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This chapter highlights how families had a large responsibility in the decision to have someone interned, but at the same time it shows how psychiatry was, at least in this case, fairly reluctant to collaborate with relatives and security forces in implementing the repression of homosexuals. G. demonstrated that he knew the system, its rhetoric and its methods, and was willing to compromise and adapt, in order to obtain his freedom. However, he was, in certain respects, a pioneer, showing that he had an awareness of his rights and the courage to fight a fierce battle to obtain compensation for the injustices he had endured. This ambiguity is in many ways representative of the survival strategies implemented by many Italians under the pressure of the dictatorship.
KeywordsRelease Family saga Hero/anti-hero Strategies
This research proves that, during Fascism, it was sufficient to reveal someone’s homosexuality to the police to start a procedure that could entail exclusion from society through reclusion in an asylum. In this case, psychiatrists seem to have followed directives, even without strong medical conviction, thus offering help to security forces in their repressive and moralising activity.
Furthermore, as shown, the vast majority of Collegno’s patients were referred by a relative, which highlights how family values were dissolving and had become a mere empty propaganda slogan under Mussolini: repression fuelled and favoured suspicion, lack of trust and blackmail. It was possible to use the brutality of the regime for one own’s purposes even among relatives, and some people took advantage of it. The family had become an important player in the dictatorship’s repressive mechanism: the police relied on it as much as it did on psychiatrists when it came to silencing voices of dissent, out-of-line behaviours and, like in G.’s case, homosexuality. This book concentrates on male homosexuals because it stems out of the case of a man who had sex with another man. Besides, no Collegno, Turin or Savonera women internees were described as lesbians for the 1922–1931 period. However, great importance has been given to issues of morality that unmistakably show how limited the sphere of women’s sexuality and behaviour was.
G.’s memoriale underlines to what extent ordinary citizens had assimilated and were expected to use fascist rhetoric in order to survive. To strengthen his position and fight his case, G. had to demonstrate that he knew all the propaganda key issues. He even tried to prove he was in line with them. The declaration of his same-sex relationship was instrumental in stating that he was an active and situational homosexual, so that he would be judged less severely. In other words, as it was unavoidable, it was used as part of a strategy to show that he shared the regime’s moral values.
He contested accusations “from within”, as we would say today, he did not publicly reject Fascism, its ideals, its foundations. This does not mean that he was not against the regime, in fact he is very likely to have been at least critical of it, but he chose not to reveal his real political beliefs. He even stated on a couple of occasions he was a good fascist, although his biography makes it highly unlikely and the statement almost sounds like a deliberate provocation. Overt hostility towards the dictatorship would have meant a much longer internment: several anti-fascists were interned in the Collegno asylum while G. was there, as explained in Chap. 6, several more are likely to have already been there when he arrived, and he might have been aware of it. Equally, an overt, proud declaration of his sexuality would have had an impact on his final diagnosis. G., like the majority of Italians at the time, was aware that self-censorship would guarantee a higher chance of immunity.
G.’s piece of writing is a photograph, precious because unique, of a non-conforming man’s life during the fascist regime. His rancorous underlying tones are probably representative of the way many homosexuals must have felt at the time: forced to be silent, closeted, invisible, angry because of the discrimination they had to suffer every day, resentful, painfully aware of the consequences of declaring their sexuality, bombarded and surrounded by hostile messages.
However, several aspects of the protagonist’s life-style remain very vaguely defined: although G. admitted he had had same-sex relationships when he was young and in a men-only environment, which he could not have avoided admitting since it was on his records, he was very skilled at leaving most things unsaid. The woman he lived with turned out to be his landlady and then, to dissipate further doubts, he said he was going to marry her, which seems highly improbable as there is no mention of her in any of his letters, his Collegno and Racconigi files do not contain any correspondence from or to her. One is induced to think that she was, willingly or not, used as a cover-up. There is no statement that suggests that G. had other same-sex relationships or that he frequented other homosexuals. There is also no mention of friends, acquaintances, former colleagues and the hospital files do not hold any correspondence to and from them. If G. had any, he was very careful to keep them a secret. He reconstructed his biography, but deliberately gave no hints about his present circumstances.
It is impossible to assess how internment affected G.’s professional and personal life. It seems very unlikely that he could have worked as a lawyer afterwards, particularly because internment remained on record. The Lawyers’ Associations of Milan and Turin have not replied to requests to know if he was in their list of professionals after 1931. The stigma of being a homosexual is likely to have continued to be an obstacle to his career and achievements.
While nothing is known about how internment impacted on his future, G.’s memoriale is an important testimony on the social and economic consequences of homosexuality that he had already experienced: rejection from the family, professional and social marginalisation, consequent lack of income. It is possible to note that there is no mention of any visits, correspondence or benevolent gesture on the part of G.’s other siblings, two sisters and a brother: with their absence and silence, they seem to have sided with his older brother.
To conclude, G. remains an ambiguous character: he admitted his homosexuality only to state that he was an active, occasional homosexual, therefore, in fascist terms, not responsible for it and not incurable. He did not reject Fascism, on the contrary he even declared he was broadly in line with the regime’s moral code and used scandal and blackmail, as much as his brother did, as tools in order to fight back and reach his goals. On the other hand, he had the courage to declare his same-sex relationships and took upon himself the terrible consequences of this statement. He won his case, managing to obtain part of his inheritance and probably even compensation for the discrimination he had suffered. He was a pioneer in insisting that he had rights and that he had been damaged, psychologically, socially and financially, by homophobia. There is no doubt that he fought against the fascist system, its values, its impositions, its repressive mechanism. The suffering he endured to prove his point and to protest against injustice is undoubtfully heroic.
G.’s ambiguity makes him very representative of the way in which many individuals were forced into self-censorship and other survival techniques in Italy during the dictatorship. His life is made of lights and shadows, courage and cowardice, secrecy and contradictions, truths and lies: it is a precious testimony of how a totalitarian regime wrecks peoples’ lives, transforms their personality, dents their conscience, presses them into decisions, dilemmas and choices they would have otherwise never had to face.
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