Workshop 4: LGBTQIA Identities and Italian Media

In September 2017, the fourth QuIR workshop took place in New York. We were hosted by CUNY and NYU. Prof Giancarlo Lombardi of CUNY Graduate Center welcomed us and also acted as a respondent to the first session.

The Italian media often gets portrayed in a negative way in the international press, with criticism focusing on the objectification of women, and the lack of positive (or any) portrayals of LGBTQ+ lives and experiences, or those of black Italians. Speakers at this workshop reiterated these problems, but also explored the ways that queer approaches might open up new forms of representation or of engagement with mainstream media.

In the first session, Chris Atwood explored how popular (although extremely problematic) political figures in Italy, such as Alessandra Mussolini, exploit the space that they are given on Italian TV to attempt to set up and reinforce a racist and homophobic binary between ‘us’ (straight, Italian, white, married people), and ‘them’ (queer, foreign, black/people of colour). In a more positive vein, Luca Malici explored social media debates around the introduction of gay male contestants on the dating show Uomini e Donne, and found that the majority were in favour of this development. Lorenzo Bernini analysed the impact of the investigation by the show Le Iene into gay male saunas and sex clubs managed by the National Association against Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation (Anddos), and funded by the National Secretariat against Racial Discrimination (UNAR). He argued for a critical stance against a normalising trend in what we might call the gradual ‘mainstreaming’ of gay culture and issues, which requires that sex is silenced in favour of more ‘acceptable’ activities for gay men, like dancing or playing cards.

These papers explored the changing face of Italian mainstream TV, where queerness is now debated quite openly, often in a negative way, where homonormative, gym-bodied gay men are embraced by the nation on shows like Uomini e donne, but the whisper of the realities of queer sex still sends shockwaves.

On the second day, we met at La Casa Italiana (NYU). The sessions focussed on cinema, fan fiction and print media. In the first session, Ryan Calabretta-Sajder discussed the queer gaze in the cinema of Ferzan Özpetek. Sergio Rigoletto explored the increase in coming out narratives in Italian film over the past few decades, and sought to complicate the western teleological narrative which asserts that coming out is unquestionably a positive step. He analysed films such as La bocca del lupo (Marcello 2009), in which, while characters are ‘out’, queerness is not always fully visible and legible, but remains beyond our grasp and beyond simplistic statements of sexual identity. Alessia Palanti’s paper focussed on the representation of female queer sexuality, including in Emma Dante’s Via Castellana Bandiera (2013), and suggested that discourses of queerness are often trasmitted through the deployment of space, as much as through narrative. She explored where and how bodies, sexuality and spaces converge, and shape each other, and argued that queer engagements with space can allow film to move beyond clichéd narratives of lesbian oppression.

The session was followed by a productive debate on coming out narratives and the way in which the closet has functioned, and continues to function in Italian culture and media in particular.

After lunch in the beautiful courtyard, Clarissa Clò shared her work on fanfiction, and argued that Italian fan’s re-elaborations of the Brittana (relation)ship constituted by the female cheerleaders Brittany S. Pierce and Santana Lopez from the TV series Glee can be seen as a form of political activism. Alessio Ponzio analysed the construction of ‘queer ogres’ as well as the beginnings of a progressive discourse on homosexuality, in magazines from the 1960s, and suggested that the activism of the 1970s was enabled by both negative and positive developments, which revealed the importance of speaking out to combat homophobia, and the increased openness to a more mature approach to dissident sexualities. Brian DeGrazia’s paper took us forward to the 1980s, and AIDS narratives in relation to the writer Pier Vittorio Tondelli and the journalist Giovanni Forti. He is investigating whether giving the media access to the ill body and confessing intimate details led to more sympathetic portrayals, indicating  some kind of judgement of those who chose, as Tondelli did, to live their final moments in private.

The papers covered a huge range of issues and once again were a clear confirmation of the excellent work being done on these complex and crucial topics. Many questions recurred in our discussions, including the closet, silences and silencing, the ‘mainstreaming’ of LGBTQ+ cultures, politics and lives, the location and accessibility of queer archives, and our relationship with the recent queer past, often accessed through media representations. We are grateful to Giancarlo Lombardi and Ellen Nerenberg who acted as respondents, and whose incisive comments certainly enriched our conversations. The workshop was extremely focused and felt very coherent, which led to discussions on how to gather and disseminate the work that had been shared. Colleagues are currently working on an edited collection that will include a range of essays developed from the work in progress papers presented at the conference, which will constitute an important contribution to scholarly debates.

