A Disgrace in the Family

I post the below, my translation of an article from yesterday’s La Repubblica, with a large caveat: I’m not posting it to make any particular point about Italy or, for that matter, about Sicily. What the article describes (and much worse) has happened in dozens and hundreds of American cities.

Don’t get me wrong, homophobia in Italy is rampant, a fact that goes hand in hand with the culture of silence and invisibility in which both queers and non participate.

Come to think of it, just to pick one of my favorite scabs, this would be the perfect time for Tiziano Ferro to make a public statement in support of Paolo, the eighteen-year-old gay kid whose father stabbed him. Tiziano, you don’t even have to say you’re queer, just that young gay kids like Paolo need our support.

Or, if Tiziano isn’t available, Renato Zero. Or Lucio Dalla. Or the Pope. Or any number of others.

But coming back to reality: I find the “shame and dishonor” issue most intriguing, sociologically speaking. I can confirm, close to home, that the main reaction of M’s parents has been precisely that: the “disgrace” they experience and the “shame” they’d feel if friends and relatives were to find out about him.

Meanwhile, those who don’t come out in Italy cite, apparently above any other reason, the desire not to embarrass their families.

Thus: silence. Thus: invisibility.

It’s Pride season and, in Bologna and Rome and other cities, Italian queers will soon spend a couple of hours being noisy and conspicuous instead.

For kids like Paolo, I hope a couple of hours is going to be enough.


Palermo: Gay son is stabbed.
“It was a disgrace.” Father arrested.

For a 53-year-old ex-offender, having a homosexual in the family was “intolerable.”

The 18 year old, attacked during an argument, is treated at the hospital. He says: “My father has never accepted me. It’s not a illness.”

PALERMO, SICILY – “I was in the shower when I suddenly saw my father standing in front of me, holding a knife.”

The reason? A question “of honor and of family shame.” Knowing he had a gay son was intolerable for a 53-year-old ex-offender in Palermo. He attacked his son, Paolo, 18 years old, during a furious argument in their apartment in the Brancaccio neighborhood in the city’s eastern suburbs. The police arrested the man, who was charged with domestic violence and assault. He is now behind bars at the Ucciardone jail.

“My father has never accepted me,” the young man says. “He couldn’t tolerate the fact that I’m gay. I tried to convince him that I’m not sick, that it’s not something dirty, but it wasn’t any use. I realized I was gay a year ago, and I told my mother. She understood. She tried to help, to stay close to me, and to convince my father to get used to the idea, but the last year has been hell in our house. This is the way I am, though, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

For the boy’s father, the news simply wasn’t acceptable. He followed Paolo when he left the house and spied on him; he didn’t want him seeing his friends. “He thought I was a prostitute,” the boy says, “but I was just hanging out with my friends, with other people who are like me.”

Paolo’s mother, who had always defended her son, tried to salvage her husband’s reputation as well. The man has been in jail since Saturday, accused of domestic violence and assault. “All (my husband) wanted was for (Paolo) to get a job,” she explains. “(Paolo’s) got all kinds of ideas in his head—he wants to be a model, he wants to live some kind of fancy lifestyle. We’re not rich. We can’t support him.”

“I asked (my father) to help me find a job,” the victim responds, “but he refused. He said he was ashamed to introduce me around because I was gay.”

A year’s worth of tension, in any case, exploded in violence last Saturday. Returning from a day at the beach, Paolo told his parents that he planned to go out again shortly. His father became furious. He didn’t stop at striking his son; this time he stabbed him as well.

“I just couldn’t take it anymore. The shame and the dishonor all this has caused is too much,” he told police. The young man, terrified and in shock, suffered stab wounds to his forearm and right hand and a facial injury. He was taken to the Community Hospital, where he was expected to recover in eight days.

Interviewed by Tg3 television news, the boy described the attack: “I was in the shower when I suddenly saw my father standing in front of me, holding a knife.”

A similar incident took place some ten days ago in Pesaro (Marche). In that case, a mother stabbed her 16-year-old daughter because she had admitted to having a relationship with an 18-year-old girl. The blade lodged in the young woman’s belt buckle, but the mother was nonetheless charged with attempted aggravated assault.

Apparently insurmountable prejudices appear to have motivated the parents in both cases. A 2003 Europe-wide study by the University of Bologna’s Cattaneo Institute reported that 10 of every 100 individuals are homosexual. Of every 100 homosexuals, meanwhile, 20 accept being gay while 80 are not accepting but “tolerate” their condition; 22 consider suicide and 5 complete suicide attempts.

La Repubblica, May 26, 2008
[article unsigned; English translation by ProvenWrite]


Posted on 27 May 2008, in Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order), You Can Always Count on a Little Homophobia and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. >Anche tu mi hai ispirato, caro Wendell. Traduco in parole una riflessione che faccio da tempo nella mia testa proprio a riguardo dell’omosessualità dei personaggi del mondo spettacolo. Tempo fa dicevo alla figlia adolescente di un’amica, follemente innamorata di Zac Efron, che secondo diverse fonti il ragazzo è gay. Gli spunti di riflessione sono due. Uno: mi sono sentita come se le avessi appena detto che Babbo Natale non esiste e, contestualmente, mi sono ripromessa che se mai mi troverò in una situazione analoga con un’ipotetica figlia femmina, agirò esattamente alla stessa maniera. Due. Ma vogliamo smettere di trattare attori e cantanti come surrogati del partner di milioni di fan? Vogliamo apprezzarli (o meno) per ciò che fanno e non per i loro gusti sessuali? Tiziano Ferro ha fatto alcune belle canzoni, vogliamo spiegare che molte di esse probabilmente sono riferite a dei ragazzi e non a delle ragazze? Vogliamo fare in modo che le doti artistiche della gente siano scisse dal loro potenziale di “uomo ideale” delle ragazzine? L’idea che tanti siano costretti a nascondere una parte così importante di sé “solo” per lavorare mi sconvolge.Un abbraccio.

  2. >My own mother often indicated to me that nothing can compare and equal love for one’s children. It’s more than just sad, absolutely tragic, that a parent’s perception of what is “acceptable” in the culture or their own social circle transcends this love. Parents need to help and protect their children rather than harm them…

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