Maria Boa: Women, Prostitution, and the Queer Subject in Northeastern Brazil

  • Sarah Nicholus University of Texas at Austin
Keywords: LGBT, sex work, gender, intersectionality, rural, sertão


Known as "Maria Boa," the renowned cabaré owner and sex worker of Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Maria de Oliveira Barros emerges in many local cultural productions. This article follows her navigation and negotiation of a complex nexus of race, class, gender, and sexual relations in the mid-twentieth century Brazilian Northeast. I utilize three examples—a contemporary cordel poem, the space of the Cabaré Maria Boa, and a quadrilha dance performance—to explore how queerness is expressed through traditional, rural culture that has also traveled to cities with migration. I argue that Maria Boa serves a prism for understanding articulations of queerness in the region. Her intersectional identity negotiation is at once traditional and subversive and her story paradigmatic of the complexities of queer identity in the Brazilian Northeast.