07/15/2014 06:35 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Mourning the National Phallus: What Is Left of Brazilian Identity Without Soccer?

AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

The first time I saw my father cry was on June 21, 1986, the day France eliminated Brazil from the World Cup in a dramatic penalty shootout. At that moment my father granted himself the right to weep before his children, as if to teach us the absolute enormity of the loss: In a catastrophe such as this, even a grown man is allowed to cry. His weeping, filled with both embarrassment and relief, was also a kind of retching. The crying of the Brazilian father, allowed, even if discretely, every four years in case of a World Cup loss, can be quite the temporal marker, as well as a chance for certain men to excrete whatever else was stuck in their throats while they're at it. In this performance of paternal failure (a father putting his soccer jersey to rest), it became obvious to me that Brazil's dependence on the belief that its soccer team is an invincible enterprise, despite all signs to the contrary, is nothing short of pathological.

The World Cup has always functioned as a kind of test of the power of the Brazilian phallus, or the illusion of such, outsourced to the 11 players on the field, who work their hardest to create the trompe-l'œil that will make us witness the spectacle and experience the frisson of a collective orgasm that says, "Yes, we all bow down to the same insuperable god." Whenever Brazil lost, it never felt like a complete and utter castration of the nation, but only because we could blame the final score on an accident: an inept referee, an idiotic player, a stubborn coach, or, well, Argentina. But the 2014 massacre by the Germans, 7 to 1, followed by the 3-to-0 defeat by the Netherlands in the contest for the third place (the nail after the final nail in the coffin), tells a different story: something closer to national trauma, for the unimaginable has occurred. And, as we know, we have no resources to deal with the unimaginable.

It wasn't just a loss but the slow and painful withering of the national phallus right before our eyes. Unlike the guillotine-like rapidness of a sudden defeat after a last penalty kick, this defeat, which heralded the death of soccer as the go-to guarantor of the Brazilian heteromasculinity needed for the nation to make sense of itself, was particularly perverse. It was like a presumably massive Titanic-like structure revealing itself to have been a sham all along as it deflates slowly into a shriveled little birthday balloon.

Instead of looking for culprits to blame for this humiliation, we would do well to welcome it as an opportunity to seek something other than the fiction of heteromasculinity's astonishing force with which to orient our lives. Let us look for the richness and pleasures of loss and accept the very idea of loss as an essential part of being alive and human. If soccer has worked in Brazil as a great defense mechanism against that truth -- that we are born to lose from day one (cells, hair, teeth, loved ones, time) -- we should bury the myth of an invincible Brazilian manliness, which comes alive every four years to flex its muscles and keep everything in place, as Brazilian soccer becomes something between a museum piece and a joke. Perhaps now we can unburden our children of the weight that a soccer jersey imposes (be a man, be infallible) and allow them the freedom to wear the costume ("fantasia" in Portuguese) that they see fit -- or none at all. Let us stop using soccer as the only language that Brazilian men are allowed to (and demanded to) speak. Let us reject soccer as the all-important marker of gender difference and arbiter of whether a boy is properly Brazilian or a disposable "bicha." Let us not measure the value of who we are through an institution built on the bullying of losers with homophobic insults, from the less-obvious "chupa" ("suck it") to entire stadiums chanting that a certain player is a faggot.

Let us not chase after superiority if this superiority is resolved only through bodies and the disavowal of the hotness of such bodies. Let us develop other investments that don't boil down to whether or not our men have managed to beat their men while our women served us snacks and served as punching bags for our frustrations. Instead of channeling our present shame into a campaign of fury to win in 2018, let us reconsider our dependence on soccer, and on men's victory, to tell us who we are and show us the limits of who we can be. Let us also acknowledge how precarious and fictitious a winning position always is (you take Neymar out and the entire team comes crashing down like a game of jackstraws), and how infantile soccer victories are: a few minutes of ecstatic glee, cheeky headlines, obnoxious Internet memes, and bragging rights. Let us use the great big loss of 2014 to exorcise masculinist soccer out of the Brazilian soul, come face-to-face with whatever is left, and do something about it.