Fiction The Ecstasy issue

Role Play

By Clara Drummond

Translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry

I’m a misogynist and a misandrist. I have zero patience for men or women, nothing against them, I just don’t enjoy interacting. I’ve got nothing to say, I feel like I’m being condescending the whole time, or they’re being condescending to me. But I’m not a complete misanthrope, because I do like gay men. They’re the only kind of human beings who are actually capable of coexisting on an equal footing. I don’t feel comfortable in the milieu assigned to me at birth. Just the thought of marriage and kids makes me want to gag. I could list all the reasons why, but it would sound silly and dated, and above all, it might make me sound like one of those fag hags who wants her very own gay bestie. Get with the program. Gays are for life, not just for Christmas. To make sure it’s perfectly clear that I’m not one of those women, I like to slip in some queer slang, a word or two in Pajubá, preferably intermediate level, because even my mother knows the basics, and using more advanced vocabulary sounds like you’re trying too hard. Or I’ll decide to tell some revealing story, like about the time two guy friends of mine met each other in one of the dark rooms in Berghain. “You’re Vivian’s friend, aren’t you?” one of them asked the other, while they were going at it. It’s good to belong to a group. Anyway, I have to rein in my anxiety, and not just let encrypted codes fly rapid fire, because people who belong are chill, they don’t try to send any signals, because they feel at home, and what I really want is to feel at home. 

For a long time, I lived between Rio and São Paulo, depending on my job. Sometimes the jobs were longer-term, sometimes they were temporary, but they were always erratic, unstable, and underpaid, if paid at all. Still, I stuck with them because each one meant bonus points on my résumé. I’m an independent curator, I’ve worked in galleries, biennials, museums, ateliers, I’ve assisted on large exhibitions, I’ve produced smaller but significant shows on my own, I write art criticism for magazines and newspapers, both here and abroad. Then people congratulate me, my parents give me things like a trip to Berlin, a Comme des Garçons wallet, a Francesca Woodman photograph. I don’t work with painters or photographers because they’re straight. Sometimes shit gets messy, some of them are charming, with an artist’s self-confidence. Next thing I know, I’m having sex with the guy at his opening, locked in the gallery bathroom, then I’m sharing a line left over from the night before at 11 A.M. on a Saturday. In the end, they always come away even more self-assured and I almost never orgasm. That’s why I prefer other types of artists, who, while still narcissistic, are at least fun, and talk to me as an equal, with zero risk of emotional entanglement. 

Around my thirtieth birthday, my parents bought me an apartment in Botafogo: two bedrooms, hardwood floors, ninety square meters, twenty-four-hour doorman. As a bonus, they also lent me a Sergio Rodrigues Mole armchair (the dog had chewed up some of the leather, they said they would take it back when they found a good upholsterer, but that was two years ago now, I think they’ve forgotten). It looked nice next to my massive João Silva photograph. It was a gift—I mean, I paid for the printing and framing, but now my place has another work of art, from the same series that’s at MALBA. This period coincided with a major upgrade to my résumé. I started exclusively taking jobs that would help my career, without considering finances. And if things got tight, whatever that meant, I’d rent out my apartment for two or three weeks and spend some time at my family’s spare apartment in São Paulo. This system was especially profitable during Carnaval and on New Year’s Eve. I’d earn enough money to last a few months, take some time off for a vacation, go abroad, who knows, maybe get a little Botox. 

The location was perfect, street vendors were out seven days a week, all night long, always well stocked with Heineken. Darlene, who used to set up right in front of my building, warned me it was dangerous on the other side of the street, that there had been an execution-style shooting, nasty stuff. I wasn’t worried, she might just have been trying to squash the competition. The joys of homeownership are many. I got to choose the color of the bedroom wallpaper, I made a spacious closet out of the old maid’s room, and I had a kitchen that opened onto the living room, with soundproof windows. I wanted to leave the bathroom almost identical to the original because I like that fifties middle-class aesthetic. “I don’t understand this world of yours where apartments just appear out of nowhere,” said Marina Falcão. Every week we’d throw a little party, I’d provide the fridge, the ice, the speakers, the red light bulb, and everybody would bring their own drinks, drugs, playlists. Sometimes the neighbors, all elderly, would complain, which was no big deal. Alex used to say, “They’ll be dead soon, or gentrified out of here.” Alex was in charge of bringing along the new generation of alternative nightlife queers, proud of their small subversive acts, like colorful earrings, pink nail polish, maybe a distinctly feminine outfit. They made the cast of characters more diverse, enriched the surroundings. 

That day, I’d planned a dinner party here at home for my closest friends, and then we would head out, to a rave Rodrigo was DJing. I was so happy he’d come out of the closet, including to his family, who are even more conservative than mine, and who’d had high hopes we’d marry each other. 

