This text should be an introduction to what lies behind the acronym LGBT (basic edition), but also behind the acronym LGBTQIAP+ (extended edition). The acronym, of which there is one and there are many, depending on how lazy or exemplary the person using it might be, conceals an entire universe, a micro-verse so vast that getting lost in it is likely.
Gaining a sense of scale is crucial, especially if we are trying to claim a rebalancing of that scale, a critical lens through which to study a dominant system.
LGBTQIA+ is an acronym that some people would prefer to be prescriptive, binding, detailed in its categorising behaviours and identities. There are some people who do see it this way, though it is mostly descriptive. Also because this is what it looks like now, but tomorrow, in a year, ten years, a century from now, who knows?
Getting lost then is good, even though the scope of this series is to avoid getting lost, and my invitation is for you to get lost regardless; a way, perhaps, to also justify my sense of loss when it comes to writing.
Eris Edizioni is an independent Italian publisher, focusing on intriguing fiction, comics, and all the literary material which both dips its toes and divebombs into political topics and discourse. One of its more recent and incredibly successful series of non-fiction books – booklets, really, clocking in at 60ish pages each – is called BookBlock. It includes titles such as Why Feminism also benefits men, Beyond Tourism, Food and Identity, and most recently, No means no, bringing experts on a topic to discuss that topic in detailed, bite-sized texts.
Antonia Caruso is one of those experts: a writer with an incredible range, and an activist on feminisms, queer identities and media. Her booklet, LGBTQIA+ – Mantenere la complessità (LGBTQIA+ – Keep it complex) is perhaps the best example of both Caruso’s irreverent but knowledgeable style, and the mission statement of the BookBlock series: ‘a tool to interpret reality […] and to imagine and undertake different approaches from what is considered canon’ and ‘to give space to those voices which explore, with contemporary reflections, key concepts of our time’. Her booklet is an introduction and a discussion around the topic of LGBTQIA+ (The Acronym) identities in Italy, yes, but also an invitation and practical example of how to ‘maintain the complexity’ of that heterogeneous community – an exercise in approaching a topic to exemplify instead of simplify.
How does Caruso do that? She chooses to offer a general introduction, followed by an Italian-first historical and critical approach, interspersed with references to writers such as Mario Mieli, Jack Halbertsam, Maya De Leo, Porpora Marcasciano. This results in a history that reflects the wider western LGBTQ movement, with its milestones in the UK and the US, and the more specific Italian timeline, with key players such as Mario Mieli, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Maria Silvia Spolato, to name a few. But Caruso also interjects into her text, visually (in italics) and critically, to offer her thoughts, asides and notes on the timeline she has created. Take this passage for example:
I’m adopting a way of telling and communicating which escapes the nicely packaged, dogmatic sentences, dripping with social media optimisation, with the codified language of politics, and so familiar to academic writing. Metalanguages, if you will. Not out of a lack of recognition, I wouldn’t have been able to write anything by ignoring them entirely, but rather to not make them into clichés and mantras.
Her notes contextualise, update, and offer more insight into the process of a writer who is also coming to terms with the necessity of creating a tidy timeline in order to write. The more the timeline progresses, the more these interjections increase, as we move closer to the time of writing and the lifetime of the author. The notes, both inter-textual and para-textual, complicate the timeline, complicate the key players she mentions in the body of the text (Pasolini in particular), and more generally, complicate what she calls ‘rainbow positivity’, a symptom of rainbow-washing, of capitalism realising that LGBTQ buyers and consumers cannot be excluded forever, if a profit is to be made. Another example:
‘Queer’ was born as an irreverent provocation in the name of hatred and pain. Such a provocation needs chasing, fuelling, or like everything else, it becomes assimilated and neutralised. These days, any bench painted with the right colours can be queer.
When I spoke to her, I asked Caruso whether she thought there might be anything that a UK or US audience could benefit from in her book. Always the pessimist (by her own admission), she replied that ‘Italy suffers a little from seeing how some things seem so much better, and in some ways it is. I don’t know that there is something specific to offer an anglophone audience. If anything, Italy is the perfect bad example of interference from the Church in the State. We literally have two capitals one inside the other.’
Despite Caruso’s negative outlook, I still think that there is something of particular relevance to anglophone readers in 2022 and that is the brief section on the 1950s and 60s in Italy, which Caruso associates with five key ‘homosexual scandals’. These achieved prominence due to ‘deep social repression and intentionally misrepresented and misreported by the media, in order to create a moral enemy’. A scenario which I see, if you have followed similar media debates in the UK since the 2010s, constantly rearing its ugly head. Individual cases of potential misunderstanding have been spectacularised and manipulated to highlight the ‘depravity’ of a marginalised community; off-hand comments and fiction work depicted as representing the beliefs of a whole movement; arguments made by latching on to latent moral and ethical values rooted in religious and cultural traditions, in order to attack the already disenfranchised. Sound familiar at all?
Antonia Caruso offers no solution nor full explanation of how to retain the complexity of The Acronym. Instead, her final interjection in italics, which concludes the text, literally states that she simply ‘ran out of space’ and that she has done her best to make this book not a manual. She does, however, have the beginning of an answer running throughout: what is truly needed is a radical change, starting within ourselves and how we relate to each other. Without that change there can be no progress or radical move forward. ‘That is basically it’ – she spelt out to me in our conversation when I asked – ‘we can have all the rights in the world and all the renewable energy in the world, but it’ll be all for nothing if we’re still a bunch of arseholes.’
By Alex Valente
LGBTQIA+ – MANTENERE LA COMPLESSITÀ
(LGBTQIA+ – Keep it complex)
by Antonia Caruso
Published in Italian by Eris Edizioni (2022)
Translations from Italian by Alex Valente
Antonia Caruso (she/her) columnist, writer, trans/feminist activist. She has edited the Queer Gaze anthology for Asterisco Edizioni, and is the author of LGBTQIA+ – Mantenere la complessità (Eris Edizioni). She has written several forewords and articles for – amongst others – Jacobin Italia, effequ, Moscabianca, Meltemi, Odoya, Zona 42 and Future Fiction.
Alex Valente (he/him) is a white European currently living on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ land. He is a literary translator from Italian into English, though he also dabbles with French and RPGs, and is co-editor of The Norwich Radical. His work has been published in NYT Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, The Short Story Project, and PEN Transmissions.
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