GW< Were they identified?

NM< They couldn’t find them. Even though I knew who they were because they lived in the area, they’ve moved on now. The police knew where they lived, where one of them lived, so they went and talked to the parents, but there was no footage. There was no proof.

GW< You had neighbors who were witnesses. . .

NM< Exactly. But it didn’t go any further. And it’s been the same with all the cases that I reported to the police since I’ve moved to Britain.

GW< I was listening to a recent interview with Judith Butler and she said something, which just caught my ear. She said—and it’s such an obvious thing really—she said we feel funny about gender, you wear this thing and suddenly you look a little bit more like you are a women, but you are a man, and this simple thing causes so much pain for people, people who are doing something that actually harms no one at all.

NM< Exactly. That’s exactly what I think all of the time. Why do you feel so strongly about this that you beat someone up? I wouldn’t dream of beating anyone up anyway for anything, but why would you? I do a short performance where I lip-sync to Judith Butler, where she talks about a case of a boy who was murdered because of the way that he walked—he walked like a girl. And a gang pushed him off of a bridge, and she asked this question: why do you feel that you would have the need to expunge or exterminate a person because of the way that they walk? It’s mind-blowing, it really is.

GW< These forms of discrimination, they come from somewhere. Do they come from social relations, which are seriously out of kilter in terms of levels of inequality and does this exacerbate or make worse, or even produce, things like racism, homophobia, transphobia?

NM< Well, I write in my academic articles a lot about that. I have four published and a fifth one coming out about that, those mechanisms. Societal mechanisms, how they really contributed to the exclusion of trans people. My last performance was about why I left Brazil and the situation in Brazil now for trans people. So I think there’s a kind of trying to understand what led me to leave Brazil and part of that came out of my last visit, when Bolsonaro had been elected. And I saw that it was much worse than when I had left in 2003. So sixteen years had passed and it had only gotten worse. And I felt it in my living there, in my being there, that the violence is much worse. So I was trying to understand why that was the case and also to try and do something about that. And doing something about that was in my way, by bringing awareness to people who come to see my performances and to people who read my articles about the situation in Brazil. Now that it’s not just about Brazil, it’s not just for those who live in the country. It’s a situation that matters to everyone, whether you’re queer or not, you should care about this. It’s really crucial that you care about it.

GW< The last time I was in Brazil I left on the day when Bolsonaro won the election. It was horrible, there were mobs roaming the streets. I was in a taxi leaving São Paulo and you could see these mobs, it was terrifying.

NM< I left on the day he took power actually, on his inauguration day. I wasn’t there during the voting process and I went to the embassy in London to vote. Cause I thought I have to, this is my duty to do this. And you wouldn’t believe the tension just sitting there. I just had to tell myself to be quiet, in the embassy in London, don’t talk to anyone because there were people in front of me and behind me, walking past trying to make an argument for Bolsonaro and trying to pick a fight with people who weren’t voting for Bolsonaro. And I thought, just keep your head down. Don’t speak to anyone. You don’t have to disclose your vote. It’s already obvious. I’m sure they can see who you’re voting for. And that’s why they’re doing it. They want to pick a fight with you. Don’t! So I could see and feel the tension. And that’s why it felt so crucial that I had to vote at that time.


Read part 2 of the interview with Nando Messias here.

[1] Admiring La Argentina was first performed in Tokyo in 1977. The piece was Ohno’s homage to the famous flamenco dancer Antonia Mercé, who was known as La Argentina. Ohno saw her perform in Tokyo in 1929, when he was 23. For more about Ohno’s life and work, see Antony Hegarty, “Kazuo Ohno Obituary,” The Guardian, June 7, 2010,
[2] See Nancy Groves, “A Sissy’s Progress: The dangerous power of an effeminate man,” The Guardian, March 16, 2016,