The Book’s Introduction:
The impetus for this book derived from Michael’s thesis on the marginalization of Italian American literature for his master’s degree in English. While conducting his research, Michael stumbled upon two books of gay Italian American writings . The only two books! At first, Michael was excited with his discovery. Then disappointment and anger erased the excitement when he realized that Gay Italian American identities and voices were not represented in literature, especially Italian American literature and Queer literature.
Immediately, Michael found copies of those two books, and that evening, he explained to Joseph his frustration about the double marginalization of Gay Italian American literature. That was the conversation that started the idea for this collection of personal essays from a diverse group of Gay Italian American men.
Joseph’s response was filled with the same disappointment and anger because he, too, realized the absence of Gay Italian American identities and voices in the curriculum during his own studies in psychology and social work. However, during his undergraduate years at Columbia University, Joseph’s Italian American identity was very much present when his fellow classmates typically stereotyped him as an ignorant blue-collar, working class guido from Bensonhurst, with his family in the mafia, who did not deserve acceptance to an Ivy League institution.
So, we talked about how both of our identities—Gay and Italian American—never appeared throughout our years of formal education. Those two characters were never written in the scenes; those two actors were never given roles on the stage. And we wondered how much longer this would continue, and how much more we were able to tolerate.
Here are two stereotypes: one, the Italian American community is perceived as ignorant, stupid, unsophisticated, uncultured, blue-collar, working class, and connected to the mafia; two, the gay community is perceived as intelligent, sophisticated, cultured, creative, white-collar, and high class. Thus, a contradiction is formed, creating identity crises among Queer Italian American men and women.
Furthermore, in the mainstream, heterosexual society, the stereotype for the Italian American male is a man who is macho, strong, tough, brutish, violent, uneducated, handsome, sexy, and virile, with a big penis and an even bigger sex drive. Thus, commonly, Gay Italian American men distance themselves from their ethnic selves because they cannot, and do not want to, fulfill the stereotype of the Italian American male.
Contrary to the negative stereotype, Gay men can be macho; however, Gay Italian American men do not want to associate themselves with the negative stereotype of Italian American male machismo. Therefore, they denounce their ethnic halves because they do not feel comfortable in/with their own families and ethnic communities. They disconnect from their Italian American history, heritage, and culture. They give themselves fully to their homosexual selves because they are more accepted in their queer communities. However, they are only accepted as non-ethnic, white gay men, not as ethnic Italian American Gay men, who can also identify as non-white if they so choose to do so.
We have noticed a lack of ethnic pride between Gay Italian American men. Hence, gay Italian American male writers write about their gay lives, communities, culture, and history, but not about their Italian American lives, communities, culture, history, and heritage. Such an identity crisis must be solved and corrected by both communities: the Gay Community and the Italian American Community. Furthermore, such stereotypes are debilitating for, both, the individuals and the communities.
It must also be stated that such issues do not occur only in the ethnic Italian American community, but in many ethnic communities, as homosexuality is still not accepted, tolerated, and understood in many communities and societies.
Ethnicity and homosexuality can be viewed as mutually exclusive, and when the two interact, they create a conflicted relationship. And it is the conflict that must be resolved in order for a Queer Italian American to live a healthy and fulfilled life, in which he/she is proud and accepting of, both, his/her ethnicity and sexuality.
In the mainstream literary world, and in society in general, there exists levels of marginalization within one already marginalized ethnic community: first, all Italian American writers, regardless of gender, are marginalized; second, Italian American women writers are marginalized even more because of their gender; and third, queer Italian American writers are marginalized even further because of their sexual orientation.
A major, reoccurring theme in Gay Italian American literature is rejection. Queer Italian American writers—and their characters—are rejected because they refuse to conform to the traditions, mostly religious, of their families. They feel like outsiders. They are ostracized and oppressed because they are different. They become alone and lonely. Ironically, in essence, they are treated the same way their immigrant ancestors were treated by the mainstream society when they arrived in America from Italy.
Although Americans of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (GLBTQ) community and population have made great strides, their futures, at times, seem uncertain, insecure, and grim because of the heterosexist society in which they live. Their civil rights continue to be debated and threatened.
The Gay Community, to no fault of its own, is a group of which many different types of people belong, from many different walks of life. It is unique in that, unlike any other group of people, its members come from every group of people, from every race, religion, class, and culture. Usually, the only thing that homosexuals have in common is that they are attracted to the same sex. Thus, ethnicity is easily overlooked in the gay community. And lately, queer men and women are fighting for their civil rights, so their ethnic rights are not a priority.
The purpose of this book is to present these essays that inform on the experiences of these men and their lives as part of the diverse fabric of American society. The lives of these writers are complex because they are forced to conform into a society that demands that they do not express their sexual and ethnic identities, with pride, in positive ways. As sexual and ethnic minorities, these men experience double discrimination.
Many people will ask why this book is important and unique, and why this group of men is important and unique. Our answer to that often ubiquitous and trite question is this: Our identities, voices, words, and lives are important and unique because the intersection of our sexuality and ethnicity does not allow us to fit in to the mainstream American society and culture, thereby keeping us in the margins. And it should be common sense and common knowledge by now, in the twenty-first century, that no human being deserves to be marginalized for any reason.
This book has been a labor of love for us since 2008, and we hope that our readers take this journey with us, and appreciate the important lives and words of our contributors.