As the bromide goes-if I had a dime for every time someone said that I didn’t look Italian, I’d be a millionaire. Admittedly at 6’4” with blue eyes, less-than-olive skin and long, light brown hair, I am not what most people in the United States would imagine an Italian American looks like. However, visit my mother’s hometown of Isola del Liri in Italy’s Lazio Region and you will see plenty of people with my features.
So what does this have to do with being bisexual? Well every year in October when Italian American History Month rolls around, I fulminate about how much I want nothing to do with Columbus, how little anyone knows about Sacco and Vanzetti, and how I wish I had other Italian American bisexuals, gay men and lesbians to hang around with. It’s as if I spend the month in a protracted and wide-ranging intellectual version of hide-and-go-seek. Come out, come out wherever you are. Please.
In fact, I see the surface level of parades, nostalgic remembrances of Little Italies, and the struggle to ‘make it’ in the United States. What I see little of is critical discussion of Italian American history and the state of the community as it is. In fact, one of the few places I see such is the Italian American studies discussion list, which I have been following for a few years now. What I see nothing of is a continuing discussion of what it is to be BLGT and Italian American so there are moments when I feel on the margins of margins because of my ethnicity and sexuality.
I have an intense hunger for connecting to other BGLT Italian Americans because of our common culture and history. As an Italian American, I have maintained a certain attachment to tradition. One of the things this means is that I value community , although not necessarily in ways my ancestors would have understood.
In my great hunt for other Italian American bisexuals, here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
When I was on the board of the Bisexual Resource Center a few years ago, I asked my confederates if they knew of any other Italian American bisexuals-especially men. My colleague Sheeri mentioned Tom Limoncelli and I immediately went to his web site. Well, I’m not the only one, I thought. Anyone else?
Well, there are two women I can think of: Camille Paglia has been out for quite a while and Lady Gaga seems to have joined the ‘party’ lately.
And that’s where my line of inquiry ends.
I also did a web search for works on BLGT Italian Americans, I found Fuori: Essays by Italian/American Lesbians and Gays, one of whose authors, Giovanna Capone, suggested I also look at the anthology Hey Paesan! Writing by Lesbians and Gay Men of Italian Descent. Although these insightful and poignant books do not mention bisexuals, they have become indispensible to me as a way to assure myself of the existence of other BLGT Italian Americans. In short, I’ve grabbed on to what was there.
But that is not enough. I salute the authors of the above works, although it is clear that more is needed. This more is part of the reason I do this column. The Italian American community prefers not to talk about ‘alternative sexuality’ and so, maintaining family solidarity, opts for silent tolerance. The BLGT community, I have found, seems ill-at-ease in discussing ethnic differences that do not fit neatly into the Black/White/Asian/Native American/Latino rubric. Not that we are all that comfortable discussing race and ethnicity at all in the United States. We all have an ethnicity-or ethnicities-and it plays in how we view our sexuality and act it out.
Given all that, here’s what I want to see:
I want more Italian American BLGT folk to come out of the closet, tell their stories and build community. I want the larger Italian American community to listen with respect to and embrace its BGLT members. I want the BGLT community to understand and honor the fact that its Italian American members come from a different cultural space. I also want the BGLT community to have more open and honest discussions about race and ethnicity, as well as religion and class, that lead to more effective representation of the community as a whole.