Arjun Appadurai (1996) has argued that to understand local expressions
of transnational symbolic practices—and to navigate the complex analytic
terrain between homogenization and difference in globalization—one
must consider both their genealogy and their history, the former involving
the evolution of a local habitus, the latter taking its embeddedness in a
broader universe into account. As I suggest in the pages that follow, these
two strands of the past intersect in multiple and refracted ways. A com-
parative approach to sexual politics in Latin America, I believe, permits
new ways to explore their entanglement.
I chose to work in Brazil and Mexico for several reasons. Both countries
have two of the largest and oldest lGBt movements in Latin America,
and the fact that activism emerged in the context of unusually protracted
transitions to liberal democratic regimes also permits close consideration
of the interplay between emerging liberal institutions and activists’ nego-
tiated entry into formal democratic politics. Moreover parallels in activists’
contacts with the partisan left permit an exploration of changing sexual
politics within that sector as well. In all of these respects, a comparative
approach sheds new light on how activism is changing in the context of
the broader restructuring of the public sphere. Because of their central
place in the history of activism in each country and my concern with the
arena of formal politics, particularly at the national level, my research also
focuses primarily on major urban centers: Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and
São Paulo. As a consequence, my account underplays dynamics in smaller
cities and rural areas. To some extent I tried to compensate for this through
short visits involving research outside of these cities. In Mexico this in-
cluded six weeks of fieldwork in the state of Veracruz (primarily in the
Port of Veracruz and the capital city of Xalapa, but also in short visits to
Córdoba, Cardel, and Orizaba); in Brazil I took shorter trips (one to two
weeks long) to other cities, including Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, and
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