Introduction: Queer Italia: Same-Sex Desire in Italian Literature and Film

  • Gary P. Cestaro
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


On July 8, 2000, some 200,000 lesbians and gay men marched on the Italian capital in celebration of World Pride 2000. Although a number of successful and well-attended national pride marches have taken place since, World Pride in Rome continues to be seen as a historically significant event by Italian gays and lesbians, an important turning point in the history of the Italian gay rights movement that for the first time garnered serious national—indeed international—attention. The Rome parade marked the culmination of a week’s worth of events in support of gay rights and culture that one reporter defined as “a victorious coming-out parade for Italy’s gay community.”1 The note of triumph reflects the event’s success despite months of polemics in the Italian press over the appropriateness of such a demonstration in Rome during the Jubilee year and the Vatican’s vigorous attempts to have it cancelled. In the end, the participants—a few even clad in togas and laurel wreaths—marched peacefully to the Coliseum and then back to the Circus Maximus for a rally. At once legitimate historical reminder and pure camp, this victory of Italian gays amidst the iconic monuments of their classical past, in the face of stern disapproval from mother Church, neatly introduces themes that inform the essays in this volume. World Pride 2000 and the controversy surrounding it reflect the difficult positioning of Italian culture and Italian literature between the classical and the Catholic, between ancient organizations of human sexual activity that left some space for same-sex desire and Christian efforts to redefine and delimit.2


Queer Representation Early Modern Period Italian Culture Italian Text Important Turning Point 
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  1. 2.
    The June 2002 Pride celebration in Padua included a small but vociferous group of opposition protesters crosstown at the Church of St. Anthony, famed pilgrimage destination. Thus the classical/Catholic binary continues to thrive. For a deeply personal perspective on the thorny issue of homosexuality and the Church, see Marco Politi, La confessione: Un prete gay racconta la sua storia, preface by Luigi Bettazzi (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 2000).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See, however, the essay by Francesco Gnerre, L’eroe negato: omosessualità e letteratura nel Novecento italiano. Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 2000 [1981]. Franco-Italica 6 (1994) is dedicated to homosexuality in modern French and Italian literature.Google Scholar
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    Although not as focused on same-sex activity as Rocke, Guido Ruggiero has investigated the legislation of sexuality during a similar period in Venice: The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); on sodomy, see in particular pp. 109–45. Judith Brown’s Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) provides insight into the almost completely uninscribed story of female homosexuality in the early period.Google Scholar
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  18. 26.
    Giovanni Dall’Orto, “Socratic Love as a Disguise for Same-Sex Love in the Italian Renaissance,” Journal of Homosexuality 16,1/2 (1989), pp. 33–65. Of course, a rich burlesque and satirical literature throughout the Renaissance included intricate (and sometimes obscene) depictions of sodomy and same-sex desire in texts such as Stefano Finiguerri (called “il Za”), “La buca di Montemorello” and “Il gagno” (1407–1412); Antonio Beccadelli (called “il Panormita,” 1394–1471), Hermaphroditus (1425);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  22. Antonio Vignali, La cazzaria, ed. Pasquale Stoppelli (Rome: Edizioni dell’elefante, 1984); The Book of the Prick, ed. and trans. Ian Frederick Moulton (New York: Routledge, 2003).Google Scholar
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    Antonio Rocco, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola, ed. Laura Coci (Rome: Salerno, 1988). For selections in English, see The Columbia Anthology, pp. 151–56. Italians seem to have enjoyed something of a national reputation for sodomy throughout Renaissance Europe and into the seventeenth century. Rocke, p. 3, reports that Florenzer was a synonym for sodomite in fourteenth-century German. In the seventeenth century, see the amusing anecdotes related by Tallement des Réaux (1619–1692), Historiettes, ed. Antoine Adam (Dijon: Gallimard, 1961), volume II, pp. 739–41, “Contes d’Italiens Sodomites” (“Tales About Italian Sodomites”).Google Scholar
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    On the history of female homoeroticism in the ancient world and early Church, see the important book by Bernadette J. Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Karma Lochrie has done important work on female same-sex desire in medieval literature and the methodological difficulties posed by such research. Lochrie is particularly interested in the (homo)eroticism inherent in the writings oflate medieval female mystics. On Italian texts see, for instance, her discussion of Catherine of Siena (pp. 188–89) in: Constructing Medieval Sexuality, eds. Karma Lochrie, Peggy McCracken, James A. Schultz (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Giovanni Faustini’s libretto for the opera La Callisto by Francesco Cavalli (1602–1676) also plays with the lesbian intimations of the Greek myth; see Giovanni dall’Orto, “Orsa cerca orsa,” Babilonia 137 (October 1995), pp. 68–70.Google Scholar
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    For Sinistrari, see the discussion in Lilian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (New York: William Morrow, 1981), pp. 35–37.Google Scholar
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    For a primer on Italian feminist thought in English, see Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, Liberazione della donna: Feminism in Italy (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University, 1986) and Italian Feminist Thought: A Reader, ed. Paola Bono and Sandra Kemp (Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991); see pp. 162–80 on lesbian feminism. On the Italian theorists of sexual difference that emerged in the 1980s, particularly in connection with thinkers from the Diotima research group such as Luisa Muraro and Adriana Cavarero, see the publication of the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective, Sexual Difference (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), with its valuable introduction by Teresa de Lauretis. On the history of the lesbian and gay rights movement in Italy,Google Scholar
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    Mario Mieli, Elementi di critica omosessuale (Turin: Einaudi, 1977)Google Scholar
  30. and Mario Mieli, Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique, trans. David Fernbach (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1980). Feltrinelli is currently reissuing all of Mieli’s works, including an edition of the Elementi with accompanying critical essays: Elementi di critica omosessuale, ed. Gianni Rossi Barilli and Paola Mieli (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2002); see the essay by Pustianaz in this volume, note seven. The University of Michigan Press is considering an English version of this new edition.Google Scholar

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© Gary P. Cestaro 2004

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  • Gary P. Cestaro

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