October 31, 2023
The memory of the LGBTQ+ community as a political tool for the present and the future
Insight by Michela Grasso, SPAGHETTIPOLITICS
«In the 1970s we didn't think much about the future, we were busy transforming the present: we aspired to a better, more beautiful world, we wanted to free ourselves from the chains that held us down». Porpora Marcasciano, 66 years old, historical trans activist and writer, thus describes her first years of activism for the LGBTQ+ community. «Today's present in some ways has surpassed the future we imagined; we have had some important achievements, the greatest being visibility. For centuries we have been invisible, now we can name ourselves, identify ourselves, tell our stories… Today there is a vocabulary that didn't exist before».
Telling oneself through words and images is a privilege often taken for granted, an action which in its simplicity legitimizes and roots in reality the existence of any identity and individual. The possibility of identifying as LGBTQ+ people is a step forward that has only occurred in recent times, and with which Italy is still struggling. «During my teenage years there were almost no references for the Italian trans community», Porpora tells Voice Over Foundation. «At the time, in the 70s, our process of visibility had just begun. We didn't have many examples for inspiration, there was Mario Mieli, famous writer and gay activist, and we browsed through the pages of the “Re Nudo” (literally the naked king), a Milanese newspaper available only in alternative newsstands. Those who inspired us were the great divas of entertainment, women like Mia Martini, Patty Pravo... Paradoxically, one of my first contacts with the trans community was with a sort of popular legend in the valley where I grew up, what in the village they called the man-woman, a.k.a. Romina Cecconi, a trans woman who was sent into confinement in the village next to mine and who was whispered about all around. At the time, even though I didn't know her and didn't yet know what being trans meant, her story intrigued me».
The comparison between the Italy of 50 years ago and the Italy of today brings out stories and memories that may seem almost absurd in a present that is becoming increasingly accustomed to the visibility that the LGBTQ+ community has gained recently. This visibility did not emerge out of nowhere; it is the result of years of struggle not only against social stigma but also against the very institutions that perpetrated it.
It is no coincidence that Porpora mentions Romina Cecconi, the second transgender person to obtain an anagraphical sex change in Italy. Romina, also called “La Romanina'', now 82 years old, was a pillar of the Italian trans movement. Her unbreakable will to never deny her identity often brought her to the front pages of Italian newspapers and, in her youth, she faced beatings, mistreatment by the police, marginalization, a curfew, prison, and even confinement for three years in Volturino. Romina's tenacity not to deny herself changed Italian law forever, paving the way for law 164, which legalized anagraphical sex change for transgender people. Romina is the example of a transgender woman who has never apologized for her existence and who, in a period where the Morality Police still existed in Italy, refused to remain hidden, becoming a point of reference for entire generations. Today Romina's story is not well known outside the LGBTQ+ community, despite her incredible life which often took on the tones of legend. Reflecting on the past of the LGBTQ+ community leads one to question what it meant to grow up in Italy without references to define and recognize oneself, where it was not possible to feel reassured and inspired by the examples of other lives.
«It's important to remember that LGBTQ+ people have always existed», Kate, 29-year-old, tells Voice Over Foundation, «even before the 1980s. This is why I decided to create this page, to show that we are here, and have always been here, our existence is not an invention but an integral part of the human experience». Kate lives in Chicago, she is a librarian who dreams of working in the world of archives, and for almost 4 years she has been managing the Instagram page “Queer Love in History”, where, with the help of old photos, she tells stories of queer couples in the 20th and 19th century. «I have always been passionate about these stories, I looked for them, I saved them, I re-read them. At a certain point, I realized that the time to share them had come. Some people who contact me to tell me the love stories of their living or deceased relatives, to celebrate them or remember them. For me it is an honor to be able to tell all these lives, allowing them to be remembered».
The importance of visibility is intrinsically linked to the existence of memory. The value of remembrance is a topic that is not discussed enough; what we choose to remember from our past has a political meaning: it identifies us with who we are, outlining the path for who we will be. «I have chosen to mainly tell love stories with a happy ending», explains Kate, «The dominant narrative of queer stories in films, books, or tales from the past is a tragic one. I recognize the historical importance of the suffering that we have had to go through as a community, and for this very reason I want to remember and celebrate all those stories that are not told and risk being forgotten: true stories, of love, where the protagonists managed to find , even in periods of profound difficulty, happiness». And Kate's page does just this, becoming a digital museum of sepia and black and white photos of queer couples: there are those holding a cat, those playing softball, those embracing on a beach sixty years ago, those laughing at a party, those protesting while holding hands, and much more. In these portraits of queer love from the last two centuries, one can witness unknown stories of people who were not allowed to make their existence visible. Kate is concerned about the situation for the LGBTQ+ community in the USA, and above all, she is worried about the increasingly numerous book bans in American schools: «Some are scared by queer stories because they threaten their vision of the world . People don't like what is different from what they know, which is why it is so important to expose ourselves to diversity, to educate ourselves about reality». Kate's precious work has become quite famous in recent years, and her digital museum has now more than seventy thousand followers, demonstrating that interest in queer history, and particularly queer love, can only grow.
