Ever since I was a kid, I remember wanting to go and study abroad and experience a different culture. Growing up poor, Black and queer in a small town in Brazil in the 90s, made me feel like nothing was ever meant for me and I could never thrive there.
As soon as I could, I moved to Sao Paulo, the biggest city in South America, where some family lived and I started looking for a job and a way to support myself and my dreams.
After years of juggling work and school I finally collapsed. I was overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid and completely frustrated and resentful.
It felt like my country did not want me to succeed.
Was this the way my life was going to go?
“It can’t be!” I would tell myself.
When I got sacked from my 9-2-5, for the first time in years I had the time, money and freedom to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to go to Denmark to learn about organic farming and then Germany just because I had 2 more months left on my visa.
I didn’t know a soul in the UK, but I decided to go simply because I’d found a no return flight for 10 euros and couldn’t turn that down.
I found a job as a kitchen porter and worked in exchange for accommodation just outside London.
I ran out of money so my goal was mainly to save enough to pay off some debt; for my return ticket, and try to do something I enjoyed in the meantime. But when my 6-month tourist visa was about to expire, I was not ready to go home to my old life.
Social and racial inequalities have always existed in Brazil and though not always obvious to foreigners, they still affect the lives of millions today. A young black man dies every 23 minutes in Brazil and Black youths are up to 12 times more likely to be murdered than their white counterparts.
Brazil is also the country with the most killed trans people in the world and at least 445 LGBT Brazilians died as victims of homophobia in 2017. Knowing what to expect upon my return, I decided to stay in the UK.
That meant I would be breaking the law and possibly getting into trouble if I ever wanted to return, but I was afraid I was never gonna be able to find out who I really was, and I felt I needed more time to explore.
Back in Kent where I was living, I had become stuck and completely isolated and was growing restless. Although I was able to maintain a relatively balanced routine, I could feel my life slipping through my fingers again. I was doing the same thing I was doing back home: just going through the motions but in a different country where I didn’t know anyone. That felt extremely alienating and scary at times, but also freeing. I could be whoever the fuck I wanted, and let go of every belief and fear that did not serve me any longer.
But, what do I really want? I asked myself.
To be myself without fear.
To express my gender identity freely.
To be free.
I started experimenting with my sexuality and gender identity. I changed names a few times and I’d get dressed up and go to parties. I met so many beautiful and inspiring queer, non binary and transgender people, but I could never fully connect. Part of me was afraid to be vulnerable, of being found out. That I wasn’t allowed to be there, and therefore I was a fraud.
What helped me get over this was learning that no matter where I was in the world, what my status was and how I ended up there, that I had the right to live, express myself and my opinions and contribute to society.
Looking back, I can now see how desperate I was to be nurtured, feel appreciated, seen and heard.
My self-imposed exile was my way to drop out of society and restart life in a place where I thought I could thrive, or at least stand a chance.
I took time to read, think, learn, explore my gender identity and ask myself questions I never dared to ask before like: Who am I really and what do I stand for?
I scrubbed floors and washed dishes. I volunteered and I did sex work when things got rough and I couldn’t pay the rent. I taught Portuguese and I was a carer.
Going to house gatherings, getting to know people who identified as queer or non-binary in the club scene and hearing their stories, or hanging out at places like Brixton and New Cross where I could see immigrants like me, was crucial for me to feel like I’d found my tribe and I was not alone. I was embraced by the community as an equal.
I also had a newfound appreciation for all of my ancestors and for the LGBTQIA+ community back home who have endured and resisted.
Towards the end of my experience in the UK, I felt stifled and like I could no longer grow. With covid creeping in and after losing 2 of my 3 jobs, my mental and physical health was deteriorating. With the possibility of becoming homeless again, it became clear to me that I needed to make a move, to build a strong foundation and support network. I needed to have financial independence, and become an active part in my community. I realised I was never meant to make it on my own.
After years of struggling with the question of when would be the right time, I finally made the decision to return home last October. Even though I was very scared and sad to leave, I was also full of hope and certain that my journey had only just begun.