Mario Mieli first became involved in the gay movement in London’s early Gay Liberation Front. On his return to Italy in 1972 he helped organize the Fronte Unitario Omosesssuale Rivoluzionario Italiano (Italian Revolutionary Homosexual United Front), whose acronym was later fused into the name Fuori! (Come out!) This organization continues to play a leading role in the Italian gay movement although Mieli criticizes its
federation with the Radical party as “reformist” and “counter-revolutionary.”
Mieli is both activist and theoretician, and the appearance in 1977 of his Elementi di critica omosessuale (of which the book under review is a translation) was especially significant, for it had been accepted as a university thesis and was published by Einaudi, one of the most respected publishing houses in Italy. This may also explain the book’s
comprehensive nature, for in it, as Mieli points out in his original preface, he discusses six themes: (1) He confronts antigay commonplaces from the viewpoint of the mature gay liberation movement; (2) he traces the history of the social repression of homosexuality; (3) he insists on the universality of homoerotic desire (i.e., it concerns not just a minority, but is present in all individuals); (4) he sees homosexuality as a bridge
from the common perception of “normal” to a higher and deeper dimension of existence; (5) he underscores the importance of gay liberation within the framework of human liberation; and (6) he sees the goal of liberation as the freeing of the total erotic potential of each individual.
All translation is difficult, and it is especially so where idiomatic expressions such as “queen,” “queer,” etc. are involved. This translation is altogether excellent. But the translator should have told us that parts of the original were omitted (by my count, about 14%). Some omitted passages are of interest mainly to Italians; all references to Hegel and a number of quotations from Marx are left out. They probably won’t be missed, although I regret the loss of the passage from Dante’s Inferno, where Dante was cruised by the “sodomites.” (Mieli has a young reader ask, “You mean they cruised in the Middle Ages?” “Of course, darling,” he replies.)
Mieli’s book was recommended to me recently by a lesbian professor at the University of Siena as “the best Italian discussion of homosexuality.” She and I were comparing the gay and women’s movements in Italy and the U.S., and she wondered at the willingness of American Catholics to cooperate with the Church, adding, “Our American sisters do not know what it is like, living only 200 kilometers from the Pope in Rome.” It is interesting that in the introduction to his English translation, David Fernbach, too, calls attention to “the hold of the Catholic Church, that great apparatus of sexual repression,” as being a significant difference in “the political and cultural context in which the Italian gay movement developed and that context in the English-speaking countries.” Fernbach also points out that “a further important difference between Italy and the English-speaking world is the position of psychoanalysis.” There is an even sharper difference in the U.S. than in Britain, since psychoanalysis here is firmly entrenched in the psychiatric establishment and is predominantly clinical. Hence the strong hostility toward it of the American gay movement. This has not been the case in France and Italy, where, as Fernbach notes, “feminists, in particular, saw in Freudian theory a weapon for understanding and challenging the social construction of femininity.” Jim Steakley warned in 1979: “English and French feminists and gay liberationists have long since entered into a theoretical dialogue with Freudianism which we can ignore only
at our peril.” Mieli’s book is an excellent introduction to this dialogue.
Added: Sunday, November 05, 2006 Reviewer:editor Score: hits: 4797 Language: eng