A few years ago, he even proposed we have a sham marriage so his parents would leave him alone. To top it off, we’d get a kick-ass reception and access to his place in Paris. The possibility of a conventional heteronormative life did sound tempting for about fifteen minutes, but then, not so much. In my opinion, Rodrigo should ditch his friends from school, those morons who work in finance, and meet more people who work in the art world. 

Since Rodrigo would be the last to go on, not until morning, we left the apartment late, around two. This rave wouldn’t be at some hellhole, with lasers, strobe lights, projectors. It was free entry, in the square, near the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center. The square was kind of like a public courtyard, so there was only one entrance, with a barricade and two security guards to control the crowd, hand out wristbands, watch out for possible incidents. It was a specific niche: the mostly white, wealthy, gay crowd who align themselves with liberal and progressive, but not necessarily leftist, values, at least in economic terms. As usual, street vendors peddled drinks while people waited to join the party. 

To my surprise, Darlene, the woman who worked my street, was there, no longer selling beer, but caipirinhas. Beside her was a grumpy old man selling Heinekens. I waved at her, smiling, and yelled, “Hey!” João Silva left his place in line to go give her a hug, kiss her on the cheek, ask about her son. He could do this sort of thing without sounding condescending, but I could not. That’s why I preferred to be more discreet, maintain a more professional relationship, customer and vendor, so that I didn’t make some faux pas. Also, I hadn’t even realized that on Saturdays, she was someone else, somewhere else, because in my mind she worked in front of my building every day. And I didn’t know a thing about Darlene’s family. The line moved along a few meters, and soon we were all stopped alongside her portable caipirinha stand. “I thought I might see you here!” João Silva said. João Silva lived in São Paulo, so how did he know Darlene’s professional itinerary? All that from the handful of times he’d gone down to buy beer during parties at my place? Darlene, it turned out, was smart, quick, funny, well informed, even cultured. She spoke our language, she wasn’t evangelical, and she voted for PSOL, which brought out a calm, fatherly expression on João Silva’s face, and I think on mine, too. The conversation was so nice that no one noticed the sudden arrival of the municipal police. 

The municipal police had always been a harmless bunch, but at that juncture in Brazilian politics things had started to get weird. The paddy wagon that pulled up in front of us looked like a SWAT vehicle, like the ones used by BOPE, the tactical operations squad. Five men, chests puffed out, stood facing the line. They gave off a hostility that was underscored by their larger-than-normal billy clubs. First, they approached the grumpy old man and took all his beer, put everything in the back of the van. “Hey, this is robbery!” shouted Marina Falcão, and the rest of the line agreed, booing so loud they drowned out the Italo disco tunes. This didn’t embarrass the police. On the contrary, it stirred things up even more, and they charged at Darlene. Her cocktail supplies were destroyed, along with her bottles of cachaça, which were smashed on the ground. Darlene screamed and tried to break free from the man holding her arm, and in retaliation, she was slugged with a billy club. When Alex tried to intervene, inserting his body with its earrings, painted nails, and purple eye shadow, he was also beaten over the leg and the arm, and when he tried to retreat, he got hit in the ribs. He wasn’t the only partygoer to take a stand, but the beatings were directed only at him. In the middle of the melee, a tear gas canister was tossed at the feet of those waiting in line, just a few feet away from the municipal police. 

The rave’s security guards ushered everyone inside in a hurry. Only the vendors were left outside. This may have been a protection tactic—perhaps the police were too intimidated to enter an upper-class party. But it didn’t even cross our minds that the street vendors could enter that space as partygoers. In theory, the rave was free to all, and there was no practical reason for them not to come inside with us, especially because at that point, all their booze had already been confiscated. But there was a mutual, silent understanding that they didn’t belong, and that was final. 

Alex went home, slightly injured, and the rest of us, lulled by the acid that was starting to kick in, stayed at the party. “Forget about it, Vivian,” said Marina Falcão. But as soon as we got inside, I realized something serious was going on outside. The crowd-control barricades—along with my poor eyesight, made even worse by the tear gas—blotted out the view. A block away, on the other corner, there was a twisted figure walking with difficulty, and I got the impression it might be Darlene. Had she been beaten with extra violence during those ten minutes of confusion when everyone—I mean us, the usual crowd—had entered the square? If it wasn’t her, who else could it be? A beggar, a street kid, a crackhead? Maybe. Ten minutes is more than enough time to beat the hell out of someone. But if that’s what happened, surely someone in line would have done something, called it out, protested. Surely they wouldn’t have just followed in my footsteps, drawn toward the disco beats.  


Maria Clara Drummond is a Brazilian writer and journalist currently based in Lisbon. She is the author of A festa é minha e eu choro se eu quiser and A realidade devia ser proibidaRole Play is her third novel.
Zoë Perry’s translations of contemporary Brazilian literature have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, and The Paris Review. She is a founding member of The Starling Bureau, a literary translators’ collective, and was selected for a Banff International Translation Centre residency for her translation of Emilio Fraia’s Sevastopol.