«When I go to the market today, where there are always a lot of people, I provocatively ask the people behind the stall if by any chance my wife came by to get what she ordered. I do it to see the effect it has. After so many years spent hiding, today I am so explosive that I want everyone to know that I am a lesbian». Maria Laura Annibali, 79 years old, thus recounts a scene from her daily life in Rome, where she lives with her wife with whom she will celebrate 7 years of marriage on November 23rd. Maria Laura has been president of the Di'GayProject association since 2014, she is a documentary maker and author of the trilogy “The other other, half of the sky”, and her CV is constellated by different charges and positions related to the LGBTQ+ community. «As a teenager, I didn't know what the word lesbian meant, I wasn't able to recognize myself. Only after having rejected five or six boyfriends did I begin to question myself. Then, around the age of 30, I started a relationship, which lasted 23 years, with the woman who had been my classmate in high school, but the public coming out only arrived in 2000". Maria Laura tells her story as she prepares to travel to Genova, where she will have to present her docufilm "L’altra metà del cielo. Donne” (Literally, The other half of the sky. Women).
«Even when in my youth I had the mathematical certainty of being a lesbian, I couldn't see what developments our community could have. Then when I realized it, I started fighting in the streets and never stopped. I almost got pneumonia because of the civil unions movement... After so many years in hiding, I exploded, I don't want to stop in this fight anymore. I believe in God, and I am convinced that the eternal father made me a lesbian, and I have sworn that as long as I stand, I will continue to fight for my community».
The importance of giving visibility to the LGBTQ+ community emerges from Maria Laura's words. The fear of not being accepted and the feeling of having to remain hidden stem from the awareness of not being able to exist in the world as one is. In 2023 the opportunity to recognize and name oneself is finally concrete, thanks to all those people who in Italy and around the world have fought and suffered to affirm their identity, and Maria Laura does a great job in doing so, bringing her story to schools as well. «It has always been difficult for me to be able to bring my story into classrooms, yet I have succeeded several times, I get along well with kids», adds Maria Laura, «And yet, in the last period it has become even more complicated. Looking at the Italian political panorama, I am afraid of not seeing the most important goals for me reached: equal marriage and the recognition of rainbow families as de facto families».
Maria Laura reports numerous times her concerns regarding the current situation and the fear that with this government not only will Italy not move forward, but it will even take steps backward in the protection of LGBTQ+ people. In recent months, newspapers often talked about same-sex parents, following the government's request to the registry offices not to register the children of same-sex couples. As LaSvolta writes, "In Italy, there is now no law to regulate this aspect, there is only the possibility for the non-biological parent to start an adoption process, or the transcription of the parenthood in municipal registers, however, this is only done by some mayors and has been blocked by a ruling from the Supreme Court".
LGBTQ+ people in Italy not only struggle with bureaucratic issues but with everyday life. According to a report by Cronache Di Ordinaria Omofobia, between 2022 and 2023, 115 episodes of homobitransphobia, i.e. discrimination against homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people, were reported in Italy. A very high number, if we consider that plenty of incidents and attacks go unreported. The most interesting aspect of this report, which is published every year, concerns the month-by- month analysis: February 2023 saw a peak in attacks, corresponding to the "insistent disinformation campaign on surrogacy carried out by government forces and the media that support them". A similar phenomenon was seen with peaks in attacks in August 2020, and June 2020, months in which the Zan bill was presented to the chambers. This would therefore demonstrate that "the use of homophobic violence is, for some, a form of political expression".
Italy is a country that still cannot come to terms with its homobitransphobia, yet it is also a country that has seen hundreds of activists grow and where the struggle, both on the streets and at the city market stalls, seems not to ever stop. And not only that, it is a country full of stories, queer stories that need to be told and celebrated to witness the constant presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people over the centuries. The visibility of the LGBTQ+ community must not only exist in the present moment but must be retroactive, it must reach into the past, and dig for memories to demonstrate that gay, lesbian, and trans people have always existed, because as Kate said: "ours is an integral part of the human experience".