After the final session, an open event was held in the auditorium at the Casa Italiana, entitled ‘Queer Media all’Italiana’. This was a screening of a series of short queer films by Italian film makers Associazione BADhOLE and Bowtieboy, among others. The auditorium was packed, and the screening was a great success. We would like to thank the Casa Italiana for all the hospitality, and we hope to return in the future to share further developments in the QuIR project.

 

The Third QuIR workshop: Queer Transnational Arts & Activism.

The third workshop in our series was hosted by Professor Marco Pustianaz, at the University of Eastern Piedmont, in Vercelli. Marco’s work on queer theories, texts, affect, performances and discourses has been vital in facilitating meaningful intellectual engagement with queer issues in Italy. He is author of many scholarly publications and co-director (with Liana Borghi) of the Àltera series ). The series includes both insightful new studies and Italian translations of influential theoretical works.

 Our speakers tackled a range of important issues, from live art to drag performances as activism. Giulia Casalini and Diane Georgiou of Archivio Queer Italia opened the event with a compelling presentation on live art, in which they underlined its key characteristics as a deeply embodied strategy for intervening critically in public space. Live art is located disruptively between artistic traditions and disciplines, and is often difficult to document but it can inspire ‘repeat’ performances. Casalini and Georgiou spoke about some of the performances they had seen the previous week at the Santarcangelo Festival, the oldest Italian festival of the contemporary performing arts. Sadly, despite its vital contribution to Italian and global culture, and messages about the importance of celebrating diversity, this festival was to come under attack in the media  only a few days after the workshop, from local politicians who objected to nudity and other aspects of the performances, showing how vital it is to continue to support this forum for contemporary performing arts.

The next panel was a round table discussion involving local activists from Arcigay Valsesia, Anita Sterna (Vice President) and Stefania Sanna (local representative in Vercelli). They shared some of their experiences with us, including their decision to set up the group ‘Africa Arcigay’ in 2016, which supports LGBTQ asylum seekers in the area. We discussed historic tensions in the Italian LGBT movement, specifically in Arcigay, between the importance of creating discursive and political spaces for LGBT identities, and the challenge of remaining open to queerer perspectives for those whose identities transcend labels. The day was rounded off by a striking performance by Senith (Anita Bartolini) of her piece BAD ASSolo at the Anacoleti Theatre. In this piece she blends monologues (including readings from works by Leslie Feinberg and Paul B. Preciado) with self-conscious performances of femininity and masculinity that she describes as ‘queer drag’. This reflection on her experience as a drag artist playfully and compellingly deconstructs and disrupt normative assumptions about sexed bodies and gendered behaviours. The performance was open to the public and was followed by a lively Q&A session.

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 On the second day, we heard Dom Holdaway argue for the non-normative potential of mainstream cinema; he suggested that ‘inoffensive’ portrayals of LGBTQ characters in mainstream films may have more potential to change attitudes to sexual diversity than some auteur films which are more conscious in their approach to representing queerness. This was followed by Stefano Tomassini’s discussion of Enzo Cosimi’s choreography, including the performance Estasi.

We discussed how this and other of Cosimi’s works challenge normative approaches to gender and embodiment. The final session was a round table discussion of drag performance, with contributions from Mirco Costacurta on a drag king workshop in Padova, and Michela Baldo and Senith, who discussed the group EYES WILD DRAG, which Senith co-founded, and the GendErotica festival that she has run successfully for several years. With cuts to art budgets and increasing precarity for artists, the festival needs support now more than ever. The closing event was a second performance, again open to the public. Egon Botteghi’s Mi chiamo Egon [My Name is Egon], was also performed at the Anacoleti Theatre. Based on an idea developed by Egon with Laura Rossi,  and performed by Egon, it relates his journey of self-discovery and realisation in a humourous and moving way.

mi chamo egon locandina final.png

The combination of performances, round tables, and individual presentations based on both lived experience and ongoing innovative research made this workshop a really rich and intense experience. Our sincere thanks to the artists, scholars and activists who agreed to share their work and perspectives with us. We hope to be able to continue collaborating with you in meaningful ways in the future.

The second QuIR workshop: Translating Queer Historicities. Exploring queer phenomena across languages, cultures and time

 

 

