A Micro-historical Analysis of the Pathologisation of Homosexuality in Fascist Italy: the Case of G.

Wednesday 21 November at 5:00 PM – Sala del Camino, Villa Salviati

Speaker: Gabriella Romano (PhD researcher, Birkbeck College, the University of London)

The presentation focuses on The Pathologisation of Homosexuality in Fascist Italy: The Case of ‘G’, to be published in open access in January 2019.

November 1928. A man is interned in the Collegno Psychiatric Hospital, near Turin: at his arrival he is described as a subject “with homosexual tendencies” who is “dangerous to himself and others”. His file contains a 31-page statement written by him where he declares his homosexuality and describes the discrimination and injustices he had to suffer. It is a very lucid, moving and intense piece of writing.

Starting from G’s case and following his story in a micro-history type of approach, the book sheds light on how “sexual inversion” was pathologized and how the fascist regime used psychiatric treatment as a form of repression against homosexuality, political dissent and non-conforming life-styles. Despite doctors’ notes stating good and cooperative behaviour, the absence of violent gestures or episodes, his intelligence and high level of culture, G. spent almost three years in psychiatric care.

G.’s memoriale is an important testimony on the social and economic consequences of homosexuality: rejection from the family, professional and social marginalisation, consequent lack of income. There is no mention of any visits, correspondence or benevolent gesture on the part of G.’s other siblings, two sisters and a brother, while he was interned: with their absence and silence, they seem to have sided with his older brother. Like most Collegno’s internees, G. was referred by a member of his family who identified the asylum as a dumping ground for an undesirable sibling: despite propaganda, family values were crumbling under the pressures of the regime.

G.’s piece of writing is a photograph, precious because unique, of a non-conforming man’s life during the fascist regime. His rancorous underlying tones are probably representative of the way many homosexuals must have felt at the time: forced to be silent, closeted, invisible, resentful,  painfully aware of the consequences of declaring their sexuality, ridiculed, bombarded and surrounded by hostile messages. He remains an ambiguous character: he admitted his homosexuality only to state that he was an “active”, “occasional” homosexual, therefore, in fascist terms, not incurable. He did not reject Fascism, on the contrary he even declared he was broadly in line with the regime moral code and used scandal and blackmail, as much as his brother did, to fight back and reach his goals. On the other hand, he had the courage to declare his same-sex relationships and took upon himself the terrible consequences of this statement. He won his case, managing to obtain part of his inheritance and probably even compensation for the discrimination he had suffered. He was a pioneer in insisting that he had rights and that he had been damaged, psychologically, socially and financially, by homophobia. There is no doubt that he fought against the fascist system, its values, its impositions, its repressive mechanism. The suffering he endured to prove his point is undoubtfully heroic.

G.’s ambiguity makes him very representative of the way in which many individuals were forced into self-censorship and other survival techniques in Italy during the dictatorship. His life is made of lights and shadows, courage and cowardice, secrecy and contradictions, truths and lies: it is a precious testimony of how a totalitarian regime wrecks peoples’ lives, transforms their personality, dents their conscience, presses them into decisions, dilemmas and choices they would have otherwise never had to face.

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