You Don’t Look Italian

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.

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

Is the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

obamaWhen I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

doma protestLet’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

obamaIs the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

When I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

Let’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.