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‘Moving to the UK alone at 19 gave me a great sense of freedom’

Will Cabral of The Rear Window Restaurant in east London speaks of his repressed upbringing in Brazil before finally being able to express himself

By As told to Charlotte Manning

Will Cabral moved from Brazil to the UK
Will Cabral jointly runs queer foodie haven, The Rear Window Restaurant in east London (Image: Jakub Koziel)

I have very few memories of being a kid in Brazil. I suppressed a lot because I got bullied for being camp. One of my campest recollections is of going to my auntie’s house at Christmas. She was rather fabulous and had a beautiful house with a pool by the beach. I would sit by the pool wearing my favourite white polo shirt which was a little too big for me. I would stretch it with my legs until it looked like a dress and parade around impersonating my auntie to make all my family laugh.

Another prominent childhood memory is when I first saw two boys holding hands. At that moment, something in me changed. It was previously unfathomable, and the idea that this could ever be a possibility left me feeling hopeful that one day that could be me. Fast-forward 10 years, and I was holding hands with my first boyfriend in Santa Catarina, South Brazil. l told my mum I was away for ‘work’ while I travelled 12 hours on the bus to him. After leaving a bar in the early hours of the morning, the realisation we were holding hands gave me the utmost joy. 

There is a certain nostalgia when I look back on those simple moments. The gay community has more visibility today compared to during my childhood. However, more visibility must be carved for the trans community and other queer intersectionalities that are less widely recognised and supported.

“I remember going to Heaven for the first time and feeling overwhelmed by my first proper ‘gay experience’”

Moving to the UK alone at 19 gave me a great sense of freedom. I had dreamt of living in London — it always had great connotations for me as a queer person. I really felt seen and I remember going to Heaven for the first time and feeling overwhelmed by my first proper ‘gay experience’. And I was not very confident, but seeing such a plethora of boys kissing and freely showing intimacy without feeling ashamed of their sexuality encouraged me to accept myself.

Self-acceptance has not been easy. Trying to get rid of the shame around being gay and loving myself was something I struggled with. I felt unworthy of love growing up. I felt loved by my family, but they weren’t vocal about it. When my first boyfriend in the UK told me he loved me, I froze. I just said, “Shall we go for a run?” and I just ran — physically and metaphorically. He kept up for a bit and then stopped — and I kept on running. I don’t know why I reacted like that. At the time, I couldn’t take compliments because I wasn’t given many growing up. My mum and dad would embrace me, but I wanted to hear the words and have the acceptance. This is something I couldn’t process for 10 years.

I try to return to Brazil once a year, or my parents come here. I also have a gay little brother back home, who’s lovely and totally different from me. He’s 10 years younger, and coming out for him was easier as there was another gay one already — I was no longer the rainbow sheep of the family! I see confidence in him that I never had, and I’ve loved watching that grow.

“I feel immense joy seeing him standing proud as a gay man in Brazil, which, during the Bolsonaro era, was horrible”

He has managed to understand his identity a lot sooner than I did. It’s allowed him to break away from those stigmas surrounding being gay. I remember having conversations with Mum about my brother. She would say, “I think your brother might be gay,” and I told her to talk to him. She was able to talk to him when he was 15. I feel happy that he didn’t have to go through some of what I had to. 

When you think about people that came before us, they made sacrifices for subsequent generations. The most tangible way you can think of it is that my brother — and I hope the next generation — has an easier path than we did. I feel immense joy seeing him standing proud as a gay man in Brazil, which, during the Bolsonaro era, was horrible. He got chased on the metro for being gay. I feared he was going to get killed in Brazil — a horrible thought. I wanted to bring him here when he finished his studies, but my mum said, “I can’t lose another son.” My sister has been very supportive too. She’s got two kids, so we’ve ticked the boxes there. I hope to have some of my own one day. Until then, they’ll always have a seat at our restaurant. 

This feature first appeared in the January/February issue of Attitude, which is available now.