For this event, we met at the Institute of Modern Languages Research in London. The programme was again full  and wide-ranging. We kicked off with a paper by Eva Nossem on queer terminology, which provided an overview of the semantic development of ‘queer’ in English, and of its use in Italy, where it is often untranslated as an adjective, but has also given rise to various neologisms, including the verb ‘queerizzare’ and the noun ‘queeritudine’, among others. Given the impossibility of translating ‘queer’ into Italian, since it is impossible to retain its history as a reclaimed marker of stigma, which arguably endows it with a particular political and disruptive edge, Nossem suggested that the Italian term ‘frocia’, a feminized version of the colloquial term generally used to mean ‘gay male’, might be considered as an approximate equivalent. We then heard presentations by Orlando Myxx and Sara Lucas Agutoli. Orlando is an artist and the Archivist for Archivio Queer Italia (AQI), a group of Italian activists, many of whom are London-based, who have created a fantastic online database of queer research, art and activism relating to Italy. It is an incredibly rich resource that is growing all the time, and which makes visible the variety of groups, individuals, and associations who are researching queer, and creating queer moments and artefacts in and beyond Italy. Orlando discussed the challenges of compiling this type of resource—a queer archive—which involves tagging, labeling and organizing work and ideas that often deliberately resist categorization. In addition, he reflected on the fact that the group give their time and energy on a voluntary basis, raising issues of precarity in relation to queer subcultures. Orlando also shared some of his own work as an artist, which includes haunting photographs and insightful, striking poetry. Sara Lucas Agutoli moved to London relatively recently and has collaborated with AQI on their now celebrated Deep Trash club nights. She discussed some of her recent work, including photographs, performances and sculptures, which capture and create moments of queer (dis)identification.

 

On the second day, there were 6 more excellent presentations. The first, by Elena Dalla Torre, explored the biofiction by the transwoman Carla Follis, in light of erotic and somatic communism and of Paul B. Preciado’s theorization of and reflections on trans identities. In the same session, Lorenzo Bernini gave an insightful, critical account of the ways in which Judith Butler’s work has been used in Italy by different stakeholders across the spectrum to mean radically opposing things: from the feminists of difference and the ‘Se non ora quando’ movement who have contested the notion of queer as denying sexual difference, to gay male thinkers who have accused ‘queer’ of destabilising a sense of gay male identity and the LG movement, to Vatican and anti-abortionist catholics who have adopted Butler’s work as emblematic of a ‘theory’ or ‘ideology of gender’, which both aims to transgender and neutralise society, and risks corrupting children….The ongoing debates on this issue in Italy are furious and highly problematic since, as Bernini demonstrated, opposition to the so-called ‘ideology of gender’ has managed to block campaigns aims at increasing awareness of diversity in schools, for example, that can help to stop homo and transphobic bullying.

 

In a different vein, Michela Baldo reflected on translation and queer activism, treating translation as an affective, performative practice. She discussed translations into Italian of some key queer anglophone texts and issues of precarity in relation to the translation sector. Touching on some similar texts and ideas, Alberica Bazzoni discussed the tense relationship between queer and feminism in Italy, suggesting that both feminism and queer have been misrepresented and misinterpreted in problematic ways, leading to unhelpful media debates. As a solution, she proposed that Italian feminists (particularly feminists of sexual difference) need to take a queerer approach, whilst queer thinkers need to ensure that they maintain a feminist awareness. In the final panel session, we turned to literature. Nicola Ibba presented his research on Umberto Saba’s Ernesto as a case of ‘posthumous queer writing’; a new sub-genre of queer texts that emerge after their author’s death, in a different discursive, cultural and historical landscape. Tommasina Gabriele tackled a very contemporary text, Elena Ferrante’s global bestseller L’amica geniale, and proposed that the queer character in these four novels is exploited, both by the characters and the author, in rather disingenuous and problematic ways. These papers opened up a productive discussion on temporality, queer precarity, academic versus media debates, and on translation across languages, time and ideological positions.

 

Thanks to the insightful research papers, the relaxed, informal atmosphere which fostered extremely interactive discussion, and the generosity of the artists who shared their work, this workshop was again a rich, challenging and empowering experience for all who participated. We are planning to publish a selection of papers from these workshops in an open access online journal, in both English and Italian, to make this research accessible to a broader readership.

About This Blog

QuIR is a network that invites scholars, artists, and activists to share and create bodies of knowledge that speak to the intersections between queerness and Italianness. In the spirit of openness and exchange this blog privileges accessibility of language. We recognise that everyone is coming to these topics of exploration from different backgrounds, and specialised linguistic choices may close off discourse and ostracise those who might have something valuable to contribute to our continued conversation. This space is meant to be as linguistically accessible and personal as possible so as to foster the exchange of ideas, theories, and experiences.

Interested in participating in the conversation? Just write us at queeritalia@gmail.com. Posts can be either in English or Italian. A regularly updated archive of our blog posts can be found below.

 

The First QuIR Workshop: Anglophone Queer Theories in the Italian Context and Dissident Italian Thought

Frocie, femminelle, terrone, polentone e favolosità varie. Quando il queer è di casa.

