‘I’m proud of it’, says young Brazilian author on being associated with gay themes

4 Mins read

In his first UK interview, Tobias Carvalho talks about LGBTQ+ issues and his writing process.

At just 23, Tobias Carvalho’s first book was published after winning a national competition for unpublished writers in Brazil in 2018. Three years later, he struck a deal with renowned Brazilian publisher Companhia das Letras, owned by Penguin Random House.

The Porto Alegre-born author became famous in the Portuguese-speaking world for dealing with LGBTQ+ issues in his short stories – from Grindr dates to the ever-turbulent relationship issues queer people face. In As coisas (Stuff), his first collection of short stories, Carvalho dives into the world of gay romantic love stories, often with sexual intonations.

“When I wrote As coisas, I had the impression that LGBTQ+ stories were centred only on acceptance and coming out,” he says. “But ‘what about what came after that?’ I thought.”

At the time of writing the book, Carvalho was 22 and exploring romantic relationships but felt dating apps were more geared towards sex and less toward finding true connections.

“We don’t talk about straight literature, white literature — it’s only the opposite that works. So, yes, it’s great that we can write about queer characters and that there are people who read us.”

Tobias Carvalho

“I thought these things needed to be represented in stories—not because I felt I had a duty, but only because it seemed obvious that good stories would come out of it. It’s funny; a lot has changed since then. Now, there are tons of stories that explore queer experiences. Fortunately, there are tons still to come.”

Before committing to writing, he says he plays around with ideas to see if they stick and if they’re worth dedicating the next few years to. “Then I start building the book’s structure and adding new ideas to it. They come from everywhere: books, movies, from what I observe on the street. And mainly from conversations I have with friends.”

Being associated with LGBTQ+ issues is not something that bothers Carvalho that much, although he doesn’t feel comfortable about being pigeonholed. “I’m proud of it. I’m happy queer readers can find me easily. On the other hand, people start to expect that the author will keep on writing the same types of stories. And that kills the freedom to create.”

He likes to think of himself as a realist fiction writer rather than exclusively queer. “Because we don’t talk about straight literature, white literature — it’s only the opposite that works. So, yes, it’s great that we can write about queer characters and that there are people who read us. But in the end, we have to be able to write about anything we want.”

Carvalho became a celebrated young author after winning a national writing competition in Brazil. [Marco Antonio Filho]

For his second book, Visão noturna (Night Vision), Carvalho decided to focus on a different theme because of his discomfort with people associating his writing with his private life. “After my first story collection came out, I got a bit tired of people making assumptions about my personal life based on my fiction, since I wrote about young gay men. I decided that my next book needed to stray away from these themes, so I turned to an old obsession.”

He discovered lucid dreaming, a known method in psychology whereby the dreamer is in full control and aware of what they’re dreaming. “I found people on the internet discussing techniques to become lucid in dreams. It seemed like an interesting and new way of writing about this overdone topic — dreams.”

The book is divided into four stories, all looking at how dreams impact the lives of the characters. “There’s a bit of craziness, a bit of psychoanalysis, but it’s mostly a scientific, almost ludic way of looking at dreams.”

Carvalho returns to the theme of gay relationships for his debut novel Quarto aberto (Open Room), published in 2023.

“It was a comeback of sorts,” he says. “I was finally writing about relationships between gay men again. But this time I wanted to focus more on affection, on the way love impacts us, even in times of extreme individualism.”

““I guess LGBTQ+ individuals tend to be more open to unconventional, non-heteronormative types of relationships.”

Tobias Carvalho

The story revolves around a 22-year-old gay man, who is also a drag queen, and who gets himself into a love quadrangle. The book makes references to Porto Alegre, Brazil’s southernmost capital city. “I guess LGBTQ+ individuals tend to be more open to unconventional, non-heteronormative types of relationships. That doesn’t mean there are no problems – jealousy, insecurities. We are still building new relationship models that fit our needs better.”

In terms of his current work, Carvalho reveals his plans for his new novel. “I’m working on a novel about a rich and beautiful youngster who gets HIV and needs to learn to live again—to come out of the closet for the second time, in a way. Even though HIV is nothing like a death sentence anymore, there’s still a lot of stigma.”

Carvalho’s books are still not available in English. He says that it is not an easy task to get people to read foreign authors. “I suppose it’s not that easy for Brazilians. First, you have to be translated and then the book needs to catch on. And fiction in translation is still less read in the UK, as far as I know. So, you know. Hopefully one day.”

On being referred to as the voice of a generation in Brazil, Carvalho is sceptical. “Oh, wow, that’s a bold statement. Could it be “a” voice of a generation? I feel like the whole voice of a generation thing is a bit reductive; it’s the voice of a class in the end, of a certain worldview, isn’t it? I don’t want to talk over anyone; I’m one amongst many.”

Featured image by Marco Antonio Filho.

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