Qu@*ring the Italian Language

Why We QuIR

The First QuIR Workshop: Anglophone Queer Theories in the Italian Context and Dissident Italian Thought

Charlotte Ross, c.e.ross@bham.ac.uk

Our first queer workshop took place at the University of Verona on 26-27 Aprile 2017. We were hosted by Dr Lorenzo Bernini who lectures in political philosophy there and runs the research centre PoliTeSse, which hosts an impressive programme of seminars and events on the politics and theories of sexuality. The programme included a rich range of contributions, from different academic disciplines (and from interdisciplinary perspectives), as well as two performances.

 

 In the run up to the workshop, it attracted some Italian media coverage. Some newspaper articles about the event seemed to question its scientific validity. Patrizia Floder Reitter, writing in La verità (25 April 2017), noted that the University of Verona organises a great many seminars on the right to determine one’s own gender identity and sexuality, and implied that these events are in some way of dubious academic quality. Indeed she describes the issue of sexual self-determination as a ‘non question’. Floder Reitter comments on the use of the asterisk in Italian-language publicity for the workshop,  which we have chosen as a form of inclusive language (see the earlier posts on queer language). For the journalist, this is a strategy to eliminate masculinity and femininity. This view completely ignores the problematic ‘universal’ masculine plural used in Italian, which effectively eclipses any women to which nouns, verbs or abjectives might refer. Moreover, it disingenuously fails to engage with the issue of binary gendered language which is inadequate to represent the rich diversity of human experience. This type of polemic journalism, which is not based on scientific, peer-reviewed research, has the potential to misinformthe reader. This is particularly problematic in relation to questions of human rights, discrimination and prejudice.

 

Despite these media discourses, the workshop went extremely well. We kicked off with a general session in which contributors introduced themselves and their relationship to queer theories,culture and politics. This gave a helpful insight into the diversity of experience and views in the room. In the first session Ryan Calabretta-Sajder reflected on the queer anthology as a tool for teachers and readers. He compared some leading English-language texts with the Italian anthology Canone inverso (ETS, 2012), and raised some important questions about how we compile such anthologies, the different genealogies of queer thought that emerge in each anthology, and the role of translation in disseminating anglophone queer theory in Italy. Liana Borghi’s paper explored the work of Karen Barad, which she and Marco Pustianaz are currently translating into Italian, focusing on how insights from quantum physics about the ‘queerness’ of subatomic particles might change our relationship with the material world (and our material selves) in fundamental ways.  

This session was followed by an interactive performance by Primavera Contu, that offered an ironic and thought-provoking reflection on bisexuality and sexual labels in general, as well encouraging all participants to reflect critically, innovatively and humourously on their own sexual identities. The post-performance discussion confirmed the ongoing complexities of debates about identity politics and sexual labels: although in today’s era of sexual fluidity they might feel unhelpful and constricting to some, in enduringly hostile and homophobic contexts these labels can allow those who wish to distance themselves from normative sexuality to begin to articulate their own sense of self.

On day 2, we began with an open session picking up on issues raised the previous day that we wished to explore in more detail. This was followed by a paper by Chiara Bertone on critical heterosexuality studies, which confirmed the importance of scrutinising the groups that seem most normative (middle-aged heterosexual men) in order to interrogate and dismantle received ideas about all sexual behaviours and identities. Matthew Zundel’s contribution focussed on Mario Mieli and his Elementi di critica omosessuale (1977) and his exuberant performances as a form of queer pedagogy.

In the final session we enjoyed the performance La disfatta dell’arte, created by Michael Crisantemi, Simone Bolli and Vincenzo Flauto, which dramatised a multiplicity of ideas about queer, about theatre and about coming out in a small town. The second contribution in this session was by the director Tommaso Rossi, who discussed his production of Mio padre ed io, an adaptation of J.R. Ackerley’s novel My Father and Myself (1968), in which Acklerly, who was openly homosexual, explored his father’s past. These performances raised lively debates on the importance of theatre as a medium for representing sexual minorities, and for conveying queer ideas, or queering ideas about sexuality, politics and culture mode generally.

The workshop was a success on many levels, although we unfortunately had to cancel the performance by Ruben Montini that we had hoped to include in the programme. We’d like to thank everyone who attended for their compelling and stimulating contributions, and in particular we are grateful to Lorenzo Bernini for hosting us at Verona. Many thanks also to Michael Crisantemi for publishing some articles about the workshop and the participants on the site www.prideonline.it. It is a great way to disseminate ideas and reach out to a broader audience. The articles can be accessed here:

http://www.prideonline.it/2017/04/27/verona-larte-queer/

http://www.prideonline.it/2017/05/04/mario-mieli-saluti-da-new-york-city/

http://www.prideonline.it/2017/05/09/bisessuale-non-una-parolaccia/